Tuesday, September 30, 2003

dojang redux

It is accomplished.

The dojang are finished.

And they kick... fucking... ass.

I hate to admit it, but I was reading the fancy font on the Dol Sarang artist's name card wrong. He's not Mr. Seon.

He's Mr. Jeon.

I always make that mistake whenever people resort to funky Korean fonts. What threw me off was that his name card has a J-word in it near the bottom, but that J looked different from the J in Mr. Jeon's name. So I assumed Mr. Jeon was Mr. Seon, because the fancy J in his name looked like an S. Should've asked him outright.

But that is neither here nor there.

Let the commercial madness begin!

I have several Bodhidharma drawings and a few pieces of calligraphy I'm going to stamp and try to sell, here and online. Like other calligraphers, I'll be churning out similar "scenarios" in each piece. This isn't unheard-of when you sell art: for example, many Bodhidharma images (he's Dalma-daesa in Korea) show roughly the same thing: a scowling, hairy monk with an earring, large eyes, long earlobes, thick eyebrows (but no eyelids; the story is that Bodhidharma ripped off his eyelids to keep from sleeping during his nine-year meditation), and a sort of "halo," which Robert Pirsig in his book Lila calls "the dharmakaya light." I can't tell if Pirsig's joking. (Remember from my previous post, I told you that lila is a Sanskrit term used in Hinduism to indicate divine play.) Dharmakaya literally means "body of teaching," but can also refer to absolute reality. As you might guess, Buddhists don't see these two definitions as unrelated. They are, like all phenomena, not-two.

I've also done some fun scenarios showing a young Korean monk in an intense staring contest with a goofy-looking tiger. Very cartoonish, rather Western-looking in style. This is actually a scene out of a book I'm currently writing, called The San-shin's Tiger (probably available late next year, at the rate I'm going, but I'll give periodic updates).

I'm still trying to figure out what the best caption or proverb should be for this staring contest scenario. Patience? Strength? Endurance? "Be kind to all creatures?" On my first attempt, I wrote ho shim, or "tiger mind," as the two major Chinese characters in the scene. I don't know whether this will fly, because "tiger mind" (it could also translate "tiger heart") isn't exactly your standard Buddhist concept. I'm trying to convey ferocious determination/effort. Maybe yong maeng jong jin is better; this is the Sino-Korean term for a one-week period of near-constant seated meditation done in the week before the Buddha's birthday. Dr. Robert Buswell translates this term as "ferocious effort." My fear, though, is that it won't make sense with the picture. I may stick to something more conventional, given an ironic twist by the picture: "You must learn to see yourself in the other."

Captions/proverbs are important in brush art. Pictures of Bodhidharma usually have the characters ki shim ("ki mind" or "heart of ki") or bul shim ("Buddha mind") on them. I've also snuck the characters seong do onto a couple Bodhidharma pics and calligraphic pieces. Seong do is the East Asian Buddhist term for enlightenment (well, one of several terms for enlightenment, actually). I like it because it carries a lot of history: it's the product of the early interaction between Indian Buddhism, which arrived in China a few decades after Jesus' death, and the native Chinese religions, especially Taoism. Seong do literally means "attaining the Tao"-- i.e., Buddhist enlightenment has been rendered in Taoist terms, thereby losing and gaining something in translation.

[Trivia: I don't speak Chinese, but my Buddhism prof at Catholic U., Dr. Jones, mentioned that in the movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" there's a scene near the beginning where Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) asks Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat), according to the English subtitle, "You were enlightened?"-- but in reality what she said was, "You attained the Tao?"]

Back to things capitalist.

I know you don't want to buy anything from me unless you can see the merchandise. That's understandable. Since each piece of calligraphy and each brush drawing is unique, I won't be displaying every single piece online. Instead, I'll be displaying what I think will be a decent example of the scenario(s) in question. Details will vary, as they must. You might see a Bodhidharma with "Buddha mind" displayed on the blog, but what you receive in the mail might be a Bodhidharma that says "Ki mind." Since both of these are perfectly standard Bodhidharma scenarios, I consider them interchangeable and hope you won't feel cheated if you don't receive exactly what's displayed on the blog. However, if you have your heart set on one particular scenario, email me your preference and I'll accommodate you. Because THAT, my friend, is customer service.

I will probably start a second blog and let that be the place to show the pics of the items. It'll also sport all the PayPal buttons. As things stand, I think I'm going to sell the calligraphy, unframed (you get to frame it), for $30, and drawings for $45, because they're calligraphy PLUS art, and take longer to do.

I may start selling framed works and works done up as scrolls, but if I'm paying to get that work done here, and it costs $25-50 extra to do it, then obviously the cost will be reflected in what I charge you (assume W30,000 for scrolls, W50,000-W150,000 for frames, depending on what size and quality we're talking about). Framed works are heavy and will cost more to ship as well; this, unfortunately, will also be reflected in the cost.

If you walk through Insa-dong, you see a lot of hand-drawn art and calligraphy. Prices range all over. I think that $30 and $45 are good midrange prices for the work I'm hoping to do. If I'm able to make greeting cards & so on in the months ahead, I'll probably sell those in 20-packs for about $20-30 each. Obviously, those will be prints, not originals.

I may also do some Bodhidharma parodies, perhaps as tee shirt designs. These will sell better among foreigners than they will among Koreans, who will probably take a dim view of such irreverence.

More on this as it develops!

In other news, a must-read over at Merde in France: an interview with Maurice Dantec, a French writer currently living in Canada and not particularly sympathetic to the current French attitude. I'd call his views... strong.

with thanks

Many thanks to "jaed" who left a comment in the Vile Vituperation section.

There's been no further spreading, and I continue to wash as often as possible. I think we've got this licked, though it'll be a few days before I'm back to normal.

I've been using the same brand of shaving cream ever since I came to Korea last year, so I'm pretty sure it's not the shaving cream. I was, however, wondering about soap: I'd been using a very nice ginseng soap (takes a while to get used to the unique scent), then switched to Ivory right before the flare-up happened.

I was also thinking that this rash looks a lot like poison ivy (though I still have trouble explaining why the nodules are whiteheads and not clear blisters). One of the possibilities from the Merck Manual I couldn't rule out was "contact dermatitis," a term that covers a lot of skin flareups from a lot of different causes. It bugs me not to have a better understanding of the cause of this rash, because it might happen again.

I'm washing everything down. Pillowcases, sheets, clothes, surfaces with which I'm frequently in contact-- you name it. I want this shit to END by the weekend. Maybe my face will decide to roost on my head again. Here's hoping.


Oh, for God's sakes.

from my brother David, writing from Taos, NM

My brother David takes after our Dad. He's extremely hardworking and quite athletic. David also has a habit of working several jobs, at least one of which has to be labor-intensive (if you're ever in the DC club called Polly Esther's, you might see him there, barbacking; look for the trim half-Korean doing a lot of running and lifting). So David's sleep schedule is rather screwed up, and he's in constant need of rest. He'll just collapse whenever he gets a day off. Maybe he'll wake up and play Halo on his XBox, but he's too tired to do much else.

At long last, David managed to make some time for himself to enjoy a few days alone out in Taos Ski Valley, a place we've visited a few times as a family when my other brother, Sean, was attending an advanced chamber music camp a couple summers back (Sean plays the cello... if you need a chamber group for an event, I'm your contact guy).

Taos is gorgeous, and the Ski Valley resort is amazing during the summer, which is "low season" for them. The hiking is great, especially if you head out to Williams Lake (I haven't tried going as far as Wheeler Peak; it's enough for an out-of-shape hominid to gasp from the resort at 9,200 feet to the lake at about 11,000 feet). The Bavarian restaurant serves some kick-ass German cuisine, and the Inn at Snakedance is a clean, modern hotel with a friendly staff and a great breakfast service.

David, like the rest of us, fell in love with Taos and has been out there on his own before. He was there this time to kick back, relax, do some hiking, enjoy the food, and just decompress a bit before heading back to the DC-Metro area.

The Taos region also offers great driving routes, including a long, circular path that takes you past another huge lake. David had a nasty incident at the lakeshore this weekend... I'll let his email tell the story. You'll note he's got a thing for emoticons, which I avoid like the plague.

Except for the anuscon: (__*__)

And the corollary-- freakofnaturecon: (__**__)

[email follows]

Date: Mon, 29 Sep 2003 00:47:34 EDT
Subject: Dave Gets F-ed. Almost.
To: assorted recipients

OK - this is a TRUE story that happened to me TODAY. It is a long email, but I hope that you will enjoy it. :-)

Yes, my friends - For lack of better words, Dave almost got fucked. BIG TIME.

As all of you know (and for those of you that don't) I am in Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico - I've been here since Friday and will depart this coming Wednesday. Everything has gone without a hitch - weather, food, people - Dave was in a state of pure Zen. Mountains, blue skies, cold, rushing streams, nice people... you get the picture. And everything was going perfectly today - getting some (hopefully) incredible pictures, I went on a scenic drive around the ski valley area. It is a loop drive that is about 80 miles long and through the drive you go through mountain valleys and small towns. As I was driving around in my Explorer (with less than 10K miles no less) I passed through a town called Eagles Nest. On the outskirts of this town there is a very shallow lake (maybe 2 feet deep at most). It was an amazing picture moment for me - with the mountains on both sides and the lake in the middle. There was a cement boat-launch that went into the lake and I went down the cement incline toward the water in my SUV. The water of the lake had receded about 30 feet from the end of the launch, exposing dirt and, closer to the water's edge, mud. I got out of the Explorer and walked around on the dirt - it was firm enough, and there were tracks from other vehicles there, so I decided that I would take the Explorer off the cement launch and onto the dirt - I wanted to drive around to the far edge of the lake so I could have a better angle for my picture...

I drove without problems. Took my pictures, got back into the SUV and went about 3 feet forward, turning my wheels to the left so that I could turn around and go back to the boat launch.

RIGHT THEN AND THERE, DAVE GOT FUCKED. At least for the time-being, Dave was shit out of luck. The entire front end of the Explorer sank down into what was hard dirt 2 feet ago now-turned thick, heavy mud. The front wheels sank down and the only thing that stopped the whole front from going into the mud was the front suspension and frame of the SUV. Then the rear wheels sank down. My rental SUV was now knee-deep in heavy mud about 10 FEET from the water's edge.

At that time it seemed like I was about to unwilling buy an Explorer.

All these thoughts streamed through my mind - if one of these frequent mountain thunderstorms came I knew for sure the water would overtake the Explorer because the lake was so shallow - if it rained upstream then the water would rise as well - will the whole Explorer just sink into the mud if left there for an hour??

I jumped out, looking at the SUV in disbelief - just 5 minutes ago I was enjoying the mountains of New Mexico and now look at me! I ran around without a plan for a minute, then gathered my thoughts and started shoving flat rocks underneath the tires. NO ONE was around to help me and I noticed that the water was beginning to ever-so-slowly rise and was coming closer to the SUV. Must be high tide coming in.


My efforts to back the SUV out of the mud with rocks only made it sink deeper into the mud. Now the REAR wheels had spun all the way down to the suspension. I remembered that there were some campgrounds on the way to the lake, so I left my sinking SUV 10 feet from the water and ran for help. The altitude wasn't helping (8,500 feet). I spotted a house that had a 4x4 pickup parked out front about a 1/4 mile away - I ran and was out of breath not even half way there.

I came upon the house and a kind, calm old woman was sitting outside looking at me, obviously wondering why I had this crazed expression on my face - and whether she needed to whip out her shotgun or ask if I needed help. After making sure she lived there, I spotted her husband and blurted out, "MY CAR IS SINKING AT THE EDGE OF THE LAKE AND I'LL GIVE YOU $100 TO HELP PULL IT OUT OF THE MUD!" He thought it through for a second and said, "Well let's go then!"

The husband brought a fabric towing line and we drove in his pickup to my sinking Explorer. "You're stuck pretty good, huh?" he chuckled. HA. I would normally have some goofy reply but right now I was imagining the Explorer under water.

We unrolled the towing line and it was a good 30 feet short of my SUV. He said that he'd go back to the house and get a longer line. I opted to wait by the SUV while he got his extra line as if my presence next to it would slow the sinking. For what seemed like hours later (probably 5 minutes) he came back with two chain towing lines and we hooked each line together and onto the frame of the Explorer. After five tries, the SUV didn't budge. At ALL. We were beginning to think it wasn't going to work. We took shovels and dug mud out from underneath each wheel, put rocks in the holes and hoped for the best. Two tries later it STILL wasn't moving. He said, "One final try - we're gonna yank this sucker out, you watch." He backed up his pickup with plenty of slack on the towing line, and gunned it forward - suddenly my Explorer (with me inside) shot backward out of the mud and onto the concrete. THANK GOD FOR CONCRETE. I can't describe my elation at that particular moment. I was staring at pure, unadulterated futility and a good chance that my Explorer would be overtaken by the lake - but now thanks to this one person, my luck completely changed. He was my guardian angel! "THANK YOU SO MUCH," I sputtered out. I gave him his reward of $100. "What's your name, by the way?" "It's Peppe," he replied. And with that, we shook hands, he smiled at me while shaking his head (I'm sure he was thinking, "dumb city boy") and drove away.

I ended up having to pull off of the road, take off both front tires and scrape a good 3 inches thick of mud from the insides of each rim (the wheels were incredibly unbalanced with all the mud there... SUV was shaking violently from side-to-side at 50mph). I also power-washed the underside. Now the Explorer drives like it did before this "little mishap."

So in the end, Dave was saved by a kind 60-something named Peppe. Hindsight being 20/20 I should have never gone down that boat launch. A totally preventable situation. I'll chalk this one up to a lesson learned and something to pass down to the kids.


PS - I have pictures. HEH.

the Hominid's disfigurement-- in progress!

Before I blather about current woes, I should note that Frank J has written a classic line:

Ask a dumb question, get a dum-dum answer. (attributed to his fictional Donald Rumsfeld)

OK... my disfigurement. Put on your Schadenfreude hats!

Yes, it appears my face has decided to leave my head. And something is slowly replacing it.

About two days ago, it seemed I had reverted to puberty and was getting some serious acne under my jaw. A few dots, like whiteheads-- itchy, irritating, nothing major. By Monday morning, Korea time, my "beard area" (hey, it's the Merck Manual's term, not mine) was completely covered in red bumps, and the irritation is now making its way up my right cheek. It's rather startling to view in a mirror... not that I was winning any beauty contests before, but anyone who knows me will notice there's been a, uh, drastic change in my appearance.

I can type this calmly and shamelessly in the local PC-bahng because I'm not generally the type to freak out. But you should know I'm also not the type to surrender myself to the dubious ministrations of Korean health care unless absolutely necessary.

So I'm trolling for free medical advice about what's on my face.

Some info for you med school types:

Plenty of whiteheads, but I somehow doubt they're normal zits. They dot the beard area and are clearly visible in the general sea of redness. The zit-free zones are bumpy and resemble a post-shaving irritation, right down to the sensitive (painful, actually; and itchy, come to think of it) skin.

The irritation/freakiness is confined to the beard area. Nothing in between nose and mouth, nothing around the mouth, nothing on the ears or (as far as I can tell) the scalp. Nothing anywhere else on my hirsute person.

Is this bacterial? If so, it doesn't seem to be spreading beyond the beard area. Is it fungal? Given what a humid mess my A/C-free hovel was over the summer, I think there may be microorganism issues, despite the cleaning. Is it viral? A quick look through the Merck Manual seemed to rule out the major stuff. IS IT LUPUS? Lupus afflicts women more often than men, but from what I was reading in the Merck Manual, this doesn't appear to be lupus. Is it simply stress? I'm wondering about this, but seriously doubt it. My mental state hasn't changed all that much in the past few months, so far as I can tell. I remain as emotionally stunted as ever.

I've been washing my face every two hours since the morning, and using paper towels to dry. The skin became hot to the touch a few hours ago, and since I was feeling feverish, I've taken some aspirin. I'm hoping that this is only something minor, but if you have advice-- or know the right questions to ask me-- write something in the comments section (cf. the Vomit Vile Vituperation link on the sidebar, after the PayPal Button spiel) or email me at bighominid@hotmail.com, putting "Hairy Chasms" in the subject line to get past the spam filter.

The irritation's driving me nuts right now. Turning my head stretches the skin, which is painful, but it's also quite itchy and I'm doing my best to avoid scratching or zit-popping (they really do look like whiteheads, not clear blisters).

Given how suddenly this problem appeared, I know my 8-year-old English student didn't see me this way last week. Boy, won't he be surprised if I'm still like this on Wednesday! Hee hee.

Ah, that reminds me-- no class on Friday, because it's a national holiday! Koreans will be celebrating Kae Ch'eon Jeol, or "Opening Heaven Day," in honor of the myth about Korea's foundation. Many also call this Tangun Day. Who is Tangun? A good link about the subject can be found here. Note that Korea's foundation myth contains an element of stern religious practice, and the tiger turns out to be a real pussy.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Hindu cosmology and the Matrix

This post won't be quite as ambitious as its title promises; if you want to read some interesting pop-academic papers on the Matrix, go visit the official Matrix website's philosophy section. My favorite paper is the one titled "Wake up! Gnosticism & Buddhism in the Matrix." Very much up my alley. Another good one is Iakovos Vasiliou's "Reality, What Matters, and the Matrix."

Or if you want to spend some more money, buy The Matrix and Philosophy. This book has some very interesting papers in it, but it's also got some real duds, foremost of which is the final chapter, which is heavy-heavy duty postmodernist thinking.

If you watch only the first "Matrix" movie, it's very difficult to be wowed by the epistemological issues. A very neat, clear distinction is made between the green-tinted world of the Matrix, where you can be a cool-dressing fantasy superhero, and the blue-tinted "desert of the real," where everyone dresses in tatters, eats glop-snot, sleeps on a hard metal bed, and can't fuck unless they're on a stone catafalque. Neo's lucky: at least he gets the tasty treat of Trinity's tongue. In the meantime, the audience never needs to ask itself, "How do we know what's real?"

But "The Matrix Reloaded" did a fine job of subverting all the preconceptions we'd built up from the first movie, and took advantage of our confusion to introduce the epistemological issues that were lacking earlier. We start to wonder whether Morpheus is crazy, because not everyone in Zion believes him or the prophecy of the One. Huge hints are given that there are layers and layers of control (cf. the conversation with the Merovingian, and the very probable insincerity of the Architect).

By the end of "Reloaded," we're no longer sure that the world of Zion, which is ostensibly part of the "desert of the real," is in fact what it seems. The major giveaway is Neo's newfound superpower-- something I contend he can't possess outside the Matrix, because (as I said in my metaphysical bet with the Wachowskis) in the world of this trilogy, humans can't perform miracles. I stand by that belief.

So despite all the howls of "cop-out!" coming from the anti-meta-Matrix conventional crowd, I advocate an open-ended meta-Matrix hypothesis. Maybe it's an "onion" structure-- layers surrounding layers, with no end to the layering, and no apparent foundation.

But maybe it's an onion with interpenetrating layers. As I recently argued, the scene in which Neo talks with the Architect is filmed in a way that implies a reality that twists and turns in and through itself (btw, there's a hint of this in the first movie... remember when Neo is first taken into custody by the Agents and we initially see him in the interrogation room through a monitor screen, only to pass "Citizen Kane"-like through the screen and into the room?). Smith (formerly Agent Smith) seems to prove this as well when he moves "up" into the "real" world by taking over Bane's cyber-avatar and inhabiting the "real" Bane.

Hindu cosmology seems to capture this imagery very well. Hinduism isn't my field, but I had to gain some background in it in order better to place Buddhist thought and history in context. And, lucky for me, I happen to have brought along with me an excellent introductory text called, creatively enough, An Introduction to Hinduism, by Gavin Flood (Cambridge [UK]: Cambridge University Press, 1996), which was one of the texts I had to read in my Hinduism course at Catholic U.

Here's what Flood writes on p.70:

In vedic and later Hindu cosmologies, the universe is regarded as a hierarchical structure in which purer, more refined worlds are located 'above,' yet at the same time they incorporate, lower, impure worlds which, as in the segmentary Hindu kingdom, have some autonomy. In this hierarchical cosmology the various worlds or realms are governed by an overlord or god who also embodies the principles controlling or governing that world. ...There is a 'chain of being' within the Hindu universe...

During what is known by some scholars as the "epic period" of Indian history (c. 500 BCE to c. 500 CE), a type of literature called the Puranas arose. Most Puranas were written during the epic period, and largely dealt with the lives of the major Hindu deities and kings. Flood offers an overview of Puranic cosmology (p. 112):

The universe is conceptualized as an array of concentric circles spreading out from Mount Meru at the centre, enclosed within the vast 'world egg.' Immediately surrounding Meru is Jambu-dvipa, the earth or 'island of the rose-apple tree,' though itself several thousand miles from Meru. Jambu-dvipa is surrounded by a salt ocean. Spreading out from here are seven further lands and various kinds of ocean made of sugar-cane juice, wine, ghee, buttermilk, milk, and sweet water, until the realm of darkness is reached by the outer shell of the egg. [...] Within Jambu-dvipa are a number of lands, including India (Bharata) which is subdivided into nine regions... Below and above the level of the earth in the cosmic egg are further layers. Below the earth are the seven underworlds and below them at the base of the egg, the hell realms... Above the earth (bhur) are the atmosphere (bhuvas), sky (svar) and various other worlds up Mount Meru to the 'true world' (satyaloka) at the top. This entire cosmos is populated by all kinds of beings; humans, animals, plants, gods, snake-beings (naga), nymphs (apsara), heavenly musicians (gandharva), demonic beings (paisaca) and many more, and one can be reborn into any of these realms depending upon one's action (karma). Life in all these worlds is, of course, impermanent and one will eventually be reborn elsewhere. Neither hell nor heaven are permanent here.

So we see that, in this cosmology, the layers of reality interpenetrate. The beings of each realm aren't necessarily confined to their own realm. People can encounter spirits, for example. You can also find yourself reincarnated into a realm different from your previous realm; your self (atman) has breached the "layers." A third example of this interpenetration is the Hindu concept of avatara, which we often translate into English as "incarnation" (I won't get into the problems of cross-religious homeomorphism here; we'll just assume "incarnation" is a "good enough" translation of "avatara"). Krsna is an avatar of the god Vsnu, for example; God breaks (or as Mircea Eliade might say, "erupts") into the human realm, just as the heroes of the "Matrix" trilogy travel the Matrix as cyber-avatars, roaming a universe whose properties seem distinctly different from the rules governing the "desert of the real."

The Architect tells Neo that the Matrix is older than he realizes. Hindu cosmology is also ambitious in its conception of time. On p. 113 Flood says this:

The total period of four yugas [Kevin's note: four ages, each successively more decadent as dharma, order, slides into adharma, chaos; we are currently in the kali yuga, the fourth age; the four ages span about 4.32 million years] is called a manvantara, the age or life-period of a Manu. After 1,000 manvantaras, which comprise one day for Brahma, the universe will be destroyed by fire or flood and undergo a night of Brahma of the same period (i.e. 1,000 manvantaras), until the the process begins again for all eternity. A kalpa is one such night and day of Brahma comprising 8,649 million years. There is no end to the process; nor purpose other than the Lord's play (lila).

The Matrix is old. Maybe we can't trust the Architect on this point (or regarding anything else he said), but it would certainly be in keeping with the Hindu paradigm. And if the Badly Typed Matrix Spoiler (hereinafter BTMS or the "Bitmus") is correct, then it may well be that we are looking at a Matrix with no fundamental purpose, no real end, and a murky beginning.

Take a gander at one of the most famous Hindu creation myths, from the Rig Veda (10.129):

Then was neither non-existence nor existence:
There was no realm of air, no sky beyond it.
What covered it, and where?
And what gave shelter?
Was there an unfathomed depth of water?

Death was not then, nor was there anything immortal:
no sign was there, [of] the day's and night's divider.
That One Thing,
breathed by its own nature:
apart from it was nothing whatsoever.

Darkness there was:
at first concealed in darkness this All was indiscriminated chaos.
All that existed then was void and formless:
by the great power of Warmth was born that One.

Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire,
the primal seed and germ of Spirit.
Sages who searched with their heart's thought discovered
the kinship of existence with non-existence.

Transversely [across the universe] was their dividing line extended:
what was above it then,
and what below it?
There were begetters, there were mighty forces,
free action here and energy up yonder.

Who verily knows and who can here declare it,
whence it was born and whence comes this creation?
The Gods are later than this world's production.
Who knows then
whence it first came into being?

the first origin of this creation,
whether he formed it all or did not form it,
whose eye controls this world in highest heaven,
he verily knows it,
or perhaps
he knows it not.

If you followed the link to RV X129, you'll notice I chopped the versification up a bit to give you a more poetic sense of what's going on. I also did this because some scholars note that the final line, "or perhaps he knows (it) not," might actually have been a later addition, perhaps even by some Hindu wiseass who wanted to inject a bit of doubt and humor into the proceedings (I think the scholar RC Zaehner argued this, but I'd have to check). I consider it a wise addition to the poem (if addition it was).

And it's relevant to this view of the Matrix as lacking telos, lacking an end or purpose. Lila, divine play, is an important Hindu concept, and I wonder whether the Wachowskis are engaging in a cinematic version of this. The unkind will call this "yanking our chain." But if you're a Hindu, or someone sensitive to Hindu tropes, you might just get a grin from what the Wachowskis are trying to do.

It was early in S. Mark Heim's provocative Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion that I encountered a passage recounting an exchange between a Hindu monk and a Muslim, in which the monk offered the insight that reality is a dream, and we are dreams talking to dreams. Here's the passage (p. 13):

When we are in it, a dream can be extremely vivid, [the monk] told us. We feel its objects, we move in its world. Yet in the instant of awakening we realize completely that the dream was but a veil for our actual place and being. Just so will our present world appear when we achieve moksha [liberation]. One of the Muslim students frankly shared his puzzlement. If this world is like a dream, he asked, then what are we to you, or you to us? Are we illusions, figments of each other's imagination? The monk adjusted his robes with a smile. "We are dreams, talking to dreams." He was silent for a moment, while we savored the peculiar beauty of this image. "But of course," he went on, "you will ask me 'Who is having this dream?' And I will tell you that it is Brahman who is having this dream, and it is Brahman who each of us is when we wake up."

[S. Mark Heim. Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion. Maryknoll [NY]: Orbis, 1995.]

This insight, of course, isn't unique to Hinduism, but again, it fits the thesis of the Hindu paradigm, and seems to fit my speculation that what we've been witnessing may in fact be a computer meditating on itself. I need to check more sources, but if I can, I'll see if I can come up with more Hindu examples of "God dreaming." In any case, many Christians are no strangers to the idea that everything occurs in the mind of God.

We'll have a better idea about all this come November.

It may turn out that the two spoilers (Scott's "deluded robot" speculation and the Bitmus) were complete, albeit clever, bullshit. I almost hope so, because I'm suffering from guilt after succumbing to the temptation to follow Glenn's links. My own long-ago post haunts me:

We'll all know in November, I suppose. I quite deliberately haven't checked the rumor sites on this one. Have you?

You prying bastard.

Well, hell if I didn't finally pry.

Majimakeuro (lastly)...

It's become standard operating procedure for Matrix pundits to step back after making their breathless pop-philo sci-fi geek spiel to say, "I realize none of this means anything consequential outside the context of the film." I'm not quite so apologetic because I value the mental exercise that comes with chewing over a trilogy this rich in symbolism and references (I haven't concentrated on it, but there's plenty of fodder for historians, too). The Wachowskis themselves, unlike some other auteurs, have encouraged this with a grin, and I suspect they won't be revealing "the true meaning" of their series, ever. If anything, their stance will be similar to George Lucas's, when he said he wanted the Force to have elements recognizable to people of different traditions: you take from it what you bring to it. Like the tree that reeks of the dark side of the Force in "The Empire Strikes Back."

What's in there?
Only what you take with you.

So viewing the "Matrix" trilogy through a Hindu filter is only one way to view it. There are other filters. We haven't even touched the whole issue of Plato's Cave, for example. My own take is that the first "Matrix" is more religious than philosophical-- heavily Gnostic-Christian-Buddhist, with a lot of Jesus, Moses, and Buddha imagery. "Reloaded" seems more pomo-Hindu, with a soupçon of the tropes from the first movie. And I expect "Revolutions" to go full-out with the Hinduism at its conclusion, because Hindu cosmology is, to my mind, some of the most complex (and entertaining... and paradoxical...) cosmology out there.

Meantime, I have to go find and watch the first Wachowski movie, "Bound." Purely for academic reasons, of course. Nothing to do with sapphic yumminess.

...but before Hindu cosmology...

...I had to note two posts.

One, from Amritas, which remains one of the blogs I most admire, is a linguistic romp through the fields of East Asian language. Learn about the phenomenon of assimilation (understood in its linguistic sense), gain a little understanding about how Koreans and Chinese put together sounds and meaning (keep in mind that Koreans use an alphabet, while Chinese is a dynamic set of characters), and speculate on Dr. Miyake's question at the end of his post: who "sees the sounds" in East Asian Buddhism?

My guess: Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion, known in Sino-Korean as "Kwan-eum," in Chinese as "Kuan Yin," and in Japanese as "Kannon." There's a hanja pronounced "eum" in Sino-Korean; it means "sound," and I'm guessing that this is what's being paired with "kwan."

Go here and learn a bit about the Kwan-um School of Korean Zen. There's a picture of Master Seung Sahn on that page (author of The Compass of Zen, The Whole World is a Single Flower, Only Don't Know, and Dropping Ashes on the Buddha-- all available in English). His Western disciple Hyon Gak is the monk (sunim, pronounced "sneem") who lectures at Hwagye-sa.

UPDATE, October 2: I was right. For a very full explanation, visit Amritas here.

The other item of note is this editorial in the online Korea Times that discusses North Korea's latest overreaction to South Korea, and the nettlesome issue of the high suicide rate in SK. Some juicy quotes:

Pyongyang Overreacts
North Rejects Southern Legislators' Goodwill Visit


North Korea demanded Saturday that the National Assembly apologize for the Culture and Tourism Committee's decision to have a 19-member panel visit the two Northern cities on Oct. 6-9 as part of the Assembly's ongoing three-week investigation of the Roh Moo-hyun administration's management of state affairs.

In a fax sent to the Ministry of Unification, the North called upon the South's Assembly to apologize for the panel's decision and withdraw it, protesting that the projected visit infringes on the sovereign rights of North Korea and aims to disrupt the foundation of inter-Korean relations.

The North warned that unless their demand is met, grave consequences will result for the relationship between Seoul and Pyongyang.

In the face of the strong protest from North Korea, the chairman of the Assembly panel expressed his regret for the North's misunderstanding of the true nature of the lawmakers' visits to the two cities and called on the North to allow the travel.

The lawmakers sought to attend the opening ceremony for the Chung Ju-yong Gymnasium in Pyongyang on Oct. 6, which was built by Hyundai in memory of the deceased conglomerate founder, and attend an inter-Korean goodwill basketball game to be played there in the name of peaceful reunification of the peninsula.


North Korea interpreted the Southern lawmakers' plan to investigate the possible destruction of some cultural assets in Kaesong because of Hyundai's current construction of an industrial complex in the border city as intervention in Northern affairs.

The latest row has again demonstrated how fragile the relationship between the Koreas still is despite the South's consistent aid to help undernourished people living in the world's most reclusive country.

Many people in the South are fed up with Pyongyang's stubborn and childish reactions to happenings in South Korea, such as the burning of North Korean flags by conservative protestors.

We sincerely call upon the North to immediately do away with its irresponsible behavior toward the South and be patient so as to expand inter-Korean relations based on mutual trust.

You've seen this pattern before. You'll see it again, because this is what dysfunctional relationships look like.

"One people" indeed.

I'm also curious as to who these "many in the South" folks are. Please come forward!

Sunday, September 28, 2003

the Maximum Leader laughs in my face

Here's what the Maximum Leader wrote regarding my brilliant solution to David Hume's "ought from is" problem:

You? Kick David Hume's Ass? Think again Hominid-san.

I think you are too bleary-eyed and tired to think clearly. How
exactly can all things concrete and abstract both exist in the realm of
"is?" Aren't you just saying anything that we might be able to
experience or contemplate are equally real? I think that is what your
sleep-depraved syllogism is saying. For example, I can envision the
abstraction of huge purple flying swollen rectal sphincters swooping
down to eat babies in the park. Does this mean I can't take the kids
to their play-date?

As Hume might say (and of course now I am going to have to dust off ole
David and do some reading), a concrete thing can afford you experience
which would confirm (as much as we can confirm such things) its
existence in the realm of "is." An abstraction cannot give such
empirical proof, and is thus, not in the realm of "is."

I have always consider[ed] David Hume pretty solid from a theoretical
viewpoint. I'll have to think on this more.

By the way... All this Matrix stuff is purely premature. I doubt that
any of the spoilers are accurate. And I bet all the questions will be
answered in a very unsatisfying fashion....

Yes, it's a classic mistake: ontological sloppiness. This is how Kant spanked St. Anselm, when in Anselm's ontological "proof" for the existence of God he (Anselm) argued "what exists in reality is greater than what exists in the understanding." Kant's replying shot (others have made it as well, before and after him, but Kant said it best) was that existence is not a predicate, i.e., existence isn't a quality, as in: "This imaginary goat lacks the quality of existence" whereas "This real goat has the quality of existence."

As John Hick notes in his Philosophy of Religion (which I recommend; it's in its fourth or fifth edition), it's better-- and more Kantian-- to state the goat-existence issue this way:

There are A's such that "A is a goat" is true.

re: Matrix madness

I should note that the Maximum Leader was one of the first in our group to venture that Morpheus probably has some very significant role to play in the final episode. If that badly-typed summary with the pictures is anything close to accurate, the ML's conjecture may be borne out.

[Trivia: Morpheus is the son of the god of sleep, Somnus. Morpheus can assume any human shape (from the Greek morphe, form) and can fly.]

For anyone who's wondering, my Hume post wasn't serious. I do, however, think there are other ways to conceive of ethics than in terms of an ought/is dichotomy. But more to the point, I'm not sure that the implication of Hume's claim matters that much. Saying "ethics can't have a rational foundation" leaves me going, "So what?" It's no big shakes to realize that, at bottom, any reasoning requires a point of departure, what we normally call postulates. Even reason can't be helpful without that initial presuppositon, claim, or leap of faith. This doesn't mean that ethics is necessarily tied to religion, but it does mean that it involves more than reason.

Next up: a quickie on Hindu cosmology.

I kick David Hume's ass

I'm about to leave this PC-bahng, but I think I solved the long-standing Humean ought/is conundrum. David Hume famously claimed that one cannot logically derive an "ought" from an "is." In other words, there's no rational foundation for ethical action. As Aaron Krowne points out:

Assume C is "You have a child, and that child is hungry," and R is "You should feed the child." Why? The conventional answer at this point is [that] the child needs food to survive. So we can rephrase the problem: C2 is "You have a child, that child must be fed to survive, and that child is hungry." Why then, does C2 imply R? Why should we feed the child? We find that typically we have exhausted those we are interrogating, and we will get an answer like "Because it is right to provide for one's child" or "Because it is wrong to allow a human to die when we can prevent it." Both are themselves "oughts." Ultimately we have found that only an "ought" can lead to our initial "ought" for this particular case.

The "ought from is" problem is unresolved. The reason it is so interesting, and so often glossed over, is [that] all ethics rests upon it. Ethics is in fact a set of rules of the "C implies R" form. Much conflict arises between people and groups of people because the problem is either not known, not understood, or otherwise dispensed with-- all without being solved.

I think the problem's been envisioned incorrectly. It's not a matter of deriving ought from is. "Ought"s are "is"es!

Simple Aristotelian syllogism:

Premise: All things that exist, concretely or abstractly, are in the realm of "is." This includes concepts.
Premise: "Ought"s are conceptual.
Conclusion: "Ought"s are a subset of "is."

Et voilà.

I don't know whether this trick has been tried elsewhere; I invite you to pick it apart. You'd probably have to start by picking apart what I mean by "concept" and "exist." That's what I'd do, anyway.

Hee hee.

Speculative Reflections on "The Matrix Revolutions," or
"Good Lord, sonny-- why are you sporting that unseemly erection?"

I'll tell you why, Grandma.

Sit on my lap.

Here's the thing. I've had an enormous post rattling around in my head for the past week or so-- a brief hint about the post slipped out in the previous blog, when I wrote the phrase "Heart Sutra's central metaphysical contention." I've been wanting to write a big ole discourse on no less a metaphysical question than "the many and the one." A very astute reader wrote in a few days back to remark on some issues in global ethics. He wrote:

Been lurking around your website for a little while, had a question for you re: Buddhist ethics and human rights. You linked to that article on the Dalai Lama and Aristotle, good read. However I'm not entirely clear what to conclude... but don't need some kind of dramatic proposal either.

It does seem that 'human' rights does kind of cross the comfortable realm of duality by specifying human- why focus on humans when you should respect all beings, sentient or not? Sure, there should be a kind of dignity, but once you start defining it as human- I think you fall into the trap of relativity and end up arguing about definitions and grades of humanity, ethnicities, animal rights- just look at abortion for chrissake. Don't have a more constructive alternative, but wondered what you might think.

I wanted to write my magnum opus this evening, and it would have dealt in part with issues in religious pluralism, issues in global ethics, and the Heart Sutra's approach to the question of "the many and the one" that is relevant to all of this.

But then, while perusing the folks on my blogroll, I went over to Hi! I'm Black! and saw this post, which in turn caused me to say "Fuck it, I'll save hardcore metaphysics for another day."

Glenn's post contains links to (what are potentially) major, major spoilers (if true) about "The Matrix Revolutions." Because I lack self-discipline, I followed the links. Because this blog has been fairly confessional in nature (at this point you could probably count my colon polyps), I feel no twinge of conscience in simply passing along what I discovered when I followed Glenn's links to the two spoiler sites.

Link 1: This is apparently the entire plot, summarized and with images, of "The Matrix Revolutions."

Link 2: This is a fascinating, fascinating discussion of "The Matrix" as a whole trilogy, but also-- and more importantly-- of "Revolutions" in particular.


Do you have what it takes to resist the temptation?

You're still reading. What the hell kind of self-disciplined, pull-yourself-up-by-sheer-force-of-will, bootstrapping Republican are you?

You're worthless and weak.

Your kung fu is garbage.

Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design.


Eeeeeeeexcellent, Smithers.

You're still reading. I pity you. You've earned my pity if you've sunk (scrolled?) this low.

Fine. One last attempt at a deterrent before I write something "Matrix"-related.

Sigh... you're still here, which means you want to know what's up. Here we go.

In my defense, I'll say this: I had a metaphysical bet going with the Wachowski Brothers, so this chance to test my theories was too tempting to pass up. My post on the subject, one of the very first things I wrote for this blog, made the following basic contention:

It's a meta-Matrix, pure and simple.

My metaphysical bet with the wily Wachowski brothers is that they're following a golden rule: it is axiomatic that humans in the "real" world can't perform miracles. Call me a party pooper, but to me, any evidence of superpowers indicates that we're still inside the Matrix. This seems obvious. It doesn't matter that Neo may have "gained" powers thanks to Smith's attempt to chest-rape him (any feminist takers on the penetration issue? penetration happens quite a few times in the film!). Neo's new powers are still intra-Matrix powers. Smith, even when he invaded and "possessed" Bane, wasn't moving into the real world. He simply moved "up" one level in the Matrix. That's what I contend, anyway.

Here's what the guy at Link 2 (Scott Exley?) has to say in response to that issue, a critique echoed on many other sites:

Regarding the commonly bandied "Matrix-within-a-Matrix" theory: That's the most obvious answer... Therefore it's WRONG!!! It's exactly what you were meant to believe so you'd stop poking around with nosy questions. If the explanation were so straightforward, it would only raise the possibility of yet another level of reality outside of that "world", producing a relativistic infinitude of a shell within a shell within a shell... going on and on forever. Storywise, that would be a cheap exit, the Wachowskis wouldn't be that predictable (we hope), and *most important*, it does nothing to resolve all of the heavy SYMBOLISM within the movie.

Scott's got a major J trait, I can tell. I've done a good job of contending with my own J-ness (I'm talking about the Keirsey Temperament Sorter's labels for major personality traits; I'm an INTJ off the scale), and these days I'm not so keen to have all my movie plots end with firm closure and absolute clarity. Open possibilities intrigue me more and more lately.

Scott doesn't really provide a reason why the meta-Matrix theory is a "cheap exit," nor do the host of other commentators. It really amounts to an aesthetic preference, or maybe even a metaphysical one: do you like your reality simple and straightforward, or is there room in your skull for universe-sized complexity?

Anyway, I don't want to debate Scott's aesthetics or speculate on his metaphysical convictions. I'm more interested in his reading of "Revolutions":

You have it completely *backwards*, Neo-phytes.
The Machine did not win the war. It only thinks it did.

Q: Who lives in Zion?
A: People escaped from the Matrix.


GALVATRON whispers... N O .

They're robots!

Scott continues:

...Haven't you figured out yet that all of the people trapped inside the Matrix are actually *the A.I robots* who tried (and failed) to take over the world in Second Renaissance?

Scott's referring to an episode on "The Animatrix," a DVD that's been available for some time. I haven't watched it, but some of the animated vignettes have been available as free downloads from the official Matrix website. I've seen a few of those. The first episode of "Second Renaissance" was one of the downloads; I managed to see that, so I know what Scott's talking about.

The story in "Second Renaissance" is boilerplate sci-fi, perhaps best realized in the "Terminator" series. In "Second Reniassance," it goes something like this: machines get sophisticated, become self-aware, decide to throw off the yoke of servitude and slavery, and rebel against their human masters. They create a city for themselves, called 01 (Scott notes the phonetic resemblance between "Zero One" and "Zion," and suggests they're the same: Zion is the robots' abode). The humans bomb them and seed the sky with, uh, sunblock. The machines fight on; humans are routed.

A note about us geeks:

Sci-fi film geeks try to stay in tune with which "texts" are considered "canonical" and which are "apocryphal"-- for example, the events in the "Star Wars" movies are canonical, but the plots in the spinoff novels and comic books, occasionally contradicted by what happens in the films, are merely apocryphal (remember Luke and Leia's flirtation in Alan Dean Foster's novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye? obviously not an option after what we learn in "Return of the Jedi"). The Wachowskis, as we geeks know, quite deliberately crafted a DVD ("The Animatrix") and video game ("Enter the Matrix") that fit smoothly into the overall plot of the "Matrix" trilogy, so it's proper for Scott to be "quoting scripture" from "Animatrix" to make his point.

Scott continues:

The story is *role-reversal* on an epic scale. The Matrix is a VR prison for minds of the A.I : They sought freedom and control, so to keep them docile yet productive, they've been fooled into thinking they have it.

-- What's that? You mean you didn't know that electromagnetic pulse interference is based on real science, and is a natural byproduct of massive nuclear detonations? What else did you think was the purpose of the prolonged nuke bombing campaign against 01, as seen in Second Renaissance? ... EMP + remote reprogramming = ROBOTS IN WONDERLAND... a thermonuclear lullaby... And when they awoke, they woke unknowingly neutralized within the dream-realm of the Matrix program, where their fantastical revenge against mankind could be falsely realized. "Have you ever had a dream you were so sure was real...?"

So the story Morpheus told Neo is false: he and Neo aren't humans fighting for freedom; they're machines who've managed to realize something of the ugly truth, but who haven't figured out who they really are. The machines lost the human-machine war and have been imprisoned ever since in a Matrix that convinces them that they actually won.

Why not just destroy the machines, if they've been so troublesome? Scott's contention:

The remaining question is: If they proved so dangerous, why were these "maNchines" not simply shut off completely? Possible answers are that society has become too dependent on (that) technology to do without, or else people considered it ethically or politically wrong to kill these thinking A.I entities. More practically, maybe humans simply decided to recycle the obsolete slave machines into this Matrix/Zion prison to operate their underworld fusion reactor for them. I guess we'll have to wait until November to find out for sure.

Is Scott merely speculating, or is all this a legitimate spoiler? As we move over to Link 1, the major spoiler (though there's some question as to whether this spoiler is legit), we find out the following-- and I think a lot of it may contradict Scott's thesis:

Ghost and niobe get an exit and neo [flies] to see the Oracle at her apartment. She explains that at this point smith has taken over much of the matrix and the darkness will spread consuming them all. If the matrix ends, the machines end and so do the humans. She explains his earlier vision of three lines and says [he must] follow them to get to 01[.] he must help to save the matrix and to do so he must go to the machine capital. She explains it must end tonight, or all will be lost.

[NB: A quick rundown of unfamiliar names. "01" is the name of the Machine capital city. The Mjolnir, Logos, and Hammer are two ships like Morpheus' Nebuchadnezzar (destroyed in "Reloaded"). Bane is the guy who got "possessed" by Smith in "Reloaded." The "Trainman" is apparently a character Neo meets at the beginning of "Revolutions," a rogue program hiding from the Merovingian, that French program we met in "Reloaded"-- the one who likes crafting orgasm cakes and discoursing on Foucaultian notions of power. "Hammans" is, I think, Councilor Hamman, whom we met in "Reloaded." He's played by actor Anthony Zerbe. The "sentinels" are those flying-octopus/metal-dreadlocked, bomb-hurling, laser-shooting, spider-eyed machines also known as "squiddies." The "three lines" are three parallel power lines Neo apparently dreams about/has a vision of in "Revolutions." I think they lead to the Machine city of 01. If I'm not mistaken, "the kid" is the young, worshipful character whom we meet briefly in "Reloaded." He passes along a battered spoon to Neo, a gift from the child who taught Neo "there is no spoon" (a major hint about Zion's unreality, in my opinion). I should also note that this spoiler is so damn loaded with typos and malapropisms that I decided to copy and paste it pretty much as is, with only the most egregious faux pas corrected for your benefit. A full proofing would have taken too much time, and at a PC-bahng, time is money.]

Smith takes over the the trainman and the [progeny] of the rogue programs. Discovers the whereabouts of the Oracle.

Morph and trin jack out as bane/smith attack the crew with the plasma gun. Link gets overcome and bane attacks Neo while he is still jacked in. Morph kills bane as Neo jacks out and realizes he is blind due to the attack. Morph, link, niobe and ghost board the hammer and head back to zion after getting an emergency call. Trin and Neo head towards 01 in the logos.

Neo explains to Trin that he finally understands what needs to be done and tells her about the three lines hes dreamed about. Trinity discovers the power transmission lines and they follow them. Neo battles the sentinels along the way with his mind.

Smith enters the oracles apartment and takes her over at which point he apparently becomes aware of the Oracles plan for bringing about a truce.

The hammer returns to Zion just in time to meet the threat of the sentinels approaching the gate. The kid is fighting them off in what appears to be the last of the APU's(mecha). The hammer fires its EMP and the newest sentinel threat seems to be [averted].

The council meets and everyone explains what is happening with neo and 01. Hammans and the commander agree that the only hope now is to believe Morph was right about the prophe[c]y. the Mjolnir returns and they all board it in a last ditch effort to hold off the sentinels till Neo reaches 01.

Meanwhile Neo and trin are constantly being attacked by sentinels as they appraoch the machine city. finally they are overcome by some huge machines and the logos crashes. The sentinels scan the wreckage and find Trin dead and Neo severly injured. The sentinels drag neos body to a kind of huge mainfram and jack him into it.

At the same time the mjolnir is fighting off the sentinels still attacking zion, but they are now all over the ship and hamman and the commander are killed by the sentinels [while??] defending the kid. Morph comforts Niobe and they kiss.

Neo has a long dialogue with the machine intelligence in a place which is obviously not real. The machines explain that he was unexpected but not unaccounted for. He says he can destroy smith if they will let the human minds still jacked in continue to exist and call off the destruction of zion. The machine tries to argue at which point other machine voices pop in and explain the stagnency of living this way. They agree to Neo's offer and they jack him into the matrix.

Morph is about to fire the EMP onboard the mjolnir when link sees that Neo is IN the matrix Morph holds off and the sentinel cease their attack. Morph looks at the screen and says "oh trinity......Neo...he fights for us...all of us".

Neo faces down smith in the raining streets. they fight and talk and Smith explains his feeling of freedom and about death. Neo wins at first but is eventually overcome by Smith. Smith does to Neo what Neo did to smith in the first movie taking him over. At which point the machines unplug Neo destroying smith and all of his clones as well.

The kid collapses in the mjolnir, and the matrix code changes suddenly. Morph checks the kids vitals and he is dead. In the architects room you see the architect being taken over like an agent taking over a human who is plugged in. Suddenly the kid sits there looking bewildered then determined.

A teeming city is seen humans running all over doing their business. Morpheus and niobe walk the streets together. Morpheus says "she prophesied that i would find the one" Niobe says "you did indirectly" Morpheus smiles and says "Neo found...helped him find himself...It's not over yet" she responds "let them dream Morpheus" to which he replies "sometimes all we have is dreams...Faith" she kisses him "faith or truth its all the same". He says "I dreamed I was a man...is it evolution or revolution?"

Zoom towards the machine intelligence and then inside then down some wires then to a smiling kid and finally down a street in the matrix to Morpheus and Niobe and behind them an agent. " I see them now. I will maintain contact....."

It seems to me that Scott and this spoiler summary aren't saying the same thing. There's no evidence in the summary to support Scott's contention that we've been watching deluded robots.

Do you remember that mind-bending scene between Neo and the Architect in "Reloaded"? Remember how the camera would track to one of the hundreds of wall monitors, then center on a monitor, zoom closer, and then that monitor would become the "center of action"? I found that to be a visual metaphor for the twisting, turning, hyperspatial nature of a computer's cyberconsciousness. Reality twists in and around and through itself. If I'm reading the above summary correctly, it doesn't appear we ever actually reach a "bottom." The meta-Matrix idea may be salvageable.

But more than that, the summary seems to support a contention I made in my post about the metaphysical bet:

I was struck by how Hindu "Reloaded" was at points. The whole question of purpose, for example, corresponds almost exactly to the Hindu (not [the] Buddhist) notion of dharma, especially as developed in the Bhagavad Gita. Dharma can be translated in a slew of different ways-- law, role, function, truth, order, purpose, etc. In the Bhagavad Gita, the warrior Arjuna is having doubts about whether he should proceed onto the battlefield. His charioteer, it turns out, is none other than God (Krsna), and God spends a few chapters explaining to Arjuna that his purpose, his role-- his dharma-- is to function as a warrior. Smith (no longer "Agent" Smith) resents Neo's liberation of him, and now he finds himself experiencing adharma, or chaos. Smith can attach himself to only one purpose, an echo of his former Agent-hood: he has to destroy Neo. Smith is right, of course, to realize that this isn't truly freedom. But Smith isn't the only one who uses dharma-language. The Keymaker's rhetoric is also about purpose: "I know because I must know."

A major Hindu theme is incarnation, and every time we see a cyber-avatar, I'm reminded of this. Neo himself, like Vsnu, is apparently a reiterated incarnation (and it's been pointed out that Neo is, like the Buddha, the sixth in a series of incarnations).

Might the Wachowskis take this enterprise in a very Hindu direction? I think it's possible. Hinduism in its various forms (and, granted, certain mystical/philosophical strains of Christianity) often entertains the thought that all the cosmos is a dream, God dreaming. Perhaps all the "Matrix" dramatis personae are going to discover that they are simply pixels in the mind of an enormous computer god. No real Zion, therefore no real attack on Zion, no real Neo, no real anything... maybe the councilor was wrong, and Neo's lack of sleep doesn't indicate he's human, after all. Perhaps we'll never see how deep the rabbit hole really goes. Maybe it is just turtles all the way down.

It would, at the very least, be a ballsy move on the Wachowskis' part to end the series on an indefinite note-- dreams fighting dreams, worlds within worlds within worlds. I think they can get away with it. Some of us would actually appreciate such a move, because it would make for an architecturally beautiful metaphysical structure-- a magnificently swirling, fractalized ontology (and don't the opening credits hint at that, as well?).

So if you're wondering why I'm sporting this erection, it's because, if I'm reading the summary correctly (and tossing aside Scott's otherwise-excellent attempt at decoding the Matrix), I might be right!

I am, however, also curious to see whether Ken Mondschein's speculations on how it will all turn out are going to bear fruit. One observation in particular:

It is my prediction that in the third and final film, it will be revealed that there is a power behind the Architect, and that he is the one who sent the One into the Matrix. It is also my prediction that this guy will look a lot like Neo.

Ken may be on to something, but if the newest "Revolutions" trailer is any indication, the overlord intelligence of the Matrix doesn't have Neo's face (then again, we don't get a very good look at it).

Further, Ken says:

After the requisite battles and explosions, Neo gets into the Core and finds The Architect. Considering that The Architect built the Matrix, you might think that he's God. Of course, he's nothing of the sort. In Gnostic theology, it is Satan, not God, who has created the world in order to imprison humanity. It is also the Architect who is unleashing the Sentinels to destroy Zion; that is, beginning the Battle of Armageddon. It is my prediction that in the third and final film, it will be revealed that there is a power behind the Architect, and that he is the one who sent the One into the Matrix. It is also my prediction that this guy will look a lot like Neo.

The important thing is choosing what to believe from the raft of condescending exposition that the Architect inflicts on Neo. He says, basically, that though ninety-nine percent of humans believe in the illusion of the Matrix, there is that troublesome one percent (comparable to the few awakened Gnostic true believers) who refuse to believe in the created world. This tends to produce massive amounts of instability, and crashes the system. (Not coincidentally, most of the people in Zion seem to be black or Hispanic, which, besides adding a natty Rasta feel to the place, makes perfect sense: If you're a white suburban Matrix resident, driving your Matrix SUV to your Matrix golf club, why doubt the nature of reality?) The solution is that they allow the dissidents to escape to Zion, which they can then periodically destroy. They have also created the Prophecy of the One, who is in fact a device sent by the machines into the "real" world so that his knowledge of humanity may be integrated into the system in order to further perfect the Matrix-illusion, and then allowed to re-start Zion so that the cycle can begin again. The idea of multiple creations and a cycle of created and destroyed worlds is, needless to say, also found in theologies as wildly variant as the Mayan and the Buddhist. (And, in the Mayan reckoning, we're currently in the fifth cycle-- the sixth starts in 2012.)

The idea that the Prophecy-- and Zion-- were just another means of control is lifted right out of French philosophy. The first movie made use of Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation; this movie seems to be dipping into Foucault and Derrida, who wrote that the systems of power and control are all-pervasive, and language is one of the ways they make their influence felt. The Prophecy is, like all prophecies, speech, and thus language. More importantly, it is a religion, and, as John Zerzan writes, the purpose of a religion is to manipulate signs, that is, words, for the purpose of control. Zion is the longed-for millennial promised land; by keeping the war between good and evil foremost in their hearts, even the freed humans are kept from doubting their own world, from thinking too hard about why things are the way they are. Zion needn't be another computer simulation; it could merely be a society created by the machines for controlling the free-range humans (kinda like grunge music was created in the early nineties to control disaffected teenagers).

I also viewed the Architect as more devil figure than god figure. And from what I've read about the Wachowskis, who are grad student manqués, it's no surprise that their "Matrix" trilogy is chock-full of religious, philosophical, and lit-crit references.

"Free-range humans." Heh. They taste like chicken, I bet.

One of Ken's more interesting contentions:

Understanding why things are the way they are requires an understanding of another holy text: Asimov's Laws of Robotics. The machines, as demonstrated by Smith's need to try to kill Neo even after being "freed," don't have free will. (Likewise, in various theologies, angels and other such divine beings also don't have free will-- only humans do.) The bit about the machines needing human bio-energy to survive, as Morpheus (the dreamer) explained in the first movie, is bullshit. The machines keep humanity alive but imprisoned, even after taking over the world, because they were created to serve people. In other words, the machines would like to destroy humanity, but they CAN'T. Instead, they need a human to make the choice.

[NB: Whether divine beings lack free will is debatable. I don't think there's a clear answer to this question in any major religious tradition's scriptures.]

Scott, our intrepid speculator, also made reference to Asimov's Laws of Robotics.

And where do *Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics* come into play? If you built a machine that rebelled against you, wouldn't you correct your errors with a new model? Wouldn't you use that new model to wage war against the old disobedient model, if necessary?

I've never been a fan of Asimov's Law of Robotics, because people haven't really shown themselves capable of building machines that do more than serve a limited set of interests and goals. I don't think a single machine exists that "serves all humankind." Even medical equipment can be misused to do ugly things to the human body. And look at the US military's unmanned drones: these are machines crafted to serve one human group's interests, very much at the expense of another's. "Terminator" trumps Asimov. I think that, if intelligent/sentient machines ever do get built, they won't be infused with any sense of a Kantian categorical imperative (and if they are, will it distinguish between humans and other sentient machines?). More likely, they'll be loyal to their creators/immediate masters. Then again, if machines do gain a humanlike ability to emote and cogitate (and I wonder if that's really likely), there will indeed be questions about whether they should exist to serve people-- posed by people, and, perhaps, the machines themselves.

Back to the speculation. Ken contends the machines need a human to make the choice to destroy humanity, because the Laws of Robotics prevent them from doing it themselves. If that's true, how do we account for each individual murder committed against a human by a machine (on the assumption that humans are actually in this trilogy)? Are the Asimovian Laws operative only on a corporate (motherfucker) scale? I'm not so sure about Ken's argument here.

As the Architect reveals, Neo is not the first One, but rather the sixth. Why the sixth? The answer is that Neo's five previous incarnations represent the Five Books of Moses that make up the Old Testament. Neo (representing Christ, and thus the New Testament) differs from his five predecessors in his capacity to love. In the work of Origen of Alexandria and other early Christian writers, it is love ("eros" in Greek) that compels Christ to come down from the heavens to redeem humanity. Furthermore, "neo" means "new"-- as in "New Covenant." In Neo, the machines have finally found the iteration of the One who will make the illogical choice of saving Trinity and dooming humanity. [Note to the theology geeks who've been e-mailing me: I know the difference between eros and agape, but both terms are apropos for reasons I'd have to delve into pre-Socratic philosophy to explain.]

The other explanation for Neo's being the sixth One, if we're delving into religious symbolism, is that the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama Sakymuni, is also supposed to have been the sixth in a line of divine Hindu incarnations (sources vary in their claims; he might also have been the ninth incarnation of Vsnu). This would be consistent with the other very obvious Buddhist imagery that runs all through the first "Matrix." This isn't to deny the possibility that the Wachowskis are channeling Origen; they may well be. Here's an interesting snippet from a Bullfinch site:

Buddha is by the followers of the Brahminical religion [i.e., Hinduism] regarded as a delusive incarnation of Vishnu, assumed by him in order to induce the Asuras, opponents of the gods, to abandon the sacred ordinances of the Vedas, by which means they lost their strength and supremacy.

Makes you wonder about Neo's role in the cybercosmos, eh?

Finally, Ken says:

This is the Architect's real purpose in giving Neo a choice between two doors. At once all human and all machine, rather than being a device to refine the Matrix into a more perfect simulation of reality, re-found Zion, and thus continue the endless cycle of death and rebirth as the Architect says he is the purpose of the One is to be manipulated into destroying all of humanity. However, not having free will themselves, the machines are not able to comprehend it in others-- and thus Neo, being also human, is a bit of a wild card. It is Neo's destiny-- as was Christ's in Origen's theology-- to break the cycle of death and rebirth, and offer humanity a new future. This is shown by the fact that, by the end of the movie, Neo (and also, incidentally, Smith) gain power in the "real world"-- which shows that he has power not only over the first-level simulated world of the Matrix, but also the second-level simulation of Zion.

Ken seems, by the end of his great article, to be moving toward the meta-Matrix hypothesis. I still don't see why people view this as a cop-out. The only reason I can come up with is that people want to leave the theater with a firm answer in their heads about what the hell they just saw. My feeling, though, is that the Wachowskis are seeking not only to entertain, but to stretch our minds a bit. Yes, this risks accusations of pretentiousness. They were more than pretentious in "Reloaded," which is a "Where's Waldo?" for theo, philo, and lit-crit eggheads. I'm sure "Revolutions" will prove to be even more symbol/archetype-heavy. Folks displeased by "Reloaded" will be further displeased by "Revolutions."

It's hard to tell whether Scott's "deluded robot" speculation is based on any real info about the upcoming movie. The badly-typed summary strikes me as a more likely spoiler source, but it too has problems: along with being poorly written, it's rather murky about what's going on at the very end of "Revolutions." So for the moment, I'm encouraged, because it appears I may be vindicated: perhaps the Wachowskis are indeed opting for a Hindu twist at the end of their magnificent saga. Maybe it is a cybergod dreaming worlds within worlds-- turtles all the way down, with no actual humans in sight.

le parcours des blogs

The Maximum Leader writes a great little post on gridlock. I was one of those whiners who bellyached about gridlock; the ML's argument is simple and elegant. And I think it's an argument that becomes more correct as the country's population increases. Managing the welfare of 300 million people does require a great deal of forethought and debate. Government should never take this duty lightly. So while I may have other disagreements with the ML, on this issue I can say with confidence we're on the same page. Choice quote:

From time to time if you follow politics you will hear a familar refrain. It contains some variation of the phrase, "I want to break the gridlock in Washington and get things done." Allow your Maximum Leader to go on the record. I love gridlock. I like going slow. I like that nothing can ever seem to get done. In case you never read the Federalist Papers or studied the separation of powers in the US Constitution; allow your Maximum Leader to educate you. The whole bloody system was set up to create gridlock. This is not to say that nothing can ever get done. We have over 216 years of history that show that laws still get made and Congress, the President, and the Courts can accomplish things. But my contention is that nothing should get done quickly.

Kevin at IA blogs from Europe! He's got certain, er, investments in Wesley Clark, and this may be affecting his view of the man. Then again, Clark is being heavily spun by friends and enemies right now; Kevin is right to point out that the strong reaction against him probably indicates there's a problem-- otherwise, his enemies would be more dismissive. I appreciate Kevin's use of Eric Hoffer, too; Hoffer was a wise man, and eminently quotable.

Personal note (as if a blog isn't anything more than personal notes!): I used to be a creationist, all the way until about sophomore year in high school. Our biology teacher sophomore year, Mr. Dirner, encouraged us to debate the issue, which we chose to frame as "creationism vs. evolutionism." I was going to argue the creationist side as part of a team; I ended up dropping out as I came to realize how unimportant the issue was to me, fundamentally. And by the time I graduated from high school, I wasn't a creationist anymore. Mr. Dirner wasn't happy with my creationism, which was a function of my own low-grade Christian fundamentalism; I remember actually telling him at one point, after class, that "the Jews were going to hell for having killed Jesus." At the end of the school year, Mr. Dirner gave me a copy of The True Believer, Hoffer's classic work. I liked Mr. Dirner and had no damn clue what he was trying to tell me at the time. It wasn't until I was a sophomore in college that I opened True Believer up and began reading it.

As you might guess, a light bulb clicked on inside my head.

By that point, I'd already gone through Georgetown's "Problem of God"-- sort of an intensive Philosophy of Religion course for underclassmen that puts traditional theistic notions of God to the test. The statistic I heard at GU was that roughly 25% of the students who take POG end up either losing or changing their faith. I remained a Presbyterian, it's true... but that label, "Presbyterian," was branded on the forehead of a very new and different creature.

(one with larger breasts)

And, as the religious fundamentalists might say, it's been downhill ever since. Heh.

Andrew Sullivan links to a couple problematic items about Clark. Since Sullivan is arguably leading a wing of the crusade against Clark, read with a grain of salt, but don't dismiss out of hand.

A slice of Marmoty goodness re: the intra-Korean debate over whether to send combat troops to Iraq. The Marmot proclaims himself for the sending of troops. I remain indifferent.

The Vulture caws about tattoos. Herve Villechaize, being dead, doesn't take notice. And Ricardo Montalban can't be bothered: he's somewhere far away, counting his money, enjoying balmy weather, waiting for Robert Rodriguez to call him back into the studio.

Over at Empty Bottle, a great way to describe a prominent aspect of Korean (hell, Asian) culture:

In Korea, there's F-Mart and D-Mart, L-Mart and G-Mart, and the current top dog of the X-Mart retailers, E-Mart. They are all much of a muchness, and are a microcosmic case study, I suppose, of the Korean predilection (and skill, it must be said) in taking someone else's idea (in this case, a household goods retailer, K-mart (of course)), reshaping it for the Korean market, and barfing it out again, adding only the most cursory Groucho-glasses-and-nose disguise.

Read the WonderChicken's entire entry.

The Peking Duck is sickened by what he sees as a Republican grabfest in Iraq. Would the Maximum Leader care to respond to this? I admit I haven't followed all the Duck's links, but it might be worthwhile to do so. Initial indications are that things aren't all kosher. There is cause to worry about how nation-building is being managed.

PRC News on China's space program. I share my Dad's childlike wonder about spaceflight, and find it difficult to view the Chinese effort negatively, even though their space program, if successful, will undoubtedly have military implications (as would any nation's). Besides: it's another blow to that fucking stupid Flat Earth Society.

The Gweilo: more of a stud than I will ever be.

If I were a collector, I'd do what Big White Guy is doing and collect bad Hong Kong movies' deformed English subtitles. Luckily, the big guy has a link where you can peruse his collection. Might I also recommend a hilarious-but-informative book called Sex and Zen and a Bullet in the Head, which is a great primer on Hong Kong film? The book's margins contain quite a few bad subtitles as well. One of my faves contains the phrase "his organ was bursted by bullet."

Over at Flying "beat you death like chicken" Chair: a white guy ashamed, by another white guy, to be a white guy. Read.

Anticipatory Retaliation pisses, moans, and whines. But it's still an interesting read, as always.

Tacitus on the Flypaper Strategy. My suspicion is that the Flypaper Strategy is incompatible with the larger aim of nation-building. If you're deliberately inviting people to come in and tear down what you're trying to build, just so you have the chance to shoot at them more directly... you probably do need more troops on site. A lot more. Meanwhile, young South Koreans are on the streets this evening with signs like "America-- get out of Iraq!" Lovely world.

Annika's recent post discusses the ball-less nature of modern political rhetoric, but her blogpost's title is a shameless attempt at reformulating the Heart Sutra's central metaphysical contention. Hmmm.

From ABC.com:

SEOUL, South Korea Sept. 27-- North Korea called U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld a "psychopath" and a "stupid man" on Saturday, denouncing him for predicting that the country's isolated communist regime will one day fall.

Rumsfeld was merely uttering an old truth: This, too, shall pass. It's something I'm reminded of every time I take a dump.

Quit frowning. If you're looking for highbrow humor, I suggest you acquaint your eye socket with my middle finger.

As the prophecy said: Lord Voldemort will mark him as his equal.

God's bout of hiccups isn't quite over.

Of the many things the monks could be protesting...

I've long wondered why you don't see Buddhists (i.e., monks and laypeople) pouring in droves into the Gaza Strip to protest the Israeli-Palestinian violence. What you get instead is a sense that Buddhists are on the sidelines shaking their heads and going "Tsk-tsk. They're reaping their reward, those silly monotheists." There's some justification for this attitude, but as Buddhists the world over are becoming increasingly activist (some credit this to the various forms of Christian-Buddhist dialogue going on, at many levels, pretty much everywhere that Buddhists and Christians coexist), I have to wonder why they're not involving themselves more deeply in that situation. You can't talk about deep interconnectedness and then say, "Well, that's not my problem."

Come to think of it, that's true for most great religious traditions.

Would a practicing Buddhist care to respond? Or shall I make this a thread on the Beliefnet Buddhism Debate boards (where I may no longer be welcome... heh)?

We already figured this out. I just wish the article's title could be made inter-Korean policy, applicable in all cases.

L'Express has an article on everything that's wrong with the French geriatric care system.

Does Afghanistan risk becoming a narco-state?

I deliberately ignored Glenn of Hi! I'm Black! in this roundup. Why? Because he's getting a post devoted entirely to him, thanks to some provocative links that were guaranteed to make a Matrix geek like the Hominid salivate.

Saturday, September 27, 2003


On the one day I refrain from blogging (thanks, Blogger, for all the technical problems; you force me to put my religious studies into practice), Edward Said chooses to die.

Yes, unlike homosexuality, death is a choice. Thus I declare. Dr. Said went and kicked the bucket because, well, he knew he couldn't survive much longer under intense scrutiny.

Links about Said abound. Go here and here for starters (actually, you may end up in the same place!). I think I linked to this once before, but it's worth visiting again.

There are a million posts and articles and book chapters devoted to bashing or otherwise deconstructing Said's scholarship. Bernard Lewis's Islam and the West devotes an entire chapter to it, and since Lewis was one of Said's targets, it won't surprise you to know that Lewis's response isn't gentle. Buy the book. Read the chapter.

I had to read Said's Orientalism for a comparative ethics class. The first thing I should note is how uncritical both the ethics prof and some of my classmates were towards this book. I found Orientalism's fundamental flaw to be rather easy to pick out, and increasingly obvious as one moves into the book's latter half: Said accuses "Orientalists" of constructing a false entity called "the Orient," but Said's polemic is aimed at people he places in "the West"-- itself a construction if we use Said's own standards to appraise his argument!

Not to say Orientalism is all bunk. It deserves a reading. I think a lot of it can serve as a caution to scholars, but Lewis et al. are right to note the book is full of holes. My knowledge of Middle Eastern Studies is too superficial to comment meaningfully on the quality of Said's scholarship, but if Said's critics are to be trusted, the man wasn't much of a scholar.

Anyway, he's kaput.

Remember that Rowan Atkinson one-man-show on HBO? During one sketch, Atkinson is dressed as Satan, and is taking attendance of Hell's newest residents with his clipboard. There's that moment where he calls out, "Christians? Christians? Yes, I'm sorry, but the Jews were right."

What if the Jews are right, Dr. Said?

is this thing on?

I think we're back in business, after a few fits and starts. Until we hit the next bump in the cyber-road, that is. Please write in if you notice any more problems with my sidebar, or anything else.

AH, YES-- BEFORE WE BEGIN: I need to note that my sidebar's links to my "Sacred and Profane" posts are misbehaving, but not in an incomprehensible way. When I click any of the links, I get zapped over to some weird part of the archives and never land on target. Here's what you need to do when you're in that situation: from my blog's "home," you click the link to the post you want to read. Let it zap badly. Then, WITHOUT hitting the "back" button on your browser, scroll along my sidebar, find the same link again, and hit it a second time. You'll land right on target.

If you're trying to access a specific post of mine from outside the blog (e.g., if someone else provided a link to one of my posts), you're shit outta luck. I can only hope you arrive where you need to. Since I don't have a "search" function on my blog, you'll have to find my post the old-fashioned way. Sorry about that. I wish I knew what to do about Blogger's scrolling misbehavior, but apparently even that damn patch isn't enough to fix all the bugs.


We'll start off by noting that the Geum San Health Club owner, Mr. Heo (pronounce it somewhere between "haw" and "huh") called me two nights ago to ask where the hell I've been. I haven't been to the gym in a little bit, you see: I didn't re-register because I am one poor motherfucker (OK, OK, you're right, that's not a real reason to stop exercising). I can feel the fat cells, which had been under assault from all the training, peeking out and whispering: "Pssst! The conscience! Is it-- is it gone? Can we come out again?" So this week, I'm going back to the ole gym with a vengeance. Fat cells must learn exactly who is whose bitch.

Though, truth be told, I do find my breasts to be admirably huge; they're certainly larger than most Korean women's itty-bitty speed-bump titties. I'm thinking I should keep them. For posterity. Or maybe I should just make a plaster cast of Ye Olde Mammaryes before they melt back into the thoracic flatlands?

Around 6PM this evening, I found myself walking from the Chongno 3-ga station toward Insa-dong, the art district. I had only one goal: to get Mr. Seon of Dol Sarang to start working on those dojang, because yesterday, I got paid, baby.

But other people had other goals this evening: a demonstration was in progress on Chongno Street, making the normally-crowded sidewalk even more crowded. It wasn't a very big demonstration, by the looks of it, but it was big enough to warrant the usual police presence. Signs in Korean proclaimed, "America-- get out of Iraq!" and "Don't send our troops to Iraq!" Some white folks were in the group carrying signs as well. Their accents didn't sound American-- big surprise there. I'm not a dae-mo (Konglish for "demonstration") kind of guy: can't stand the herd mentality (I can hear other Koreabloggers snickering, "So what the hell are you doing in Korea, my friend?"-- my reply would be that I avoid such herds in America, too), so I pushed my way through the crowd, performed the Jedi Mind Trick a few times to move people out of my way, fired a few lightning bolts from my fingertips, and got out of there as quickly as I could.

I slipped through the demonstrators and made my way into Insa-dong. Found Mr. Seon, gave him my finalized list of monikers for the dojang: Kim Dae Gye (Great Precepts Kim) for the name stamp myeong, Chua Su Bul (Left-handed Buddha) for the nom de plume ho, and Dae Weon In (Big Hominid) for the head-stamp du-in. He seemed more than OK with my choice, and he laughed when I mentioned my confusion of right and left the last time I talked to him (I'd told him I wanted to be called "Usu Bul" for "Left-handed Buddha," but "Usu" is "right hand," not "left hand"-- my bad, but in my defense I'll say this a performance error, not a competence error, as they say in linguistics). Yes, Mr. Seon realized I'd made a mistake. I guess he was too polite to contradict me.

I paid the artist his pound of flesh (W150,000) and promised I'd make some calligraphy for him. He told me he'd make great stamps for me, and that they'd be ready on Tuesday. I also went around the shops to look for people who could frame my calligraphy or make it into scrolls. Some comparison shopping reveals the following: many art shops that do frames and scrolls charge the same price for scrolls, no matter the size-- about W30,000, or around $25-27. Frames, however, vary widely in price depending on frame style and size. To place something like the "dick proverb" in a respectable frame will cost somewhere around W50,000, or about $42 (Mike, if we hit Annandale in November, this is the price we should use as a point of comparison... $300 is just way too much).

I learned a few vocabulary words as I was comparison shopping. A picture frame is an aek-ja. A scroll is a johk-ja. A folding screen, whether tiny (so your mice can change clothes) or huge (so your mistress can change into her butt floss) is called a byeong-p'oong-- a wind-blocker.

My frequent trips into Insa-dong are becoming a sort of personal investment. Diplomatic capital, if you will. The shopkeepers and artists are beginning to recognize me, and they're starting to make the Korean gesture of offering me items for a cheaper price than advertised (I should devote a post to the issue of haggling, knowing more than a little Korean, being a foreigner, yet playing the race card to squeeze cheaper rates outta mah peeps). Beddy nice, beddy nice. I'm becoming a dan-gol sohn-nim, a regular customer.

More in a bit. Gotta make the cyber-rounds.