Saturday, July 31, 2004

lest we forget

July 31st is Harry Potter's birthday.

Some predictions:

1. Harry won't die. We'll know this before the book actually comes out, because the Rowling machine will be as prone to press leaks as Skywalker Ranch by that point.
2. Dumbledore will die, though I don't stand by this predicton because Dumbledore is always the one who provides The Explanation at the End of the Book that makes all the preceding events meaningful. However, if Rowling is following the Campbellian monomyth paradigm, then Dumbledore's got to go: the wisdom-figure whom the hero meets early on is always left behind or surpassed or lost in some way as part of the hero's coming into his own.
3. The Air Marshal's conjecture that Mr. Malfoy might turn against Draco will prove correct.
4. Hagrid won't die. Some of his pets might, though, such as Fang. So might his half-brother, Grawp.
5. Ron and Hermione will finally hook up.
6. Snape will die. I wonder if we're not seeing hints that he's being set up to be something of a tragic figure.
7. The giant squid will play a crucial role in Book 6 or 7.
8. Neville Longbottom will have his revenge, but it's likely that it'll happen inadvertently.
9. At least one Weasley family member will die. At a guess-- Percy, the expendable one who's disowned the family. Unless he's being set up for some soppy forgiveness-and-reconciliation scene. (Or, possibly, it'll be one of the parents who buys the farm.)
10. None of the above predictions will come true.


49 more weeks to go

I made it through a full, eight-hour Saturday with sanity more or less intact. Nipple hairs wave contentedly with the knowledge that Sunday, bloody Sunday, will be a day off. I'll probably spend it doing fucking laundry. And sleeping.

Caught a glimpse of Miss SNU this morning as she went to a different foreign teacher for her class. The dick shouted a muffled "YO!" from inside my pants. The scheduling of students seems almost random to me: students aren't necessarily paired with teachers over an extended period. It's assumed that all teachers are following the program in the same manner, which makes us little more than modular, perfectly interchangeable components in a smoothly operating system. The more I learn about EC's methodology, the less I like it.

One of my students, a French teacher, has done extensive study in linguistics, and she's got plenty of questions about the effectiveness of our system. I don't have time, in a 25-minute period, to address such concerns, so when she brought up her doubts today I dodged the issue and put on a customer-service veneer, expressing sympathy but also gently pushing her to continue with the lesson. I'm sure she saw through the charade.

It also turns out that one of my colleagues, a Canadian who's just about to finish up his year at EC, has a Master's degree in linguistics and is plenty dissatisfied with EC's system. I think that anyone with even a superficial linguistics background like mine will wonder how effective this approach is. Is language purely habit-formation and specific skill sets? Can a reductive approach to language teaching, one that nearly eliminates language's cognitive elements, produce students with actual brains? How does one jump from an audiolingualism-heavy curriculum to the real world, where creative utterances are the norm?

K, the founder, made it clear that he was trying to apply a "lesson" approach to language learning. Think: piano lessons or voice lessons or tennis lessons. K actually said to me during our chat, "If a piano player learns Piece Number 1, then Number 2, and so on, then by the time he's reached Piece Number 1000, he's a true pianist." What K is missing is that the pianist's learning process actually includes a lot of seemingly-random input and a good deal of creativity along the way.

One of my brothers, Sean, is an accomplished cellist, and I know for a fact that his cello performance skills aren't purely the result of sawing away on études and memorizing standard pieces. A good deal of creativity derives from working with different chamber groups, hearing (and integrating) contradictory instructions from different cello teachers, and discovering things on one's own during solitary practice. Along with this is the constant need for auditory input: listening to classical CDs, attending the concerts of friends and luminaries, attending master classes, preparing one's own cello recitals, and returning to basic exercises like études and so on.

EC is opening a new branch in... Uzbekistan. It'll be for teaching English. K also has plans to open branches in the US and Europe. The US branches will be for teaching non-English languages, including Korean. I'd be morbidly curious to try the EC method as a way of learning Korean, but I truly doubt its effectiveness.

Compare EC to the Korea University program, which follows a fairly standard "SL" (second-language) intensive-course format: four hours a day, five days a week of in-class activity, plus homework, quizzes, tests, field trips, and projects. Although I felt the KU program's Achilles' heel was the placement interview (they placed me into too high a level), I thought the teachers did a decent job and had a more or less solid (if not flawless) curriculum. My four-hour day was divided into two principal parts: "conversation" in the morning for two hours (actually, it was more like a grammar class using a textbook containing dialogues), followed by two hours covering the "four basic skills" of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. This represented a fairly balanced approach, and while I felt KU could have done a far, far better job of dealing with vocabulary*, KU's program significantly improved my Korean.

[*I consider vocabulary the basic linguistic unit, from a teacher's point of view. You can know all the freakin' grammar you want, but if you don't know the word for "bathroom," then your ass'll be redecorating your pants. Vocab comes first. Period.]

I could blow greasy fart-bubbles about this damn program all day long, but let's focus on the bright side of life at EC: I like my co-workers. It's something of a tradition for the male teachers at a hagwon to flirt with the front desk receptionists, and I, with my large ass and big stomach on full display, am no different from the trimmer guys in this respect. The receptionists giggle at my antics while my manager-- the one who told me to lose weight so I could fit the lab coat-- stares at me with hooded disapproval.

The manager's very polite on the whole, though; I don't want to leave you with the impression that her style resembles that of the typical foaming-at-the-mouth wonjang. She's occasionally strolled all the way to my class to talk with me about this or that student (I actually have my "own" room; another perk), and aside from the lab coat problem, she's been downright cool. It's kind of strange to look her in the eyes, though: the whites of her eyes are light blue, and I have no idea why. Fans of Frank Herbert are probably wondering whether she's Earth's first Fremen, veins infused with the spice melange of Shai-hulud. If she's a Fremen, she has to be the shortest one on record, but she looks capable of twisting (or biting) your nuts off, Fremen-style, if you step too far out of line.

We foreign teachers (actually trainers, remember!) work with Korean partners who also speak native- or near-native-level English. At the Kangnam branch of EC, almost all these teachers are female, except for one gyopo dude. My foreign colleagues include a woman from New Zealand, another woman from Malawi (she's white and carries a South African passport), two guys from Canada, another from the States (just hired... I think he's from the States), and yours truly. We all rarely have time to sit together as a group; our schedules are all different, and break times don't overlap much. Many of us are new to the staff, replacing people who've either been fired or who are finishing out their year-long stint.

I suspect EC will still be here in a year's time if it's trundled on for two years already. I don't wish for its collapse since I'm now on its payroll. But hear me well: I think EC's a gimmick and little else, and further, I think it's going to "hagwonize" like every other company eventually does in Korea. Expansion will mean diffusion; diffusion will mean increasing separation from founding principles and methodology. K, the company's founder and Dear Leader, said that EC will be rolling out a kid-oriented version of the program sometime next year; I can only assume that we proles will be asked to teach it. The kiddie program is a smart business move: I already teach three middle-schoolers and a high schooler with the adult textbooks, which is silly. But because the kiddie program will follow the same basic methodology, it'll be more of the same pedagogical fluff.

Righto... gonna schlep home and enjoy some goddamn air conditioning, despite the ticklish throat it's been giving me.


Iron Mike Ferrin

... has moved to his new, eponymous website:


Friday, July 30, 2004

days without wearing lab coat: 4.8

[NB: My blog isn't visible from my current PC, at a PC-bahng near my residence. Whatever "lift" there's been in the ban has been uneven at best.]

I'm working a full shift on Saturday, so the week's not over by any means, but I wanted to note that I've gone most of the week without wearing a lab coat at all. I'm also getting to know some of my co-workers, foreign and Korean/gyopo. They all seem like decent folks, ranging from wacky extroverts to taciturn introverts. Some of the foreigners are interested in Chinese calligraphy; I'm probably going to bring my seo-yae set to work next week, so I can work on some projects (sorry, Hahna, to be taking so long).

Miss SNU will be at EC on Saturday, but I won't be her teacher; someone else is scheduled to, uh, take her in hand. Not sure how I feel about this, but it's probably for the best. Starting next week, when I plunge into Split Shiftsville, I probably won't even see her.

The greatest news is that, this morning, I had an extremely thorough dump. The colon purged itself about as completely as one could hope. My ass realized true emptiness. And I had no trouble throughout the day, none at all.


Thursday, July 29, 2004

postal scrotum and my new job

Andi's got some very interesting sex posts up on her blogs. Go give 'em a read, if you haven't already.

In that, uh, vein, Scott writes:

Hi Kevin,

BigHo wrote:[*NB: I was told by one of my foreign co-workers that one of the school's best teachers, an Australian, was canned for "fucking around" with his students. Somebody somewhere should write an exposé about hagwons and hookups. There's more material than you can shake your dick at.]

Are the Korean hagwons as commonplace for hookups as the Japanese counterparts? Depending on the location in Japan, a guy can get more interested women in an afternoon than he has time for during the remaining week.

It's an interesting question (aside from the general interest in sex). That is, which country has the greater amount of interested young women? And why are they really interested? Is it an insufficient husband? Are the college girls trying out their powers of seduction before they travel abroad? Are foreign guys really *that* desirable? [ answers: yes, yes, yes ]


I don't know enough about the Japanese hagwon situation to comment comparatively (Justin? Do you know anyone in the Japanese hagwon system?), but I can begin to comment on the situation at my new place of employment. And the comment is: yes, there are plenty of available ladies.

I do wonder whether the Seoul National senior I blogged about previously is testing her powers of seduction. I think the honest answer is, Probably not, but this requires seeing through a thick cloud of male ego. After all, what fat half-Korean wouldn't want to think a slim, gorgeous, perky young thang doesn't have a bit of a crush on him? Miss SNU was in class again today, and I'll see her again on Saturday. Vulcan biocontrol techniques kept the seismic activity in my crotch to a minimum this morning, which is a good thing for all concerned. What's funny is that the hyper-rational part of my mind has already assessed her and dismissed her as far, far too high-maintenance for someone like me.

Ah, this reminds me: here's my take on dating and/or banging your Korean students. If you work at a typical hagwon where you're little more than a figurehead with a textbook, teaching a curriculum that offers no tests, quizzes, or homework (as is the case at most hagwons), then as Otto said in "A Fish Called Wanda," "Pork away, pal!" There's no real "power relationship" there. You're a teacher in name only, and hold almost nothing over the student. If, however, you're at a place like EC, where there's both testing and homework, then I'm sorry, but you're in a very definite power relationship with your students, and banging them is an absolute no-no. The Hominid has spoken.

The above point is important because I've already got a student making moon-eyes at me. It's a shame it's not Miss SNU, but this student's very sweet, not to mention cute, too. She's a nurse (quit yer chortling), and she keeps dropping unsubtle hints my way. For example: before she came to my class today, she worked with J, my Korean partner teacher. They apparently went over some vocabulary items that included terms of praise like "well-built" and "handsome." My job was to ask the student to use the vocab items in a sentence, and in every case, she'd point to me and say, "You're well-built. You're handsome." She even tried this with "gorgeous," which I told her is probably a better descriptor for women than for men, more in an attempt to deflect what she was doing than because "gorgeous" is for women only (it's not).

Returning to my original banging-related point: I won't be making any moves on any of my students. I'll stew in a vat of my own lust, poaching in imaginary pussy juices, but that's as far as it'll ever go. My rational mind warns me that Miss SNU would be extremely bad news, and while I wouldn't mind going out with Miss Medical, who truly does have a gentle, sweet personality, I know it would be wrong, wrong, wrong. Same applies to all subsequent students.

In other EC news...

I sat down with J, my partner teacher, and had a long, getting-to-know-you talk during one of our breaks. She's been all over the world-- lived in Scotland, lived in South Africa, speaks Afrikaans, understands some German, and was on her way to a PhD when she gave up in the middle of everything, some of which she blames on a suck-ass, inattentive advisor.

J has one radically bizarre physical trait, which I feel like an absolute shit for revealing here, but will reveal anyway: she's got two uvulae. You know-- a uvula. The thing that hangs down in the back of your throat. Well, imagine a pair of them. I managed to keep a straight face when she told me this. In truth, I was dying to ask her to let me see them. Like my Dad, I've always had some interest in the human body. Not enough to want to pursue medicine, but enough to get really curious about anything out of the ordinary. Besides, the very sentence I have two uvulae is enough to pique anyone's monkey curiosity, wouldn't you agree?

J's very nice, speaks English fluently, is a pianist, and is also one of the most tightly-wound Korean women I know. I'd say she needs to get laid, but after reading Andi's recent post, I'm not sure that's a good idea. Perhaps a trip to the local seong-in yong-p'oom ka-gae (adult products store) might be a better idea.

I also had to drop off some paperwork at EC's HQ in Yeoksam, and while there I met K, the founder and CEO of EC. Every new employee meets K, and I was warned that he likes to talk a lot. In my case, we probably spoke about 25 minutes or so, which could have been worse. K quizzed me on some of the material I learned in training, and I think I flubbed an important question about what makes EC unique (like I give a flying fuck; I think EC's method is more gimmick than anything).

The one thing I noticed about K was how twitchy he was. He couldn't bring himself to make eye contact with me for more than a moment, which I found extremely odd for a guy who has degrees in both public and international relations. K probably knows his chain of schools is in a very delicate period: most new hagwons prove their mettle within the first five years. They either collapse and disappear, or they limp along dysfunctionally for decades, businesses masquerading as schools, fooling students into thinking they're getting an education, when in most cases they're just being ripped off (later on, we should explore the ethical bind that people like me are in when we consent to teach at such places). I think that students who succeed at hagwons do so in spite of the hagwons, not because of them. In EC's case, I feel the curriculum needs major reworking.

And before I forget: I think we've got a lab coat battle brewing. The problem is that EC doesn't have a lab coat in my size. The biggest one they have, which belongs to a co-worker and which I'm supposed to wear, bunches up in my armpits and causes high school girls to laugh at me, thereby shrinking my testicles (as noted previously). My co-worker, the coat's proper owner, is brawny across the shoulders but not cursed with my barrel chest and huge, lactating man-tits. My manager at the Kangnam branch of EC very kindly suggested that I should lose weight so I could fit into my co-worker's coat-- this was after I asked her (that is, my manager) whether they couldn't order a larger coat for me.

None of this motivates me to wear the coat, which currently smells like my co-worker. So I'm not wearing it. It means I'm going to do poorly on my employee evaluation, because one of the evaluation questions deals with whether I wear my coat faithfully and maintain it well. I should score high marks in maintenance: you can't ruin a coat if you don't use it.

If I know Korea, my manager will eventually catch on and order a larger coat, with much grumbling and blame thrown my way for inconveniencing her. I have to wonder how another of my co-workers, Dan, is doing down in Pusan: he and I trained together, so I got to see how fucking huge Dan is. The reason I'm merely BigHominid and not StupendouslyHugeHominid is that people like Dan exist. Dan's tall like a basketball player but also built like a football player. He could hammer my sorry ass into the ground with a single blow of his meaty fist. I'm laughing just thinking about the dilemma his manager is going through. If I were Dan, I'd refuse to wear whatever teeny lab coat they offer him. I'm thinking I should offer my manager a compromise: I'll wear the smaller lab coat only if I'm allowed to be naked underneath it.

The actual teaching day today wasn't bad. It was a hectic morning, then we had a cancellation, and suddenly my afternoon was largely free. Tomorrow promises to be busier. I'll have to get all my shitting out of the way before I come into the office. Much as I love taking dumps, I hate doing it on the job when I'm theoretically on call. My greatest nightmare is rushing back into the EC office with clumps of shit hanging off my clothes, while my students try their best to pretend nothing smells.


Wednesday, July 28, 2004

from Gord

Read. Great essay.


Tuesday, July 27, 2004

and the morning and the block shift were the second day

Yes, I could get used to the rhythm at EC, but the schedule is going to suck up my life, especially once I start the split shift next week. They've already reamed me by scheduling me for three Saturdays in August when the contract said I'd be working only two.

But if every day were like today, I wouldn't mind too much. It was a decent day; plenty of back-to-back classes plus two apparent cancellations. The giggly girl, Miss Yoon, was back, but I wasn't wearing a lab coat, so she had nothing to laugh at. She comes for lessons twice a day; today we did a standard lesson from the EC textbook, and in our second session we did some "directed free-talking," which sounds oxymoronic but makes sense once explained. Miss Yoon is actually adorable, a cute little high schooler who loves horror films and Net-surfing. I should ask her her opinion of the blog blockage, but I bet she doesn't even know it's happening.

The highlight of my day was the last class, when a drop-dead gorgeous student from Seoul National University walked in. Day-yamn. Definitely ritzy Kangnam material: trendy summer clothes, lovely, flowing hair, absolute confidence. She'd spent time in both America and France and had a decent command of French. Her English had some rough edges but she was pretty damn proficient-- certainly more than I am in Korean. It was all I could do to keep from ogling. The twenty-five minutes with her passed quickly. I kept wondering how bad my breath smelled.

In case you're curious: yes, she has a boyfriend, and he's in America for surgery, apparently related to alcoholism, although this wasn't exactly made clear.

Arrête de boire, Jojo
tu deviendras barjo...

When I change to a split shift next week, it's likely I'll be losing most of the students I've met, and I've met quite a few good, decent folks with whom I'd like to continue. This SNU student, however... it's probably better to lose her, because I'm just a dirty old man inflamed with highly improper lust.* Poor thing. She probably has no idea. Unless she can read dilated pupils.

Did you know you can gauge how much someone likes you by whether their pupils dilate or contract when you get uncomfortably close to their face? It's one of those automatic reactions you can't fake, apparently. We brown-eyed folks have an advantage, since our pupils are harder to see.

[*NB: I was told by one of my foreign co-workers that one of the school's best teachers, an Australian, was canned for "fucking around" with his students. Somebody somewhere should write an exposé about hagwons and hookups. There's more material than you can shake your dick at.]


don't hold your breastuses

I'm still blocked at my place of work.


Monday, July 26, 2004

foist day o' woik

My first day at EC.

It actually went better than I thought it would: I didn't have to wear a goddamn lab coat until the very end, and as far as I know, no students complained about my teaching. (Don't worry: I'm not down on my own teaching ability. You simply have to watch for complaints; Koreans are hard to please, and they don't always want the same thing in a teacher.)

The management is looking for a lab coat in my size. The lab coat I was forced to borrow today belongs to a co-worker who's brawny across the shoulders, but doesn't have my barrel chest. As has happened countless times when I've gone shopping for a sports jacket or suit, the lab coat bunched up under my armpits. One student, a girl in high school, giggled when she saw me. This is how I discovered that the ball-shrinking power of Hello Kitty also resides in a teen girl's laughter. We should bottle girl-giggles and bomb Pyongyang with them.

The hours did literally fly by, though, and not necessarily because I was enjoying myself: the schedule keeps you pretty damn busy. I was seeing student after student (fuck it; they're students on my blog, not learners) in a blur of faces. I had fourteen classes today. My two breaks, both a half-hour long, were spent skulking about the office. I didn't feel I had time for lunch.

Training prepped me well. You just follow the system, is all, and there's very little actual thinking or creativity needed, unless you're involved with free-talking.

My students today were all lower-level. Some were animated; some were sulky. Some had salvageable pronunciation; others sounded like they'd need a ton of work. I'm not convinced that EC's system is reliable enough to take a student from Level 1 to Level 6 (in theory, this is near-native fluency) in a year's time.

Then again, I'm not sure how many language teaching curricula can do this: my time at Korea University convinced me that people who manage to struggle through all six levels are, generally speaking, nowhere on par with people who "naturally" rate as competent Level 6es. Sometimes the best approach for advanced levels is the sloppy, "throw enough mud until some of it sticks" style only an immersion environment can provide. My own experience with French was along similar lines: I did extremely well in French in high school, then tested out of all language lab requirements at Georgetown. I plunged straight into 100%-target-language coursework and never looked back, and I think I learned plenty even though there wasn't any true systematicity. I took courses in French literature, French drama, French history and culture, and even a linguistics course in French. I completed my religion minor while in Switzerland, taking courses in Hinduism, "Science des Religions," Greco-Roman mythology, and Rwandan religion. A fairly haphazard cluster of subjects, but somehow I ended up gaining a pretty high level of fluency.

I'm bracketing my reservations about EC's curriculum, however. Why? Because I've chosen to focus, for the moment, on earning money and pulling my bad self out of debt. This means bowing low to the dictates of Mighty EC.

My name is Ash, and I am a slave.

Whore, more like. Butt-beast. Prison fuck. The gerbil in your ass, gasping its pitiful last. Just wait until I post that pic of me in a lab coat. First, my coat (whenever it finally arrives) probably won't fit. Second, it's not going to be white: the foreign teachers wear coats that, in the wrong light, appear almost baby-blue. When I put my co-worker's lab coat on today, my scrotum started leaping around and thrashing about in a furious attempt to escape the vicinity. My dick was screaming bloody murder. I had to clamp down hard to keep my ass from vomiting its opinion. Not that I blamed any of them.

But somehow, I got through the day. Now we crank up and do the same thing tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. And the next day. For a whole fucking year.

Once more unto my breach, dear friends...


are Blogspot blogs back online?

The Marmot reports it here. Others have emailed me about their ability to see my blog with no problem.

Let's not be too hasty. I've had reports from several people that they are now able to access my blog unimpeded, but in at least one case, this person was at the office and noted that the block might still be effective on his home computer.

I'm at a PC-bahng across the street from where I now work, and I, too, am able to see my blog without using a proxy. But TypePad/ blogs are still blocked, and it's possible that not all Korean ISPs have liberated Blogspot blogs.

So that means the banner stays up. The agitation continues. We're not done, folks.

I also got an email from Mark Russell about the Newsweek article, to wit:

Hi Kevin,

Well, the new issue of NEWSWEEK has a little blurb on the Web log censorship issue. Unfortunately, I lost the space war, and my one-page (and doubtlessly brilliant) story got turned into a one-paragraph periscope. The tone and content changed somewhat, too.

Not what I intended, but I hope it is better than nothing.


UPDATE: MuNu blogs are still blocked.

UPDATE 2: Choicest chunks of the Newsweek blurb:

INTERNET: A Blog Blanket

South Korea may be one of the most wired societies in the world, but some Koreans are beginning to wonder if Seoul is truly ready to embrace that status. ...since late June, about 50 Web sites have been shut down for allegedly trying to post the video of the execution of South Korean hostage Kim Sun Il. Authorities have also blocked large Weblog services, cutting off thousands of blogs that did not offer the video. Officials claim the blanket ban is merely a technical matter... Bloggers, though, worry that average Koreans are coming to accept infringements on the free flow of information as normal. Kevin Kim complains on his site, Big Hominoid [sic], that Korea "has not come far out of the shadow of its military dictatorship past." While that may be extreme, Robert Koehler, whose blog, the Marmot's Hole, is one of the most popular English-language sites about Korea, says, "there seems to be this idea among Korean Netizens that the Net [is] a forum for expressing the power of nationalism." Trying to help the country's reputation, though, may only end up hurting it.

UPDATE 3: With my quote now leaping from this blog to Newsweek (juxtaposed with the word "extreme" for that additional frothing-madness kick), I guess I should toast myself for having very publicly insulted the South Korean government. Heh.

UPDATE 4: If you're in Korea and UNABLE to access my blog, whether at home or at work, I want to hear from you. Please write in at


Sunday, July 25, 2004

I didn't puke

Feeling much better today, thanks. I had a couple sympathetic letters trickle in; muchas Jerry Garcias to you all.

No puke. Since I ate almost nothing yesterday, no shit, either. I chowed down on some al-t'ang (fish egg sac stew-- yum) earlier today with no ill effects, and will probably hit a local bakery for a ein Bisschen Brot zu essen.

I'm thinking about getting rid of some of my possessions, especially one chair in particular, which came from my K'eun Adjoshi and takes up too much floor space. I wish I'd known that my residence would be furnished. That's half the problem: if this weol-lum had nothing in it, I'd probably have a lot more room to spread my crap around.

I'm also thinking about doing the unthinkable and sending some (or all) of my books back home. This is painful for a bibliophile like me, but if my next residence (the "permanent" residence) is anything like this one, then I'm going to need some space. The book-sending won't happen anytime soon; I don't have the money to mail that much crap back yet.

First day of work at EC tomorrow. It's a shame I haven't set up my computer; I was hoping to show you a pic of me in a lab coat. Then again, I might not be wearing a lab coat: I heard they were having trouble finding one in my size. EC did, however, make my ID tag while I was in training. It looks hilarious: my photo on the tag makes me look like I've been drugged.

More news as it happens.



The Maximum Leader emailed me to say he received an email from my GMail account with the subject line " ^^meay meay ."

The email contained a .zip attachment as well. This isn't from me, so if you see such an email in your box, please delete it forthwith.


Saturday, July 24, 2004

a couple items

It appears I've got a fever, but I've also got my own bathroom and shower now.

The move went... well, it went. I'm now living in a weol-lum (it's English: "one-room," a bit like a "glorifed dorm," as the Canadian bujang told me). It's not far from Kangnam and is called "UniVillage." Makes me think back to life in Switzerland. French folks tend to call universities "la fac" (short for "faculté"), but francophone Swiss use the more German designation, "l'uni."

The cost of the move was an amazing W35,000, which is the cheapest yong-dahl service I've ever had (yong-dahl doesn't mean "inflatable dragon doll"), and a damn sight better than the previous move, where I shelled out W60,000 to move a much shorter distance.

The bad news first: All told, the new place isn't much bigger than my hasuk. Also: I've got a fridge, but when I plugged it in, it began producing water, which ran all over the floor. Any folks understand why this might happen? The fridge's interior was bone-dry when I opened it. Because of the lack of floor space, I have to move possessions around to get from corner to corner. Two EC staffers were there to "help" with the move; they goggled at all my possessions (mostly books and my Mac with its peripherals, plus some furniture from my K'eun Adjoshi, which I'll probably be returning to him). I suppose the other expats had little more than the clothes on their backs. I've been here two years, had been living in a much bigger place before going to the hasuk, and had insisted on having some of my books and my computer delivered. I need a studio, the way we mean "studio."

I've decided not to unpack too much, since I'll be moving again in a month or two. Fuck. Thanks, EC.

The good news, which largely overrides the bad: I've got my own bathroom. There was a circular saw making a loud buzzing noise outside my second-floor window as it gnawed on concrete or marble or something, and I took great delight in letting fly another barrage of bullet-shit while producing farts that mimicked the saw's noise fairly accurately. This is the true meaning of bliss.

I've also got a bed, which is a huge plus. Since I couldn't sleep last night, either (two hours' sleep in a 48-hour period), I stopped the quasi-unpacking for a bit and enjoyed an hour-long nap beginning around 2PM...

...which brings me to the greatest joy of all: I have air conditioning. This is probably what led to the current fever (and slight nausea), but by the hairs of Satan's wriggling ass crack, it's shweet. The A/C even has a remote control. I napped with the A/C blowing for the first time in a long, long time.

Despite the guilt trip I was getting from the EC staffers about my pile of possessions, I maintain that my needs are relatively few, but manifest themselves as bulk. Books, bookshelves, a computer (preferably with DSL connection), some clothes, a small bathroom, a kitchenette, and a working fridge-- that's really all I require. I don't need posters on my wall. I don't need a TV. I might need a decent CD player, but I've been living without music for months now, and can't say I've missed it. I don't mind silence. Beds are also optional, as I've discovered after almost two years of bedlessness. I'll enjoy the current luxury while I've got it.

So I'm happy to have a temporary place that's fairly comfortable. The fridge might not work, but I've been fridge-free for two months, and have learned to work around that inconvenience. I've unpacked the clothes I'll be needing, and luckily, EC doesn't require me to plan my own lessons, so I'm pretty much set to play the role they've given us. When I move into my "permanent" residence, I'll ask my buddy's wife to hook up the DSL again (it sucks to have been paying for the service this entire time, on top of PC-bahng fees, but there are cancellation fees as well, and re-creating a DSL account would have been a pain). Right now, I've unpacked nothing computer-related, which means this blog reverts back to its original text-only state for the indefinite future. Sorry.

Switching gears...

Blinger emailed to say he's able to access my blog directly, but I still can't. Perhaps something's happening with the MIC and the Korean ISPs? I doubt it, but I wonder why some folks have access and others don't. Could this be another firewall issue?

The journalist from Newsweek writes with the good news that Newsweek (the Asian edition, at least; maybe the American edition as well...?) will be publishing a short article about the blog blockage. It started off as a lengthy article, but shrank to a "Periscope mini-story" after a "downgrading." Still, something is better than nothing, so I deeply thank the intrepid Mark Russell (not to be confused with this Mark Russell-- I think) for all his efforts on our behalf. Keep that press attention coming. And keep your eyes out for a Newsweek article "Sunday or Monday or whenever the mag hits the shelves in Korea."

I've gotten so used to reading online news sources that it's been a while since I bought myself an actual copy of Time or Newsweek. Might have to break that habit.

A couple emails to me are asking about that Wired news story mentioned in Andrew Petty's Korea Herald article. I've emailed Andrew about it and am also hoping some other people do some sleuthing. I'd love to see the article in question. If the article turns out not to exist, I hope people write to Wired and make a story. As "A" suggested to me, you can write Wired at:

OK... I have to go find some aspirin. And a bunch of water. And maybe some fruit juice. Did I mention I'm a fruit juice addict? I go nuts if I don't have juice for a period longer than 24 hours. Who knows why? I sure don't. It's a bit like Michael Palin's problem in "Time Bandits": "I must have fruit!"

Speaking of drinks: the most disgusting drink in the universe has to be a Korean drink called McCool, which I mistakenly took to be a house-brand version of Coca Cola. Wrong. The taste is indescribably bad. Try it once, just to say you did it. I suspect it's extracted from hospital waste.

A much better McCool is my old geometry teacher from freshman year in high school. Don McCool was a good, engaging math teacher, and my high school's beloved basketball coach. At pep rallies, he'd give his spiel about how the Majors would rip the living guts out of the other team, and as he got himself worked up, his face would get redder and redder, and we'd go nuts because we knew what was next: the Jacket Stomp. When the moment was right and we were at our most bloodthirsty, Mr. McCool would whip off his sports jacket, throw it on the gym's floor, and then stomp the hell out of it with one or both feet. I wonder what his wife and their favorite laundromat thought of this. We students loved it. Now, years later, with some ritual studies courses under my belt, I'm tempted to look back at those scenes and parse them. But I won't do it here, because I've got a fever and you, intolerant asswipe, are puckering your asshole in disapproval.

Anyone wanna place bets on whether I puke tonight? I should set up a poll. Or better: go visit the Maximum Leader's site and participate in his poll (sidebar, bottom) about who's the fairest in the land.

I voted for Halle. Twice. Because I'm at a different computer at every PC-bahng. I don't think my vote for Halle has helped, though... and so it is that my perfidy hath come to naught.

UPDATE: A scarily rational article by Choi Tae-hwan, a Korean who teaches high school English in Kwangju. The article expresses the wish for greater control and surveillance of the Internet.

Don't come anywhere near me, Choi.

[link provided by the KimcheeGI]


1. Blinger

2. this Mark Russell

3. Andrew Petty's Korea Herald article

4. site

5. article

6. KimcheeGI


Angry Expat

Wooj does a hilarious Denis Leary impression here.


disappointments and The Move

I suppose the Newsweek journalist has seen fit to look elsewhere for news, because I never spoke with him again. It's possible he tried to call me on Friday morning, but my hasuk is great at blocking cell phone signals. Almost every call I've received while inside my room has been garbled or cut off or both. On rare occasions (and for reasons I can't fathom), I get decent signal strength, but as Murphy's Law would have it, no one fucking calls during those times.

Mr. Newsweek Man, if you're still interested in chewing the fat about this stupid MIC blockage, feel free to give me a call on Saturday evening, when I'll have moved into my new place.

Yes, it's The Move, and it's not a moment too soon. My hasuk room has become a sauna, and I'm not sure why. The hallway leading up to my room is usually cool. My room in particular is stuffy, humid, and hellishly hot. Could it be... the electric fan? Have my Adjoshi's words come back to haunt me? Is my fan trying to kill me?

I wasn't able to sleep at all on Thursday night. All day Friday, I was dead fucking tired. I passed off my favorite private tutoring class (Min-sung in Apkujeong) to my buddy Tom, then chowed down on a Monte Cristo sandwich (the first in years) at Bennigan's while trying to stay awake. I'm afraid I was poor company for Tom, who's currently working on multiple business projects. I don't know how he does it.

But it's not all gloom and doom: I did manage to leave Bennigan's a rather extraordinary load of shit in their very clean bathroom. I'm not quite sure how to describe the shape of my download for you. Think of huge fried clam strips or smallish chicken fingers, overly browned, and neatly lined up in a row, like shit-bullets on a fecal bandolier. If I train my anus properly, I might be able to harness this nifty bullet-power to start writing Chinese in dung. (Hahna, would you like a Dung Dalma?)

While I'm relieved to be moving out of my hasuk, I received the bad news that my new place isn't going to be my "permanent" residence. It appears I was slated to be moved into Building X, but there are no vacancies right now, so I'm being shunted to Building Y. Because of whatever rental agreement my new company has with the landlord, I have to move into Building X eventually. That's what they tell me, anyway. I don't know how long I'll be in Building Y. At a guess, only a few weeks.

The company's bujang (#2 in the company), after he finished the third training session on Wednesday, said privately to me, "I'm staking my reputation on you."

"Why?" I asked. "Is it the half-Korean thing?" My ethnicity has been an issue with this company: if you look too Korean, it can work against you, because the customers feel a white guy provides a more "authentic" English-language experience. The customers' racism translates to codified racism in company hiring policy. The bujang, who's a white Canadian, doesn't like this any more than I do, and to his credit he's been up-front about the problem. But:

"No; it's the American thing," the bujang said.

"The American thing?"

The bujang paused, then said, "Every single American I've hired for EC has fucked up in some way or other. Canadians and Brits-- no problem. But Americans..."

EC is in the process of letting yet another American go. I saw him at the Kangnam branch office: slovenly 20-something. Personally, I love to dress like a slob. It's comfortable. But at least I have the sense to mind company policy-- I don't slob out when teaching. While EC's not going to earn my love anytime soon, I've come to respect the fact that they actually devote time to training their teachers, and seem convinced of their language teaching methodology (even if I'm not sold on it). They also seem to care for students' progress, and will even cancel lessons if students don't take responsibility for their own learning. That's pretty revolutionary for a hagwon-style school: usually, it's all about re-enrollment, which represents the bottom line.

[NB: Whoops. I have to remember the company lingo. They're not students; they're learners. I'm not a teacher; I'm a trainer. It really is like learning the terminology of a fast-food restaurant: "You might've called this a Big Mac at your previous job, but here at Marx-imum Burger, we call this the Lumpenproletariatsburger."]

At a guess, the Americans in question have "fucked up" by not respecting company policy. Some were probably turned off by the split shifts and the vicissitudes of hagwon life, and they decided not to take any more shit. The decision to quit a job can be rooted in laziness, or it can reflect an honest desire to escape a truly shitty situation. I'll keep you all updated on whether my own situation turns shitty. If I feel I have to leave, I won't let my bujang's words curdle into a guilt trip. I'll simply walk.

OK... it's almost 2AM, I still can't sleep, and I need to finish packing. I doubt I'll get DSL hooked up in my new place: if I have to move again in a few weeks, it doesn't seem worth it.

Stay tuned.


Friday, July 23, 2004

free speech continues to die in South Korea

The Marmot takes note of what happens when you post parodies of politicians. Robert quotes some text, which reads in part:

A Seoul court on Thursday fined a college student 1.5 million won for producing and spreading parodies through the Internet that aimed to defame certain candidates ahead of the April 15 general elections.

It is the first time in South Korea that a citizen has been punished for producing parody works on the Internet.

So I guess it's time for me to repost my parody of a Korean politician:

I'm going to start hiding secret messages in these little dialog boxes.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

further thanks as the word continues to spread

Shout-outs to Ed/Gumbi and Brainy Smurf for their attention to the censorship problem.

So, maybe it's finally time to roll out the s-word: is my blog subversive?

I don't think so. From my point of view, I'm correcting something that's unhealthy. I'm not rejecting Korea wholesale, nor am I thumbing my nose at all of Korean culture. It can't be restated enough: I like living here. I'm not trying to ruin the country or overthrow the government. But I do think one branch of the government has its head up its ass, and I think there's a whole group of ignorant, yes-man Korean Netizens out there who'd have made great collaborators during the Japanese occupation. I wouldn't be so strongly against this government if the government weren't so damn focused on being against us.

Besides, how subversive can I be with so small a readership, eh?

UPDATE: Go read Andi's post on censorship activism. Think about blogging on this matter. Spread the word in any way possible. Don't just sit there, please.







The 9/11 Commission Report is now available to the public in book form (link via Drudge). It goes without saying that I very, very, very badly want a copy. I don't know when it'll arrive in Korea, dammit.



thanks, Andrew!

Andrew Petty's Korea Herald article is out. The link is here: [1]. Thanks once again, Andrew, for taking the time to sit with us, listen to our grievances, and produce an article that lays it all out clearly.

Kevin at Incestuous Amplification professes not to care about the governmental ban here, but I sense some rage in a subsequent post where he riffs on Petty's article, here: [2]. The key phrase, which I quoted [3] on July 9, after an email exchange with Andrew, is this quote from an unidentified MIC official:

"It's different when Koreans see another Korean get killed. It's a different feeling than seeing a foreigner die."

IA Kevin takes this apart in a gratifying way and shows it to be the racism it is.

For people in Korea who want the direct links and not the proxy-altered ones, I'm now providing a new service: listing the links at the bottom of my posts.





If at any time you want to request the "real" links to anything else I've linked to previous to this post, please email me. (I also won't be displaying the permalinks to my own posts unless you request them.)

To those of you who don't know why I'm doing this:

People in Korea can only view my blog through proxies. Most proxies will distort whatever links appear on my blog, which can be a pain if you'd like to explore the site to which a link points. You'll notice I've largely avoided linking to blogs I have to view through proxies (i.e., most of the ones on my blogroll), which is a shame. I assume other Koreabloggers have done the same to me, and I don't blame them; the whole thing's a pain in the ass. So I'm providing this as a service to Koreabloggers who want to copy undistorted permalinks from my blog.


here's a strange thought

What if the recent hacker attack by China against South Korea was part of a larger Chinese-North Korean effort to sniff out SK defense capabilities in preparation for an attack? This of course implies that China and NK have a behind-the-scenes agreement to act together. Recent news about the French willingness to sell arms to China, and about China's continued efforts both to update and increase its own defense capabilities (well beyond mere defense needs) is cause for a bit of possibly-paranoid speculation. Whenever people want to accuse America of imperialism, I just roll my eyes and point the accuser toward China, where they can see the real thing.


meet the press, press the meat

A couple of us bloggers have been contacted by a Korea-based journalist from a little-known, little-read magazine called Newsweek.

More on this as it happens.

UPDATE: Pass this link along to as many as you can. It gathers a lot of our crusade-related info all into one place and is a good jumping-off point. Many thanks to poster disk28 on the anti-censorship boards for creating this page.



1. Thanks to Simon for his shout-out on Winds of Change. I hope the word spreads and spreads, like bucketfuls of diarrhea shooting out of a man trapped in his hospital bed. (Has Winds been blocked as well? I can't access it, but I got the link off SiteMeter and ran it through Unipeak.)

2. Thanks in advance to Andrew Petty of the Korea Herald, who's planning an article on the MIC/ICEC cyber-ban. Stick it to 'em good, Andrew. Make every word count.

That was a journalism pun. A bad one.

3. Thanks to Anna of Primal Purge for a damn funny post that features a foul-mouthed 8-year-old. I can't link directly to her post because her blog is banned in Korea and I have to view it through a proxy-- which, luckily, magnifies its nastiness. I wish her good luck as she pursues her "Fight Club"-ish dreams.


my nasty church?

John Moore of Useful Fools links to an article about my church, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), which recently had its 216th General Assembly. PCUSA polity, for those who don't know, is more secularly administrative than theological in nature, but it can make decisions (and amendments to its constitution) that have moral and theological import.

This time around, it seems the GA voted to divest from Israel. The move is part of a larger divestment campaign (PCUSA is the first Christian church to participate), and is a collective statement about the perceived injustices being committed against the Palestinian people, most recently exemplified by the building of the security wall, which is actually doing a decent job of stanching the influx of Palestinian suicide bombers.

My own take is different from John's. He sees the PCUSA's GA vote as the work of a mainstream Protestant church gone liberal. Maybe; maybe not: the PCUSA, taken collectively, is by no means liberal-- not politically, not socially, and not theologically. In 1983, my church was "united" after a long, Civil War-era split. North-South differences are still apparent in PCUSA, especially during the General Assemblies, where two theological/practical issues in particular constantly arise, get debated, and never seem to be successfully resolved:

1. Homosexuality: ordination of homosexual clergy, homosexual marriage, and questions surrounding the use of church property for such marriages and ordinations. (The church's "official" stance is against homosexual marriage and ordination.)

2. Jesus Christ's status as sole, unique, and normative savior in the context of religious diversity. (The church's recent documents on the subject are theologically muddled, caught somewhere between classical exclusivism and classical inclusivism.)

I suppose we can now add the Israel question as a point of contention for future General Assemblies.

[NB: Our polity doesn't have the spiritual authority of the Roman hierarchy. Freedom of conscience is very important in the Reformed tradition, of which we're a part. Individuals, including church pastors, don't have to tailor their religious views to fit a party line (in theory, anyway; in practice, this isn't quite so clear-cut). My pastor, for instance, is pro-gay marriage and a religious pluralist. I don't know his stance on Israel and divestment.]

The article mentions that PCUSA has refused to remove funding for Christian groups attempting to proselytize to Jews. This, to me, sounds like the work of PCUSA's conservative wing. As for antisemitism... I think antisemitism can be found in both liberal and conservative camps: the liberal antisemitism connected to the larger leftist denial of anything good emanating from Israel (as if Israel, instead of being a complex entity, were merely identical with/reducible to its Palestinian policy), and the conservative antisemitism that views Jews as potential converts to Christianity. The GA vote could very well have been a coalition of liberals and conservatives working toward the same goal, but for different reasons.

It's sadly obvious that my church has forgotten that Israel is the only bastion of vibrant democracy in the Middle East today, and that as such, it's eminently deserving of our aid, support, and defense. Palestine continues to fall into a dysfunctional hell largely of its own making; I have little sympathy for those people these days, and the wall is exactly what they deserve: a stupid landmark against which the terrorists can bash their stupid skulls until Palestine implodes. Israel is looking out for its own survival; I can't blame it for being vigilant and draconian.

The article notes the following by way of contrast to the PCUSA's action:

The Presbyterian resolutions came just as Jewish organizations were hailing the results of a historic international interfaith meeting in Buenos Aires last week, where Roman Catholic officials for the first time signed on to a document equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

I have to agree with the Catholics on this one. If you put Israel's current struggle in the larger context of history, you see the continued persecution of an always-persecuted people (check out France these days). And if the Judaism that arose out of Israel is the true mother of Christianity, with "honor thy father and thy mother" being one of the most significant of the Ten Commandments, you have to ask yourself whether the PCUSA's action is any way for a son to treat his mother.

Regarding the three great issues for my church, then: readers of this blog know I skew leftward on the question of gay marriage and ordination, that I'm a religious pluralist (a designation that can't be styled as "liberal" or "conservative" because, as readers of my essays on religious pluralism know, both liberals and conservatives can be pluralists), and that I skew rightward when it comes to foreign policy and the question of Israel. In all three matters, I stand against the mainstream opinions of my church.

UPDATE: Dr. Vallicella, in a post on universal quantifiers, notes that the claim that Israel is "the only democracy in the Middle East" is factually wrong: Turkey is also a democracy, and also in the Middle East (though, strangely, I tend to think of it as European). I can only hope that my modifier "vibrant" will be charitably interpreted in such a way as to make it clear that Israel's democracy is, on the whole, the most robust in the Middle East in terms of the personal freedoms it provides and protects. Turkish democracy presents certain problems, from military and religious influence over the government to Islam's role in Turkish society in general (despite the avowed secularism).


blogging may be light for a bit

I just finished three days of job training, 10:30AM to 8:30PM. Dead tired. I'm impressed: for all its faults, EC provides the most comprehensive teacher training I've ever encountered. I've met some interesting types, too; my fellow trainees hail from Canada and the US. One Canadian's the happiest sonofabitch I've ever met. Late-40-something dude who's been a taekwondo practitioner for nine years.

EC's teaching methodology is definitely gimmicky; it's little more than a recycled version of 1960s-era Audiolingualism (think: structuralist approach: language as habit-formation, language as component structures fitted within other structures, with little emphasis on meaning and fluid communicative competence, and more emphasis on basics like good pronunciation, repetition, and grammar exercises)... audiolingualism in a lab coat.

I'll be moving into my new place this coming Saturday. Gonna be a hectic weekend. I have to start packing, and I've got to pass off my private classes to my buddy Tom. Sometime next week, I'll get DSL established in my new domicile, and all will be hunky dory. I'm working a block shift for a week (10AM-6:30PM), and then I start Split Shift Hell for three months (6:30-11AM, 6-10PM). Joy.

The upshot is: sporadic blogging at best until next week. Then you get a taste of life in ritzy Kangnam. If you can't wait for my posts, read Andi's, which offers a slice of upper-crust Seoulite existence.


Tuesday, July 20, 2004

white boy nails it

Conrad at The Gweilo Diaries explains the rationality of not voting. Here's a choice paragraph:

And what to do when one scans the length of the ballot choices offered, only to conclude -- as do I this year -- "you gotta be shitting me"? Kerry: "ugh". Bush: "pwew", Schumer: "ack", Mosley: "gag". Conservativeliberallibertariangreen: "where'd the clowns come from? Is the circus in town?" I'm supposed to encourage these fuckers by pretending I endorse any of them? Give me a break. Treating these self-promoting climbers with the contempt they deserve is a civic freaking duty.

Yep. And I like the William F. Buckley quote.

My own post on voting is here. I plan to vote this time around... but I won't be voting for either Bush or Kerry, may their assholes know the Pain of the Inserted Plantain.


Monday, July 19, 2004

the horror... the horror...

Sometimes you can't know what a fucking asshole you are until someone writes a news article about you. If you haven't seen it yet, here it is.

UPDATE: I have only one disappointment to voice. I'd asked Todd to use the pic of me trying to transmogrify the 100-won coins into 500-won coins with my mind. I'd hoped it would have appeared somewhere in the article, mais hélas...


postal scrotality and other notes

First item of business:

Scott writes in re: my previous post (see right below this one):

Hi Kevin,

"...we tend to be of two minds about Korea: we either treat it as an incorrigible child (implying it'll never change), or we do what I just did and claim it's a powerful, capable nation that can take responsibility for itself. Which is it?"

It can be both at the same time. Imagine a capable adult woman who makes bad decisions (abusive boyfriend, 4 kids by 3 men, etc). Being capable and stupid aren't mutually exclusive.

Seeing someone/thing like this is sad. Wasted potential and all that. The question is: how to change that. And the answer is: you can't, change has to come from the inside. And in all honesty, any positive change is going to be minor and slow in appearing. Unfrotunately.

This sounds more pessimistic than I intended. I really hope Korea gets it's collective act together. But from what I see, I think the best to hope for is a small improvement. Just under one-letter-grade of improvement in the next 10 years.


Scott has a point, and I was aware of the "synthetic" view even as I was writing my post. I suspect a lot of expat bloggers would claim this is, in fact, how they feel about Korea: not some starkly antipodal and contradictory love/hate, but a more subtle mixing of positive and negative feelings.

So I won't argue with Scott about that; he's probably right. I was, however, trying to note how this thinking is expressed on the blogs. Only a small cluster of Koreablogs actually say outright what Scott wrote. Mine usually isn't one of them.

At the same time, I still think there is a certain contradictory tendency among many Koreabloggers to swing between hopefulness and hopelessness about Korea. Here, too, we have to be careful, because many bloggers' anger toward Korea is actually indicative of hopefulness, not cynical hopelessness. In truth, if a blogger has sincerely written Korea off as doomed, there's little reason to be bitter: just move out, move on, and let the country rot.

Second item of business:

Today at 10:30AM I go in for... gag... training at my new goddamn job at EC. We're supposed to go through four unpaid days of training. I have no idea how many hours this training will last, though I do know we get quizzed after every session. I hope we get trained by Yoda, and I hope Yoda commands us to pass his speech patterns on to the students.

Imagine Koreans on the streets of L.A. going, "Raugh! Mandoo I shall have! How get you so big eating food of this kind?"

Wish me luck.

Third item of business:

Any moment now... aaaaaaaany moment now... that OhMyNews article is supposed to appear. Todd (Todd Thacker, that is) said it was around 2000 words at the time we spoke. For all I know, his bosses took a look at it and shrieked, "No more than 500 words on that idiot! Why you waste your time on him!? Why you wasting our money!? Look at him! He fat! He ugly! He say FART all the time! You know the MIC slapped THREE EXTRA LAYERS OF CYBER-BLOCKAGE on him? Huh? They call it OPERATION CONSTIPATION! When all the other blogs get unblocked, his will stay blocked FOREVAAAAAAAAAA!!"

Now that I've had a chance to meet Todd, I can tell you he's a very nice gentleman in his fifties with a good bit of gray around the temples and an obsession with middle school girls' panties. "Picked that up in Japan," he claims. Todd's from South Africa, where, he tells me, they simply don't have middle school, which is what makes it so sexy. Along with middle schoolers, Todd also thinks Korean grandmothers are hot. "Yeah, I'd stick my CD-ROM in their Play Station any day," he says. "Old and wrinkled is where it's at."

Todd evinced the strangest mannerisms while interviewing me. I could put up with the incessant nose-picking (he favors his right pinky, which sports an uncut fingernail to facilitate digging), but there was one moment, during which he was rifling around in his pants for butt lint, where even I began to wonder whether Todd was quite normal.

Todd has a wandering eye, à la Marty Feldman, but it might be a glass eye (à la Peter Falk); I was too polite to ask. He also needs to trim his nose hairs a bit; I suspect that they're quite itchy, which is what prompts all the nose-picking. The hairs are also dotted with specks of either dried snot or cocaine; I'm not sure which.

In any case, check throughout that day, and maybe you'll catch Todd's article, in which I talk about being able to bench press 200 kilograms with my penis and show off the world's only prehensile scrotum.


Sunday, July 18, 2004

moral equivalence

[NB: I'd written a long, long post on this subject, which got deleted by Blogger earlier today, thereby royally pissing me off and forcing me to take a rather angry, violent shit on the keyboard, the monitor, and the CPU. What follows is a piecemeal reconstruction of some of the basic themes of the original post.]

My friend the KimcheeGI noted in an email to a bunch of us that there's a new litmus test out there for the Korean government: the online release of the Paul Johnson beheading video. Will this video be banned as well? Or will we see further evidence of the "just another foreigner" mentality?

Among the replies to Charlie's email was one that both (a) denied that the "just another foreigner" mentality has been a factor in Korean censorship considerations and (b) went on to argue that Koreans aren't the only ones who are most concerned for their own: after all, are Americans as concerned about French victims of terrorism?

Point (a) is simply bullshit. Only someone ignorant about Korean society would try to deny the role of the tribal mentality in Korean international affairs. Most of us foreign wankers all came-- independently of each other, I might add-- to the same conclusion about the Korean government's (and Korean Netizens') hypocrisy in enacting and supporting the suppression of the Kim Sun-il beheading video: no strong measures were taken when it came to the foreigners' beheadings.

The email writer's lame argument is that Korean citizens did express outrage when the Nick Berg video was broadcast by MBC. The problem, in my opinion, is that the Korean reaction was nothing compared to the still-ongoing outrage about the deaths of the two Korean schoolgirls accidentally killed by American GIs. Almost no one is talking about Nick Berg in Korea right now. He's largely forgotten here. The writer also suggests that the citizens of other countries are no different in how they treat foreign victims. While he's right to think that we all have an "our people first" mentality, the writer is implying that all nations exhibit this cultural trait equally, which is plainly false.

The writer's point (b), then, is an example of moral equivalence, and the best way to tackle that is to examine the falsity of the moral equivalence argument, both empirically and theoretically. Let's go empirical first.

The empirical approach shows us a very polarized America right now. This is strong evidence that Americans, contrary to the stereotype propagated by the ignorant, are indeed concerned about what happens internationally. American liberals voice concerns about diplomatic capital, regaining a measure of dignity in the eyes of the world, etc. Whether you agree or disagree with the larger liberal argument is unimportant; what I'm trying to point out is that American liberals show an awareness of what's going on outside America's borders. The same is true for American conservatives, who marshal their foreign policy arguments based on what they know of other countries' histories and cultures vis-à-vis American national interests. Here, too, whether you agree or disagree with the larger conservative argument, it's undeniable that conservatives are also quite aware of what's happening outside America's borders. America is polarized because America is aware and engaged in internal debate. Advocates of moral equivalence wish to paint America as one huge, dumb bumpkin state, making judgements rooted in ignorance of the larger world. To do this, they have to ignore crucial facts about America and Americans. Yes, we have our bumpkins, and some hold political office. But that's by no means the end of the story.

Let's now move to a more theoretical level and examine the moral equivalence position itself. It's usually an argument aimed at America in particular, generally as a corrective for perceived American arrogance. "Americans are in no position to judge," it's argued: the world is complex and if we don't understand everything about another nation's history and culture, it's rich of us to make judgements according to our values and standards. From this perspective, no one holds the moral high ground, because each of our nations has its virtues and flaws. How, then, to argue for the superiority of one's own nation's values? Why hold people of other nations to our own standards?

One major problem with this stance is that, instead of taking the argument to its logical conclusion-- to wit: no one has the right to judge anyone else, therefore everyone should shut the fuck up-- what we see instead is that the argument is repeatedly employed against America. This indicates a fundamental contradiction in the mind of the arguer: he pays lip service to the idea that we're all on an equal moral playing field, while at the same time holding America to a special set of obligations/higher standards/etc. Which is it? If we shouldn't judge anyone, why are these people judging America?

The other problem is the false dichotomy created by the advocate of moral equivalence, who espouses a species of moral relativism and sees his opponent as cleaving to some form of moral absolutism. This is a misperception. To argue for the superiority (or "preferableness") of one's point of view is not perforce to argue for the absolute superiority of that POV. As an American, I naturally feel that American values are superior/preferable. In fact, I renounce proprietary claims and submit that there's no reason American values (cultural norms, etc.) have to be exclusively American. Sounds awful, doesn't it? Sounds pretty ignorant and uncivilized to you, yes?

But, you see: for Koreans (or anyone else), the same dynamic is present. Koreans will naturally feel that Korean values are superior. Some Koreans might even feel that other nations can benefit from the spread of Korean culture and values. And why shouldn't Koreans feel this way?

Notice that one can make the above assessment about America and Korea without pretending to hold a coolly "objective" viewpoint. This is important because, ultimately, we all have our own personal and collective agendas. It would be dishonest to profess total objectivity, and this is what the advocate of moral equivalence is asking for: an absolutely objective, nonjudgemental viewpoint. No one possesses this.

Any dialogue, debate, etc. needs to start from this premise, not from the artificial and impractical premise of moral equivalence. I need to enter the debate fully aware that my interlocutor will make claims about the "preferableness" of his position; ideally, he should be aware that I will make the same claims for my own. This means that people can judge America all they want, but it also means that Americans reserve the right to judge others according to American standards. There's no reason to cry foul when America does this.

[NB: The obvious issue I avoided in this discussion is that of power. This is actually key to understanding why the advocate of moral equivalence is willing to be hypocritical: America represents a special case because it's so powerful-- militarily, economically, even culturally (in terms of spreading "American memes" about). Power, according to this view, implies special obligations and responsibilities. I'm not too sympathetic to the power argument, especially when it comes to an economically and militarily powerful nation like South Korea. Korea can't really argue from a position of total weakness and victimhood any longer. If anything is holding Korea back now, it's Korea. Besides, the addition of power to the equation does nothing to address the hypocrisy of arguing for moral equivalence while simultaneously holding one country, America, to different standards.

NB2: If I see a flaw in the typical American/foreign expat treatment of Korea in debate, it's that we tend to be of two minds about Korea: we either treat it as an incorrigible child (implying it'll never change), or we do what I just did and claim it's a powerful, capable nation that can take responsibility for itself. Which is it? Can it improve or can't it? Is it capable or isn't it? We do need to get our own story straight in this regard. Personally, I'm in the powerful/capable camp. Koreans, especially South Koreans, have a lot to be proud of. The vast improvements South Korea has made since 1953 have been nothing short of stunning. Koreans need to remember this about themselves and stop playing the tragic victim. The evidence of over fifty years is that life in South Korea has been anything but tragic, especially compared to the hellhole that is North Korea.]


curious parallels

One of the dangers of seeing two movies in rapid succession is that you can be tempted to draw parallels between them. Last week, I saw "Spider-man 2" and reviewed it; just yesterday, I saw "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." I don't want to review the latter here, except to say that it was a solid, if unevenly paced, adaptation of JK Rowling's not-just-for-kids novel.

Sometimes it's not a good idea to compare two obviously unrelated texts, but "Spider-man 2" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" lend themselves well to comparison. Let's give in to temptation and see what we can dig up by way of parallels.

The protagonists of both movies (hereinafter "SM2" and "HPPA") are young, geeky, gawky, and scrappers. Parker and Potter have had unhappy childhoods; both know what it's like to be womped on by tougher classmates. Both are blessed with power and ability, and are still exploring their limits. Both wear glasses (at least some of the time). Along with this, many reviewers have remarked that Tobey Maguire, when done up as Peter Parker, is the American answer to Harry Potter. I agree. I couldn't help thinking of Potter while watching SM2.

Potter and Parker are also members of boy-girl-boy triangles. The SM2 version of this is more rancorous because the characters are all older, and the feelings are more intense. In HPPA, our protags are on the verge of adolescence, and the movie hints that there might be a Hermione-Ron romance in our future (Rowling's books suggest this much more subtly; the biggest clue is that Ron and Hermione often end up in situations where they spend a lot of quality time together).

Both movies also have a fascination with flight. If you watch HPPA right after watching SM2, this parallel is too obvious to miss. In HPPA, you've got broomsticks and a hippogriff; in SM2, we follow Spidey as he swings through the man-made canyons of New York City. I was struck with déjà vu while watching HPPA: the final moment of the film ends in almost exactly the same manner as the final moment of SM2-- the protag whooping with delight while whipping through the air on the way to further adventure.

I also think both movies evince something of an anti-technological theme, though this is arguable. In HPPA, Hogwarts Castle is so heavily magicked that normal electronic devices don't work. Magic obviates the need for hi-tech, which I concede doesn't perforce make Rowling's story anti-tech, but does imply that magic provides a certain romance that crude Muggle artifacts can't (an opinion obviously not shared by the Muggle-loving Arthur Weasley in Rowling's books).

In SM2, anti-tech can be seen in the age-old "mad scientist" trope. In his excellent The Demon-haunted World, Carl Sagan complained loudly about this oft-recurring image in story and film. Scientists are frequently depicted as arrogant egomaniacs with a penchant for cutting ethical corners in an effort to realize an impossible dream. This is, as Sagan says, precisely the opposite of how most scientists think and act. And you can't help but notice that, along with being a mad scientist after his accident, Alfred Molina's Dr. Octopus is an awkward mechanical monstrosity who stands in contrast to the organic (i.e., not biomechanical) Spider-man, our inhumanly human hero.

I'm interested in where the boy-girl-boy triangles will lead. The story arcs of the Spider-man and Harry Potter series are, in the end, quite divergent. Parker is faced with different villains in every installment, but for Harry, there is only one principal antagonist (Lord Voldemort, who doesn't make an appearance in HPPA, but whose presence is nonetheless palpable). Harry Osborn, Peter Parker's friend, discovers Peter's superhero secret near the end of SM2. Osborn's final scene suggests that he'll become the next Green Goblin, which effectively signals the end of this triangle. Rowling's books still haven't made the Ron-Hermione romance explicit; Rowling is clever enough to throw us plenty of red herrings, so it's possible we won't see any real sparks until the seventh book finally comes out.

There's one final parallel between the Spider-man and Harry Potter film franchises: if they continue long enough, the stars will have to be replaced by younger versions of themselves. This in turn brings up parallel questions of fan loyalty.

But that's material for a different post.


"A" strikes again!

"A" writes again with more juicy info:


I just found this. Read it and weep.

News World JUNE. 2003 :
Netizens take law into their own hands
from which we discover the "e-clean Korea campaign" and learn of

The e-Clean Korea Charter (Issued on June, 12 2003)

We all live in a society of knowledge and information.

With the enormously rapid development in the information and communications technologies, the entire world dwells on active exchanges of knowledge and information sources to unify the whole world in the cyberspace.

Being committed to global citizenship, we pledge to practice the following points so that we can bring a cyber world which pursues mankind? love and the ideals of human dignity and value.

One, We respect and care for each other to build a sound human relationship in cyberspace.

Two, We pledge to fully abide by the rules in compliance with ethical norms in cyberspace.

Three, We keep righteous words and expressions as the forefront runner to improve the quality of life in cyberspace.

Four, We do our best to help youngsters unfold their dreams safely in cyberspace.

* * * * * * *

Ministry of Information and Communication indeed. Orwell, thou shouldst be living at this hour. Do read the article. Perhaps you remember the campaign. Who are Newsworld anyway? They sound like a government agency.

And from Donga Tower:
Greetings from the Chairman of the Information Communication Ethics Committee.
The committee 's vision is to bring you a more ethical cyberworld.
Motto: Commitment, Mastermind & Trust
They operate Internet 119, control internet rating, and have responsibility for Other matters related to vitalizing sound information distribution as entrusted by the Minister of Information & Communication.

Yes, it says vitalizing. There is more about them in Kim's essay on Internet filtering, blocking and government censorship in South Korea. It's a long essay, not the lightest of reading.

The crux of the who-ordered-what confusion is probably here, on page 8:
"Since ICEC could request the Minister of Information and Communication to issue an order to the ISP if the ISP does not follow its recommendation, the ISP rarely refused to follow the recommendation of ICEC. As most of ISPs have no power to delete or revise the materials or the websites in issue by themselves, rather they often cut off the access to entire websites."

So perhaps there didn't need to be a formal order at all for everyone to jump. Especially with the police involved. I don't profess to understand.

As for the e-clean Korea campaign - e-Clean Korea
I don't have either broadband or Korean. It takes ages to download and even then I'm none the wiser. There doesn't seem to be an English button. Does the site contain any useful information, or is it all publicity: flash movies and slogans?

For background info on internet freedom in RoK, see this recent rreport: Reporters sans frontières - Internet - South Korea
Reading the report one one's home country is a humbling experience.


Commitment, Mastermind, and Trust. Those last two almost sound mutually exclusive.


Saturday, July 17, 2004

Go, Hunjang!

You want names?  Antti's got names. And web pages.

[NB: I'm viewing Antti's blog through Unipeak. The link reflects that fact. If you're outside Korea and you'd rather surf naked to view his blog, visit and scroll down to the July 14 post (8:02am) titled "Blog Block; the Sci-Tech-Info-Comm Committee Members."]

You know, right about now... I'd rather be in Switzerland.


Friday, July 16, 2004

more postal scrotality

"A" writes in with more great questions and observations:


How did you get on with the press?

Have just read your 16 July post with the exchange with Robert. Agreed, it's vital to know who's doing the blocking, so I trawled back through stuff and tried to analyse it. Bear with me.

Who in MIC denied that the ban was MIC inspired? What did they actually say? (Your July 9 post refers.) Someone is playing with words, I think.

As you know, a press release went out on 24 June that was picked up all over the world (Reuters, Washington Times, Al Jazeera, China Daily, etc etc) and familiarly here:
KoreaTimes : Internet Providers Urged to Block Hostage Video
The Ministry of Information of Communication (MIC) on Thursday said it ordered all the nation's Internet service providers (ISPs) to shut down access to Web sites that carry the execution of Kim Sun-il. "We have found a total of eight foreign-based Web sites showing the savage killing since this morning (Thursday) and blocked Internet access to them in cooperation with local ISPs," MIC official Moon Ki-hwan said.

Interesting here how the headline says "urged" and the copy beneath says "ordered". (Yonhap says "requested") Is there a translation issue here, misleading me? In this KT report, the criminal prosecution threat applies to Internet users spreading the footage, not to the ISPs. Though doubtless they would suffer penalties too. I'll have to learn Korean.

(I'm only just beginning to understand. Forgive me, I'm very slow and a long way off, and there has been so much written it's hard to separate the wood from the trees.)

I guess (correct me if I'm wrong) that after the MIC's order/urging/request/demand, ISPs were afraid of the penalities of non-compliance and took it upon themselves to block the blogging hosts without being asked to tackle those sites specifically. So apart from issuing a general edict, MIC could sit back and let others get on with it.

And so long as sites were being blocked, MIC wouldn't feel the need to ask questions about how effective or discriminating the blocking was. And they would say unto the ISPs "Well done, my good and faithful servants."

And MIC can sit there, faced with a bunch of angry foreigners and say "It wasn't us. We just made the policy."

It's like a bad dream. The logic is maddening. Re-reading Oranckay's 28 June post, and your July 9 post, I think he's right. Sort of. It's a web of semantics and buck-passing.

But don't they have some responsibility for seeing that the policy is properly carried out?
Yes, but. The nature of the ban means that it's virtually impossible not to catch innocent people up in it. (I asked a tech friend of mine about this: he says to block a single page is technically feasible but v expensive... that's why AOL are so indiscriminate in their spam-blocking. More on this if you like, but he's not an expert on filtering - I guess you must have those in Korea!)

That alone, if it's true, should make this sort of ban wrong. It's all very well to make a policy decision, but if it can't be implemented fairly within the technology, you need to look again at the policy. That's a point the MIC should take on board (even if they don't agree with it) irrespective of who actually is "responsible" for the physical blocking. O I can just see Korea forging the path to supersensitive and affordable filter code!

(And is it MIC, or ICEC? Did ICEC have an emergency meeting, or did the civil servants do it themselves? Or was a junior minister involved? In my country, it's not the sort of thing civil servants could do by themselves, but maybe Korean civil servants have more power. I'd expect it to be the ICEC, or a minister. It would be good if they could explain the process.)

All Koreans are being denied access to millions of English language blogs - and other sites. (But do they care?) I have no idea how the ban is working in Korean language circles. Antti's got a post today that looks interesting. I can't read a word of it, of course!


Some of the issues brought up in A's letter:

1. Who denied the ban was MIC-inspired?
2. Did the MIC urge, order, or request the ban?
3. MIC-Korean ISP links?
4. MIC, or ICEC?

1. I'd have to ask the journalist who mentioned the denial, but I doubt that even he has the name of the official in question.

2. Based on the conversation I had with KimcheeGI and Drambuie Man the other day, and on the talk I had with three journalists this evening, there's general agreement that the Korean government and Korean telecom are so buddy-buddy that, if the government wants something done, it has only to snap its fingers and KT will respond. There's an ocean-deep mystery in this: the question of the nature of govt/telecom collusion, especially as applies to the current ban.

Trying to figure out the chains of causation and the lines of responsibility is made doubly difficult by the apparently close relationship between the government and telecom. In any case, the net effect is that urging, ordering, and requesting effectively amount to the same thing. However, that doesn't end the issue. In tracing the causation backward in order to establish who did what, it's actually important to pierce the veil of "urge/order/request" ambiguity.

If, for example, the government ordered the ban, then the various ISPs would all have moved as one to enact it (in theory). If the government then lifts the ban (through a similar order), I expect that service everywhere will be restored almost simultaneously. If, however, the government merely urged or requested the ban, then we have two problems: (1) the government now can say that the enactment of the ban was a voluntary action by the various ISPs (thereby diffusing responsibility), and (2) we can't guarantee that restoration of service will be simultaneous. As "A" wrote previously, we've got the GeoCities problem to consider. The ban was enacted years ago, but I know from personal PC-bahng experience that there are still PC-bahngs (and, by extension, ISPs) that prevent access to GeoCities sites. If the ban was lifted, it wasn't lifted everywhere.

3. As to the question of MIC/ISP links, the flow chart shows a definite trickle-down of authority, starting with the MIC, and moving downward through the various forms of Korean telecom, including the several ISPs. MIC say, telecom do. So "A" depicts the situation correctly, I think: the ISPs will comply with the government so as not to suffer any consequences.

4. MIC or ICEC? As it turns out, this isn't either-or. The journalists confirm that the ICEC is to be considered under the umbrella of the MIC. This is important because, in my understanding, the ICEC is indeed the body that had the emergency meeting. This evening I drew two rough Venn diagrams for my interlocutors, one showing two partially overlapping circles (implying MIC/ICEC cooperation on a more or less equal footing, with some operational overlap), one showing a small circle inside a larger circle (i.e., the ICEC is a subset of the much larger MIC). It was agreed that the latter Venn diagram is a more accurate representation of the situation.

The good news, then, is that we don't have to focus our ire on a huge and vague MIC (cf. the previous Vatican analogy). As of now, the ICEC has my full and undivided attention.* I'd still want to determine its shape and anatomy, however, so the questions I asked of the MIC as a whole are the same ones I'd ask of the ICEC in particular: How many people are in it? Who are they? What respective functions does each committee member have? What is the nature of their authority over the various aspects of Korean telecom? I take it as given that this committee speaks with the voice of the South Korean government, so there's no question about the extent and force of the ICEC's authority-- only its nature.

[*other bloggers, to their credit, were mentioning the ICEC over a week ago. I'm slow on the uptake.]

I need to check with the Marmot about whether he made his MIC visit today; he said it'd be either today or Saturday morning. I imagine he'll blog about the visit, in which case I'll be linking to whatever he writes.

There was a good deal of consensus among the journalists that the Marmot might be onto something with his "bureaucratic incompetence" thesis. It could be that what we're seeing is a fumble-footed and patchwork reaction to an emotionally volatile event. I think there's partial truth to this. But the fact that the Korean government reflexively chose this course of action strikes me as somewhat sinister, and as the Marmot wrote, it's very disappointing to see that so many Korean Netizens are, effectively, collaborators in/supporters of the repressive effort.

One technical dimension of this discussion needs to be broached: the issue of Internet firewalls. I wasn't the only blogger at the International Press Club this evening: Charlie the KimcheeGI was there as well, and he's much more of a techie than I am. I asked Charlie whether firewalls were hardware or software, and he told me that both kinds exist, and can be tuned/modulated to assume whatever shape is desired. Some people have told me that they are able to see my blog with no trouble from their place of work, and from what I learned tonight, it would seem this may be a firewall configuration issue. This complicates matters and makes me wonder again at the exact shape of the ban. How did the ICEC and ISPs select the sites they targeted? They didn't target all that well. As Andi rightly points out on Blinger's boards, the huge online reference site, Wikipedia, is linking to the Kim Sun-il video and hasn't been blocked.

Some things we can agree on, based on what we know:

1. The ban hasn't worked. The video remains available for the asking. In fact, it seems the government has done next to nothing about proxies. I still use Unipeak to view my blog.

2. The ban is patchy/uneven. Some websites linking to the video remain unmolested; some blogging service providers have been given a free ride.

3. The Kim family's dignity hasn't been preserved one iota. From the press invading the Kims' home and hounding the family to the wide and continued availability of the beheading video, absolutely no kind gesture on behalf of the Kims has worked, and this is largely the fault of fellow Koreans: an overzealous press, a sensationalism-hungry public, a maladroit government, and yes-man ISPs.

4. The question of the Kim family's dignity exposes the hypocrisy of those who use that argument to support the ban. As the Marmot and others have pointed out, it isn't only that previous beheading videos have been shown, but that footage of Korean deaths have been fed to the public in previous years with no regard for the dignity/privacy/etc. of the victims' families.

I hope that Charlie's and my brief time with the reporters this evening will lead to something happening in the larger worldwide press. I'd hate for this issue to die a quiet death while justice remains unserved. Thanks again to Todd, Andrew, Paul, and Dan (and thanks for the Coca-Cola, all; too bad I don't drink alcohol).

ADDENDUM: Wooj links to an article in Korean that deals with the "legal basis" for the censorship. According to one of the journalists, Wooj's OhMyNews article garnered a comment, which said, in essence, that Wooj himself was "killing Kim Sun-il twice." I want to kick that commenter's stupid ass.