Saturday, December 31, 2005

why I want to own property

It's never been a strong urge. I'm content to rent. But today, my buddy Tam Gu Ja sent me a link to this BBC article: 100 Things We Didn't Know This Time Last Year, and now I want-- badly-- to own property. My favorite item in that list, and the source of my new desire, is #81:

George Bernard Shaw named his shed after the UK capital so that when visitors called they could be told he was away in London.

For this reason, I must own a house with a large back yard, on which I'll build a smaller retreat for when I'm craving peace and quiet. The house-ling will be big enough to have all the accoutrements found in a studio apartment: a bed, a good bit of open floor space, a full bathroom, a kitchenette, and a lot of closet space.

I'll call it Fiji. Or maybe... 14th Street. DC residents will know what I'm talking about.


Friday, December 30, 2005

be it resolved...

Today, after waking up late, I found myself staring at a mess of red, scabbed, 4-millimeter grooves on my right arm just above the elbow. They were given to me by Mozart the cat, who had been enjoying the fact that I was carrying him around like a furry dwarf pasha. This must have been about a week ago. The cat was "making biscuits," kneading my arm's flesh with his claws (claws are one reason why cats make terrible bakers and pasta chefs).

The claw marks reminded me that my arm is fat, and that it's therefore time to make those New Year's resolutions.

The most important one,
as with so many Amurricans, is to lose weight. Over at his own fine blog, Max Becker-Pos takes the opposite tack* as he continues his campaign to gain weight through a dietary and bodybuilding regimen (scroll down to his "A Bodybuilder's Diary" post).

Namsan remains the most obvious solution for my purposes: walking (or running) up the mountain is free, and the only time it might be dangerous is when the steps are iced over. Now that I have an awesome set of crampons (thanks, Mom & Dad), ice won't be a problem, either. My schedule this semester also includes three-day weekends, which will leave me with at least three days a week to hit the mountain at my leisure. My Mon-Thu classes start late as well, so there's even more time to climb on work days. Getting in shape therefore enjoys #1 ranking among resolutions.

The second resolution
is: publishing Water from a Skull, my book of religious and philosophical writings. I'll be making this available through two sources: and my own site. The book will be listed at the same price in both places, and both sites do allow for international shipping.

I actually have high hopes that word of this book will spread, especially among people (bloggers & regular folks) who have some interest in religious issues. If you have ideas on how I can promote the book for free (or if you'd be willing to help me promote it through your own site), I'd appreciate hearing from you. Timeline for this: June of this year. That's when I hope to have the book uploaded to both Lulu and CafePress.

A third resolution: more photoblogging of cooking. My buddy Mike gave me Nigella Bites, a fantastic cookbook by the voluptuous Nigella Lawson, who has a cooking show featured on the Style Network (so the book cover says; I haven't seen her show). The recipes are simple and straightforward; Nigella's writing and photographs would seem to indicate a sexy combination of tongue-in-cheek humor and unpretentiousness. I flipped through half the cookbook last night, staying up until nearly 5AM.

Digression: I got a mess of Christmas gifts, despite claims of poverty by some of the givers.

From the parents, I got a pile of clothing (pretty much standard: I almost never shop for my own clothing); the MS Office suite for Mac; a new external hard drive for my poor, overtaxed computer; the aforementioned crampons; a new laser printer cartridge (its price has doubled since 1999!) for my awesome HP 4050N; a bagful of raisins; a bagful of Lindt truffles; and a gag gift of Optimum Zen cereal (no, it's a real cereal, but the parents couldn't resist the Zen connection).

From my buddy Mike, I got the wonderful Nigella Bites, and the even greater gift of being able to spend a few days with him and his family at their home.

From my buddy Steve, I got that kick-ass Darth Vader helmet (and it WILL come to Korea in February, I'm sure) and the chance to hang out with him and his lovely wife.

From my buddy Arn, that awesome Ron Jon tee (sorry the cat fucked it, man) and the chance to meet both him and his cat Xena.

From many friends (and one long-ago coworker), a truckload of very nice Christmas cards.

In all, a fantastic Christmas haul.

My fourth resolution is to get more serious about meditative practice. Meditation is like gravity for the mind: it's a stillness that straightens out the mind-body plumb line, a way to make your inner pendulum stop oscillating, if only for a little while. I've done it on and off, but "on and off" isn't really practice.

Spirituality is work, folks, which is one reason why true spirituality is the enemy of the dilettantish market mentality some people adopt when approaching various religious traditions and cobbling their own. I'm not saying you should "pick a tradition and stick with it," but I am saying that commitment to a path-- and this would include cobbled-together, syncretic paths-- requires something deeper than a mere salad bar approach. A little of everything is not much of anything. Follow your path deeply, and don't make the mistake of thinking you can walk two trails at once. Aim for depth, not breadth.

Those four resolutions are plausibly keepable. I have others in mind, but they'd make you laugh and aren't worth sharing here.

*Language rant: Yes, tack, not tact.


Ave, Andi!

Very interesting interreligious discussion going on over at Andi's new blog. Check this post out, and be sure to read the comments.


how could I forget!?

One of the highlights of my trip back to Seoul was the massive shit I took once I'd gotten back to my place. To my delight and horror, I was able to discern the odor of the two major airplane meals I'd eaten: chicken parmesan and some other chicken dish in brown sauce. I agree with my dad that airplane meals aren't as bad as people say they are: it's simply the presentation that sucks, not to mention the paltry quantity.

But airplane meals, I've discovered, retain a certain olfactory coherence even after digestion: this explains why I was able to smell the chicken dishes so clearly as they launched themselves lemming-like into my toilet bowl.


if you're in Seoul, you should know

I brought about 30 copies of my book of filthy humor, Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms, with me. I'll be selling them at W10,000 a pop. If you're in Seoul, I can probably arrange to deliver them to you personally (more likely, we'd have to meet somewhere). I might also be selling some copies at the huimang-shijang ("Hope" market), the Sunday market where I tried selling my brush art a long time ago. If I take this route, I'll be sure to announce it on the blog.

If you're outside of Seoul, the price is still W10,000, but I'll have to add shipping cost. Send me an email and I can give you an account number into which to perform a wire transfer.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

I am a Latino Muslim

"Random," my ass. Those airport searches-- the ones where they pull you aside and give you a public colonoscopy-- always seem to happen to me. And it pisses me off. I can only conclude that there's something about the way I look that makes the airport staffers nervous. At a guess, I remind them of a bomb-carrying Latino Muslim.

I'm back at my Smoo dorm, and all is well. A few impressions of my trip:

1. The flight from National Airport in northern Virginia to Kennedy Airport in New York City was on American Eagle. American Eagle is simply a branch of American Airlines. The term "Eagle" is apparently code language for "small, cramped plane that sucks." I had to check my carryon bag because it was deemed too large and heavy to bop into the cabin with me. It seems the Eagle doesn't like carryon.

2. The layover at JFK saw me reading more of Yann Martel's Life of Pi, a story about a 16-year-old Indian boy who ends up on a lifeboat with only a Bengal tiger for company. Lots of ambient Spanish and Japanese where I was sitting; it provided an interesting auditory background while I was reading Martel. Mom had packed me a mess of food: cornbread, oranges, a banana, a sandwich, and a Ziploc bag of Lindt chocolate truffles (red label). I ate three truffles, one orange, and the entire cornbread stash during the layover.

3. The flight from JFK to Narita/Tokyo was over thirteen hours long. I was fortunate enough to get an exit-row seat, which allowed me to stretch. My seatmate was a tall, skinny college student (Columbia U.) with a high, flute-like voice and obnoxious, overprivileged manner. Possibly half-Korean; hard to tell. I spent most of the flight ignoring her-- reading, eating, or sleeping. We exchanged maybe a single sentence. I found out her personal info when a flight attendant walked by and started chatting her up. Yes, I'm an introverted asshole.

4. Smooth transition at Narita: I didn't have to change terminals to catch the flight to Incheon. It was simply a matter of walking up to the next gate and asking for a boarding pass. The only pre-boarding inconvenience was the "random" anal probe, which occurred at this juncture. The sandwich Mom had made for me was wrapped in tin foil; the lady doing the anal probe rummaged through my carryon bag and asked me, "What's that?" I told her the truth, but in retrospect, I think I should have said, "That's a spare colon polyp! Here-- taste!"

I got my boarding pass, which said I'd be in 40C: a seat number reflecting someone's breast size, possibly my own. The most horrible thing about this flight was my seatmate in 40D: a Korean woman who was a devout Christian. She was friendly enough, but every other word out of her mouth to me and the guy in 40E was, "God." God, God, God. Enough God, goddammit!

It didn't help matters that the woman had gorilla breath. While I can't claim to have the rosiest breath myself, I'm pretty sure I don't stink as badly as this woman did. Her breath called to mind all sorts of vocab words learned in high school: fetor, miasma, noisomeness, halitus, putrescence. I was practically weeping with relief when the snack service arrived: I was sure that a little food in her mouth might mask the stench. I was only half-right. The woman paused before digging into her snack: she felt compelled to say a blessing on the spot (cf. Matthew 6:5-6, NIV).

But I had pity on Mrs. 40D, too: she was in Korea for only four days to visit her father, who is dying of cancer. She gets points for being a true hyo-nyeo, a filial daughter.

The limousine bus ride from the airport went without a hitch, and I got my usual taxi from the Myeongdong Lotte Hotel. Got home around 10:30PM on the 29th, Seoul time. The concierge adjoshis in my dorm had figured out I was gone: I saw evidence that they'd been in my place. The curtains had been moved and my ondol (floor heat) had been set hotter. No biggie; nothing's missing. I checked.

I wish I could report that our plane had been attacked by flying alien vaginas or something, but nothing remotely interesting happened. It was a pretty routine flight after a wonderful trip home (I finished Life of Pi during the JFK-Narita leg; good book!), and now it's time to get ready for the coming term at Smoo.

Off to bed.


Curious proposal

In the spirit of religious dialogue, I present to you a direct quote, found in the comments to a post about religion by the SandMonkey. Read the original story here.

".. I suggested to my atheist friends that maybe they should worship Santa. It's easier than worshipping God, 'cause Santa will hand you gifts at a specific day via his followers and will only demand milk and cookies in return, and that's only once a year. And you still get the magical male daddy figure who lives in an unreachable remote location that watches you and knows who is good and who is bad on top of the gifts, so you don't feel alone. For a belief system, Santaism sounds good, u know?"

[KEVIN'S NOTE: Santaism is only an anagram-switch away from Satanism.]

A bit of fun

30 seconds at a time and enacted by rabbits. Very funny. I especially like Star Wars.

Picking up the slack...

Since Kevin is (mostly) out of touch, I shall attempt to pick up the slack and post something (sort of) topical. The theme for the moment shall be odd religions. Yep, that is right- some religions are odd. Today, little children, we shall learn a little about the Asatru!

Asatru, according to their own sites, is an Icelandic derivation of Finnish words meaning "Belief in the Aesir" - the old Nordic gods.

What it is not: The Asatru is most commonly believed to be tied to the Nazi movement, to be a neopagan group, or both. According to the followers, however, it is none of the above. While it is true that Nazi Germans did attempt to incorporate some of the traditions and symbolism of the ancient Nordic beliefs, the Nazi ideals are not representative of the original practices. Nor do they identify with Druidic, Wiccan or other neopagan systems. Unlike the neopagans, the Asatru faith is based on a religious system that persisted without break from ancient times. Slowly diminishing in the 20th century, Asatru has been experiencing growth in northern Europe, Australia, and the United States since gaining formal recognition in Iceland and Finland in the 1970's. One site (unverifiable) claimed 22 million followers worldwide.

As the name implies, the Asatru followers (Asatruar) believe in the old Norse gods, the Aesir, The Vanir, and the evil Jotnar. (Odin, Tyr, Thor, and the gang..) The core of the faith revolves around family, including extended family groups, community, and worship.

There are many symbols used by various groups, but the hammer is most common in the USA. (Symbol of Thor.) Some US Asatruar wear a hammer symbol on a necklace.

A good place to wander if you are curious is the web site of the Asatru Alliance ( or ( These sites have a good overview and general information. The following section is cut directly from the Asatru Alliance site, and is copyrighted to them.

(Asatru FAQ - copyright (c) 1995 by Stephen A. McNallen)


Long before Christianity came to northern Europe, the people there - our ancestors - had their own religions. One of these was Asatru. It was practiced in the lands that are today Scandinavia, England, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and other countries as well. Asatru is the original or native religious belief for the peoples who lived in these regions.


It means, roughly, "belief in the Gods" in Old Norse, the language of ancient Scandinavia in which so much of our source material was written. Asatru is the name by which the Norsemen called their religion.


Asatru is thousands of years old. Its beginnings are lost in prehistory, but it is older than Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or most other religions. The spiritual impulses it expresses are as ancient as the European peoples themselves - at least 40,000 years, and perhaps much older.


People are attracted to the better-known religions because they have genuine spiritual needs which must be filled. People are looking for community and for answers to the "big questions": What life is all about, and how we should live it. For many people today, the so-called major faiths do not have answers that work. Asatru has answers, but it has not been an alternative for most seekers because they haven't known about it. Once they realize that there is another way - a better, more natural, more honorable way - they will not be satisfied with anything less than a return to the religion of their ancestors.


Because we are more like our ancestors than we are like anyone else. We inherited not only their general physical appearance, but also their predominant mental, emotional, and spiritual traits. We think and feel more like they did; our basic needs are most like theirs. the religion which best expressed their innermost nature - Asatru - is better suited to us than is some other creed which started in the Middle East among people who are essentially different from us. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are alien religions which do not truly speak to our souls.


Asatru was subjected to a violent campaign of repression over a period of hundreds of years. Countless thousands of people were murdered, maimed, and exiled in the process. The common people (your ancestors!) did not give up their cherished beliefs easily. eventually, the monolithic organization of the Christian church, bolstered by threats of economic isolation and assisted by an energetic propaganda campaign, triumphed over the valiant but unsophisticated tribes.

Or so it seemed! Despite this persecution, elements of Asatru continued down to our own times - often in the guise of folklore - proving that our own native religion appeals to our innermost beings in a fundamental way. Now, a thousand years after its supposed demise, it is alive and growing. Indeed, so long as there are men and women of European descent, it cannot really die because it springs form the soul of our people. Asatru isn't just what we BELIEVE, it's what we ARE.


No! The atrocities committed by Christians, Muslims, and Jews throughout history are hardly a step up from anything. The so-called "barbarians" who followed Asatru (the Vikings, the various Germanic tribes, and so forth) were the source of our finest civilized traditions - trial by jury, parliaments, Anglo Saxon common law, and the rights of women, to name a few. Our very word "law" comes from the Norse language, not from the tongues of the Christian lands. We simply did not and do not need Christianity to be civilized.


Modern historians agree that the Vikings were no more violent than the other peoples of their times. Remember, the descriptions of Viking raids and invasions were all written by their enemies, who were hardly unbiased. Both the Islamic and Christian cultures used means every bit as bloody, if not more so, than the Norsemen. It was a very rough period in history for all concerned!


No. Asatru, as practiced by the Norse peoples, had so much in common with the religion of the other Germanic tribes, and with their cousins the Celts, that it may be thought of as one version of a general European religion. Asatru is for all European peoples, whether or not their heritage is specifically Scandinavian.


We believe in an underlying, all-pervading divine energy or essence which is generally hidden from us, and which is beyond our immediate understanding. We further believe that this spiritual reality is interdependent with us - that we affect it, and it affects us.

We believe that this underlying divinity expresses itself to us in the forms of the Gods and Goddesses. Stories about these deities are like a sort of code, the mysterious "language" through which the divine reality speaks to us.

We believe in standards of behavior which are consistent with these spiritual truths and harmonious with our deepest being.


Asatru is unlike the better-known religions in many ways. Some of these are:

We are polytheistic. That is, we believe in a number of deities, including Goddesses as well as Gods. We do not accept the idea of "original sin", the notion that we are tainted from birth and intrinsically bad, as does Christianity. Thus, we do not need "saving".

The Middle Eastern religions teach either a hatred of other religions or a duty to convert others, often by force. They have often practiced these beliefs with cruel brutality.

We do not claim to be a universal religion or a faith for all of humankind. In fact, we don't think such a thing is possible or desirable. The different branches of humanity have different ways of looking at the world, each of which is valid for them. It is only right that they have different religions, which of course they do.


The myths are stories about the Gods and Goddesses of Asatru. They are ways of stating religious truths. That is, we would say they contain truths about the nature of divinity, our own nature, and the relationship between the two. We do not contend that the myths are literally true, as history.


Yes, they are real. However, just as most Christians do not think their God is really an old bearded figure sitting on a golden chair in heaven, we do not believe Thor (for example) is actually a muscular, man-shaped entity carrying a big hammer. There is a real Thor, but we approach an understanding of him through this particular mental picture.


Yes, but not quite the way most people mean by the word. We never surrender our will to theirs or humble ourselves before them, because we see ourselves as their kin, not as inferior, submissive pawns. Nor do we beg and plead. We commune with them and honor them while seeking their blessing through formal rites and informal meditation. Living a full and virtuous live is a form of prayer in itself. Our religion affects all parts of our lives, not just those fragments that we choose to call "religious".


No. These objects are not Gods, so we don't worship them. We do sometimes use these items as reminders of a God or Goddess, and we believe they can become "charged" with a certain aspect of the divine energy, but we would never confuse them with the actual deities.


Some of the qualities we hold in high regard are strength, courage, joy, honor, freedom, loyalty to kin, realism, vigor, and the revering of our ancestors. To express these things in our lives is virtuous, and we strive to do this. Their opposites - weakness, cowardice, adherence to dogma rather than to the realities of the world, and the like - constitute vices and are to be avoided. Proper behavior in Asatru consists of maximizing one's virtues and minimizing one's vices. This code of conduct reflects the highest and most heroic ideals of our people.


No. People may honestly believe that this is the case, but examination does not bear this out. They believe in freedom, yet their scriptures say they are slaves to their God. They accept that joy is good, but their teachings laden them with guilt because of some imaginary "original sin". Their instinct is to understand Nature's world from verifiable evidence, yet they are trained to believe black is white, round is flat, and natural instincts are evil without question when the teachings of their church conflict with reason or with known facts.

Many of us instinctively believe in the values of Asatru because they have been passed down to us from our ancestors. We want to believe that other religions espouse those values, so we see what we want to see. Most people just haven't yet realized that the major religions are saying things that conflict with the values we know in our hearts are right. To find northern European virtues, one should look where those virtues have their natural home - Asatru.


Good and evil are not constants. What is good in one case will not be good in another, and evil in one circumstance will not be evil under a different set of conditions. In any one instance, the right course of action will have been shaped by the influence of the past and the present. The result may or may not be "good" or "evil", but it will still be the right action.

In no case are good and evil dictated to us by the edicts of an alien, authoritarian deity, as in the Middle East. We are expected to use our freedom, responsibility, and awareness of duty to serve the highest and best ends.


We believe that there is an afterlife, and that those who have lived virtuous lives will go on to experience greater fulfillment, pleasure, and challenge. Those who have led lives characterized more by vice than by virtue will be separated from kin and doomed to an existence of dullness and gloom. The precise nature of the afterlife - what it will look like and feel like - is beyond our understanding and is dealt with symbolically in the myths.

There is also a tradition in Asatru of rebirth within the family line. Perhaps the individual is able to choose whether or not he or she is re-manifested in this world, or there may be natural laws which govern this. In a sense, of course, we all live on in our descendents quite apart from an afterlife as such.

We of Asatru do not overly concern ourselves with the next life. We live here and now, in this life. If we do this and do it well, the next life will take care of itself.


Asatru says we should honor our ancestors. It also says we are bonded to those ancestors in a special way. However, we do not actually worship them.

We believe our forebears have passed to us certain spiritual qualities just as surely as they have given us various physical traits. They live on in us. The family or clan is above and beyond the limits of time and place. Thus we have a reverence for our ancestry even though we do not involve ourselves in ancestor worship as such.


No. There are written sources which are useful to us because they contain much of our sacred lore in the form of myths and examples of right conduct, but we do not accept them as infallible or inspired documents. Any religion which does this is deceiving its members about the purity and precision of the written word. The various competing factions of Middle Eastern religions are proof of this. Their conflicting interpretations can not all be correct!

There are two real sources of holy truth, and neither expresses itself to us in words. One is the universe around us, which is a manifestation of the underlying divine essence. The other is the universe within us, passed down from our ancestors as instinct, emotion, innate predispositions, and perhaps even racial memory. By combining these sources of internal and external wisdom with the literature left us by our ancestors, we arrive at religious truths. This living spiritual guidance is better than any dusty, dogmatic "holy book", whose writings are often so ambiguous that even clerical scholars disagree and whose interpretations change with the politics of the times.


We treasure the spiritual awe, the feeling of "connecting" with the Gods and Goddesses, which can come from experiencing and appreciating the beauty and majesty of Nature. Our deities act in and through natural law. By working in harmony with Nature we can become co-workers with the Gods. This attitude removes the opposition between "natural" and "supernatural" and between religion and science.

For us, following a "Nature religion" means recognizing that we are part of Nature, subject to all its laws, even when that offends our Christian-influenced misconceptions. We may be Gods-in-the-making, but we are also members of the animal kingdom - a noble heritage in its own right. Our ancestors and their predecessors prevailed through billions of years of unimaginable challenges, a feat which must awe even the Gods themselves.


Our myths describe the beginning of the universe as the unfolding of a natural process, rather than one requiring supernatural intervention. Followers of Asatru need not abandon modern science to retain their religion. The old lore of our people describes the interaction of fire and ice and the development of life from these - but this is symbolic, and we will leave it to our scientists to discover how the universe was born.


Runes are ancient Germanic symbols representing various concepts or forces in the universe. Taken together, they express our ancestors' world view. Their meanings are intimately connected with the teachings of Asatru. Our myths tell how Odin, father of the Gods, won them through painful ordeal so that Gods and humans alike might benefit from their wisdom.


Asatru is non-authoritarian and decentralized, expressing our love of freedom. While we do have definite tenets, we have little dogma. There is no all-powerful spiritual leader whose word is law, no "pope" of Asatru to dictate truth. No guru or priest has an exclusive direct line to the Gods. The Gods live in you!

(end of copywrited material)
NOTE: If you cannot see some of the letters in the links, add the Norse language family to your browser settings.

You may be interested to know that some of our days of the week are named for the Celtic names of Nordic gods, Tiu (Tyr), Weden (Odin), Thur (Thor) and Frigga.

Disclaimer: No, I am not an Asatruar, though I believe one works in the building next door, nor am I neopagan. While I am not a card carrying member of any religious group, my beliefs coincide most with modern practices of Reform Judaism. If you want to know about Reform Judaism, try or Reform for more.

I apologize for the brevity of the post, but other work is waiting.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

back to Korea we go

It's been a real treat to be back in the States, visiting family and friends. I would have liked to stay longer, but perhaps I'll be back in another two years.

Just a warning, then: no blog entries for the next 24-36 hours, i.e., however long it takes for me to cross the continent and the Pacific and plop back down onto that cute little piece of real estate-- the one that hangs like a drying booger off China's bulbous nose and harbors all those excitable, passionate, lovable people.

It's midnight now, and I'm supposed to wake up at 3AM.

A plus tard, connard.


Darth Vader's relatives

Many thanks to Dr. D for his marvelous gift, a full-scale Darth Vader helmet (if you follow the link, you can see Dr. D in the mask).

"Kevin: I am your father."

"You're my father?"

"No, Dad: I am your father!"

"No: I am my father!"

"No: I am your father!"

But as you might imagine in a family where everyone is a master of the dark side of the Force, we often come to blows:

I truly wish I could take this helmet back with me to Seoul. You have no idea how much fun I'd have at Smoo. My father is planning to come back to Korea in February, so perhaps he can be persuaded to bring the helmet with him. You never know.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

pussy shots

This is Mozart, the one-eyed family cat.

Mozart is ancient, but in this series of photos, he will prove he is in no need of Viagra.

Arn will recognize the black Ron Jon tee shirt, above and following, which he got me as a gift during my four-hour sojourn to the Cocoa Beach area. Ron Jon is, according to Arn, the most famous surf shop in town. Our cat is about to endorse Ron Jon products.


Yes, Virginia, our cat is dry-humping clothing. Pretty horrific, eh? But there's more:

"Unh... unh..."

Perhaps "horrific" isn't the right word. "Pathetic" comes to mind: why in hell would a neutered cat try to bond with a tee shirt?

If you listen carefully, you hear the shirt moaning, "Nail me with all fifteen millimeters, big boy!"

The twisted ritual continues as kitty takes it down the home stretch--

And now: the cat congratulates himself on a job well done by performing his trademark "porn star" move. Nothing says "Way to go!" quite like burying your face in your own crotch.

I suspect this cat might live another eighteen years, seeing how he likes sucking his life force out of himself.


staring homeward

Seoul beckons. The new term starts up on January 2, and I'm looking forward to getting back to work, back into a routine. I leave northern Virginia on the 28th and arrive in Korea the evening of the 29th. That gives me three days to do all the lesson planning I haven't done while here. It's been great to be back, but it's time to get working again. Too much indolence just makes me even softer around the middle.

Then again... it's not as though I've been all that free while here. Among my pleasant obligations (if "obligations" is indeed the right word): visiting with friends whom I haven't seen in a long time. Among my less pleasant obligations: emceeing the Christmas party, doing that huge batch of test rating, and meeting my mother's Korean friends. The Christmas party preparations occupied most of my first week back in the States. To add insult to injury, the Korean society won't be refunding even part of my plane ticket (months ago I'd told my mother, the society president, that one of the conditions of my coming back to the States was that her society should pay at least part of my plane ticket if they expected me to be the Christmas party emcee; she apparently never even broached the matter with her officers, instead paying for my ticket home herself). The test rating took me about 13 hours, with almost no break. Meeting Mom's Korean friends cost me an afternoon.

I did manage to enjoy a walk around the neighborhood yesterday (Christmas) evening with my parents; we stopped by the house of some old friends and enjoyed a chat before continuing the walk. Christmas was a rainy affair, but the lack of ice was something of a boon, and the old neighborhood looked good in the rain.

So now I have to focus on my departure. I've got books to collect and ship to Korea, and baggage to prepare. I've got some financial shit to get in order, and then, we hope, I'll be able to depart without any snow delays or airplane mechanical problems. I suffered a delay when going from New York to DC in early December, and another delay when coming back from Florida to DC just last week. Both times, the reasons were mechanical, which is annoying as hell. I understand that the delays are for our own safety, but it's a lot safer to have problem-free aircraft and no delays, ja?

Among my biggest regrets while here in the States: not having seen my brother David that often (he's gotta work, and he's often tired from his two jobs), and having missed my brother Sean, who couldn't make it down to DC from Toronto because of a gig (Sean's a professional cellist). I also didn't have the chance to chop wood at my buddy Mike's house, and I guarantee you that there's no place to do such a thing in Seoul.

Sean, who moved to Toronto earlier this year, told me he's been confronted with Canadian "attitude problems" about America... I've been lucky, I suppose, to have met Canadians who may be critical of my country, but who don't rave unreasoningly. On the contrary, my Canadian friends have been reasonable, logical, and civil-- not the way Canadians are often portrayed in the States these days. The mutant Canucks bothering my brother should all go read Skippy's blog.

That's it for the moment. I might post one or two more entries before leaving (I have a 6AM flight out to New York on Wednesday). More and better blogging upon my return.


Monday, December 26, 2005


Mere miles from where I am, some wacko decided to spend Christmas by killing his mother and some other people, and then committing suicide.

Hope your Christmas was better than that.


Sunday, December 25, 2005

Bonne fête!

Merry Christmas to you all and Best Wishes for a Happy New Year!

Joyeux Noël à vous tous, et meilleurs voeux pour une Bonne Nouvelle Année!

모두에게 행복한 성탄절 보내시고 새해 복 많이 받으세요!

UPDATE: Be sure to check out the Marmot's interreligious Christmas pics here.

UPDATE 2: The Marmot's pics remind me that I did my own fusion thing last year.


Saturday, December 24, 2005

postal scrotum:
a blogological Christmas gift

[NB: I've received some email complaints from people in Korea re: comments not working. This may be a Korean Internet-related problem; I'm in the States, and everything's fine here. If, however, you tried to append a comment to my most recent post re: Florida, well... I deliberately set that post up to be unable to accept comments. I'll do this on occasion.]

Curtis S. from Scottsdale, AZ writes:

Big Ho’,

Count me as one of your rabid viewers. Thanks for sharing your experiences and shall we say “perspective” on things.

I particularly like the links to other sites both in the side bar and within the text of the blog. I end up in many interesting places but few have the energy of yours.

My wife is taking #1 son to The ROK this summer after he finishes KOR101 and102 at ASU. I gave him your blog as a link to explore from. Mom goes home every other summer with #2 daughter but now he knows what he has been missing and will be enjoying the thick air and constant assault of insects for a month this July. Here, we have furnace quality heat and the bugs have exoskeletons that keep them land borne. I dare not try to explain Fan Death.

Anyway, I really enjoy your site and hope you the best.

Merry Christmas,

(or the politically correct seasonal greeting of your choice – if you must)

-Curtis S. (45)

Scottsdale, Arizona

PS – a mention in your coprophilial blog would be a seminal moment. ;-)


Thanks for the kind words. It's always a pleasant surprise when someone writes in with a friendly letter. This blog provides a little bit of everything (and therefore not much of anything), but its appeal is probably greatest among those few, those happy few, who appreciate the nonduality of the sacred and the profane.

July, huh? A terrible month to go! Korea's summer is four months long, and both July and August are nasty, nasty, nasty. I hate Korean summer, but I love Korean winter, which is also four months long. Korean spring and fall are probably the best times of year, weather-wise; fall is my favorite season-- especially early to mid-October. But summer... man, summer is punishing.

In the future, think about trips to Korea in March and October. I know-- bad time to go, considering the American scholastic calendar, but a great time to go in terms of weather and airfare. Where there's a will, there's a way. Such trips are possible.

I'm happy to hear that you've pointed your son to my blog, but for information about different aspects of Korean life, this blog is not the best one to hit. The Marmot is obviously Choice #1, but the Lost Nomad and Joel's blog and others too numerous to mention are also far, far better sources of Koreana than the Hairy Chasms. You already know this, of course, because you cruise my sidebar, but I'd recommend that you get your son to look those blogs over as well.

While at the Marmot's or the Lost Nomad's, it'd be a good idea for you to get a look at the many, many blogs they list, which are not listed on my sidebar-- blogs like Asia Pages or GI Korea. (Trivia: My own blog is one of the many, many blogs not listed on Robert's sidebar. He'll be receiving a sack of shit in the mail for Christmas.) Koreablogs are numerous, arguably more numerous than my pubic lice. Most of them are great (the blogs, not the lice). Unfortunately, many of them go defunct after a short while, but just as many plug along and make names for themselves. Your son will benefit from seeing more pictures and reading more insights from those blogs.

Caution is called for, though: some Koreablogs tend to focus on the negatives and adopt a tone that skews less toward "amused" and more toward "bitter." While some of that bitterness is natural, it can give a reader the wrong impression about Korea. Too much bitterness almost always invites the question asked of every unhappy foreigner: "Why stay if you hate the place so much?" Some expat bloggers, however, do take time to talk about their reasons for staying-- reasons related to more than just pussy. Those are the blogs worth paying attention to, I think: they're written by foreigners who have spent a lot of time in Korea and who, without romanticism or pretense, point out what they feel is genuinely good about the culture.

At the same time, compassion is called for re: the bitter folks: their blogs are, very likely, simply a place for them to vent. Bitter blog posts don't necessarily imply bitter expats. Very few expats actually walk around in Korea with huge chips on their shoulders.

In the meantime, I'm always happy to have repeat customers. Thanks for sending me your email and letting me know that my writing isn't all for naught. If you're interested in the religious issues I occasionally tackle on this blog, please be aware that, sometime in the middle of 2006, I'll be publishing a collection of religion-related essays, most of which will have come from this blog, but some of which will be original work, unseen anywhere else. Just a teaser.

Good luck to your son as he learns Korean. I hope it's coming easily to him. If it isn't, I understand: while Korean is far from impossible to learn-- all it takes is effort-- it's not the easiest language for an English-speaker to pick up.


PS: As a Christian, I obviously have nothing against hearing "Merry Christmas" at Christmastime. I might be a bit disturbed to hear "Merry Christmas" in July. I think people are far too quick to get offended or to feel, irrationally, that they are somehow being oppressed by the free expression of well-wishes in the idiom of a specific tradition. I've written about this before, actually: I'm not offended if a Korean Buddhist says "Seong-bul ha-shipshiyo" ("May you attain Buddhahood") to me, nor am I offended by a secular "Happy Holidays!" I have no reason to feel that the Buddhist is forcing me to become Buddhist, or that the atheist is deliberately trying to secularize Christmas. People who aren't adherents of a particular religion (or ideology) need to relax and accept the underlying kindness that's intended by such friendly verbal gestures. "Merry Christmas" is by no means the same thing as "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your lord and savior?"

So: MERRY CHRISTMAS, Curtis, to you and yours!

(And if, by chance, you aren't Christian, well... just FYI, you're going to burn in hell.)


the comparison

Malcolm Pollack practices hung gar kung fu.

I, by contrast, practice eung-ga k'ung-hu.


Friday, December 23, 2005

Florida highlights

your first clear shot of my ass

It's amazing what you can accomplish in under four hours. I spent a good part of Wednesday in and around Cocoa, Florida, getting to know something about the Brevard-Cocoa Beach part of the state. Temps hovered around 60; the sky was blue with some clouds; the sea wind was blowing its fool head off. My tour guide was an ex-karate instructor who specializes in Okinawan styles. We've been correspondents since 1997, both of us writing shit humor and making trouble online. This past Wednesday was the first time we'd met face-to-face. Thanks to the years of exchanges, it was like meeting an old friend. In truth, I was meeting an old friend.

And that's saying something: meeting people whom you've known online as e-friends can go well or poorly. For instance, here's Arn, my new old friend:

the marauding Arn

This meeting could have gone very, very badly. Arn's got that crafty look, as though he might be storing human remains in his freezer, but you can't be scared of a man who has something like this crawling around his house:

some fine, fine pussy

Above is Xena, Warrior Kitty, and she and I got along just fine. Things couldn't have been more comfortable.

Arn snapped a few more pics. Here they are:

Don't you hate being photographed in mid-gesture?
"This is how big my left ball was before surgery."

may the gut be with you

Me and my rental.

And this: how to say a proper goodbye--

like aloha, it means hello, goodbye, and I love you

Good thing my mother doesn't read my-- oh, wait. Yes, she does.

My flight from Orlando to DC was delayed: thanks to some sort of mechanical difficulty, the 6:50PM departure was moved back to 8:30, so I didn't get home to a freezing NoVA until midnight.

Florida gave me a chance to brush up on my nonexistent Spanish. The airport was like one huge language tape: all announcements were repeated in both English and the Mariachi Tongue. Unlike in DC, no one mistook me for Latino and tried to talk with me in Spanish. That was disappointing. In Korea, I'll get questions in Korean from people too old to see that I'm only half-Korean.

Arn professed his fondness for Koreans*; he needs to sidle over to some Koreablogs and check out the pics of the ladies. The Nomad recently featured a new North Korean invention: ladies who are shrink-wrapped and delivered right to your doorstep. See here--

tastes like chicken

No strangers to nuclear radiation, these pre-packaged North Korean ladies perform best after being put in the microwave for about two minutes. Check periodically for doneness.

It'll be a treat to have Arn out to Korea at some point; Koreans are already shameless about staring at foreigners, and Arn promises to be the foreigner's foreigner.

A great trip, despite its brevity. Thanks, Arn, for the pics, and especially for your hospitality. Peace, man.

*He also noted some problems with what taekwondo practitioners do with their kicks. He did, however, show more admiration for hapkido, hwarangdo, and t'angsudo.


grades, grades, and more grading

I signed a confidentiality agreement, so I can't reveal anything specific about what I'm doing, but grosso modo it involves test rating. Students at Smoo must all take and pass a certain English exam to graduate. Criteria for passing vary from department to department. Most students skew to the mid-range of the test, in true bell curve fashion. I listen to sound samples of student speech and also rate student writing samples. While it's tempting to slap some of the more egregious utterances on the blog, I'm legally bound not to. To aid your imagination, refer to this post, which will give you an idea of what I'm hearing.

OK... break's over-- back to grading. We're behind schedule; Lord Vader won't be pleased.


Thursday, December 22, 2005


Along with visiting Mike and seeing my buddy Dave last weekend, I also had the chance to meet up with Tam Gu Ja and his wife and little squidlings on Monday. Very cool group of people, very cute kiddies. We wandered down the street from Embassy Suites at King Street Station and had a rib-sticking, chili-themed meal at the Hard Times Cafe. I got my traditional order: the nasty-ass Frito pie-- essentially a taco salad heavy on Fritos chips and chili, with cheese, sour cream, and jalapenos as something of an afterthought. The mixture kept me gassy for the rest of the day, which was cool.

On Wednesday I took a plane down to Florida to visit the marauding Arn, with whom I've corresponded since 1997, and whom I finally met in person. Arn's the real deal: in person, he's exactly what you'd expect if you'd been reading his writing for years. We stuffed ourselves at the local seafood joint and talked everything from Zen to martial arts to giving women foot massages. Arn took a few digital pics, so I'll be slapping those on the blog once he emails them to me. Check Arn's blog periodically for his own updates and insights.

Florida was enjoying fantastic weather: sun, wind, and 60-degree temps. Here in northern Virginia, it's so cold you can see your breasts. Not pretty. All things being equal, I'd rather be in Florida about now.

Thanks, Arn and TGJ, for your hospitality. It was great to see both of you.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

turn on your heart light

Courtesy of my little brother David: a nativity scene in our living room. Stare at it a while. Something'll come to you.

Mary had a little lamb. The doctor was surprised.

Is it my imagination, or does Jesus' perch look a lot like Yoda's little bean-bag couch in the Jedi Council chamber?

My little brother says, apropos of the above nativity scene:

"Jesus was made in China, baby."


Dr. Hwang and more alleged fakery

Koreabloggers have been handling the Hwang cloning scandal (or quasi-scandal, or faux scandal) quite well, so I haven't felt the need to pile on further. Hwang's image is in trouble, if nothing else. I did, however, want to point out this article, which seems to plunge Hwang further into controversy.

Personally, I'm willing to give Hwang the benefit of the doubt until certain questions are clearly answered. I think we won't get real answers until an international team investigates the history of Hwang's experiments, and other teams follow his stated procedures minutely to determine whether they can achieve the same results. Such is the beauty of the scientific method: it works because of standards associated with repeatability and verifiability. Fakers get sniffed out eventually.


busy, busy, busy

I got a request from Smoo to grade 68 student tests... this promises to take a while. Grading a mere 10 tests usually takes me around two hours. I'm on a short deadline, too: the results are due the 23rd, which is absurd, but doable.

I don't blame the Smoo office for dumping this assignment on me: I'd asked for it before I left for the States. But that office usually gives us ten days to complete our task, and I've never done more than a set of ten tests at one time. This ought to be interesting.


folding laundry

It was while I was folding laundry last night that I finally noticed how truly different things have been. A long time ago, laundry was a chore because our household had four guys in it: Dad and three sons. Sorting tee shirts and underwear was a pain in the ass. Now, though, it's only Dad (I've been doing my laundry separately because I brought only two changes of clothing). While that's something of a relief, it's also a bit sad: the simplicity of laundry-folding is a reminder that the nest is now empty.

On a more positive note: I folded Dad's tee shirts with that newfangled Japanese technique I blogged about so long ago (see #26 in that list). The process went quickly and smoothly. I don't think the technique is that much faster than my old folding method, but the saved seconds do add up after twenty tee shirts.

It was good to get back in the folding groove-- kind of meditative.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

pisse de chat

Pisse de chat (cat piss) is a French slang term for weak alcohol, usually wine. In my case, however, pisse de chat was literally pisse de chat today.

Our family has been busy for various reasons, and tardy in setting up Christmas decorations. This afternoon and evening, we've been dragging out boxes from the basement storage area-- ornaments, lights, the works. One box, however, refused to budge when I tried to pull it off the metal shelving. At first I thought the box had somehow gotten glued into place, but then I noticed a rank smell that seemed to emanate from the box itself. The smell worsened the more I wrestled with the box, and took on the distinctive character of urine.

It would appear that our cat, probably while angry about something, decided to take a piss on our Christmas stash. The piss crept under one of the boxes on a metal shelf, pooled under the box, soaked the cardboard, and then dried-- fusing the cardboard to the metal like Stephen King's idea of glue.

I'm assuming this happened sometime during the past year. It couldn't have been done by our dog: he's been dead for seven or eight years, and the box in question contains a recent purchase.

Dad ripped the box off the shelf, leaving a nasty strip of cardboard stuck to the shelf's surface. I followed this up with scrub brushes, cleaning spray, warm water, and lots of paper towels. The odor still lingers (Christ, kitty!), but the shelf is more or less usable again. The box, needless to say, has been chucked.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Bush addresses the nation

At 9PM (Sunday) on the east coast, George Bush addressed the nation, making his case for the war in Iraq. Fox News broadcast it; I don't think any other national networks bothered, which was disturbing. The president acknowledged that intelligence leading up to the Iraq war was wrong, challenged "defeatists" to adopt a more positive attitude, and painted an optimistic picture about our progress in the war. I give the president credit for taking responsibility for his decisions and for acknowledging the faulty intelligence.

Some of the post-speech commentary on Fox (Brit Hume, Morton Kondracke, and Fred Barnes) focused on Bush's not having made this sort of "Fireside Chat"-style speech earlier in the war. I agree: it would have been nice. While it's ridiculous to expect the entire nation to get behind the Iraq project (the president said as much in his speech), Bush could have made his case earlier on, and restated it often.

I agree with Bush that we have to stay the course. I was against the war, but see us as now being in the mix: we have little choice but to see this through. I agree that a defeatist attitude doesn't help. I would, however, like more clearly defined notions of victory and defeat-- the antipodes Bush mentioned in his address.

Bush didn't get into any details about the economic repercussions of continuing the war in Iraq, but I got the impression that this speech wasn't meant to be about details. Fox News reporters did take time out to comment that other networks wouldn't be likely to broadcast Bush's speech-- likely a conservtive dig against the more liberal national networks: ABC, NBC, and CBS.

One thing Bush said struck me:

As these achievements come, it should require fewer American troops to accomplish our mission. I will make decisions on troop levels based on the progress we see on the ground and the advice of our military leaders -- not based on artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington.

I hope he keeps this promise-- the promise about whom to check with regarding troop strength. I'm not sure how in touch Bush actually is with the opinions of military leaders, but he'd better be in touch with them now: he's effectively put them on alert.

One thing I wish Bush had done in this speech: I wish he'd acknowledged the help of the other members of the coalition. While Bush did take time to address his domestic critics (at least in a general way), this wasn't enough: he should also have given a solemn nod to the countries that have chosen to throw their lot in with us. I understand that Bush's focus was on American doubters, but those doubters also need to hear that America is in fact not alone in this project.

It was a decent speech-- short on details, but providing something of an overarching framework. A shame that the national networks chose not to broadcast it and comment on it. A further shame that so many Americans already-- and stupidly-- believe Bush has nothing important to say. I'm not optimistic about the long term effects of our project in Iraq, and I'm no fan of Bush, but this speech from the Oval Office was welcome.



The Marmot, who gets approximately 4.5 billion unique visits a day, doesn't need any linkage from this blog, but if you're interested in ogling what I consider the BEST of all the Korean chick pics I've seen from the Koreablogosphere, head over to Robert's site and get a load of this. I'm going to have to stick that picture on my sidebar somewhere.

(No nudity, but not exactly work-safe.)



Went to church for the first time since I got home. Was delighted to see that, instead of a sermon, we congregants were treated to a play. The cast was pretty large; almost a fourth of the congregation was on stage. Being a veteran of such plays myself, I found it interesting that, at age 36, I'm now one of the adults who sits in the pews, smiling, laughing, and clapping appreciatively as the performers do their thing. The little kids-- who'd obviously worked hard at memorizing their lines-- were most memorable, though some of the adult cast members came close to stealing the show.

In accordance with the prophecy, I gave my talk during the "Issues and Concerns" period-- my listeners had plenty of questions about Korea, but many of them centered on the negatives, especially the military situation*. I also got questions about Korean teens, the Korean education system, and the pitfalls of ESL teaching. In all, a productive 45 minutes.

*My congregation, partly as a function of being located in northern Virginia, always has a large military contingent: heads of families who work for the Pentagon or State Department, etc.


Sunday, December 18, 2005

good for the soul

Back from the Villainschloss. Much to do this weekend, including prep for a talk I'm giving at my church tomorrow (Sunday).

My buddy Mike prefers his privacy regarding family matters, so I'll say only this: it was fantastic to see him and his family again after two years, and especially to give my beautiful, 8-year-old goddaughter a thousand hugs and kisses over the course of three days.


Friday, December 16, 2005

into the mouth of madness I go

As of this evening, I'll be spending the next couple days at the Villainschloss, so blogging might be sporadic for the next couple days.


that Santa

Hilarious commentary on the bloody Santa in Manhattan can be found here.


the hidden harmony defense

I have no reason to accept the "hidden harmony" theodicy-- the idea that the existence of evil and suffering in the universe have their place in an incomprehensibly larger divine cosmic structure, plan, etc. I find the argument morally repugnant because it diminishes horrific phenomena like the Holocaust or slavery.

One reading* of the Buddhist approach to the world is that it, too, is basically a "hidden harmony" strategy: our ignorance clouds our perceptions; true understanding of the nature of reality leads to the cessation of suffering. I'm somewhat partial to a Buddhist metaphysics, but if I reject the hidden harmony defense, am I also obliged, as a matter of self-consistency, to reject the Buddhist perspective?

I'll write more on this later, but the comments section is open for your reactions.

*This phrase is important for subsequent musings. I also wrote "the Buddhist approach," as if there were only one Buddhist approach. Obviously not true.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

in a time of Aslan

...we should not forget the Ass-Lion:

The above pic is a link. Click it. Or click here for the mousepad version of the card.


Zen Christmas

The Korean word k'al means "knife" or "sword." In Asian symbolism, especially in India but also in East Asia, the sword indicates the cutting-off of ignorance which, in the Buddhist reckoning, is the root of human suffering.

With that in mind, take a look at the following, in which a Christian saint wields his ignorance-severing k'al:

The image may be more Korean than its makers intended: people who've spent enough time in Korea will quickly recognize the type of glove in Santa's left hand: it's the white fabric workman's glove covered with painted-on red rubber, often used for gaining traction while moving large, heavy objects that have smooth, hard-to-grip surfaces.

The king replied, "This woman says, 'This is my son who is alive, and your son is dead,' but that woman says, 'No, your son is dead, and my son is alive.' " The king continued, "Bring me a sword." So they brought the sword to the king. Solomon said, "Cut the living boy in two and give half to one and half to the other."

The woman whose son was alive spoke to the king because she felt great compassion for her son. "My lord, give her the living baby," she said, "but please don't have him killed!"

But the other one said, "He will not be mine or yours. Cut him in two!"

The king responded, "Give the living baby to the first woman, and don't kill him. She is his mother." All Israel heard about the judgment the king had given, and they stood in awe of the king because they saw that God's wisdom was in him to carry out justice. (1 Kgs 3:23-28)


Once the monks of the eastern and western Zen halls were quarrelling about a cat. Nansen held up the cat and said, "You monks! If one of you can say a word, I will spare the cat. If you can't say anything, I will put it to the sword." No one could answer, so Nansen finally slew it. In the evening, when Joshu returned, Nansen told him what had happened. Joshu, thereupon, took off his sandals, put them on his head and walked off. Nansen said, "If you had been there, I could have spared the cat." (Mumun-gan)

Merry Christmas.


differing views on America's role in the world

Kathreb quotes Nobel laureate Harold Pinter:

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading -- as a last resort, all other justifications having failed to justify themselves -- as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it "bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East".

Meanwhile, CNN's Anderson Cooper writes:

I'm always incredibly impressed by the U.S. service members I meet here. They are not all as optimistic and supportive of the mission as the captain I spent time with today, but they are all dedicated to their units, devoted to their fellow troops. I think a lot of us in the states forget how difficult it is for the families of these soldiers and marines, airmen and sailors.

They are away for so long. Multiple tours in Iraq are not uncommon.

Every soldier I talked to today said the media hasn't done a good job of telling the full story from Iraq. It's a complaint I've heard before, and certainly understand. I do think television tends to focus on the bombs and the bullets, the most dramatic headlines. So much of what happens here never makes the nightly news.

When today's patrol ended, one of the soldiers said to me, "Sorry it wasn't more exciting for you." I told him I wasn't looking for excitement, and in fact, I was glad the day unfolded as it did.

It reminded me that life in Iraq is never what you expect it to be. The situation here is far more complex and the fight far more nuanced than it is often portrayed.

I don't know anything about either Pinter or Cooper, but I'm more partial to nuanced views than to black-and-white moralizing. Cooper, in his article, comes off as politely skeptical about certain aspects of the war effort, but he at least seems capable of appreciating the complexity of the situation. Pinter, meanwhile, comes off as over-dramatic... as most writers do when they are more in tune with the paltry drama of their inner lives than with the actual world around them.

Want a writer who understands both himself and the world? Try Vaclav Havel.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Kevin makes the Korean news

I might not have made it onto Korean TV, but my ugly mug did make it into a local Korean newspaper.

The article reveals my real last name-- in Korean, of course. Mom's in the middle (she saw the pic and worried that it looked as though she was giving someone the finger); the pic shows the moment she was giving certificates of appreciation to two of her associates*. Your emcee is in the back, offering his smile/grimace. I'm wearing my brother Sean's suit and my father's red tie, along with Dad's "Old Glory" tie pin.

*Based on the article's title, you might think the photo shows the moment Mom gave the scholarship check to the head of her society's scholarship fund, but no: that happened later in the evening. Perhaps another local paper has a photo of that moment.



They're everywhere.

They're all around you.

They're watching. Waiting.

You might think you can kill them... but you can't.


They come back.

They always come back.

And there's no stopping them.


the quest for Shillon Tea

I suppose I should be keeping this a secret, since it involves a gift for my buddy Mike, but today's comedy of errors deserves a blog entry.

Dad and I went around northern Virginia's Koreatown today to do some gift shopping. One of the items I wanted to buy was "Shillon Tea," which is a Korean brand of Ceylon (Sri Lankan) Tea. It comes in little, dark-red cans and has the brand name written proudly on it in both English and Hangeul. Mike loved the stuff when he was in Korea in the mid-90s. I thought about buying a case in Korea and carting it over with me, but the idea seemed silly: Shillon Tea, I reasoned, would be available in Koreatown in Virginia. Why add extra weight to my baggage?

Turns out I was a fool: Shillon Tea proved un-findable after attempting three different Korean stores here: Super H-Mart, Lotte Plaza, and Grand Mart. All three stores have huge stockpiles of Korean products, but strangely enough, none of them seemed to carry one of the most popular canned teas in Korea. I plan to expand my search tomorrow; we'll see whether we can't rustle something up.

Am still shaking my head in disbelief. How can you not have Shillon Tea?


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Mom makes the Korean news

Well, the local Korean news, anyway: Mom called me downstairs a few minutes ago, and we watched the local Korean news on cable TV. Sure enough, her society's Christmas party was featured about halfway through the broadcast and got a surprising 2-3 minutes of coverage. Plenty of Mom shots-- she looked comfortable at the podium. There was also a brief shot of the DJ doing his thing, and the final shot in the piece was a 2-3 second look at my brother David.

They did manage to feature about one full second of the back of my head. Just now, Mom looked at me mournfully and said, "I'm sorry they didn't show your face, Kevin," and I smiled and said, "Nah; it doesn't matter." I don't think I'm all that photogenic, anyway.

It was cool that Mom and David got their moments in the spotlight. My own moment came long ago.


Monday, December 12, 2005

party fallout

Dateline: 9AM, 12/12, DC time.

The Korean women's society Christmas party is history. It took a lot of work, too: I basically had to write Mom's speech as well as craft my own presentation. Mom had to make dozens of calls and deal with last-minute changes; Dad was conscripted to help Mom as proofreader and delivery man. Mom, who seems to have trouble delegating tasks because her perfectionism keeps her from trusting people fully (a trait I've inherited), gave most of the pre-party tasks to her family and inner circle, and did a ton of work herself.

I think I was a pretty lame emcee last night, but people told the society president-- my mother this time around-- that this was the best party ever-- it ran smoothly and people felt comfortable. I got a lot of comments along the lines of, "Last year's party was a disaster! Can we have you as emcee every year?"

From my standpoint, this party wasn't as good as the one in 2003: we started 25 minutes late and pretty much ignored the schedule as we moved from event to event. Our featured musician, who was supposed to arrive at 6PM when the party began, arrived at 6:30 and didn't get fully set up until 6:45 (to his credit, he did apologize). Guests took their sweet time arriving, and the society officers, already nervous and tense, asked me to hold off until "we have more people." One of the officers suddenly decided to screw with the table arrangements, which had been set up weeks in advance: 8-to-a-table became 10-to-a-table in many cases. Some of the guests' printed name tags went missing. The two prize drawings we were supposed to have suddenly turned into three drawings, and they didn't occur at the scheduled times. One joke I told during the proceedings fell absolutely flat, and I spoke barely any Korean (a fact that seems to have disappointed my dad; I spoke a lot of Korean while emceeing in 2003). Like I said, this wasn't the best party, and I spent much of the evening feeling rather annoyed.

Part of the reason for not speaking Korean was that I'm still somewhat jet-lagged. Getting tired at 10PM isn't normal for me: as a creature of the night, I'm used to going to sleep around 4AM when on vacation.

But many of the members reported satisfaction. Mom's society still doesn't have a web presence, but I'm hoping that they'll get to work on that.

One odd thing about this party: of the 110 people who showed up, only two or three (aside from yours truly) were under 40. That, folks, is very odd*, and I take it to be a statement about the generational and cultural gap in the greater Washington Korean community: the Americanized young'ns don't feel the same need to bond with the rest of the Korean community through events like this (there are several Korean societies in the DC-Metro area); they probably think they have something better to do. Can't say I blame them: the party, as conceived and structured, has an over-50 target demographic.

I was touched to see how hard Mom worked at the speech I gave her. It was composed by me, yes, but it was filled with her ideas. Mom's a very good leader, but she quails at the prospect of public speaking, especially in English. Nevertheless, she took the time to read through her speech several times, ironing out pronunciation problems, learning how to focus and relax. When I beckoned her to the podium to give her speech, she did it well.

Our featured speaker-- aside from Mom-- was an official (I don't want to say who) from the South Korean Consulate. Nice guy, but he strongly reminded me of the gay Vietnamese restaurant owner in "Good Morning, Vietnam." His speech was met by raucous laughter. It was immediately after his speech that my own joke, riffing on what he'd said, fell flat. D'oh.

I don't want to dwell on what went wrong, though: things also went right. I'm pretty good about adapting to new situations; it's one reason why I tend to overplan: I'm always prepared for any contingency. The fact that the society officers accepted my idea of rescheduling events to allow for an uninterrupted dinner-- that was a major coup. I kind of hope the society will keep that format for future dinner parties. One thing I can't stand is people talking during a speech, and the problem with serving dinner while a speaker is at the podium is that people either have to turn away from their food to listen, or simply ignore the speaker to concentrate on their food and dinner companions. That's messy, awkward, and unprofessional. Get the speeches over with quickly, I say, and let people eat and get drunk in peace.

In truth, because we started late and the schedule was screwed up, we did have to interrupt dinner to begin the next activity (Christmas carols), but the interruption didn't occur until the tail end of dinner, and while caroling takes you temporarily away from your food, it doesn't force you to compete with someone making a speech.

I assume there were complaints when the night was done. How could there not be in a society comprised almost entirely of adjummas, eh?

But praise Jesus it's over.

*You can normally expect Korean mothers to drag their Komerican children to the annual Christmas party... the kids must be getting more adept at resisting that fabled "adjumma power."


she's back!

For those of you who've been missing Andi and her from-the-inside insights on Buddhism-- she's back.

I'm very pleased to announce the appearance of:

One Robe, One Bowl



Today is already turning out to be something of a madhouse, so you'll pardon me if I don't blog anything of substance for the next, oh, 24 hours.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

ach du liebe Dingdangdoodle

Not recommended for prostate health:

Spending 4.5 hours in the company of 50- and 60-something Korean women who are madly hashing out the final details of their Korean-American women's society Christmas party. My head hurts. And I'm not sure I even have a prostate anymore.

Then, after all that torrent of menopausal jabbering, I come home to find out that Richard Pryor has entered parinirvana.



Corea in dee nyoo-seu

Striking Korean airline pilots seek compromise.

"What makes Korean airline pilots so striking?" you ask. I'm guessing it's their hair. Much like Lee Majors's hair, the coifs on 40-something Korean adjoshis can't be beaten down by 600-mph winds.

Also: Korea demonstrates that it is extremely concerned with the image it projects to the world. Video with embarrassing commentary can be found all over the net. I imagine the real Koreabloggers will be all over this one.

UPDATE: The Nomad was already on the case, it seems.


Gethsemane: the day before it all happens

[A note to the confused: I'm currently in northern Virginia, but my blog posts are still using the Seoul time stamp. Subtract 14 hours from the time on this time stamp to have a clearer idea of when I'm posting.]

Today (Saturday), I'm going with my mother to a meeting of her Korean-American society: final prep for the Christmas party tomorrow.

We'll hash out details for several hours (I'm going to assume five or six hours-- will be happy if we boil it down to three or four), then tomorrow is the party itself, and I'll be emceeing. We might have some pics of the event, so I might slap an image or two of the party on the blog.

I note with interest that the recent post of mine re: Narnia seems to have generated far more than the normal number of comments (the normal number tends to be zero or one)-- many thanks to Maven, Lorianne, Charles, and Nathan for providing their perspectives.

I'm also hoping to take pictures of the inflatable Christmas lawn ornaments, which seem to have multiplied in the few days I've been here. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that inflatable lawn ornaments are the #1 carriers of avian flu, that they cause cancer and are also responsible for any downturns in the American economy.* They do seem to be shrouded in a thicker-than-usual nimbus of the dark side of the Force.

*I hear we're experiencing something of an upswing-- an economic erection, if you will-- which may puzzle economists partial to my Inflatable Lawn Ornament Theory of fiscal crisis. This might bode well, or it might simply mean that the lawn ornaments have turned their evil attention elsewhere. When they focus on the economy once again, as they are sure to do in the coming months, we can expect the return of fiscal flaccidity, and even impotence.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Buddhism and no-self

[Reworked from comments written over at Dr. Vallicella's blog.]

Dr. V writes:

After all, if I come to see that my body, feelings, perceptions, and so on cannot be identified as my very self, then it is presumably I myself who come to this insight.

I think this assumes what you want to prove. If we look at the problem from a "top-down" perspective, where we start with what is a putatively unitary self, we begin to realize that this "self" is (1) composed of aggregates and (2) exists in relation to other phenomena-- the two ways to determine that something is "empty" in the Buddhist reckoning.

The material components of "self" are easily shown to be interdependent and not self-causing, I think. This much, at least, is common sense. The mental components of "self" exist in relation to each other, and the sense of "I" arises from their constant interaction.

This doesn't make the "I" any more real. Consciousness is always and immediately "consciousness of"-- i.e., consciousness exists in relation to that of which it is conscious. Consciousness therefore also falls into the category of empty things-- things devoid of self-nature. (Ultimately, even emptiness is empty, as Nagarjuna argued.)

The original Buddhist arguments were specifically against Hindu notions of atman-- a self that is permanent, indestructible, and unaffected by karma.

The Buddhist claim is that the "I" is an illusion. In my opinion, this claim isn't properly rebutted by the counter-claim that "I" must realize that the "I" is an illusion.

Celinda Stickles, an astute commenter on Dr. V's blog, writes:

Buddhists claim that the what's real, existing, or 'not empty' is that which is incorruptible and self-existent, a se.

But Buddhists don't claim this, because nothing is "a se" in Buddhism. From the Buddhist perspective, what's real is what's empty. Nothing exists an sich. Buddhists probably don't help themselves, however, by constantly reverting to the language of essentialism: Buddhist literature is filled with terms like "incorruptible" and "eternal" and "essential" and "fundamental" and even "Absolute" (cf. Abe Masao). Buddhists constantly refer to the "true" or "essential" nature of reality, but they aren't using these descriptors in the normally received sense.

Thich Nhat Hanh expresses the meaning of emptiness far better than I can. "The flower," he writes, "is composed entirely of non-flower elements." A flower "inter-is" with everything around it, existing interdependently, intercausally, relationally. The flower has no essence, and its existence implies the rest of the universe, just as any given number on a number line implies all the rest.

Some Buddhists use the term "Self" or even "Big I," but this is sloppily borrowed from Hinduism, where such language is far more apropos. It has to be remembered that many-- if not most-- Buddhist writers aren't interested in delineating a coherent metaphysics: their point of departure is empirical, and human experience confirms the existence of suffering. Further attentiveness reveals, for Buddhists, the fundamental nonexistence of any permanent, unchanging self.

Is Kevin at age 5 weeks the "same person" as Kevin at age 5? Or Kevin at age 50? On what grounds can we argue that the same Kevin perdures through the timestream? Surely the physical components aren't the same, nor are the emotions somehow immutable, nor are Kevin's memories unchanging (in fact, quite a few have faded!). The personal aggregates hang together closely enough to provide the illusion of a unitary self, but that self is as particulate and impermanent as a mountain or a stream or any other phenomenon we care to name. Some people find this unsettling; the Buddhist analysis of that unsettled feeling is that we suffer from attachment rooted in ignorance about the nature of things.

The Hindu argument, at least from advaita vedanta, is that Little Self is nothing more and nothing less than Big Self: atman is brahman. This evolution in Hindu thinking, largely post-Upanisadic, remakes the atman into something less vulnerable to Buddhist critique than what the Buddhists were originally attacking. The earlier notion was that the atman was like a diamond-hard core moving from body to body, unchangeable, impervious to karma. Buddhists found this to be absurd: if the atman transmigrates, then of course it's affected by karma! In Indian thinking, what the atman is depends on what it's relating to. Karma is one aspect of that relationality.*

Dr. V is correct to go right to the heart of the matter and ask the question that's plagued Buddhists from the beginning: Who attains nirvana? But it should be noted that this problem is accepted in most branches of Buddhism, especially the various Mahayana strands, as the Great Kong-an. Zen monks routinely ask their adepts: Who are you? What are you doing now? I suspect that for most Buddhists, the answer to Dr. Vallicella's question (which, in truth, isn't his question, but a question that's been asked since almost 550BCE) doesn't lie in the realm of the discursive.

My own personal preference is to avoid using "Self" (capital S) language in association with Buddhism, because it tends to confuse matters. Whether we're talking about Big Self or Little Self, no notion of selfhood is understood to be anything other than "conventional" in Buddhism.


*Western focus is primarily on objects, not relationships. If a coin is sitting in front of me, I say "The coin is in front of me." If it gets moved so that it's now behind me, I say, "The coin is now behind me." By this reckoning, the coin never changes and neither do I; it's merely our positions in relation to each other that have changed.

By Eastern reckoning, however, what the coin is and what I am are now utterly different. This way of thinking feels extremely odd to a Westerner, but it's quite common in the East.

Example: What is a table? Well, what the table is depends largely on other questions, such as where it is. If the table's in the woods, what is it? If a magician is sitting on the table, and the table's suspended in the air by a crane, what is it? Is it still a table, or is it now more of a platform? What if the table's in the woods and there are no people-- only rabbits looking for temporary shelter? The word "table" refers to what reality?

(For more on this, you'll have to speak to my Buddhism prof at Catholic University, Dr. Charles Jones. The coin example comes from him.)

Later on, Dr. V writes:

And surely nibbana must have self-nature!

I wouldn't know, but I do know that such a claim would put you against the entirety of the Mahayana tradition, which gave us the revolutionary insight that nirvana = samsara: the "real" is the phenomenal world, an insight that arose in India but received enormous support when Indian Mahayana Buddhism encountered the spontaneous, this-worldly naturalism of Chinese philosophical Taoism.

The phenomenal world has the character of emptiness (jae beop gong sang, as the Sino-Korean version of the Heart Sutra says: all-dharmas-emptiness-traits), and if nirvana is samsara, then nirvana is also empty.

This insight is one of many undergirding the belief that, while one speaks of things like "effort" and "attainment" and "buddha-hood" (or "buddha-nature"), the reality is that one is "already there," so to speak.

The paradox, then, can be phrased as another question: Why bother striving if we're already there? Again, this question, like the "Who attains nirvana?" or "Who attains enlightenment?" questions, is not unfamiliar to Buddhists.

My own feeling is that the answer to that kong-an, "Why bother?", can be found only by living life mindfully and compassionately.

Dr. V also writes:

But the failure to find x does not entail the nonexistence of x.

I see your point, but the meditator's response, with which I'm sure you're familiar because this response is pan-traditional, is that insight into one aspect of reality can provide insight into all aspects. The quest for the "real" isn't conducted by a search party combing physical territory, but by a person's contemplation of one or more specific aspects of human experience.*

True: perhaps further contemplation might reveal a deeper truth, or a truth that contradicts previously held beliefs. The Dalai Lama acknowledged this possibility when asked about the challenges of science: he said that, should science demonstrate that certain Buddhist insights were incorrect, then Buddhism would have to change. A reasonable position, I think.


*Seasoned Zen meditators will point out right away that not all meditation takes this tack. As someone who's engaged in Zen meditation, I'd agree. In Zen, the mind "has no address," as one Korean monk colorfully put it. This style of meditation is in marked contrast to both Hindu and Buddhist "one-pointed mind" forms of meditation, as well as to visualization techniques found in, say, Tibetan Vajrayana or Japanese esoteric Buddhism.


the sagging breastuses of Nature

Le soleil brille.

With the sunshine comes The Melt. Lots of drip-drip-dripping going on outside.

In another part of the blogosphere, Dr. Vallicella continues to hack away at core Buddhist arguments, especially the doctrine of no-self, which runs totally counter to his ontotheological personalism. See here for a recent post of his on the subject; the comments contain a short reply by me.


Friday, December 09, 2005

gut my Tauntaun

Up at 7:30AM to shovel snow. Dad's retired, but Mom's got to get to work in DC, and the federal government isn't closed today. This is the second snow this week-- my first week back in the States. I did my usual wimp-style shoveling job for the driveway: I cleared enough driveway for one set of our cars' wheels to have purchase on the ground: the right front and right rear wheels. I've found that this method works quite well, and since it's not that cold out today, it's likely that the other side of the driveway will melt itself clear of its own accord.

More later as I wake up. The jet lag demon continues to futz with my consciousness.