Tuesday, January 31, 2006

how sad

Bazaar in 2 Days!

Certain Muslims have been on the rampage about a series of satirical cartoons published initially in a Danish newspaper, and then in a Norwegian one (see article here).

This is where the West needs to take a stand and say that, yes, we're a pluralistic people, but our very pluralism entails a deep respect for freedom of expression. Tolerance might not be the same as agreement or acceptance, but tolerance-- primarily marked by a forbearance from violence-- is crucial in a pluralistic society. Pluralism doesn't equate to spinelessness: it does indeed contain its own exclusivism, as I've written elsewhere. From the pluralist's point of view, some thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors are unjustifiable.

Religious satire happens, and it's no use screaming about it. From what I recall of living in Europe, Christ gets lampooned daily over there. Some of the most hilarious spoofs of Christianity I've ever seen come from the pen of French cartoonist Claude Serre, and he's not the only European to knock the Savior. That's one of the great things about the West: at our best, we don't take ourselves that seriously. Even the most sacred foundational figures in our culture are fair game. And thank God. I wouldn't have it any other way.

The idea that you cannot even depict Muhammad... sorry, but if Islam hopes to integrate with the West at all (and it's an open question as to how many Muslims seek such integration) that doctrine's going to have to go. Europe, in the meantime, will need to stop making excuses for Muslims who behave childishly in the face of mockery, and start remembering itself. I say that as someone with a deep love of Europe.

By the way... Muhammad has been depicted before. Here's one of the most famous renderings: the Prophet ascending on a mythical beast called a buraq.

(image snitched from here)


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 11

Holy Shit! Bazaar in only 2 Days!
Come on over! Help our students practice their English!
Email me for info. NOW, dammit!


Monday, January 30, 2006

Ave, Adam!

Bazaar in 3 Days!

Adam Yoshida writes a touching post about the Japanese homeless. Puts me to shame: back when I was a high schooler, the DC/Metro area homeless were my pet cause. Adam's post reminds me of those days. But here and now in Seoul, we've got our own homeless problem. Maybe I should get off my ass and photoblog some of that. Thanks, Adam.


a dirty slut of infinite ass

A commenter at Skippy's blog, Ford W. Maverick, offers a hilarious rewrite of the famed "Alas, poor Yorick!" soliloquy in Shakespeare's Hamlet, in honor of a recently deceased porn star named Anna Malle (get it? Ani-mal?). Read Skippy's solemn eulogy here. Ford's sprightly verse, however, is reprinted below in full, with what I assume to be Ford's permission.

Alas, poor Anna! I knew her, Skippy: a dirty slut
of infinite ass, of most excellent breasts: she hath
borne men on her back a thousand times; and now, how
adored in my imagination it is! my penis rises at
it. There hung those breasts that I have masturbated to I know
not how oft. Where be your mellons now? your
gazongas? your funbags? your flashes of double-penetration,
that were wont to set the VCR on a roar? Not one
now, to mock your own humping? quite cock-fallen?
Now get us to my bedding chamber, and tell her, let
us fast-forward to the good parts, to this favour she must
come; make her laugh at that.


Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know
not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one
now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen?
Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let
her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must
come; make her laugh at that.

By the way, Skippy's take on the Oprah Winfrey-James Frey scandal (wherein Oprah publicly castigated Frey for duping her: Frey had claimed his book A Million Little Pieces was a memoir, but it turned out to be mostly contrived) makes for a refreshing contrast to the standard take.


generating the right kind of friction

Bazaar in 3 Days!

A very long time ago, in the Jurassic Period of the Koreablogosphere, a fantastic blog called Incestuous Amplification made an interesting point about US conservatives' North Korea policy: tough talk, little substance. Like other Koreabloggers, I have enjoyed the current administration's tough talk when it comes to North Korea. I treasure the idea that ol' Jong-il is freaked out by the fact that he's #3 on a short list. Our current focus on #2 of that list, Iran, has got to have the Dear Leader's mental gears turning.

But Kevin of IA's contention in that long-ago post was that the Bush Administration wasn't really doing all that much. Funds going directly to NK might have been cut off, but funds going to SK-- and from there, ultimately to NK-- are still in place.

That IA post gave me pause and showed me the error of my ways. Since that time, I've been hoping for a truly substantive move by the Bush Administration to prove that our NK diplomacy has teeth-- at the very least, weak little Ben Affleck milk teeth, if not out-and-out Matt Damon choppers.

And now... this.

In the news a few days ago came the announcement that the US is drafting an executive order that would apply to financial institutions that do business with both the US and North Korea: Choose. Us or them. If you choose them, you don't do business with us.

...authorities completed a rough draft of an executive order that would stop any financial firms involved in transactions with North Korea from conducting business in the U.S.

That will mean all banks, brokerage houses and insurance firms and refers not only to illegal transactions but to any financial deals with the North, Perl told the Chosun Ilbo on the phone. Once the regulations are finalized, “the message to financial institutions operating in the U.S. will be that the time has come for them to choose between the U.S. or North Korea,” he added.

When I first read this article, I thought this was the stupidest idea yet. Perhaps some of you still think this way. But then I started thinking about the message such a measure was supposed to send to South Korea, which is the United States' seventh-largest trading partner (the US is SK's third-largest trading partner, after China and the EU; a US-Korea free trade agreement is in the works), and which doubtless has plenty of financial institutions on US soil, most likely in places like New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles.

If we assume the executive order makes no special exception for South Korea, this could very well mean that SK will either have to throw its lot in with America, or break certain financial ties with us-- at huge economic cost to both our countries-- so it can stand proudly beside its beloved brother, North Korea.

I have no idea how harshly the executive order is to be worded, nor do I know whether it really will apply directly to South Korea. I also have no clue whether the order is riddled with other exceptions and provisos. If it is, then Kevin of IA's point still stands: big talk, no real action. But if this bill is as frightening as the Chosun Ilbo writers make it out to be, then it's Christmas all over again for yours truly.

Here's the rest of that article:

Observers will be watching closely if the draft takes effect since it is far more sweeping than the sanctions already in place. The U.S. in September pinpointed the Macau-based Banco Delta Asia as Pyongyang’s primary money laundering channel and induced China to close North Korea’s transaction account there, while a presidential decree froze the U.S. assets of 11 North Korean trading firms. In December, Washington issued an advisory warning North Korea would probably seek to take advantage of other foreign banks for its illegal transactions.

But under the draft order, almost all finance companies would be effectively prohibited from doing business with North Korea. That would also affect international financial institutions outside the U.S. and thus deal a heavy blow to North Korea’s overseas trade.

In Perl’s reading, financial institutions would have a choice whether they are with or against the U.S., but given the importance of their U.S. interests, it would in effect force most major international firms to stop dealing with the North.

Given that Pyongyang is already boycotting six-party talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear program over the earlier measures, the plan could be the death knell for the negotiations. The news comes in a week when President Roh Moo-hyun warned of friction between Seoul and Washington if the U.S. tries to solve the North Korea problem by strangling the regime, and is unlikely to improve strained relations between the two allies. It is not wholly unexpected, however, since the White House has several times warned of possible “additional measures” against the North.

I'm happy to see that final sentence in the article: Don't act like you weren't expecting this. No one's patience is infinite.

UPDATE: Great commentary on this situation over at One Free Korea.



Bazaar in 3 Days! February 2!

The loss of my sense of smell-- now somewhere in its second week-- has forced me to reconsider a common question asked of students in English conversation classes everywhere: "If you had to sacrifice four of your five senses, which one would you want to keep, and why?"

The standard answer for most people is "sight." You can't drive if you can't see, after all; nor can you watch that woman's tight ass bounce by you like three-dimensional quarter notes on their way to a note-orgy. You can't watch movies or TV; you can't surf the Net the normal way. You can't take in a gorgeous panorama like the mountains around the Thunersee and the Brienzersee in Interlaken, Switzerland, or see the rainbow of flowers splashed across a meadow.

Perhaps your other senses can make up for your lack of sight, but there's no denying that sight is something that makes us pay attention to the world.

Two weeks ago, had I been asked that question about which sense to keep, I would have answered "sight" without hesitation, too. But now I'm no longer sure. Smell is essential; smell is primal. We need our sense of smell, and for many reasons.

I'm a smelly guy. Sweaty. Hairy. A guy. I rely on smell as an early warning system:






It's not just an early warning system, either. I rely on smell to tell me about the weather: Will it rain? Will it snow? Damn, that's a crisp wind! Smell those leaves-- it's finally autumn!

Smell also clues me in on certain things: Yes! The food is done, and not a hint of charcoal! Or: Holy shit, what the hell did I eat yesterday? Fuck!

Being unable to smell and taste the food I cooked for my students last week was a crushing blow. Perhaps I didn't let on just how depressing that was for me, but it was depressing. The olfactory dimension of experience can't be overstated: food is life. Without smell, food-- life-- hardly seems worth the trouble.

The conversation question is somewhat misleading: when you lose your sense of smell, you generally lose your sense of taste, too. This is why mothers pinch their kids' noses to make them down the caustic medicine: if they can't smell it, they're less likely to taste it. While I've heard people claim they can still taste things even after losing their sense of smell, I don't usually believe them. Smell and taste, the olfactory and the gustatory, go together. The claim that one can still taste foods is generally based on sensations unrelated to smell: for example, I can distinguish between fruit juice and wine because wine leaves something of a vapor trail. The moist tissues in my nasopharyngeal area can perceive the vapors without calling up either taste or smell. I'd have a harder time distinguishing between clear apple juice and water. So would you.

Having been without smell and taste this long, I've had to ponder whether it wouldn't be better to be blind. Blindness comes with all sorts of problems, as noted above, but I don't need to see lobster in butter sauce in order to appreciate it. The smell, the taste, the feel-- those are enough. Now, when I eat something, all I've got left is... texture. Taken by itself, texture isn't much. While I'm not absolutely convinced that losing my sight would be better than losing my sense of taste, this unasked-for truncation of my world has been harsh to deal with.

Here's the funny part: I still eat pretty normally. I gain no enjoyment from it, but the removal of smell and taste from my daily life has brought home how awesome the power of habit is. Very illogically, I find myself lumber-waddling to the nearest soda machine to buy a drink barely distinguishable from water. I'd like to think I'm doing this because I'm an optimist: maybe THIS time, my senses will come back and I'll be able to taste what I'm drinking! But in truth, my 500-won coins are being sacrificed to the Aztec drink machine gods because that's the neural pathway I've fortified with ever-thickening myelin sheaths in my brain.


Burned into my circuitry.

And that's not so different from the story of Mozart the cat. Our cat lost his eye in a fight at the tender age of one-and-a-half. When we took him to the cat hospital to get the swollen remains of his eye removed, the vet decided Mozart needed a bit of extra work, and removed his balls, too. "Done on both ends!" she announced cheerfully after the terrible deed had been performed. Mozart sulked, his head half-shaven and surrounded by a ridiculous, radar-shaped plastic collar to prevent him from pulling out his new stitches.

Ball-less though he was, however, Mozart had already formed certain prowling and mating habits. The vet warned us as much: the neutering hadn't been to calm Mozart down, but to prevent him from inseminating the neighborhood felines. Mozart, to this day, remains a horny cat, and that's all thanks to habit. Though I retain my balls, I understand Mozart better now. We belong to the same circle of bereavement. The difference is that I'll eventually recover my smell and taste. Mozart, alas, is a eunuch, a freak, a biological "it," forever.

'Tis a strange gift, to be deprived of two senses. On the assumption that every moment is a lesson, I'll continue to blunder through this desolate period of blunted percipience and report whatever insights I discover. But if the clouds suddenly break tomorrow and my senses return to normal, well fuck all that-- I'll be off to Outback Steakhouse to celebrate and we'll speak no more of this.


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 10


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 9
plus a special doggie pic!

Last year was "my" year, the Year of the Rooster. Now we're into the Year of the Dog, which as we all know means MORE BOSHIN-T'ANG FOR EVERYONE!

Enjoy the pics:

A Happy Lunar New Year to you all!

Men: May your intrepid ship, the USS Meat, ply the pink ocean and settle in many a berth!

Ladies: May your lush mountains and hidden valleys know the arrival of the Mile-High Conqueror Worm!


Saturday, January 28, 2006


Bazaar in 5 Days!

My blogroll is about to undergo a major expansion as I plan to add the following fine blogs:

1. Sumiyoshi Pilgrim: A very interesting Koreablog with a Japanese name. Features ruminations on East Asia and Marcus Aurelius.

2. Laudator Temporis Acti: A highly literate blog unafraid to plunge into the murky depths of ancient Greek and Latin.

3. Riding Sun: A fantastic, often hilarious Japanblog I've been meaning to slap on the blogroll for some time.

4. One Free Korea: Tirelessly fighting the good fight.

5. Seoul Hero: Shout-out to Nathan for a well-written blog covering matters both personal and cosmic.

6. My Pet Jawa: Not a blog for dedicated lefties. While MPJ leans much farther right than I ever could (I consider myself a moderate on most matters), this blog-- now something of a group blog-- has done some stellar work on behalf of hostages taken by various terrorist groups. I have to respect that sort of dedication.

7. Sperwer's Log: Seems silly to announce the birth (or rebirth) of my friend's blog without actually blogrolling it! Check Sperwer out.

8. Corsair the Rational Pirate: Acerbically antireligious and witty. Also, the guy seems addicted to Korean women's midriffs. In a recent post, he comments on my home state of Virginia, which is now trying to ban gay marriage. I agree with Corsair that this is a fantastically stupid move.

So there we are. That's the list. Eight blogs. Eight tentacles of the octopus. Be patient, folks: the blogrolling won't be immediate, because it takes time to craft my sidebar images. Meantime, Tentacles, welcome to the art gallery.

UPDATE: Two other blogs for the blogroll:

9. Gangwon Notes, a well-written, thoughtful blog with plenty of pictures.

10. WP Cadet, a blog that signifies the triumphant return of DP, who has been accepted into a well-known military academy.


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 8

Bazaar in 5 Days! You're Invited! Email Me for Details!
I Love Capitalization and Exclamation Points!


Friday, January 27, 2006

no yang without yin

Today, while working at the office, a little miracle: for about five minutes, I could smell and taste again. Not very well, mind you, but the senses recovered just enough for me to perceive-- barely-- the Chinese food I was eating at the time.

Unfortunately, not everything was so good. My chest rattle seems to have worsened a bit, and while I'm still not feeling particularly sick, I do cough... and hack... and rattle like Jacob Marley. I missed my doctor's visit on Wednesday because I went shopping with my students, and I missed a visit today because I was working on something (test rating) that needed to be done by this evening.

The fleeting return of taste and smell at around 5:30PM today was almost exhilarating. In those moments when I was able to perceive my t'ang-bokk-bap properly, I took nothing for granted. The old proverb is true: you don't know what you've got until it's gone.

It's one of those proverbs I relearn with dismaying frequency. Just last week, I had a tiny splinter of something (still no idea what) lodged in the calloused skin of the ball of my right foot. It wasn't large enough to cause extreme pain, but it was large enough to prove annoying. When I got home after a long day at school, I washed my foot, got out the tweezers, and began my search for the splinter. When I finally found it, I almost laughed: the thing was barely two millimeters long, and thin as a hair.

To think that something so small, which hadn't even truly penetrated my skin, could cause such annoyance throughout the day... well, that's a reminder of the narrowness of our margin for comfort. Just a wee nudge rips us out of bliss and plunges us balls-first into the briar patch.

The chest rattle is arguably more annoying than the splinter. But we'll kick its ass next week.


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 7

Bazaar in 6 days!


Thursday, January 26, 2006

something of a success

Bazaar in 7 Days!

Despite no sense of smell or taste, I was somehow able to make my pita appetizer, quasi-Mediterranean salad, and fettuccine alfredo without a problem. This group of students didn't include any moaners like last time, but reviews of the food were generally good. I made the alfredo in class-- cooking the pasta and making the sauce right there for all to watch. As before, the shrimp was the first thing to disappear. Because this is Korea, people here aren't shy about garlic, so I went ahead and dumped a mess of garlic into the shrimp mix. Some students stuffed themselves well before dessert. For the record, one student felt the alfredo sauce needed salt-- something I've never heard of adding.

The salad-making, appetizer assembly, and shrimp-cooking took me until almost 4AM. I am, as the Brits say, knackered... but the day isn't over yet. Test ratings and personal stuff yet to be done.

Hasta mas tarde, pendejo.

(Oh, yes-- students took pics with their cell phones. I've demanded that they email some of those pics to me. Expect them to appear on the blog at some point.)


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 6

Bazaar in 7 Days!


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

comments on the day

Back from an afternoon of shopping with a bunch of ladies. We're having a massive cook-in tomorrow, in class; yours truly will be doing the cooking, but I have to get a head start on the business tonight. At the request of students who were with me last semester, the menu will be the same as before (shrimp fettuccine, quasi-Mediterranean salad), but with the addition of the appetizers I'd left out last time-- and I'm doing this insanity for twelve students instead of six. Luckily, no particular dish presents a real challenge in terms of skilfulness required, but some dishes, like the salads, will simply take time.

I met four students and went to Lotte Mart and the Hannam Market. Spent less than I thought I would for twelve people; the students will be covering half the cost of tomorrow's meal-- that's what I promised them. I'd love to cover the entire cost myself, but some of us aren't as rich as others. If you're trying to guess how much I spent this evening, know that the students will be chipping in W7000 each.

The students who were with me also came up to see my digs. My digs aren't in the best shape right now, but I let the students in and they giggled as they looked around at my possessions. "You've got a lot of books!" one remarked. I told them my in-Korea stash was only about a sixth of what I actually own (most of it's in the States). Another student grabbed my made-in-China back scratcher and started scratching her back while cackling. She's one of my favorites, that one. Wacky and uninhibited.

We've got a new concierge adjoshi downstairs, and he asked the girls some paranoid questions as we all walked in my dorm's main door-- "How many are you? How long are you planning to visit?"-- the sort of questions that show he's alert for horndog teachers. My suspicion about his paranoia was confirmed when, as the students were leaving barely ten minutes after visiting, he asked them, "That's all of you, right?" I thought that was funny: the idea that one student might break away from the group and be waiting for me upstairs in my room. Or the idea that the entire crowd was colluding in a plan to let one student stay behind and scrog me.

But there was a close call this evening: my computer and monitor were on, as always, and it was just by chance that, when I nudged the mouse to stop the screen saver, Hairy Chasms was not on display.* That could have been the end of me right there. Not that I've written anything horrible about students and co-workers (the infamous Z, from early last year, wasn't in our group), but the students would have shouted, "You have a blog!?" and I'd have had to strike camp and move the Hairy Chasms elsewhere. They would also have seen Hyori's bloated ass and those lovely crucifixion pics. I have no idea how they'd have reacted to those.

Am gonna have to stop here. Too much to do this evening. I still have no sense of smell or taste... well, that's not entirely true: the only thing I smell is my own snot. Will go out, buy some medicine and a couple other items on my list, then get cracking on appetizers and the salad this evening. One area where I wimped out: I'd thought of doing the Nigella mousse for the students, but Hannam Market wasn't carrying those chocolate chips I'd used last time. So instead, I've opted for something far simpler: Nutella and fruit. Yes, I'm a wuss.

I think I'm going to try to figure out the holy mysteries of ravioli next. And one of these days, I have to learn how to make my own kimbap-- something I've never done before.

*I use a Mozilla Firefox browser, which features tabbed browsing; the blog's tab wasn't the "exposed" one, luckily.


gotcher J. Lo right here

Bazaar in 8 Days!

In honor of a recent post.


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 5

Bazaar in 8 Days!


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Ave, Sperwer!

My friend, the Buddhist badass Sperwer, has made a name for himself as a roving commenter in the Koreablogosphere, able to tackle subjects ranging from Buddhism to gastronomie to law to history to politics.

Keep in mind that this is the guy who gave me-- gave me-- a couple spare disposable contact lenses to help me out when I lost my own lens to an untimely fingernail-ripping. People familiar with Sperwer's comments on other blogs know that he can be... uh, blunt. But as the contact lens gesture shows, it is possible for sentient beings to incarnate that rarest of virtues, caustic compassion.

And now, to everyone's horror, He Has a Blog. This may be a bit like giving Charles Manson a shotgun and a saddlebag full of shells, but it's too late-- the nuclear genie's out of the bottle, as they're saying these days.

Check out Sperwer's Log here, and expect great things.


tonight's discussion question is...

Do you have to be religious to do theology?

The comments section is open and waiting.

UPDATE: I've seen the comments, and they're all just plain wrong. WRONG, I say!

No, seriously-- I think this could become interesting if you start kicking the topic around with each other. Some stuff to think about:

First, what is theology?

Second, what does it mean to be religious?

Other questions will burble up borborygmically.

My studies in dialogue lead me to believe that shared terminology is key if we're to avoid talking past each other. Sometimes people start off saying things that sound diametrically opposed... but through discussion they discover that they might not have been as far apart as they thought.

My buddy Dave, an aeronautical engineer, probably has it right to think that agreement on core terms is key if people are to get anywhere. In his field, it's an absolute necessity. You can't have five hundred definitions of the word "wave," for instance. Unfortunately, theo/rel is a very different universe of discourse, and it would be harmful to restrict semantic plasticity in my field the way engineers must in their own. Engineers do what they do to make their designs safer, more efficient, etc. That's not the case for those sniffing at the question of ultimate reality. All the same, a little mutual understanding about our personal points of departure can go a long way in a discussion about the Big Things in Life.


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 4

Bazaar in 9 Days!


Monday, January 23, 2006

I have no taste

I've had no sense of taste since about Odin's Day or Thor's Day of last week. You could stuff a rotten pig uterus into my mouth and I'd chew it down with no problem.

Same goes for smell. I can't smell a thing. It's sad: I miss the scent of my farts. They were a unique olfactory experience-- a cross between septic waste and Muhammad Ali's incoming fist.

I also delighted in the sickly sweet odor of my feet. Pulling them out of shoes made slimy and noisome after a twelve-hour day spent in classrooms and offices, I used to love sitting back in my room as the miasma overwhelmed me, bringing on a light buzz and pleasant visions of eyeless, fanged swamp creatures with lambent claws.

But no more.

No stink can penetrate the mucus plug that now deprives me of my cherished qualia. Perched Jabba-like atop my nerve endings, every possible entryway to my brain blocked, the mucus knows that it rules. And it's not leaving without a fight.

The fight began today. I visited our school's clinic, fully expecting to meet the troll-like woman who'd taken care of my neck before. She wasn't in today, as it turned out, but I got a prescription from the front desk ladies, who again complimented my Korean and charged me only W800 (about 80 cents, US) for several packets of pills and a small bottle of cola-colored cough medicine.

Alas: the mucus hasn't budged, despite two doses of the mystery pills and two swigs of cough syrup. For those who don't know: the Korean pharmacies went under government regulation a few years ago (I don't know exactly when, but it was between 1996 and 2002, during my absence), and all the good medicines-- i.e., the extremely potent, vaguely illegal substances made from wacky plants-- were pulled from the shelves and replaced by... Comtrex. Bayer Aspirin. Tylenol.

The pussification of Korean medicine has made me a very unhappy camper: I remember a mid-90s concoction that knocked one of my ailments flat on its ass. It slunk away, muttering, never to return.

Those were the days. But now... the sun no longer shines in my world, which lies buried under a thick layer of snot and phlegm. Alas for the disappearance of good medicine. This era, sadly, now belongs to the mucus.

I'm supposed to return to the clinic on Wednesday. The troll will be expecting me. If she and her witchcraft prove insufficient, then I'll be off to a real doctor-- the kind who takes one look at your clogged nose, whips out a massive power drill, kicks you in the chest to stun you, then screams, "It's GO TIME!" as he jams that drill bit into your nostril and deep inside your brain.


Happy Monday!

Bazaar in 10 Days!

I think I'll be doing one of these a day.

Also of note in the wake of the Hwang scandal:

Over two years ago, on New Year's Eve, I wrote this. Yes, it's snotty. But the sarcasm is prophetic.


Sunday, January 22, 2006

SNU president on the "painful lesson" of Dr. Hwang

Bazaar in 11 days!

Thought I'd pass this along. I saw it on the Seoul National University website (English version). It's the public apology by SNU's president, Chung Un-chan, following the conclusion of the investigation into Dr. Hwang Woo-seok's work:

Fellow Koreans,

Just yesterday the Seoul National University Investigation Committee submitted its Final Report on Professor Woo Suk Hwang's Research Allegations. The Final Report concludes that the research articles published in 2004 and 2005 in the journal Science were both fabricated. It is with a very heavy heart that I stand before you today to express my regrets that Professor Hwang's team at our university carried out such grave misconducts.

As the President of Seoul National University, I feel I owe the Korean people a deep apology for the public confusion and controversy caused by Professor Hwang's research team. The findings of the Investigation Committee make it clear that Professor Hwang's grievous misconduct has dishonored scientific communities in Korea and abroad. I am concerned that his research team has placed a heavy burden on Korean scientists who have been hard at work in their respective research fields. They are likely to come under much greater scrutiny in the future by the global scientific community. But most of all I would like to apologize to the patients whose hopes were raised by stem cell research and whose trust has been betrayed by the recent events.

The falsification of research results is nothing less than a crime in an academic community whose purpose is the pursuit of truth. We need to acknowledge, however, that the responsibility for the events surrounding Professor Hwang's misconduct must be shared.

I speak of the responsibility for exaggerating the contributions of embryonic stem cell research for the purposes of Korean national interest. I speak of the responsibility for evading issues of bioethics in the naming of finding cures for incurable diseases. And I speak of our obsession with producing results without recollecting that the ends do not justify the means.

Honesty and integrity are the fundamentals of science. There can be no science deserving of that name without honesty and integrity. We need to be wary of exaggerated hopes in scientific achievement. No single scientific achievement will single-handedly revive the national economy or cure all illnesses. During the last two years, we ignored this simple truth and wasted valuable resources. It is time now to reflect seriously on the true purpose of scholarship. And it is time for those who engaged in misconduct to take responsibility.

I firmly believe, however, that we must not simply take the recent events as a one-time tragedy. We must make this an opportunity for the biological sciences in Korea to mature and leap forward. One thing we have gained from these events is the experience of locating and correcting our own mistakes. We would not be here today without the courageous intervention of young scientists who braved the furor of the national press in order to challenge the allegations of Professor Hwang. Seoul National University's Investigation Committee amply proved its dedication to, and its ability to uncover, the truth. I thus remain hopeful that the Korean scientific community will not be permanently damaged by these events but will move forward.

Seoul National University, too, will move forward. During the last sixty years, Seoul National University has continued to contribute to Korean society through the pursuit of true scholarship. It will not stop doing so. I will do my utmost to ensure that Seoul National University will continue to serve as a center of learning and truth.

However, we will not forget this painful lesson. I will request the Disciplinary Committee at Seoul National University to take strict action upon all researchers involved in this case. I will reform research policies and establish a Research Ethics Committee in order to ensure that similar fabrications will not happen in the future.

As the President of Seoul National University, I apologize once again for the concerns caused by Professor Hwang's research team. And I earnestly ask you to continue to place trust in our institution so that we can move forward to correct our mistakes and learn from them for a better future. Thank you.

Chung, Un-chan

A quick comment:

I wish I could read this in the original Korean, but one sentence above strikes me as off: They [i.e., Korean scientists] are likely to come under much greater scrutiny in the future by the global scientific community.


This could be a translation problem. I don't know. In my opinion, scrutiny is never a bad thing. Scientists-- in theory, at least-- pursue truth in an atmosphere of independent verification and mutual constructive critique. Scrutiny isn't bad; outright mistrust is the real problem Korean scientists face.

I liked the president's statement, overall. Plenty of apologies, numerous proposals on how to reform, and very clearly not letting Hwang & Co. off the hook for besmirching the university's (and country's) reputation. A subtle hint, too, that this sort of problem is something we all have to watch out for, which I think is true. Korea has no monopoly on unethical behavior.

By the way, has anyone answered the question of why a veterinarian was so involved in human cloning?


a second look through the security cam

Charles! What the hell did we eat?

Good God, do I have to add cannibalism to my ever-growing list of sins?


gracias, merci, danke

Many people have written in either by comments or by email to express sympathy for my current bout of illness. This has included a couple offers of assistance (sending medicine, etc.). Thank you all for your concern. I'll be hitting the clinic on Monday afternoon and doing my best to insist on the most powerful, most expensive remedies to get me back on my hooves, claws, and tentacles again. I appreciate all the goodwill. There are treasures stored up for you in Kevin.

Heaven, I mean.


the woman of his dreams


Saturday, January 21, 2006

enuf's enuf

OK, mucus. You win. I'll visit a clinic on Monday.

Prediction of diagnosis: either walking pneumonia or bronchitis. Can't imagine any other reason why the crap would be lingering on this long.

Lungs: you suck and you're fired.


Rory beats me to it

Rory, stem cells afire, took one look at the crucifixion comic in my previous post and knew what had to be done. He emailed me this:

This could be the new Dinosaur Comics: even more minimalist! And with people contributing their own captions, I don't have to do any work. Brilliant!


criminality with Liminality

Bazaar in 12 Days!

On Friday evening, I had the great privilege of meeting Charles of Liminality fame.

The stuff that's cooking in the above photo? That's not Charles. In the above photo, Charles is the bib and pair of long-sleeved arms you see across the table from me. The arm to my left belongs to a restaurant worker who took it upon himself to cook our dak-galbi.

Thanks to my sickness, my nose was stuffed and I was unable to taste anything. Charles and I agreed that dak-galbi, which is a spicy chicken and vegetable dish, might have a better chance of breaking through the mucus barrier than the Italian food we'd originally intended to eat. I felt guilty for having diverted Charles from what would probably have been an exquisite meal. On top of not eating Italian food, Charles had the pleasure of watching me fail to deal with my runny nose because I didn't notice the trickle. We really should've gotten a photo of that.

We were in Kangnam, which is always crowded on Friday evenings. After dinner, we managed to find a cafe away from the main street (FYI: my taste buds remained dormant all evening). Charles and I talked while we waited for his wife, Hyun-jin. Charles's Korean is impeccable. Once Hyun-jin arrived, a cruel decision was made to speak only in Korean. I, of course, was unable to keep up my end of the deal, but I gave it a college try.

Below, you see Charles, who looks like White Jesus:

I like the sign outside the window. Not only do we have iMacs and iRivers and iPods-- we've also got iRish!

People who read Charles's blog know that he's a professional translator. Hyun-jin teaches Korean and is learning Japanese. Here's the blushing couple:

Actually, "blushing" is entirely the wrong adjective for both Charles and Hyun-jin. I had thought, based on my reading of Charles's blog, that I'd be meeting someone who was somewhat shy and quiet.

Wrong. The man is a nut.

Charles was easily persuaded to take up a crucifixion pose so we could get a photo of him as White Jesus. Hyun-jin took a shot of us outside the cafe. The Photoshopped result (and soon to be a comic series) is below:

It was a fun evening. While we talked about many interesting things, I'll do as I did for Joel and stay mum about the topics. Charles is free to blog about them on his site, but seeing as he posts only about ONCE A DAMN MONTH, I suspect tonight's meeting will be a fading memory before the man blogs again.

Charles, the invitation to dinner (you and the Missus) remains open. It was great meeting you both Friday evening.


Friday, January 20, 2006

the new sound

Bazaar in 13 Days!

A new sound burbled out of my chest last night-- a rattle. Not a baby rattle's rattle, mind you-- it was something more along the lines of what I imagine a death rattle would sound like. Pretty cool. I raised an eyebrow and muttered, "Neat!" the first time it happened.

The rattle would occur only at the tail end of a long exhalation-- a gentle but sinister sound. I'd cough deliberately, spit out the mucus (which may come from the rattle's source or from higher up in my chest), then lie back down in bed. Lying on my side seemed to produce the rattle more easily than lying on my back did.

I suspect the best sleeping posture right now would be batlike: hanging upside down to allow my chest to drain out whatever viscous muck has collected inside it.

The rattle makes me think that it might be time to visit a clinic. The last thing I want to do is get a truly nasty respiratory infection and then spread that to students and coworkers.

Meanwhile, I'm frustrated that this damn thing has lasted so long. Perhaps a sign that I should have been exercising more before getting sick...? A robust body usually possesses a robust immune system. In our little office in Room 302, the two teachers who practice martial arts are already getting over their own coughing fits.

More on this later. Or not. Rattle prattle is likely to bore some of you.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

velvet fisting

Bazaar in 14 Days!

Via Drudge, we learn that France has declared that a nuclear response to terrorist attacks on French soil is not out of the question. "Bravo!" I say. Though I'm not eager for a nuke to go off anywhere, I'm happy to know the French retain enough vigor to make such a statement.

A lot of Americans think the French take their individualisme and valorization of la différence to an absurd degree. These Americans might think that France-- the culturally Western part of it, anyway-- is therefore extremely open, tolerant, and pluralistic.

Fact is, the French like Arab jokes. Here's an old one:

A guy grabs his rifle, drives down to Marseille, gets out of his car, then starts looking around for Arabs. He finds some, and he shoots them down. He finds more in another part of the city; fries them, too.

Pretty soon the police, following the trail of Arab bodies, catch up to him and arrest him.

As he's being pushed into the squad car, he protests. "What the fuck was I doing wrong?"

One of the policemen turns to him and says, "You've got no hunting license, wiseass."

Jokes like that are pretty common in France (and admit it: unless you're Arab, you thought it was funny). They're a decent reflection of what many non-Arab Frenchmen think of the population in their midst. Makes me wonder whether the French declaration was directed just as much inward to domestic elements as outward to foreign-based terrorists and their sponsors.



Bazaar in 14 Days!

Our Intensive English classes will once again be hosting a bazaar. This time, it'll be from 10AM to 1PM on February 2, which Americans fondly call Groundhog Day. The location is Smoo's Social Education Building, probably on the first floor, like last time. Events will be about the same as before: people will be selling food and services and used items; my own class will be selling an easy-to-make snack called bbop-gi, which I've never tried before. I'll be doing the bad brush art again, though I won't be selling that shrimp-and-crackers thingamajig. We'll also be doing a silent auction. That ought to be interesting.

Once again, my Aussie colleague trumps everyone with his creativity. Against all odds, he's planning on hosting a "mini disco"-- essentially an itty-bitty closed-in box into which four or five people can go and dance for five-minute intervals. It'll include lights and a disco globe. I think it's a nifty idea, but I have no idea how the Koreans are going to react to it. One teacher pointed out that the mini disco will be happening at the wrong time-- 10AM-- when no one's feeling very disco-ish. "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" I say.

You are, of course, invited. I'll be the fat dude in the corner, wheezing over a piece of paper, trying to draw a horse or something. My Aussie colleague is likely to be inside the mini disco, sweatin' away. My other colleagues will be around, selling food and drinks and used items.

All my posts from here on in will feature some sort of reminder about the bazaar. Come one, come all! Just don't come on me.


kumfert fud

The Nigella-mousse you didn't eat the other day:

The fondue moitié-moitié you didn't have this afternoon and evening:

I made cheese fondue for my coworkers today. The fondue itself was a success (the photos above show what happened to the remaining cheese later in the day), but the event probably could have gone better. One teacher was absent from the proceedings; two others had a lunch engagement and therefore couldn't stay long; one was too sick to appreciate the meal properly; one turned her nose up at the fondue; only one truly enjoyed herself. Your Humble Narrator, being sick as well, could barely taste his own creation, forcing him to rely on the opinions of others regarding the fondue's merits. The ones who tried the fondue gave it a thumbs-up; even the teachers who had to hurry off to lunch engagements hung back to drag some bread through the goop. They made the polite noises of approval; one of them joked, "This is so 70s!"

Baguettes were courtesy the local Paris Baguette, a popular Korean bakery chain. The one teacher who fully enjoyed the experience also brought wine. Too bad I don't drink.

The evening batch of fondue turned out fairly well, and I could taste a bit more of it than I could earlier in the day. I still have a ton of cheese left; will probably melt it down and pour it over some pasta tomorrow or the next day.

My Intensive 2 students, aware that I was cooking for my coworkers today, expressed envy and made long feces-- uh, faces. Because of their heart-melting puppydog stares, we're going to have a "cook-in" next Thursday, similar to (but twice the size of) what I did for my students last semester. They've promised to reimburse me, at least in part, for the ingredients.

So here I sit, stomach replete, typing this post, once again skipping out on the opportunity to see "King Kong." I have a feeling that this week is the final week of its run, but if I have the chance to see it next week, I will.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

the elusive ghost of Ahn Ik-tae

I'm still trying to find that musical piece by Ahn Ik-tae (or Ahn Eaktai, or any number of other romanizations), Korea Fantasy, a.k.a. Hanguk Hwan Sang Gok in Korean. A trip today to what I thought would be the Mecca of sheet music, the Seoul Arts Center (Yaesul-ae Jeon-dang), ended in failure. It was my first-ever visit to the center, though, and I was impressed. The grounds have an enormous Opera House, a Music Hall, and other buildings devoted to fine arts-- sculpture, painting, calligraphy, brush art, etc.

My odyssey started over the weekend when I tried to visit Smoo's library to see about the music. It was closed. I went again on Tuesday. The 'brary was open, so I went up to the second-floor information desk. That desk referred me to the fourth-floor (humanities) desk. Humanities, in turn, referred me to the Smoo College of Music (where I'd suspected I was headed all along), Room 205, where they have their own library.

So I crossed our small campus and went to Eum-ak Dae-hak Gwan, 205-ho. There, I discovered that-- YES-- they had the score. Unfortunately, someone had checked it out for the semester. "Try again next semester," I was told with a regretful, customer-service smile.

Dammit. Or "Piss fuck diddle," as my Kiwi buddy John used to say.

I talked to my coworkers about how best to proceed. One coworker suggested the Yaesul-ae Jeon-dang, the Arts Center, so I trundled across town and discovered that even the mightiest beings in the music storehouse pantheon had no scraps of Ahn Ik Tae left for us desperate seekers. One info desk clerk suggested that I try a specialty music store (eum-ak jeon-mun seo-jeom), which is, I suppose, where I'll go tomorrow.

What's most frustrating about this wild goose chase is that the piece itself is pretty damn famous. The music for the Korean national anthem (Aeguk-ga, literally, "love-nation-song"; aeguk by itself means "patriotism") comes from a portion of Ahn's Korea Fantasy. You'd think this would be easy to track down. You'd be wrong.

If anyone out there has any musical connections and thinks they can produce the sheet music for Korea Fantasy, let me know.


postal scrotum: more about Steyn

Andrew R. (now in Korea!) writes:

Regarding your Steyn essay, here are some thoughts:

1) I personally agree with Steyn's larger point, although a few details are arguable. But his overall picture is pretty accurate. Sure, some of the dates for bad things to happen (you mention "2010," might be off), but not to the degree that I found it distracting. If anything, I hope his dates are all too early...

2) The West gave up reproducing because kids became too expensive. Not just in financial cost, but opportunity cost. A comfortable life can be had without having kids. And in fact, they get in the way of the comfort.

Besides (as the argument goes) it's not like urban folks need someone to manage the farm. So urban folks today have a pressing argument to *not* have kids. I'm not saying it's valid or not, but that's part of the argument.

3) Birth-control. Like it or not, the year 2006 has the West with a lot of promiscuous people. And a guy no longer needs to give a girl a ring to get some action. With the male animal slightly un-tamed sexually, there's little reason for society's higher civilities to come into play. If a man is only about getting a high tail-count, there is no pride to be had in raising worthwhile children.

In fact, the girls run counter to their own best interests by giving it away. For example, if the girl you wanna bang on the 3rd (or 2nd, or 1st) date won't give it up - move on. And most guys are just after new tail anyway. For most men, the domestic lifestyle has to be slowly learned.

4) "Socialism is inevitable." While not a good thing, it is a true thing. The US is moving towards its version of nanny-government ever faster. And if the gov't will take care of you (as the gov't says) kids really are optional. I mean, Social Security will provide for citizens in their old age (or so the gov't says).

The culture of Socialism has overtaken a large amount popular American Government - and due to enough time, American Culture itself. Boston, Mass., home of the American Revolution, has some pretty disturbing nanny-laws in its own right. Details aside, the Founding Fathers would be spinning in their graves.

5) If I haven't done this already, I suggest owning The 4th Turning by Strauss and Howe. My copy is on loan in the states, otherwise I'd send it your way. It outlines rather well (with great research) Western History and why each 4th Generation was inclined to commit/suffer-through acts of social upheaval.

On a side note, the book is an excellent example of a well-researched non-fiction book that is very interesting. The topic is a bit dry, but someone with any bent towards watching the History Channel will really get into it. And it's a surprisingly fast read. (ISBN 0767900464)


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Happy Birthday, Dad!

It's that time of year again!

On January 17, 1942, a disturbance rippled through the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror: A dad was born.

And then he met a Korean lady, and not long after, through a process that looked something like this...

...life happened in 1969:

Childhood was no picnic. Dad trained me hard in the ways of the dark side...

Soon, I was able to fight the best of the best:

And then Dad decided to have himself another little Vader in 1976:

...which gave the cat much joy...

...and also impressed the dog:

Dad had himself yet another little Vader in 1979...

And I suppose he decided that that was enough for one lifetime.

Dad's been retired since last June, but he's currently going through a refresher round of paramedic training. Must be that crazy "gotta help people" urge he has.

For having produced such twisted offspring, you'd never guess my father was a great man, but a great man he is.


what possessed me?

I work with two (UPDATE: make that three) very cute coworkers, but ever since last year's crotchocentric meltdown, I've been cautious about the whole Coworker Thing. On some level I must've realized that there's better grazing elsewhere.

Today... I'm still trying to figure it out... I walked away from a conversation with the very nice teller at my local bank-- a lady I see about twice a month-- with the dawning realization that I'd spent the last five minutes of our conversation (mostly in Korean) flirting with her.

That's a new one on me. My last few relationships (or non-relationships, in some cases) have all been with ladies with whom I'm in close contact, i.e., classmates and coworkers.

Definitely a new one on me.

Shit, I better check if she's married.


of note

Commenter "Jung" has some interesting remarks about Steyn, orientational pluralism, and my take on Steyn's essay. Check it out in the comments following my post.

Jelly of I Got 2 Shoes has written a fantastic post about religion and religious attitudes. Worth reading twice. Or three times. Float on over and read, you magnificent bastard, READ!


Monday, January 16, 2006

Bell Curve redux?

Can anyone tell me whether this is for real?

It's relevant to that previous post. You know-- the one you gave up reading.

UPDATE: A friend of mine who actually understands the math had this to say:

The first law seems arbitrary and prejudicial in its nature. It models an "observation" that is questionable at best. The rest seems to flow from that. Personally, I think it's crap. The formulas the guy throws in make some sense in context if you accept his givens. But you decide for yourself if you think the context is proper.

My overall impression is that this is pure crap. But that's just my take.

I think it's bogus math that sounds legit arguing for an agenda.


das Sein immer "Dasein" ist!!

Like my faux Heidegger?

I'm about to go see "King Kong" this evening, but before I waddle off, I thought my readers would be pleased to know that, after thirty-six years of hard training, my asshole is starting to form words... or at least wordoids.

It's getting better with the articulation and enunciation. Volume was never a problem; my ass is a born shouter. Some of the stuff I've heard my ass say recently:

1. Something along the lines of, "Mmmmbooooooom!" Very jazzy/bluesy.

2. Once it distinctly said, "Herrrrrrrrrrrrr." Yes... she's always in my thoughts, too.

3. Another time, I'm sure I heard, "Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee." An expression of solidarity? Or a French "yes"? Then again, that might have been "Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeat," which is... altogether different.

4. It took a bit of effort on my part to make this out, but I'm sure my ass once said, "Bar." With something of a rising, questioning intonation. Almost British.

5. A growled "Pert." My ass often rates women. One time it saw a cold bitch and said, "Brrrrrrrrrrr."

6. Definitely a "Yesssssssssss" right before a huge log shot out.

7. Countless numbers of times, some form of the verb "put."

8. I once heard a syllable reminiscent of "Wow." A close cousin of that utterance reminded me of "Far." We might have been staring at distant mountains.

9. My ass said "burp" once.

10. I was confused the day it said "Saw." Was it the participle or the noun?

OK... off to a movie about primates bumpin' uglies. You just know that, somewhere in a New Zealand hideaway, Peter Jackson is wackin' off like a caged spider monkey as the cash rolls in.

UPDATE (2 minutes later): Shit. After weighing the pros and cons, I've decided to stay home. I've got a nasty cough and a headache. My internet service, which was fritzing all weekend, is chugging away again, so perhaps I'll write an entry pondering the lack of comments on my huge essay, below.


Back to normal

Normal being a relative term where this weblog is concerned. As requested I have restored the old template. Should you have any ideas for NEW templates, please email me at hammergod@hammergod.be. This email address will be good for about 6 months.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Breed, damn you! Breed!
a look at Mark Steyn's essay
on the fall of the West

[NB: Mark Steyn's bio can be found here.]

Mark Steyn, columnist extraordinaire, recently wrote a long essay on the decline and fall of Western civilization titled "It's the Demography, Stupid." The essay was very interesting; some paragraphs elicited immediate agreement, while others of Steyn's claims struck me as, to put it mildly, in need of further support. Then there's the matter of Steyn's basic thesis, which, if I'm reading him right, is that Western culture currently lacks robustness in two crucial areas: (1) self-confidence and (2) the will to breed. While the thesis itself may have merit, Steyn seems to imply that the answer to the West's problems lies in making more Western babies. Imply is the operative word here: Steyn makes clear from the first paragraph that he feels Western civilization is already on the way out. This puts his essay in the paradoxical position of being, simultaneously, an alarmist tract and a eulogy.

I'd like to divide my ruminations into four parts. First, I want to summarize Steyn's argument (comments are always welcome; I'm open to the idea that I may have missed his point). Second, I want to cover the important areas where Steyn and I agree. Third, I want to review my disagreements with Steyn, which include a fundamental disagreement with Steyn's implied solution to the West's problem. Finally, I will append my own concluding remarks.


Steyn's essay begins this way:

Much of what we loosely call the Western world will not survive this century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most Western European countries.

He sees no hope that we will be able to rescue all of the West, either:

The challenge for those who reckon Western civilization is on balance better than the alternatives is to figure out a way to save at least some parts of the West.

So Steyn claims that some of the West may be salvageable. Which parts? As the essay continues, it becomes clear that Steyn sees America as the final repository of Western culture, with Europe having transformed into Eurabia within two or three generations.

Steyn claims that much of the West is worried about the wrong things-- problems he labels "secondary impulses" of society, such as government health care, government day care, and government paternity leave. These impulses, essentially fruits of the Nanny State, are in contrast to the "primary impulses," where attention should, by all rights, be focused: national defense, family, faith, "and, most of all, reproductive activity-- 'Go forth and multiply.'"

Steyn makes an interesting assertion: "The design flaw of the secular-democratic state is that it requires a religious-society birthrate to sustain it." Failing this, manpower needs to be imported:

Indeed, in its reliance on immigration to ensure its future, the European Union has adopted a 21st-century variation on the strategy of the Shakers, who were forbidden from reproducing and thus could increase their numbers only by conversion. The problem is that secondary-impulse societies mistake their weaknesses for strengths-- or, at any rate, virtues-- and that's why they're proving so feeble at dealing with a primal force like Islam.

Steyn argues that Islamism has figured out what terrorists like the IRA and ETA know: the enemy is vastly superior, but lacks the will to carry on the fight. Steyn also invokes the "Islam's bloody borders" argument, and notes that it is "our lack of civilizational confidence" that will doom us in the end as we succumb to modern temptations of the "progressive agenda," such as "lavish social welfare, abortion, secularism, multiculturalism." Steyn takes time to focus on the inherent fallacy of multiculturalism: the tolerant, relativistic acceptance of intolerant absolutism in our midst.

Steyn returns to the theme that the West is worried about the wrong things. He cites Jared Diamond's book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, as a major example of our current self-delusion. In the book, says Steyn, Diamond claims that a society collapses because "it chops down its trees." But dire predictions about the environment and the exhausting of our natural resources simply have not come true, despite years of constant doomsaying.

In the meantime, no one wants to focus on problems like governmental largesse:

The annexation by government of most of the key responsibilities of life-- child-raising, taking care of your elderly parents-- has profoundly changed the relationship between the citizen and the state. At some point-- I would say socialized health care is a good marker-- you cross a line, and it's very hard then to persuade a citizenry enjoying that much government largesse to cross back. In National Review recently, I took issue with that line Gerald Ford always uses to ingratiate himself with conservative audiences: "A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have." Actually, you run into trouble long before that point: A government big enough to give you everything you want still isn't big enough to get you to give anything back. That's what the French and German political classes are discovering.

It's not natural resources, then, that are the problem. Steyn sees people as "the one truly indispensable resource, without which none of the others matter." For Steyn, civilizational guilt has got to go.

The default mode of our elites is that anything that happens-- from terrorism to tsunamis-- can be understood only as deriving from the perniciousness of Western civilization. As Jean-Francois Revel wrote, "Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself."

Steyn sums up this section of his essay thus:

Well, here's my prediction for 2032: unless we change our ways the world faces a future... where the environment will look pretty darn good. If you're a tree or a rock, you'll be living in clover. It's the Italians and the Swedes who'll be facing extinction and the loss of their natural habitat.


That's the way to look at Islamism: We fret about McDonald's and Disney, but the big globalization success story is the way the Saudis have taken what was 80 years ago a severe but obscure and unimportant strain of Islam practiced by Bedouins of no fixed abode and successfully exported it to the heart of Copenhagen, Rotterdam, Manchester, Buffalo . . .

The next section of Steyn's essay focuses on the consequences of falling fertility rates. He notes that it's the primarily Muslim countries that are showing the most robust birthrates, while the Western countries vary from barely maintaining current population levels to what Steyn calls a "death spiral." One result of this is that these societies will be getting older, but will not be taken care of by the next generation, because the next generation won't be there. This brings Steyn back to the contention he made earlier in his essay, that many Western countries are therefore relying on immigration to solve the worker shortage problem.

Steyn accuses the Europeans in particular of being essentially lazy, spoiled, and dependent on a history of American generosity, a stance with disastrous consequences for Europe:

If you look at European election results-- most recently in Germany-- it's hard not to conclude that, while voters are unhappy with their political establishments, they're unhappy mainly because they resent being asked to reconsider their government benefits and, no matter how unaffordable they may be a generation down the road, they have no intention of seriously reconsidering them.


This isn't a deep-rooted cultural difference between the Old World and the New. It dates back all the way to, oh, the 1970s. If one wanted to allocate blame, one could argue that it's a product of the U.S. military presence, the American security guarantee that liberated European budgets: instead of having to spend money on guns, they could concentrate on butter, and buttering up the voters.... The "free world," as the Americans called it, was a free ride for everyone else. And having been absolved from the primal responsibilities of nationhood, it's hardly surprising that European nations have little wish to reshoulder them. In essence, the lavish levels of public health care on the Continent are subsidized by the American taxpayer. And this long-term softening of large sections of the West makes them ill-suited to resisting a primal force like Islam.

In the meantime, Western birthrates are declining while birthrates in other countries, including and especially in the Muslim world, are very much on the rise. With an increasing number of Muslims immigrating to Western countries, where they often do not assimilate but instead prefer to live under Shari'a (Muslim jurisprudence), this will mean the Islamification of much of the West. Steyn has connected several separate trends and found that they all point to this conclusion.

We are lulled by a sense of "permanence," as Steyn puts it: "Permanence is the illusion of every age," but it is religious cultures that tend to think long-term whereas secular materialist culture, which sees the now as "all there is," is prone to be less focused on the major trends and its own future.

Steyn makes a dire prediction for Europe:

It seems more likely that within the next couple of European election cycles, the internal contradictions of the EU will manifest themselves in the usual way, and that by 2010 we'll be watching burning buildings, street riots and assassinations on American network news every night. Even if they avoid that, the idea of a childless Europe ever rivaling America militarily or economically is laughable. Sometime this century there will be 500 million Americans, and what's left in Europe will either be very old or very Muslim. Japan faces the same problem: Its population is already in absolute decline, the first gentle slope of a death spiral it will be unlikely ever to climb out of. Will Japan be an economic powerhouse if it's populated by Koreans and Filipinos? Very possibly. Will Germany if it's populated by Algerians? That's a trickier proposition.

Best-case scenario? The Continent winds up as Vienna with Swedish tax rates.

Worst-case scenario: Sharia, circa 2040; semi-Sharia, a lot sooner-- and we're already seeing a drift in that direction.

Toward the end of his essay, Steyn focuses on political ideology, and wonders why the Left isn't more concerned about current trends:

Why then, if your big thing is feminism or abortion or gay marriage, are you so certain that the cult of tolerance will prevail once the biggest demographic in your society is cheerfully intolerant? Who, after all, are going to be the first victims of the West's collapsed birthrates?

Steyn does not see the liberal move toward greater reproductive rights for women as positive:

By prioritizing a "woman's right to choose," Western women are delivering their societies into the hands of fellows far more patriarchal than a 1950s sitcom dad. If any of those women marching for their "reproductive rights" still have babies, they might like to ponder demographic realities: A little girl born today will be unlikely, at the age of 40, to be free to prance around demonstrations in Eurabian Paris or Amsterdam chanting "Hands off my bush!"

Steyn also notes that one reason why the Left seems unable to discuss this subject is its political correctness:

The refined antennae of Western liberals mean that whenever one raises the question of whether there will be any Italians living in the geographical zone marked as Italy a generation or three hence, they cry, "Racism!" To fret about what proportion of the population is "white" is grotesque and inappropriate.

Steyn responds to this:

But it's not about race, it's about culture. If 100% of your population believes in liberal pluralist democracy, it doesn't matter whether 70% of them are "white" or only 5% are. But if one part of your population believes in liberal pluralist democracy and the other doesn't, then it becomes a matter of great importance whether the part that does is 90% of the population or only 60%, 50%, 45%.

...[I]nnumerable "progressives" have routinely asserted that there's no evidence Muslims want liberty and, indeed, that Islam is incompatible with democracy. If that's true, it's a problem not for the Middle East today but for Europe the day after tomorrow. According to a poll taken in 2004, over 60% of British Muslims want to live under Shariah--in the United Kingdom. If a population "at odds with the modern world" is the fastest-breeding group on the planet-- if there are more Muslim nations, more fundamentalist Muslims within those nations, more and more Muslims within non-Muslim nations, and more and more Muslims represented in more and more transnational institutions-- how safe a bet is the survival of the "modern world"?

Steyn concludes his essay:

"What do you leave behind?" asked Tony Blair. There will only be very few and very old ethnic Germans and French and Italians by the midpoint of this century. What will they leave behind? Territories that happen to bear their names and keep up some of the old buildings? Or will the dying European races understand that the only legacy that matters is whether the peoples who will live in those lands after them are reconciled to pluralist, liberal democracy? It's the demography, stupid. And, if they can't muster the will to change course, then "What do you leave behind?" is the only question that matters.


In an essay resplendent with eros and thanatos imagery (note the repeated use of expressions like "primal force" and "death spiral"), Mark Steyn paints a bleak picture of the near future, and suggests that many of us will actually live to see it-- to witness its awful birthpangs on our TVs and cell phone screens, if you will. In making such a prediction, Steyn is putting his money on the table. He even provides a year-- 2010-- in which we should be vigilant and start watching the news for images of those coming assassinations and riots.

I agree with the urgent tone of Steyn's piece, as well as with his Toynbeenian contention that civilizational collapse tends to start from within. I think that Steyn's observations about birthrates in the West and in the Muslim world are largely factual (though he should have provided sources for some of his stats); people from different parts of the political spectrum have come to roughly the same conclusion.

That the Muslim demographic is an ever-enlarging slice of the pie graph in Western countries is impossible to dispute: people know we have it good in the West, but they tend to want the freedom without the attendant cultural responsibility. A signal example of that is the desire of many Muslims to live under Shari'a law while in the West. This is, from the Muslim point of view, something of an inversion of how Christian dhimmi used to live in Muslim countries: Christians in those countries were free (to some extent) to practice their religion and live according to their own laws, but there was never any doubt that their existence was dependent on their adherence to the greater Muslim law.

Steyn's frustration over European indolence is a frustration I share, though my own focus is more on Continental Europe than on the UK (Steyn makes an example of the UK at several points in his piece). France is, to my mind, the great bellwether in all this. With a Muslim population currently at about 10% of the total population, and with non-Muslim birthrates in shallow decline, France is facing the demographic issue up close and personally. France also has a decades-long tradition of secularism, which is bringing it into conflict with the Muslims in its midst. Along with this is the perennial Jewish question: antisemitic violence, usually perpetrated by Muslims, occurs fairly routinely in France, with some French Jews opting to leave the country when the situation has become intolerable for them. This antisemitism, arguably imported from North Africa, nevertheless dovetails insidiously with Western Europe's own long history of antsemitic persecution.

Steyn's connection of Europe's aging population with the question of governmental largesse and immigration is intriguing to me. It makes sense, though I can't say I've researched the question. I also think Steyn is right to point out to liberal feminists that Western patriarchalism doesn't hold a candle to Muslim patriarchalism, though in my own mind I tease out the implications of this fact differently from Steyn, and will discuss this below.

Steyn implies that the West is at war, and I too take this as an article of faith. It was one of the things that turned me off about John Kerry and his ilk: the inability to move from a "police action" mode of thinking to a "wartime" mode. While there are undoubtedly police-like tasks (arrests, investigations) to be performed in this conflict, it should be obvious to all concerned that what happened on September 11, 2001 was not the equivalent of a carbombing in Northern Ireland or a bus bombing in Jerusalem: the years of preparation and the ideology that drove those people (none of whom was poor) to kill almost 3000 Americans all add up to war.

At the same time, as someone who was against the Iraq war, I cannot say that I agree this is primarily a military conflict. It's a war, to be sure, but ultimately it's a war of the mind-- something I've contended on this blog for a long time. In the end, we cannot be pacifistic, but we also cannot realistically expect to kill our way to victory. In the meantime, Steyn is right to think this is a war in the conventional sense of the term, to the extent that certain elements on the Muslim side-- i.e., the ones who routinely make the news-- see it that way. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: Islam versus the West. I agree that those elements want us dead, and they must be fought.

Steyn's focus, however, is less on Islamic terror and more on the West's "lack of civilizational confidence." I agree here as well: we've sunk into a morass of guilt that cripples our ability to be critical. Contrary to Jesus' contention that only the sinless should be permitted to cast stones, I believe we all have the right to our own views. Sinful though the West might be-- and it has much to answer for-- it nevertheless has the right to judge other cultures, to praise them for certain aspects, and to find them wanting in others.

And we don't have to look far for moral high ground. The West has a long history; there is much to be proud of, to remember and preserve for posterity. For these and other reasons, the West should hold its head high. Not arrogantly, mind you, but with the pride that comes of long experience and hard-earned wisdom. Of course the West is still learning from its mistakes: how can it not? But we have done a better job than many other civilizations at both preserving those mistakes in history books and museums-- for the purpose of examination, not repetition-- and moving beyond those mistakes to something better. What some Western postmodern intellectuals have derided as "the myth of progress" is one of the West's most cherished virtues.

Steyn is also right to focus on unjustifiable Muslim sensitivity. Playing the victim card is laughable, especially when the more violent elements in the Muslim world are not poor, not oppressed, and not stupid. While we in the West are right when we worry about the return of McCarthyism, or the return of Japanese internment camps, or the rise of a new kind of racism or ethnic conflict, it is incumbent on the Muslim community to realize that, as long as their more moderate elements ("moderate" in the modern Western sense, not the current Muslim sense) do nothing to quell the violent impulses of their religion's "fringe," there is little reason for non-Muslims to feel much sympathy for Islam in general.

Steyn's take on multiculturalism is also right on the money. The vapid delusion that all cultures are somehow equal is just as much folly as the attempt at saying one's own culture is objectively better than all others. The actual situation is more in line with Nicholas Rescher's and S. Mark Heim's orientational pluralism, I think: we each judge right and wrong through the filter of our own personal and collective perspective.

There is no shame in doing this: having a perspective is ontologically inevitable. Orientational pluralism doesn't support the idea that any one culture is objectively better or worse than any other, but unlike multiculturalism (which is essentially cultural relativism), it is not prescriptive: an orientational pluralist is free to proclaim the primacy of his own culture in the knowledge that others will do the same. On the practical level, this means that I, as an American, am free to make judgements about what I consider to be backward or unethical or otherwise unsatisfactory-- in other cultures or even my own culture. An Arab Muslim is free to do the same, not because it is somehow his right, but because this is how things are. This is better than cultural relativism because it assigns no shame to the act of judgement.

In all, I think Steyn makes many good points. The situation is indeed urgent, and demography is something the West needs to focus on. Europe in particular will need to take care, because it stands at the foot of a Muslim tidal wave.

But while Steyn and I are on the same page about some matters, we are wildly divergent on others.


Steyn strikes me as far too dismissive about environmental issues. While it's one thing to say that the doomsayers have been wrong before, it's another thing to say, as Steyn does, that the environment is going to be just dandy years from now. Does he have research to back this up? I'm not a doomsayer myself, but I am a bit worried that Steyn is being glib.

Closely linked to the environmental issue is the question of fossil fuels and our dependence on them. It's not merely the West, of course: Asia is enormously dependent on oil, and so are other continents. I've read plenty of conservative sites that claim we are nowhere near finding viable alternatives to fossil fuels. I respect those arguments, which are often very pragmatic in nature. But I also think that people have long proved themselves to be limitlessly creative, and the finding or making of viable fuel alternatives is more a matter of will than anything else.

Conservatives point out that rich Muslim nations are rich no thanks to their own sociocultural merits, but thanks to the oil reserves they happen to live on-- reserves they knew nothing about originally. Granted. But resentment over who sits on the oil will not provide an answer to the alternative fuel question, and I think it's urgent that we apply our vast scientific and intellectual resources-- very much a product of our culture-- to figuring out how not to be beholden to the oil sheiks.

I also think Steyn's prediction for 2010 is far too alarmist. While I can't rule such a scenario out-- especially after the recent violence in France-- I don't see Europe collapsing so quickly. Europeans have come out of a long, bloody history, but Europe is also the source of the values we in North America hold dear. Though it may not seem obvious to North American conservatives who never travel, those values do live on in Europe. I trust that Europeans will wake up to the difficulties they face. They're tough and smart. Steyn is right to see warning signs in Europe; he's right to be alarmed; however, I disagree that the situation is as hopeless as he makes it out to be.

Then there's the question of feminism and patriarchy. Steyn might have been right to caution feminists about the severity of Muslim patriarchy, which feminists' blind pluralism might inadvertently allow into their midst, but Steyn's claim that the fight for reproductive rights is a tool for eventual Muslim victory strikes me as simply ridiculous. No: what will seal our fate will be our inability to inject first- and second-generation Muslim immigrants with some version of good old arrogant American assimilationism. Assimilationism is key: in America, like it or not, we feel that, if you've become an American citizen, then you're an American first and you'd better act like one. Your citizenship trumps your ethnicity. It will be argued that this isn't true pluralism. I argue that it is simply the social version of John Hick's brand of "convergent pluralism": we are all different, and we celebrate those differences, but we share the same basic common ground.

American assimilationism includes a great deal of secularism, something Islam desperately needs, but which it won't acquire without gentle forcefeeding. Christianity and other major world religions exist in America in an environment of assumed pluralism. As my former professor, Dr. Charles Jones of CUA, wrote:

...the [US] government largely leaves religious groups to their own devices and... no religion has sufficient power or authority to exercise coercion over any other. Religions can get together and dialogue because of specific social and historical conditions that make dialogue possible. Such conditions are present in contemporary U.S. society, but this is a recent and hard-won development.

Western society needs to rediscover its intolerance of intolerance: Steyn is right about that. But Islam is a meme, and memes reside in the mind. I don't advocate the destruction of Islam, but I do advocate gelding it. This can't be done by the sword: people tried that with Christianity, and what began as an ancient pile of martyrs' bones became an edifice of over two billion living Christian hearts. Contending with Islam will mean not merely formal dialogue, but also an injection of secularism, among other things. Islam needs to be helped into the modern age, and engaged at the level of the mind and heart.

Steyn's conservative hatred of the social aspects of the progressive agenda clouds his view of the Muslim threat to Western culture. While I agree with Steyn that overemphasis on governmental benefits is a huge problem in the West (I agree with classical conservatives that minimal government is better), Steyn's oppugning of gay rights and women's reproductive rights strikes me as irrelevant to the issue at hand. It does not logically follow that a woman who has the right to abort will always do so. I also have no clue why Steyn mentions gays at all in his essay. Perhaps he meant to tie gay marriage into the greater theme of societal collapse through nonreproductive pairings.

And therein lies my biggest disagreement with Steyn's piece. Steyn thinks the West will collapse because it's no longer producing enough babies. The implication seems to be that Westerners need to stop whining about abortion and just start popping out kids. This implies that Western kids have something inherently Western about them-- a claim Steyn is at pains to deny when he addresses critics who think he is being racist.

If, as Steyn insists, "the West" is essentially a culture, and not a race, then we once again return to the memetic battlefield. As Muslims wash onto Western shores, what memetic artillery (or, if you prefer less violent imagery, purification procedures) will we have in place to instill, as early as possible, the values we cherish? It's not a matter of pumping out babies. As Steyn implies elsewhere (and I wish he'd emphasized it more), it's about regaining confidence in the ideas that make us who we are-- regaining confidence in our culture, and then selling that culture, hard, to our adopted sons and daughters. By leaning on the baby production issue, Steyn loses focus on the essentials and does indeed risk charges of racism. We are, as I said, engaged in a war of ideas.


As a student of religion, I'm inclined to view the Muslim question as primarily religious. While few people I know in religious studies agree with me on this, one thing I'd love to see happen in all organized religions is a massive unplugging of the urge to missionize. Christianity is a missionary religion, as is Islam. Both, being so huge, find themselves competing for the faithful in essentially the same market. Buddhism, to a much lesser extent, is also a missionary religion, but the nature of Buddhism is, at least in modern times, such that its missionary approach is more of a "come and try" style than a "convert or die" stance.

Once a religious tradition becomes an institution, it is a living organism; all systematic, collective human endeavors show this trait. Like individual organisms, this corporate being has, as its primary goal, survival and reproduction. While this trait is neither good nor bad, it is usually ironic: this goal, survival and reproduction, often runs counter to the core values and concepts of the religion in its original state: values like self-sacrifice and humility; concepts like impermanence and the role of death in the making of new life.

One reason to be wary of institutional religion is that this aggregate creature often betrays no evidence that its original individual virtues have somehow become corporate ones. No religious institution I know of is actively planning its own demise. None acts selflessly-- or even particularly charitably, on the macro scale. They all follow their natural impulses to eat, mate, and kill, whether on the memetic level or on the physical one. A great service religion can perform for the world is to stop acting like immortal cancer cells and to regain a collective sense of mortality.*

Facing this paradox mindfully should be the task of the people of this millennium. It's a task far larger than the mere question of Islam's dominance or the West's decline; it's a task of a much greater scope than the mere question of religion. But we at the beginning of the 21st century have the opportunity to begin the task now, to move ourselves away from absolutist stances and seek paths of moderation. While I don't see humanity as ever arriving at something like Teilhard de Chardin's "omega point" (like Jean-François Revel, I'm no utopianist), there is no reason not to establish peaceful ideals and make the effort to move toward them. Mark Steyn seems to think that more Western babies are the answer. But if "the West" is fundamentally a state of mind, then there are already plenty of babies out there that have the potential to become Western. Marshalling a defense shouldn't involve rolling back the clock on women's and gay rights. One of the very values we're trying to defend is progress.

*I'm not arguing that all religions should disappear, or that the very idea of religion should be done away with or abandoned. For more on that discussion, see this post and the ensuing comments.


Saturday, January 14, 2006

three things

First: A lot of people are talking about Canadian Mark Steyn's essay "It's the Demography, Stupid," which laments the decline of Western civilization. It's worth commenting on, and I hope to do so at length tomorrow. No time today.

Second: If there's anyone out there who knows where I might find the sheet music for Ahn Ik Tae's Korea(n) Fantasy, please email me. My father is looking for this on behalf of a northern Virginia orchestra; he sent the request to me. I wanted to hit Smoo College of Music yesterday, but didn't have the time. Today, the College is closed, and unfortunately, so is our campus library, which rarely seems to be open when I need something from it.

Third: All praise to ME!! Today marks the first time I've ordered pizza from the office (yes, I'm at the office). The Korean pizzeria called Mister Pizza has a central dispatcher number, just like pizza joints in the States. They relay your order to the local branch. What made today's order a bit complicated was that, when I gave them my phone number, they read my address info back to me... and it was my dorm. But I was at the office, not my dorm, so I had to correct their info, just for today. Proud to say that I did so with a minimum of fuss. The lady on the other end was forgiving of my many mistakes and moments of hesitation. It's one thing to develop a routine for ordering food from the local Korean and Chinese joints; quite another for a creature of habit like me to order in a completely new fashion. There's hope for this geezer yet. Those of you who speak Korean fluently might not think this is a big deal, but it's something of a red-letter day for me.