Friday, June 30, 2006

the cool and the uncool

The cool:

1. Over at Wandering to Tamshui: absolutely kick-ass video footage of an anglophone motorcyclist's ride through Chung-li, on the north edge of Taiwan, less than 20 miles from Taipei. Exhilarating. But not enough to convince me to get on a motorcycle.

2. An interview with Buddhist Joseph Goldstein, author of One Dharma. Warning: this video is over an hour long, so don't click the link unless you're really interested. I found the interview fascinating, but the interviewer, Robert Wright, was often unintentionally funny. Along with displaying a comically sleepy demeanor, Wright would frequently say something like, "That's fascinating! Um..." and then look away distractedly, as if he were anything but fascinated. I had a good chuckle at that, but in all seriousness, the guy should brush up on his interviewing skills. His questions for Goldstein were decent (if, at times, a bit too insistent on the theistic angle), and Goldstein himself is an impressively quiet presence-- an interesting contrast with the excitable and animated Paul Muenzen, a.k.a. Hyon-gak sunim, here in Seoul.

Sperwer provided the link, and also referred me to the website that has links to many more interviews with intellectual bigwigs. I'm going to watch the interview with Daniel Dennett.

[UPDATE: The Dennett interview is more like a fight between Wright and Dennett. It's Jerry Springer for intellectuals.]

And-- holy crap-- they've got an interview with one of my old profs from Georgetown-- Dr. John Haught! Haught leans toward process theology in his own writing (cf. The Cosmic Adventure), but he's also done yeoman's work on the question of conflict and harmony between science and religion. I have Haught's Science and Religion (warning: there are many books sporting that title!), which is an undergrad-level text that clearly lays out the salient issues in the overall science/religion debate. I also have his short monograph, What is God? Haught gets points for being a clear writer, though to be honest, he could've been a better lecturer. Maybe he's better with grad students; a lot of profs are. I took his Science, Myth and Religion course as an undergrad.

A feminist might look at the list of interviewees and notice right away that they're man-heavy. I'd agree that this is a problem, especially if you're looking for female scholars of religion, of whom there is no shortage. Among the people whom I'd like to see interviewed, right off the top of my head:

a. Dr. Elaine Pagels, author of the classic The Gnostic Gospels and The Origin of Satan. I could listen to her for hours.

b. Dr. Diana Eck, Hinduism scholar and author of numerous books on both Hinduism and religious diversity (I have her book on mantra darsan and one of her recent tomes on pluralism, A New Religious America; check out the Pluralism Project, which she runs).

c. Dr. Camille Paglia, my favorite feminist and the only one I actually trust.

d. Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, Catholic feminist scholar who wrote the classic She Who Is.

e. Dr. Rosemary Radford Ruether, prominent Christian feminist theologian. Dense writer, but brimming with ideas, even if I don't agree with them all.

f. Tenzin Palmo, a Western nun in a Tibetan Buddhist tradition who spent nineteen years in a freakin' cave-- read about her here; her official site is here.

And now-- the very uncool:

1. In the land of the Kiwis: ovarian cyst misdiagnosed as overweight.

2. More flooding of the US east coast.

3. Gaza Strip crisis deepens. However, I doubt the fevered speculation that this is going to escalate into a Middle East-wide war.

blogospheric eulogies for Acidman

I never really read Acidman (a.k.a. Rob Smith, the writer of Gut Rumbles), but he seems to have moved a lot of people with his life and, recently, his sudden death at age 54.

Rob's family has invited far-flung bloggers to participate in Rob's memorial service by writing thoughts about him online. My buddy Mike offers his thoughts here; Skippy of Enjoy Every Sandwich does so here.

I didn't take my first good look at Gut Rumbles until I saw news of Mr. Smith's death a couple days ago via Naked Villainy, at which point I took the time to read some of his most recent blog entries and a bit of his older material. Funny, acerbic writer. I can see why people are gonna miss him. His tribute to women's nipples (which I'd link to if I could find it, but the blog's search window has been removed) is good for a knowing laugh, even as he makes fun of his ex-wives.

RIP, dude.

UPDATE: Justin emails:

I can't believe you weren't a regular reader of Acidman! He started a Carnival of the Crappers featuring shit-related posts right around the time we should have been doing the same thing. He also proclaimed himself the King of the Crapbloggers. When his archives go back up, I'm sure you'd enjoy a lot of his writing - some of it was touchingly honest and down to earth.


une nuit bien arrosée

The French expression in the title actually refers to drinking. The literal translation of arroser is "to water," as in "to water one's plants." But tonight, the walk up Namsan-- which took five minutes longer than usual-- was a wet one, and I was practically swimming during part of the walk downhill. Even without alcohol, this was une nuit bien arrosée.

The three-staircase routine is still kicking my ass, but I'm able to do it without stopping. Tonight, though, I did have to slow down, and it looks like I'm going to have to incorporate some major warmup and stretching into my routine if I plan to continue: my leg muscles are tighter than they should be, and I almost cramped up during this walk. On the other hand, the muscles are starting to look harder and healthier than they used to, but I noticed one bit of weirdness: my right calf is bigger than my left one. Too strange. I try not to favor either leg when I'm walking up those stairs, but I may be using the right leg more.

My hiking time shifted again: lately, I've been doing the hike from 11:30pm to 1:30am. It's great for an introvert: after I leave my immediate neighborhood and hit the foot of the mountain (it takes all of ten or fifteen minutes to do that, depending on where you reckon the mountain begins), there's almost no one out at night.

My walk takes me through my buddy Jang-woong's neighborhood, which contains a lot of structures I associate with "old Seoul," such as crammed-together stone-and-concrete houses separated by alleys barely large enough for two people to pass each other. At night, especially as I walk through those alleys on my way home, I hear domestic noises: coughing, laughter, arguing, TV, even the sounds of some kid playing Starcraft. Tonight I saw some dude stop and take a piss in one alley. Considering how close-together the houses are, I found that to be pretty damn rude. Good thing it was raining: I'd hate to be the homeowner who wakes up in the morning, opens his window, and is greeted by a ghastly nimbus of rancid urine.

Absolutely no one on the Koreanische Philosophenweg tonight. Good. The rain, which I had been hoping for, actually stopped for most of my uphill hike, making the trudge nearly unbearable. The water on the ground and the ambient temperature created a wall of humidity, and humidity is my mortal enemy. The rain started up again-- with a vengeance-- when I was about two-thirds up my final obstacle, the dreaded Library Stairs. Thank Cthlulu for the rain: I was honestly thinking of stopping and resting, which is the one thing I've told myself I must not do on these hikes. Trudging slowly is fine, but the goal is to keep moving forward, to the summit, no matter what.

I walked back down Namsan with the local sanshin, who had taken the form of tons of water. I imagined what it would be like to walk the downhill stretch with my goddaughter R and her sister E; I suspect my goddaughter wouldn't have liked it very much while her sister, by contrast, would have been thrilled. What precious kids. I talked out loud to an imaginary R & E as I walked. Good thing no one was about; they'd have thought I was nuts.

Got home, stripped off the wet and nasty clothing, took a hot-then-cold shower, and just... rested. I'm hoping all this pays off in the coming months.

The over-tight muscles worry me a bit because I'm afraid of charlie horses. Having had only one charlie horse in my life (in the worst place imaginable: the biceps femoris, the huge muscle group at the back of the thigh), I can say with assurance that it's not something I'd ever want again. So: more stretching for ol' Kev.

And now-- sleeeeeep.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

the ugly growth

You may have noticed a new growth on my blog's banner: a link to the FAQ blog. It's pushing the banner off to the right in an effort to get your attention, but it'll be replaced by something less obnoxious soon.


Ave, Sperwer!

Read his "Abs at 55" report here.


the FAQ blog is born

God help me, I started another blog.

But this is the blog I talked about before: the Water from a Skull FAQ blog. It has only one purpose: to market the book. I hope you'll visit it periodically as more information gets added. Right now, there isn't much, but there'll be more content in the coming days and weeks.



Wednesday, June 28, 2006

sleep habits restored to normalcy

Amazing. I'm back to a normal sleep schedule, and I don't quite know how it happened. Just... found myself awake at 7:30 this morning, which is perfect: starting Monday, we're back to the grind at Smoo, and my first class is at 9:30am.

Off to work on more lesson planning and syllabi. Then back to the grind at home with more Water from a Skull. Then off to Namsan for my two hours' penitence. It's been a quiet but interesting vacation.

Oh-- if you didn't know it already, my hometown is being attacked by God. The parents are vacationing in Hawaii (Dad's gift to Mom after a grueling year as president of her Korean women's organization); my brother David tells me he visits their house every day* to make sure all is well-- no basement flooding. Our ancient cat is frustrated; he wants to go outside, but he'd end up soaked and miserable, so he's sequestered in the downstairs laundry room. I imagine he'll be out like a furry missile (well, a missile with no teeth or testicles) when the rain lets up.

*Note proper usage of "every day."


unfair! unfair?

I think I'm going to let Jeff and GMJ duke it out. GMJ gets points for interesting arguments in favor of the Korean side; Jeff gets points for a hilarious song.

Can't we all just get al--

Fuck off!

Full disclosure: Jeff and GMJ aren't really that much at odds, and their posts aren't directed at each other. I was simply noting the opposing viewpoints. GMJ is embarrassed by the Netizens' behavior, while Jeff, I think, is more amused by events than anything else.

Maybe I'm wrong, though. Jeff writes:

The more I read about alleged errors, conspiracies, charges of bribery, etc., something inside of me snapped and the words began to flow, and within minutes I had the [first] and [only] draft of the “Referee Blues."

Meanwhile, the French are pulling ahead. They've kicked Spain's ass and now they face Brazil. Jusqu'au bout, les Bleus!


it's coming


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

why Dr. Hwang is a smart guy

If I were discovered to be a fraud whose duplicity had dashed the hopes of hundreds or even thousands of people expecting cures for their ills, and had shamed millions more who saw me as a national hero, I'd do exactly what Dr. Hwang is doing: reassemble the old team and reopen the lab!

No, this isn't bullshit. Choice quote:

Lee Geon-haeng, Hwang's lawyer, said private contributors had provided the funds to put Hwang back into a laboratory.

"It is Dr. Hwang's belief that the only way to reclaim his honor and repay the people who have helped him, and win their forgiveness, is to produce accomplishments in research," Lee said by telephone.

Hwang will open a research facility in Seoul and employ many researchers who have worked with him before, Lee said.
(italics added)

Hey, man-- just don't get caught this time, OK?



I covered this in a language rant long ago (visit this 2004 post and scroll down a ways), but here's a reminder:

"Every day" is a phrase that functions as an adverb of frequency. The words "every" and "day" are written separately.

"Everyday," on the other hand, is an adjective meaning "normal" or "ordinary," and is written as a compound word.


1. I go to work almost every day.

2. Seeing unexploded mines is an everyday occurrence in some countries.

Thank you for your time.


Ave, Jel-- whoa.

Those of you who read Jelly's frank and hilarious blog, which regularly features Phreax of Nature like mutant toads and bloated cats, will know that Jelly recently tripped over her cat and banged up her face.

Well... true to her candid spirit, she's now got pictures of the aftermath.

Damn, girl!

After you're done pointing and laughing, how about sending her a reassuring comment or two? You know, something along the lines of, "It's OK... I had an uncle who sprouted a second forehead," or, "Dude, you look like you've been consumed by the dark side!"

On a serious note: the black eyes are usually a good sign that drainage is happening. When I was in a car accident as a kid (Mom was driving; our car got sideswiped by a speeding sports car), I banged by head pretty badly against the car door. Ended up with a huge lump on the top of my head that altered the shape of my hair. At the hospital, the nurses smiled and told me just to treat the bump delicately, and that it would eventually drain down around my eye and give me, as they put it, "a beautiful shiner." That's exactly what I got.

So the good news is: although things might look bad, they're actually getting better.

I loved Jelly's description of her gravity-assisted makeover:

I look like the love child of the three way triangle between KISS, a Klingon, and a panda.

Enjoy it while it lasts, chica! Flick your tongue a lot in class; I hear that's all the rage in EFL teaching methodology.


Monday, June 26, 2006


Been at the office for a good chunk of today. Lesson plans. The return of a semi-normal sleep schedule.

Thanks to a link found at Malcolm Pollack's website, I've been reading an essay by Jaron Lanier titled "Digital Maoism," which is about the danger of Wikipedia-style hive-mind mentalities. At one point, however, he says this about writing versus blogging:

The question of new business models for content creators on the Internet is a profound and difficult topic in itself, but it must at least be pointed out that writing professionally and well takes time and that most authors need to be paid to take that time. In this regard, blogging is not writing. For example, it's easy to be loved as a blogger. All you have to do is play to the crowd. Or you can flame the crowd to get attention. Nothing is wrong with either of those activities. What I think of as real writing, however, writing meant to last, is something else. It involves articulating a perspective that is not just reactive to yesterday's moves in a conversation.

You will doubtless have noted that I blogged the above.

I think Lanier has a point, but I disagree: many bloggers are not merely "news aggegators" in and of themselves (the so-called "link whores" of the blogosphere), but are actually engaged in articulating distinct perspectives. One of the great discoveries of the online world is just how many people have the urge to write. Of course, there's yin to go along with the yang: we, the great mass of writers, do tend to produce a lot of unreadable sludge.

Still, my point stands: blogging isn't only about slavishly following the news cycle to maintain one's numbers; it's about actually saying something. Follow a small set of decent blogs over a long period of time, and you'll come to know some different perspectives.

And now I'm off to Namsan for my grueling, two-hour, three-staircase hike. My legs really don't like this, but my inner drill sergeant, who currently speaks in my buddy Jang-woong's voice, is telling me to get the fuck off my fat ass and get out there.

Go read the rest of that essay on your own, but here's another juicy morsel from it:

What we are witnessing today is the alarming rise of the fallacy of the infallible collective. Numerous elite organizations have been swept off their feet by the idea. They are inspired by the rise of the Wikipedia, by the wealth of Google, and by the rush of entrepreneurs to be the most Meta. Government agencies, top corporate planning departments, and major universities have all gotten the bug.

As a consultant, I used to be asked to test an idea or propose a new one to solve a problem. In the last couple of years I've often been asked to work quite differently. You might find me and the other consultants filling out survey forms or tweaking edits to a collective essay. I'm saying and doing much less than I used to, even though I'm still being paid the same amount. Maybe I shouldn't complain, but the actions of big institutions do matter, and it's time to speak out against the collectivity fad that is upon us.

It's not hard to see why the fallacy of collectivism has become so popular in big organizations: If the principle is correct, then individuals should not be required to take on risks or responsibilities. We live in times of tremendous uncertainties coupled with infinite liability phobia, and we must function within institutions that are loyal to no executive, much less to any lower level member. Every individual who is afraid to say the wrong thing within his or her organization is safer when hiding behind a wiki or some other Meta aggregation ritual.

I've participated in a number of elite, well-paid wikis and Meta-surveys lately and have had a chance to observe the results. I have even been part of a wiki about wikis. What I've seen is a loss of insight and subtlety, a disregard for the nuances of considered opinions, and an increased tendency to enshrine the official or normative beliefs of an organization. Why isn't everyone screaming about the recent epidemic of inappropriate uses of the collective? It seems to me the reason is that bad old ideas look confusingly fresh when they are packaged as technology.


Ave, Annika!

Annika writes about the North Korean plan to test fire a missile here. She disagrees that we should try to shoot it down.

She also provides a cool fart link here, and a link to the hilarious Kung Fu Fuck You technique.


readjusting our aim

It's the announcement you didn't want to hear, but here it is all the same:

For the publication of Water from a Skull, I'm going to be aiming for my fallback date of July 4th, which marks this blog's third anniversary. Charles is gonna be pissed, but there's little I can do.

One setback I'm currently dealing with is PDF generation. On a Mac with the OSX operating system, you can use a simple "print to PDF" option to create PDFs, but the catch is this: I can't print in the page dimensions I need. In my case, I need to be able to print a PDF with page dimensions of 6.625" x 10.25". I can create a document on Microsoft Word that matches these page dimensions, but when this document is printed out as a PDF through the Mac-native software, the end result is a PDF that is 8.5" x 11". As I said, those dimensions are adjustable, but I'm confined to a set of pre-set page dimension options and cannot create "custom" pages. This is problematic, and I've been emailing the CafePress gurus about what I can do. One CP staffer said they might be able to accept my Word document and do the necessary formatting themselves, which is very nice of them. I'm awaiting confirmation.

Another setback is the sheer volume of editing I'm engaged in. Organizing the book into sections and chapters was nothing: I've managed to break the content down into five major divisions, all given nifty one-word titles:

Section 1: Interface
Section 2: Christianity
Section 3: Buddhism
Section 4: Mind
Section 5: Insights

Within each section are numerous chapters. As I mentioned, that's been the easy part. The hard part is my four-headed hydra:

1. Remove contractions and most slang/swear words; replace with more genteel prose.
2. Find and format all block quotes.
3. Create footnotes.
4. Rewrite sections that are too "Internetty" in tone to give them a more book-like feel.

Obstacle (3) involves some Internet research, because I don't have every single book I cite. Luckily, it's simply a matter of hitting (or the Barnes and Noble site) and looking up bibilographical information.

Obstacle (4) presents a special problem: many of my essays contain references to previous essays. Since I obviously can't include hyperlinks in a dead-tree book, I have to scramble through my manuscript to determine what chapter I need to cite instead. This has been difficult, to put it mildly.

I also have yet to write three essays that will appear in the book. They're in me noggin, but I need to get them on e-paper post haste. I present the essay titles for your amusement:

1. Can a Real Christian Say "Fuck"?
2. The Problem with NOMA
3. Conversion to a Moderate Point of View

Hard slog to the finish, and this week-- my final week of vacation-- I have to go to Smoo campus and get to lesson planning (which also means nudging myself back into a human sleep schedule). I should be able to make the July 4th deadline, but to be honest, I can't guarantee it. We're looking at nearly 400 pages' worth of work, here.

Along with all this, a strange idea popped into my head: how about offering, along with the full edition, a stripped-down version of Water from a Skull, limited primarily to the long essays? Some folks might prefer that. Anyway, it's something I'm thinking about.

So at this point, what's done is the following:

1. Front cover, back cover, and spine are done to CafePress specs and ready to go.
2. The book's "front matter" (title page, copyright page, dedication, etc.) is done.
3. The book's introductory chapter is written (it weighs in at only four pages).
4. The table of contents is almost done, but I can't fill in the specific page numbers until I've finalized editing.
5. Content has been organized according to sections.
6. Major editing has been under way for some time.

This means that the book has resolved itself almost into its final form. This week is essentially a mopping-up operation, because all the pieces, except those three essays, are now more or less in place.

I remain somewhat apprehensive about the quality of a CafePress book. I ordered a copy of a 400-page sci-fi novel from CafePress and have had shipped it to my brother David's office, where I hope he'll flip through it, toss it around, check the print quality, and let his coworkers have a chance to mangle the book, too. I've been reading online about what various customers have to say about CP's quality; one customer rather disturbingly wrote that they moved from CP to, which was an improvement.

I say that's disturbing because my copy of Shawn Matthews's Island of Fantasy, printed by, has not held up over time. I received Shawn's book in December of 2004, and have read it through maybe twice or three times. The book was poorly printed, with some blocks of text appearing cockeyed on the page. Other pages were poorly sliced and didn't match the book's overall shape. The print quality of a Lulu book isn't much to write home about: it looks like cheap laser printing. Worst of all, the pages of Shawn's book have been falling out, likely because the padding compound in the binding was very cheap. If Lulu is an improvement over CafePress... yikes.

Anyway, we'll see. If worse comes to worst, I'll save my pennies and print a short run of Water from a Skull through a more traditional vanity press. I did Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms that way, using Morris Publishing, and the results were great. Morris books have durable binding and feel like real books. Lulu books, if Shawn's Island of Fantasy is any indication, are cheap and flimsy. A shame: Shawn's book is quite entertaining and deserves a better presentation.

Apologies to the two or three folks who might've been waiting to purchase my book right on the 26th. Just hold on: the book's coming. It's simply going to take a bit longer than expected. Better to do it right than to do it fast.


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Ave, Jeff!

June 25th marks the beginning of the Korean War (1950-53 for main conflict; technically still in a state of war but under armistice), and is known here as "six-two-five," or yugio. In Korean, the expression is spelled out in syllables as yuk-ee-oh, but thanks to liaison is pronounced "yoo-ghee-oh." There's an animé-style children's card game (and movie?) called Yu Gi Oh (check out the official site here). The game is probably Japanese and has nothing to do with the Korean War, but whenever I hear the game's name, I always think of June 25th.

Anyway, 6/25 is a day of remembrance here on the peninsula. What have you been doing for your yugio? If your answer is, "Nothing special," perhaps the best thing you can do today is read this piece by Jeff of Ruminations in Korea, which provides a clear and detailed breakdown of what went wrong for Korea in its match with Switzerland, and explains why Korea really has no right to be complaining.

Rest assured, though, expats: it's not as though all Koreans have whipped themselves into irrational frenzy over "bad" officiating. GM Jeonuchi, for one, is putting all this behind him. Hey, GMJ-- at least Korea had a better showing than the US did. I think we scored all of one point the entire time we were there.


in honor of the new Superman flick

Before he went insane and stopped writing coherent prose, Larry Niven was a kick-ass science fiction writer in his heyday-- the 1960s and 70s. His first two Ringworld novels are fantastic epics, and his stories based in Known Space, especially the ones involving that Han Solo prototype, the lanky albino Beowulf Schaeffer, are the consummate SF thrill ride (get yourself a copy of Niven's short story collection Neutron Star; you won't regret it).

Niven also put together a compendium of short fiction under the title All the Myriad Ways. Overall, the book is good; the stories are hit-or-miss, but one story in particular is appropriate to bring up as we face the return of Superman in Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns": Niven's "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex."

This story, which you can read in ten minutes or less, is probably the product of alcohol, but it's also the funniest thing I've ever seen from Niven's keyboard. Niven speculates on the onerous biological realities inherent in being a kryptonian on Terra, a planet populated by impossibly delicate beings. How the hell do you mate with a Terran woman?

Niven discusses the implications of such a union in startlingly gory detail; he speculates realistically on what sex between Clark and Lois would actually be like (his description of the moment of orgasm is both hilarious and horrifying), and covers various pregnancy scenarios.

I have such fond memories of this short story that I had to wonder whether some enterprising scribe had decided to put it online.

Lo and behold.

I hope you enjoy the piece as much as I did (and do, despite one, er, politically incorrect reference to sodomy that might raise the ire of both gay rights activists and women who like it up the ass).

While we're at it, I should note that one other writer very recently penned a fantastic commentary on Superman: Quentin Tarantino. The text is part of the script for "Kill Bill: Volume 2," and is delivered as a speech by a slightly unhinged David Carradine. The text of that speech follows:

An essential characteristic of the superhero mythology is: there's the superhero, and there's the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When he wakes up in the morning, he's Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic that Superman stands alone. Superman did not become Superman, Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he's Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red "S," that's the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears-- the glasses, the business suit-- that's the costume. That's the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He's weak, he's unsure of himself... he's a coward. Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race.

Gotta love ol' Quentin.



Saturday, June 24, 2006

phony resurrection

My cell phone-- as one commenter predicted would happen-- has dried out and come back to life. The problem is that the battery that was doused with the phone did not survive the trauma. The phone works, but I'm using an old, decrepit spare battery right now, which runs out of power after five minutes (at least I can order food again). Will have to get a new battery, and maybe a new charger while I'm at it. How much do those things cost for older-model phones?

Strangely enough, I got a battery for free from an LG outlet in Kangnam Station last year. I wonder if I can pull that trick off again.


Ave, Joel!

Korea may have lost 2-0 to Switzerland, but Joel, in this post, congratulates Korea on having played better than they did in 2002. He writes:

In my opinion the team played much better in this World Cup than [they] did in 2002 (despite having gone to the semifinals then) because they were more in control and stronger on the attack this year. In 2002 I always felt like they were holding on by the seat of their pants and then banking on luck to get by. Had things played differently this 2006 team could have certainly advanced on mostly skill.

Korea's involvement in the World Cup spans quite a few years. Those with an appreciation of history will note that it's never easy when the game's not on your home turf. 2002 saw a Korea energized by its people-- that had to help. The 2006 players had plenty of support from the home fans, but still-- they were in Deutschlands Hertz, surrounded by native and foreign mojo. The Korean fans who flew to Europe to support their team did a great job; now, it's time to come on back home.

Entretemps... allez, les Bleus! Défendez l'honneur du Groupe G!



My brother wrote in to warn me that the previous post is bad marketing.


wanna know somethin'?

As the mad dash toward June 26 continues, I find myself perturbed by the strange suspicion that I have written over 350 pages of... nothing of substance.

My buddy Dr. Steve talked about this a long time ago, and I think I laughed dismissively when he said, apropos of writing, something like, "Who am I to be telling other people my thoughts?"

Anyway, Steve's remark comes back to haunt me now, and I think I'm experiencing a crisis of confidence, which is something new for me. I generally think and write with self-assurance. Having done my share of public speaking and theater acting, I'm comfortable making an ass of myself in front of others.

But something's different here. I feel almost as if someone is going to find me out: I read his book, and there was nothing deep in there-- nothing I couldn't have read somewhere else.

Strange feeling. Here's hoping it'll pass.

The manuscript is hanging three-fourths out of my bunghole right now; a couple more grunts and squeezes ought to do the trick, and then, for good for ill, Water from a Skull will be a plop! heard round the world.

(OK, maybe a plop heard by only a couple dozen buyers, but you never know.)


note to commenters

Comments are now moderated.

If you publish a comment and don't see it right away, please don't re-publish the comment. Each comment now must await approval. Yes, I'm a bastard control freak, but I'm a bastard control freak intent on keeping a clean comments section.

I've watched some of the big blogs leave their comment threads open and unmoderated, so that they become gladiatorial arenas presided over by a small subset of ego-filled assholes who act like they own the place,* and I won't have that on my own blog. The only asshole allowed here is ME. If you find that hypocritical, you are invited to slurp deeply of the sweat oozing from my perineum.

*Yeah, I have a particular blogger/commenter in mind-- very much of the "more intelligent than thou" stripe. Fucker should keep that shit on his own blog, but no.


Friday, June 23, 2006

admirable examples of toughness

Two ladies, leading lives characterized by extreme self-discipline. Both lifestyles are unimaginable to me.

Soen Joon here. Commitment means commitment.

Zzz here (hooray-- the return of mudoblogging!). I'd be lucky to get to twenty situps, let alone two hundred.


if you love your cat (& other things)

...don't get 61 more cats for him to play with.

Also of note:

Americans in North Korean missile range "just shrug," according to this article. Surprise, surprise. The Nomad posted a question tangentially related to the question of security on the peninsula: if USFK were to pull out, would you stay? It seems that most expats would. However, the question gets trickier when it comes to whether expats would stay if war broke out while they were living here.

Finally, an announcement: any more uncivil comments, and I'll be closing down the comment threads. If you can't resist the temptation to leave barbs in your comments, don't bother commenting at all. While I appreciate the good comments I receive, I've never been married to the concept of a comments section, and functioned just fine without one for almost two years (July 4th marks this blog's third birthday). I also promised to be a hardass on my own blog when it came to monitoring comments, and that's still my intention. Call it censorship if you like; I call it weeding the stupid from the smart.


why aren't we hearing more about this?

WMDs in Iraq: found.

WASHINGTON — The United States has found 500 chemical weapons in Iraq since 2003, and more weapons of mass destruction are likely to be uncovered, two Republican lawmakers said Wednesday.

"We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons," Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said in a quickly called press conference late Wednesday afternoon.

Reading from a declassified portion of a report by the National Ground Intelligence Center, a Defense Department intelligence unit, Santorum said: "Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent. Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq's pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist."

Is there a reason I'm seeing this only on Fox News?

ABC News Iraq coverage page-- nuthin'.

MSNBC's "Conflict in Iraq" page-- this article, which both politicizes the info and casts doubt on it. Interesting article, though. I'm no friend of Sen. Santorum, anyway, so the journos can bash all they want. The main thing to note, though, is the lack of objectivity evident in the article's tone. I don't mind the fact that there's media bias: I simply don't like the bullshit claim that people are being objective. My solution to this has been to read both the leftie and the rightie new sources.

CNN's World/Middle East page-- nuthin'.

Surprisingly, the right-leaning Breitbart (often cited by the Drudge Report) has nothing on its "World" page.


what not to look at after a hike

I added yet another set of stairs to my Namsan walk tonight, and it about did me in. I think we've hit the upper limit, at least for a while. To reach this supplementary set of stairs, my new path actually takes me past my buddy Jang-woong's neighborhood, which means I encounter a steep hill even before I reach the steps. Then it's up the steps, which lead right to where the Yongsan and Namsan Public Libraries are. I cross the street, bypass the main entrance, and continue on to the Koreanische Philosophenweg. That first set of steps, which aren't that long but are somewhat steep, are a tough warmup for the Philosophenweg, followed by a brief cooldown as I take the bus route back down toward the Namsan library, then up that final set of stairs.

The only thing I had all day was a salad, which is great cause for self-pity in my world. And now... it's 2:30am, I'm hungry as hell, and I find myself once again staring at this-- the most beautiful hamburger I've ever seen. Damn you, ABC News, damn you and the ghost of Peter Jennings for bringing this to my attention. The article notes that the restaurant serving the burger, which costs $100, is on the property of a country club whose membership fee is $40,000 plus $3600 a year.

Having read Mad magazine a long time ago, however, I do know how to get expensive food for free. Mad lays it out clearly:

1. Allow yourself to go unshaven for several days. Be sure to urinate and defecate in your clothing. Snot should flow freely, too.

2. Find an expensive restaurant with a large vitrine (i.e., large glass window). Diners should be visible there.

3. Spot a couple eating by the window.

4. Stand next to them, hands on the glass, staring inward (at them, at the food) with an unreadable expression.

5. When the couple gets creeped out or disgusted, they'll ask for the check and make haste to leave.

6. Before the plates are cleaned up, rush in and eat the paid-for leftovers.

It's all so simple.

But I still want that burger.

That burger.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ave, Charles!

Charles of Liminality writes a fascinating entry about Daniel Dennett's new book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, here.

In the latter part of Charles's essay, there's this cluster of paragraphs:

In distinguishing between belief in science and belief in religion, he notes that those who believe in science act on those beliefs—they build airplanes and other devices that rely on the principles of science to work, they in fact stake their very lives on the fact that these scientific principles are true. Those who profess belief in religion, though, usually don’t act on those beliefs: “People who give away all their belongings and climb to some mountaintop in anticipation of the imminent End of the World don’t just believe in belief in God, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, when it comes to religious convictions” (234).

I must admit that I resent this simplified and stereotyped depiction of acting on one’s belief, but there is truth in what Dennett says. I put my life in the hands of science every time I get into my car, but would I trust my life to what I believe about God. In short, do I act on what I say I believe? This is a sobering question, and one I am tempted to pass over, but I will not. The truth is that I do not live in perfect accordance with what I say I believe. I am a hypocrite. Jesus tells us to love, but there are people I have a very difficult time loving. If I were to write a list of all the ways my life conflicts with what I say I believe, I’d probably wear a dozen pencils down to nothing. Does this mean I only belief in belief in God? Is it possible that I don’t really believe that God exists?

My answer to this question would probably not satisfy Dennett, but it satisfies me, and that is ultimately the point here. I do believe in God, and I do believe that there is a right way to live, but I am weak and often fail to live up to my ideals. You don’t have to be a Christian to think this way, either. Just about every human being knows how difficult it is to live up to ideals, and even those who are thought by others to live ideal lives would be the first to tell you that they don’t. That is not false humility, it is true humility: recognizing that no matter how close to an ideal we may come, we will always fall a little short.

A few philosophy blogs have dealt with the question of hypocrisy, and have concluded that hypocrisy does not refer to the mere inconsistency between one's beliefs/ideals and one's actions. A hypocrite is, by contrast, a person who pays lip service to a set of beliefs/ideals, but makes no effort to live up to them. By that standard, I hope Charles will take heart that his failings (and mine, and everyone else's) do not a hypocrite make.

Aside: Strangely enough, what prompted the discussion of hypocrisy on those blogs was the case of Bill Bennett, the self-styled promoter of "virtue" in American society. The philosophers I'm referring to skew conservative in their political beliefs, and they were at pains to defend Bennett, a fellow conservative, when it was discovered that he had enormous gambling debt-- an obvious sign of vice, which is traditionally the opposite of virtue. Bennett suddenly found himself besieged by mostly liberal vituperation.

I found most philosophical defenses of Bennett rather hollow, but among those arguments was the one about what a true hypocrite is, and I do think that that argument is legitimate. Whether the argument actually applies successfully to Bennett is another matter.

End of digression.

In another section of his essay, Charles professes not to like Daniel Dennett's (be careful not to confuse Bennett and Dennett, here!) advocacy of the scientific investigation of religious claims. In particular, Charles sees little use in the investigation of the efficacity of intercessory prayer. Charles makes a point actually made by scientists themselves: it is impossible to verify or falsify (i.e., "to discover to be false," not "to fake") how effective prayer is. Charles puts it this way:

Unless the experiment is completely blind (that is, the prayer subjects are completely unaware that they are being prayed for), belief would still come into play. The prayer subjects themselves might not be praying, but, knowing that they are being prayed for, they would still believe. Let us say that we did somehow manage to conduct a blind experiment—let’s say we told a bunch of cancer patients that we were conducting an entirely different experiment, and then we had people pray for them without their knowledge. Even then, though, what would this prove? Any Christian will tell you that God always answers prayer—but that his answer is sometimes “no” or “wait.” Let’s say I pray for God to grant me a large house on a hill with crocodiles dressed in tuxedos to serve me drinks. If God does not grant my request, does this mean prayer does not work? In the same way (albeit less flippantly), if I pray for someone who is ill to recover and they do not, does this mean that intercessory prayer does not work?

This is precisely why scientists suspect that claims about prayer are generally false: their unprovability. As Sagan put it in his famous discussion of "the dragon in my garage" (wherein a person claims to have a dragon in his garage, but it turns out that the claim is impossible to verify because, as the person explains, the dragon is incorporeal, floats, and breathes heatless fire, thereby leaving no trace of itself):

Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so. The only thing you've really learned from my insistence that there's a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head. You'd wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me. The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind. But then, why am I taking it so seriously? Maybe I need help. At the least, maybe I've seriously underestimated human fallibility. Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded. So you don't outright reject the notion that there's a fire-breathing dragon in my garage. You merely put it on hold. Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge you're prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you. Surely it's unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative -- merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of "not proved." (italics added)

Personally, I'm a big fan of scientifically verifying any physical claims made by religion. Religion strays onto science's turf every time it makes any pronouncement about the physical world. "Prayer heals" is just such a claim, and the claim has little value if it cannot be seen to be consistently true.

On the philosophical level, the problem for the believer is this: if we grant that God sometimes says "No" or "Wait" to prayer requests, we still have little reason to believe in the efficacy of prayer because we cannot know the mind of God. And yet believers will often do what they can to justify their religious worldview, which for theists usually includes a notion of God's omnibenevolence. Thus it is that the claim "prayer heals" will be supplemented by "but sometimes God says 'No' or 'Wait,'" and is further supplemented by the (not exactly comforting) justification that "God moves according to his own ways, and we trust that those ways are good"-- itself a problematic claim that leads to questions about divine command theory.

[NB: Wikipedia has a good survey article on prayer here. The section titled "Experimental Evaluation of Prayer" offers commentary and linked references to recent experiments performed to test claims about prayer's effectiveness.]

While Charles and I probably stand on opposite sides of the stanchion when it comes to the question of Stephen Jay Gould's NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria, the idea that science and religion are, at bottom, not in conflict; read Stephen Asma's fascinating essay on why Gould is likely wrong to advocate NOMA; my own book will include an essay on this subject as well), I do stand with Charles when he writes the following:

In other cases, though, I think Dennett hits the nail right on the head, in particular with his call for moderates to deal with fanatics and radicals within their traditions. He is right when he says that moderates are being used if they remain silent about the actions of fanatics. Even though few may read this, I would thus like to take this opportunity to clarify where I stand. I believe that love is the single most important concept in the teachings of the Bible. Paul says that of faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love (1 Corinthians 13:13). He puts love before even faith! Likewise, there is nothing that should come between us and our love for God and our fellow man (and the Bible says that if we do not love our fellow man, we cannot claim to love God—see 1 John 4:20). Bombing abortion clinics? This is not love, this is hatred. But Jesus raised a ruckus in the Temple, casting out the money changers, did he not? Yes, but that was God’s house. The money changers were there because the religious leaders allowed them to be there. Jesus was just doing a little house cleaning. You’ll notice in the Bible that Jesus never pulled his punches when dealing with the religious leaders, who claimed to know better, but he was infinitely compassionate when dealing with everyone else. So I say to the fanatics, where is your love? If love is not your motivation, you are not doing God’s work. End of story.

How easily, how easily, how easily we forget this.

Give Charles's essay a read. Charles notes that his post weighs in at around 6000 words, so it's a hefty bit of reading, but the man is, fortunately, a fantastically clear and unpretentious writer in the Mark Salzman tradition. As Yoda might say about those 6000 words: "Size has no meaning. It matters not. Judge me by my size, do you? And well you should not!" While I've quoted large sections of Charles's piece, the most profound part of it lies near the end, and it really would be worth your while to take in the wisdom Charles expresses there.


book update:
the good thing about editing while tired...

My sleep schedule is completely whacked.

It's 9am, and I have yet to go to sleep. This vacation, it's been quite normal for me to get up in the mid- to late-afternoon hours. I've become a total vampire, sleeping during most of the day, typing and futzing during the evening, walking up Namsan at night, then showering and continuing to type and futz until well past dawn.

Some highlights of the manuscript editing:

1. It's tedious work, converting essays from un-indented Internet paragraph format (with spaces between paragraphs) to "normal," indented text. I've performed the same sets of keystrokes hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

2. A book's page count depends greatly on font size when the manuscript is around 95,000 to 100,000 words. I'm using the Palatino font for the interior text. At 12 points, the book originally weighed in at about 400 pages. I can get it down to around 300-some pages-- including the extra essays-- using smaller font sizes.

3. Many of the essays are so short that they can fit inside a single page. This makes them look ridiculously puny, almost as if I were publishing a book of poetry. I'm thinking about altering the book's size to 5" x 8". That would significantly thicken the book, but text would make a bit more sense, spilling over onto extra pages.

4. It's not easy to go back to an old essay and start removing all the vulgarity that made it halfway interesting in the first place.

5. Even (perhaps especially) for Mac, Microsoft products bite. I'm using MS Word for Mac, and it's not always the friendliest beast.

6. The good thing about editing while tired is that you tend to care less about chopping something out of your ms. For most of us, excising a line or a paragraph can feel like self-amputation. When you're half-zonked, that's not the case.

And that's all the news for the moment. I'm off to bed. At 9:15am.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Smoo pics from a student

My student Sujin, from my spring Tuesday/Thursday 9am class, sent me a whole load of pictures from our Level 1 English course, some of which I now post for your enjoyment. Hover your cursor over the images to read the captions. This was a really good group of people. I enjoyed teaching them.

Trivia: I've had that hand fan since 1994. Bought it for about 500 won. It's been one of my most useful and valued possessions. As summer's oppressiveness bears down on us like the alien super-saucers of "Independence Day," my fan will once again see a lot of use.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

"Rock, Redeemer, and Friend"?

This post was updated several times over the past hour, and might be updated again. Hit "refresh" to make sure you're reading the latest version.

Wow-- interesting new trinitarian language and imagery being touted by my church, the Presbyterian Church, USA ("PCUSA" for short). Behold:

The divine Trinity -- "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" -- could also be known as "Mother, Child and Womb" or "Rock, Redeemer, Friend" at some Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) services under an action Monday by the church's national assembly.

Delegates to the meeting voted to "receive" a policy paper on gender- inclusive language for the Trinity, a step short of approving it. That means church officials can propose experimental liturgies with alternative phrasings for the Trinity, but congregations won't be required to use them.

"This does not alter the church's theological position, but provides an educational resource to enhance the spiritual life of our membership," legislative committee chair Nancy Olthoff, an Iowa laywoman, said during Monday's debate on the Trinity.

The assembly narrowly defeated a conservative bid to refer the paper back for further study.

A panel that worked on the issue since 2000 said the classical language for the Trinity should still be used, but added that Presbyterians also should seek "fresh ways to speak of the mystery of the triune God" to "expand the church's vocabulary of praise and wonder."

One reason is that language limited to the Father and Son "has been used to support the idea that God is male and that men are superior to women," the panel said.

Conservatives responded that the church should stick close to the way God is named in the Bible and noted that Jesus' most famous prayer was addressed to "Our Father."

Besides "Mother, Child and Womb" and "Rock, Redeemer, Friend," proposed Trinity options drawn from biblical material include:

- "Lover, Beloved, Love"

- "Creator, Savior, Sanctifier"

- "King of Glory, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Love."

Early in Monday's business session, the Presbyterian assembly sang a revised version of a familiar doxology, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow" that avoided male nouns and pronouns for God.

Youth delegate Dorothy Hill, a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, was uncomfortable with changing the Trinity wording. She said the paper "suggests viewpoints that seem to be in tension with what our church has always held to be true about our Trinitarian God."

Hill reminded delegates that the Ten Commandments say "the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."

The Rev. Deborah Funke of Montana warned that the paper would be "theologically confusing and divisive" at a time when the denomination of 2.3 million members faces other troublesome issues.

On Tuesday, the assembly will vote on a proposal to give local congregations and regional "presbyteries" some leeway on ordaining clergy and lay officers living in gay relationships.

Ten conservative Presbyterian groups have warned jointly that approval of what they call "local option" would "promote schism by permitting the disregard of clear standards of Scripture."

Protestants in general don't have anything approaching the Roman magisterium (teaching authority). Individual PCUSA congregations, for example, have a great amount of leeway in how they may interpret pronouncements from the General Assembly. One thing we Protestants are good at, though, is following the Protestant impulse to its logical conclusion-- schism. There's always somebody in some church threatening to break away. I see schism as not-good, not-bad; it's simply one of the ways in which human thought and emotion manifest themselves as action. Magneto's question to the mutants is a practical one in such cases: "Who will you stand with?"

PCUSA has had something of a contentious history, to put it mildly. The merger of northern and southern churches under a single umbrella organization didn't occur until 1983, and the old pre-Civil War divisions echo even today in the various (and often conflicting) theological approaches and stances taken by different synods, presbyteries, and congregations. As Kate McCarthy wisely noted in "Reckoning with Religious Difference" (a chapter from the collection Explorations in Global Ethics, edited by Sumner Twiss and Bruce Grelle*), we need to be as mindful of intrareligious diversity as we are of interreligious diversity.

Personally, I couldn't care less about the specific terminology of the liturgy. If our General Assembly decided that all future communion liturgies must include the line, "And let us now munch the body of Jesus," I'd recite the line with nary a twinge of conscience. This sort of claim freaks out some of my conservative papist friends at Catholic University, for whom the liturgy ("Liturgy!" bellows Zero Mostel) is a sacred jewel. I imagine it also freaks out a large number of Protestant conservatives. (Mainstream Protestantism in the West has taken a decidedly Catholic turn these last few decades, a trend noted by some anthropologists of religion. Greater attention to and care about the liturgy is one example of that Catholic turn. The increasing prevalence of fully robed clergy is another.)

My own congregation in northern Virginia hasn't made much noise about things like the revised hymnal. However, we are, like many Presbyterian churches, still mired in controversies that come to a head during yearly meetings of the PCUSA General Assembly, of which two such controversies are particularly noteworthy: (1) the status of Jesus Christ as one and only savior (i.e., the christo-soteriological question), and (2) homosexuality-- especially as it pertains to ordination and marriage.

Within my own congregation, people skew both liberal and conservative. To our credit, we're a church that appreciates a good dialogue. People get angry during some meetings, true, but anger while at church is neither sinful nor ironic; it's merely natural wherever you find strong differences of opinion. As a congregation, we've had to deal with some tough issues, and we're still dealing with them.

The true measure of any congregation, I think, is its sense of community-- an underlying, indefinable something that holds it together despite the conflicts that burble to the surface now and then. As with any other church, my own church in NoVA has lost members over some conflicts, but on the whole, we've kept together as a family. To that extent, it seems a bit silly to abandon the family as a means of resolving a conflict. The abandonment option is open to Americans and other Westerners, I think, largely because of the pervading ethos of the marketplace: just go find another church if you're not happy with where you're at. While many people still hesitate to adopt such an attitude across the Protestant/Catholic divide (there's something icky about those creepy Catlicks, you see), such border crossings nevertheless do occur quite frequently.

At the same time, schism can be the appropriate response to perceived problems, if it is adjudged that those problems are too severe to be corrected. If we stick to the family analogy, this might be like talking about divorce in the case of irreconcilable differences or transfer of child custody away from an abusive parent.

On an organizational level, you can expect institutions to behave like living organisms. Fission occurs. Sometimes it's healthy; sometimes not. Not-good, not-bad. Me, I've got no intention of abandoning the family. I know my congregation in NoVA will move forward in a spirit of trust and faith no matter what emanates from the General Assembly; that conviction hasn't failed me yet.


The question of gender-inclusive language brings us close to the heart of the theological process, and calls to light just who does theology: it's not always the career theologians! Sometimes the proles in the pews are directly involved.

I think that faithful renderings of the scriptures (e.g., English translations of the Bible) should avoid deliberate insertion of gender-neutral pronouns for the sake of gender-inclusivity, and would extend this thinking to all past (not future) creedal formulations. However, tinkering with the liturgy strikes me as perfectly permissible, especially when it comes to various prayers and responsive readings. In our congregation in NoVA, such prayers and readings are written up "fresh" every week, and I would have no trouble at all seeing something along the lines of:

...this we pray in the name of the Mother, Child, and Womb.

Doesn't bother me a bit.

So: as I see it, the Lord's Prayer should still be the "Our Father" (as Catholics generally call it). But there's plenty of room in the liturgy for gender-inclusivity. Along with this, I think Christian educators-- i.e., the folks running the Bible classes and reading groups and so on-- can be of service in unplugging the sexism inherent in the ancients' way of looking at the world by talking about the histories of such terms and passages, and explaining why modern believers should avoid certain aspects of ancient thinking.

I stand against the (largely feminist) project of forcibly deconstructing "kyriarchal" or "phallocentric" language in the scriptures mainly because I don't believe that such language necessarily abets sexism. It doesn't have to: much depends on the temperament and proclivities of the community using the language. If you teach the kids about the meaning behind the words, then the words don't have to conduce to, say, an overly masculine picture of the divine.

[NB: For Christians, there is a special christological problem, however, that pertains directly to the spatiotemporal Jesus' masculinity, and whether that masculinity has any bearing on the larger question of who the CHRIST is. I won't be discussing that in this post, but be aware that it's a huge issue in feminist christology.]

Theology is a creative endeavor, of course, and feminist theologians like Elizabeth Johnson (cf. She Who Is-- a great read) have done much to recover ancient feminine concepts of the divine (e.g. Sophia/Wisdom) and place them at the forefront of modern Christian consciousness. I applaud such efforts. If anything, such efforts should go hand-in-hand with the continued preservation of ancient formulations so as to provide a balance of gendered imagery instead of trying so hard to uproot and destroy traces of the masculine in religious worship and conceptualization of the divine.

Hinduism, I think, provides a good example of the sort of paradigm I'm talking about. Divine pairings of masculine and feminine abound in Indian traditions, with both genders occupying (and even alternating) generative and destructive roles. It's the kind of thing a Camille Paglia feminist such as myself can get behind: not merely the notion of an Absolute that utterly transcends gender, but a more integrated notion of an Absolute that incorporates gender even while going beyond it. True gender-inclusivity isn't about the destruction or erasure of all notion of gender.

[Coda: As someone who doesn't subscribe to an anthropomorphized conception of the Absolute, I'm not sure how much of the above discussion applies to my own religious perspective. "Is God masculine, feminine, or something totally other?" strikes me as requiring Master Joju's terse "Mu!" in response, not to mention a few well-placed blows to the head with a heavy, splintery stick. However, as an elder who has taken a vow that says, in part, that I should work to uphold the "peace, unity, and purity" of the Church, I hope that other Christians will read the above post and take some time to ruminate on ways that they might also spread such peace, unity, and purity, working in and through and around the flawed vocabulary of our faith.]

*Crass self-promotion: on Amazon, Explorations, which weighs in at 350 pages, is shamelessly selling for $36.00-- typical overpricing for college textbooks. Imagine the value you'll be getting when you purchase a copy of the equally hefty Water from a Skull from yours truly for only $21.95! Eh? EH?




Hwang dangles

Forgive me if I chortle.


Ave, Skippy!

An excellent writeup about US Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman by the indomitable Skippy, the blogosphere's favorite Canadian rightie.

I mentioned before that I'd vote for Rudi Giuliani should he become the Republican nominee for president in 2008. I also have a soft spot for Lieberman, a guy on the other side of the aisle. Skippy's post goes into the evidence for Lieberman's smarts, and discusses the likelihood that Lieberman, currently serving in the US Senate, will next run for senator as an independent. The senator's got a large fan base among Republicans and moderates. Skippy's commentary about the continued leftward swing of the Democratic Party, a swing that will alienate more Dems like Lieberman, is also right on target, I think.

Skippy's analysis ends with a punch:

In attempting to primary Lieberman out of existence, the Democrats are essentially destroying any hope they might have of winning back the [Senate]. While I don't think they can win the six seats necessary to regain control, some very smart people do. If Lieberman runs and wins as an independent, that pushes the bar up to seven seats, as Joe would likely caucus with the Republicans and be given a committee chairmanship for his trouble. In the unlikely event that the Democrats do better than I expect them to (which is maybe four seats) and win six, then Joe becomes the kingmaker and can write his own ticket.


This is the last, best chance voters have to send President Bush the message that he should straighten up and start acting like a Republican. If I were a Democratic supporter, I'd be thrilled over everything that's happened in the last two years. Were I a Democratic strategist, I'd have my clients run on the platform of "responsibility." A responsible war policy, a responsible fiscal policy, [corporate] and congressional responsibility. These could be winning messages, but the Democrats continue to step on winning messages with their ham-handed stupidity. Rather than winning back Congress, they insist on keeping their insane circular firing squad healthy.

The Democrats [are ignoring] Lyndon Johnson's famous dictum that it's better to have someone like Lieberman inside your tent pissing out than it is to have them outside pissing in. Of course, it should be pointed out that the Democratic Party did to President Johnson exactly what they are doing to Senator Lieberman. The problem is that they haven't nominated anyone as smart or accomplished as LBJ since.

And that, my friends, is how the Republicans will form a permanent majority without even having to pretend that they're Republicans anymore.



While seeing a friend off is a sad thing, Charles sends me a link that leaves me seething in envy: home-made pizza. Looks pretty damn good, and Charles, twisting the knife further, let me know that those pizzas tasted pretty damn good, too.


brief, all too brief

After stuffing ourselves on cheap wang-mandu in the Chongno district, John and I parted ways so he could skip off to yet more meetings. Tomorrow, he jets over to Japan to hit Osaka and Nagoya, bringing the natives more of his Kiwi charm ("Damn Kiwis! Never trust 'em!" John advised me). He'll be back in Korea again after the Japan run, but only long enough to sleep overnight and take a flight back to NZ the following morning. So this is the last I see of him for a while. Years, maybe.

Among the many regrets I have about John's visit is that his lovely wife and two adorable little daughters didn't come along; I haven't had the pleasure of meeting the kids, but I've heard so much about them. Ah, well... maybe next time. If John forges a few solid East Asian contacts, he might be back in this neck of the woods more often. Or, one day, I'll have to fly on down to NZ, the land of Peter Jackson, Temuera Morrison, et al., and visit his family in Otago (John's a proud U. of Otago grad).

Happy trails, John! Safe journey to Japan, and no deep-vein thrombosis on the long flight back to Jackson's Mordor.


my old friend Hans

This is my buddy John, who owns his own hagwon in Dunedin, NZ (that's the South Island, he tells me). Pronounce it something like, "duh-NEE-d'n." When I first saw the city's name in writing, years ago, I thought it was pronounced "DOO-nuh-DEEN." John had a good laugh at my ignorance.

John's in Korea to do some networking for his school, English Advantage. He kindly took the opportunity to meet up with me on Monday in Kangnam. I haven't seen my good friend since about 1996 (ten years!), so this was fun.

We're hitting lunch on Tuesday as well. Ten years, and not much time to catch up: John's off to Japan on Wednesday for more meeting and greeting, then he hits Pusan, then he's rushing up to Seoul for his 18-hour flight home.

UPDATE: "South Island" now capitalized, per reader comment!


Monday, June 19, 2006

authenticity and authority

Whatever my disagreements with the general thrust of post-World War II French existentialism, one of the best lessons to come out of that school of thought can be phrased this way: "Don't be a sheep."

A paper I just found online offers a good reason why. The writer says:

[It] is my contention that an idealized Asian version of Zen has been uncritically accepted in America and that it is a source of problems here.

It's not just theists who drink the Kool-Aid and defend the indefensible. Interesting and disturbing read. While the paper's focus is on Zen institutions in America, the larger theme is, I think, that authority is a tool that can be far too easily abused, as ongoing priest scandals in the Catholic Church would indicate. We could expand this notion to cover other walks of life: politics, academics, etc.


(a), (b), (c), or (d)?

And the answer is...


...what? You didn't see the answer? Hint: you might have to be clever and look harder. It's in this post.


failed attempt at defibrillation

This morning, for shits and grins, I placed my recently-deceased cell phone back on its charger to see what would happen. What do you think occurred when the phone's battery contacts met the charger contacts?

a) The phone exploded with a sudden and startling "pop," launching bits of plastic everywhere.

b) The phone's "vibrate" function screamed to life, and kept on screaming, but nothing else happened.

c) The phone did nothing once placed on the charger, because it was "dead as Julius Caesar," as Sean Connery's Malone said in "The Untouchables."

d) The phone sprang to life momentarily, giving me hope... then died for good.

In any case, der Telefon ist kaput. If you make a correct guess in the comments section (based on the choices provided above), I'll give you a prize. No; actually, I won't.


la France-- au seuil de l'échec

I should be asleep, but Coke Zero is working its way through my veins and I can't sleep.

Korea got a shot in right before the end of its match with France, tying the game at 1-1. Final score. Incroyable.

French headlines straight off L'Express en ligne:

Mondial: la France en très grand danger (Reuters)

La France s'est mise dans une position extrêmement délicate en concédant un nouveau match nul (1-1) face à la Corée du Sud, résultat qui rend sa qualification pour les huitièmes de finale du Mondial très incertaine.


World Cup: France in grave danger

France has put itself in an extremely delicate position in conceding another tie game (1-1) against South Korea, a result that makes qualification for the Round of Sixteen in the World Cup very uncertain.

So there we are.


the triumph, the tragedy, and a
pair of literary epiphanies

Tonight's major triumph was a double hike up Namsan: I didn't go up the entire mountain twice, but I did make it up two sets of stairs. The goal for me is to do this without stopping; slowing down is permissible; stopping isn't.

The stairs are the most challenging part of any hike up Namsan; from Smoo to the foot of the mountain, I get about twenty minutes of ease. What comes next, no matter what path you take, is about ten minutes of sightly demanding incline, and then you have a whole menu of choices for the final part of your trek. The bus routes are the easiest: gentle switchbacks, shallow incline-- but they do take a bit longer. The stairs-- no matter which set of stairs we're talking about-- take you up faster, but the price you pay is twofold: steeper incline, plus the quadriceps workout.

A few days ago I found a new set of stairs up the mountain. To reach them, I have to bypass my usual entry point, Namsan Public Library, and keep walking along the road that curves leftward past the library and up the mountain's flank. The entry point is easy to pass by mistake: a humble set of concrete steps that suddenly appears on your left. The first thing you notice about these steps, as opposed to the steps by the library, is that they're high. You have to lift your feet about 20-30% more than you would on the other, midget-sized steps that abound in Seoul.

The steps are curious. I've seen them only at night, but they give off a vibe somewhat similar to the path in Heidelberg, Germany known as the Philosophenweg, a.k.a. the Philosophers' Way (some say "Philosophers' Alley"; the German "Weg" is etymologically related to the English "way"). True-- along this set of Namsan steps, there are no meticulously tended gardens, no stone walls with mysterious-looking doors, and no quaint German neighborhoods, but the vibe is there. Perhaps I feel this way because the stairs begin rather close to the local Goethe-Institut, which sits along the same road that passes the Namsan Public Library.

So this Koreanische Philosophenweg, if you will, is armed with tall steps. After you take the initial turn or two, you find yourself before a loooooong incline that stretches far ahead of you. The first night I saw that, I admit I lost heart, but I trudged up the steps all the same. Tonight, I was surprised that I made it up the steps even faster.

Some joker-- I suspect an American-- left chalk messages on the steps. This must have happened in the last day or so. At the trailhead: "Go on up." About halfway along: "Keep going!" And near the top: "U can do it!" That was my first literary epiphany of the evening.

When you hit the top of the Koreanische Philosophenweg, you find that you're not done: you're only about two-thirds of the way up Namsan, and now you have to follow one of the bus routes to the top. What I did tonight was this: instead of turning right and going up, I turned left and went down, with the intention of hitting another set of stairs up to the top: the meanest of the bunch, the library stairs.

I walked down the bus route, back toward the library, and discovered a different set of stairs from the ones I normally take. Shrugging, I decided to try these stairs out, and while it was murder on my thighs, I'm glad I did. They joined up with my "normal" stairs, and I continued on up to the top, my shirt completely drenched in sweat.

Seoul was roaring again this evening, perhaps in preparation for the upcoming World Cup soccer match with France, which starts around 4am, Seoul time. I don't know how this is going to go, and my heart is divided since I'd like to root for both France and Korea. The French team gets my sympathy because a lot of those players experience shocking racism at home. Hate French politics if you must (and I'm no fan of it), but the players playing their guts out on the field deserve better than what they get from the home crowd. Good luck to both teams.

My second literary epiphany struck me as I was walking downhill toward home: I entered one of the neighborhoods at the foot of Namsan, and passed a small English hagwon whose awning said:

E & I English Languuge School

I had a chuckle at that, and wished I'd brought along my camera. I hope those students are eventually able to master the English languuge.

I got home, clothing soaked, and decided to take a shower and wash my clothes at the same time, single-man style. You gents know what this can mean: close the drain of your bathroom sink, fill it with warm water and detergent, then dump your clothes in.

The wash cycle was going swimmingly... until I dumped my sweatpants into the sink and felt something hard and rectangular through the thick fabric.

Shit. My cell phone.

I yanked my pants out of the sink and tore the phone out of the pocket, but it was far too late. A single dousing, a moment of unmindfulness, and now... a long-time companion is dead. I hate cell phones, but this little guy had been with me, more faithful than a dog, since 2002, when my buddy Jang-woong first gave him to me. I feel almost as though I've accidentally eaten a beloved pet hamster.

Luckily, I have a new cell phone waiting for me at the office: one given to me for free by a very nice coworker of mine. It's been sitting at the Smoo office since last year. I'm going to have to get my number switched over to that phone; given previous experience, I might have to get my Korean buddy to do it for me, because my cell phone account is in his name. That's a pain in the ass, especially when a few Koreabloggers have reported success at getting phones on their own. Know this: my phone was foisted on me when I arrived in 2002. I didn't ask for it; it was given to me. Otherwise, I'd have tried the same obtain-it-yourself stunt.

And now, 'tis time for bed. I neglected to mention that I'm looking forward to seeing my good friend John the Kiwi again; I haven't seen him in years. If I'm not mistaken, he's here with his family, and I'm meeting him (them?) Monday afternoon. I know, I know-- earlier in the month I'd written that I had only one big social engagement in June. I was wrong, but I'm sure you'll live.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Charles-- how's this?

I could live with the following changes to the cover of Water from a Skull:

This would address your complaint about the vulgarly protruding text (other readers: see comments to this post). Along with that, we have the added benefit of a more streamlined subtitle.

While I'm still happy with the original, I could grow to love this, too.

Was denkst du?


Ave, Sperwer!

The inimitable Sperwer sent me a link to a blog I know I'll have to blogroll: the hilariously titled Sermon to the Fishes by Dr. Stephen Asma.* Dr. Asma is a professor at Columbia College, Chicago. His areas of specialization and competence are listed on his home website:

Area of Specialization

Eastern Philosophy (esp. Buddhism), Philosophy and History of Science (Life Sciences), Museum Studies, Interdisciplinary Humanities.

Area of Competence

Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Cultural Studies Theory, History of Philosophy (Ancient & Modern).

The guy sounds like an interesting lecturer, and he even does a good bit of podcasting. Check him out if you're so inclined. Here's part of an "Asmatic" blog post:

Saying that “love is chemical” is a well-worn cliché. But as neurobiology advances, the old cliché seems increasingly literal. Romantics and mystics everywhere resist the reduction of our “highest” emotions to mere chemical agitations. Maybe they’re right to do so. But compelling data keeps streaming in about our true erotic triggers –pheromones, dopamine, norepinephedrine, vasopressin and oxytocin. Is my “soul mate” just the right bundle of biochemicals?

Fascinating stuff. Great article about animism (and its relationship to SE Asian Buddhism) a bit farther down on his blog. And the guy's got enviable artistic skill.

Definitely a keeper. Thanks, Sperwer.

*According to Dr. Asma's main website, the phrase "sermon to the fishes" refers to St. Anthony, who apparently preached the gospel to the water-breathers.

I'm not sure what to make of this. Looking at it positively, we could say that St. Anthony is that rare example of the Christian who actually cares about other sentient beings the way he cares about people (i.e., it's not merely about "stewardship," but about salvific compassion).

Looking at it negatively, though, you do have to wonder whether St. Anthony was wasting his time. There's a Korean Buddhist phrase that comes to mind: "Reciting sutras to a cow," i.e., effort wasted in useless attempts at persuasion, enrichment, etc. The English equivalent might be either the biblical expression "(throwing) pearls before swine" or "It's like talking to a wall." Those expressions have slightly different meanings, but the basic theme of "words falling on deaf ears" is there.

For more on the Holy Tony, see here.


book update: cover designs FINALIZED

Here's the 72 dpi version of what will be uploaded onto CafePress (at 300 dpi) soon. I don't have the spine design ready, but that has to wait until I've finalized the manuscript and have an exact page count.

So-- here we go.

Front cover:

Back cover:

Good God, it's starting to look like a book.

A comment about design:

You may recall that, in the original front cover design, I had a picture of Dalma Daesa sitting on the right side of the cover. Given the nature of the "Wonhyo-and-skull" brush painting I made, it was necessary to flip that format around. Here's why.

When you're looking at artwork, you may start to notice that every piece has a certain "flow" or "energy" to it-- something the brush artists might call "ki." In the picture above, we see Wonhyo's upthrust arm (I did that purely for drama's sake; I seriously doubt he actually drank that way, because you only drink like that at keg parties), which sends the eye zinging upward to the skull, as it should. So we have a current of ki flowing strongly upward. Note, too, that we've got water flowing down and to the right. The downwardness isn't particularly crucial here, but the rightward movement of the water is what forced me to reverse the design. I think it works well as it is, now.

I tried putting the image over on the right side, but with the text on the left, I ended up with the feeling that the image, which flows generally rightward, was being rudely "ushered off the stage," so to speak, by the text (which also has an implicit rightward flow: we read from left to right in English). That wasn't the feeling I was going for, so I followed my instincts and placed the image where it seemed most natural.

I'm thinking of nicknaming this "the Bruised Cover," because it's mostly black and blue. I chose a fairly dark shade of blue to indicate the serious tone of the subject matter, and I kept the same color scheme for the back cover as well. I hope it's not too funereal.

Those familiar with the Heart Sutra will have noted that I wrote one of my favorite phrases from it on the back cover: jae beop gong sang, or "All phenomena have the character of emptiness." The term beop (pronounced somewhere between "buhp" and "bawp"), which literally means "law," is the Chinese character that represents dharma. Dharma actually has many meanings in Buddhism, and an arguably wider semantic field in Hinduism. In the above phrase, though, most scholars tend either to leave "dharma" untranslated, or they render it in English as "phenomenon(-na)," the meaning most relevant to the sutra.

My brothers will no doubt laugh their asses off at the photo on the back cover, which shows a somewhat thinner (?) Kevin from back around 2001 or 2002, I think. The photo was taken by yours truly while hiking alone from the Taos Ski Valley Ski Resort (about 9,200 feet) up to Williams Lake (about 11,000 feet) in Taos, New Mexico. The air was thin, thin, thin, and I had to stop about every fifty yards. At one point I stopped to take the "vanity" shot, propping the camera on the roots of an enormous fallen tree and using the timer function.

Go on. Laugh.

Anyway, that's the cover design I'm going with. I imagine the spine will be the same shade of dark blue, with white serif text-- perhaps a sans serif for the publisher name; I'm going with "Juasubul," which means "left-handed Buddha," and is the name found on one of my dojang (stamp or chop). The actual covers are slightly larger than what you see here; CafePress recommends making an oversized design in order for the colors to "bleed to the edge" without leaving any annoying white space on the fringes. You add a half inch to each axis, and when the cover is printed, a quarter-inch is cut off all sides so that you end up with color right up to the cover's edge. What you see above is what the actual book covers will look like, post-slicing, at 6.625" x 10.25".

Ah, yes: the EAN bar code you see above shows the actual ISBN I'll be using for my book. I bought a set of ten ISBNs back in 2001, at great expense, so don't even think about ripping that one off and using it for your own purposes. That thang's registered to ME!

And unfortunately, yes, that's the price I'm going for. $21.95. Sorry, folks; would love to make it cheaper, but the book's looking to run over 300 pages, which means CafePress's base charge will be pretty high. If it turns out that my finalized manuscript page count drops to the very low 300s, I might whack a dollar or two off the above. Stay tuned. Keep in mind, though: most of the cover price goes to CafePress, not to yours truly. As I wrote earlier, this book isn't about to make me rich (unless by some miracle it sells in the millions).

Guess what-- while rummaging through masses of paperwork and other crap, I found my scanner CD-ROM. It was all I could do to prevent myself from snapping that little bastard in half when I saw it. Of course, the CD-ROM didn't hide itself away on purpose: an anus-brain named Kevin tossed it aside long ago, and then forgot about it. I sat there on the floor of my apartment, shaking my enormous head in disbelief, marveling at my own stupidity. How could I not have left the CD with my other software CDs? What the hell moved me to separate this one CD from the group and toss it somewhere obscure? We'll never know.

That's it for now. It's a bit after 6AM, and I failed to hit Namsan last night, so I might head on out in a few minutes.