Thursday, May 31, 2007

postal scrotum: forwarded email

I'm not really into email-forwarded jokes, but I thought this was cool. As often happens with clever monologues and rants about social issues, this one was attributed to George Carlin, who may or may not have actually composed the following.

George Carlin's Solution to Save Gasoline

Bush wants us to cut the amount of gas we use. The best way to stop using so much gas is to deport 11 million illegal immigrants! That would be 11 million less people using our gas. The price of gas would come down. Bring our troops home from Iraq to guard the border. When they catch an illegal immigrant crossing the border, hand him a canteen, rifle and some ammo and ship him to Iraq . Tell him if he wants to come to America then he must serve a tour in the military. Give him a soldier's pay while he's there and tax him on it. After his tour, he will be allowed to become a citizen since he defended this country. He will also be registered to be taxed and be a legal patriot. This option will probably deter illegal immigration and provide a solution for the troops in Iraq and the aliens trying to make a better life for themselves. If they refuse to serve, ship them to Iraq anyway, without the canteen, rifle or ammo. Problem solved. If you think this is a good solution to both the problems, forward it to your friends.

I just did.
George Carlin

The above says "11 million less people," which makes me doubt the message's "Carlinic" origins. George Carlin is a stickler for proper language, and he would note that the proper diction is "11 million fewer people." So maybe he wrote the above, or maybe he didn't. I lean toward the latter, but think the piece is funny, in a Starship Troopers sort of way, no matter who did write it.


thinking about teaching in Asia to get away from unruly Western kids?

Think twice before you buy the line that teaching East Asian kids is a breeze. John from Daejeon left the following comment [edited for style]:

YouTube Link 1

YouTube Link 2

My kids say this is actually normal, but that most teachers use sticks. The second is a video showing the opposite, with Chinese kids beating up their old teacher. And I thought it was bad in the U.S. when I had to deal with this nonsense. It's getting bad here in S. Korea, too. The kids know they can get away with more with their native speaker teachers than with their Korean ones. How many native speakers will call the kids' parents? I do so via the boss and it has calmed down my troublemaker kids somewhat. However, my native speaker counterpart in the local public school is having a really tough time because of lack of respect and attention from his male students. My better kids are advising me to stay away from the public school system. My hagwon is in one of the worse parts of town, so the kids are a lot more rambunctious.


John from Daejeon

University work is largely better, unless you're a true kid at heart and love rambunctious youth. I like kids in small quantities-- one or two is my limit, and even that can be too much if they're poorly behaved. Teaching a class full of kids is almost unthinkable for me. By the time the hour was over, there'd be bloody pulp flung all over the walls, bits of bone and cartilage clinging to the toys, and only one surviving kid cowering in a corner, balled up in a fetal position, rocking side to side in his own shit, too afraid to utter a sound.

John also wrote: "The kids know they can get away with more with their native speaker teachers than with their Korean ones." This is also true in university. Some of my students pull shit they would never try with Korean teachers, because they know the consequences would be more severe. I'm thinking of innocently asking my students for their parents' phone numbers, ostensibly to invite them to an end-of-term gathering, but in reality so that I have more leverage than my own department gives me.

Teachers, especially foreign teachers, need a support system. For the most part, expats in the classroom have only each other, and heaven help the level-headed expat who's stuck teaching with freakish foreign colleagues-- the neurotic introverts, the social rejects, the sexually frustrated (or perverse), and so on. I'm not sure what the remedy is for such a situation, but I doubt a union for foreign teachers would even get off the ground in the current climate. Korea's a union-happy nation, but the game here is also rigged against the foreigner, which makes me wonder how far a Solidarnosc movement would get before Big Momma Government decided it was a nuisance.

The best bet is to find a job where the expat staffers actually care about teaching and evince more than a minimal level of training and/or experience in EFL/ESL. This means doing extensive research before taking a job somewhere. The word of a good friend is often not enough to conclude you've found the right job; what works for your friend might not work for you. When doing your research, ask about the things that matter to you.

For me, for example, I now have three deal-breakers when looking for a teaching job in Korea: (1) weekend work, (2) working with children, and (3) working split shifts. Nope-- not gonna do any of that. I've done all three before, and all three sucked. I was a slow learner, too; I should have realized early on that this was wrong for me, but like many Koreans, I told myself, "Be patient; get through it." That attitude is both healthy and noble in some contexts, but it's plain stupid in others. If you're in your twenties, don't waste time fucking around in bad jobs when you could be working a decent schedule for decent cash at a place that doesn't drive you crazy. Such places do exist (yeah, my place occasionally drives me crazy, but overall, I like it here); you just have to do the legwork to find them.

Also, do yourself a favor and be a competent teacher. The expat reputation remains poor in large part because so many teachers are feckless blockheads with no understanding of how to lead a class.* Training and experience are major components of competence, but perceptivity and a holistic sense of the rhythm and flow of the class hour also help.

This is greatly aided by knowledge of the culture you're in. I'm not saying you need to be a Korea scholar, but knowing why your students say and do what they do will both keep you sane and keep you ready for those unforeseen contingencies. A huge side benefit is that Koreans do appreciate people who show honest interest in their culture. If you're always looking around and saying, "We've got this back home, where it's ten times better," don't expect much sympathy from the natives. I wouldn't appreciate such comments from foreigners visiting the States. In my mind, I'd be saying, "So go home, you whiny fuck, before I shoot you."

There are legitimate reasons to complain about certain aspects of life in Korea (and we expat bloggers spend many column-inches engaging in just such bellyaching), but if you've made the basic decision to give this "living abroad" thing a try, then be ready to deal with the consequences of that decision. Because I'll tell you a secret: it's not only the natives who will roll their eyes at your whining-- it's also the expats who've made the effort and paid their dues. Be smart, suck it up, and forge ahead.

*I know that one reply to this is: "Yeah, but there seems to be a market for feckless blockheads here." That's true, but I'm not talking to the language institute bosses; I'm talking to you. That problem-- the problem of stupid and often racist hiring practices-- isn't one you can solve, so don't obsess over it. Your concern is finding a decent livelihood, not reforming Korean society.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Christianity is not Buddhism

I got a newsletter from my church that included an announcement for the annual picnic. It said in part:

picnic, picnic, picnic, picnic, picnic, picnic
Got the message? We are having a picnic on Sunday. See inside for details.

and concluded:

ants not invited.

Perhaps the anti-ant prejudice has something to do with formication.

(You have no idea how many years I've waited to use that joke.)


the Fs

Several students I like will be failing this time around. Failure, in our department, doesn't carry much weight: it simply means that, in principle, such a student should not be allowed to go on to the next level of English, and that they should repeat the level before continuing. You'll notice that I phrased this imperative in the form of a guideline; this is because, even though the procedure for handling an "F" is a matter of policy, there will be a ton of exceptions to the rule. You know why: this is Korea, where everything is negotiable. Students will come to our department's front desk in Room 206, rage and fume about their previous prof (the one to whom they so recently said, "We love you!"), claim the "F" was unfair, and then demand the right to move up a level, "F" notwithstanding. That, or they'll cast dignity aside, make puppy-dog eyes, and beg until the office staffers give in.

Even though my "F" carries almost no weight in the larger scheme of things, I feel bad about failing students who showed potential during the term, but who also proved too spotty in their attendance. We don't peg our grades to student attendance, per se, but attendance matters, especially if a student misses a crucial test day (or three, or four). Most of the "F"s will be handed to students whose recorded quiz and test grades were quite good, but who missed so many other quizzes and tests that their overall average suffered.

It's said that grades are often misleading: how can a single symbol represent the results of a wide range of subjective and objective factors? I agree that grades are perilous, but I still think it's fair to hold a talented student back if part of what the grade reflects is a lack of drive and self-discipline (as is often the case).

So it's with a heavy heart that I ready myself to break the news to some of my students: You failed. You need to take Level 1 again. Try coming to class more often next time, OK?


my awesome country

Some asswipe shot a Wendy's manager after an argument over hot sauce packets? The guy apparently wanted ten packs of hot sauce, and shot the manager for slow service. He then sped off with a woman in tow.

I hope they find this dude and force-feed him two 10-packs of soft tacos from the nearest Taco Bell. Next, they need to make him sit in a cell for a few hours, until he feels the urge to shit. Then, they should take ten little packets of hot sauce, mix them with broken glass, and shove the wad up his ass. Finally, as the urge to shit is mounting inside the dude, they should leave it up to him to figure out how to remove the wad.

Yeah... Guantanamo needs an idea guy like me.


fookin' amazin'

Watch this dude do a bike trick I've never seen before.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

advice for you WordPress folks

Those of you who blog with WordPress, please do me a favor: visit this site, and enable the changes so that my dashes (well, double hyphens) aren't converted into single hyphens when I leave comments on your blogs. The guy talks about "em dashes" on his blog, but I think he's mistaken. See this article for more on the various species of dashes.

Gracias. And spread the word. WordPress looks like a good platform, but it's got a few annoying quirks, and the dash/hyphen problem is one of them. As often happens with MS software, WordPress sometimes tries to do your thinking for you. I resent that.


...and the results are in

With 22 students reporting in, my average, depending on how you calculate it, is either 96.9% (Kevin's way) or 97.3% (Smoo's way).

Grade inflation, as per usual.

My French student, Jean-Pierre, saw that I had to go through the pain of being evaluated by students and rolled his eyes. "C'est ridicule," he told me. Apparently, as a teacher for the Cordon Bleu, he also gets evaluated by his students.

Comments this time around were rather sparse. Complaints included:

One hour is not enough time for conversation, especially conversation with the teacher.

Kevin's response: I agree that one hour isn't enough time. I disagree that students should fixate on talking with the teacher. I understand that students latch onto the teacher because the teacher's speech "models" correct English for them, but students need to learn to trust each other. Just making the effort to speak is a hurdle for many of my low-level students. They don't realize what long-term benefits they're getting, simply by overcoming their affective filter and flappin' their yaps.

Don't make us do skits!

Kevin's response: Ha ha ha! This one made me laugh. And I can guess who wrote that, too.

And... holy crap, that's it this time around! I normally see five or six wee complaints in the style and tone of the above, but this time around, two is it.

The compliments included:

Passionate teacher.

Fun, and kept us on task.

Taught in an easy-to-understand way.

Great & fun.

Kevin seems to make an effort for the students to understand him.

Explained things well. Taught with a variety of materials.

Kevin teaches in an exciting manner that reminds me of the movies.

Maintained an atmosphere in which it was easy to talk.

Was very kind and kept the class from being boring.

The teacher allowed us to form sentences without cutting us off before the end, which was nice.
(I've never had a compliment like that before, especially when I know that one of my flaws as a teacher is that I occasionally do cut students off.)

Fun & comfortable ambiance made for good conversation.

Because the teacher has extensive knowledge in various fields, we were able to learn "deep English" (깊은 영어).
(This comes from an intro-level student in my reading class. We studied Aesop's fables, bit by bit, but I also included Korean fairy tales and a healthy dose of Chuang Tzu, whose outlook often dovetails with Aesop's.)

Prepped well for classes. (Again, a reading student. For this class, every lesson included handouts made by yours truly. I'm not as much of a handout freak in my conversation classes, and I do prefer to generate my own material unless I find something way better online.)

Kevin is the best teacher I've ever met. (This was written in English, from a CNN English student of high-intermediate to low-advanced level. She's a sweetie.)

Not a bad way to finish off the semester, all in all. I'm still greedy for another 99%, as happened last year in the winter, but I seriously doubt I'll ever see its like again.


burning books on behalf of books?

I admit I don't get it.

Tom Wayne amassed thousands of books in a warehouse during the 10 years he has run his used book store, Prospero's Books. His collection ranges from best sellers like Tom Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October" and Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities," to obscure titles like a bound report from the Fourth Pan-American Conference held in Buenos Aires in 1910. But wanting to thin out his collection, he found he couldn't even give away books to libraries or thrift shops, which said they were full. So on Sunday, Wayne began burning his books protest what he sees as society's diminishing support for the printed word.

"This is the funeral pyre for thought in America today," Wayne told spectators outside his bookstore as he lit the first batch of books.

The fire blazed for about 50 minutes before the Kansas City Fire Department put it out because Wayne didn't have a permit to burn them.

Wayne said next time he will get a permit. He said he envisions monthly bonfires until his supply - estimated at 20,000 books - is exhausted.




This is shaping up to be one hell of a week. Conflict at work, conflict at home... great way to start my vacation. Gotta keep on a smile for the students.


Monday, May 28, 2007

pissed off

I feel like shooting a bunny.

Did you hear about that kid who took down a massive boar with a .50-caliber pistol? Given my current mood, I'd like to see what that pistol could do to Fiver, Hazel, Bigwig, and the rest of that fucking warren.

I wanna see rabbits explode in mid-leap. I wanna stand in a shower of lagomorph meat. I wanna ram a large hook through both of a rabbit's eyes-- in one eyehole and out the other-- and whirl that fucker around like a furry little morning star while screaming at passersby: Tell your fortune, ma'am? Sir!?

And then I wanna slap on some heavy hiking boots and step on hamsters for a couple hours.


from a reader

True Story: Battle Asses (from Best of Craigslist).


Sunday, May 27, 2007

should I skip out? (bis)

Charles at Liminality gives "Pirates" a generally positive review. He and I often operate on much the same wavelength, which makes me instinctively trust his point of view. Hmmm... à considérer...

NB: Charles's review is divided into a "non-spoiler" and "spoiler" section. I read the first section and have forgone the second because, well... I might just buy that ticket.


should I skip out?

Seems that "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" is getting quite the jolly rogering from the critics. I'm wondering whether it's worth the price of a ticket. The main complaints seem to be (1) the sheer length of the movie, (2) a convoluted and confusing plot, (3) an overabundance of characters in general, and (4) the consequent underuse or misuse of some of those characters.

All symptoms point to acute sequelitis.


my Saturday

I had only one meal on Saturday: diced, sauteed chicken breastuses. My dipping sauce rocked: it was a combination of two kinds of sriracha sauce plus mayonnaise and a dollop of Korean red pepper flakes. Quite tasty.

And that plus a salad was it-- unless you count two bottles of Coke Zero. The scandal here in Korea is that the "small" bottles of Coke used to be 600ml; those are being phased out in favor of 500ml bottles, for which we are paying the same price (in my neighborhood, the cost varies from W1000 to W1300).

I spent several hours at the office working on exam prep, and for once I got it all done. I'll be going back to the office, however, because I discovered that "Mission: Impossible III" is available through TV Links. TV Links has been somewhat disappointing: there are too many dead movie links on the site. I dutifully go through the "mark this link as dead" procedure, but have no idea whether this is working. Dead links remain dead; no one seems to be uploading new movies to replace the unavailable ones. (Of course, these are illegal uploads to begin with, so I have no right to complain.)

On my way to the office earlier today, I met three old students from a Freshman English course I taught last year. They're sophomores now; they were part of my advanced class last time, and their English remains superb (all three had lived abroad for years). One girl told me she's all set to get married when she graduates: she claims to have made a promise (pact, more like) with a guy she has known since they were both in high school; he's graduating this year, and they're to be married soon after. I wish the guy luck; my student's a great girl, but she's also a bundle of hangups-- one of those "I button my shirts all the way to the top button" types. I'm glad she has such a clear vision of her future, and I wish her happiness, but I hope she proceeds with some caution. Life often turns on a dime. Sae ong ji ma.

While at the office, I took a break and surfed over to the Retarded Animal Babies site, and was delighted to see that two new episodes have been created since my last, long-ago visit! Hooray! RAB is not for the squeamish: one new episode is about Halloween (I guess it has been a while since I visited); in it, Puppy punches eye and nose holes into his jack-o-lantern with his dick. The mouth hole is a much larger affair, so Puppy ponders how he's going to make that hole. His solution is... consistent with his randy character.

I still need to plan out how I'm going to handle this week's upcoming six jjong-parties, and I have to draw up a shopping list-- things to buy for folks in the States. My social calendar in the States is filling rapidly; several people have already joked that I'll need a vacation after my vacation. Not likely: once I'm back in Korea on the 26th, I have to plan for the upcoming summer intensive semester.

And while I've got your ear, I should note something that I've so far mentioned to only one person, my buddy Mike: I've got a yen to walk across America. As I noted to Mike, this is something I want to do before I'm 40, but as I think about what it means, I realize that it's going to be a huge project. I also realize it's something of a cliche: at this point, plenty of people have made the trek, including, quite famously, one dude whose efforts I respect (I blogged about him before; he's got a documentary coming out soon).

The main problem, of course, will be figuring out how to pay bills during the year-long trek. If I can't figure a way to do this, I'm screwed. Are sponsorships possible? Would Sallie Mae consider halving my debt if I wore a Sallie Mae ad the entire walk? I have a lot to think about, not least of which is the prospect of leaving the sweet job I currently have. I've enjoyed living in Korea and working at Smoo; this life isn't something I'd abandon lightly. But 40, man... 40's coming. And I do want to see more of my own country than I've seen before. I think a walk across the United States would be a hoot.

Big thoughts, big dreams. But first things first: laundry, lightsaber Photoshopping, "Mission: Impossible III," and another walk up Namsan await.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

my new addiction

So I watched "Alien vs. Predator" on TV Links yesterday. Silly movie, true, but it was cool to watch the crossover of two movie series. After watching the movie, I went over to Wikipedia to learn about its background. My surfing eventually led me to a hilarious online comic strip called Alien Loves Predator, which is subtitled, "In New York, No One Can Hear You Scream." The comic is by Bernie Hou, and features an Alien named Abe who is friends with a Predator named Preston. Abe's the id; Preston's the uh, superego. Kind of. Imagine Ernie and Bert, but with swearing. No one gets gutted. One of the best things about the strip is that Hou knows how to construct a joke, which is not easy to do in a three- or six-panel format. His Photoshopping skills are considerable. I'm still working my way through the archives; I got to about #53 last night and will doubtless continue tonight.

Learn more about the strip here; the strip itself is here. If you're a New Yorker, be sure to read Hou's commentary below the strip; a lot of the commentary is insider stuff; I can't relate to all of it, but it's obvious Hou is in love with his city. A few of my readers (Charles, Malcolm, Mike D, et al.) either hail from or have strong emotional ties to the Big Apple; I'm pretty sure they'd take to this strip immediately.


why do I do this to myself?

Sometimes I give myself work for no particular reason. Case in point: as the semester draws to a close, I've started taking pictures of my students, including some goofy ones that show the students in "Jedi" poses, using a cardboard paper towel tube as a lightsaber handle. As you might imagine, I'm going to be doing a ton of Photoshopping this weekend. Luckily, Star Wars freak Ryan Wieber has left a great tutorial on the web that beats out my own technique for making lightsaber effects; I'll be switching over to his method, which is easier and more efficient than mine.

I also have to finish writing up exams for my two Tuesday classes (the MWF exams are done), and then will have to grade everything next Friday. I'm not sure my colleagues are even bothering with exams in the final week. They know they'll have to come up with a number grade by Friday, and I assume they've got their methods for doing so. We don't have a strict, standardized departmental policy on grading (getting everyone to agree to such a policy is not easy), which is one reason for the differences among us. My own method for calculating grades doesn't vary much from what I used to do as a French teacher in the early 1990s. The grade distribution (easy to plot with the help of MS Excel) goes a bit like this, with variations depending on the class being taught:

Quizzes = 15%
Midterm = 15%
Final Exam = 20%
Homework = 15%
Project = 15%
Participation = 20%

More emphasis on the final exam and participation than on anything else, though there are times when I'm tempted to bump up the significance of homework. I didn't use to assign much homework, but I do it much more often now. It only makes sense: homework should serve primarily as reinforcement of what the students have learned. Occasionally, it should be exploratory in nature, but with the majority of my classes being low-level, I'm not planning on asking my students to do any groundbreaking research.

This semester, as with most semesters, my students have been largely negligent about homework-- another reason I was initially loath to assign it. Homework for a non-credit course is often a joke; you're lucky if 40% of the class does it. But strangely enough, one class this semester has been extremely scrupulous about doing their homework: my intro-level girls. Every girl in the class has at least an 85% homework average. Amazing. And I have no idea why.

Right-- well, a stomachache woke me up around 7:45 this morning, and I need to get crackin'. Much work to do. I'll probably do my Photoshopping in the office today; it'll go faster there, even though the Windows version of Photoshop has some annoying quirks. I have to be in the office to finish up the exam prep, anyway, so... off I go.


Friday, May 25, 2007

this trend saddens me

The decline of Western civilization is evident when we (rightly!) condemn other cultures for the deliberate truncation of female genitalia... then voluntarily submit to similar surgical procedures for appearance's sake.

Ladies-- you're beautiful. That Bermuda Triangle-- bearded or bald, popping out like a jack-in-the-box or as retiring as a frightened hermit crab-- that Mons Veneris, vertical smile, axe wound, spam purse, and minge: it is sublime to us men. If you trust no one else, trust that Zen master, Billy Joel: we love you just the way you are. Any man who thinks you need such alteration should be dragged out and shot. Any woman who (as the linked article suggests) looks at a fashion mag or porn vid and thinks I wish I looked like that ought to take some time out for deep reflection. Ruminate before you mutilate!

As Mr. Miyagi might have said, "Reeb-uh you pushy arone!"

You just watch those yeast levels, I'll promise to scrub out my fromunda cheese, and we're all good. In the meantime, fight this stupid trend and dump it on the trash heap of history, alongside asshole bleaching.


some pics of my current victims

A few pics of the ladies (and one gentleman) I'm currently indoctri-- uh, teaching. In the captions, "TR" means "Tuesday/Thursday" and "MWF" means "Monday/Wednesday/Friday."


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Happy Buddha's Birthday!

Today is a national holiday, known in Sino-Korean as Seok-ga T'an-shin Il ("Sakyamuni's Birthday") or in pure Korean as Bu-ch'eo-nim O-shin Nal ("the day the Buddha arrived"). It's the Buddha's birthday, folks!

The Buddha lived to a ripe old age; the monastic community was already forming around him during his lifetime. Barely two or three centuries after his death, the major division between Greater and Lesser Vehicle occurred. Around the time of Christ (about 60CE), Buddhism entered China, irrevocably changing both the religion and the religion's host culture. While the number of Buddhist adherents does not rival that of Christianity and Islam, Buddhism is nonetheless a global religion, and various forms of it have caught on in the West. It is still rare to encounter Westerners who are "cradle Buddhists," but their day is coming.

Korean Buddhism is largely Chinese-inflected, as seen in the colorful architecture, the style of the rituals, and the tenor of the belief structure. I also think of it as somewhat more "relaxed" than Japanese Buddhism; some Korean Zen monks joke about the Japanese monastic obsession with pain, though according to Robert Buswell, Korean monks are sometimes capable of their own forms of masochistic machismo.

Whether you're Buddhist or not, perhaps you'll take a bit of time out of your schedule to just breathe, to think and act mindfully (something we should all be doing, anyway), and to practice compassion. As Hyeon Gak sunim noted in that lecture I linked to, the true Buddha has no specific form. Open yourself to this fact, and you realize the entire world is your teacher.

Enjoy the day!


dharma talk

If you've never had the chance to listen to Hyeon Gak sunim give a dharma talk, take heart! I found an interesting link to a series of videos in which Hyeon Gak lectures on the Diamond Sutra. Here's one video. Enjoy.

NB: Hyeon Gak's lecture is primarily in English, but he does break into short bursts of Korean to accommodate Korean members of the audience. You'll also notice that his English is deliberately "dumbed down" for the same audience. Maybe we should consider such dumbing-down an example of upaya (skillful/expedient means). Heh. In the EFL/ESL field, it's generally frowned upon to talk to one's students in broken English, as the object of the game is to teach them proper English (they already speak the broken version!). But this was a dharma talk, not English class, so I'm not going to give the monk a hard time.


The Truth About Sarkozy: Parts 9, 10, and 11

Cécilia a été absente de la campagne Sarkozy: faux

Si les rumeurs se sont multipliées depuis janvier sur l'éloignement de Mme Sarkozy, la réalité est plus complexe. Quasi invisible depuis le 14 janvier jusqu'au premier tour, elle a néanmoins été très présente en coulisse. Ses vacances à l'étranger ne l'ont pas empêchée d'organiser la petite fête du 22 avril: c'est elle, et personne d'autre, qui a dressé la liste des happy few conviés à rejoindre le candidat, alors que les parlementaires se trouvaient dans un autre lieu de Paris. Ce jour-là, elle apparaît «virevoltante» aux yeux des invités, gérant la soirée de ses enfants, présents au QG de campagne, tout en s'occupant des élus et des stars. «Ceux qui ont souhaité le désengagement politique personnel, voire total, de Cécilia ont perdu», constate un ami de longue date du candidat.

Cecilia [Sarkozy's wife] has been absent from Sarkozy's campaign: FALSE

If rumors have spread since January regarding the distancing of Mme. Sarkozy, the reality is more complex. Nearly invisible from the 14th of January to the first round of voting, she has nevertheless been quite a presence on the sidelines. Her vacations abroad didn't stop her from organizing that little party on the 22nd of April: it was she, and no one else, who drew up the list of "the happy few" invited to meet with the candidate, while the parliamentarians found themselves elsewhere in Paris. That day, she appeared "energized"* in the eyes of the guests, managing the evening with her children, present at campaign HQ, all while handling elected officials and celebrities. "Those who have wished for Cecilia's personal, even total, political noninvolvement have lost," says a longtime friend of the candidate.

Sarkozy est un ultralibéral: faux, mais...

C'est un libéral à la française qui croit à la fois en l'homme et en l'Etat. Comme Adam Smith, célèbre économiste du XVIIIe siècle, et ses successeurs, il pense que le travail fait la richesse, que l'impôt pénalise l'activité et qu'il faut le réduire, que le mérite doit être récompensé. Mais, comme Superman, il est persuadé qu'il doit sauver le monde. En période électorale, il a vite choisi entre ses héros: quitte à décevoir les admirateurs - au demeurant peu démonstratifs - de Hayek et d'Aron, il se fait le chantre d'un Etat puissant, capable d'empêcher la faillite d'un groupe industriel (il se vante d'avoir repêché Alstom), de limiter le libéralisme commercial (il défend la préférence communautaire), monétaire (il veut que les Etats européens pilotent le taux de change de l'euro) ou salarial (il envisage de revenir à l'indexation des salaires sur les prix). «Il pense que l'économie de marché est le système le plus efficace, note un proche. Mais c'est un homme politique, persuadé que les gouvernants doivent répondre aux inquiétudes de l'opinion publique.» Et voilà comment l'opportunisme politique se transforme en pragmatisme économique!

Sarkozy is an ultraliberal: FALSE, but...

Sarkozy is a French-style liberal who believes in both Man and the State. Like Adam Smith, the famous 18th-century economist, and Smith's successors, he thinks that work makes one rich, that taxes penalize activity and should be reduced, and that merit should be compensated. But, like Superman, he is convinced he has to save the world. During the electoral period, he quickly chose between his heroes: at the risk of disappointing the admirers-- overall, not very demonstrative -- of Hayek and Aron, Sarkozy led the chant for a powerful state capable of preventing the failure of an industrial group (he boasts of having rescued Alstom), and of limiting commercial liberalism (he defends EU common market preference**), be it monetary (he wants the European states to govern the exchange rate of the euro) or salary-related (he envisions coming back to the linkage of salaries to prices). "He thinks a market economy is the most efficient system," a friend notes. "But he's a politician, convinced that those who govern should respond to the worries expressed in public opinion." And that is how political opportunism is transformed into economic pragmatism!

Sarkozy a la mainmise sur certains médias: vrai

Martin Bouygues, Arnaud Lagardère, Jean-Pierre Elkabbach, Nicolas Beytout: à la tête de nombreux médias figurent des professionnels qui sont parfois des amis, en tout cas de vieilles connaissances. Et Sarkozy a le coup de fil facile. L'Express avait raconté comment le candidat appela Edouard de Rothschild, l'actionnaire principal de Libération, à la suite d'une Une: «Impôt sur la fortune de Sarkozy: le soupçon». Le 8 mars, Simone Veil annonce son ralliement. C'est un geste que l'équipe de campagne estime capital. L'information ouvrira le Journal de 20 heures de TF 1 et fera la pleine Une du Figaro. Le Canard enchaîné a relaté plusieurs scènes de menaces lancées par le candidat. Entre les deux tours, Ségolène Royal et François Bayrou ont accusé Sarkozy d'avoir fait «pression» sur des médias pour empêcher la tenue de leur débat - qui eut lieu le 28 avril.

Sarkozy controls certain elements of the media: TRUE

Martin Bouygues, Arnaud Lagardère, Jean-Pierre Elkabbach, Nicolas Beytout: the heads of certain media are professionals who are sometimes friends-- or old acquaintances, at any rate. And for Sarkozy, a phone call is easy. L'Express has recounted how the candidate called Edouard de Rothschild, the principal shareholder of Libération, after the appearance of a Page One story titled "Tax on Sarkozy's Fortune: Suspicion." On March 8, Simone Veil announced she was rallying to Sarkozy. This was a gesture the campaign team would consider crucial. The information would be the opener for the 8 O'Clock Journal on TF1 and would be a Page One story for Le Figaro. Le Canard Enchaîné related several threats from the candidate. Between the two rounds of voting, Ségolène Royal and François Bayrou accused Sarkozy of having "pressured" the media to restrict the nature of their debate, which took place on April 28.

*The adjective in question, virevoltant, is a bit difficult to translate. The French dictionary offers this: "S'agiter, aller et venir sans cesse en tous sens," i.e., "To be agitated, to come and go in all directions without stopping." The adjective and its verbal form can be applied to the motion of the eyes, which might lead to an English rendering like "shifty," but that's not how I read the French passage here. The point is that Cecilia was seemingly able to be in several places at once, which implies that she multitasked energetically. Hence my translation. "Shifty" would have been misleadingly negative. "Animated" applies best to something like conversation. "Energized," though, comes close to the truth of virevoltant(e) in Madame's case.

**I've translated "la préférence communautaire" as "EU common market preference" based on the definition I saw in the dictionary for "communautaire": "Qui est propre, qui appartient au Marché commun européen," i.e., "That which is proper or belongs to the European Common Market." I wasn't aware of this meaning of "communautaire," but I suspected something was up due to the context. "Communautaire" normally means "community-related."


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Akeelah and the Bee": a brief review

I watched "Akeelah and the Bee" this evening. It's a spelling bee movie, which means you're going to see montages involving scared kids in front of microphones and audiences. For me, the movie brought back memories of my own days as a spelling bee contestant both in elementary and junior high school. In the sixth grade, I ended up as school champion, then spelled out on the word "muumuu" in the Alexandria regional bee. The winner that year, whose name I will never forget until Alzheimer's rips it from my brain, won the contest on the easy-to-spell "aerotrain." I got third place and, quite to my surprise, was serenaded with "He's a Jolly Good Fellow" when I entered Mr. Davis's classroom the following morning. Suddenly, third place didn't seem so bad. And luckily for me, my parents weren't obsessive about my winning first place in any contest; they simply told me to do my best. (By the way, Mr. Davis remains one of my favorite teachers.)

Akeelah Anderson is an eleven-year-old who has skipped a grade to enter Crenshaw Middle School, where she cuts classes and is generally unmotivated. But her English teacher notices that she is able to ace her spelling tests with no effort at all. This attracts the attention of the school's principal, and Akeelah is invited to participate in the school spelling bee. There is a good chance she will win the bee and represent Crenshaw in the regionals, and perhaps go even as far as the nationals. Akeelah, fearing the ostracism that comes which appearing too brainy, is hesitant at first but reluctantly participates. She wins as predicted, but when the contest is over, a gentleman stands up and asks her, over the protests of some of the adults, to spell a series of far more difficult words than those used in the bee. Akeelah successfully spells them all, except for "pulchritude." Abashed and convinced she has somehow failed, she runs out of the auditorium.

The gentleman turns out to be a Dr. Joshua Larabee, an ex-Ivy League prof who is the former roommate (or was it classmate?) of Crenshaw's principal. Larabee sees Akeelah's incredible potential and decides to take Akeelah under his wing. You can guess the rest of the movie, I think.

But despite the film's predictability, I'm happy to say that "Akeelah and the Bee" is perceptively written. It's very L.A. in how it deals with issues of race, family, and neighborhood (the movie begins and is largely centered on South L.A.); it also treats typically American themes like self-esteem, drive, friendship, and sportsmanship. Much of the movie centers on the contestants themselves-- kids who form rivalries and bonds of friendship.

Perhaps most striking for me was how the movie plays up the Asian/black rivalry, with a controlling Asian father as the bad guy, pushing his son ever harder to win the national bee on his third try. While the portrayal of the Asian family was stereotypical, it also had the ring of truth about it-- the racism, the insane competitiveness, the take-no-prisoners attitude. Akeelah's own formation under the tutelage of Dr. Larabee makes for a winning contrast: far from learning the mere what of words by memorizing lists and lists of them, she also learns the why and how of words-- their origins, histories, and usage in context. Dr. Larabee insists that Akeelah, once comfortable with the idea that large words are often composed of smaller words (which provides a clue to their spelling), will be able to tackle words she has never seen before.

The movie definitely inspires. I like the way Roger Ebert ended his own review of "Akeelah and the Bee." He wrote:

Now I am going to start dancing around the plot. Something happens during the finals of the National Bee that you are not going to see coming, and it may move you as deeply as it did me. I've often said it's not sadness that touches me the most in a movie, but goodness. Under enormous pressure, at a crucial moment, Akeelah does something good. Its results I will leave you to discover. What is ingenious about the plot construction of writer-director Doug Atchison is that he creates this moment so that we understand what's happening, but there's no way to say for sure. Even the judges sense or suspect something. But Akeelah, improvising in the moment and out of her heart, makes it air-tight. There is only one person who absolutely must understand what she is doing, and why -- and he does.

This ending answers one of my problems with spelling bees, and spelling bee movies. It removes winning as the only objective. Vince Lombardi was dead wrong when he said, "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing" (a quote, by the way, first said not by Lombardi but in the 1930s by UCLA coach Henry "Red" Sanders -- but since everybody thinks Lombardi said it, he won, I guess). The saying is mistaken because to win for the wrong reason or in the wrong way is to lose. Something called sportsmanship is involved.

In our winning-obsessed culture, it is inspiring to see a young woman like Akeelah Anderson instinctively understand, with empathy and generosity, that doing the right thing involves more than winning. That's what makes the film particularly valuable for young audiences. I don't care if they leave the theater wanting to spell better, but if they have learned from Akeelah, they will want to live better.

And that seems like a good way to end this review, too. I challenge anyone not to feel a bit better about the human race after watching this film. Sure, it's calculated to be a feel-good movie, but I came away thinking that there's still hope for us.


progress since May 12

My old workout at the gym, as reported back on May 12th, was:

1. 10km (approx. 27-28 min.) on the NordicTrack thingy (it's actually a ??? 835 elliptical trainer), now at Tension Level 3, which seems to be about where I need to be. Level 1 was a good place to start; it broke me in easily. Level 2 turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than Level 1, but was still a bit easy. Level 3-- ahhhh, that gets me sweating within a single minute (not that that's hard to do), and it keeps my heart rate around 160 for the remaining 26 or 27 minutes. That's actually higher than the maximum safe training rate for someone my age (146 beats per minute is about where I need to be). I usually hit 10km before I reach 30 minutes, so I spend the remaining 2-3 minutes checking my pulse and chugging along much more slowly.

2. 3 sets of 10 reps on the pullover bar, set at a measly 40kg.

3. 3 sets of 10 reps on the bench press (variable grips), set at a measly 40kg.

4. 3 sets of 10 reps on the lat bar (variable grips), set at a measly 35kg. Believe me, it's going to be years before I can once again do proper pullups. The most I've ever done in my life is a single set of seven, and that was while I was living in Switzerland. I'm not even ready to try negatives at this point.

5. 1 set of 5 reps of standing dumbbell side raises, 9kg.

6. 3 sets of 5 reps of dumbbell curls, 9kg, varying between hammer curls and regular curls.

Now, I'm doing the following:

1. Still the same cardio workout: Tension Level 3 on the elliptical trainer, set for 10km and 30 minutes. I usually finish in 27 or 28 minutes and use the remaining time to measure my pulse (still around 160) and to bring myself back to earth.

2. For the pullover bar, the weight is now set to 50kg. Some progress here as I explore my limits. Because of the machine's strange pulley system, I suspect I'm not pulling the full 50kg, which is why I've been able to ratchet the weight up in such a short time.

3. Good improvement on the bench press. 3 sets of 10 reps (or, alternately, 6 sets of 5 reps), how at 45kg. Considering how much I weigh, this means I'm still not ready to blast out 60 taekwondo-style, on-your-knuckles pushups, but it does mean that something's happening to the old chesticles, not to mention the triceps. Am getting those punching muscles back in working order. I used to be able to slam the shit out of a 70-pound bag. I've never been quick, but I do hit hard. (I guess the 70-pound bag remark is a bit like saying I can deck a third- or fourth-grader. Yeah, I'm proud of that.)

4. For the lat bar, I now do 40kg, same sets and reps. Still lame. If they had a pullup bar, I'd be trying negatives about now.

5. Dumbbell raises remain the same.

6. Today, instead of doing curls with the 9kg dumbbells, I found and switched over to the curling machine, where I barely managed to do two sets of 5 reps at 40kg (about 88 pounds). I'm going to be working on that.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

grading time

The semester is winding down; we're in the final two weeks. We have the day off today, as it's Founder's Day for our university (ch'ang-hak gi-nyeom il), but after I finish my current bout of laundry, I'll be lumbering over to the office to do some test rating. I should have gone there this morning, but couldn't find the willpower to wake up early and make the trip. I was also up rather late last night, which isn't typical for a weekday; I normally have to wake up around 6:30am.

Final exams are coming up, and along with exam prep, I have to do my usual jjong-party prep. I'm going to have to keep it frugal this time around; now that our payday has changed, this upcoming payday is the only money I'll have when I go to the States on June 5th. Thank goodness for the million-won bonus that came with the end of my second contract back in April; that entire bonus, plus another $250, went into my plane ticket. I'm planning to hit Europe in December and won't have a bonus to rely on then; instead, I'm going to have to save like a maniac.

But first things first. Laundry. Test rating. One day at a time.

*I had been hoping to be paid mid-month, as had been the case, but payday has switched to the 25th of the month, which is useless to me in the States, as I'll be leaving the US on June 25th.


calling all sci-fi trivia geeks

Brian wrote a comment to this post in which he jokingly mentioned that he wanted to establish his sci-fi nerd bona fides. Well, I've got a request for all such geeks:

I vaguely remember a short story that appeared in an issue of Omni Magazine, probably in 1986. I don't remember the month, but I think it appeared in the same issue as Stephen King's short story, "The End of the Whole Mess."

The story dealt with the nature of God, a nature we discover to be horrifying. At the very end of the story, the protag has a vision of God in which God appears as a lion and a lamb. The lion suddenly turns on the lamb and slaughters it with a single blow, at which point the protag realizes that God is a bloodthirsty, vengeful God who demands sacrifice. The vision of God morphs; the lion and lamb change to reveal God as God truly is: some vast, awful, "cyclic" (or "cyclical") thing. The story ends about there.

Does anyone know what the name of this story is, and where I might find it online (assuming it is online)?

ANSWER, June 18, 2012: "The Visitation," by Greg Bear.


say your good-byes

Annika has left the building.


Monday, May 21, 2007

shaggy god story

I just learned the term "shaggy god story" after sifting through some Wikipedia articles. My search was prompted by my just having re-watched "2001: A Space Odyssey," a film I haven't seen in years. Although I knew that many sci-fi films owed "2001" an artistic debt, I had forgotten just how great that debt was.

For example: almost every spaceport takeoff and landing sequence in the Star Wars movies is a reference to something out of "2001," especially that scene where the PanAm Clipper docks with the orbital station. To understand what I mean, watch the end of that "2001" docking sequence, then watch Vader's shuttle landing in the Death Star at the beginning of "Return of the Jedi." Uncanny. No, not uncanny: deliberate.

Musical tropes as well: the soundtrack for "2001" is largely from old and modern classical pieces, but I had forgotten that one piece also makes it into the Alien series as well-- that quiet piece which I best remember hearing at the beginning of "Aliens" as we see Ripley's tiny spacecraft drifting toward us.

Back to Star Wars: the large shuttle that conveys Heywood Floyd from the orbital station to Clavius Base on the moon is the obvious precursor to the lifepod we see ejected at the beginning of "Star Wars: A New Hope." In fact, I'm pretty sure Lucas was quoting Kubrick in that scene where the lifepod is tumbling toward Tatooine.

Whoa-- the above was a massive digression. A shaggy god story, as it turns out, is a story in which science is used to explain something biblical. As the Wikipedia article notes:

In its original sense a Shaggy God story features a heterosexual pair of astronauts landing on a lush and virgin world and in the last line their names are revealed as Adam and Eve. The term has now spread into general usage to mean any science fictional justification of theology. It is widely considered a cliché.

One of Larry Niven's stories in his collection Limits is a bit like this: humans land on a new planet and have children, but their children are born looking shockingly deformed. As the kids grow up, it becomes obvious that they look, think, and act like Neanderthals or some other sort of hominid, and the scientists eventually realize that it is part of human biology for the genes to "start again" when humans reach a completely different world. Thus, the scientists represent both the source and summit of humankind on this new earth, as these children's descendants will eventually come to look like the original scientists. Weird, eh? Not Niven's best story, to be sure.

I wonder: is the entire BSG series a shaggy god story?


coming soon: Prismind

In July, I'll be doing an IM interview with Zach Shatz, a gent who has written an interesting book titled Prisms and Mind, in which Shatz puts forward what I will hesitantly describe as a "prismatic paradigm" for understanding reality. The subtitle of Shatz's book is "Unifying Psychology, Physics, & Theology." Shatz has set himself a rather ambitious goal (EO Wilson tried a similar stunt with his book Consilience), and I plan to pepper him with questions.

If you're interested in buying Shatz's book-- which I encourage you do to-- please visit his website at

From the site:

One's consciousness can be scattered or integrated. When integrated, each concept or facet is informed by the rest, and so each facet reflects the totality.

This principle is found physically in holograms, in which any segmented piece contains the whole image from which it was cut. Similarly, in a gem, each facet is a window into the rest of the crystal. This "whole contained within the part" phenomenon is also present in the quantum entanglement of particle interactions.

Prisms and Mind contends that the processes of consciousness take after those of quantum behavior, which can be detected in patterns of verbal language. (The case is made, this is why good poetry can have mystical properties.) Unifying psychology, physics and theology, this book's content is integrated to the degree that the text is what it describes—a prismatic scheme of consciousness.

Integrating the psyche achieves wholeness in consciousness, providing a sanctum for the soul and realization of the Self.

This "mystical manual" is formatted in expository style on the right-hand pages, with fascinating research from across all disciplines on the facing left-hand pages. For example, find that gravity fields and magnetic behavior have been mapped with prismatic modeling; that an incredible array of scientific and technological devices have been developed with prisms; that Buddhism's "Indra's web" corresponds with nuclear chemistry's "lattice of the infinite crystal."

A truly successful metaphysics will accommodate the full range of history's "great ideas." Read how prism theory accounts for the schemes of Goethe, Wilber, Piaget, Bohm, Einstein, Sheldrake, Fuller, Jung, Nietzsche and others. Includes an extensive bibliography and four appendices exploring archetypal forms in culture and gender.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

the evolution of the new
Liminality sidebar image

I decided that, in the spirit of liminality, I would design a new sidebar image for Charles's site that better reflects what the concept of liminality is. The word comes from the Latin "limen," meaning "threshold," and is used in various fields (anthropology, religious studies, etc.) to refer to that interval during which a person is in transition between two distinct periods of life-- crossing a threshold, so to speak.

The Korean jang seung, hilarious wooden threshold guardians usually found in pairs at a trailhead, seemed like a great representation of the limen. Instead of stealing an image from online, I decided to draw the jang seung myself. They're about the size of totem poles and are usually seen in pairs, often male/female pairs as indicated by the Chinese characters on their fronts. Because I knew I would be creating a sidebar image only 150 pixels wide, I decided to dispense with the Chinese on the front (usually "ch'eon-ha dae jang-gun" for the male, and "ji-ha yeo jang-gun" for the female).

So I scanned the jang seung posts along with the Chinese characters "gyeonggyae-seong," which is the term Charles has coined for "liminality."* A "gyeonggyae" is a border; "seong" means "state, nature, property," etc. It's a bit like the nominalizing endings "-ness" or "-ence" or "-ity" in English. I know "seong" from the Buddhist term "bul seong," or Buddha-nature (some say "buddhahood"). Anyway, "gyeong gyae seong" is literally "border-ness," as Charles tells me.

Here's the design I started working with:

Unfortunately, I discovered that the above design didn't reduce well when I scrunched everything down to 150 pixels. It was a tough decision, but in the final design, I decided to chop off one of the jang seung, and ended up with the following:

I wish I could have included both posts, but that was impossible.

This sidebar image has the distinction of being taller than the 200 pixels I normally assign to such images. It's 238 pixels tall, making it similar to some of the "old school" images still on my sidebar-- the ones I had made before standardizing the 200-pixel height.

Just a reminder: my previous Liminality sidebar image was simply a pic of Jeonju bibimbap stolen from Charles's photo gallery, with the Chinese characters "mun ji bang" (literally, "threshold") on the side. This is what used to represent Liminality:

No longer! Tout passe, tout casse, tout lasse, baby! Things disappear and the world moves on!

Final note: I might recycle both jang seung dudes and make them into a mug or tee shirt design, though obviously not with the Chinese "gyeonggae-seong" on there.

*Originally, Charles had been using "munjibang-seong," where "munjibang" literally meant "threshold." He decided this term didn't adequately capture what liminality was, hence the switch to "gyeonggyae-seong," which does seem to flow more easily.


Ave, Charles!

Charles of Liminality fame is close to being ABD (All But Dissertation) in his Korean Lit studies at Seoul National University. I had the chance to watch him in action at a conference yesterday, in which he presented a paper on the trickster figure and his pet subject, liminality. I understood precisely five percent of what he and his interlocutor said, and admit I was there more out of friendly solidarity than because I thought I'd actually learn anything from the lecture (had it been in English or French, I wouldn't be saying this). But it was cool to watch the proceedings, and it made me realize that I do like attending such conferences.

Charles had to read his paper aloud (that's SOP for most academic conferences); it turns out that he reads in blindlingly fast Korean. It was all I could do to keep up with his presentation as my finger desperately traced the text along with his words. I lost my place several times as Charles began skipping around for the sake of not running overtime.

I can't judge the content of the presentation (though I did understand a few bits here and there), but I can note that my friend comported himself with grace and composure, and did a bang-up job-- especially as the only foreigner presenting. He's going to be a very good prof once he gets the PhD.

I've just about finished a new Liminality design for the sidebar. It'll be up soon. Promise.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

gate gate paragate

I've deactivated my Facebook account. I'd like to delete the account, actually, but I didn't see the delete option.

Facebook seems like an interesting idea if you're all about slapping up pictures instead of spending time blogging. It's the forum of choice for many teens and 20-somethings. I enjoyed certain aspects of it, but not others. It was cool, for example, that you were given "wall" space on which to write comments, but those comments couldn't be edited if you found mistakes. I also had trouble when I tried putting my book up in the Facebook Marketplace; the Marketplace software rounded up my book's price from $21.95 to an even $22, and wasn't very helpful when I tried putting up pictures of the book's front and back cover.

Call me an old, crotchety fart, but Facebook simply isn't something I need. I spend enough time maintaining this blog, and I can slap pictures up here.

Annika's lovely blog is about to kick the bucket as well; Annika's studying for the bar exam and says she has been thinking about quitting the blogging life for a while. Check her blog out before it goes dead sometime in the next 48 hours. With one less readable conservative on my sidebar, my sidebar slides a wee bit closer to the left.

Current Righties or Suspected Righties on my sidebar:

Naked Villainy
Budae Chigae 2
Ruminations in Korea
Dram Man
Gypsy Scholar
Sperwer's Log
DPRK Studies
One Free Korea
ROK Drop
Cosmic Buddha
Riding Sun
Just Another Human (Nur Ein Mensch)
Enjoy Every Sandwich
Laudator Temporis Acti
My Pet Jawa
Winds of Change (mostly right-leaning)
Annika's Journal (soon defunct)
Maverick Philosopher
Waka Waka Waka
Bill's Comments
Anal Philosopher

Current Lefties or Suspected Lefties:

About Joel
GM Jeonuchi
Scribblings of the Metropolitician
Sound of a Dog Eating Grass
Gangwon Notes
EFL Geek
The Chosun Bimbo
Wandering to Tamshui
Peking Duck
Hoarded Ordinaries
Addofio (?)

Current Moderates, Suspected Moderates, and "Don't Know"s:

Party Pooper (poops equally on all)
Liminality (slightly right-leaning, but not focused on politics)
What Not To Do In Australia (conscious avoidance of politics)
I Got 2 Shoes (slightly left-leaning, I think)
Port Coquitlam Odysseus (hawkish on foreign policy, but an interesting mix on other issues)
Long Time Gone (I sense rightie-ness here, but am not sure)
Hunjangui Karuchim (I simply don't know)
The Iceberg (probably a bit to the left, but unsure)
Thoughts of a Goat (skews right? not sure)
ruNK (no idea, but probably rightward)
Reverend Jim's House of Pain and Redemption (a bit leftward, I think)
Kangmi (no idea!)
Higo Blog (I've always wondered, but have no clue; big bro at Cosmic Buddha skews rightward)
English Bloopers: The Blog (skews leftward on some issues, but appreciates the Middle Way)
Pretentious Musings (probably leftie given all the PoMo)
Blog d'Elisson (probably rightie, but I'm unsure)
Ryan's Lair (I'm clueless)
Persephone's Synaptic Misfire (a bit left)
Verbum Ipsum (very balanced)
Milinda's Questions (no idea)


BSG Season 4 predictions

I slapped these BSG predictions up on my Facebook account (which I'm taking down soon, possibly this weekend; the experiment is over), but wanted to place them here so everyone can see, later on, whether I've made an ass of myself or am clairvoyant.

Here we go:

1. Starbuck is not the final Cylon.

2. Earth, when found, will not be the present-day Earth. That would be way too awkward: how to explain the near-exact parallel evolution of two cultures (Colonial and North American) separated by so much time and space? No: I suspect we will see an "alternate Earth."

3. The Adama-Tigh friendship will end in either a murder or a suicide. Most obvious bet is Tigh killing himself out of self-hatred. That's why I'm betting Adama will surprise us all by losing it and killing himself at or near the end of the story. That, or he'll murder Tigh.

4. Some Cylons will become humanity's permanent friends as the fracturing of Cylon culture continues.

5. As a result, the Cylon issue will not be resolved by the end of the series: you can't commit genocide against friends. Cylons will be with us forever.

6. Hocus-pocus mysticism will become even more annoyingly prevalent, and the series will lose all credibility with me.

What I'd love to see is that the beings in the BSG universe are all simply pixels in an even greater mind, one that thinks the same thoughts over and over, thereby explaining the human and Cylon belief in eternal recurrence. What if, in the end, it turned out that everyone was a Cylon?


Friday, May 18, 2007


Nebuchadnezzar, Mrs. Tiedeman's Siamese cat, leaped at me right as I was passing her coffee table. My baseball bat was already in my hand, and I timed the swing beautifully. Cat and bat connected with a gratifying thud; Nebuchadnezzar whizzed across the living room and smashed head-first into a large, wall-mounted mirror, shattering it. The cat slid down the wall, flopped among the mirror's broken remains, farted out his intestines, and lay still.

Mrs. Tiedeman's other Siamese, Fuckstick, ran into the room to see what was going on. Fuckstick saw the body of his brother, yowled in fury, and leaped for my scrotum. I heaved the coffee table onto its side, spilling books and newspapers onto the floor. Fuckstick smashed into the table with enough force to knock me down; I scrambled backward to give myself room for a mighty swing of my bat. When the cat made his next leap, I swung and caught him across the head. The noise of the cat's skull being crushed was indescribably tomato-y, and the sight of the cat's body cartwheeling through the air, spewing ropes of blood from his head and his ass, was dazzling.

Mrs. Tiedeman herself finally made an appearance, drawn downstairs by this 2AM commotion in her palatial flat. She saw me in her living room, ragged and bloody, panting with exhaustion and flushed with glee. She uttered a high, piercing scream that made my balls vibrate. The scream went on and on, scaling upward until it was ultrasonic before she ran out of breath.

"What are you doing here?" she finally cried. "What have you done to Nebuchadnezzar and Fuckstick?"

"Apartment rules, ma'am," I said. "No pets. Period." My eyes flicked to a dark corner when I heard the sudden chirruping of a budgie in a cage. I yanked my shotgun out of its back-mounted holster as Mrs. Tiedeman began screaming again...


payday changed??

We, the foreign English teachers, only just found out today that our payday has been changed from the 15th of the month to the 25th of the month. This is annoying insofar as it means I now have to re-figure my budget: I send money to the States every month, and certain bills come due on certain dates. For over two years, the process of transferring money to my US account the day after payday has gone relatively smoothly.

Even more vexing is the fact that, by moving the pay date ten days forward, there's a chance I'll be cheated out of eight days' pay this month.* We're planning on speaking to the boss about this on Monday. As you might imagine, we're not happy campers.

The change was known for 2-3 months by elements across campus from us; we weren't informed of anything here.

I'm hoping this won't be a big deal. Rearranging bill payments is simply a fact of life; sometimes you have to roll with the vagaries of the bureaucracy (the paydate change was campus-wide). My main concern is the two weeks' pay. If the direct deposit of my salary this month and next month are for exactly the same amount, I'm going to be sorely pissed off.

*We were being paid on the 15th of every month. That's a salary of X won approximately every 4.5 weeks. In principle, had my pay been on the 15th this month, I would have received my normal salary of X. But if the payday has been moved forward 10 days, I would expect my pay to be X + 8 business days (i.e., 10 calendar days) this month only. That's what I'm hoping to receive come the 25th. Then in June, I should be back to receiving the normal salary of X, as paydays will henceforth cover a one-month period from the 25th to the 25th. Follow?


Ave, Skippy!

Yet another Skippy classic:

It was only when I was unzipped and at the urinal that I came to a shocking realization: I don't usually have my penis exposed when witnessing a lover's quarrel.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

quick thoughts on "Casino Royale"

I finally watched "Casino Royale." The short review (as I'm in no mood to write another monster-sized movie review):

1. Exceptionally corny dialogue at some points.

2. Self-defibrillation? At least it failed.

3. Interesting combination of boring card game plus cool chases, especially the first chase, largely on foot, in which Bond is clearly outmatched by a Parkour (a.k.a. yamakasi) expert (none other than Sebastien Foucan plus a stunt double). Oh, yeah: one movie quote was running through my mind as I watched this scene: "This kid ran down a cephalopoid on foot."

4. Lots of twists kept me guessing, but I was pretty sure the female lead would betray Bond. I didn't expect the discovery of her innocence at the end, though.

5. Torture the balls! When they cut the bottom out of the chair, I was hoping they were going to force-feed him prune juice and just... wait.

6. Too bad the supercar lasted barely thirty seconds in the car chase.

7. Yes, the critics are right: a grittier Bond.

8. For a guy who claims to hate guns, Daniel Craig seems to handle them well.

9. Big laugh when Bond starts sucking Vesper's fingers in the shower.

10. Hooray that Felix Leiter is once again black. Say "no" to a whiter Leiter!

11. French without subtitles! Hooray!

12. Giancarlo Gianinni! Hooray! And he looks younger than I expected. I remember him looking old and gritty in "Saving Grace." Doesn't seem to have aged much.

13. Very good fight scenes; I wondered whether Nick Powell, the dude who choreographed the excellent fight scenes in "The Bourne Identity," was behind the fights in "Casino Royale." They had about the same flavor. But no: "Casino Royale's" fight choreographer is... uh... I just looked the movie up on, but the only listing is for stunts, and there we see Sebastien Foucan. I have no idea whether the guy is a martial arts expert; he's generally associated with "free running."

14. Judi Dench as M again! Hooray!

15. I didn't expect Le Chiffre to be killed off long before the end of the movie. Bravo to the scriptwriters for that one.

16. No Q? What the hell?!


how feminist is Smoo?

I work at a women's university that markets itself as the place where young ladies come to learn "leadership." I have yet to hear this concept clearly defined, though I admit this is partly because I haven't actively sought the definition out myself.

We have several professors here who have written about or within the feminist tradition, and I have long had the impression that Smoo was or had become, essentially, a feminist school.

But some of my students brought me up short this week and recoiled at the notion that Smoo was a bastion of feminism. One student was bold enough to say that, after four years of hearing the "leadership" mantra, she was sick of the idea of women as leaders, and she simply wanted to lead a "normal" life. Whatever that might mean.

I'm not sure what to make of this, and think I've stumbled onto what might be a sociologist's dream. The students' remarks represent a school of thought that is likely only one of several swirling about the campus; I've taught enough students here to know that their personalities and convictions come in all shapes and sizes. We definitely have feminists here.

It might be cool to conduct a survey of student attitudes toward feminism, but I'd need to think about how to go about this. The first and most obvious question is to what degree it is legitimate to conflate leadership and feminism. Training women to be leaders isn't synonymous with inculcating feminism, even though there has to be plenty of overlap between the two agendas. Another question is what definitions of feminism should be used in such a survey.

Still, it would be neat to explore this question more deeply with my English students and possibly with the campus at large.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

catching up on my, uh, culture

"Spider-Man 3" was the first movie I had seen in a theater in over a year, if I'm not mistaken. Lately, I've been using TV Links to catch up on the movies I've missed, though I find I'm occasionally stymied by my office computer's volatile connection to the site.

Along with "300," I have now seen "Jackass 2" (fucking hilarious, and arguably gayer than the first movie; if you don't know what I'm talking about, just watch the flick) as well as the first two Pirates of the Caribbean flicks (largely bloodless action fare-- no major amputations, but small creatures do get shot, including a crow and an undead monkey, both in the second film).

I also finally took a gander at the first episode of a very old TV series called "The Prisoner." Cool and corny; very dated, but worthwhile for the issues it raises about power, control, personhood, and the eternal question What is real?

At the behest of my buddy Tom, I also began watching old episodes of "South Park." This has been patchy; I'm caught up on Season 11, but still have to work my way through most of the previous ten seasons.

Since finishing the book, I've had a lot more free time. I have no plans to start a new book project until after I'm back from the States in June, so as I prep for the visit home, I'm taking my time and moving at an even more leisurely pace than usual. I get my gym in three times a week, and hit Namsan two or three times as well (I let myself go on Sundays). The rest of my time is spent blogging, emailing, reading, and watching movies.

Life could be worse.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

plane ticket resolution?

I'm heading off to the States on June 5th. The travel agent I had used two years ago had done a good job back then, but she fumbled the ball this time around, listing my name incorrectly when she made the reservations. She then said that a name change would cost me $100, so I had to remind her that I had stated my full, proper name to her in my emails, and that the fault wasn't mine. The travel agent agreed to make the changes at no cost to me, but she took about a week to do it. My father, who's a retired airline employee, knows the system and became involved in the wrangling. Thanks to him, I do believe the problem's been straightened out.

Why is something as simple as air travel such a pain in the ass to arrange?

Before you write in: yeah, I know some will say "it isn't simple." I disagree. How hard is it to hop in a car, bus, subway, or train and go somewhere?

I keep hoping that we'll get around to creating those gigantic superblimps-- cheap* air travel for the masses, scudding about in the high atmosphere, taking a few days to get where we're going, but getting there safely.

*I was shocked to discover that traveling by freighter is actually damn expensive. Maybe blimp travel won't be so cheap, after all.


The Truth About Sarkozy: Parts 6, 7, and 8

Sarkozy remet en question le principe de laïcité: faux

Ce fut l'une des différences qu'il prit plaisir à faire entendre pendant le quinquennat. Alors que Jacques Chirac ne voulait pas d'une réforme de la loi de 1905 sur la séparation des Eglises et de l'Etat, Nicolas Sarkozy plaidait pour un toilettage. «Je suis assez fasciné de voir qu'alors qu'on change la Constitution tous les ans une école de pensée vient nous dire que la loi de 1905 ne devrait être changée en rien», indiquait-il en 2005, en publiant La République, les religions, l'espérance. Il expliquait que, entre la France catholique du début du XXe siècle et celle, multiple, avec une forte présence musulmane, du début du XXIe siècle, les différences justifiaient des adaptations législatives. Il voulait autoriser les pouvoirs publics à participer à la construction de certains édifices religieux et à contribuer à la formation des curés, des rabbins ou des imams. Le candidat a profité de la campagne pour se ranger dans cette «école de pensée» qu'il moquait jusqu'alors: il renonce à modifier la loi, parce que «c'est un sujet sur lequel on ne peut avancer sans consensus».

Sarkozy is calling the principle of secularism back into question: FALSE

It was one of the disagreements he took pleasure in voicing during the five-year term [as Minister of the Interior]. While Chirac wanted no reform of the 1905 law on the separation of Church and State, Nicolas Sarkozy was making the case for change. "I'm quite fascinated to see that when one changes the Constitution, every year a school of thought comes to tell us that the 1905 law should not be changed in any respect," he said in 2005, in publishing his Republic, Religions, and Hope. He explained that the differences between the Catholic France of the beginning of the 20th century and the diverse France (with a strong Muslim presence) of the beginning of the 21st century justified legislative adaptations. He wanted to authorize public authorities to participate in the construction of certain religious edifices and to contribute to the formation of priests, rabbis, and imams. But the candidate has taken advantage of the campaign to place himself in the "school of thought" he had been mocking up to now: he does not wish to modify the law, because "it is a subject on which we cannot advance without consensus."

Sarkozy a changé: vrai

Le 14 janvier 2007, lors du discours fondateur de sa campagne, il l'a dit à une quinzaine de reprises. Et, au-delà de la nécessaire opération de cosmétique effectuée à cet instant décisif, c'est vrai! Sur deux points. Incontestablement, le candidat a évolué idéologiquement: l'homme politique de droite est entré dans la peau du candidat à Nîmes, en mai 2006. Peu à peu, grâce, notamment, à l'aide d'Henri Guaino, il a construit une nouvelle relation personnelle avec la République. Cela l'a conduit à abandonner certaines positions passées, comme la discrimination positive, dont il a gardé l'expression mais pas le contenu.

L'homme s'est également transformé; c'est une mue que connaissent en campagne tous les candidats qui ont une chance d'être élus à la fonction suprême. Longtemps, il s'est amusé à faire de la politique. «Aujourd'hui, il n'a plus la politique joyeuse. Il se sera mis dans la peau de celui qui est candidat par devoir plus que par ambition», observe un ami.

Sarkozy has changed: TRUE

On January 14, 2007, during the opening speech of his campaign, Sarkozy said so [i.e., that he's changed] around fifteen times. And beyond the necessary cosmetic surgery performed during that decisive moment, it's true! The candidate has undeniably evolved ideologically: the rightist politician has placed himself in the skin of the candidate at Nimes, in May of 2006. Little by little, thanks notably to the help of Henri Guaino, he has constructed a new personal relationship with the Republic. This has led him to abandon certain old positions such as affirmative action, from which he has kept the rhetoric but not the content.

The man has transformed himself as well; it is a rebirth recognized by all the candidates with a chance to be elected to the highest office. For a long time, Sarkozy had fun playing politics. "Today, he is no longer into joyful politicking. He has put himself in the role of a candidate more out of duty than ambition," observes a friend.

Sarkozy aime l'argent: vrai

Il ne s'en cache pas, au contraire. Pour le candidat de l'UMP, l'argent n'est pas sale, il doit être le signe de la réussite sociale. «Travailler plus pour gagner plus» a été l'un de ses slogans fétiches avant le premier tour. Lui-même n'a jamais négligé les questions pécuniaires. Parce qu'il peut être épaté par ceux qui «pèsent plusieurs millions d'euros», il a fait en sorte d'avoir des revenus qui le mettent à l'abri de toutes contingences matérielles. L'Express a révélé, dans son numéro du 12 avril, qu'il avait déclaré, en 2004, 124 960 euros de revenu imposable net après abattements.

Sarkozy loves money: TRUE

To the contrary, he doesn't hide this fact. For the UMP candidate, money is not dirty; it is a sign of social success. "Work more to earn more" was one of his favorite slogans before the first round of voting. Sarkozy himself has never neglected financial issues. Because he can be impressed by those who "weigh several million euros," he has managed things so as to have enough income to shelter him from all material contingencies. L'Express revealed, in its April 12 issue, that in 2004 Sarkozy had declared 124,960 euros of income after deductions.


Monday, May 14, 2007


You haven't lived until you've seen...


(Basically an extended version of the rabbit-at-the-cave scene from "Monty Python and the The Holy Grail.")



On Friday night, as I was walking uphill from Namyeong Station toward Smoo, I was startled to see that the large menu panel of a familiar restaurant had been slashed several times. The panel graphic was printed on thin plastic; I imagine a simple pocketknife would have been enough to do the trick. This was disturbing because such vandalism is very rare in my part of town; in general, Seoul doesn't play host to nearly as much vandalism as does DC, which is practically my hometown.

But I suppose vandalism should be put in perspective. Get a load of this.

From Mao to LMAO.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ave, Jeff!

Dr. Hodges wrote a very good post a while back on ethnic nationalism versus civic nationalism. You may have read it already, but if not, I recommend it.

Americans do already accept multiethnicity and even a degree of cultural variety within America. Call it moderate multiculturalism. A radical multiculturalism, however, would lead to a fragmented America in which a multitude of ethnic nationalisms would compete. Imagine, in that case, a very different 'American' response to the Cho shootings.

Go thou and read!


postal scrotum: Spidey and Ash

In my review of "Spider-Man 3," I had remarked that it might be cool to see a teamup of Spider-Man and Bruce Campbell's character Ash from the Evil Dead trilogy. For those who don't know: Ash is a dude who loses both his girlfriend and one of his hands to an evil power let loose after the misuse of a book called the Necronomicon. Ash turns out to be quite resourceful (not to mention a natural fighter), and he makes good use of his wrist stump, on which he occasionally places a jury-rigged chainsaw for close-in combat. In the third Evil Dead movie, "Army of Darkness," Ash finds himself transported back in time to the Middle Ages (?). While there, he makes himself a large, ugly mechanical hand that can crush things. "Groovy," he says upon its completion.

My buddy Mike D. wrote in on May 7 (sorry, Mike, for not posting this earlier) about my Spidey/Ash comment:


I checked on your blog this evening to get your take on the French elections. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover your review of Spiderman 3. I only skimmed it (cuz I haven't seen the movie yet) but I did happen to catch your bit on Bruce Campbell, Ash, and your off the cuff suggestion of a Spidey/Ash team up.

I just wanted to let you know, your wish is Marvel's command, though it's not much of a "Team Up."


I too am a big fan of Mr. Campbell. Not maniacal, but fan enough that when he did a book signing five blocks from my apartment a few years back, I had to stop by and say Hi. Talked to him for a few minutes and he had more questions about my DoD-type job than I had about his acting career. He seemed pretty cool.

- Mike D

A brush with fame as Mike meets The Chin!


la communauté asiatique contre le racisme

"Good for them!" I say. This article shows the growing power of the Asian lobby in America.


cosmic truth

A stack of turtles may be what's supporting the earth, but it's graviton fairies that keep the earth in orbit around the sun.


this half-Korean might never be able to get Annika's attention, but that's because...

Annika's into full Koreans.

I know this because she sent me an email asking whether this Rain guy is for real.

The Marmot's posted on this already. See here.


Die, Mariah! Die! DIE!!

It's not really Mariah Carey's fault that I want to kill her. She's got an amazing-- some might say freakish-- vocal range coupled with equally amazing vocal control. On top of that, she appeared in revealing clothing in one episode of MTV's "Cribs," which forever endeared her to me (I have no TV, but my brother Sean is an MTV fan, and I've sat down to watch MTV with him while home in the States). What's more, she's crazy. What's not to like? (Oh, yeah-- the insipid lyrics of all her songs. There is that.)

Unfortunately, the Smoo gym plays one of her CDs over and over and over, and it's driving me insane. I'm beginning to think that my personal hell will be eternal NordicTracking plus Mariah singing piercing high notes. I had previously thought that hell would be a Hello Kitty chamber in which country music was blaring, but Mariah is fast becoming my new torturer.

One of these days I need to sneak a Rammstein CD into the player and get all the gym girls pumpin' to


Du hast!

Du hast mich!


That, or Tenacious D's "Kielbasa Sausage" song:

I love ya, baby, but all I can think about is
Kielbasa sausage, your butt cheeks is warm.
I check my dipstick; you need lubrication, honey--
My kielbasa sausage has just got to perform.
Now get it on!

I see you walkin', but all I can think about is
Dianetics-- your butt cheeks is warm.
I check my dipstick, you need lubrication honey,
My kielbasa sausage has just got to perform.
Now I've been set loose-ah,
I'm shooting my juice-ah,
Right in your caboose.
Now fuckin' get it on!
Now get it on.
Get it on!


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Saturday at the gym

The school is overrun with kids today. I don't know why; Children's Day was last week. Also, the gym was overrun with tourists today; again, I don't know why. A huge group of college girls was milling around when I walked into the gym. Apparently, they were waiting for a student guide to give them a little tour of the facilities. Were these "shin-ip-saeng" (newly admitted students)? I have no idea.

As my simple routine at the gym solidifies, I find myself doing the following:

1. 10km (approx. 27-28 min.) on the NordicTrack* thingy (it's actually a ??? 835 elliptical trainer), now at Tension Level 3, which seems to be about where I need to be. Level 1 was a good place to start; it broke me in easily. Level 2 turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than Level 1, but was still a bit easy. Level 3-- ahhhh, that gets me sweating within a single minute (not that that's hard to do), and it keeps my heart rate around 160 for the remaining 26 or 27 minutes. That's actually higher than the maximum safe training rate for someone my age (146 beats per minute is about where I need to be**). I usually hit 10km before I reach 30 minutes, so I spend the remaining 2-3 minutes checking my pulse and chugging along much more slowly.

2. 3 sets of 10 reps on the pullover bar, set at a measly 40kg.

3. 3 sets of 10 reps on the bench press (variable grips), set at a measly 40kg.

4. 3 sets of 10 reps on the lat bar (variable grips), set at a measly 35kg. Believe me, it's going to be years before I can once again do proper pullups. The most I've ever done in my life is a single set of seven, and that was while I was living in Switzerland. I'm not even ready to try negatives at this point.

5. 1 set of 5 reps of standing dumbbell side raises, 9kg.

6. 3 sets of 5 reps of dumbbell curls, 9kg, varying between hammer curls and regular curls.

You'll note that I haven't added the all-important ab workout to the above. It's coming. It's coming.

Jocks may laugh at the wussiness of the above, but remember: I'm the one working at a women's university. So eat me.

*Uh, my apologies to NordicTrack for having misspelled their brand name in several posts. In the age of one-step Google verification, this is inexcusable.

**Calculate your maximum training rate by subtracting your age from 220, then taking 80% of the result. In my case: 220 - 37 = 183 x .8 = approx. 146.


my kind of tourist attraction

Sweden re-opens its oldest toilet to the public.

An 18th century toilet is taking on an unlikely role as one of Sweden's newest interactive tourist attractions.

The ancient lavatory, in Åsens By, south-eastern Sweden, has been carefully restored as part of an attempt to show visitors how their ancestors relieved themselves.

Heh. I'll show you "interactive."


Sith humor: better late than never

From my buddy Tam Gu Ja's lovely wife, L, comes this 2005-era link to a blog post by a dude in China (well, his blog lists "hk, bangkok, joburg") who watched an illegal copy of "Revenge of the Sith" with hilariously distorted English subtitles that reflect almost nothing of the actual English dialogue. I had a good laugh, especially at the sudden involvement of the Presbyterian Church in the Jedi proceedings. The blogger writes on this point: "This seemed completely random until I figured out that 'Jedi Council' was being translated into Chinese, then back to English as 'the Presbyterian Church.'"

I'm assuming that the crucial phrase in question is what Koreans would pronounce "jang-no," i.e., elder(s). The Presbyterian Church is called Jang No Gyo Hwae-- literally, the Elders' Church-- in Korean. That's a legitimate translation of the Greek presbuteros, which means "elder," from which our English term "presbyopia" (farsightedness associated with age) comes.


a bit better this morning

The stomach seems to have settled down from whatever had been ailing it all day yesterday. That's reassuring. I had planned on a Namsan hike in the evening, but ended up not going. Instead, I'll be hitting the gym today. I talked with the front desk girl on Tuesday about why the gym had been closed last Saturday, and she said that last Saturday was Children's Day, a national holiday. I'd forgotten about that.

[NB: For those who don't know: Children's Day is the day when Korean parents toss their extra kids into the lion pit at the local zoo so as to guarantee a good harvest for the farmers later in the year.]

I had promised a more detailed telling of the Tale of Asshole Woe, but there really isn't much to tell. My innards spent a lot of time bubbling and/or making me queasy, and I went to the bathroom several times from morning to early afternoon. That's really about it. I either ate or drank something disagreeable on Thursday night, but I can't fathom what that might have been.


Friday, May 11, 2007

random Korea-related insights
from personal emails

NB: All emails have been edited for privacy and clarity. To that end, I have included only what I have written.

Letter to a friend in America, dated May 3:

My students are college students, and they don't take their work seriously, at least not those taking courses in our department. Our courses generally aren't for credit, so students often feel free to slack off and skip English class in favor of sleeping in (to counter the effects of last night's drinking binge) or studying for tests in their major classes.

College here isn't taken as seriously as college in the West. There are some cultural reasons for this, though to my mind those reasons don't justify the overall slacker culture on campus. Koreans spend their entire lives bound up in a matrix of rules and tests. Before college, their childhoods are devoted to taking test after test in a hugely competitive race to get into one of the Big Three universities here (Seoul National U., Yonsei U., and Korea U.). The biggest test for any high schooler-- the one they've been training their whole lives for-- is the dreaded college entrance exam. It's around the time this test is given that "suicide season" occurs in Korea (a country that apparently has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, by the way). Students who failed to get a sufficiently high score will sometimes climb up to the top of their apartment building and throw themselves off the roof. Sad stuff, and completely uncalled for in my opinion, but there's no denying these kids are under enormous pressure.

After college, Koreans are slotted into jobs, often with large corporations, that demand extremely long hours, nightly drinks with the boss, and adherence to a raft of maniacal company policies. A person who joins a big conglomerate like Samsung or LG will go through a "membership training" period (they call it "MT" here) that is vaguely reminiscent of military training-- athletic events, slogan-shouting activities, and so on. Conformity is the rule. Scary.

So college represents the lone, four-year idyll in a Korean's life. This is when all those urges repressed during high school are allowed to express themselves: dye the hair, get the piercings, skip your classes, indulge in some adolescent sassiness, etc. While Western college students are usually prepping themselves for The Real World, Korean kids are getting their first and only taste of what a normal life might be like.

It's not all bleakness, obviously; most Koreans survive this grind and are more or less happy with their lot, partly because there's a deeply ingrained fatalism in the culture. But college... yeah, college isn't where you see Koreans at their most serious.

So, in my case, I might have a class that starts off with ten people, and I'll be lucky to have five people by Week 12 in the semester. A class with five people at the beginning might dwindle to one or two.

But you asked whether I like what I do. Oh, yes. I'm at a women's university, so what's not to like? True, as I approach 40, I'm becoming something of a dirty old man, but I have a strict Look But Don't Touch policy. On a more serious note-- I do enjoy teaching, and I like the academic setting, lame though it be. I might be here another couple of years.

Letter to the same friend, dated May 4, in response to his reply that American college students have been known to slack as well:

re: American indolence in college

Yeah, true, we skip & so on. But in the end, most American students take their college experience seriously-- many take it seriously enough to feel that they're actually in school to learn something, and not merely there as a stepping stone to getting a job. We also have strict attendance policies to motivate students not to skip too often, and we don't tolerate bullshit like coming to class two or five minutes late. In Korea, students often traipse into class twenty minutes late with nary an apology.

The difference goes deeper, though. Consider plagiarism, which is a huge problem in Korea. Most Koreans are so ingrained in the "succeed at all costs" mentality that they'll cheat without a second thought. As you say, the stats bear out that this is a competitive environment and most of these kids are doomed to failure, where "failure" is defined the Korean way (i.e., not making it into the Big 3). The fear of that failure makes existence fairly cutthroat.

Academe isn't academe in Korea, much to the frustration of (1) Korean profs who have studied in the West and have actually absorbed some of the culture, and (2) Western profs in Korea. Here on the peninsula, Korean profs put up with all sorts of nonsense-- not merely lateness, but blatant use of cell phones in class, chattering, cheating during tests, and so on. How much more, then, do students disrespect those of us who labor in the non-credit English department?

re: the culture is setting itself up for failure through ruthless competition

What sucks is that many of the parents are perfectly aware of this, but few of them see any way out. Some send their kids to foreign countries to study, but this gets complicated, because a kid who Westernizes too much is no longer a good fit for Korean society (the long-range plan is often for the kid to come back to Korea).

I'm watching this happen right now with one of my coworkers. She's got a son who's around 12 years old, and the poor kid has to attend all sorts of afternoon and evening classes outside of his normal junior high courseload. Why? Essentially, because everyone else is doing this. So why not break out of the pattern and simply stop the madness? Because the kid, if he drops out of the rat race, will almost definitely end up in a dead end in Korea.

Some Koreans are working to change this, but Korea is, in some ways, a change-averse society. Koreans will adopt new tech innovations at the drop of a hat, but other aspects of their culture are literally centuries old and hard to suppress or eliminate.

Other Koreans do opt to leave Korea forever. Like-minded Koreans do the same... and the result, as you see, is Little Koreas sprinkled all over Western countries. It's like the mythology in Battlestar Galactica: "All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again."

re: the conflict of Eastern and Western cultures

There's plenty of conflict when such contrasting cultures meet, plenty of scars, but there's also a special advantage that comes with seeing things through two cultural filters (or perhaps it's just one hybrid filter). I watch how some of my Western acquaintances handle themselves in Korea, and it's obvious they can't quite manage. In many cases, the Western ego prevents a fair-minded understanding of Korean quirks. There are things about my Korean colleagues that have annoyed my Western colleagues, but which don't faze me because I see such behavior as perfectly normal.

So there's yang along with the yin. There always is.

re: Westerners see Korean culture as bizarre and abusive, while Koreans see Westerners as fat and lazy

Fat, lazy, selfish, too insistent upon our own way, too inconsiderate of other family members, racist (don't get me started on the hypocrisy of this one), arrogant about the rightness of our own culture, and prey to our own conformism in how we absorb, say, capitalistic values and such. Ask Americans some probing questions about their core values (marriage, faith, politics, etc.), and they'll generally answer in a way that's consistently opposite that of Koreans and other East Asians. "So who's the conformist?" Koreans ask, not without justification.

I'm not into moral equivalence and feel comfortable judging Korean culture through the lens of Western culture, but the Korean's question isn't a bad one. Koreans can often predict American behavior, just as experienced Americans can predict Korean behavior. We're all culturally conditioned. Example: how easy is it to provoke an American into anger by making a few barbed personal comments? Pretty easy. Koreans are often immune to the same comments ("You're worthless and weak!") because, as you pointed out, their society is hierarchical and they expect to take shit from someone.

(But, to be fair, we could turn that around and say that Koreans also have plenty of hot buttons, and they're easy to find and push.)

The funny thing is that Korean society, while still fundamentally Korean, is taking on, and possibly amplifying, some of the illnesses of Western society. Take video game addiction, for example. Remember how, in the 1980s, we had freaks in the US who would get immensely high scores on games like Defender because they'd train themselves to play for three days straight? Now imagine that same phenomenon multiplied by several thousand, and you've got a social nightmare in the making here in Korea.

The PC-room (i.e., smoke-filled Net cafe) culture is now deeply rooted in the (primarily male) Korean psyche. Guys go in groups to play Counterstrike or Starcraft or Warcraft or the Korean-made MMORPG Lineage (and Lineage 2, etc.). Online, they seek out the heroism and sense of personal accomplishment that evades them in real life. It doesn't help matters that clever businessmen have tapped into this phenomenon and have seen it as a way to make money. Many MMORPG players play for actual cash, which creates online behaviors that are disturbingly similar to real-life behaviors, e.g., gangs of cyber-characters who tackle other cyber-gangs and take their money, hoping eventually to get a big payoff.

You can always tell a Westerner in a PC-room, because he's the guy who's using the computer simply to check his email and scan the online news. And maybe surf a little porn, though that's technically illegal (in a country with one of the biggest sex industries in the world).

re: Cho Seung-hui and a CNN claim that mental health isn't considered a legitimate concern in Korea

To be called "crazy" in East Asian society is extremely insulting. We say it all the time as a joke in the West-- "What're you, crazy?" or "That's nuts, man!" But try that in Korea and see how people react. They react the same way as genuinely crazy people in the West do-- call them crazy, and their eyes and nostrils flare wide, they grit their teeth, and they hiss, "I'm not crazy!" Very Mel Gibson.

That's actually something I teach about in my English classes (craziness, not Mel Gibson). I try to insert the word "crazy" into many of my lessons to blunt the impact of the word and get my students to understand that, in the West, it's no big sin to use the term. Many Koreans have caught on to this fact, and aren't nearly as insulted by the word as previous generations would have been.

But the deeper reason behind the stigma about mental/psychological problems is that people with those afflictions are so obviously different from "normal folks" that they essentially rupture the social fabric. Conformism again-- the group-first mentality. A family with a mentally ill family member will likely try to hide that member from view, not seek special care for him or her.

That's why I'm charmed by the Western proverb, "Everyone is normal... until you get to know them." No cradle Asian would ever invent such a proverb.

Kids everywhere can be cruel, of course, and being different in an American school is also likely to get a kid's ass kicked. But that nonsense either stops or is sharply attentuated after a while, especially as American kids move into college and often actively seek out new experiences in the form of new and different people. Not so in Korea. Watch Korean fashion. American women often slavishly follow fashion trends, to be sure, but they're keen to put their personal spin on whatever they wear. Here in Korea, I'll see the same fashion template walk by several times a day. I should take random photos of my campus just to show you.

An email to the same friend, also dated May 4, continuing the discussion of East/West conflict:

re: the idea that, in Asian families, respect flows upward while "scorn" flows downward

I wouldn't call it scorn, per se. Because the society's hierarchical, it follows that respect is a more important virtue for those lower in the pecking order. An East Asian parent's dismissiveness of their child's wants can be the result of several factors, I think (and some such parents would argue they're not being dismissive).* One factor is Confucianism; the Five Relationships provide the template for how people need to relate to each other. Another factor is the competitiveness brought on, in part, by social pressures like population density. Another factor, as in the West when certain Western parents attempt to foist their own vision of success or fulfillment upon their children, is the individual parent's personality. (In that sense, I was lucky never to have been pushed into becoming a doctor, lawyer, etc. My parents just wanted me to do my best.)

Actual scorn might occur in an Asian household, but in my experience in Korea, it's fairly rare, if by "scorn" we mean consistently and overtly demeaning, belittling, derisive behavior. If that were the rule, then all of East Asia would be basket cases instead of productive members of the global economy.

From the Asian point of view, it's not disrespectful for parents to expect children to do what they ask. Any parent, no matter the culture, will expect to be obeyed after saying something like, "Don't hit your brother again-- I mean it!" The basic parental assumption, which we share in the West, is "I know more than you do," an assumption that holds true for a goodly number of years as the child is growing up. But despite this attitude, it's not as though Asians are unable to perceive the wisdom children already contain-- Asian parents are just as proud of their children's insights as Western parents are of their children's.

The distinction between East and West becomes more obvious, however, when the child leaves elementary school and a great deal more focus is put on the child's future. Korean kids become less rambunctious (they're little monsters in elementary school) and are more likely to receive strict physical discipline from both their parents and their teachers. Conformism really starts to take hold. Around the same time, Western kids are being encouraged to explore all sorts of different personal avenues, and the style of teaching and testing they experience is often radically different from the rote memorization and multiple-choice testing that unfortunately characterizes so much of Asian education.

So while Asian kids are being hammered into a mold, Western kids are being trained to branch out and explore. Many Western kids won't branch out and explore, of course; they'll fall into a rut and see that rut as their lot in life, but this isn't the fault of their environment so much as it's their own personal fault for not heeding the instruction they've been receiving all this time. Western kids have very little right to "blame the system," in my opinion.

Most Asian kids will come to accept what their parents desire for them. These days, Korean parents aren't quite as gung-ho about telling their children which specific job to pursue, but many parents will make clear that their kids need to find work in a certain income bracket. This acceptance is part of the larger culture of acceptance of one's fate.

Anyway, I've gone off topic. If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend Richard Nisbett's book, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently, and Why. The book's fundamental approach is psychological; Nisbett is a cognitive psychologist, and his book is littered with terms like "field dependence," "dispositional factors," and "hindsight fallacy." But his writing style is readable and you don't need to be a fellow psychologist to get his basic point, which is, in the end, nothing you don't already know. His studies seem largely to confirm the stereotype about "Asian holism" versus "Western atomism." There's more to his book than that, however; I encourage you to get hold of it.

*Footnote to the blog reader: my friend was referring to a mutual friend of Asian extraction whose parents seemed unable or unwilling to process the fact that this friend had a mind of her own and wasn't about the follow the standard Asian template of "be a doctor, be lawyer, or be a successful businessperson. Oh, and plearn a couple musical instruments on the side."

One might argue that it's unfair to stereotype Asian parents as dismissive of their kids' wants, but I would submit that there's a reason such a stereotype exists. While exceptions to the stereotype do abound, it takes only a brief survey of actual Asian families to confirm how pervasive this parental mentality is.

If your point of departure is that a person is, first and foremost, a member of a group, then a lot of behavior follows from such a fundamental orientation, including the idea that a parent can foist his or her wishes on a son or daughter. In the West, we recognize that this can lead to a bundle of neuroses, especially for us firstborns, who often end up being critical and self-critical approval-seekers bent on overachievement.

And to be fair, this familial dynamic exists in the West as well; certain ethnic groups that shall remain unnamed have produced comedians who dwell on this theme.