Friday, February 29, 2008

the 97.475% man

I assume this is the last end-of-term evaluation I'll receive (I'll have one more beginning-of-term evaluation next semester). Good to end on a decent note, even if I never did get that fabled 100% eval average. Kinda sucks-- the number 100 carries so much (admittedly bogus) psychological importance. Didn't you feel it when oil broke $100 a barrel?


Fuck off.


reste avec nous

My boss apparently wants me to stay longer. I found this out through my supervisor. The sentiment was touching... until I discovered the reason for it: I'm leaving in the middle of the spring term (not to be helped: I came to Smoo in the middle of a spring term in 2005, so my contract has always had an April-to-April validity period), and the office would rather I taught through the entire term. I imagine that a changeover is something of an admin nightmare for them. I wouldn't say "no" if an extension were possible, but when I tried to extend my visa back in 1995, the immigration office made it clear that visa extensions could not be made for anything other than personal reasons (e.g., needing time to pack and move out). One is not allowed to teach during the extension. Ah, well.



My brother David sends me a link to an article about an Irishman who, two years after having been blinded in a freak accident, has had his sight restored through a novel procedure, osteo-odonto-keratoprosthesis, that involves the insertion of a tooth into the eye.

I see the look on your face. Yeah-- me, too.

David's email started off with a quote from the David Lynch version of "Dune":

The tooth! The tooth!

I had a good laugh. This was the moment when Dean Stockwell's Dr. Yueh was whispering fiercely to Jürgen Prochnow's Duke Leto Atreides that he, the doctor, had replaced one of the duke's teeth with a poison-emitting device that the duke could activate when he was close enough to Baron Harkonnen. The camera was focused relentlessly on Stockwell's mouth as he uttered the line; this was one of a thousand unintentionally funny moments in that film.

Sandworms. Heh. Big, living turds. Turds that eat and turd in turn.

Dean Stockwell can be seen these days in the role of the Brother Cavil Cylon series on "Battlestar Galactica." He's had a good run in sci-fi TV shows ("Quantum Leap" et al.) and movies, and is among my favorite character actors.

Speaking of Irishmen and miracles, Jelly wrote in to note that Mark Boyle has made rather disappointing progress. He's gone back to the UK after having made it to the Continent and having been daunted by the challenge of-- among other problems-- crossing France without knowing much French. As I wrote back to Jelly: what's the man going to do when he hits a place like Afghanistan if France is enough to turn him back? I still wish Boyle well, despite his already having violated the central tenet of his walk: not accepting or handling money. He's going to have to rethink the parameters of his trip. I'm selfishly happy to see that he's having problems, because they're a reminder that I need to think through my own Walk as thoroughly as possible. My own setup takes better account of the nature of human compassion than does Boyle's, I think; what Boyle has been doing up to now strikes me as more of a "silly hippie" approach to a project that, while noble in terms of the big picture (he's walking to Gandhi's birthplace in the name of peace), deserves a lot more respect in terms of the details. Religious walkers do, after all, encounter the devil in that realm. As do we all, yes?

I woke up around 10:45AM today, well rested after having been awake for over 40 hours. I'm off to dinner and a concert this evening; ought to be an interesting time. It's rare that I get to see stage performances. Actually, one thing I'd like to see before I leave Korea is the Korean version of "Stomp," called "Nanta."


Thursday, February 28, 2008

postal scrotum: Max on the fear of income-related questions

My buddy Max writes in:

Hi Kevin,

Reading through your blog, I noticed the theme of you expressing surprise at people's reluctance to discuss or even their fear of discussing their salaries and workplace benefits.

I myself have been scratching my head with regard to this issue for a long time. I'm not a very private person, so I'm willing to talk about my salary, and I often tell people what I make, especially my students. And I mean, it's not like what I make is some big secret. You can pretty much guess what someone is making if you know the industry they're in. (Note that when I tell my students how much/little I make, it's just to juice up the conversation and make self-deprecating jokes about how poor I am; by no means do I ask my students outright how much they make.) Anyhow, I know how sensitive people are about this. Especially Americans and Canadians.

Which is funny, because Americans are so open about other things. Like when I was showing Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me to my class the other day, I was momentarily shocked when I watched a minute-long scene in which the director's girlfriend spoke about their sex life (in a nutshell, Morgan was eating so much fast food his performance in bed was suffering, which meant that she had to be on top). I couldn't see this kind of airing of one's sex life happening in the mainstream Japanese media.

After rereading Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickle and Dimed--a great read by the way, if a little outdated, but it's yours if you want it; just let me know and I'll lob it over your way across the Sea of Japan (yes, read that and weep, Korean patriots!)--I came across an interesting passage which provided some explanation to the issue at hand. It seems that Americans are afraid to discuss their income because they are so status conscious. Correction, make that lower-income Americans. We all know what rich Americans make, you can see it all over the news, viz, jaw-dropping retirement packages for nonperforming bankers and the like. The rich love for us to know what they're making. The little guy, though, is too ashamed to let you know how much he makes. Moreover, interestingly, it seems that the average large American company actively discourages employees from discussing their income, even with (or especially with?) co-workers. Basically, this is in the interest of the corporations as it allows them to keep wages depressed.

Anyway, thought my little anecdote could shed some light on the subject. Lemme know if you want that book.


Americans are often a disgustingly confessionalistic people, as the freaks on our daytime talk shows can attest. We're also pretty weird about divulging salary figures.


Ah'm tard

Tired as hell. Pulled an all-nighter. Managed to swing three jjong-parties. By the way, that pasta-- my variation of Wolfgang Puck's Oscar night mac n' cheese-- rocked the fucking house.

More later. I've got to grade one final batch of tests, then I'm seriously contemplating just falling asleep, all chores left undone.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

from stinky to respectable

Carmen Kontur-Gronquist, the mayor of a small Oregon town called Arlington, has just been "recalled" (which I guess means "fired after a citizens' vote," like Gray Davis) for having posed in "racy" photographs that show her in lingerie, standing in a fire truck. The photos were displayed on her MySpace page.

Holy shit! That's our mayor!

The leaders of the drive to recall the mayor claim they were motivated by more than the mayor's pictures; according to them, she had also made some poor administrative decisions. What caught my eye was this part of the article:

[Kontur-Gronquist] told KATU News Tuesday that she had no regrets about posting the [photos] online, and she seemed to harbor no hard feelings about the recall.

"My reaction is that the democratic process took place, and that is a good process that we have in the United States, and it's fair," she said.

My hat is off to this lady. Whether or not what she did was classy is beside the point; what matters is that she's expressing a most respectable kind of feminism: she has no regrets, she's obviously proud of her body, and to top it off, she's not small-minded enough to kick and scream about the democratic process, which she deemed "fair." Wow.

That, folks, is power. It's a power visible in (if the article is to be trusted) her self-mastery. Crazy as it sounds, I couldn't help thinking of Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, who is urged by Krsna to act without thought or attachment to the fruit of the action. She made the pics; she calmly accepted the consequences. The self-control it takes for a public figure to do what she did is rare. Other, more famous politicians would do well to take note.

I'm also trying to figure out why this staid little community is so up in arms about a woman confident enough to make a public display of her femininity. She didn't make a sex portfolio, for God's sakes! What, exactly, is wrong with having a hot mayor? She's obviously no bimbo if she's capable of acting as her city's highest executive. I couldn't help thinking that the same male fear that motivates certain communities to wrap their women up in burqas and chadors was at work in the dethroning of this lady. Can't have our women exerting their evil charms over the masses! Gotta denigrate 'em as sluts and hos, keep 'em in their place!

I truly hope the former mayor of Arlington has learned nothing from all this. I hope she goes right on being a free spirit, doing what she will, and gracefully accepting the consequences of her actions. I also hope she never changes her surname, which evokes the conquest of contours. Mmmmmm.


talk about your mixed feelings!

It's great that scientists are developing cell phones that might be able to run directly off the heat of your hand, thereby eliminating the need for batteries, but do we really need more cell phone use?


stinky in more ways than one

Miss Stinky went missing on Monday, but she and her funk were back in full force yesterday and today. I'd really love for her to drop through a rusty manhole cover. Once under the streets with the mutant rats and the undead kimchi beasts, she'd at least be among her peers.

It's not just the woman's smell that bugs me; it's her attitude. Miss Stinky, who's near fifty (she was recently mistaken for a guy by one of my other students), has a habit of being rude-- not so much ajumma rude as ajeoshi rude-- loud, obnoxious, and generally lacking nunchi, that hard-to-translate concept we might call percipience or intuition or perceptivity or even situational awareness (though without the military/martial connotations). A person with "quick" nunchi can read a social situation and know immediately what to do. Has the mood soured? Do people need refills? Are you sure it isn't time for a colorful metaphor? The quick of nunchi know the answer. Miss Stinky, like many a lifelong pampered ajeoshi, has no such sense.* Perhaps this comes with her being a single landlady: she's in a position of authority, she's far enough along in life to be older than a large sector of the population, and I get a strong feeling that she likes da ladies. (In America, her masculine haircut would certainly be considered evidence in favor of that hypothesis. In Korea, she might get away with just seeming "odd.")

Early in the semester-- the day before she enacted her three-week disappearance, in fact-- Miss Stinky told me, apropos of nothing, that I looked like a cow. While this may be true, I don't brook such disrespect in the classroom (who the fuck does?), and I told her so in Korean. She laughed-- probably one of those "I'm sorry" laughs, but it didn't make her any less of an asshole. Yesterday she kept trying to move the review session along faster (despite the poor state of her English), and today she tried to cut me off by barking "Be quiet!" while I was joking with a student. I've dealt with children like this in America, where smartass students are a dime a dozen, but such behavior is rare in a Korean university classroom (or at least it's rare at Smoo).

Why this woman decided to come back after three weeks of farting around is beyond me. I had honestly wondered whether she had sneakily quit the class and gotten a refund, but today she told me she hadn't dropped the class. This means, alas, that she'll be back tomorrow, and I'd love to take a dump in her pasta bowl during the jjong-party.

She had mentioned that she wanted to go down one level and try Level 1 next semester. Hey, fine by me-- she can do Level 1 for all I care. My only worry is what damage she'll do to her classmates, not to mention the trauma she'll visit upon the poor Level 1 teacher.

Ah, life.

*Exceptions abound, of course. More refined ajeoshis aren't rude at all, but people with experience in Korea have to admit that there's a hell of a lot of spoiled brats out there-- brats of all ages.


one of four done

Grades and jjong-party for one class, the CNN English class, are done. The students enjoyed the food; they helped with the cooking, but were a bit timid about frying up the hash browns, which ended up very potatoey but not particularly crunchy.

Now I'm off to Costco (didn't go there yesterday) and Lotte Mart to get ready for a rather involved culinary experience. As I've never made some of the dishes being served tomorrow, I'll be making them (and possibly photographing them) tonight for practice. Meanwhile, I invite you all to read some real foodblogging over at Charles's place.

Oh, yes-- before I forget: today, I took pics of three of my classes taking their final exams. I don't think I've ever taken pictures of my students in the midst of exam hell before, so today is something of a first. The pics themselves aren't all that exciting, obviously: with the girls' heads bent over their desks during the written portion of the exams, you just see a lot of hair.


dung shui

The Pooper lets fly all over the madness that is feng shui.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ave, Justin!

If my friend Tom hasn't seen this, he fuckin' should. I laughed hard enough to burst two of my four testicles. What a movie poster!

Caveat: if you haven't seen the first "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle," the above link won't be funny to you. Not only that, but I'd have to wonder what the hell is wrong with you. Go see the freakin' movie! While some might pigeonhole HaKuGo2WiCa as a simple stoner flick, it's way more than that, especially in the way it tackles Asian stereotypes. Think: "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," but with better acting, a more compelling plot, and a likable political message. I look forward to the sequel, which I blogged about long, long ago.*

*The astute reader will have noted that my long-ago blog post was actually riffing off a post by Mike the Metropolitician. Click the above link, then click the link to Mike's post, and enjoy the preview for "Harold and Kumar 2" (assuming Mike's still hosting the vid).


you go, girl!

The timing couldn't be better.


power outage!

After slip-sliding my way to work this morning (for those who don't know-- it started snowing yesterday afternoon and, as per usual, shopkeepers and the municipal government did little to salt the human-trafficked surfaces), I got to school about a minute late and began the final exam review session with my 10:10AM students.

About halfway through the class, I noticed that the hall lights had gone out. On a sudden intuition, I walked over to our classroom's light switches (the lights had been off; the morning sunlight was quite bright on that side of the building) and tried turning on our lights. Nada. Eventually, the news filtered to us that a generator or transformer had blown, though it wasn't immediately clear whether this problem applied only to my building or to other buildings on campus. A few hours later, I got the news from other students that other buildings had indeed been affected.

Power has been restored (the restoration happened a little past 5PM), but I've been told that this is just temporary: the real repair work is yet to be completed, so the power will go off again. Needless to say, this outage was a major inconvenience to us all day long; I hadn't printed out and photocopied my review sheets yesterday, and I hadn't printed out extra copies of a final exam that two of my CNN students hadn't taken on Monday, so my solution to all these problems was rather low-tech. It wasn't much of a problem for me to wing it today; I imagine that teachers in far-flung countries would tell me to quit bitching about a temporary outage: "Hell, we're lucky to have running water!"

I'm off to Costco, Hannam, and Lotte Mart this evening. Lots to shop for, lots to cook. Here's hoping the ground isn't too icy tonight, as I'll be shuttling pots and pans over from my dorm to my office. Crap, crap, crap. Francis Ford Crapola.


death on a plane

I read this story with a mixture of horror, sadness and, finally, anger. Imagine being an airline passenger with heart disease. Imagine experiencing a sudden inability to breathe, being initially refused oxygen and, when an attempt is finally made to give you oxygen... you discover the tank is empty. Not only that, but the spare tank is also empty. Imagine going into fibrillation, only to find out that the onboard defib kit isn't working.

Unfortunately, this story has no happy ending, and I suspect that, for the incompetents responsible for this state of affairs, the story is only beginning. Heads had better roll.


down to Thomas Covenant

When I had a mess of books shipped to me last year, I calculated things so that I'd be done with all the novels in my shipment by the time I was ready to leave Korea. Since late last year, I've gone through:

Michael Crichton's Prey

Mark Salzman's Lying Awake
Mark Salzman's The Soloist
Mark Salzman's Iron and Silk

Richard Adams's Watership Down

Mark Leyner's The Tetherballs of Bougainville
Mark Leyner's Tooth Imprints on a Corndog
Mark Leyner's Et tu, Babe?

Stephen R. Donaldson's Daughter of Regals and Other Tales
Stephen R. Donaldson's Reave the Just and Other Tales

Steve Krodman's Shorts in a Wad

Larry Niven's The Integral Trees
Larry Niven's The Smoke Ring
Larry Niven's Limits

Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers

Isaac Asimov's Foundation
Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Empire
Isaac Asimov's Second Foundation
Isaac Asimov's Foundation's Edge
Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Earth
Isaac Asimov's Prelude to Foundation
Isaac Asimov's Forward the Foundation

I also reread Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, parts of Carl Sagan's The Demon-haunted World, passages from Huston Smith's Why Religion Matters, and bits of M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled.

Capping things off, I just finished four Tom Robbins novels: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Another Roadside Attraction, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, and my favorite, Jitterbug Perfume.

That leaves me with six books I plan to savor (don't be surprised if the blogging suffers; these are childhood favorites): the First and Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson. I expect to be done with them all by the time I leave Korea around April 25--

Lord Foul's Bane
The Illearth War
The Power That Preserves

The Wounded Land
The One Tree
White Gold Wielder

The adventures of Thomas Covenant, whose story is a deliberate subversion of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series, are cosmic in nature. What better prep for a cosmic adventure of my own?


Monday, February 25, 2008

they demand FUD

My CNN students, well aware that Wednesday, being the last class for them, is jjong-party day, requested a sausage and egg breakfast. I had been hoping to get away with giving them a few muffins or something, but I guess I'll be making a trip over to Hannam for some Bob Evans sausage and those huge-ass packs of hash browns. Eggs will have to wait; I might buy those at Costco, as I'll need to do a Costco run in the next day or so. That, or I'll hit a local store. Korean eggs are just fine with me.

The menus look to be as follows:

CNN Breffus, Wednesday, 9AM

main meal = eggs (+ cheddar cheese), sausage, hash browns
(possibly some croissants or doughnuts)
drinks = milk, juice, coffee, tea

Level 2 English Brunch/Lunch, Thursday, 10:10AM and 11:20AM

appetizer = up to students
main course = variant of the Wolfgang Puck mac n' cheese number he did for the Oscars
salad = Kevin-style Mediterranean salad
drinks = up to students

The macaroni and cheese I'll be doing will have three cheeses-- white cheddar, Gruyère, and parmesan. It will also have a spot of Béchamel sauce, some very finely chopped onions, and a good bit of crispy bacon. I can't afford Puck's black truffles, but I will stick in some fragrant shiitake, and instead of regular elbow macaroni, I'll be using penne, as I have loads of penne at home.

The salad will be the usual bed of cucumbers covered in julienned carrots and sliced green peppers, then topped with chopped tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, tuna, and grated mozzarella cheese, all accented with a sneezeful of black pepper. The dressing will be the same one you saw in the previous post.

I'll be prepping the pasta in class, which I hope will be entertaining.

Intensive 2, Thursday, 1:30PM

This is a three-hour class, and I plan to take things slow.

appetizer = seared shrimp and scallop with saesongi-beoseot and mashed (or, more likely, whipped) potato, topped with a basil leaf (or garnished with parsley)
main course = spaghetti bolognese with garlic bread
salad = Kevin-style caprese
dessert = up to the students
drinks = up to the students

The caprese will alternate mozzarella, tomato, and basil leaves (assuming any basil leaves are to be had at Hannam); in the center will be a mass of tuna and sliced hard-boiled eggs. Dressing as noted previously.

If I remember to do so, I'll bring along my camera and take some shots of the goodies and of the students chowing down.


in the air

My buddy Tom and I were chowing down on yukgae-jang for lunch when Tom suddenly turned to me and solemnly intoned, "Does something feel different to you?" He and I operate on the same bent wavelength, so I knew he was talking about today's transfer of power in the Blue House. I started cackling.

Yes, good citizens, it is true: Korea has had its liminal moment; we are now past the threshold and in the first hours of a new period: the Myeongbakian Era. Fasten your seatbelts, cup your scrotumnals, and get ready for a wild ride.


casse-toi, pauvre con!

Sarkozy makes the news for saying, "Get lost, dumbass!" ("Casse-toi, pauvre con!") to a guy in the crowd who, upon being touched by Sarko, exclaims, "Don't touch me! You're sullying me!" The speaker's French must be some sort of dialect. He says, "Touche-moi pas!" instead of the more standard "Ne me touche pas!" He goes on to say "Tu me salis!" (literally, "You're dirtying me"), and sounds a bit daft in saying it. Can't say I blame Sarko for his reaction, though I can see why the video has become an instant hit online.

The word "con" is etymologically related to the word "cunt," but isn't nearly as strong. Translating "pauvre con" as dumbass, which is what the author of the Reuters article did, sounds about right to me. "Con" in the modern French sense connotes idiocy ("Putain, j'suis con!") and despite its relationship to things vaginal, it nonetheless has little to do with "pussy," which, when not referring to something warm, connotes wimpiness in North American English.

Of note is the bystander's use of the "tu" form (le tutoiement, as such a speech pattern is called in French), implying those all-important French values of liberté and égalité, though quite without any fraternité. The bystander spoke his mind and saw Sarko as his equal (or even his inferior!), which at least partially explains Sarko's snippy reaction.


Oscar predictions

Best Sound Editing
Maximus Tiisgloo, "Buttock's Revenge 2: The Flapping Continues"

Best Musical Score
John Williams, "My Siamese Twin is Still a Virgin"

Best Special Effects
John Dykstra, "Space Labia Versus Yeast Beast"

Best Supporting Actress
Lilly Cockripper, "With My Goddamn Teeth"

Best Supporting Actor
Jean-Jacques Zigouillé, "Oh, Putain, Mes Couilles"

Best Actress
Minnie Driver, "Lintenpus the Pierced Navel"

Best Actor
Matt Damon, "The Bourne Leper"

Best Director
Clint Eastwood, "Urethra's Wrath"

Best Picture
"Flights of Sperm Sing Thee to Thy Rest" (Paramount)


ha ha-- YES!!

It's been a long time since something I read made my Gentiles go ten-HUT!

Good fucking riddance.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

foreign teachers in Korea mull union

With big thanks to my buddy Tom for finding this article, which deals with a steadily louder rumble in the expat community for teachers here on the peninsula to unionize.

Many foreign teachers in Korea want to form either an association or union to promote awareness and to protect themselves against unfair work practices. Their move could soon take shape as the Lee Myung-bak administration has big plans for native English speakers.

The Education Ministry and the Korea Federation of Teachers' Association also want foreign teachers to organize their own union as they have a limited budget and manpower to represent their interests. Foreign English teachers also want to clean up their distorted image here as criminal, drug using pedophiles.

I greet such news with mixed feelings: while I don't consider unions inherently evil (they have their hearts in the right place), I do think they often end up as rather creepy organizations that can often be as oppressive as the companies and/or social pressures against which they fight. "Union" can be synonymous with concepts like solidarity, loyalty, industry, and protection of rights; but they can also be synonymous with incompetence, mediocrity, greed, and stifling conformism. Many American unions strike me as examples of the good that unions can do, but when we turn our gaze to South Korea or to France, where unions are often out of control, the picture becomes far less rosy.

An expat teacher's union sounds nice in principle, but the battle to get such a union not merely established but respected will be fought uphill for a long, long time. I don't expect any such union to form in the blink of an eye, and barring some major changes in Korean attitudes toward foreigners, I don't see such a union, once established, as having much clout. Note, in the above-quoted paragraphs, that Korean teachers themselves hope that foreigners form their union on their own because "they [i.e., Korean union members] have a limited budget and manpower to represent their [i.e., foreign teachers'] interests." Message: You're on your own, Round-eye. We can't be bothered.

For the moment, then, my feeling is, "No, thanks." Ask me in a few years, once we see how well or badly the union is doing, and whether the Korean teachers have developed any sense of solidarity with the expats.



From February 16:

Above: penne with sae-songi-beosot that have been pan-fried in a mixture of butter and olive oil along with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and parsley.

Below: a simple salad of lettuce, tomatoes, fried onion sprinkles, and a dusting of bread crumbs. Dressing: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar, parsley, oregano, and basil, all blasted into harmony with the help of Max's amazing hand mixer, truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Sadly, no meat... and no cheese. The mushroom dish was great, but could have used a sprinkling of Gruyère.


Ave, Joe!

Do you work at a university? If so, and if you're not paranoid about revealing details of your salary and working conditions, help Joe out and tell him what's up. He's doing a massive comparison of conditions at universities all over Korea, but he needs help to fill in all the blanks.

Let me once again register annoyance with people who snottily ask, "Why?" when someone poses a general, information-gathering question about salaries and conditions. This happened once before when I was asking people about how their universities calculated work hours and overtime: one person apparently wouldn't offer any information because she couldn't get past the straightforward nature of the questions I had asked. She seemed to see hidden motives and wrote in to question my data-gathering methodology(!), finishing her email with a "thanks, but no, thanks."

Some advice for the fearful: if you don't want to release your personal info, just don't release it. In the meantime, don't burden others with your insecurities. If you live in Korea, a country where distant relatives and even perfect strangers will ask you about your salary without blinking an eye, you should be used to such questions by now (I'll make an exception for fresh-off-the-plane newbies). Get over yourself; either answer or don't answer. Don't engage in histrionics.


looking ahead

We begin the final week of term on Monday. Hard to believe how time flies-- seven weeks is all too brief. I've been teaching four classes; three have had fairly consistent attendance, while the fourth experienced a plummet early on, then stabilized (much as happened last semester with my second class of the day).

This week, it's all about the hectic mess of projects and presentations, final exams, and jjong-parties (i.e., end-of-term parties). I normally cook for my best students, who are almost inevitably the students in my latest class (last semester was an exception; the 7:40AM class ended up having incredible attendance). This means dragging ingredients and cookware to and from school on the last two days of the week (some classes end on Wednesday, others on Thursday).

It also means evaluating projects, administering and grading tests, and getting everything tallied and sent to our office by Friday afternoon. Luckily for me, that latter part is easy: I slap all grades into a Microsoft Excel file and the calculations are done automatically thanks to the formulae I've plugged in. I created the original Excel file in 2005 and have simply copied it over from semester to semester, varying the formulae according to whatever grade distribution I've chosen for a given course (quizzes 15%, midterm 15%, final 20%, etc.).

So the week will be a busy one... and just now, it occurred to me that this is the last semester I will have seen through to the end. How sad. Next semester, I'll be leaving after six weeks of teaching (the spring term runs 11 weeks), and someone will be taking over for me around midterm time. I don't envy them that job; the students will have gotten used to a certain rhythm, and the teacher might not like the way I've set the course up. I'm telling myself that it doesn't matter: I'll be gone; Smoo will no longer be my concern (at least, not until I'm back in Korea).

Ah, that reminds me: I'll need to leave my successor some instructions regarding my Excel file, my textbooks, etc.-- final prep before I shuffle off this mortal peninsula.

The horizon beckons.


"I hate the Jews"

It began in my intensive class with a pronunciation lesson: how to say "I went to the zoo" and not "I went to the Jew."

"I hate the Jews," one of my best students said, completely out of the blue. Shocked, I asked her why she felt that way. "Because they cheat people out of their money," she replied. "Some Jews in Europe have taken over some of the old grave sites, and are charging high admission prices for people to come in and see them, but there's nothing to see!"

I spent some time sketching the long and painful history of the Jews in various parts of the world, though I suspect the effort was in vain. Whatever propaganda machine is churning out such Jew-hatred in Korea is doing a very good job. I seriously doubt that any of my students has even met a Jew before, but at least one of my students already hates them.

The student in question is a devout Christian. Nice. Yet another Christian who has forgotten that Jesus himself was Jewish.


women have high standards

I remember once that my great aunt Gertrude was down from New Jersey for a visit, and we went as a family to see "The Remains of the Day," a British period drama starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Aunt Gertrude fell asleep during the film, which had to have been one of the most desiccated dramas ever to cross the pond. Can't say I blame her.

In 1991, "Terminator 2" came out, and I saw it in the theater with my mother and my two brothers. My brothers and I came out liking the film, which featured shootings, stabbings, and some wild special effects (for that decade), but Mom complained, "Too slow." Heh.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

dumbest line of the day

Attracted by the phrase "armpit Botox," I clicked over from Drudge to this article, which details various methods by which the stars prep themselves for the Oscars (airing this Sunday-- yawn). That's where I encountered the following howler about a weight loss method involving a combination of the "Suddenly Slimmer" body wrap and an hour's exercise. Says the author with regard to the stars who use this method:

The inches are guaranteed not to come back unless they [i.e., the stars] gain weight.

Oh, man. I guess that's like saying, "You'll win a million dollars unless you don't win any money."



Angry Brits want their bleedin' "Rambo." I have yet to see the film, but I've heard it's simultaneously stupid and gory. My kinda' movie.


Ave, Charles!

This is pure gold:

I am tempted to print up my own “evangelist repellant” cards to carry with me wherever I go. They would be the size of business cards, with a big smiley face on the front. On the back would be printed text, something along the lines of: “Look, I understand that you are concerned for the state of my soul. Thank you for that concern. But you don’t know me from a hole in the wall, and I have no real interest in discussing my spiritual life with you. If you really want to make a difference in someone’s life, try getting to know them, try really caring for them, and then try ministering to their needs rather than pushing your agenda on them. No, this is not something that you can accomplish in a day, or even a week or a month. Yes, it’s a lot harder to quantify than say, the number of random strangers you have harassed on the street on any given day. But you know what? It will probably be ten thousand times more effective. Thank you, God bless you, and have a nice day.”

Charles's essay moves through a variety of topics: an encounter with a Christian evangelist, a quick dip into scriptural hermeneutics, an exploration of the psyche of your typical Korean proselytizer, etc. Well worth a read.

During my time in Korea, I've actually encountered very few proselytizers who have tried to approach me directly. For the most part, the Christians I've seen have been the type to hand out Kleenex packages with maps to their church printed on them. Because I live in a dorm and not a regular apartment, I'm not subject to the random knock on my door from a person seeking to bring my soul closer to Jesus. Back in the States, however, I was a bit cruel to a Korean gent who visited our house in Alexandria. As it turned out, the man was a Jehovah's Witness, and I quickly deduced that their church had sent a Korean man because they had already sussed out our domestic demographics. I made the man stand out in the cold while I debated theology with him. Heh.


Friday, February 22, 2008

nifty invention

Found in, of all places, Facebook while following some links:

The gravity lamp.

Pretty cool.



Today was almost warm, dammit. You know how much I hate warmth.


for the BSG fans

An interview with "Battlestar Galactica" creators Ron Moore and David Eick about the legal and philosophical dimensions of the show.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

the return of Ms. Stinky

My ajumma student, Ms. Stinky, made an appearance today. I had thought she'd dropped out, but apparently she hadn't. (Her explanation for not having been around was somewhat rambling and convoluted, and I didn't believe a word of it.) She appeared today, fragrant as usual, and told me she had come to celebrate the end of the semester with us. I had to give her some bad news: the semester wouldn't be over until next week. Ms. Stinky took the news in stride and, aglow with her unique brand of oblivious good cheer, accompanied my other girls into the class. I'm hoping she doesn't show up next week, but because Ms. Stinky is an instantiation of Murphy's Law, I expect my hopes to be dashed, dragged along a gravel road, and finally violated with a splintery broomstick.

On a related note: I sat down in the men's room yesterday and shat out a big brown letter "C."


Ave, IC!

Idiots' Collective has a great post up about Barack Obama. Color Aaron politely skeptical.



Is this the first time I've mentioned Margaret Cho on this blog? While I'm not a fan of her politics (which skew mightily toward Rosie O'Donnell territory), I still think she's pretty funny. I just watched this hilarious bit on YouTube, and am seriously considering showing it to my students.

My Cho connection-- I'm two degrees of separation from her: my brother Sean met her backstage in Boston. He was gigging (cello); she was gigging (standup); I think he got her autograph, but I'd have to confirm that.

UPDATE: I should have checked: Cho was mentioned on this blog here, here, and here.


Hillary humps the shark


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

tightly wound

I've got one student who bursts into giggles after almost every sentence she utters. It's distracting, and for a long time I was suspicious: no one could possibly be that cheerful. Confirmation of my conjecture came yesterday when we were discussing the question, "What makes you angry?"

"Everything," my tightly wound student said.

We have a winner.


I think someone wants to talk to me

The Big Boss came upstairs yesterday and caught me in the hallway. Class had already started, and I was about to duck into my office to grab a few items for the next phase of an activity already in session. She asked whether I was free, and I apologetically told her I was in the middle of class. I let her into the class to greet my students (I don't really mind having guests or observers); she said hello to the girls, then left. I had the feeling that she wanted to talk about my decision to leave, but I suppose that's a conversation we'll have sometime later.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

are you a MAN?

According to this website, a truly fit man should be able to live up to the following ten "ultimate performance standards":

1. bench 1.5 times his own body weight
2. run 1.5 miles in 10 minutes
3. have a vertical leap of 26 inches or more
4. leg press 2.25 times his own body weight
5. swim 700 yards in less than 12 minutes
6. do 40 pushups
7. have a waist-to-hip ratio of .81 or less
8. run 300 yards in less than a minute
9. touch his toes
10. throw a basketball 75 feet (while on his knees)

A few remarks:

I'm hoping to adopt these performance standards to my own training. While I realize that criteria (2) and (5) and (8) are all testing somewhat different things (as the article explains), I'm going to drop (5) and (8) and stick with (2), which is a variant of the old formula given to us by Ken Cooper, in whose 1970 classic The New Aerobics we read that, to rate in "excellent" aerobic shape, one must be able to run 1.65 miles or more in 12 minutes (I've had this book for years; I read it periodically, then do nothing athletic). That's 1.375 miles in 10 minutes, which I suppose means that Cooper's standards for excellence were slightly lower in 1970 than they are in 2008.

40 pushups strikes me as a disappointingly low standard, especially when compared to the bench press and leg press standards (I've leg-pressed 400 pounds before, but according to the above standard, I'd need to be able to press 652 pounds, which is a scary, hemorrhoid-exploding prospect). All the same, I have no intention of raising the pushup standard: I'm basically a lazy bastard.

I can already touch my toes. Thank you, taekwondo!

I had to laugh when I read the waist-to-hip ratio. That .81 standard is my ratio, all right-- my hip-to-waist ratio. Gonna need some serious industry to set things right, but I expect most of this will happen during Kevin's Walk itself.

Conspicuously absent from the above list are abdominals and obliques (situps, crunches, etc.) and pullups. From a martial arts perspective, pushups and bench presses are essential for increasing your punching power, but training the biceps and lats will help you in grappling/holding situations. I think these need to be added to the list.

I'm not sure how much I can relate to the vertical leap. If white men can't jump, and I'm only half-white, it's safe to say I'm a lost cause. So let's remove the vertical leap and revise our list of ten criteria this way:

1. bench 1.5 times his own body weight
2. run 1.5 miles in 10 minutes
3. do at least 20 pullups (palms facing outward, full extension to full flex, chin clearly over the bar)
4. leg press 2.25 times his own body weight
5. do 250 standard abdominal crunches
6. do 40 pushups
7. have a waist-to-hip ratio of .81 or less
8. do 250 oblique crunches (125 per side)
9. touch his toes
10. throw a basketball 75 feet (while on his knees)

Let's assume that the ability to do all the above constitutes 100% manhood. Now we need to find out just what fraction of a man I am. Stay tuned. Results by this weekend, I hope.

To be sure, I don't plan to meet any of these standards by the end of April; I doubt I'll be anywhere close to meeting them. All I plan to do is start, and to forge ahead from there. Wish me luck.


the fade

John Edwards drops out of the race and Fidel Castro resigns as god-emperor of Cuba.




Later today, I want to talk about an interesting exercise program I'll be modifying and embarking on.


Monday, February 18, 2008

one Muslim on Shari'a

Sharia cannot be customized for specific countries. These universal, divine laws are for all people of all countries for all times.
--Calgary Imam Syed Soharwardy, reported here

Beware the paternalistic non-Muslim who willingly engages in the "no true Scotsman" fallacy to defend an indefensible stance.

Any legitimate interreligious dialogue needs to include a consideration of how members of a tradition view themselves. The above quote is, of course, not one that every Muslim will agree with; it should be obvious that a religion of more than a billion people cannot be reduced to a small set of overgeneralizations. At the same time, it is also wrong to ignore the fact that people in positions of authority, like the above-quoted imam, make strongly worded, hard-to-misinterpret pronouncements, thereby influencing thousands or even millions of believers. Denial that this problem exists is not an option.

By the Calgary-based imam's reckoning, shari'a is not merely a legalistic hermeneutic; it is "universal, divine law."


Buddhist trinkets

Today, one of my students, Myeong-seon, surprised me with two little gifts she got from a friend who is a Buddhist nun: (1) a plastic lotus flower hanging off a wire attached to a rubber sucker (you stick it on your window, I suppose, and watch the flower bounce to the movement of the earth), and (2) my very first set of Buddhist rosary beads-- the kind you put around your wrist. I don't normally wear trinkets or jewelry or other frippery aside from my watch (a 1991 graduation gift from my parents), so I'm not sure I'll be wearing the beads. They're cute, though. I might hang them over my wooden Dalma-daesa statue.


going mental

As always, there's an interesting discussion going on over at Malcolm's blog, this time in the comments thread following this post on the "substance" of substance dualism (dualism is a philosophy of mind normally associated with René Descartes, who divided the universe into res cogitans and res extensa-- roughly, mental and physical phenomena). Malcolm and his interlocutor Bob Koepp have been going at it for several rounds now. My own take, as noted in a brief comment on Malcolm's site, is that dualism, as a vision of mind, is of no use for people in the field of AI. Artificial intelligence, which is undeniably improving though it is far, far from delivering to us anything remotely humanlike, bases its progress entirely on materialistic (or physicalist) theories of mind. Dualism, as Malcolm notes, sees the Cartesian res cogitans as immaterial and capable of subjective experience. As Malcolm remarks:

No, the way I have always understood this derisive use of language like "spookstuff" (and scornful and derisive it is) is that it is a reaction to the fact that the "substance" of substance dualists is never given any definition or description other than that it is "immaterial", and that it is capable of subjective experience. This is, I think, utterly unhelpful, and adds no explanatory leverage whatsoever. We are constantly told by dualists that it is somehow self-evident that "mere matter" can't possibly be the substrate of subjective experience (a claim that presumes an exhaustive understanding of what "mere" matter can and cannot do, which strikes me as astonishingly premature), yet we are never told by virtue of what, exactly, an otherwise indescribable non-physical mental "substance" is able to pull the trick off.

In his replies to Malcolm, Bob notes:

1. [W]e need to face up to the fact that the "substance", not only of dualists, but also of materialists, is pretty mysterious — some might even say it's spooky. We don't have a decent theory of material stuff and we don't have a decent theory of mental stuff. And lest anyone say, "But physics provides a decent theory of material stuff!", I can only say we don't even know why (or whether) gravitational fields are generated by matter.

2. Modern science has learned the trick of starting in the middle of things, working toward local, tentative solutions to problems without settling "foundational" issues.

Part of the problem, especially for dualists, may be the "substance/accidents" dichotomy, which to my mind is probably false. As things stand now, I see, especially from the dualist camp, a continued insistence on asking, "What is the substance that explains the accidents that scientists observe/deduce?" The question already assumes the substance/accidents dichotomy. Is this line of inquiry legitimate? If so, why?

While the question of the explanatory power of rival visions of mind (physicalist or dualist) is vitally important, I see the more practical question -- whether the dualistic conception of mind can help us make progress in fields like AI -- as a good gauge of dualism's viability, or lack thereof. If progress in AI continues (and we are undeniably creating machines that can solve increasingly complex problems) thanks to physicalist assumptions, I think the burden is on the dualist to explain why this progress is occurring. Simply dismissing the entire effort as "not being progress," as some dualists contend, is a cheap and lazy cop-out, in my opinion.

Regarding science starting "in medias res" -- I agree; science often does start in the middle. But with equal frequency, science moves beyond its starting points, both backwards toward fundamental considerations and forwards toward the realization of imagined realities; whereas dualism, like almost all the basic philosophical questions, seems to paddle around in circles. Progress in discovering the nature of mind won't occur through philosophical exchanges, I think, because nothing in philosophy is resolved forever, whereas specific questions in science often are resolved (e.g., How can we build a flying machine?). Even old philosophical points of view that appear to have been defeated can come back in the guise of some "neo-X" school, shored up with different arguments, but essentially propping up the old "paleo-X" view. The "anti-X" school can go through exactly the same process of death and rebirth in "neo-" form, with X and anti-X swatting the ball back and forth for eternity. Philosophy has more in common with the zigzag of ping-pong than the flowing linearity of archery.*

Technologically speaking, what we're moving toward is the creation of entities that may think and act in a manner we find totally human (or that may move beyond even the human threshold). Once we reach that point -- where it becomes impossible to distinguish machine behavior from human behavior -- we will be living the "zombie problem," wondering whether these machines should be considered beings with internal lives. But my contention is that, if we do manage to create machine entities of that complexity, dualists may as well admit the game is over: the functionalist wing of the physicalist view will have demonstrated that a true mind** can be created without once making reference to (or making use of) some other substance, whatever that substance might be. The zombie question will, of course, linger, but more for reasons of dualist stubbornness than anything else.

What dualists can't do, even now, is establish that other minds exist. To me, this makes it impossible for dualists even to make statements about mind in general. The radical subjectivity of qualia, which appears to be a dualistic axiom (and, to be fair, it's at least provisionally accepted by some materialists as well), prevents general conclusions about mind from being drawn. If your theory of mind is based on an idea that is little different from solipsism, you can't really expect such a ruthlessly internal worldview ever to aid progress in exploring what is essentially a practical, external matter. Why external? As I contended in my long-ago essay, I'm not convinced that first-person and third-person ontologies are separated by an unbridgeable gap. Science, that bastion of third-person ontology, is more likely than philosophy to provide greater insights into the nature of mind.***

*I'm not implying that the direction of scientific progress is linear. To the contrary, many of our leaps and bounds in science began as fortuitous accidents. Scientific progress includes many branchings, dotted lines, and dead ends. But at least it's progress.

**The dualist is trapped if he tries to argue that we simply cannot verify that a sophisticated machine is manifesting consciousness. Such an argument, taken literally, means the dualist is saying he doesn't know what consciousness is (you have to know what something is to be able to test for its presence, as when we test for HIV). If that's the case, then by the same token he can't tell me whether the person next to him is conscious or not. Does the dualist really want to be in such a position, unable even to say whether another person is conscious? He's there already, in my opinion, because his point of departure is a non-starter: the radical subjectivity of qualia.

***On a conciliatory note, I'll admit that there's nothing wrong with science and philosophy working hand in hand on this problem (in fact, a bit less acrimony and a bit more cooperation might actually be helpful!), but I still doubt that meaningful results will appear from philosophy's end.


nearing the end

Hard to believe we're nearing the end of the semester. Today marks the beginning of the second-to-last week of the term. Time flies, eh?


Sunday, February 17, 2008

crystal skull, anyone?

Instapundit recently linked to an preview trailer for the new Indiana Jones movie. I cringed at the title cards, but the movie itself looks like a winner. The return of Karen Allen (on whom I had a crush when I was a kid) is most welcome. Alas, she barely figures in the teaser.


the Jesus story through others' eyes

The online ABC News website is currently hosting an article about an Iranian film that tackles the Jesus story from a Muslim angle. By now, most people who follow the issues are aware that Islam does in fact revere Jesus (the Koran calls him "Isa"; he is mentioned more frequently in the Muslim scripture than Muhammad) as one of the greatest prophets, but it denies that Jesus is fully divine-- the Second Person of the Trinity-- and it further denies that Jesus was crucified. According to Muslim tradition, Jesus ascended into heaven and will indeed come again.

The ABC article, which is essentially an interview between ABC's Lara Setrakian and filmmaker Nader Talebzadeh, notes that the movie, titled "The Messiah," is a good jumping-off point for interreligious dialogue. I agree, and I'd very much like to see this film, which includes two endings-- a Christian one and a Muslim one (play the video that accompanies the article). Were I to stay at Smoo instead of leaving in April, one course I'd push to teach is Religion in Film. I have a long list of religion-themed films I'd love to tackle, and this film-- despite my not having seen it-- would definitely go on that list.

The director, Talebzadeh, notes that the Christian reaction to his film has been quite positive. While the interviewer did ask a pointed question about whether the director had any plans to make a movie furthering Muslim-Jewish dialogue, she failed to ask the question I wanted to hear: "How might Muslims react to a Christian depiction of Muhammad, especially one at odds with the Koranic view of him?" Allowing oneself to be re-understood by the Other is an important test of one's willingness to engage in dialogue. Parity is equally important.

EXTRA READING: For those with a hankering for non-Christian views of Jesus, another source I'd recommend is a book by M. Thomas Thangaraj called The Crucified Guru which, as you can guess from the title, views Jesus through an Indian prism. A thoughtful (if somewhat typo-laced) review of Thangaraj's book can be found here.


that nut

Ray Kurzweil, quite possibly the most famous representative of the "strong AI" school of thought, is the subject of this BBC article, in which he claims that "we will have both the hardware and the software to achieve human level artificial intelligence with the broad suppleness of human intelligence including our emotional intelligence by 2029." I think machine consciousness is not only possible but probable, but predicting its arrival by 2029 is more than a little optimistic. The hurdles to progress in AI are enormous, after all: machines are still generally unreliable when it comes to basic cognitive tasks like pattern recognition.* Machines will need exponentially more processing power and sophistication in their software before they even come close to simulating human thought.

The article spends some time on the question of nanobots. I look forward to this phenomenon with mixed delight and trepidation. A while back, I blogged about creating a cancer-killing "nanolotion" that, when topically applied, would release nanobots that would travel into the body, spot instances of cancer, eradicate the cancer, then resurface through the skin again, perhaps as a lotiony film or as a dry dust that one simply wipes off. The idea sounds great in principle, but what if something were to go wrong with the nanobotic programming, such that the nanobots thought, say, that lung cells were all cancer cells? That's why I have no intention of buying versions 1 through 5 of the nanolotion: let the eggheads work out all the kinks first. I don't want any bots eating my lungs. Or my brain. Or my family jewels.

*Read about the "frame problem" here; the frame problem relates to hierarchies of importance (i.e., degrees of relevance): what, exactly, do you need to know to solve a given problem? How do you know you have enough data? How do you know, in examining a problem, what information is essential to the problem, and what can be safely excluded? The relationship of the frame problem to problems of pattern recognition should be obvious.


Saturday, February 16, 2008


A big thank-you to whoever listed my Brasilia review in the Galbijim wiki. I've been getting hits from it all day, apparently.


Williams in French

One of my all-time favorite movie speeches was written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck for their 1997 movie "Good Will Hunting." It's the speech that Robin Williams's character, Dr. Sean Maguire, gives to Damon's Will Hunting when they're sitting by the lake the week after their first encounter, an encounter during which Will trashed Sean's painting and flayed his personal life. A cynic might note that, as movie moments go, the Maguire speech is a bit corny, but I'm a huge fan of that film and don't mind the overt didacticism. Here's how it begins:

So if I asked you about art, you'd probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life's work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientation, the whole works, right? But I'll bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You've never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling, seen that.

While searching YouTube for a Robin Williams clip to show my students-- the moment in Williams's 2005 Broadway standup routine where he bashes the French-- I found a clip of the above Maguire speech, but dubbed in French. I guess someone in some francophone country was also impressed by the speech. I'm tempted to transcribe the French here, but that might take more time than I have today. In any case, click this link and enjoy the version française of the Sean Maguire speech.*

Williams does speak French, though as you see in this Inside the Actor's Studio clip, he's got a fairly strong accent, as does his interviewer, James Lipton, whose French I thought would be spot-on, given how much time he spent in France.

*I'm tempted to call this a soliloquy, but as you watch the scene you'll note that Sean Maguire isn't talking to us, he's talking to Will, and Will is reacting during the speech. Soliloquy doesn't seem like quite the right word despite the "soliloquistic" format of the speech.


here's something strange

Throughout my youth and even into college, I remember meeting classmates who would say, "I faint at the sight of blood."

It occurred to me just a few minutes ago that, during my entire time in Korea, I've never once heard anyone tell me they faint at the sight of blood.


infinite boshintang!

Hallelujah! Korea gets into the pet cloning business.

The world's first pet cloning service is to offer animal lovers the chance to recreate their dead companions, it was announced today.

South Korean company RNL Bio will work alongside scientists who created the first cloned canine.

A company spokeswoman said it was already working on its first order from an American who wanted a clone of her dead pit bull.

The client, Bernann McKunney, of California, was very attached to the pet because it had saved her life during an attack by another dog.

Kim Yoon said that ear tissue from the dog had been preserved at a US biotech laboratory before its death.

I think this is wonderful news for boshintang (dog stew) restaurants: you raise a dog, kill it, save a few of its cells, serve the rest, clone another dog, raise it, kill it, save a few of its cells, serve the rest, clone another dog...


Friday, February 15, 2008

Condell strikes again!

Pat Condell doesn't fuck around. Here's his blunt take on Archbishop Rowan Williams. Of special note is that he and I agree completely on one fundamental point: a religion is as it is practiced. As Condell puts it: "Islam is its followers."


Ave, Pooper!

I never thought I'd be saying this, but the Party Pooper's latest post, which rubs gently but insistently against the issue of pedophilia, is a guilty pleasure.

Also, in case you missed the hype from other Koreabloggers who noticed this well before I did, the Pooper is prominently displaying a hilarious comment left by none other than Kevin of the excellent-but-defunct Incestuous Amplification, a hilariously written blog (or "bloog," as Kevin used to write) that took no prisoners when it came to critiques of Korean culture.


guns and society

I realize this is in poor taste, but when I found this graphic, I thought it apropos:

Americans are, generally speaking, a gun-loving people. Many folks own more than one gun. Most gun owners are scrupulous stewards-- they store their guns safely, they teach those close to them how to handle guns properly, they harbor no pathological obsession with firearms. Many, if not most, of these gun owners are fiercely protective of their right to bear arms. Many, if not most, believe that having a gun on their person increases their chances of surviving an armed encounter. Many, if not most, will contend that reducing the availability of guns (e.g., restricting their purchase, banning them outright, etc.) can hurt only law-abiding citizens; illegal acquisition of firearms will continue.

I don't think the issues in the massive debate over the preponderance of guns in American society are all that clear-cut. We can see truth at both extremes of the central debate: (1) a society with zero guns cannot, logically speaking, have gun violence; and (2) being unarmed when an armed person opens fire significantly reduces one's chances of survival (assuming one is competent in the use of firearms). Reality, of course, isn't so simple. In a country like America, it would be impossible to reduce the number of guns to zero, and there is ferocious debate over whether such a move is even desirable. Guns are here, and they're readily available. There is also ferocious debate over the veracity and interpretation of gun violence statistics, many statistics of which get lumped together in various and sloppy ways in the heat of argument: stats on suicide by gun; domestic violence involving firearms; accidents at home or on the job; the cause and outcome of firefights with the police; the role of guns in holdups, individual murders, and mass killings.

This last is of particular concern to me, given the spate of mass murders in the US since the beginning of 2007. I see that yet another mass killing just occurred, this time at a university in Illinois, leaving six dead (five victims plus the gunman). Because many gun rights activists claim that the state of affairs would improve if only local shops and authorities enforced whatever gun laws are already in place, I feel it is time to ask: How many of these mass killings would, in truth, have been stopped by simple enforcement of current laws? Another way of phrasing the question might be: What if a given mass killing could not have been prevented by means of waiting periods, background checks, etc.?

I ask these questions with no particular agenda in mind. I don't consider myself either a pacifist or anti-gun. I have no desire to see guns banned; in fact, I agree with my father that knowing how to use a gun, should one ever plop into my hands, could mean the difference between life and death. (I currently don't know how to use a gun, and my parents keep no guns in their house, as far as I know.) But my question is meant to focus on the reliability of the system in place. If the system is theoretically good but enforcement of the system is inconsistent, then it doesn't really matter how good the system is, does it? The consequences of lax enforcement are as undesirable as the effects of a poorly conceived system.

In later blog posts, I hope to examine some recent examples of mass murder in light of the questions I'm posing.


is the American Dream still alive?

I just came across an interesting article about a college grad, Adam Shepard, who decided to test the viability of the American Dream: he left a supportive home and family with only $25 to his name, aiming to accomplish the following within a year:

1. have a furnished apartment
2. buy a car
3. have $2500 in savings

The result? Success. In fact, he ended the experiment early because of a family crisis, having gotten the apartment and the car, and having saved not $2500 but nearly $5000.

An interesting line from the article:

The effort, he says, was inspired after reading "Nickel and Dimed," in which author Barbara Ehrenreich takes on a series of low-paying jobs. Unlike Ms. Ehrenreich, who chronicled the difficulty of advancing beyond the ranks of the working poor, Shepard found he was able to successfully climb out of his self-imposed poverty.

The sky's the limit, so don't limit yourself. (You might say I'm preaching to myself as much as to you.)


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ave, Charles!

You're missing out if you haven't read Charles's essay on the burning of Sungnyemun.


the Dear Joan letter

[NB: This post was inspired by one of Jelly's entries.]

Dear Bitch Joan,

I still remember the first time I ever saw your humongous tits you. You were drunk and fingering your equally fucked-up friend Debbie at the bar standing at the edge of the park, radiant in your thong pleated skirt, nipples at attention staring with such fascination at my swollen, pulsating cock a squirrel that was happily chewing its way through my its nuts. You still hadn't seen me, but I saw you, and I knew right then that I would be spurting my hot jism all over your screaming face that very evening we were destined for each other.

But now our relationship lies in ruins; the wounds to my scrotum in my heart promise to fester not to heal for a long time. Once you made it clear that ass-fucking was no longer on the agenda you wanted to break things off, I immediately began fucking your grandmother knew I had to let it all go and face reality.

So this is goodbye, you flop-tittied cooze at least for now. I suppose we might, by sheer coincidence, shoot bump into each other at Crack Dealer Dave's in church, but this strikes me as unlikely.

I hope you suck a dick that ejaculates hydrochloric acid All the best,




I got chocolate from a few students today. Not that I needed it, of course, but it's the custom, in Korea and Japan, that the womenfolk do favors for the menfolk on Valentine's Day. A separate day, known by the very Klan-sounding moniker "White Day" (which occurs in mid-March), allows the men to return the favor to their women. A month after White Day, there's Black Day, the day when all single people eat jjajang-myeon, i.e., Chinese noodles in black bean paste. The black color symbolizes the soul-desolation of the singleton: it sucks to be alone, don't it? Enjoy your freakin' meal.



Happy Valentine's Day.


"I'm OK; you're... well..."

Definitely not an uplifting, "Good Will Hunting"-style end to a patient-therapist relationship.

M. Scott Peck, watch your ass. You, too, Dr. Phil.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

next semester's schedule

I got an email with next term's class schedule. It feels weird to look at the chart and to realize that I'll be teaching only halfway through it. We appear to be starting classes on March 10 (placement interviews on the 5th and 6th); I'll have a 21-hour work week, with Fridays practically empty except for a lunchtime pronunciation workshop. The last time I did such a workshop, things went fairly well, but the attrition rate was pretty ugly: we went from a high of about eighteen people (twenty-one on the list, but only eighteen showed up) to an end-of-term total of five. As I've griped before: that's how it goes with non-credit courses.

I'll have only three preps: Level 2 English (the same integrated course I'm teaching now), a class currently titled "Listening and Debate" (I have no idea what this is and have emailed my supervisor to find out what's up), and the aforementioned Fridays-only pronunciation clinic. Coming in for an hour on Friday hardly seems worth it, but what the hey-- it's practically a three-day weekend, a rarity during our longer spring and fall terms.

I have to think about how I'm going to pass the torch to my successor. When Week 7 of the next term rolls around, the students will be in for a surprise. But for now, the main concern is turning in course syllabi to my supervisor, who says she wants them by this weekend (or as her email says, "until this weekend").

Total digression: did you know that "24" won't be airing its seventh season until 2009? What a bastard that Jack Bauer is.


congrats, Barack, but...

I see that Barack Obama has been cleaning up in the Potomac primaries. Good for him; may his streak continue.

This morning, however, one of my students said something rather disturbing: Obama's popularity, which seems to be on the rise in the midst of a change-hungry populace, is reminiscent of the popularity of Noh Mu Hyeon, who also ran a passionate campaign in the name of change.

Folks, that parallel, that Nohbamic connection, might not run deep, but it's still a mite disturbing.

I need to start drinking.


I hate emoticons

...and someone thinks we should tax the people who use them. Choice quote:


While we're at it, let's tax emoticons, too. After all, we're decades into the Internet age, and emoticons, like the ;-) or the :-( punctuating so many thoughts in our e-mail, do not communicate anything except "I'm too lazy to find another way to tell you that I'm trying to be funny." As we say to small children, Use Your Words.

(with thanks to reader "HK," who passed me the above article and quote)


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

tonight's exercise in mindful gratitude

It's been cold. I'm happy for that. Just this evening, it occurred to me that I'm doubly happy because I haven't had to contend with fucking mosquitoes in months.

I wish that were the case all year round.


the poster

Read about it here.



Valentine's Day just wouldn't be the same without all that wholesome goodness.


Monday, February 11, 2008

goofy ajeoshi

Charles, when he came over to my hovel with his lovely wife many, many moons ago, had the pleasure of meeting one of the two goofy individuals who staff the concierge desk in my dorm. The man in question is quite friendly, but as Charles gently observed, "He's not all there, is he?"

Last night, I carried a large load of pre-sorted recyclables out the front door to dump in the various trash cans reserved for plastic, cans/metals, and bottles. I had everything bundled up, as usual, in plastic bags. The concierge saw me exiting and, obsequious fellow that he is (plenty of bowing and "ayu!" and "byeol malsseum i-seyo"), he followed me out, talked with me a few seconds, then lifted my garbage out of my hands... and crammed everything-- everything-- into the garbage can devoted to plastics.

While he was busy with his crammery, I tried to tell him that I had cans and bottles in there, but he interrupted me with a wave and an "ayu, daesseoyo, daesseoyo" (I'm tempted to translate that, in this context, as "Oh, never mind, never mind" or "Don't worry, don't worry"). After a moment I stopped trying to tell him what to do and simply gave up.

There's a cultural commentary hidden in this incident-- something about the lack of a necessary relationship between age and wisdom, and the way this disconnect is covered over or dismissed by hierarchical thinking. The concierge obviously had his heart in the right place; from his point of view, he was doing me a favor. But the end result was glass bottles and metal cans stuffed into the garbage can marked for plastics.


Kevin's brush(es) with fame

I know this dude. He teaches three floors above me.

(With thanks to my buddy Tom for pointing this article out to me.)

UPDATE: Brian writes in the comments that the above link crashes his Firefox browser. I normally use IE at work and Firefox at home; I wrote this blog post while at work and noticed no problem with the IE browser. I just tried Firefox from work, however, and sure enough-- crash.

Here's the article in its entirety:

French Twist to Lunar New Year
by Park Soo-mee Staff Reporter []
February 1, 2008

The pan-fried eggs look like autumn leaves floating among the flower-shaped dumplings. Cloves dot the pears on a bed of ginger and dates like a lotus pond. A spoon and a set of chopsticks gently rest on a rugged cinnamon stick. It's time to eat this lyrical feast.

Earlier this week, I asked Laurent Beltoise if he could devise three traditional dishes for Seolnal, or Lunar New Year. Beltoise is one of the top French chefs in Seoul and he teaches French cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu in Seoul, a prestigious French culinary school. The plan was to add a bit of France to traditional Korean recipes. His concoctions were tteokguk, a rice cake soup; sanjeok, Korean brochettes, and baesuk, a dessert of simmered pear.

To get started, I left Beltoise two recipe books. But they turned out to be useless. Beltoise already has a solid Korean food mentor: his mother in-law. "I called her last night to check whether I was doing it right," he says. "She's a really good cook. Everyone tells her she would've become really rich if she had opened a restaurant. But she prefers to cook just for the family."

The chef starts with sanjeok, a grilled brochette of beef and vegetables skewered on bamboo sticks. But instead of beef and the usual vegetables like carrots and scallions, Beltoise prefers marinated pork, rice cake, zucchini and pine mushrooms. These are marinated in sesame oil seasoned with a spoonful of soy sauce, crushed garlic, ginger and other ingredients for marinating such as sesame oil.

"At first I thought the sesame oil was too strong," he says, pouring the oil into a silver sauce bowl. "Now, it's become part of my life. More and more top French chefs in gastronomic restaurants nowadays use sesame oil and sesame leaves in their recipes."

Le Cordon Bleu has taken a considerable role in promoting Korean food. In 2005, the school published "Korean Kimchi and Le Cordon Bleu," a fusion cookbook that uses kimchi as a main ingredient. Beltoise was part of the project. The book was one of the first efforts ever by world-class chefs to embrace Korean food as haute cuisine. The recipes include chocolate cake topped with kimchi leaves dipped in syrup then baked in an oven, and rice pudding with orange-flavored kimchi. The book won the Special Award of the Jury at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Kuala Lumpur in May 2006.

The hype for Korean food even hit Beltoise's family and his colleagues in France. "Now they can tell good kimchi from bad," he says. "They know when it's fresh and when it's too old."

While his assistant grills the brochettes in a pan, Beltoise moves on to tteokguk, a signature dish for Lunar New Year’s Day in Korea. The minute he pulls out his cookie cutter from a kitchen drawer and cuts wrappers for the dumpling on a pre-made flour wrapper, everyone in the kitchen heaves a sigh of relief.

For many years, Korean women were driven into a holiday depression before Lunar New Year. They put up with an enormous amount of kitchen work for the family's guests.
Part of their burden was to crank out trays of mandu, or Korean dumplings, to make a traditional rice cake soup. To make each piece properly, women were taught to cut out perfect circles of flour dough, fill each dumpling with one teaspoon of meat filling, fold the top into a half moon shape, seal, twist and pinch the dough until the folds were tightly closed.

Beltoise had a simpler method. Using the cutter, he made them into ravioli shapes. He placed the meat filling between two pieces of pre-made dumpling wrappers, which are available in supermarkets, and cut out the edges of the dough using a cookie cutter. They come with neatly scalloped edges. To finish, he lightly sealed the edges with his finger. Et voila! In less than three seconds, the Korean ravioli was ready to be dropped in the soup.

In addition, the chef used oxtail, laurel leaves and beef ribs for the stock instead of the usual beef knucklebones. He let the soup simmer for four hours on a low heat. He saved the meat and later used it as the soup's garnish. Beltoise said the idea for the soup was similar to "soupe V.G.E.," a black truffle consomme in beef broth with foie gras under a pastry crust. The dish was created in 1975 by Paul Bocuse, one of the most important 20th-century chefs in French gastronomy. The occasion was to thank former French President Giscard Valery D'Estaing for awarding the chef the Legion of Honor.

Originally, Beltoise thought of adding traditional French ingredients like foie gras into the dumpling's filling. Then he decided to skip it and went with the traditional way.

After sampling the filling, he adds an extra chunk of crushed tofu. It's too dry, he explains. "If we were in France, you would add eggs or cheese to make it softer," he says.

The most imaginative part of making tteokguk is the fried egg topping that Beltoise describes as "an omelet." What he really meant was jidan, shredded eggs, which are used to decorate traditional soups like tteokguk or other fancy Korean dishes. But instead of roughly chopped fried egg, he brought in tiny cookie cutters shaped like autumn leaves. "It's an intricate match," the photographer for the interview says after tasting. "It's a mix of a very good dumpling with French consomme."

Beltoise calls his cooking style "a world cuisine" based on French gastronomy. And he means it. Originally from Paris, Beltoise spent eight years of his youth in Tahiti with his sommelier father, a native of Normandy in northern France. The son continued traveling after he returned to Paris. He worked at Claridge's, a hotel in London, and became an assistant chef on a Club Med cruise. He met his Korean wife in the club's PR section and moved back to France as head chef at the Spanish Embassy. He lived in Portugal for about a year and spent another two years at Club Med. Six years ago, he joined Le Cordon Bleu in Seoul as an instructor of French cuisine. Despite his nomadic career, his gourmet credentials are strongly rooted in traditional French style.

His years in Paris included working in the city's hottest restaurants like "La Poste" and "La Fontaine Gaillon," now owned by the French actor Gerard Depardieu. His exposure to international cuisine shows in his dishes, especially in his dessert that uses pears. He makes baesuk by slicing pears that have simmered in a pot full of honey, dates and ginger. On top of this, he adds lemon peel and whole chestnuts. Traditionally, Koreans stick black peppercorns to the pears. Beltoise uses dried cloves for a stronger flavor.

As soon as he opens the pot, the rich aroma of ginger and cloves envelops the kitchen. Just before serving, he adds rice cakes, pine nuts and fresh mint leaves on the top. You feel the force on your mouth. The rich taste lingers on your palette. Aside from the innovative food, the chef's demonstrations cleared up a few misconceptions in Korea about the French and food. One is that not all French people are fussy about food. Two is that some male chefs like to cook at home. "I love going to Korean markets. I go whenever I can. I'm going this weekend with my mother in-law to shop for Seolnal," he says.

'Tis time for Lunar New Year.


a national treasure goes up in smoke

The Marmot's Hole has the scoop: National Treasure Number One, Sungnyemun (Namdaemun) Gate, began burning last night.

This Wikipedia entry on the gate will need to be updated to reflect yesterday's disaster.

Why is this National treasure No. 1? Rather poignantly, Wikipedia points out:

Namdaemun is currently the oldest wood-built structure remaining in Seoul. The construction of this gate began in 1395 during the fourth year of the reign of King Taejo of Joseon and was finished in 1398. The remaining structure went through renovation during the reign of King Sejong (1447) and the tenth year of the reign of King Seongjong (1479).

Keep checking the Hole for updates.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rowan redux

More links on the Rowan/Shari'a issue:

A Times Online article: "Has the Archbishop Gone Bonkers?"

An angle that's more sympathetic to Archbishop Rowan can be found at Nunc Fluens. While I don't share Baekho's point of view on this, I think he makes excellent points about the need to be thoughtful.

A Muslim critique of Shari'a.

This all warrants deeper consideration than I've given the matter thus far, but the work week begins again, and I might not have time for a few days.


America's spate of shootemups

This ABC News article offers an interesting exploration of what drives people to commit mass murder. I haven't yet commented on the recent spate of killings in my country; perhaps I will later this week.


Ave, Justin!

Justin, big brother of Nose Hair Adam, has always had an uncanny ability to find cool shit online. In this post, he links to a video called "Fuck Planet Earth," a spoof(?) of the BBC "Planet Earth" series, the HD-DVD version of which has become known as the reason why you need to buy a giant, hi-def TV right freaking now. I laughed so hard at "Fuck Planet Earth" that I grew a third and a fourth nipple.

Big props to Todd Thacker (who, journo that he is, had to work on Lunar New Year's Day) for alerting me to Justin's post. Check out the "Don't Teach in Korea" Google ad Todd found.


Saturday, February 09, 2008

Ave, Lipgloss!

More cosmic wisdom, hilariously delivered, at Lipgloss Opprobrium. This particular piece resonates with me because I've been working my way through my small collection of Tom Robbins novels, and the Lipgloss piece is very Robbinsesque. I've finished Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Another Roadside Attraction, and Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. I'm now embarking on my favorite Robbins novel, Jitterbug Perfume.


maybe I am a workaholic, after all

What sort of crazy fool pulls all-nighters during vacation?

All eyes me-ward.

Starting Friday evening, I was at the office until well past sunrise, working on a new poster for the department I'll soon be leaving. I had meant to do this months ago, but had for various reasons been unable to get to it. Since this vacation hasn't exactly been packed with Smoo-related activities, I thought I might as well include this poster as one of my personal projects (another of which is: buy one of those 24-packs of toilet paper tonight!).

My oeuvre took the entire night and a chunk of the following morning. The poster (which I can't show here until I get permission from my Korean coworker, who is featured rather prominently on it) shows a lady, Na-young, wearing a loose white button-down shirt with rolled-up sleeves and a chic girlie necktie that has an image of the Eiffel Tower along its length. Na-young's making muscles, her arms bent at about 90 degrees. Sitting on her right arm (viewer's left) with a cheerful smirk on his face is my buddy Tom; on the left arm is yours truly. Tom's smirking across Na-young's head at me; I'm staring out at the viewer, as is Na-young herself (rather hypnotically, I must say).

Back in late summer, we had done a few shots (photos, not whisky) outside our building with Na-young striking some musclegirl poses, and Tom and I doing various postures in which we appear either to be perched on a surface or hanging from it. I chose three of the best shots and composited them for the ad poster. The most time-consuming part of the process was chipping away all the extraneous background, which took hours, as I was trying to do as precise a job as possible. I also had to make some other alterations:

1. I lengthened Na-young's upper arms by about 20-30% to accommodate Tom's and my asses. This involved cutting the arms about midway through the humerus, shifting the cut-away portions, then using the "free transform" tool to stretch the shoulder-to-cut portions to fill in the gaps. I was amazed at how smoothly the process went.

2. I chopped away a chunk of the fat on my face (in the final product, my face still looks fat, alas) and gave myself a bit of a neck, something not usually visible. Na-young's arm-lengthening didn't take long, but this part of the process, the neck generation, consumed an hour or so, and necessitated a switchover from color to black-and-white because I couldn't get the replacement neck to match my own flesh tone. I had started out by finding a neck online (a woman's neck! oh, the humanity) and had thought I would simply patch the neck over the empty space in much the same way I had grafted that second tongue onto Gene Simmons, but this proved unworkable. So I ended up building a neck from nothing. To get skin-like texture, I used a combination of the "add noise" and "blur" tools. I also used the "burn" tool to add some tracheal and jawline shading. By the time I was done, the neck still didn't look totally natural, which is why I made the aforementioned switch to B&W. Oh, yeah-- during this part of the process, I CGI'ed part of my tee shirt as well.

3. On the photo I chose of myself, my lower shins and feet were cut off, so I had to "stitch" them on from another photo. This required a good bit of "free transform." At first, I had hoped to snap the lower legs on as a pair, but this proved impossible, so I did the legs one by one instead.

4. The tip of one of Tom's shoes was cut off, so I had to generate half of Tom's foot from scratch-- quite possibly my first-ever true CGI work (I'm not proud of the job I did on the Kevin-neck, so that doesn't count). If/when I do finally show you the poster itself, see if you can spot which of Tom's feet was CGI'ed.

5. I had to erase Na-young's teeth. Please understand: Na-young's got fantastic, almost scarily perfect teeth in real life, but for whatever reason, they rendered horribly in the photo of her. In that picture, her lips are slightly parted, so the teeth are in shadow. Digicams aren't exactly famous for their low-light capabilities, and this photo was no exception: Na-young's teeth ended up looking freakishly decayed. So I erased them, replacing them with a subtle gray and blurring the area a bit.

6. Everyone's hair got a touchup.

7. Kevin's face had several prominent blemishes removed.

8. Na-young's body was stretched vertically 7%.

9. Tom's nose caused some trouble; I had to shave off some of the digital grit that surrounded its profile without altering the shape of the nose itself. Yikes.

Hours and hours, all of the above. Then it was time for the main event:

1. Na-young, whose legs I had cut off when I cropped her image, was placed at the bottom of the poster, stage center.

2. Tom's and my images were placed on her biceps.

3. I did traces of Tom's and my legs, copied the images, washed the copies out by setting "contrast" to zero, darkened them a bit, then did a Gaussian blur to turn the legs into shadows. I slipped the shadows under the Tom and Kevin images, and voilà-- our legs were now casting shadows on Na-young's arms! It's a tiny detail, but it makes the image a bit more natural-looking.

4. The three layers were flattened into each other, but kept separate from the background.

5. I duplicated the layer, washed the contrast down to zero, then did a Gaussian blur to create a shadow of all three of us. Worked perfectly-- I slipped the shadow behind the "people" layer, and it made everything look more dimensional.

6. All three of us were in black-and-white, but I switched the poster's mode to RGB color to allow some color in the background.

7. I did blue and yellow paint streaks on a separate layer to add some artsy-fartsy flair. I stuck this layer behind the "people" layer.

8. I added text. This took time as I did my usual fidgeting with fonts, styles, sizes, positions, and other taffy-pulling transformations. The text was simple: "Strong. Balanced. Lingua Express. Learn a language." (We have no actual slogan, as far as I know.)

9. I flattened the image, then introduced an off-kilter red strip at the bottom of the page. I chose red to continue with the "primary color" theme established by the blue and yellow paint streaks.

10. I added a bit more text: "Interested? Sign up!" (more fooling around with font, size, positioning, etc.) I also slapped on some specifics about how to contact our department (font, size positioning, etc.).

11. I flattened the text onto the red field. I once again regretted not having a hi-res file of the Smoo snowflake logo to slap on the poster and add some legitimacy.

And that's all she wrote.

Part of what took so long was the trial-and-error nature of the process. Some of this was unavoidable, but some of it was a result of inexperience: I was attempting things I hadn't attempted before.

I'm eager to show the poster to you, but that'll have to wait until the coming week.

Now I have to work on a promised coin image for Nathan's new blog on numismatics and museums. You can see an example of my coin work by looking at my sidebar, where you'll see coins for both Naked Villainy (with the French motto "Que les nains souffrent"-- may the dwarves suffer) and Nathan's main blog (if "main" is the proper term), Port Coquitlam Odysseus.

UPDATE: There was one other major step I left out of the above narrative. After locking together the three "people" layers (Tom, Na-young, and Kevin), I realized to my chagrin that I hadn't settled my image correctly on Na-young's arm: my ass was floating slightly above it, allowing a little wind to blow between my crotch and her biceps. Having fused the layers-- and having performed several dozen tiny things after the fusion, thereby preventing me from using the "undo" function to free my image up-- I had no choice but to fill the area under my crotch with Na-young's shirt. This required a bit of painting, blurring, and stretching, but in the end, I don't think the result looks too unnatural. You'll see for yourself soon.