Monday, March 31, 2008

I think this is better

I wasn't all that satisfied with my previous attempt at a bumper sticker/letterhead image for my Walk, so as you'll see below, I've tried again. Gone is the Kevin image; gone, too, are the massive bootprint, the varied fonts, and the generally busy design.

It took a while to figure out how I was going to represent America on the bumper sticker; my original thought had been to take an outline map of the Lower 48 and squish that into a bumper sticker's dimensions. I abandoned that idea, however, because such a distortion probably would have made the US unrecognizable. I think that switching over to red, white, and blue works better. I'm probably going to go with this design: it represents everything I want it to-- a walk across America plus the interreligious theme of the trek.

Although it wasn't by design, I kind of like the way Buddhism ends up near the middle, where it should be. The Christian cross floats over my heart, obviously because I'm a Christian (that was by design).

I thought about adding the blog's URL, but decided against it once I saw that the URL simply brought us once again to the edge of "too busy!"

UPDATE: Check out tee shirts here and bumper stickers here. Unlike what you see above, the actual design has no black border.


bad comparisons

You may have seen the hysterical Drudge headline, "Muslims More Numerous than Catholics." The article says:

Islam has overtaken Roman Catholicism as the biggest single religious denomination in the world, the Vatican said on Sunday.

The problem, of course, is that Islam is not a single religious denomination. A proper comparison would be between all of Islam and all of Christianity, and there, the ratio remains about the same as it's been for a while: about 2 to 1 in favor of Christians. (The article offers no hard figures, but guesses at a ratio of 2 billion Christians to 1.3 billion Muslims.)

Beware false comparisons!


Barbier on Bruni & Sarko and the French economy

For you francophones out there, an "édito-vidéo" by Christophe Barbier about the recent trip by the First Couple to Britain will provide you some amusement. Barbier rates Bruni's appearance, poise, and ability to handle the cameras as a "20 out of 20" (based on the French school system's method of scoring students), while poor Sarko himself gets a 14 out of 20 (considered decent, if not great, in French reckoning, given the difficulty of the tests).

Of more interest is what Barbier says about the bizarre state of the French economy: nous avons à la fois la baisse du chômage et la persistance-- que dis-je-- l'aggravation de la crise économique. Ce n'est pas normal. "We have, at the same time, falling unemployment and the persistence-- what am I saying-- the aggravation of the economic crisis. This isn't normal." Barbier's assessment of whether the current president and government can find creative solutions to the present problem is pessimistic (and, truth be told, a bit bitchy in tone). Interesting vid.


uncanny valley?

You can't hurt this woman's feelings 'cause she ain't real. Be sure to read the comments.

(with thanks to the rarely visited but often worthwhile BoingBoing)


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Banky gets cranky

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned "Fitna," the short film by Dutch anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders that juxtaposes violent Koranic verses with violent actions and words by Muslims.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday condemned as "offensively anti-Islamic" a Dutch lawmaker's film that accuses the Koran of inciting violence.

Ban acknowledged efforts by the government of the Netherlands to stop the broadcast of the film, which was launched by Islam critic Geert Wilders over the Internet, and appealed for calm to those "understandably offended by it."

"There is no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence," Ban said in a statement. "The right of free expression is not at stake here."

So the question, as always, is: will Ban show this sort of backbone in the face of

Freedom Go To Hell
God Bless Hitler

Behead Those Who Insult Islam


I suspect not: if he actually took the time to condemn each such incitement to violence, he'd hardly have time for other aspects of his job, now, would he?


yup-- prayer heals

Two instances of the power of prayer here (thanks, Malcolm) and here.

In such cases, I'm always reminded of the joke about the guy on the rooftop during a flood who insists on waiting for God to save him. You know how it goes: a truck comes by and offers him a lift, but the guy says, "No; God will save me." A boat comes by when the waters have risen but the guy rejects the boat, too. A helicopter comes by when the water is nearly up to the roof, but the guy remains firm in his conviction that God will come down and save him. The guy eventually drowns, and when he's before the Good Lord, he reproaches him, demanding to know why God didn't try to save him. God replies, "I tried three times! I sent you a truck, then a boat, and then a helicopter!"

There are, of course, two ways for us to interpret the story. The atheistic way would be to say that faith in God is vain: there's no divine help coming, only help of the pedestrian variety. The more religious way of viewing the story would be that we need to stop looking for the Absolute somewhere in a meaningless "up there" and start seeing it right here, right where we are, in this moment. No matter which view you take, the lesson is obvious: focus on the now. As the Taoist* proverb goes, "With one eye always on the goal, you have but one eye left to find the Way."

*Taoist in spirit if not actually from the Taoist tradition.


Hill's pickle and Obama's giggle

Excellent commentary on Hillinbama's recent travails over at the NYT. Much is made of the "viral" nature of politics (think: information spread on YouTube) these days. Obama's group gets it; Hillary's cohorts don't, the author argues.

Now I'm off to buy some fookin' cheese, walnuts, and honey.


100 Below: Volume 37

Jane found Bob in the kitchen.

"Stop that," she said.

"Stop what?" Bob asked.

"You know what."

"No, Jane, I don't know what." Bob looked annoyed.

"You're slicing the cheese with your dick again," Jane said, fists clenched.

"So?" asked Bob, slicing carefully.

"So this needs to stop, and it needs to stop right now."

Bob raised his eyebrows, but didn't look away from his task.

"But why?" he asked.

Jane opened her mouth, then closed it. She opened it again... then closed it again.

Furrowing her brows, Jane realized she couldn't think of a single reason.



It's hard to believe, but on Monday I'll be embarking on my final three weeks of teaching here at Smoo. It's all downhill from here. I've already administered the students' first quiz; the only thing left will be the midterm exam. In the meantime, I'll have my usual complement of journals to flip through and drench in red ink.

I know one thing I'd do differently if I had the time to formally institute the changes: I'd spend less time on error correction in those journals. In fact, I'd spend no time at all on correction; instead, I'd simply circle whatever errors I found, then let the students get together to figure out where/how they must have gone wrong. I'd then ask them to do rewrites, and only after that would I involve myself in actual correction. What I do now is, basically, provide a proofreading service for the students. They appreciate the feedback, but I don't think they're getting as much out of the experience as they could. I'd love to make that change this semester, but given how tightly I've scheduled the activities, that won't be possible.

Teaching is as much a growing process as learning is. You learn while you teach; you experiment with different methods, learn what works, then go with that. You also update your methods on occasion-- not necessarily by jumping onto the latest pedagogical fads (most of which are stupid, anyway), but by going with what makes sense to you and responding to the specific needs of the academic community you're in. Most teachers, for example, realize pretty quickly that, for all their claims to "know grammar," a high proportion of low- to intermediate-level Korean students still produce lengthy utterances or essays that are grammatically feeble. This means that many of us will sacrifice part of the vaunted communicative approach-- an approach that stresses merely being understood-- in order to go Old School and reintroduce the meat-and-potatoes elements of grammar, style, and usage. Clarity does actually count for something.

Don't drop those articles!
Don't add articles where they're not needed!
Watch those prepositions!
Watch the plural and third-person "S"!
Watch how you phrase ideas in the negative ("everyone don't know")!
Watch that subject-verb agreement!
Watch how you use "yes" and "no" in response to negative questions!

I'm sure the above sounds quite familiar to people in the business.

Ah, the business. And I'll be leaving it soon.

But I'll be back. Like Arnold and MacArthur and Jesus, I offer a promise (or is it a threat?) to return.

Today I'm making charoset (we're celebrating Passover early in my classes, you see), shopping for cheeses to make a cheese platter, doing laundry, proofing a short paper, and gearing up for the week. Luckily, I did my class prep on Friday, which is why I could afford to laze around this weekend. Today, though, I've got a few things to do. The charoset and cheese platter are for my Current Events English class; I had hoped to do something with them last week, but I was just too tired, for some reason.

This week we'll have the cheese party, and along with my coworker Terry and his students, we'll be doing a movie night on Thursday evening. Not a bad way to start the downhill slide.


imminent dormancy

April approaches, and in a few days I'll be putting this blog to sleep. Not in the euthanasia sense, mind you: I'll likely be posting on here intermittently during the Walk. But as my time in Korea draws to a close, I think it'll be helpful for me to focus more acutely on what I'm about to do. To that end, I invite you all to follow my activities over at Kevin's Walk, where I'll be spending the bulk of my time. The blog hasn't got much to offer at the moment, but in the coming months it will become my home base in cyberspace, the main source of news about me. My hope is that it will feature photos, videos, and the usual logorrhea you've come to expect from my mind's ass.

(Special apologies to my obsessive reader in London, for whom this putting-to-sleep of the Hairy Chasms is going to be a painful experience.)


Saturday, March 29, 2008


Found over at Cappy's place:

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?

Not shown above is the following remark, which appeared on my results screen:

This is 83% MORE than other websites who took this test.

Like Cappy, I'm not particularly happy with my results, because I'm pretty sure I cuss more frequently than this fucking thing is claiming.


Thomas Covenant has company

Are you an Unbeliever? There may be a "church" for you.

It is hard not to notice the bells that ring on Sunday morning. But at churches, synagogues and mosques around the globe there are some for whom that religion is lost. This group is part of America's atheist minority.

While Christians, Muslims and Jews can celebrate their beliefs, and fellowship in the company of others in churches, mosques and synagogues, where can non-believers find a spiritual home?

One answer lies in Palo Alto, Calif., if you spot the sign by the roadside. It's at the Humanist Community, where for a few hours every Sunday the humanists, as they call themselves, come together in what one might call a congregation. It even has its own Sunday school.

Without church bells, but with music, this group of humanists believe in a lot of things – but God isn't one of them.

They get together and, with lectures for the older congregants and stories and games for the younger ones, discuss not their faith, but the opposite of faith -- the idea that truth arises from reason, from science, from free thought.

"I like to think freely, but still I can really think freely whenever I want 'cause I think thinking freely is good," said eight-year-old Jane Kovak, one of the humanists' younger congregants. Jane's parents, John and Kimberly teach in the community.

"I don't believe there is a God," Jane continues, "but there is a possibility that there can be. I don't really think there is."

I'm dying to know what my atheist/agnostic readership thinks of this. Not to skew or prejudice the replies I get, but my own reaction is: This is corny as hell.

Read zee rest.

UPDATE: Another ABC News article says the following:

There are an estimated 20 to 30 million atheists in the United States these days, and some of them say they feel like a persecuted minority.

"Atheists are completely vilified. And it's OK," says Kelly, an atheist who works alongside Brian and also asked that her last name not be used.

"It's actually OK to hate atheists," Kelly said. "We are like the last group that people overwhelmingly agree that it's OK to hate us, because there's an absurd caricature of atheism out there."

No, atheists: the "last group that people overwhelmingly agree" is OK to vilify is fat people. Believe me-- I know. Ha ha!

Switching gears: I hadn't realized there were so many atheists in the US. The above stat puts atheists at about 7-10% of the total US population. I expect the number (and proportion) to grow.


speaking of London...

I'd love to know who this person is (look at the area highlighted in red):

While most of the world ignores this blog, at least one person seems to be doing one of several things:

1. S/he is working his/her way through my archives. (The "long-lost friend or enemy or frenemy who just found Kevin online" explanation.)

2. S/he is using tabbed browsing, glancing at my blog, then forgetting to close the tab despite the passage of several hours. (The rather implausible "innocent" explanation.)

3. S/he is someone who likes reading and re-reading the posts on this blog, no matter how old or recent. (The "possible stalker" explanation.)

Who are you? What's all this about? You've been at this for several days, I know. But more important than all that: are you hot?


Don't run away-- send me an email. I promise not to reveal you, though I may already have betrayed you by revealing so much of your IP address.

(Then again, your IP address is a matter of public record, so it's not as though I feel guilty about highlighting information already available to the public. My unimpressive site stats are open to all; scroll down my sidebar and see for yourself. Dig around a bit and you'll find plenty of IP addresses.)


another reason for ICN to snicker

I am, like many who have passed through it, thoroughly impressed with the efficiency and organization of Incheon International Airport. It's my understanding that, during its first year of operation, there were a few glitches in the airport's smooth running-- most of them baggage related and fairly minor.

Incheon might be forgiven a moment of snickering Schadenfreude, for now we read about the disaster in London as the new Terminal 5 of Heathrow International opens up... and immediately screws up the lives of tens of thousands of passengers, not to mention the lives of the many harried airport staffers who also suffered from the lack of coordination from the top. If you haven't yet, go read the story. As airport-related nightmares go, this fiasco is among the most horrific.

I've never flown into London and therefore don't know what the experience is like. I have, however, flown into Paris's Orly and Charles de Gaulle (known locally as "Roissy"), as well as into Nice, Geneva, and Zurich. The worst of those experiences was Charles de Gaulle, but as I wrote before, my experience with CDG this past December was a major improvement over previous arrivals. The two best were probably Nice and Geneva, though Zurich's not far behind Geneva in terms of that legendary Swiss efficiency. Nice gets high marks for being so damn relaxed.

My sympathies to all those passengers stranded in London, and to the airline staffers who didn't receive enough training, and have had to face computer glitches and other systemic problems. Here's hoping the kinks are smoothed out within a week.


it's official

Your Humble Narrator is the only ugly Korkawk (that's Korean-Caucasian to you, sirrah) half-breed. The Marmot provides proof.


the Man controls your nipples

By now you've heard about the recent nipple piercing scandal; if not, you can read about it here or here (thanks, Tom, for the second link).

Remove thy nipple piercings;
thou standest upon hallowed ground.

While I doubt the sacred nature of our airport security apparatus, I have some sympathy for this lady. As is pointed out, passengers with other types of piercings or jewelry are often let through security. Once the cause of the metal detector's beeping had been determined, she should have been let through.

I suppose the only point I would hold against the aggrieved passenger in this case is that she's 37 years old and should have outgrown the need to wear nipple piercings. Ugh.


Friday, March 28, 2008

CD's nuts

How upset would you get over a 15-minute film critical of (or insulting to) your religion? Upset enough to kill someone?

UPDATE (3/29/08):

From the Hollywood Reporter:

AMSTERDAM -- The controversial anti-Muslim film by Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders has been removed from the Web by its British Internet provider, which said its employees have been seriously threatened.

"Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature and some ill-informed reports from certain corners of the British media that could directly lead to the harm of some of our staff, has been left with no other choice but to remove 'Fitna' from our servers," the company said.

The 15-minute short film was posted Thursday and taken down Friday and had been seen by some 3 million people. In the film, presented in Dutch- and English-language versions, Wilders claims that the Koran provokes violence, using Sept. 11, the attacks in Madrid and London and the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh as examples.

Good thing I saw the film, though the film doesn't say anything new and is no better in quality than the typical YouTube mashup. Still, the message is significant, as the film tries to establish a correlation between (a) violent verses in the Koran and (b) Muslim violence (and violent rhetoric) across the world.

I am, however, somewhat of a skeptic regarding the link between violent scripture and actual violence. I won't go so far as to claim that such scripture has no influence on human behavior, but given the prevalence of violence in the scriptures of other religions (not just Christian scriptures, either: Hindu scriptures, for example, also contain a smorgasbord of horrific images) and the relative lack of violence in those same religions (i.e., no Hindu, Christian, or Buddhist international terrorists), I think it is difficult to establish a clear causal connection. Far better would be to analyze the situation in terms of history and human psychology, paying attention to how the scriptures are received and interpreted by the mass of believers. This is why I insist that religions are as they are practiced: doctrine and scripture are not, cannot be, the essence of religion.

UPDATE 2: I forgot to credit Malcolm for the original link. Also, the movie hasn't really been removed: thanks to the stubborn and clever nature of those who won't let a message die, the LiveLeak movie has been transferred to Google Video.



One student of mine, a cute, chirpy little girl, is a French major, and after our Current Events class yesterday she started asking me questions about something called DELF. I had no clue what a "delf" was, so she explained it was actually a pretty big deal: it's a six-level French proficiency test that sounds as though it has a lot in common with the six-level Korean proficiency test (the hangugeo-neungryeok-shiheom).

DELF is an acronym that stands for "Diplôme d'études en langue française." The official English translation of this appellation is "Diploma in French Studies"; Wikipedia has an article about it here.

As it turns out, the DELF battery of tests covers only the first four of the six levels of proficiency (A1, A2, B1, B2). The two highest levels (C1, C2) are covered by a different test, the DALF: (Le) Diplôme approfondi de langue française, or "Diploma of Advanced French Language Studies."

As I was doing some research on DELF and DALF to help my student out, I got curious as to how I'd measure up. As is the case with the Korean proficiency test (I think), you do not need to take all six levels of the test. For both DELF and DALF, you can plunge directly into the level you think you're at and either pass or fail the test. I wanted to see how hard the hardest level of the test was, and I was fortunate enough to find a page that includes sound samples for the audio portion of the test; I first ran a clip from the A1 level, and it was indeed pretty easy. I then skipped over to one of the two samples provided for a C2-level test (DALF, not DELF) and listened to a conversation on the topic of whether it is the role of educational institutions to teach everything. The exchange, scripted as a debate among a small group of people (a host/moderator plus three guests with different backgrounds and credentials), proved easy to follow, which was a relief. I have, lately, become rather worried about the state of my French, which doesn't get nearly the practice it should.

I'm now interested enough in these tests to think about trying the C2-level DALF myself. I won't do it before my upcoming Walk, but will likely try it sometime after, in a year or two. This is an ego thing: I'm planning to just walk into the test with no prep, get a passing score (at least, I hope to get a passing score), then walk right out-- just to prove to myself that I can still do it, and can do it at the highest level.

Of course, receiving a slip of paper certifying my current level is no more or less meaningful than receiving a black belt in a martial art: if you don't maintain your skills, the status symbol becomes empty of meaning. Flabbiness negates all. But I'm going to aim for that certificate all the same, future flabbiness or not. I'm too damn curious not to.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mark Boyle replies

Check it out.


Knut the psycho

I knew Knut was psycho from the beginning, and once he had grown large enough, I could see quite clearly that he shared traits with the Alien queen. Look at the comparison below. Note Knut's skull structure, the nearly nonexistent eyes, the way the swept-back ears, so low on his skull, suggest the swept-back cranial fringe of the Alien queen. Note the hungry fangs and overall voracious demeanor. Knut is either part or all Alien, and we all know those Aliens are psycho.*

*Though it's true you never see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.


Ave, Elisson!

A pearl of wisdom:

Little white lies are part of the lubrication that keeps the machinery of Polite Society running. Strip away that lubrication - tell the truth about everything - and people’s lives grind to a halt.

None of us, alas, is perfect. Each one of us has a list of questions, the answers to which could conceivably make other people unhappy. But in the normal course of Human Events, we are never called upon to answer these questions...and if we are, we are allowed the face-saving expedient of the Little White Lie.

Troo, dat; troo, dat.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008



Tibet gets us thinking

The Current Events class began working on the Tibet/China issue today. I think the group is interested in what is happening over there; the students have been drawing parallels between China's hegemony over Tibet and the Korean experience of the Japanese occupation: citizens killed, linguistic imperialism, seeding the indigenous population with squatters from the invading country, etc. When I asked for a show of hands as to whether Tibet should be free, all students but two raised their hands for a free Tibet. Of the two holdouts, one said she was neutral while the other, a guy, strongly felt that Tibet belonged to China.

The student who did the presentation today gets high praise for having come a long way since she began taking my classes over a year ago. Her English has definitely improved (though I doubt I can take credit for this; she's been taking other English courses as well), and while she still makes plenty of mistakes, it's obvious that she's trying hard. She'll be doing the second part of her presentation tomorrow, leading a discussion about some of the major Tibet-related issues, especially the upcoming Olympics (you've doubtless seen that Nicolas Sarkozy has expressed a willingness to boycott the opening ceremony).

This evening, I plan to send students a link to this right-leaning opinion piece that compares and contrasts the Tibetan situation with the Palestinian one. The piece forcefully asks why we (ie., the world) don't pay as much attention to the Tibetan situation as we do to the Palestinian one. The first question I plan to ask my students is whether they think the piece has a bias or strives to be objective (coming as it does from Real Clear Politics, you and I know the obvious answer to that question).

PS: For those interested in the French angle (assuming you read French), L'Express has several good articles up right now. Visit their site and type "tibet" in the search window to bring them all up, or trust my judgment and start with this one.


lust for goodness

Through no fault of its own, this page is going to drive me insane. I keep coming back to it just... to stare.


Clinton's "Tuzla moment" = Dean Scream?

Nah. She's waaaaaay too much of a Weeble for that.


sci-fi convergence

You know, I can't help looking at the "Iron Man" preview and thinking that Iron Man's suit is essentially a lighter-weight version of the powered armor we read about in Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers (the armor that didn't make it into the movie version, alas). There is, of course, the question of fuel storage in Iron Man's suit. How'd he solve that problem?


preparing to pass the torch

IRRELEVANT QUESTION: Did you know that Kevin Smith's movie "Dogma" is currently available in its entirety (though chopped up into 9-10-minute segments) on YouTube?

I need to start writing up a little handbook for whoever succeeds me. I don't want to make it too lengthy; like the old saw about what miniskirts and short stories have in common, my handbook needs to be long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to keep it interesting. I basically have to explain how I've structured five of the six classes I teach (the sixth class, our pronunciation clinic, is only a six-week course), give some info on how I record grades and mark present/late/absent on the attendance sheet, and add some remarks about what to expect from each class in terms of student dynamism, initiative, etc.

I have no idea who my replacement will be, though I suspect it's going to be someone from across campus. My office still needs time to hire someone permanent, and though they've already been taking resumes, I don't think they've arrived at a selection yet, and probably won't settle on someone until the summer (summer term begins in July). Borrowing from across campus gives the office time to make a decent choice. Best of luck to the new people (both in April and in July), whoever they may be.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

First Chronicles: done!

I've finished Stephen R. Donaldson's The Power That Preserves, the last book in the first Thomas Covenant trilogy. One thing I had completely forgotten was that Covenant's adventure in the Land ends on Easter Sunday. How could I have forgotten that?

But this doesn't make Covenant a Jesus. Readers of Donaldson's fantasy trilogy know that Thomas Covenant, whatever the Judeo-Christian significance of his name*-- is no Christ figure at the end of the First Chronicles, though he is, arguably, just that at the conclusion of the Second. The Power That Preserves actually ends on a rather selfish note, entirely consistent with Covenant's often unlikable character.

I'm about to plunge into The Wounded Land, the first book of the second trilogy; if all goes according to plan, I'll have finished White Gold Wielder (the final book of the second trilogy) right around the time I'm ready to depart the peninsula.

*The name refers to the essential paradox of Covenant's anti-heroism: as Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, a person who remains unconvinced of the reality of the Land and Earth into which he is thrown, he is a doubting Thomas who has learned to love the Land enough to promise (i.e., forge a covenant) to aid it.


Shatner's "Has Been": the 3-word review

Goes down easy.


Range Rover vs. Challenger Tank

A most invigorating video that tries to answer the question: if you're the driver of a sport-modified Range Rover, could you use your vehicle's off-roading ability to sprint across a battlefield patrolled by a Challenger tank without getting nailed?

(courtesy of Instapundit)


Ave, Malcolm!

Malcolm responds to my Easter post contra Sam Harris.


the popularity of finance

My Current Events English students just spent two days listening to student presentations by two of their classmates on the mortgage crisis in the US and how it relates to the Korean economy. The presenters were flinging around financial terminology that had my head spinning. There's no way I could ever pass myself off as a financial wizard, and as a rule, I avoid the Business section of the newspaper, so today was all about listening and learning; I had little of substance to contribute.

What surprised me was that I thought the topic would be a dry and difficult one for all the students, just as it was for me, but my students were into it. A lot of them knew their way around the vocabulary far better than I did, so I spent a goodly chunk of my time as quiet as a hyperthyroid mouse. The "audience" was fairly engaged, though two students seemed to be as lost (and as quiet) as I was.

A good learning experience.

Tomorrow, we embark on a two-day presentation by a single student about the Tibet/China situation. Ought to be interesting-- more interesting than talking about subprime this and mortgage that, at any rate.


Monday, March 24, 2008

four of my five classes

Here are four of the five classes I teach:


does a dog have Buddha-nature?

Okinawa has its answer to the Korean Buddhist dog. This dog, however, seems to have something less than satori on its mind:

Buddhists clasp their palms together to pray for enlightenment, but Conan, a chihuahua, appears to have more worldly motivations. The dog has become a popular attraction at a Japanese temple after learning to imitate the worshippers around him.

"Conan started to pose in prayer like us whenever he wanted treats," said Joei Yoshikuni, a priest at Jigenin temple on the southern island of Okinawa.

Fuckin' chihuahuas. Here's a reminder of the much cooler Korean dog, Hama, to whom a somewhat more religious motivation has been attributed (true or not):


ah, the folks you meet on the trail

Introducing Gary Michael Hilton.

Meredith Emerson used her wits and martial arts training when she was attacked in the north Georgia mountains by a drifter who eventually killed and decapitated her, the convicted killer told investigators.

Gary Michael Hilton described his four days with Emerson, and how she fought him from the moment he tried to overpower her as she hiked with her dog, Ella, according to the interviews that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

"She was doing everything she could to stay alive," GBI Director Vernon Keenan told the newspaper. "It's not something you can train for. Instinct kicks in ... She nearly got the best of him. She's very much a hero."

Hilton pleaded guilty to charges he killed Emerson and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years. He had agreed to lead investigators to her body if prosecutors didn't seek the death penalty. He also has been indicted in Florida in the slaying of another woman whose decapitated body was found in a forest on Dec. 15.

He told investigators he targeted the 24-year-old University of Georgia graduate because she was a woman.

My condolences to the family. This is one of those cases that make you hope there is a hell.


howdy from Popeland!

This took only about 10-15 minutes to Photoshop:


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter meditation: contra Sam Harris

Sam Harris is on a mission.

Harris's basic message is that the time has come to speak openly and honestly about religion, because that has not occurred in his opinion. He feels that the survival of civilization is in danger because of a taboo against questioning religious beliefs. While highlighting what he regards as a particular problem posed by Islam at this moment with respect to international terrorism, Harris makes a direct criticism of religion of all styles and persuasions. He sees religion as an impediment to progress toward what he considers more enlightened approaches to spirituality and ethics. Harris has written that "shamanism, Gnosticism, Kabbalah, Hermetism and its magical Renaissance spawn (Hermeticism) and all the other Byzantine paths whereby man has sought the Other in every guise of its conception" are constructive forces, and that spiritual experiences can "uncover genuine facts about the world".

While an atheist by definition, Harris asserts that the term is not necessary. His position is that "atheism" is not a worldview or a philosophy, but the "destruction of bad ideas". He claims that religion is especially rife with bad ideas, calling it "one of the most perverse misuses of intelligence we have ever devised". He compares modern-day religious beliefs to the myths of the Ancient Greeks, which were once accepted as fact, but are obsolete today. In a January 2007 interview with PBS, Harris noted that: "We don't have a word for not believing in Zeus, which is to say we are all atheists in respect to Zeus. And we don't have a word for not being an astrologer". He goes on to say that the term will be retired only when "we all just achieve a level of intellectual honesty where we are no longer going to pretend to be certain about things we are not certain about".

In 2004, Harris's book, The End of Faith, was published. I haven't read the book, but I did find an excerpt from it that hit me where I live. The excerpt comes from a chapter that deals with people like me: self-proclaimed religious moderates, religious pluralists, and the like.* Harris finds much that is blameworthy in our stance, and if I read him rightly, he is essentially suggesting that moderates and pluralists are analogous to "enablers" in a dysfunctional relationship:

The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. We cannot say that fundamentalists are crazy, because they are merely practicing their freedom of belief; we cannot even say that they are mistaken in religious terms, because their knowledge of scripture is generally unrivaled. All we can say, as religious moderates, is that we don't like the personal and social costs that a full embrace of scripture imposes on us. This is not a new form of faith, or even a new species of scriptural exegesis; it is simply a capitulation to a variety of all-too-human interests that have nothing, in principle, to do with God.

Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question-- i.e., that we know there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us-- religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness.

The benignity of most religious moderates does not suggest that religious faith is anything more sublime than a desperate marriage of hope and ignorance, nor does it guarantee that there is not a terrible price to be paid for limiting the scope of reason in our dealings with other human beings. Religious moderation, insofar as it represents an attempt to hold on to what is still serviceable in orthodox religion, closes the door to more sophisticated approaches to spirituality, ethics, and the building of strong communities.

Harris seems to think that moderates and pluralists are purposely or inadvertently protecting their more rabid coreligionists, but I think the assertion in Harris's first sentence is wrong. Contrary to Harris's claim, I would contend that religious moderation and pluralism are often critical responses to fundamentalism, scriptural literalism, and similar orientations.

I am also unsure how Harris can justify calling moderation and pluralism "an attempt to hold on to what is still serviceable in orthodox religion." Theologians like John Hick or the far more radical John Shelby Spong would probably style their project as one of deconstruction: both Hick and Spong are willing to go so far as to throw out the resurrection-- the very cornerstone of Christian faith-- in their radical recasting of the Christian message. What Harris is talking about is more reminiscent of the humorous stereotypes one hears about the Catholic Church: every announced revision in Roman dogma begins, "As we have always contended..."**

In speaking this way about religion, Harris mischaracterizes the phenomenon as non-evolving, which is ludicrous even from a non-religious standpoint. I would agree that religious traditions are highly, highly resistant to change; as my former pastor used to say, "If you want to find a group of people more unwilling to change than any other, go to a church." There's truth to this. But Harris should know better than to view religions as static phenomena. They do indeed change, the doctrines within them change, and one of the ways they evolve is by interacting with scientists, the non-religious, and yes, with other religious traditions.

Now more than ever, deep and meaningful interreligious interaction at multiple levels has become possible. These days, we have transcontinental chats with friends of different faiths; researchers in remote areas can compare notes on the religions they're studying; traditional religious claims can be challenged and debated by scholars and clergy; anyone can talk to anyone about any religious issue. The advent of all this technology has meant the breaking down of many cultural barriers and the freer exchange of religious ideas. While religious diversity has been the norm throughout human history, we truly feel it now, and I sense that interreligious interactions can and will lead to real-- possibly speedy-- evolution in the future.***

Perhaps one of the most frustrating parts of the Harris excerpt is this:

Religious moderates seem to believe that what we need is not radical insight and innovation in these areas but a mere dilution of Iron Age philosophy. Rather than bring the full force of our creativity and rationality to bear on the problems of ethics, social cohesion, and even spiritual experience, moderates merely ask that we relax our standards of adherence to ancient superstitions and taboos, while otherwise maintaining a belief system that was passed down to us from men and women whose lives were simply ravaged by their basic ignorance about the world. [italics added]

I have the impression that Harris, in his eagerness to tear down the "bad ideas" of religion, hasn't actually bothered to speak with (m)any religious moderates or pluralists, for the above-italicized text describes exactly what we moderates and pluralists do. Far from aiding and abetting what we, along with Harris, would agree is ridiculous and antiquated thinking, we work from within our traditions to bring about greater and greater change. We do this in different ways, of course, and the overall picture is admittedly messy, but I bristle at Harris's implication what we strive only for "a mere dilution of Iron Age philosophy." That's not it at all.

Please don't get me wrong. I like and respect Sam Harris, and I certainly admire his guts. I think he's giving religion in general exactly the kick in the ass it needs, and it couldn't come at a better time. I hope that young people-- those most likely to bring about major changes in the future-- will take heed of what Harris says. But the man has to take a closer look at the phenomenon he's critiquing before passing too swift a judgment on it. His arguments about religious moderates and pluralists miss the mark entirely. Religious change does happen; it's happening right now. Sam Harris himself is part of that change, and he should take comfort in the fact that he has friends and sympathizers in some surprising places.

*Harris is guilty of a conflation here: a religious moderate is not the same thing as a religious pluralist. Ask any religious conservative whether they believe pluralists to be moderate. Perhaps this doesn't matter from Harris's point of view, but a hasty conflation hints at sloppy thinking, in this case caused by an over-eager willingness to look at the whole religious tangle and say, "Bleh... it's all the same."

**I had a Catholic classmate at CUA who gave me a dark look when I uttered that line in our interreligious dialogue class. Nice girl, but convinced the world was out to destroy her church.

***I'm not a wide-eyed optimist about this, of course, and I certainly don't see all religions converging into a single global religion. But religious splits and fusions are as much a part of human history as diversity itself is; it's not out of the question that something new will emerge from the current cacophony.


Happy Easter!

A longish post is on the way-- one of my increasingly rare forays into religious subject matter. Meantime, for those who are Christian and, hey, for those who aren't: Happy Easter! May the Cosmic Bunny lay a big, veiny, pulsating alien egg right-- on-- yo'-- haid!

Here's a nice Easter story.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ave, Joel!

Good Lord, I've missed all the foodblogging. Go visit and start salivating.


US vs. Euro business attitudes

Here's an interesting take on American and European approaches to business:

When we [i.e., Americans] see a pie and conclude that our slice is too small, we typically come up with one of two strategies: make the pie bigger (sector expansion, usually through innovation), or bake a whole new pie (entrepreneurship).

Europeans by comparison, and with a few exceptions, almost always settle upon two very different strategies: either wheel and deal to make your slice a little bit bigger (mergers and partnerships) or limit the number of people allowed to eat pie (protectionism). And when it comes to the latter, one of the most common ways to do that is to keep out the bloody Americans.

Centuries of history seem to be reflected in those attitudes: America's history of expansion across the wild frontier still echoes in modern consciousness, making the idea of pie-enlargement both plausible and desirable. Setting up camp on one's own plot of ground and starting anew-- again hinting at the ethos (however mythologized) of the frontiersman-- is the very essence of enterprise.

Europeans, on the other hand, have had a much longer history of living in the din of each other's presence. European civilization touches on the Mediterranean as well; the ideas of negotiation and protectionism would come easily to minds awash in the push-pull culture of an uneasy and long-standing pluralism marked by both pleasant and unpleasant encounters with the Other.

But because I don't want to be accused of accepting the writer's pie imagery uncritically, I hereby open the floor to commenters with actual experience in the matter to pick apart the writer's perspective on how things are.

The above-linked article, which I encourage you to read, is about recent adjudication against Google's Gmail in a Belgian court because of the existence of the much lesser-known G-Mail, an email system established before Gmail by a German company. Google had been hoping to acquire a "right to use" in the EU. This most recent adjudication against Google marks the second such rejection; Google plans to appeal.

_ how is Mark Boyle doing?

Jelly has been keeping better tabs on the progress of Mark Boyle (see here as well) than I have, and the latest news appears to be that young Master Boyle has called it quits. What started as a very ambitious pilgrimage to India from Ireland has become an "inner pilgrimage" now. Jelly writes in an email:

Hey Kevibou!

I was just reading Mark the Walking Dude's blog. When he turned back from France he didn't consider it "quitting" - and has still, in fact, been walking around the UK since. But now, he's officially stopped.

"So halfway between London and Cambridge we decided to call it a day and to go and put our energies into bringing the freeconomy community to the next stage in its progress from a base in which our needs for food and shelter are met everyday. In Calais the decision we made was partially influenced by the fact that we were very hungry, very tired and very cold, though also by our talks with the Afghan and Iraqi Refugees.

This decision was made though without any of those factors. We had enough food for the journey, though it was mainly dried fruit, and the weather was a bit less wet and cold. The question we asked ourselves was “is this my best use in the world at this moment in time?” Once I decided the answer was no, we packed up our stuff, and decided to hightail it back to Bristol, where we both lived previously, and got welcomed by all our amazing friends."

Ghandi (himself!!) already commented on this latest development:

"First walking to India - which ended in Calais when you realised they didn’t speak "the language".
Then walking around Britain, which ended before you even reached Cambridge.
Why stop now?
Rather than quitting maybe you can just scale the pilgrimage down a little bit further?
How about [an] epic trek around your kitchen in Bristol?
But knowing your record though I guess you’d quit before you made it past the fridge."

But I suppose Saoirse (Mark) is trying to end off on a positive note:

"So for me the inner pilgrimage goes on in a way. There is no end to anything, just a continuous journey, often not in the way you first expect. My focus is now on making this the most amazing community in the world to be part of, to get people together all over the planet sharing and coming up with solutions to this crazy world of ours and to hopefully spread peace in the process of all that"

I thought the journey was pretty interesting anyhow.

A few thoughts of my own:

I'm not really in a position to judge Boyle's decisions. I thought the concept behind his trip was both fantastic and a bit foolhardy, primarily because he'd have to be passing through some rather dangerous countries on his way to Gandhi's birthplace. I admit, however, that I was extremely disappointed to discover that mere passage through France proved daunting to him. Quite a few college-aged American and Korean backpackers can attest that you can survive France without knowledge of French; it might be a pain in the ass, but ultimately it's not that hard. I can't speak for other countries, but I'm sure I'm right about France.

Mark's background is in business, which makes me think he is, ultimately, more of a pragmatist than even he would care to admit. Going on a 9000-mile quest with little to no preparation is a gutsy move, but in order to carry it through, you need more than ideals: you need conviction and, dare I say it, planning. How, then, could a former businessman allow himself to be seduced into trying such a walk? My only conjecture is that it's because he's only 20-something, and like many 20-somethings, he found himself in thrall to his ideals, with all the rest being "mere detail." But trite as it sounds, the devil is in those details, and Mark's inner pragmatist probably reawakened and put a stop to the madness of this dangerous trek.

The above is pure speculation, of course. I have no doubt that Mark, having now felt what it means to walk long distances and encounter concrete problems along the way, can and perhaps will remake the original attempt a few years from now. I still think it's a worthy cause; he simply needs to listen more closely to the voice of reality next time. The pragmatic instincts of a businessman aren't something to throw away in a fit of idealism; to the contrary, those very instincts could help hone his purpose and focus the trek into something more worthy and less fuzzy. East Asians combine the concepts of "heart" and "head" in a single Chinese character: you don't follow one at the expense of the other, because you need both to get through this life. Heart and head, passion and rationality, feeling and thinking-- these are not-two.

I hope Mark finds what he's looking for.

EPILOGUE: It's many hours later, and I've just visited Boyle's blog. Here's a quote from one of Mark's recent posts that supports my analysis of his character: "For the first time on the journey my heart was saying I should stop walking and only my head was saying to continue. And I am a heart person, often to my own demise."

See the problem?


Britney as anal expulsive

Thanks, Tom.


Friday, March 21, 2008

wafting through the heavens

My brother David sent me a link to an article about an amazing discovery: scientists have detected methane-- an organic molecule-- in a location outside our solar system. I have a feeling I'm going to like whatever life forms are producing this gas.

So much for Sagan's speculation that the first aliens we'd encounter would be broadcasting prime numbers. They're broadcasting, all right, but it ain't prime numbers. Not unless they're going:









I've filled out my Smoo pension form and have been told that the money will be wired to my US account about(!) 15 days after the end of my contract. The contract ends April 25, so I'm assuming the money will appear around May 9 or 10. Here's hoping. Now I need to go take care of the national pension.



I noted this on the Walk blog, but in case you missed it: many thanks to the people who have been providing donations. I'm now up to $140 (minus a wee bit thanks to PayPal's nibble). I truly appreciate your generosity.


on a more positive note...

I blogged earlier about my "spray it, don't say it" moment in class, but I should note that we had 14 people today as opposed to the 10 we had last week. I take that as a good sign. I hope we have somewhere in the 10-14 range next week as well. It'd be a shame for this pronunciation class to peter out as happened two semesters ago.

Oh, how I envy all the people who teach for-credit courses.


Gorbi, child of the covenant

Nathan emails me with a link to an article about the "closet Christianity" of Mikhail Gorbachev. Quite interesting.


ah, memorable moments

I hate my mouth.

Apparently, when I get to talking too much, the interior dries up a bit and I start spraying out flecks of half-dried spittle. Today, during my pronunciation class, my students were treated to a most wondrous display of spittle-ejecting prowess. The shotgunned emission fell short of the targeted student, but the entire class bore witness to the phenomenon. There's no way to recover from such a memorable turn of events, so I took the class in a comical direction and told them about the time a large booger in my nose flew out during an evening English Circle session. They had a good laugh at that: I described the booger launch in great detail.

Very embarrassing, today's salivary event.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

bleak weekend ahead

I'm buried under a pile of journals to grade, along with two sets of voice files to evaluate for my pronunciation class, plus various handouts for that same class.

Yeah, I know: whine, whine, whine.


it works!!

Back in 2006, Justin Yoshida blogged about a Japanese commercial for Takemoto Piano. The commercial seemed to have a special power: it caused babies immediately to stop crying.

Today, a coworker brought her adorable, six-month-old baby daughter, Shi-yeon, into the office for almost two hours. The wee little girl was fine for most of that time, but as nap time approached, she naturally got cranky, and was acting the way any normal baby would: she bawled, not quite sure what she wanted. On a whim, I asked the babysitter (a college student) to bring the baby over to my work station, and I called up the Takemoto commercial straight from YouTube.

Sure enough: as soon as I hit "play," little Shi-yeon stopped crying and watched, enraptured. The moment the video ended, she started sniffling and began crying again. I hit "play" one more time, and boom-- she stopped crying.

So: while I can't speak for all of babydom, at the very least I can vouch that the Takemoto Piano commercial does indeed make at least one baby stop crying.


the title of my novel

Seeing as a Google search turned up no results, I'm going to title my next novel Fangocracy: An Alien Love Story.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Covenant watch

I'm 60 pages into The Power that Preserves, the third novel in the so-called First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Won't be long before I finish the First Chronicles and start on the Second. In a comment a while back, Jeff in Korea mentioned the Third (and final?) Chronicles; I suppose I'll get hold of however many books are out once I'm back in the States. I've heard mixed reviews about the Third Chronicles; my personal favorite is the First, mainly because the Second goes off in a weird metaphysical direction (though if you map the Second Chronicles onto a Hindu paradigm, you start to see some sense in all the mess, especially if Linden Avery is viewed as the feminine half of a divine pairing). Still, the Second Chronicles has its own peculiar charm; I look forward to plunging back into it soon.



Arthur C. Clarke is dead. I know Clarke best for his novels, 2001, 2010, 2061, and 3001. I also love his short story collection, Expedition to Earth, and one short story not in that collection: "The Nine Billion Names of God."



and then there were eleven

As a rule, the first two weeks of the semester are topsy-turvy in terms of student attendance: quite a few students switch classes, drop them entirely, or register late. I thought I was going to have thirteen people in my Current Events class, but the girl who had thought about registering apparently decided not to register, and one student already in the class just netted a job at Merrill Lynch Korea and won't be able to attend. She'd been rather spotty with her attendance last week, so it's actually something of a relief that I won't have to deal with her zigzagging anymore. On the bright side, she was kind enough to attend class today; everyone congratulated her on having gotten what we hope will be a sweet position (she's going into the human resources division).

What all this means is that my class is taking a net loss, not enjoying a net gain: we're down to eleven people, which is still a bit bigger than I'd like, especially for a class so focused on talking. But despite that minor complaint, I'm extremely pleased with how this class is running itself. That is, after all, the point of the student-centered approach: you, as the teacher, want the students to carry the ball, to play a role in each other's learning, and not to rely on the teacher except for the occasional question or two. Setting such a system up takes just a few days-- enough time to introduce the principles underlying the curriculum and class structure, to make clear what the students' specific obligations are, and to assure the students that you are there as a facilitator (which also means that you occasionally have to grab the reins for a few minutes if it's obvious that the student-planned lesson is headed toward a cliff).

I truly hope this class keeps its current momentum for the rest of the time I'm "teaching" it. It's already the class I enjoy most this semester.


the thirteenth warrior

My morning class just got bigger, and the same student has told me she'll be registering for my Current Events class as well, which means the class will go from twelve to thirteen.

Yes: lucky thirteen.


one syllable

Sometimes, when my ass is shouting the brown shout, the utterance comes out as a barrage of short, staccato syllables (think: human-scale rabbit raisins). It's less a cry and more a series of barks. Sometimes, though, what comes out is more of a polysyllabic moan, a sort of glorp, gloooorrrrrp. Ploop. But every once in a while I'm lucky enough to experience a single, monosyllabic cry-- deep, booming and rather lengthy-- and that's it. The shit is over. It's like the opera singer who holds that note as long as he can: he holds it... and holds it... and holds it... and at the end, when he's completely winded, he collapses and the audience leaps to its feet in a thunderous paroxysm of frenzied adulation.

That's the sort of shit I took this morning. And when I'd finished pushing out my single, enormous log, I heard the raucous hoots and applause of the billions of damned souls in hell. Even the log itself had curled into an ourobouros shape and was tapping its ends together, celebrating its own birth. I sat on the throne, gasping, amazed, and thoroughly pleased with myself.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

booger haiku

hunchback globs of snot
slowly rocking as I breathe
dancing in my nares

eating booger chunks
chewing on my nose gristle
grinning freakishly

there upon her face
hangs a booger green and proud
shot there by my nose

have you ever sneezed
while having an orgasm?
my cat did that once

Indiana Jones
on a quest to find the lost
booger of St. Jude


how to piss Kevin off

This is not news. Let's talk about something important.


Monday, March 17, 2008

for your entertainment

It's St. Pat's, and if you're gonna talk about drinking, you have to talk about puking.

This is very likely a fake vid (as noted by the YouTube commenters), but in it you see a news reporter (or perhaps he's just an interviewee) very suddenly vomit on camera. Real or not, it put a smile on my face.

UPDATE: One puke video leads to more! This one's pretty good, especially the recovery! Oh, yes: and then there's the post-vomit interview.

And after watching the above, you have to wonder: what the hell's up with those wacky Scandinavians? This pungent vid, which I blogged long, long ago, is an oldie but a goodie. Some commenters suggest this is fake... I'm no expert, but I'm inclined to disagree.

UPDATE 2: This puke vid makes you wait, but the payoff at the end is pretty fucking cool.


ah, Tibet

I've mentioned it on this blog before but feel it worth mentioning again: Master Shin Go Seong of Hanguk-sa in Germantown, Maryland feels the Dalai Lama "should have stayed in Tibet." I think he should have, too. I have mixed feelings about his relationship with the media, with politicians, with commercialism, and with Hollywood elites like Richard Gere. The Dalai Lama might be a nice guy, but an immutable cosmic truth is that big religion means big business.

--yours truly in April of 2006

Now we see this:

Protests spread from Tibet into three neighboring provinces Sunday as Tibetans defied a Chinese government crackdown, while the Dalai Lama decried what he called the "cultural genocide" taking place in his homeland.

Questioning the actions and motives of the Dalai Lama might be about as politically correct as taking a sledgehammer to Mother Theresa's skull, but I do have to wonder what the Dalai Lama had been hoping to accomplish in abandoning his people to their fate, effectively making them the outsiders, the people who strain to hear news of their spiritual leader from across whatever communication barriers China has set up and maintained to keep Tibetans both in and controlled. What's it like to be an outsider in your own country-- to know, through news that trickles inside your homeland's borders, that your spiritual leader is alive and very well, thank you, but that he's otherwise occupied?

Still, this isn't to exculpate China, which continues to show an unbelieving press what real imperialism is, as opposed to the bogus imperialism usually ascribed to the United States. Hell, if I had tickets to the Beijing Olympics, I'd consider boycotting.

All hail Spielberg!


the swelling

My Current Events English class gained yet another person, which puts me up to twelve students-- a number I haven't seen in a long time (as always, I expect serious attrition). It's good, I suppose, insofar as this means more money for the office. However, it's annoying as hell to have to take a latecomer through a week's worth of activities and handouts in order to get them up to speed.

The newest addition to the class is a sour-faced girl who speaks English quite well. I get the impression that she spent some time overseas; as with many such people, her English lacks the stumbling hesitancy so common in speakers who've never been abroad. I'm hoping she's not actually as dour as she came off today; otherwise, we're in for a rough semester.

We started the seminar phase of the class today; I finished all my presentations last week, so now it's up to the students to assume the burden of teaching their material while I step back and act as a facilitator, intervening when called upon (or when it's obvious the class has gone off the rails). Today's presentation wasn't bad, though it did go way off script: the first day of each two-day presentation is supposed to be about low-level cognitive tasks like knowledge and comprehension, but our presenter, EM, rushed through the Day One material (comprehension and vocab) and spent most of the class in discussion, an activity slated for Day Two. While she didn't exactly follow her plan as rigidly as she could have, I was impressed by how engaging a presenter she was: students were quite willing to toss in their two cents whenever she allowed them to, and she led the discussion with conviction and a sense of humor.

The only problem now is that, with twelve people in the class, we're probably going to need to break the class into smaller groups to allow everyone more time to talk. Not that this is a bad thing; I think partner and group work are the lifeblood of such classes. But still-- twelve people! While I've managed groups as large as 25-30 before (especially back when I was a high school French teacher), I much prefer a group of 6-8 people.

We'll see how it goes.


the beer and the cross

Happy Saint Pat's! I didn't go through with my Facebook threat to get my students drunk, alas... That's kind of a bummer. On the bright side, St. Patrick's Day 2008 marks the beginning of Holy Week this year, and it's about damn time we had an alcohol-drenched approach to the Crucifixion.

2008: When Mardi Gras just isn't enough.


the wisdom of Arnold Schwarzenegger

When you look at the current governor-related scandals (ex-NY governor Eliot Spitzer and fellow Democrat James McGreevey, former governor of New Joizy), it's nice to think back to Arnold Schwarenegger's run for governor during the recall election of Gray Davis, when he had to deal with those "Gropinator" accusations. Given the flak we're seeing now, I think Arnold was smart to make his apologies so early on.


why I don't normally seek advice on artistic matters

You'll have noticed, over the course of this blog's existence, than one of my personality traits is a general decisiveness about most things, especially when it comes to matters of art and matters of prose. It's a rare day when I actively solicit advice about anything, which goes double for the matters just mentioned.* I do experience regret after having made certain decisions, but this doesn't happen often.

So putting up my design for reader review-- with the final version still a long way off-- was something of a rarity for me. The problem with soliciting opinions, especially about something as squishy and subjective as art (if I may dare to call the present logo "art"), is that the opinions one is likely to hear will represent a range of feelings and often-contradictory esthetic sensibilities. So far, for example, I've got people who hate the image I've created as well as people who seem to like it, and even those (thanks, Nathan) who say that certain elements of it are "growing on" them.

What to do with all these opinions?

As you might guess, I find the most attractive answer to be-- as is usually the case with me-- "ignore them," but the reason I put this image up in the first place is that, while I did have a clear idea of the "bootprint" concept, I too was wondering whether the image might be too busy. Not only that, but as a commenter pointed out, there are those who might-- wrongly-- see the bootprint as symbolizing my desire to walk all over these religions, to stamp them out and leave them clinging to my boots' soles like crushed beetles or chewing gum.

So when the initial complaints that my design was "too busy" came in-- and they came in fast-- I had my own suspicions about the image at least partially confirmed, which means I owe my readers a thank-you. While I think the design is sound at least in principle, it is indeed a bit too messy.

The obvious problem with going abstract is that I risk creating a symbol that's even harder to interpret correctly. We'll see what Round 2 brings, eh? More on this madness later.

*Please don't confuse decisiveness (or independence of thought) with arrogance. While I may be arrogant in a whole host of ways, decisiveness isn't one of them.


Sunday, March 16, 2008


Have fun confusing yourselves.


vie de femme

Sometimes I'll ask my Korean students what they wish for, and some ladies will answer, "I wish I were a man." It's not the sort of answer you'd expect from American women, who generally benefit from a culture of individualism, feminism, and self-affirmation. But in Korea, women still have it bad (and to be honest, we still have a long way to go before women in the US enjoy true parity), which is why I occasionally hear from women who'd prefer to live life as men.

Then again, life can suck pretty badly for American women, too. You could, for example, be an American woman stuck in an airplane next to a man who masturbates in his seat while you're sleeping:

A 21-year-old Texas woman is suing American Airlines for allegedly not protecting her from a man who masturbated near her on a recent flight.

The woman, whose identity has not been released to the public, alleges airline employees did not act appropriately when a man sat next to her while she slept on a March 19 flight and began to masturbate, the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram said Saturday.

The woman's $200,000 lawsuit alleges that when she awoke on the flight to Los Angeles, she found the man masturbating and "a substantial amount of an extremely sticky substance in her hair."

The woman reportedly was calmed by another passenger after making the discovery, while the man was taken into custody by police once the plane landed.

Ladies: don't you wish the airlines didn't ban scissors and other cutting implements?


logo too busy?

My buddy Tom wrote in to say the logo's too busy. I was thinking much the same thing, but as I wrote back to Tom, I need a logo that satisfies these three requirements:

1. It has to be able to fit on a blog banner, on letterhead, and/or on a bumper sticker.

2. It has to reflect the notion of a walk across America (or, failing that, of a long walk).

3. It has to reflect the interreligious theme of the Walk.

I'll try again.



A possible logo for Kevin's Walk:

If not a logo, per se, then perhaps an image for stationery letterhead, not to mention a banner for the Walk blog.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

laser cannon!


Boeing's new laser cannon can melt a hole in a tank from five miles away and 10,000 feet up—and it’s ready to fly this year.

Can lightsabers be far behind? (Too bad you can't actually see a laser beam unless it travels through, say, smoke.) Note that the actual article (above, I've merely quoted the article's subtitle) notes that the laser has yet to be tested, so it may be premature to describe the laser cannon as "ready."

Now I'm having a "Real Genius" flashback.

(article found through Instapundit)


plus ça change...

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I give you... musclenecks!

More on "The Incredible Hulk," a not-quite-sequel to Ang Lee's 2003 flick, here.


Ave, Rob!

I initially thought "roboseyo" was some sort of pun about robotic conformism in Korean society, but I was wrong.* The blog is a well-written, thoughtful journal of a dude's life in Seoul. It features a good bit of reflection on religious matters; Rob tells me in a comment to one of my posts that he just completed a series of posts on "Why Modern Religion Deserves Richard Dawkins" (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4). Rob is a pastor's son, if I'm not mistaken, and his take on religion's current conflict with the New Atheism is an interesting one.

I'd also recommend this post of his, which features a YouTube vid called "Food Fight." The video purports to show recent American history (well, recent American military history) with food standing in for armies. You've got the German pretzels and wursts attacking the Jewish matzoh; you've got Japanese sushi and Yankee hamburgers; you've got Vietnamese spring rolls and what I assume is Russian stroganoff. Pretty cool-- funny, sobering, maybe even a little touching. The unfortunate side effect is that all that war makes you hungry.

Now go forth and read.

*Can you blame me? When you see the fragment "robo," don't you pronounce it "roh-boh"?


divine command revisited

A commenter just pointed me to an essay that offers a Christian response to the Euthyphro dilemma (see my post on divine command theory-- or buy my book, in which a slightly revised version of the essay appears).

The Christian essay boils down to the idea that the very nature of the trinity prevents the Christian God from falling victim to the paradox highlighted by the Euthyphro dilemma. The paradox in question? If God recognizes goodness, then God is using a standard of goodness that exists outside (and, arguably, above) himself; but if God commands goodness, then goodness is merely a function of God's whim.

The essayist agrees that the "command" view leads to absurdity, but he argues that the "recognition" view works because if one Person of the trinity recognizes goodness, then God does not fall prey to the "You're recognizing a standard outside yourself!" objection. Why? Because the goodness isn't "outside" God: it inhabits the other two Persons of the trinity as well, thus allowing a sort of internal confirmation process to occur.

The force of this argument, which the author says from the beginning is addressed to Christians, not atheists, depends entirely on whether one even subscribes to the doctrine of the trinity, a doctrine not specifically and explicitly laid out in the Christian Bible. What Christians did over the first few centuries of Christianity was to develop the doctrine of the trinity based on implications they perceived in the scriptures. Whether this is a valid move is a question I leave up to you, but it does mean that, if you're not a Christian, you won't be impressed by the argument.

And that, ultimately, is my problem with the essay. What's the use of arguing the point merely for Christian ears? While the argument might resolve the Euthyphro dilemma for Christians, this isn't the same as resolving the dilemma once and for all. The essayist has, at best, argued that a certain vision of ultimate reality provides an answer to the dilemma, but he has not made the case that this vision is the one to which all people should subscribe.

I'm being charitable in the above paragraph, because I actually think the essayist's argument fails even on its own terms. By bringing in the the trinity and turning the "confirmation of truth" into a pass-it-along, hot-potato-hot-potato dynamic, the author merely defers the questions originally posed. Assuming the trinity will never experience internal disagreement (such discord calls to mind the insanely self-conflicted God in Carl Jung's long essay "Answer to Job"), what, ultimately, is the difference between the trinitarian God and the unitary Allah, whom the essayist disparages?

So while the essay is an interesting read (like many essays on religion these days, it bleeds over into science), I can't say I agree with it.


Friday, March 14, 2008

uh... Happy White Day

White Day is when East Asian guys give chocolates, jazz CDs, and several feet of penis to the girls. The local bakeries and omni-stores have been preparing for this day for at least a week. I rarely see so much sugar on display. The girls have been starving themselves for a year, waiting for White Day-- the day they get to ingest as much sugar as they goddamn well please. It's a horrifying sight: the girls see the candies in their boyfriends' hands; their eyes begin to glow and their nails lengthen into claws. With a throaty roar, they seize the offerings (sometimes ripping off male fingers in the process), then retreat into a neutral corner and gnaw on their treasure like starving hyenas. An hour later, shockingly bloated and blissfully dazed from their binge, they roll onto their backs and stare sightlessly into the heavens, candy-colored drool streaming from the corners of their mouths, distended tongues lolling fatly, their tips quivering in involuntary reaction to the sucrose. "Cannot sex tonight," they whisper dreamily to the clouds. "Must digesting and metabolizing first."

What did you get your lady love? I got mine some library genitals.


Ave, Jelly!

If it's beautiful, we must eat it.


Toilet Girl

I saw this article the other day and thought about the amount of time I had spent in grad school researching this very subject as part of my Master's studies in religion: women who refuse to leave a bathroom for two years, and whose asses subsequently become fused to their toilets.

Gluteo-pottic fusion is a controversial topic, causing a stir not only in the scientific community (where debates rage about whether such fusion represents the next major phase of human evolution), but also in fashion circles (Tommy Hilfiger is currently developing a line of "bLoo" jeans), political circles (a Flushist party has already formed and endured a schism, giving rise to the extremist Shite party and the more moderate Pisscrappists), and even religious circles (where ecotheology is giving ground to fecotheology).

While I have yet to make my own attempt at fusing with a nearby toilet, I will probably do so after I have finished my trans-America walk. Stay tuned.



Today, I meet my Pronunciation Clinic students. I'm not exactly happy about the schedule: class meets only once a week for a single hour. That, in my opinion, is nowhere near enough for pronunciation work, so I'll be informing the students that individualized instruction will be available throughout the week.

There are nine people on my current class list, but I suspect that a few stragglers have decided to register, so I won't be surprised to discover anywhere from twelve to fifteen in class today. If this clinic goes the way it did last time around, two semesters ago, I'll eventually see major attrition in attendance no matter how high the initial numbers are. Here's hoping history doesn't repeat itself.

Vish mee lock.


Thursday, March 13, 2008


Camille Paglia once again shows why I'm a Camille Paglia feminist:

The cloud of feminist cant about Hillary's struggling candidacy has been noxious. "Media misogyny has reached an all-time high," screeched the National Organization for Women in a press release titled "Ignorance and Venom: The Media's Deeply Ingrained Sexism." Groan. If women are going to play in the geopolitical big league, they'd better toughen up and learn how to deal with all the curveballs. Never has the soppy emotionalism of old-guard feminist reasoning been on such open and embarrassing display. How has Hillary, who rode her husband's coattails to the top and who trashed every woman he seduced or assaulted, become such a feminist heroine? What has she ever achieved on her own -- aside from the fiasco of healthcare reform? (italics added)


the class fattens up

My Current Events English class has expanded to eleven people, this despite my having lost a student to those damn schedule conflicts (more conflicts than usual this semester; quite annoying). We gained two more students today. This promises to be a good class as long as everyone shows up consistently, but I'm expecting a drastic falloff within the first three or so weeks. Sae ong ji ma hangs over everything I do: fortune can reverse itself in an instant.


Ave, Metro!

Mike has a sick YouTube video showing you a moment in the life of an overprivileged teen who receives a Lexus for her birthday-- the kind of gift that would make my scrotum explode with joy-- and she weeps because "that's not even the car I wanted!"

Mike opens the post exactly right:

Man - somebody needed to be given a smart slap about a decade prior.

Damn straight. (Sorry to all you "I don't believe in spanking" folks.)

Solution for all overprivileged teens, guys or girls: throw the little bastards in a pit with no food or clothing and let them survive off their own excreta for a few weeks. Believe me, the kids'll come out with a true appreciation for everything around them, and there'll be no more bullshit complaints about how the car isn't even the right model.

Just so you know: I used to teach at a private school in northern Virginia, and I saw plenty of the Daddy'd better get me a Lexus! crowd. There's nothing inherently evil about being rich, but to my mind there's everything wrong with being spoiled. I don't have anything against teenagers in general, but I can't fucking stand people like the girl in that video.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

David Mamet makes conservatives happy

Mamet writes:

This is, to me, the synthesis of this worldview with which I now found myself disenchanted: that everything is always wrong.

But in my life, a brief review revealed, everything was not always wrong, and neither was nor is always wrong in the community in which I live, or in my country. Further, it was not always wrong in previous communities in which I lived, and among the various and mobile classes of which I was at various times a part.

And, I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that [I thought] that people were basically good at heart? Which was it? I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama.

I'd observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances—that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it.

Interesting read.

Oh, and get this part:

Prior to the midterm elections, my rabbi was taking a lot of flack. The congregation is exclusively liberal, he is a self-described independent (read "conservative"), and he was driving the flock wild. Why? Because a) he never discussed politics; and b) he taught that the quality of political discourse must be addressed first—that Jewish law teaches that it is incumbent upon each person to hear the other fellow out.

And so I, like many of the liberal congregation, began, teeth grinding, to attempt to do so. And in doing so, I recognized that I held those two views of America (politics, government, corporations, the military). One was of a state where everything was magically wrong and must be immediately corrected at any cost; and the other—the world in which I actually functioned day to day—was made up of people, most of whom were reasonably trying to maximize their comfort by getting along with each other (in the workplace, the marketplace, the jury room, on the freeway, even at the school-board meeting).

And I realized that the time had come for me to avow my participation in that America in which I chose to live, and that that country was not a schoolroom teaching values, but a marketplace.

The italicized portion of the final paragraph is the part that Noam Chomsky needs to get through his thick fucking skull. That man astounds me. He feeds off the society he critiques so viciously, and expresses zero gratitude for the fact that he suffers no truly negative consequences for what he does: no black helicopters, no jack-booted thugs pounding at his door and dragging him off, nothing. Quite the contrary, he's popular and makes a living off what he does.


bye, bye, Spitzer

I hope your wife bleeds you dry and bars you from seeing the kids.


Pat Condell makes an impression on my students

My Current Events English class spent most of their hour in the faculty office today, tapping away at my colleagues' work stations (and mine as well). They were practicing their online research techniques, trying to surf the English-language internet without recourse to Korean sources. On Monday, I had given them a list of 21 research tasks-- questions that were, in some cases, fairly open-ended, as well as questions for which answers might vary wildly. One of the questions related to Pat Condell: who is he, and what are his YouTube videos about? A few of my students selected that particular question to work on, and were pretty shocked by what they heard. One student called him "extreme," while the lone man in the class, a gent in his early 50s, shook his head and said, "You know, when Condell is about to die, he's probably going to find Jesus."

This class is filled with great students, and I wish I had more time to spend with them. Amazingly, half the students in this class are returnees-- some are students I've taught for more than one semester. Eun-hui, who has alternately delighted me and pissed me off, is back again for what must be her fourth or fifth class with me. Yeon-hui is back for her third or fourth class; Hyeon-ui is back for her second class, and so is Jae-eun, who was in my intensive class last semester. It's both flattering and touching to have so many returnees this time around; I don't normally see so many "veterans." My morning classes also feature a few returnees, though not nearly in as high a concentration as in the Current Events class.

Anyway, here's the full list of research topics I gave to my students. I had told them that, if they tried hard, they might be able to find answers to these questions within 6 or 7 hours. I did the exercise myself yesterday and took about six hours to answer 20 of 21 questions. Feel free to research these yourselves, if you want, but only if you're feeling especially geeky.

1. How far is Port Coquitlam, BC (British Columbia) from the US border?

2. What official (or unofficial) position(s) has the US government taken on Dokdo? What position(s) has the UK taken? Canada? Australia? New Zealand? China?

3. What do Americans generally think/feel/say about the Cho Seung-hui massacre at Virginia Tech last year?

4. What sort of weather can you find in Fribourg, Switzerland throughout the year?

5. What major themes do you see in popular American rap music?

6. The 1974 comedy Blazing Saddles included a “movie first.” What was it?

7. OPTIONAL: Who was the politician who shot himself in the head—in public—in Pennsylvania in 1987? Why did he do it? (This item is optional because video of the shooting is available online, and might be very disturbing to watch.)

8. Compare Korean and American drunk driving statistics. Which country do you think has a worse problem?

9. Compare Korean and American suicide statistics, with a special eye toward REASONS for committing suicide. What interesting points of comparison do you see?

10. What are some of the major themes covered in the following American TV series:
a. 24
b. Battlestar Galactica
c. Grey’s Anatomy
d. Prison Break
e. Heroes
f. CSI

11. Find some strange American “blue laws.” Be ready to explain what a blue law is. Which Virginian blue laws do you find especially funny?

12. What is the average life span of a giant octopus?

13. Is the Jesus birth narrative in all four gospels?

14. What were some of Winston Churchill’s major vices?

15. What types of roles does Edward James Olmos usually play in the movies?

16. Which European city has a climate that is most similar to Seoul’s?

17. Who is Ayaan Hirsi Ali and what do people think of her?

18. What countries, states, or provinces are similar in geographical size to South Korea?

19. How do you make spaghetti bolognese?

20. Approximately what distance is Mount Vernon (George Washington’s home) from Washington, DC?

21. Who is Pat Condell and what is he talking about in his YouTube videos?



Koreans-- my own people-- sometimes baffle me. I'm thinking right now of the Korean tendency to do things together, to allow one's individuality to dissolve into the group,* which is often contradicted by an opposing tendency to be competitive and mistrustful of others in an academic environment.**

This is problematic whenever I assign, say, a group project or a team seminar presentation: many students will simply do their own part of the project without seeking synergy (a word that is, ironically, overused in Korean culture); they rarely feel a need to hone their presentation by bouncing ideas off their teammates.

I'm a bit worried about this right now because I'm teaching a Current Events English class in a seminar format, and judging by the sign-up sheet I passed around yesterday, the students all prefer to lone-wolf it. Since many of the presentation days have been left blank, I'm probably going to oblige the students to do team presentations on those days.

We'll see how it goes.

*This isn't unknown to Americans, of course: you can see a similar dissolution in the culture of our military, where a person is keenly aware that s/he is part of a chain of command; you can also see this happening at events like football games, where a mass of shirtless, painted, drunken, tubby guys will all act obnoxious in the same way, slaves to the gridiron ritual.

**I can guess at why this is so, but it's just a guess. I might, for example, conjecture that the East Asian notion of "circles of loyalty" helps foster competition: Koreans are very loyal to their own families first; they're also loyal to friends, and so it goes with ever-expanding (and, arguably, weakening) circles of loyalty. As a result, Koreans are often quite good at ignoring each other on the street: "I don't know you, so I owe you nothing." I might also conjecture that the Korean education system is set up in such a way that competition is inevitable, and that Korean notions of "face" will help focus competition on, for example, obtaining a spot at an elite university; such accomplishments result in prestige dividends that can last a lifetime (e.g., saying "I'm a Seoul National University alum" never gets old and will always open doors for you). As I said, though: just a guess.