Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christian pluralism?

"Christian pluralism" sounds almost like a contradiction in terms, but Lee over at A Thinking Reed has written a post about a book he's just read: Marjorie Suchocki's Divinity and Diversity: A Christian Affirmation of Religious Pluralism. Sounds like an interesting work. Lee's post is equally interesting, and this part caught my eye:

What I like about Suchocki’s position is that, unlike some pluralists, she doesn’t try to assume a “view from nowhere”, outside of any particular tradition. Too often, this results in a kind of lowest-common-denominator theology or a covert attempt to impose the standards of one tradition on others without acknowledging it.

I sympathize, to some extent, with Lee's chariness regarding the "view from nowhere" approach. Very often, this approach is emblematized by the Jain metaphor of the blind men and the elephant: each man stands by a certain part of the elephant and perceives the animal to be, respectively, a wall, a rope, a tree trunk, etc. The metaphor has been criticized by the likes of S. Mark Heim, who notes that, in order for the story to work, we have to assume the presence of an all-seeing observer who stands apart and can see the limitations of the blind men at a glance. Heim feels that the metaphor fails to capture the actual human situation: there is no one who isn't blind, since we are all "horizoned," i.e., bounded and limited, in our apprehension of the world.

Because I still have one foot in John Hick's camp (and Hick is the quintessential "convergent" pluralist), I wrote a response to Heim's position some years back, addressing the elephant metaphor. I said in part:

The elephant analogy doesn't ascribe omniscience to the sighted person. Heim wants to claim that the meta-theoretical paradigms of religious pluralists are arrogating to themselves a God's-eye view. I don't believe this to be the case at all. They are, like the sighted man in the elephant analogy, simply at a remove from the immediate situation, and this is sufficient to provide superior insight. The sighted man is merely sighted, not all-seeing. His integrated perspective is objectively less blinkered than that of the blind men, which is the real point of the story.

So while I sympathize with the idea that the "view from nowhere" can be a dangerous approach to religious diversity, I don't really see it in evidence among the bigwigs in such discussions.

I also have to wonder, from Lee's post, whether Suchocki (pronounced "Sue Hockey," in case you were curious; her name was tossed around a lot during my MA program, especially during a course on feminist christology) isn't actually advocating something closer to inclusivism than to pluralism. If God resides at the most fundamental level of her pluralistic paradigm, then she's as guilty of funneling other religions through her perspective as other inclusivists are. Then again, the Amazon.com review has this to say about Suchocki's perspective:

In this insightful and irenic work, Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki demonstrates that Christians need not ignore, nor even compromise, the teachings of the gospel in order to accept and rejoice in religious pluralism. She argues that the Christian doctrines of creation, incarnation, the image of God, and the reign of God make the diversity of religions necessary. Without such diversity the rich and deep community of humanity that is the goal of the Christian gospel cannot be realized. Along the way Suchocki rejects the exclusivist claim that there can be no relationship with God apart from the church, and the inclusivist idea that Christianity is the highest expression of the search for God, with other religions possessing in part that which Christians possess in full. She argues instead for a pluralist position, insisting on a full recognition of the distinctive gifts that all of the religious traditions bring to the human table.

This seems to place her rather close to Paul Knitter on the pluralistic spectrum. Knitter, a Catholic thinker (Suchocki is Methodist), has long advocated a sort of "theocentric" pluralism in which theos can be interpreted more broadly than just "God of the Abrahamic faiths." While I remain unconvinced that Knitter has truly stepped outside the Magisterium (in fact, he's written a book titled Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian about how his interreligious experiences have helped confirm and reinforce his Christian beliefs), I appreciate his openness to the reinterpretive possibilities inherent in any honest dialogue.

I've put Suchocki's book on my Amazon Wish List as a reminder that I need to grab it and read it. Religious diversity is a burgeoning field of study; as I noted a while back, Georgetown University now offers a doctoral degree in the subject. I remain sorely tempted by GU's program. In the meantime, my thanks to Lee for bringing this book to my attention.


Monday, November 29, 2010


My brother texted me with the sad news that comedian Leslie Nielsen has died.

Here's hoping that, when he reaches the pearly gates, Mr. Nielsen won't be addressed as "Shirley."


Ave, Justin!

As always, Justin Yoshida knows where all the cool videos are. In a recent post, he found a video titled "Kitty is a Very BAD Mystic." Justin's own title for the video is "The best cat video on the internet." Whatever the video's name, it had me rolling. And it made me believe in talking animals. Go watch and laugh.


conformity redux

I spent a good deal of time earlier associating Koreans with a conformist, hive-mind mentality, and saying very little about its equivalent here in the States. Yesterday evening, I had a rather unnerving experience at the Home Depot in a nearby town (my current town doesn't have one), and it reminded me strongly of my many experiences with the same phenomenon in Korea. I now live in a more racially homogeneous part of the commonwealth, you see, and racial homogeneity brings with it a certain cultural homogeneity. Of course, I'm talking about being in a majority white region. Oh, there are minorities about: I've seen Latinos, South Asians, and Chinese. But they're few and very far between. I hope no one takes this the wrong way, but it's striking that roles generally occupied by minorities in the DC-Metro area are occupied by the majority race here (one of my religion profs privately made a similar observation once, when visiting a western state). In Alexandria, the Home Depot staffers come in all shapes and sizes; in the town near my new place of residence, the staffers are, as far as I can tell, entirely white.

What made yesterday's Home Depot experience unnerving was the consistency with which the staff treated me every time I approached their section. First, there was the greeting as soon as I entered the store: "Welcome to Home Depot." Right there, I was reminded of countless upper-level stores in South Korea where a greeter intones "eoseo-osaeyo" and offers a stately bow. Perhaps I haven't been listening hard enough, but I've never heard "Welcome to Home Depot" at any of the Home Depots near DC. Yet out in the boonies, there it was.

Next was the way each staffer greeted me as I neared his or her section. While I've heard the question "Hi! Anything I can help you find?" in the DC-Metro area, the difference here, at this countrified Home Depot, was the amount of physical distance before the staffer felt the need to offer the greeting. In most cases, I was fairly far off-- more than fifteen yards-- when the greeting was used. As you can imagine, this meant that the greeting couldn't be whispered or spoken too conversationally: it had to be made with the volume turned slightly up. I often had to look directly at the staffer to make sure that he or she was talking to me.

The consistency with which this happened was impressive. I'm all for good customer service, but I was beginning to realize that different regions have different notions of what such service entails. I further suspect that, in racially homogeneous areas, it's easier for the boss to delineate customer service policy and enforce it, since every underling comes to the table with roughly the same cultural assumptions and understandings. In the more diverse DC-Metro area, it may be harder, by contrast, to expect such consistency. Each person will interpret etiquette and store policy at least partly according to his or her ethnic perspective; there will be a broad norm, but with plenty of variation inside that norm.

My understanding, as an Alexandrian, has been that the "May I help you?" question doesn't appear until you're within about ten feet of a given staffer. Exceptions abound, of course, such as when it's obvious you're the only customer in the store, but those are only exceptions. Suffice it to say that a loud greeting from fifteen yards away takes me a bit out of my comfort zone.

Up to now, nothing I've remarked upon has truly been negative. I was taken aback by the difference in customer service, yes, but it was just a matter of recalibrating my sensibilities to How Things Are Done in these parts. What disturbed me, however, was the behavior of one Home Depot staffer in particular. Her comportment, too, reminded me of behavior I've seen while living in Korea.

I had been searching the store for a Rubbermaid footstool-- something small, that I could use in my kitchenette to reach some above-the-cabinet spaces. My wanderings took me toward the far end of the store where they sell large ladders and smaller, foldable stepladders. I reasoned that the footstools-- which I hadn't found in the "cleaning items" section-- would most likely be here. When I was more than fifty yards away from my goal, a small, late-40s blonde woman materialized and moved to intercept me. She had a bright smile and a voice that was either marred by too much smoking or ravaged by laryngitis. "What are you looking for?" she rasped brightly, smiling and stepping directly into my path-- something none of the other staffers had done. I told her I was looking for a one-piece, non-folding Rubbermaid footstool. "Oh, those are on the other side of the store, aisle 46. They're not in this section." She said this with convincing authority, so I assumed that I was the one in the wrong, thanked her, and marched all the way back to the same aisle where I had previously looked for the footstool. Nada.

My zigzagging progress through the store eventually brought me back to that lady's section again. Not seeing her around, I plowed forward to the wall with the ladders, and... voilà. There was the footstool I'd been looking for.

Was the lady being racist? There's not enough evidence to say, but her performance as a staffer was in marked contrast to the polite, friendly assistance I'd received from every other staffer in the place. This lady came off as both insincere and intent on keeping me out of her section. She reappeared when I was in the process of self-checking my items (for those of you out of the country-- that's a big change in recent years in the States: the self-checkout line, where you ring your own items up), and began hovering while I was checking out. At the end, when I'd bagged everything and placed it all back in my shopping cart, the lady asked solicitously, "Is everything OK?" I didn't like the implications of her question. It sounded almost as if she wanted to see my receipt and check it against my purchased items. I pasted a smile onto my face and told her everything was fine, and deliberately added that I'd found the footstool I'd wanted-- in her section. The lady moved on with no further comment. That, too, struck me as odd.

Either the woman simply lacked social graces (she never once made eye contact with me, even when posing direct questions), or she saw a big non-white guy and felt she had to defend the castle from the barbarian intrusion. Neither alternative is particularly pleasant, and I found it amusing to receive this sort of treatment in my own country. In Korea, you see, Koreans often make no bones about their attitude toward foreigners-- or more precisely, toward anyone who doesn't look like they do (there are, for example, Chinese and Japanese with "crossover" looks who can pass as Korean, at least until they open their mouths). Even in cosmopolitan Seoul, where foreigners abound, one is likely to be stared at on the subway or viewed with suspicion by the shopkeeper. It's a simple fact of expat life, and one either learns to cope with it in some way, or one builds up resentment until life in Korea is no longer bearable. I found that being able to speak a good bit of Korean was extremely helpful in most cases; a lot of the Korean mentality is rooted not so much in racism as in the culturally determined "Hermit Kingdom" worldview. This is why even fellow East Asians aren't immune to the anti-foreigner scowl.

But the Home Depot lady and I spoke the same language and had many of the same tacit cultural assumptions. Despite this, I had the distinct impression that she automatically viewed me with suspicion. Had she experienced a rash of thefts out of her department? Had she had a bad experience with someone from another race? Had she been brought up in a household where epithets were casually thrown around? I have no idea. All I know is that the vibe I got from her was markedly different from the vibe I got from everyone else in the store.

The two ladies in my rental office are black. Both are extremely friendly, and are easy to talk with. A couple weeks ago, one lady, Candy, told me about a bad experience at a Costco in that same nearby city. She was accosted by a door minder (they check your Costco member ID on the way in, and pore over your receipt on the way out), who rudely asked her whether she'd bought everything in her cart. This happened in front of Candy's child, which was a pretty humiliating experience. She said she'd never go back to that store. I remember nodding while listening to this story, and thinking That'll never happen to me. How wrong I was, eh? Heh.

Unlike Candy, I do plan on revisiting that Home Depot. I'm scientifically-minded enough to want to give the staffer some benefit of the doubt. To that end, I'd like to see whether she'd behave the same way if I came for a second visit. Nothing she did was as obviously humiliating as what the Costco staffer had done to Candy, so there's a slim chance that I just caught her on a bad night. If that's the case, then I'm sorry for this whole rant, but I truly can't shake the feeling that she was stepping over a line.

All of which is to say that Korea and America aren't all that different. Conformism can be found in both places, as can racism, in both subtle and obvious forms. Being half-Korean means being the odd man out in any region of the world where everyone looks a particular way. In other parts of the world, where's it's no big thing to be the child of parents of very different races, it's easier to blend in.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nathan on Hitchens and Blair

My buddy Nathan writes up his experience watching and listening to a recent debate between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens on the question of whether religion counts as a force for good in the world. Excellent post. A quick excerpt:

The central question, the subject of the debate was “Be it resolved that religion is a force for good in the world.” The Munk Centre held the event in a massive hall, and it polled its audience before and after the debate. Before the debate, 22% of the audience in Toronto had indicated agreement with this statement, while 57% were opposed. The others were undecided, and clearly, Tony Blair had his work cut out for him.

The debate was an inspired performance from both Hitchens and Blair. Each made good points, a fact that I as a formerly religious person can particularly appreciate.

So: what did the post-debate polling reveal? Did Hitchens, a staunch atheist, shrink the 22% down even lower, or did Blair manage to change some people's minds? Go to Nathan's blog and find out, and be sure to read his very thoughtful reaction to the debate.


untalented cook?

At 10:05 this morning, I was in the middle of a shower when the fire alarm in my new apartment building started shrieking. My brain, caught completely by surprise, began shrieking along with it. I leaped blubberously out of the shower and tromped out of the bathroom in search of the alarm, tracking water onto the tile and carpet.

Luckily, I didn't have to go far: the alarm was on the ceiling about two steps away from the bathroom door. I reached up to see whether I could turn the alarm off, and... nothing. I concluded that it wasn't my alarm that had initiated this, and that I had little choice but to ride this out. A peek out the window showed no one else leaving the building, reinforcing the impression that this was either a false alarm or something very small-scale, like a minor kitchen emergency.

At a guess, I'd say that all the alarms in the apartment are connected, and that a tenant has little choice but to endure such alarms when they occur. I've been told that I live in a building with a bunch of older folks (I've seen some younger folks, but it's mostly been the 60-and-over crowd), so it's possible that someone lost track of some frying eggs or carelessly smoked while sitting too close to their own apartment's alarm.

There have been no fire trucks since the alarm went silent, so I'm not too worried. I had, however, forgotten what it was like to have to deal with fire alarms in apartment buildings. We had several false alarms back when I lived in an apartment on Route 1 in Alexandria from 1998 to 2002. Today was a reminder of the down-side of communal living.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

yesterday's meal

1. turkey breast tenderloin (when you're cooking for only two people, there's no reason to buy the entire bird) with gravy (store-bought, alas... a consequence of not having an entire turkey to produce drippings and crumbly bits for gravy)

2. homemade stuffing: rather humble Stove Top boxed kit, with a broth made of water, gravy, and beef-flavored Korean dashida; also added mild pork sausage with peeled, diced apples (both cooked on the side and partially drained before incorporation into the stuffing); turned out great

3. homemade cranberry sauce: cranberries boiled the standard way (i.e., in simple syrup), with a tiny drop of lemon essence and some pumpkin pie spices; came out great

4. homemade mashed potatoes: peeled and boiled potatoes mashed with butter, heavy cream, salt, pepper, and a bit of garlic and onion powder; forgot to add the Gruyère, but it didn't matter

5. homemade sweet potatoes: along with #6 below, probably my best hit of the evening. Peeled and boiled sweet potatoes, mashed along with brown sugar, molasses, pumpkin pie spices, and heavy cream; candied walnuts (I candied them in molasses and brown sugar) were added; the whole thing was placed in a baking dish with marshmallows on top; 350 degrees for a few minutes to brown the marshmallows... perfect

6. Kevin-style choucroute alsacienne: (placed atop the mashed potatoes) ham, bacon, bratwurst, mild pork sausage, pork tenderloin, sauerkraut, cloves, and BEER (Heineken); forgot the mustard, but the thing was so damn good it didn't matter

7. peas: came frozen; boiled and buttered, salted and peppered

8. baby carrots: fresh; boiled and buttered, salted and peppered, with a touch of onion powder

9. salad: baby spinach, red onion, feta cheese, honey-roasted almonds, crispy bacon crumbles, and a sprinkle of raisins

10. pies: apple and pumpkin (very nice)

The pies were bought at Wegmans by Dr. Steve, who spent the night in my humble, box-filled abode. Steve also brought over wasabi peas (very addictive), some Japanese kiddie snacks (a bit more flavorful than the Korean version), and a British type of ginger ale called Idris Fiery Ginger Beer. The Idris turned out not to be fiery at all, but the drink was quite tasty, and could well become my new addiction.

Steve was a sport about the fact that I haven't had time to set my new place up. It's been a back-breaking couple of weeks for me: the long drives back and forth to Alexandria, the dozens of trips up the stairs as I carried box after box out of my car and into the apartment, and the desperate food shopping the night before Thanksgiving. I did manage to clear out some space in the living room for a table, and got the kitchen organized enough to cook a meal. Instead of putting all the kitchen items in their proper places, I stuffed everything into my many bookshelves (the books themselves remained boxed and were shunted into various closets) so that I could see all my food-related items at a glance. This proved helpful when I finally got around to cooking; the meal prep itself took me several hours, since I hadn't had the time or energy to get a head start the night before.

For his part, Steve put the TV together (a stand had to be mounted), and also assembled the Ikea-bought TV console. We watched "Star Trek" last night, and I have to say that the picture quality is incredible. The meal was huge, and Steve, who's thin as a toothpick, told me "This was the first real meal I'd had in a while." Steve's one of those thin people for whom eating is just an afterthought. Part of me admires this attitude; part of me finds it insane.

I spoke to my brother Sean last night; he was up in Rhode Island. I Skyped with my brother David earlier today; even earlier that that, I had a visit from the Comcast cable guy, and he hooked up my computer and TV. I'm once again plugged into the civilized world.

Steve's gone back to face a massive pile of grading; I'm now alone in my apartment, with a throbbing lower back after all the lifting and stair-climbing I've done. I've still got things to shop for locally, but at this point, I'm pretty much moved in. There also remain a few items on the to-do list for the house in Alexandria, but nothing urgent. As a final courtesy, I may take care of the blanket of fallen leaves in both the front and back yards.

Oh, yeah... about the above-mentioned Heineken (which was an ingredient in the choucroute alsacienne): a six-pack of Heineken was sitting on the front step of the house in Alexandria. I'm pretty sure it came from a neighbor across the street, a Latino contractor who had visited twice to tell me about items that had been stolen from his place-- a ladder, some power tools, etc. It's all been very distressing for him because it impacts his ability to do business effectively; I just happened to be a friendly ear, and I suppose the beer was his way of repaying me for listening. I don't drink beer, of course, but that doesn't mean I can't cook with it.

I've got a list of things to do right here in town, but I may rest a bit first before I get up and do them.

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

test post with Blogaway

This is a test post with a new app called Blogaway, which is supposed to make blogging on the Droid easier. So far, that seems to be the case. Although I'm still uncomfortable with the haptic keyboard, I find that Blogaway offers a more user-friendly edit window format. 

When I tried blogging through Blogger on my phone, the edit window was ten times larger than the screen, and I was often unable to see the text I was typing because it kept zipping off the screen for no apparent reason.  Blogaway seems to get that the text one is typing should always be visible.

OK... test over.



A Thanksgiving afternoon/evening raid of the Alexandria homestead may be possible. I've still got some leftover supplies to pick up. Over the next week or so, I've also got some items to drop off before I can declare myself officially moved in.


switching home bases

I'm getting cable and Internet service hooked up at my new abode this coming Friday; it's been a long time coming. Up to now, I've had to remain in Alexandria because I work from a computer, and therefore need to be where the stable Internet connection is. Now, at long last, I can finally switch the base of operations to my new, undisclosed location out in the boonies, where the population is under 15,000.

The moving process has proceeded in fits and starts. Over 90% of my possessions were taken to my new place over a week ago, but I've still been collecting all sorts of knick-knacks and driving them out to the apartment as I can (tiny car = many trips). Setting up Internet service has proven to be a pain; it took three customer service representatives for me to discover that, Internet ads notwithstanding, Verizon does not provide service in my new place of residence. Out there, it's all Comcast country; Comcast sucks, but it's like Jabba the Hutt: when you're on its turf, you have to pay it a tribute. The day Verizon FiOS is available, I'll be switching over, even if it means breaking contract with Comcast.

The apartment is a pile of boxes right now; today is going to be devoted to unpacking the kitchen items and making up the guest room. Yes, I've got a guest room: it's a two-bedroom place, with 1.5 bathrooms. I'm setting up a simple bunk bed in the guest room so as to accommodate at least two guests, who will even be able to enjoy their own half-bathroom. As Borat might say: very nice.

The eventual plan is to turn the apartment's living room area into a classroom, and to have the classroom up and running, at least part-time, by March or April. The quicker I can switch away from ETS work to something more my style and speed, the better.

Right now, though, the immediate plan is just to get totally moved. Today is all about prep for tomorrow: a haircut, a paycheck deposit, a paroxysm of last-minute desperation shopping for some humble Thanksgiving ingredients (my buddy Dr. Steve will be coming over to spend the day; as I mentioned earlier, my two brothers will be otherwise engaged), the prepping of the kitchen and guest room, and the setting-up of the electronics so that Mr. Comcast Dude can come over on Friday morning, work his technical magic, and leave me with a functioning TV and computer.

A big shout of thanks to my buddy Mike, who helped me shuttle over some bulky purchases (TV, mattresses, etc.) this past Sunday. Meanwhile, since I won't have a functioning computer until Friday, I'll take this opportunity to wish my three readers a Happy Thanksgiving. May there be much turkey, cranberry sauce, and hugging (and perhaps a bit of furtive, TSA-style groping) during your holiday.

UPDATE: Be sure to read my buddy Charles's essay "System of Control," which talks about the current Korean situation using the idiom of "The Matrix."

UPDATE 2: All the Korean ajummas at the local $7 cut barbershop (where I practice my Korean, since they only speak to me in Korean) are telling me I need to get married. When I told them about my move out to a small town, they were horrified. In true Korean fashion, they felt that their cookie-cutter solution-- to plunge into the human fray as deeply as possible-- was the best remedy for a soul in pain. "You have to go where there are lots of women! Job! Church! Clubs!" they said (before they learned I was moving, and that I have a work-at-home job). One lady, however, was more sympathetic to my point of view. She seemed to understand that some folks, especially after suffering tragedies, might want to take some time off from the hubbub and just chill in quiet, natural surroundings.

Modern Koreans, alas, are too deeply in thrall to the idea of social life to understand the quietistic urge. They'd freak if I were to read them Dr. Vallicella's frequent odes to individualism, contemplation, and spiritual depth. For many (but certainly not all) Koreans, happiness is found in the hive, the flock, or the herd. That may be why, when I was teaching in Korea, the students who made the deepest impressions on me were those who were striving to break away from all that conformism.

We have it here in the US, too, of course: people who follow trends and conventions, people who can't stand to be alone, people who are directionless and purposeless without the comfort of the herd. But we're more of a "have it your way, do it yourself, break new ground" kind of culture. When Koreans break ground (pace the bitter expats: Korea does produce a great deal of technological innovation; it's not just copying and miniaturizing), they tend to do it together. Even Grandma will grab herself a smart phone if she sees everyone else using one. Contrast that with the crotchety American Luddites who, even now, refuse to have anything to do with email or the metric system. Or with people like me who are content to float at the margins of society. I'll never pretend I'm a rugged individualist interested in building his own log cabin somewhere in an immense forest, nor will I say that I want nothing to do with society. I've just never been one for too much noise, is all. Seoul was great for eight years, but one thing it lacked was any opportunity for true solitude.

With one foot in both cultures, Korean and American, I sometimes feel comfortable with the Korean hive-mind mentality. But not right now. Right now, tranquility is just what I need. One of the ajummas warned that I might become a misanthrope, living all by myself. Well... I lived alone while I was in Korea, and didn't end up bitter. Quite the contrary, I made a nice, tight circle of friends, gained a better understanding of the culture, and came away from the experience feeling enriched. I think I'll be just fine.

The ajummas lamented that I wasn't going to be around to teach them English, but I told them I'd probably be in the area from time to time to get my haircut. My new town also has a $7 haircut place, but I have no idea how good it is. With both of my brothers still in the DC-Metro area, it's a sure thing that I'll be back regularly.

Digression: I ordered a load of Chinese food (godawful, except for the main dish) a few days ago, and kept the three fortunes from the fortune cookies I received. Here they are, each one spookily relevant (and none of them a true fortune in the predictive sense):

1. Learn to enjoy every minute of your life.

2. A house without books is like a room without windows.

3. Devotion is worth the effort at this time.

The cosmos is speaking to me through little slips of paper. Go be good and be happy. I'll try. Promise.

And now... I'm finally about to leave Alexandria. I've gotten my haircut, mailed off the $100 rebate paperwork for my cell phone, and have bought some more stuff for the apartment-- a vertical lamp for the guest room, and a new microwave. It's time to toss this computer into the car, make the long drive to my new home, shop for food, prep the place, and get ready for my old friend's arrival tomorrow afternoon. Signing off for now... but possibly blogging by phone later on. Stay sexy.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving without my brothers

First Thanksgiving without Mom. It's also going to be a Thanksgiving without my brothers: each has prior commitments. Life feels a bit fragmented right now, but maybe this is the right thing to do, at least this year.


harrowing story

Jeff of Ruminations in Korea hasn't blogged in a while, but he's got a hell of a story to tell. Go visit his blog, read about his most recent motorcycle accident, and ask yourselves whether you'd entrust yourself to peninsular health care if seriously injured. Here's a tantalizing excerpt.

I was wheeled into the emergency room, and was pleased to note that they were awaiting my arrival. The emergency room staff was friendly, helpful, and very professional. They took excellent care of me. They made me as comfortable as possible. However, that was all to end too soon.

So the doctor came and told me they would have to take new x-rays and perform CT scans on both limbs. They wheeled me into the into the x-ray room and took the x-rays as carefully as possible. The next stop was to the CT room, where they did their best not to hurt me anymore than they had to. After those steps were complete, they wheeled me back to the emergency room to await the doctors further opinion.

The doctor came and said that my left wrist was not that badly broken and probably should have been treated immediately after the accident. By simply resetting the bone and wrapping my hand in a cast. However, because five days had elapsed since the accident, the bone had started to heal again, and they would have to re-break it before setting it again. I said that would be no problem, and told him to shoot me up with painkillers and anesthetic and then to go on with the procedure. He informed me that it had to be done without the benefit of anesthetic.

I'm sure you're dying to know what happened next. While it feels dirty to derive narratological enjoyment at Jeff's expense, I'm thankful that Jeff is sharing this tale.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

North Korean wake-up call

At 6:45AM, I woke up to the news that North Korea has shelled the small South Korean island of Yeonpyeong-do. The Drudge Report is sporting the breathless, overwrought headline, "IT BEGINS." Casualties have been reported (the Marmot seems to be liveblogging, or at least updating regularly). Whether this incident may spiral out of control remains to be seen, but South Korea has shown a remarkable tolerance for having its nose bloodied in the past. Even if NK were to lob a few shells into some glass buildings in the heart of Seoul, SK would more likely wait to see whether the North was planning to come pouring across the border than reply in kind and/or escalate.

My suspicion is that, as with all other such instances, things will die down and return to the familiar, taut norm. Here's hoping. Meanwhile, to all my friends and students in South Korea: take care.

UPDATE, 7:45AM: As always, Joshua is an excellent go-to source on all things NK-related. See here.


first post with my Droid

Blogging with a haptic keyboard isn't as easy as it looks. As was true with the BlackBerry, there's still the fat-finger problem, and it doesn't help that I have to type blind, since the screen insists on zipping back and forth like paper in an old typewriter's carriage return. I need to figure out how to format the Blogger edit window so that it conforms to the Droid's actual screen.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Ave, Iron Chef Forgione!

The battle is over, and we have a new Iron Chef: Marc Forgione, the younger of the two finalists in Kitchen Stadium. As spun by Alton Brown and the judges, this was a battle of youth and vigorous inventiveness versus a predictable yet comforting "soulfulness" (to use Brown's term for Chef Marco Canora's food). In the end, like Elisson, I found Chef Forgione's personal story more compelling: Forgione, like Chef Ming Tsai, wanted to prove he had chops (Tsai, for his part, did himself credit by making it to the semifinal round); he repeatedly expressed a desire to step out from under the shadow of his father, Chef Larry Forgione, a well-known culinary talent based in New York and, according to son Marc, one of the "godfathers of American cuisine." (I'd never heard of the guy before, so this may be one of those references that means more to foodies and culinary pros than to the general public.)

The battle, which featured multiple secret ingredients meant to be tied together into a coherent Thanksgiving theme, was as intense as could be expected. Canora made, I felt, some crucial mistakes in both his overall strategy and some of his tactics. Strategy-wise, Canora went old-school and chose to make a rather typical-looking Thanksgiving dinner. His approach to the venison made me cringe, though for a different reason from that of the judges: the judges disliked his herbs and seasoning for the venison, but I disliked the addition of pistachios to the venison's stuffing. Although I'm a fan of contrasts in texture, I'd have a hard time biting into hard pistachios while simultaneously trying to appreciate a tender slice of meat. In all, I thought it was a poor choice of nut.

Chef Forgione did his own venison roulade wrapped in caul fat (trivia: the opening credits for Season 7 of "House" feature brief, amusing images of swirling caul fat in addition to all the normal graphics), but he chose chestnuts as a component of his stuffing-- a wiser choice given the time constraints. Forgione also decided to forgo the conventional notion of a Thanksgiving dinner, preferring instead to honor a vision of what the first Thanksgiving dinner (Forgione said it occurred in 1625... historians?) would have been like. He went heavy on seafood and venison for his proteins; I think he also went for the duck. Turkey was nowhere to be found, and neither were white potatoes, since both ingredients were absent from that first Thanksgiving feast. Overall, I thought this was the better strategy, because riskier. I also felt that Forgione produced what was, overall, a more imaginative and tastier-looking menu. Canora's food was generally praised, but the critiques he received were about some embarrassingly basic matters, such as seasoning.

Chef Forgione's entrance into the Iron Chef stable will, we hope, inject some new blood and fresh ideas into the competition. He produced some amazing dishes during the competition to become an Iron Chef, and although Canora was routinely praised for his consistency, I'd say that Forgione wasn't as inconsistent as some might think. Mike Symon summed it up well when he said that, of the five best dishes he remembered eating during the competition, three of them belonged to Marc Forgione.

Congratulations, Chef Forgione, on becoming the next Iron Chef, and congratulations to all the other contestants as well.


Hangugin hegemony

I had an interesting dinner at Maggiano's in Tysons II with my buddy Mike. A Korean couple ended up seated next to us partway through our meal, and plenty of Koreans were strolling through the mall. Earlier in the day, I found myself at a local Costco and at an Ikea branch, and there were many Koreans in evidence at those places as well.

As a half-and-half, I often find myself switching between Korean mode and Amurrican mode, but during those moments when I realize just how ubiquitous the Korean population in northern Virginia is, I'm not quite sure what mode I'm in. Part of me cackles like the cockroach-professor from "Monsters versus Aliens": "Soon we'll be everywhere!"* Another part of me yelps, like Private Hudson in "Aliens": "They're comin' outta the goddamn walls!"

Whenever I read population stats about the Korean presence in America, I'm always surprised at how small those overall figures are. Maybe it's because I'm sensitized to Korean auras, but it often seems to me that those stats have been low-balled. Everywhere I look-- and much like Haley Joel Osment-- I see Korean people.

*Not a quote from the film, but something I can imagine Dr. Cockroach saying.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

molluscan mind

When I was a kid, I loved all the creepy-crawlies. I owned four tarantulas (one at a time, not all at once), and was fascinated by the uglier mollusks-- octopi, squid, etc. Even today, I'm hypnotized by nature films about them. A recent documentary on TV was all about the Humboldt squid, and another documentary dealt with octopus intelligence (they have roughly the IQ of dogs, but with arguably greater problem-solving ability). I was delighted to find that Peter at Conscious Entities has decided to address the subject of molluscan consciousness in his latest post. It makes for fascinating reading. See here.

Much of Peter's post is devoted to the question of the unity of consciousness, an idea held precious by the adherents of certain schools of thought, such as substance dualism. A unified consciousness is what is inferred by the sense of singular selfhood that we all possess, so if we start with that sense of self, I suppose it's easy to see why people might infer that consciousness is as unified as that sense. Coming at the question from a more Buddhist angle, I don't subscribe to the notion that human consciousness is truly unified. It is, at best, a temporary and particulate unity, easily divisible into components, whether we're mapping out its various functions (e.g., remembering, attending, evaluating, etc.) or parsing its particular states (e.g., emotions like anger, sadness, and joy), or tracking holistic changes over time. And the various departments in our head are often in conflict, which produces such feelings as being at war with oneself. Like all phenomena, consciousness is dependently co-arisen, i.e., it's the nexus of convergent causes, and is itself causal. It's part of the larger web of "interbeing," to steal Thich Nhat Hanh's phrase. I also think it's rooted firmly in the physical.

Whatever consciousness is, it's a delicate, frangible thing. It reacts to everything around it (and within it), and can be altered or destroyed by the littlest of things. Whatever unity exists in human consciousness is at best temporary prone to fragmentation. It certainly isn't fundamental.


Buddhism and abortion

Is a Thai Buddhist temple complicit in the disposal of aborted fetuses? It would appear so. I'm curious to hear the temple's rationale for helping out. Although abortion is technically illegal in Thailand (or so say the US media), could it be that a tacit affirmation of "my body, my choice" is in operation? Perhaps the monks have accepted these fetuses out of a sense of compassion for the mothers, who would have wanted their children's remains tended to in a way that was religiously proper.

I find it interesting that the Washington Post's article on this topic is titled "Hundreds of Fetuses Found at Thai Buddhist Temple," whereas Slate.com has an article titled "Thousands of Fetuses Found in Thai Temple." And you wonder why we have trouble comparing the crowd sizes of Glenn Beck's and Jon Stewart's respective DC rallies.


Saturday, November 20, 2010


I've gotten myself a new Droid X. It works quite nicely, thanks. I guess this means I'm plugged into the rest of the world again. Can't say that I missed having a cell phone, but it's nice to able to contact certain people, like my brothers, with greater ease than before. The Verizon staffers who helped me tonight were both so cute together-- a bit like a married couple. It's enough to put me in a Thanksgiving kind of mood.


Friday, November 19, 2010

the gallery of the morbid

Just in time for American Thanksgiving (next week), Dr. Hodges has been meditating on the all-consuming nature of death (see here, here, here, here, here, and here). Dr. Vallicella, meanwhile, has written a cheerful (cough) post about the nature of hell. Both Malcolm and Elisson have written RIPs in recent days.

What is it with everyone? Me, I think I've had my fill of death and hell for one year. Call me again next year, when I'll be, as Matt Groening so aptly put it in one of his Life in Hell collections, "ready for more abuse."

(In case it's not obvious: the above isn't meant to make anyone feel guilty. As Mike would say, "Carry on.")


Thursday, November 18, 2010


Where did my blog go?

UPDATE: My blog's main text column mysteriously disappeared today. It was gone all day... until I published this little post. Now the main text column is back, but since I don't know what made it disappear the first time, I have no idea how to stop it from disappearing a second time. Anyone else have trouble viewing my blog today?

Apologies for the shameful lack of content, but life continues to be extremely busy. With Thanksgiving and Christmas on the way, I can't promise that things will smooth out until sometime early next year.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

one life lesson

We never know what the future holds. Unless it's right before the moment of impact.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

posting while sleeping

This post has appeared at 3AM. I'm actually asleep. So I guess I'm somnublogging. Wish I had something to say, but people who are asleep rarely say anything meaningful, even if they talk in their sleep.

Oh, yeah, here's something: the addition of Amber Tamblyn (who the hell is she?) to the cast of "House" is just annoying.

If you're interested, go read this interesting post at Conscious Entities, which reviews several different types of physicalism, dualism, and even monism. I, for one, am not an epiphenomenalist. It makes no sense to say that mind exists, that it arises from matter, and that it has no causal power. I'm pretty sure I'll need to revise what I wrote in Water from a Skull about this point, because I may have misused the term "epiphenomenalism."


Monday, November 15, 2010

down to the two Italians

It's curtains for Ming Tsai and Chef Tio. The two finalists are the two Italians, Chefs Forgione and Canora. It ought to be an interesting battle next week.


break's over

Monday approaches, as ponderous and inescapable as the bearded fat lady from the circus. I'm staring down the barrel of another full week of work at my new job. This past week was a cinch: I had been scheduled to work only a single day (back in October, when I had originally placed my bids for November work dates, I'd tried for three days this week, but received only one), and have taken advantage of my free time to get some massive to-do items done.

I feel very confident in my ability to score Integrated Writing. What worries me is my shakiness with Independent Writing. The best cure is practice, of course, but this may involve some painful stumbles before I get it right. Wish me luck.


a possible purchase

This looks to be a nice TV. I'm not quite ready to purchase it right now, but might be getting it sometime in the next few weeks. Amazon.com reviews are favorable, but Costco is selling it for a lot less than the Amazon.com price.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

I don't get it

Have you seen this bumper sticker? I saw this on a car yesterday:

Forgive my stupidity, but is this a pro-Obama or anti-Obama bumper sticker? I can quickly think of reasons why it might be either.

Probama: The sticker is basically saying, "Ha ha-- in your face! Our side won!"

Antibama: The sticker is saying, "Look where we are now, America! Still think you voted for the right guy? Haw haw!"

Your thoughts?

NB: Yes, yes-- PatriotDepot.com (you can see the URL in the fine print) is a rightie site. But when I did a Google Images search for the bumper sticker ("LOL Obama bumper sticker"), the image appeared on all sorts of sites, not just rightie ones. I simply happened to steal the image from PatriotDepot.com because it was a large, clean rendering. So-- what narrative is being alluded to in this bumper sticker? Are the righties rubbing it in, or are the lefties?

UPDATE, 9:38PM: Having gone back to those search results, I'm now convinced this is meant to be an anti-Obama bumper sticker. While some scattered sites hosting the image aren't obviously right-leaning, most are. Still, my feeling is that, without context, the sticker all by itself is hard to interpret. Not exactly the best foot forward if the aim is to be witty.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

ça glisse... ça dérape?

While I wouldn't call myself a car nut, I was riveted as I watched this embedded video, which depicts seven minutes of drifting, over at Justin's blog. It's obviously not all done in a single take (lighting conditions being the obvious clue), but the editing makes the action flow super-smoothly. Give it a spin.


blog adultery

Sometimes I write more substantively on other people's blogs than on my own. God knows why. Here are some recent examples.

1. A comment left over at Lee's blog in response to his post about his father's new philo book, which says in part:

Complexity is our friend! I was in religious studies, after all, so I had to digest plenty of philosophy, from classical Greek thinking to analytical philo to the painfully garbled nonsense that is postmodernist "thought." Not to say that I feel totally at home when tackling pure, raw philo; one blog I read routinely leaves me feeling as if my brain were about to explode (here's a sample post from that blog, just so you can feel that feeling, too).

In philo, it's often necessary to go backward before going forward: if one encounters a term or set of terms with which one is unfamiliar, a bit of background reading may be necessary before one can make it past the passage on which one is stuck. I had trouble slogging through Bernard Lonergan's Method in Theology for that reason: the book assumed that the reader had read Lonergan's previous works, and employed concepts that, for the uninitiated, should have been more carefully unpacked. (Lonergan on method: "A method is a normative pattern of recurrent and related operations yielding cumulative and progressive results." That's pretty clear. But then there's this doozy: "A term of meaning is what is meant." I still have no idea what that means.)

Philosophers tend to operate in several different modes. Sometimes they're building on their own previous thoughts. Sometimes they're teasing out the implications of the thoughts of others. And very often they're reinventing the wheel-- crafting and using their own terms as they create (or should I say describe?) complex metaphysical structures. Sometimes the only way to decode and navigate those structures is by reading their earlier work; otherwise, it's a bit like stepping into the middle of a conversation between strangers. That's probably why I resented the profs who made us read works like Heidegger's Being and Time or Gadamer's Truth and Method without prepping us for those torrents of unfamiliar vocabulary.

2. A comment at Mike's blog in response to his quirky Tarantino/Kurosawa short story, which says in part:

I’m simultaneously reminded of the crazy officer at the beginning of “Dances with Wolves” (“I’ve pissed in my pants, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it” — or something like that), and the prose of James Clavell, who often used the term “void” (空) in that same sense [i.e., as a place to which slain warriors are dispatched].

I never quite understood Clavell’s usage: the Chinese character gong does indeed mean, variously, “void,” “vacuity,” “vanity” (in the Ecclesiastes/Lao-tzu “all is vanity” sense), and “emptiness,” but as a metaphysical concept, it’s intimately associated with Buddhism (空 = sunyata = emptiness), and wouldn’t have referred to a place to which people go when they die, as if gong meant “netherworld.” In Buddhism, all phenomena already participate in emptiness by lacking permanence and/or aseity (being-in-itselfness, if you will).

Then again, folk beliefs often trump dry metaphysics. Perhaps the Japanese warriors of the day had their own idiosyncratic beliefs about what comes after this life. Clavell knew a hell of a lot about Japan, so [maybe] I should cut him some slack.

3. A comment at Malcolm's blog, in response to his annoyance at the PC replacement of "customer" with "guest" in some New York establishments, which says in part:

Interestingly enough, there are at least two commonly used words for “customer” in Korean. The technical (or should I say generic?) term, go-gaek, comes from two Chinese characters. It simply means “customer.” In stores and restaurants, however, one often hears son-nim, which might be translated as “honored guest.” (The “nim” is an honorific particle, as in Yaesu-nim for “Jesus” or Bucheo-nim for “Buddha” or seonsaeng-nim for “teacher.”) So for me, switching “customer” out for “guest” doesn’t sound so grating.

At some point, I'm sure I'll get back to writing substantively on my own blog.


buying spree

Major transitions require major purchases. I can't give you much in the way of specifics at the moment, but let's just say that I'm picking up, moving on, and headin' for the hills. The hills don't have FiOS, alas, but they do have DSL. The nice thing about working from home is that your home can be anywhere.


Friday, November 12, 2010

"The Walking Dead"

A new series called "The Walking Dead" premiered on Halloween. I've seen the first and second episodes, and think the show is pretty good, overall. It moves at a slow, foot-dragging pace at times, as if the editing were a reflection of the shambling reality of zombie existence. Thus far, the main character-- a local sheriff who, in the first episode, missed the onset of the zombie apocalypse because he was comatose for weeks-- hasn't bothered to ask anyone what caused the world to turn upside-down. The show takes great pains to avoid the word "zombie," preferring instead to use euphemisms like "walkers."

"The Walking Dead" seems to be more character-driven than suspense-driven; I don't recall a single frightening scene. Even as the series explores the relationships between and among the main characters, I hope it will explore, in depth, some of the quirks and properties of zombies. That is, after all, one of the advantages of a series: the writers can mine the details and weave entire episodes out of them.

Some walkers appear clever enough to be tool-users (e.g., when one zombie uses a rock to bash through a department store's locked front doors). There's an implication that zombie-hood is a disease; it begins with a fever, is followed by death, and ends in reanimation. The living know better than to touch zombie grue; the blood and guts can somehow infect a person. We learn in the first episode that walkers are attracted to noise; the second episode establishes that zombies hunt by smell. True to the established mythos, a zombie that has lost half of its body is still capable of dragging itself along the ground by its arms. Zombies appear to retain nothing of their original, pre-mortem personalities.

But much about zombies remains mysterious. They travel in packs, but do they have hierarchies, à la Charlton Heston's "The Omega Man"?* They seem capable of primitive reasoning if they're able to use tools: tool use requires an ability to use secondary goals in the service of a primary goal. I was also interested to see that one zombie girl, at the very beginning of the series, stopped shambling for a moment to pick her teddy bear up off the asphalt. Does this imply that zombies possess some sort of interiority? That might wreak havoc on philosophical notions of zombie-dom.

Although I find the series likable, I wouldn't rank it among my favorites. I may need to watch a few more episodes to see whether I can get a feel for the big picture, i.e., whatever the main story arc is. Right now, the picture we have is still fragmented, and the series holds our attention by letting us discover this horrifying new world through the eyes of the protagonists, especially our sheriff.

*Heston's film was based on the novel I Am Legend, which was recently remade into a movie starring Will Smith.


to all the veterans

I deeply appreciate your service to our country. Happy Veterans Day.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Blogger has a new "scheduled post" function. That's kind of cool: if it works the way I think it does, it'll let me write the desired posting time in the time stamp window, and won't publish the post until that time. That means I can write a bunch of posts, stagger their publishing times, and sit back. People will think I'm up at all hours, just blogging.

Along with this "scheduled post" function is an "automatic" setting, which is what several of my previous posts have been published with. The "automatic" setting makes up for a longstanding deficiency: until this setting appeared, post time stamps have always been created to mark the time the than the writing/editing window has been opened, not the time that the writer hits "publish." "Automatic" changes that. So my past several posts reflect the time I actually hit "publish." If I start writing a long post at 2AM and finish at 5AM, the post's time stamp will show "5AM." "Automatic" is now Blogger's default time stamp setting, with "scheduled post" being the clickable option beneath it. I'm about to test the scheduled posting; it's 8:39AM according to my computer's clock, and I'm setting this post to publish at 8:42.



I love non-native speakers

Just as my Korean students get a kick out of my Korean mistakes, I get a kick out of the things I read while rating TOEFL essays. Two of the many things I learned today:

1. Prairie dogs are "small, planet-eating rodents." (One wonders how large the student writing this response must have been if a planet-eating creature rated "small" in his or her sight.)

2. Cows eat more than glass. (While it's obvious the writer was Asian, I like to imagine cows with their own version of the eating disorder pica.)


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Christopher Hitchens on talking to people with cancer

You may already know that atheist thinker, debater, writer, and commentator Christopher Hitchens is currently in what may be a losing battle with throat cancer. In this Vanity Fair article, Hitchens talks about how to approach a cancer patient, and what goes through a patient's mind as they interact with friends, strangers, and loved ones. While I haven't had to deal with my own cancer yet (and let's hope it stays that way), I did have to deal with people's awkwardness while my mother was dying, and sometimes found myself in the weird position of reassuring the ones who had hoped to reassure me and our family. Hitchens is right that the disease makes for a conversational minefield, and that it's easy to resent people for the lack of tact that often seems awkwardly wedded to their good intentions.

A choice passage:

But it’s not really possible to adopt a stance of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” either. Like its original, this is a prescription for hypocrisy and double standards. Friends and relatives, obviously, don’t really have the option of not making kind inquiries. One way of trying to put them at their ease is to be as candid as possible and not to adopt any sort of euphemism or denial. So I get straight to the point and say what the odds are. The swiftest way of doing this is to note that the thing about Stage Four is that there is no such thing as Stage Five. Quite rightly, some people take me up on it. I recently had to accept that I wasn’t going to be able to attend my niece’s wedding, in my old hometown and former university in Oxford. This depressed me for more than one reason, and an especially close friend inquired, “Is it that you’re afraid you’ll never see England again?” As it happens he was exactly right to ask, and it had been precisely that which had been bothering me, but I was unreasonably shocked by his bluntness. I’ll do the facing of hard facts, thanks. Don’t you be doing it, too. And yet I had absolutely invited the question. Telling someone else, with deliberate realism, that once I’d had a few more scans and treatments I might be told by the doctors that things from now on could be mainly a matter of “management,” I again had the wind knocked out of me when she said, “Yes, I suppose a time comes when you have to consider letting go.” How true, and how crisp a summary of what I had just said myself. But again there was the unreasonable urge to have a kind of monopoly on, or a sort of veto over, what was actually sayable. Cancer victimhood contains a permanent temptation to be self-centered and even solipsistic.

Go read the rest for yourself. You may not agree with how he ends the piece (I know I didn't; the dig against Randy Pausch seemed uncalled-for), but as is true of all of Hitchens's writing, you'll be fascinated by his take on things.


Monday, November 08, 2010

bow properly, dammit

"Iron Chef America" is based on "Iron Chef," a TV show that originated in Japan. In keeping with East Asian tradition, the American version of the show incorporates East Asian elements. The show's tone is admittedly campy and cartoonish; everyone knows, for example, that the so-called "Chairman" isn't really the chairman of anything: he's Mark Dacascos, an actor and martial artist (not necessarily in that order). In the fictional universe of Iron Chef America, Dacascos's Chairman is supposedly the nephew of the Chairman from the original Japanese show.

Certain East Asian elements, however, are not played for laughs, and chief among them is bowing, which is one of the most visible tropes on the show. Very few American Iron Chefs seem to get this gesture right, unless we're talking about Masaharu Morimoto (who isn't American, last I checked). For me, the absolute worst offender is Bobby Flay, who insists on bowing with his hands on his hips-- an extremely rude gesture in East Asia. Other Iron Chefs, Garces among them, will sometimes bow only from the neck, which is a gesture performed only by those of the highest rank, not by tyros. Mike Symon, God love 'im, often bows with his hands behind his back; this might indicate diffidence to an American, but to me-- and I suspect that Asians would feel similarly-- it's as grating as fingernails on chalkboard.

On tonight's episode of "The Next Iron Chef," we saw that the new crop of potential chefs also required some schooling in how to bow properly. I need to watch the episode again to isolate just who bowed incorrectly; I'm sure Ming Tsai got it right, and Chef Tio may have done it correctly, too. But the white guys needed help.

Proper bowing isn't hard: just keep your hands at your sides with your palms facing into your thighs, put a pleasant expression on your face, and bow from the waist, with your back straight but not rigid. Don't prolong the bow, and don't bow too deeply: it's just a greeting, after all, and doesn't need to be overdone. Depending on the culture, you may have to point your eyes floorward as a gesture of humility, but if you've had any martial arts training, you may prefer to keep your eyes on the person you're bowing to as a gesture of mindfulness. The latter option works best with a smile on your face; it is, in fact, my default bowing mode. But be careful about smiling too openly; Americans are accused of this problem all over the world, because many people perceive us as artificially jovial, and thus insincere. "Aux Etats-Unis, on sourit pour rien" is a comment I've heard from some French folks. Politeness, with a touch of reserve, is a good way to handle most situations in Asia. It amazes me how few people get that-- including certain expats who should know better after several years in country.

That reminds me (if you'll pardon the tangent): I'm beginning to dislike Andrew Zimmern for precisely this reason. I've seen several episodes of "Bizarre Foods," and while I think Zimmern is a good soul and a well-intended, affable guy, he often seems pretty clueless for a self-styled world traveler. Some of his exaggerated gestures, remarks, and facial expressions, doubtless made for our benefit, strike me as downright rude to the natives, who have little choice but to stand there and take it. Zimmern's show is saddled with a certain cringe factor, which makes it hard to watch, especially when he's mugging for the camera while in an extremely poor part of the world. By contrast, Anthony Bourdain at least makes a show of being actively curious about the cultures he encounters, even if he comes away making snide asides (most of the time, these are reserved for certain snooty Western European locations).

Back to Iron Chefs and bowing. I hope the next Iron Chef is someone who knows how to bow properly, and while I generally like all the current Iron Chefs, I do wish that some of them would learn the proper East Asian gesture. If Morimoto can compromise by hugging his opponent, American-style, after the winner has been declared (as he often does), surely the non-Asian chefs can meet him halfway and learn proper bowing. It isn't hard.


so... that's over

What was supposed to be a double elimination ended up merely a single elimination on "The Next Iron Chef," as burly Texan Chef Caswell was sent home, and bearded Chef Canora won the day. The bottom three contestants-- Chefs Tsai, Tio, and Forgione-- were considered "least favorite" by each of the three judges, resulting in the Food Network version of a hung jury. As a result, all three chefs were allowed to stay on.

So I guess we have two more episodes to go.


follow along

Tonight, in less than an hour, I'll be live-tweeting "The Next Iron Chef." It's a crucial episode, since we'll be losing two chefs tonight. Tweets are only a maximum of 140 characters, so there won't be room for extended commentary.

The final five chefs, for those who haven't kept track: Chef Tsai, Chef Canora, Chef Tio, Chef Forgione, and Chef Caswell. My opinion of Chef Canora has shifted somewhat as I've seen him talk smack about his co-competitors, but he and the other four chefs are all likable folks, as well as very solid cooks. Chef Tsai proved, last week, that he's got what it takes to be on top twice, and we're far enough along that I might even go so far as to say that he could win this thing.

I'm curious as to whether the episode after this one will also be a double elimination. If it is, then we'll see who wins next week. If not, we've got two episodes to go.

So-- see you on my Twitter page at 9PM, US east coast time. For those of you in South Korea: we just had a time change, so we're now 14 hours behind you instead of 13.


quelle assurance?

What insurance would you choose, if you were trying to insure a used car? State Farm? Allstate? Geico? Progressive? We Americans see the ads all the time on TV. Comparison websites aren't of much use; they don't display simple rate charts, probably because insurance calculations are all devilishly complex (no matter what those Progressive commercials would have you believe).


Sunday, November 07, 2010


Tomorrow's episode of "The Next Iron Chef" is a double elimination challenge: we'll be losing two of the final five. Will this be Ming Tsai's swan song? I guess we'll soon know.


Saturday, November 06, 2010

bacpakkerz fud revyu

As promised, here are my reviews of a whole slew of food products I purchased through my REI store credit in an effort to feed myself on a shoestring budget over the past two weeks.

All of these packets of freeze-dried food require one to pour in either boiling or cold water. Stir, let sit for a certain amount of time-- usually somewhere in the 9- to 13-minute range-- then pour out (more like scrape out) and eat. As you might imagine, given the sameness of the preparation process, all the food looks like mush. In other words, when you're evaluating these packets, throw out texture and presentation as judging criteria.

It should be noted, though, that some of the packets contain dry elements that are meant both to enhance flavor and to circumvent the texture problem; you pull these packets of dry ingredients out before you pour the hot water into the primary prep bag. While the presence of these extra packets is a thoughtful addition, what you usually end up with, once you pour the hot food into a bowl, is mush with powder on top. If you fail to eat the mush fast enough, you end up having mush with mush on top. Please keep that in mind as you read these reviews and ponder your purchases: in every case involving dried, pour-on-top ingredients, time is a factor, and slow eaters will be punished for their slowness.

Now... we begin.

Richmoor Natural High Three Berry Cobbler
REI Item# 6525850019

Natural High Three Berry Cobbler rated a "so-so" when I tried it. The berry mush was a rich, dark red, and wasn't too bad, gustatorily speaking, but the visual experience of scraping the mush out of the zip-top bag evoked something primal, like the evisceration-by-spoon of a squirrel. Unfortunately, the addition of the chocolate crumble pretty much ruined the berries/viscera for me. I don't know who manufactures the chocolate for Natural High, but I suspect they're hunched, eyeless cave-dwelling beings bereft of taste buds and olfactory nerves, whose language consists of little more than sibilants and farting noises. The crumble does add a bit of crunch to the experience, but the gritty, near-flavorless chocolate is a true turn-off. My advice: if you have to buy this particular preparation, just consume the chocolate separately by stirring it into a mug of hot cocoa.

Richmoor Natural High Chocolate Fudge Mousse
REI Item# 5160010012

The same angry cave dwellers that created the aforementioned chocolate crumble undoubtedly had a hand (or claw) in making this awful, mephitic goop. Have you ever watched Bear Grylls, on "Man versus Wild," squeezing a huge lump of elephant dung to get at the water inside it? Just as you'd never reach for dung unless you absolutely had to, you shouldn't reach for this chocolate mousse unless you're truly desperate. It comes with almond sprinkles, but the almonds are little more than cardboard. While not quite vomitous, I'd rate this packet "barely tolerable."

Richmoor Natural High Fudge Brownies
REI Item# 6888350011

If I'm not mistaken, I wrote about these brownies before. The batter reacted well to the microwave, transmogrifying into a recognizable brownie in a bit less than 90 seconds. However, since we're dealing with Natural High's unnatural chocolate, the flavor was rather disappointing. I have no idea how the brownie mix would behave if cooked in a camp skillet or pot, per the packet's instructions; one can only hope that the heat of the campfire might induce some caramelization and work some alchemical magic on the brownie's taste. What I found bothersome about the instructions, though, was the assumption that a camper might be toting oil around with him. Or maybe my mistake is that I'm conflating camping and hiking. Plenty of campers bring all manner of weird items into the bush with them. My own mother, bless her, liked bringing along a hair dryer.

Of course, it's possible to tote oil safely, even as a hiker: anyone who's eaten ramen knows that some noodle packages come with tiny packets of oil inside them. I imagine that such packets, or similar ones, are available in bulk at outdoor recreation stores.

Mountain House Neapolitan Ice Cream
REI Item# 6368970015

Ah, childhood memories. This stuff is freeze-dried ambrosia to me, but goddammit, it never lasts long enough. The Mountain House version tastes exactly like the astronaut ice cream I remember eating at the National Air and Space Museum. You could buy packets of ice cream at the museum's overpriced gift shop, and my folks often did.

Perhaps Mountain House offers a range of flavors, but all I saw was Neapolitan. I have nothing negative to say about this ice cream; each packet is 110 calories of pure, evanescent goodness. It's a great way to ponder impermanence; and with enough imagination, I'm sure you could incorporate this ice cream into some creative lovemaking. The way it reacts to moist body surfaces suggests a host of possibilities.

Backpacker's Pantry Cheesecake
REI Item# 6113800012

Although it initially looks like a bowlful of elephant semen, the BP Cheesecake congeals within minutes (xanthan gum? agar agar? I need to look at the thickening agent) to an almost recognizably cheesecake-y consistency. A separate packet of graham cracker crumble is there for you to pour onto the dessert. I didn't mind the taste at first, but toward the end, the cheesecake began to taste cloyingly sweet. Like angels' brains.

Richmoor Natural High Honey Mustard Chicken
REI Item# 5100300010

While not exactly awful, the Natural High Honey Mustard Chicken didn't have an obvious honey-mustard taste. The chicken was doubtless offended to be associated with this packet, which was edible, but uninspiring.

A word about dried meat reconstituted with boiling water: the simple fact is that, once the meat has been freeze-dried to the brink of mummification, there's no bringing it back. So don't expect your meat to have quite the same hearty, rib-sticking mouth feel that it used to have back when the muscle cells still contained water. Those cells have been raped and pillaged by the freeze-drying process; the addition of boiling water can, at best, produce a parody of the meat's original meatiness. I suspect that the makers of camp food are banking on the camper's being tired, hungry, and ready for a novel experience, since camp food isn't something you're supposed to eat every day (which is what I did, for almost two weeks, thanks to my REI store credits). For the rest of us, though, freeze-dried meat will always be a disappointment. Keep your expectations low, or stick with something more traditional, like beef jerky. We'll talk more about beef jerky later.

Mountain House Beef Stew - 4 Serving
REI Item# 7686880019

Having just complained about the lameness of freeze-dried meat, I now turn around and praise Mountain House's Beef Stew. The packet says it serves four (i.e., two Kevins); it did indeed contain a lot of food, once the boiling water was added. I ate this packet over two or three days, and can confirm that the stew reheats well. What's more, the stew tastes like a stew, although in my opinion it lacked some oomph. I supplied some extra heat by ejaculating sriracha all over it.

Mountain House Raspberry Crumble
REI Item# 6101860010

The Mountain House Raspberry Crumble-- essentially, Mountain House's version of the Natural High Three Berry Cobbler-- turned out to be excellent. As with the Natural High packet, there was a separate packet of Oreo crumble, but get this: it actually tasted like Oreos! Originally cringing at the thought of eating this dessert after the Natural High debacle, I was shocked to discover that this dessert was not merely edible-- it was tasty. Although dessert prep evoked the same squirrel-evisceration imagery as before, the smell and taste of the raspberry crumble more than made up for any aesthetic shortcomings. Highly recommended; very much worth your while.

Mountain House Spaghetti with Meat Sauce For Two
REI Item# 5101440013

Despite its place on this list, the packet of Mountain House Spaghetti with Meat Sauce was the very last main meal I ate before I ran out of camp food. The freeze-dried beef was what you might expect, but in this case, the texture worked well with the rest of the sauce. The noodles were laughably stubby-- imagine spaghetti with an Irish curse-- but by the time the packet was ready to eat, I didn't care. My overall impression was that this was great camp spaghetti. The sauce was properly tomato-y; the meat's crumbly texture successfully simulated bits of ground beef; and the noodles themselves were decent by the standards of camp pasta. In all, an excellent meal. Highly recommended.

Richmoor Natural High Strawberry Granola with Milk
REI Item# 5101120011

Did you ever see a B-grade Dolph Lundgren action movie called "I Come in Peace"? The movie was about Earth's encounter with a humanoid race of aliens; one alien was a cop, and the other was a murderer hooked on human brain chemicals. This dude spent a good part of the film grunting "I come in peace," then shooting flexible tubes into Earthlings' heads and sucking out their cerebrospinal fluid. Or something. My memory is fuzzy. Anyway, when the alien cop is shot in the gut by the bad guy, we see that his insides are composed of something milky-white and chunky, but of indeterminate texture. We never get a close look at those guts; it seems that these aliens vaporize when they die.

Natural High's Strawberry Granola with Milk reminded me of that alien's guts. The look of the food was white, chunky, and somehow wrong, and although the dried strawberries tasted fine when reconstituted, the granola itself tasted synthetic, as if it too had come from an alien world. In all, I found the meal just tolerable: edible, but not much more than that. I wouldn't eat it again if better options were available.

Richmoor Natural High Three Cheese Chicken Pasta
REI Item# 7952670011

As you can see, I've taken a rather dim view of anything that comes from the Richmoor Natural High brand, especially when it comes to chocolate. Their Three Cheese Chicken Pasta, however, wasn't that bad. It wasn't great, either, but with the addition of some salt the meal was perfectly passable. I'd eat it again with no complaints. Recommended.

Mountain House Beef Stroganoff - 4 Serving
REI Item# 7686890018

This was my only real disappointment from the Mountain House brand, but the reason for my disappointment was that, when I opened the package, I saw that it contained nothing but pasta: the stroganoff was completely missing. I'll charitably assume that this was some sort of assembly-line error, and not a deeper problem with the way Mountain House runs its operations.

I suppose I'll have to get back to you once I get hold of a proper package.

Backpacker's Pantry Pad See You with Chicken
REI Item# 7872520015

I was curious to see whether this dish would taste anything close to Thai... and it didn't. If anything, the overall effect was rather off-putting. One problem with dried vegetables is that they all start to look the same. The itty-bitty chunks of broccoli were recognizable, but they forced me to question the food's Thai pedigree. The sauce that was supposed to bind everything together merely added to my gustatory confusion, and I ended up feeling a bit like Geena Davis in "The Fly," eating that first revolting bite of teleported steak, and not quite understanding what made it so cellularly perverse. Say "see you" to Backpacker's Pantry's Pad See You. It was a weird, salty mess.

Backpacker's Pantry Shepherd's Pie with Beef
REI Item# 8012290014

Earlier, I said that we'd be talking a bit more about beef jerky. Well, this was the meal where the jerky came into play. Shepherd's pie is normally a layered dish-- kind of a bland version of moussaka. The camp version was-- as I noted at the very beginning of this blog post regarding all such food-- essentially mush. In this case, however, it was mush with chunks of beef jerky in it. Normally, I'd call the use of beef jerky a good thing, but the inclusion of jerky in the Backpacker's Pantry version of shepherd's pie made a salty preparation even saltier. I might even go as far as to question how safe such a dish would be to eat after a day of sweating and salt-depletion. The sudden spike in salt levels might kill a tired camper, for all I know.

The potatoes in the mix felt like standard, military-issue powdered potatoes. The vegetables-- whatever they were-- were forgettable at best. All in all, I wouldn't recommend this meal unless you're that salt-sucking vampire from "Star Trek."

Backpacker's Pantry Fettuccini Alfredo with Chicken
REI Item# 8012270016

This meal didn't cause any love-sparks or powerful erections; it was pretty much unmemorable. By that, I mean it wasn't memorably bad or memorably good. It was mediocre-- the Salieri of camp food. Recommended only as filler or routine-breaker.

Mountain House Beef Teriyaki and Rice For Two
REI Item# 5101300019

Mountain House did it again: this meal wowed me. While I can't say that it tasted much like a typical teriyaki preparation, it was quite delicious on its own terms. I took notes after every meal I ate, and for this one I simply wrote, "FANTASTIC!" It's true: it was one of the best examples of camp food I'd eaten, and I'd gladly eat it again.

Mountain House Chicken a la King Noodles For Two
REI Item# 5101350014

Although this wasn't the last camp meal I ate, I'm glad it's last on the list, because it gets the highest praise. I don't know what chemicals they laced this food with, but the effect was positively addictive, and I'd gladly gorge myself on this meal until I exploded, Mr. Creosote-style. Your mileage may vary, of course, but for me, the Chicken à la King was a more-than-pleasant surprise. Egg noodles were used for the pasta, and that turned out to be a wise move, because they cooked quickly when boiling water was poured into the sealable pouch. The cream sauce's flavor was superb, and worked well with the texture of the reconstituted chicken. The vegetables made their presence known-- subtly, so as not to make you feel too self-conscious about eating something nutritious.

As you can tell from the above reviews, I now lean strongly toward the Mountain House brand, whether we're talking main meals or desserts. Both Natural High and Backpacker's Pantry were disappointments overall; given the choice, I'd avoid them in favor of buying nothing but Mountain House.

REI sells a wide range of food products from all three brands, so these reviews aren't the final word. It could be that I just happened to pick a bunch of duds from NH and BP; then again, since I was picking blind, without knowing anything about any of the brands, one could argue that my sampling was pretty random. So take these reviews for what they're worth, but since Mountain House's price ranges are exactly the same as the other two brands, I'd recommend MH as having the best value in terms of taste and unit cost.


Friday, November 05, 2010

coming soon

A review of all the camp food I've eaten-- and an announcement as to which brand you should be buying.


what a week

I now know what a full week as an ETS TOEFL iBT Writing test rater feels like. The job has its fascinating side, but there's no getting around the fact that an observer would see little more than a big, fat Kevin hunched over his tiny netbook, staring intently at the screen, mumbling to himself, and clicking a mouse every two or three minutes.

Any sort of standardized language test is going to involve what I might call "the corralling of subjectivity" in an attempt to make the rating standards appear objective. To work at ETS (and this was also true when I used to work at Smoo) means to think as ETS does. Weirdly enough, this Borg-like mentality seems to produce results, because as the week has worn on, I've felt more and more in tune with my supervisors, despite the fact that I was working with a different supervisor-- called a "scoring leader"-- every day.

ETS is understandably touchy about company secrets, but it's no secret to note that the two TOEFL iBT writing sections-- respectively called Integrated and Independent-- are scored on a scale of 0 to 5. Except perhaps for 0 and 1, each number represents a range of results, and rating well means getting in tune with ETS's rhythm and mindset. It took me a couple days to figure out how to score the Integrated Writing section; now, I score it quite well, and can plow through batches of student work at a pace of about one essay every two minutes. I'm still slow with Independent Writing, but that's because I haven't rated much of it.

The job has its disadvantages. It's a bit unnerving, for example, that your scoring leader can see, down to the second, exactly what your pace is, which is one reason why you can't afford to slack off. Irregularities in your rhythm get noticed, as one scoring leader told me. It's also unnerving when you receive a call from the scoring leader to discuss an "adjacent" (varying by 1 point) or "discrepant" (varying by >1 point) score. In many cases, the work I do overlaps with the work someone else is doing; as a result, student essays usually receive at least two scores-- possibly even a third if arbitration is required. Ideally, the scores from both raters should be the same. The whole operation is part of a massive bureaucracy once you factor in the raters for other tests: GRE, SAT, and so on.

Still, there are perks. You get to crawl inside the minds of the students taking the TOEFL, for instance, and you learn very quickly who's who: Asians routinely make certain kinds of mistakes; francophones and germanophones make others. You also learn that people on different continents learn different TOEFL strategies: certain stock phrases are easy to associate with certain regions of the world. You also begin to notice that people with higher ratings tend to be from Western Europe, where they share cultural assumptions with Americans and have an easier time with English than, say, East Asians do. (Imagine the reverse situation: being an American taking an essay test in Japanese! Not easy.)

Besides the perks, I've also been happy, for the most part, with my scoring leaders. Only one struck me as a bit of a ditz, not to mention a bit snippy on the phone, but even she was helpful when she had to be. That's important, because it makes the job less of a drag. I also like that my day begins without having to call anyone right away: we're all supposed to "calibrate" first before we phone our respective scoring leaders. That can take close to an hour, which gives an introvert like me time to get into the day's rhythm before I make that call.

As ETS employees, we're referred to in the way you'd refer to machines: our work day begins with "calibration" (essentially, it's like taking a short version of the certification exam all over again, every day); once we've successfully calibrated ourselves, we move on to "production," i.e., the actual scoring of essays. If you fail calibration, then, depending on what type of essays you're scoring you can re-calibrate either once or twice more. If you fail... you're done for the day, and you're paid only for the hours you've logged in calibration.

Today, my final day this week, I successfully calibrated in the morning, and worked until we ran out of essays in the mid-afternoon. We then had to switch over to rating a different type of essay, which meant-- you guessed it-- calibrating first. As it turned out, I failed the calibration twice, but that was fine: it was 5PM, so my day was done. I got my full eight hours. My scoring leader was sympathetic: we'd been rating one type of essay for most of the day, meaning that it was hard to readjust our brains to scoring a different type of essay. I was told that I wasn't the only one under my supervisor's watch to fail calibration.

So the week ended on a weird note.

It's a strange job, all in all. Because you have to work at a fast, steady pace, you can't afford to lose focus. A wandering mind is an unproductive mind. At the same time, despite the job's mental intensity, an intensity driven by your membership in a hierarchical hive mind, it's the most sedentary work you could wish for-- just eight hours of sitting while your buttocks expand like glaciers getting ready to calve. I seem to have taken fairly well to the work, but I also know that, in the long run, it'll drive me crazy if I do it for more than a year. Here's hoping I won't need to do this job for even that long.


and where is the Kiwi?

I was kind of expecting my En-Zed buddy John Williamson, who runs his own language school in New Zealand, to pop into the previous post's comment thread and yell, "DON'T DO IT!" --but so far, nada. He's probably too busy to have any time to spare.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

some shit gonna change

I'm very, very inspired by those recent scientific studies showing that the simple addition of a treadmill to one's office routine is enough to get one losing weight. Given the job I now do, a job that is the quintessence of sedentary existence, I've got to be doing more. Since I'm going to be moving soon, one of my initial investments, post-move, will be a decent treadmill. I'll most likely have to jury-rig a desk around the exercise equipment, but the setup doesn't need to be either complicated or pretty, so this doesn't trouble me. With treadmills running(!) anywhere from $500 to over $2000, I have no intention of buying anything like a TrekDesk. Way too expensive.

I know: treadmills represent drudgery, and the job I now do is itself a form of drudgery. Why compound one form of drudgery with another? Well, I guess I'm hoping that a negative times a negative will equal a positive. If I have to spend eight hours a day sitting on my ass, I guarantee my ass is going to get even bigger. But with the treadmill in place, those same eight hours will be spent on my feet, with ass-shrinkage as a major side effect. I say that's a good thing. A very good thing.

That's not the only big change coming. Once I'm in place and have earned a bit of cash, I'm hoping to concentrate on learning more about web design, then creating a page for my very own school (still no idea what to call it). One thing working for ETS has brought home to me is that I despise working for other people. In Korea, it wasn't such a big deal; I was enjoying myself, and like any academically-minded individual, I felt good being part of a respectable institution. I belonged, like a monk in a monastery. But now, with ETS, every single move I make on the computer is monitored by a supervisor who can see my online activity. Not that I'm against the concept of being seen to be on task throughout the work day, but I am against the idea of someone constantly looking over my shoulder. That's gonna change. Right now, the privatization of learning-- especially multimedia, videoconference-style learning-- is a growing trend in America, and for once I'd like to be in the avant-garde. So I'll work with ETS a few months while I build my website up, then unleash myself on the world.

It's going to mean hard work, but I'm thinking that the payoff may make the project worthwhile: I get to dictate my own schedule; I get to decide what I'm teaching and how; I call the shots. With Skype and one of those synched-up Ko-Am bank accounts, I could teach Korean students in the morning (it'd be evening in Korea) and American students in the afternoon and early evening.

What subjects? you ask. Quite a few, I'd say: basic English composition, ESL, SAT prep, TOEFL prep, Korean 1 (certainly not anything higher than that), math up to Algebra 2, all levels of French, basic drawing/painting, basic cooking, basic theater arts, and of course-- religious studies: philosophy of religion, an introduction to religious studies, religious diversity, world religions, comparative scripture, East Asian spirituality, religion and film, etc. I'd be treating religious studies a bit differently from the other courses: it wouldn't be private tutoring so much as a formal, academic class, as if students were auditing a real college course, with all that that implies: actual research papers, actual tests, actual intensive readings and discussions and independent research.

I'd like to live in a world where I determine my own vacation time, take classes of my own thanks to the money I've earned for myself, then turn around and pass those class-acquired skills along in my own classes. It may seem as if I'm crowning myself king, but that's what becoming one's own boss means: it's a self-blessing, like that river scene in Robert Duvall's amazing labor of love, "The Apostle." I don't look forward to all the paperwork and nitty-gritty details-- website maintenance, accounting, marketing, etc.-- but I'm old enough, now, to understand that details matter, and that it's better to try to take pleasure in them than to be eternally frustrated by them.

If I don't have a viable business up and running in two years... I'll go back to Korea, hat in hand, and pick up where I left off. That wasn't a bad life, and I'd be happy to return to it. In the meantime, this new project, this new vision of the future, excites me.


your moment of lexical humor

Out of sheer curiosity, I visited Urban Dictionary during my break and looked up the word taint, to see whether the most popular definitions (a bit like a wiki, the site allows people to contribute their own, often typo-ridden, definitions, which are ranked as people vote on them) included the word perineum. What I found instead made me cackle. Witness definition #2 from the "taint" entry:

't aint quite your arse and 't aint quite your bollocks it that bit in between

I love it. The probably mistaken use of it instead of it's after the word bollocks makes the definition all the more charming-- like a person speaking in a crude Scottish accent. And the example sentence from definition #1 is pretty funny:

If it wasn't for the taint, my nuts would reek of poo!

Sorry, ladies. Men never grow up. That's true for most of us, anyway.