Tuesday, May 31, 2011

back to da grind

Three days of work this week: today, tomorrow, and Thursday. I had yesterday off, and I don't work Fridays (YB Near isn't open on Fridays, anyway). My off-time was spent fairly constructively, studying GRE materials, etc. Can't say that I did anything special for Memorial Day, but on Sunday I did go to a "family gathering" of sorts with my brother David.

I'm still trying to figure out how best to market my speaking gigs. Perhaps the best thing to do is to hit up the local Korean community and start there, but I suspect that the primary audience for a talk about glioblastoma and the need for proactive patient advocacy will be found elsewhere. So as the marketers would ask: who's the target demographic? If you've visited the eBay listing, you know that I took a stab at what I thought the target market was: friends and families of GBM victims. But even though GBM is the most common of the various types of brain cancer, it's still fairly rare in terms of the entire US population. I can't possibly expect to gather those scattered folks together for a series of speaking engagements.

Hm. Puzzles, puzzles.

Meanwhile, back to the grind.



With thanks to Kelly Youngberg (a.k.a. Kangmi), who tweeted about this: an inspiring article by Earl Newton about pulling oneself up by one's own bootstraps. This article applies to anyone who's down and looking to move up in the world-- not just to aspiring filmmakers.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

I found this at Wikipedia:

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. Service Members who died while in the military service. First enacted by formerly enslaved African-Americans to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War – it was extended after World War I to honor Americans who have died in all wars.

Whatever you may be doing this Memorial Day, I hope you'll take some time out to remember those who've fought and died in the service of our country.


a year abroad?

A lunch date with family friends today brought us once again to the topic of working abroad in a country like Kuwait or Afghanistan-- this as a way of making a lot of money in a short time. For someone in my financial situation, such work is sorely tempting, especially when hearing the ridiculous salary figures. What's unclear, though, is what a guy like me would be doing over there. I understand that I wouldn't be leaving the military base, but how, exactly, does one earn $100,000 a year? Surely not by being a supply clerk or by doing minor data entry, right? It seems to me that the folks who earn the big bucks out in the badlands have specific skills, and are no slouches at what they do.

A quick online search shows that speakers of Pashto can earn in the neighborhood of $200,000 per year. Another search shows that some jobs require a person to work twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Honestly, I'm not seeing much that appeals to me, so for the moment, I think I'll stick with my current plan.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

27 out of 30

I tried the Mensa Workout last night and got 27 out of 30 right. Two of the problems that killed me were of the "unscramble the word" sort. The third problem I got wrong was... well, I got it wrong because I didn't think it through well enough.

I also made a second attempt at an IQ test that I'd found through Malcolm's blog. That test was a killer, and made me feel all kinds of stupid. Here-- you can feel stupid, too. Unlike the Mensa Workout, which is just for shits and giggles, this test dares to assess your IQ. Tell me if you beat 140, and then explain how you did it, because some of those problems were totally unfathomable to me. (Again, unlike the Mensa Workout, this IQ test doesn't offer explanations of the problems you get wrong. In fact, you're not told which ones you get wrong. All you see is a score. In all, a far more challenging workout than Mensa's.)



Although I had a hard week, what with the slew of training sessions at YB, my discomfort is nothing compared to what the Parks family is going through.



Saturday, May 28, 2011

my buddy's embarrassment

I had to laugh when I read the latest email from my French "brother" Dominique:

ici c’est la sècheresse, chaud , pas de pluie, la France commence à s’inquiéter car on risque même des pénurie d’électricité car l’eau au niveau des centrales nucléaires commence à manquer...

sinon, je crois qu’on parle beaucoup de la France aux USA en ce moment....faut toujours qu’on se fasse remarquer !! désolé...

No, I wasn't laughing at D's reference to the possibility of blackouts-- that actually sucks. Instead, it was the final two lines that had me guffawing, as France is somewhat self-conscious about l'affaire Strauss-Kahn (he's known as DSK in the French news). Translation:

Otherwise, I think they're talking a lot about France in the USA right now... we always have to call attention to ourselves! Sorry...




Studying. More soon.


Friday, May 27, 2011

grammatical ideology

I have my biases when it comes to the way I evaluate a writer's style, diction, grammar, mechanics, etc. At the same time, despite my being something of a language Nazi, I don't call myself a total prescriptivist because I openly recognize that variations exist, and that certain current trends in language tend heavily in a particular direction, likely leaving curmudgeons like me behind one day (the fusion of the words "under way" into the odious "underway" is an example of such a trend).

Because my current job requires me to teach SAT test-taking strategy, I often find myself going through the "improve the sentence" and "find the error" sections with mixed feelings. The problem is that many of the "errors" on the SAT don't seem like errors at all, but are more like marginally accepted stylistic variants. This old article at Language Log expresses my frustration better than I can. Pay particular attention to the section on collective nouns. I often find myself telling my students that Yanks and Brits handle these nouns very differently, and that the SAT has a distinct (and understandable) Yank bias. That said, it's not always obvious that a particular locution is more obviously US than UK in nature, and vice versa, so if the SAT prefers one locution over another, this preference may be the result of a bias that has nothing to do with received US/UK English.

Here are some of the problems I personally have encountered while teaching parts of the SAT:

1. The "due to" versus "because of" distinction. The fact of the matter is that these expressions are often used interchangeably; trying to figure out which one is more appropriate involves more mental pretzeling than is justifiable on a test like the SAT. Oh, yes: "rules" regarding these locutions do exist, but those "rules" are far from indisputable.

2. Serial commas. My own strong preference is to include the comma, which comes right before a conjunction (e.g., and, or): A, B, and C. As it turns out, the SAT gurus agree with me on this: in the "find the error" section of the test, it's possible that a student will encounter a problem in which a sentence is missing a serial comma (e.g., A, B and C); if the student doesn't mark this as an error, he or she will get the problem wrong. As much as this pleases my own aesthetic sense, this sort of question makes me uncomfortable: in the world of style guides, it's by no means settled that a serial comma is necessary. As much as I hate it, the locution "A, B and C" is acceptable.

3. Abstruse rules about tense. In Korea, I made an effort to teach students the salient points about "if" conditional sentences, whose rules are fairly rigid in written English, though much more flexible in spoken English. (In spoken English, no one blinks if you begin a sentence with "If I could have...") But not all verb tenses are governed so strictly, and it's not always obvious that one particular tense must be used.

I agree with the Language Log post: the makers of the SAT have introduced "errors" that aren't really errors at all. To call them erroneous is to foist a certain grammatical ideology on the test-takers. The only errors that should appear on the test are the unambiguous ones-- the ones that are universally accepted as errors.


shared consciousness?

The world is a strange and wonderful place. Here's an article about conjoined twins: two girls joined at the head. What makes them special isn't so much the nature of the conjoining as the presence of a thin, connective line that has been dubbed a "thalamic bridge":

Twins joined at the head — the medical term is craniopagus — are one in 2.5 million, of which only a fraction survive. The way the girls’ brains formed beneath the surface of their fused skulls, however, makes them beyond rare: their neural anatomy is unique, at least in the annals of recorded scientific literature. Their brain images reveal what looks like an attenuated line stretching between the two organs, a piece of anatomy their neurosurgeon, Douglas Cochrane of British Columbia Children’s Hospital, has called a thalamic bridge, because he believes it links the thalamus of one girl to the thalamus of her sister. The thalamus is a kind of switchboard, a two-lobed organ that filters most sensory input and has long been thought to be essential in the neural loops that create consciousness. Because the thalamus functions as a relay station, the girls’ doctors believe it is entirely possible that the sensory input that one girl receives could somehow cross that bridge into the brain of the other. One girl drinks, another girl feels it.

While not exactly hinting at telepathy in the sci-fi sense, this phenomenon is still pretty damn amazing, to put it mildly.


staring down the barrels of a 4-day weekend

YB isn't open this coming Monday, thanks to Memorial Day, so after working today, I've got a four-day weekend ahead of me. That means study time. I started going through the first of my GRE books yesterday; it was somewhat reassuring, after I perused some of the early sample problems in the intro chapter, to realize that my time at YB has made me a sharper test-taker: the skills that I've been teaching my high schoolers work just as effectively for me as they do for the kids.

This Sunday, I'm meeting one of Mom's old friends for lunch. I don't think this is going to be a happy discussion. She's bringing along her two grown kids (50-something and 40-something); my brother David will be representing our clan along with me. I'm just hoping to get through this as quickly and painlessly as possible.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

champing at the bit

You may recall that I'm currently working on getting hired with Manhattan GRE, a NYC-based test prep service that pays teachers $100/hour to present the company's materials. MGRE recently opened a branch in Washington, DC, which is where I'm hoping to work, despite the ultra-long commute. The first hurdle to employment, however, is that a candidate has to score in the 99th percentile on the GRE-- something I've never done, despite having fared pretty well on the test twelve or so years ago. The only way for me to score that high is to prep well and charge into the test with guns blazing.

Happily, my GRE prep material arrived a few days ago (thank you, Amazon!), and after this morning's final training session at YB, I found myself with an unscheduled day off, so now I'm going to begin studying for a pre-August GRE. I have only a few months to take the exam as it's currently formatted; once it's August, the GRE switches to its new, updated form. Luckily, I anticipated the change and also ordered study materials for the Revised GRE, in case I fail to obtain a satisfactory score on the current version of the exam before August.

So I'm raring to go, and looking forward to taking my first GRE since, oh, 1999. Back then, there was an Analytical section that was all about logic problems; in the years since, that section was replaced with Analytical Writing. I'm very curious to see what that section looks like; at this point, I have only the vaguest idea, based on the skimming of some online information about the current test.

Money, as always, remains an issue. The testing fee is somewhere in the neighborhood of $160, which is a goodly chunk of change. As things stand, when I have something major that needs to be done (new contact lenses and car repairs come to mind), I basically have to wait a month to do each thing: I earn just enough money to pay my bills and have a little left over for shopping and discretionary expenses. I've got to get contact lenses, but to do that, I have to wait for my mid-June direct deposit. After that, I've got to worry about getting my car's air conditioner checked: the A/C currently blows only warm air. Not good for a sweaty guy like me, dressed in a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, and a necktie that closes off any possibility of intra-shirtical aeration. (I drive with the windows open these days, but as the weather becomes hotter and more humid, even this solution will be problematic at best.)

So at the earliest, I won't be taking the GRE until sometime in July. That gives me only one shot at scoring in the 99th percentile on the current version of the test. After that, and assuming I fail to make the grade on the first try, I'll need to recalibrate myself and attack the Revised GRE. Luckily, I've given myself no fixed time frame for a switchover to Manhattan GRE, which takes some of the pressure off. After all, I need to prepare myself for the possibility that, even after five tries (you can take the GRE a maximum of five times per year), I still might not have scored in the 99th percentile.

Wish me luck as I begin studying. Here goes nothing.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, I'm involved in 3-hour training sessions. Blogging will be light until Thursday.


Monday, May 23, 2011

results of official weigh-in



my brother's finger

My brother Sean, a professional cellist, sliced one of his pinky fingers open two days ago. I learned of this through a text message he sent yesterday. He had to go to the ER, where he received seven stitches and was told to keep the finger dry during showers, etc. The finger-slicing occurred while Sean was washing dishes: his hand was inside a glass when, for whatever reason, the glass decided to break. The pinky was cut deeply-- deeply enough to cause some major bleeding. At that point, Sean wasn't sure whether the cut had reached bone.

The docs told Sean not to worry: the cut was merely a flesh wound; no bone or tendon had been affected. Sean also noted that, from a cellist's point of view, this was the best possible finger to injure: the pinky of his bowing hand. The incident occurred on Friday; Sean had two gigs on Saturday, which I assume he performed successfully. He told me that he spent much of Friday feeling nauseous because of how horrible the wound looked and how badly it had been bleeding. (I'm the sort of person who reacts with clinical fascination to his own injuries, so I find such nausea hard to relate to.)

Sean gets his stitches out in a little more than a week. After that, he'll probably have to make sure the finger heals properly, in a way that doesn't produce too much tightness. All in all, this accident could have been a lot worse. I'm glad he's OK.


Sunday, May 22, 2011


For those who read my previous post on JS Allen's very personal account of his childhood, you might want to skip back there again to see the comments he appended today.


Hermes' neuticles

For those of you who are into scriptural hermeneutics, I'd highly recommend Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges's blog, Gypsy Scholar (see this post for a recent example of what I'm talking about). I never studied biblical languages myself (my ability to sound out Greek text doesn't count as knowing any Greek), so despite my fascination with the topic, I have nothing to contribute and can do little more than spectate. But I know some of my readers are more into hermeneutics than I am. If you, Dear Reader, are among that number and you haven't visited Jeff's blog, please do so. You won't regret it.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

become your own power source

This PhysOrg article talks about a tiny turbine that can be installed inside a blood vessel only millimeters wide, providing enough electricity for a patient to be able to power his or her own implanted medical devices. Incredible.


are you prepared?

Are you prepared to celebrate Marissa Parks Day? It's today.


fascinating, strange, and wonderful

A truly gripping post at Lower Wisdom. The opener:

This post is more personal than normal, and very long. The current medical consensus is that autism is caused, in part, by a malfunction of the mirror neuron system. My personal experience growing up tends to support this theory.

I was born with an over-active empathy system. I would look at a person’s face and feel exactly what that person was feeling. I couldn’t inhibit it, so I was at the mercy of wherever my eyes landed. This was very stressful, and I spent a great deal of effort learning to avoid these involuntary empathies. I have many distinct memories of this learning process. For a young person, the easiest way to control my feelings was to control my eyes. I only looked at faces I could trust, and avoided the rest. Looking at faces was dangerous.

We grew up without a television. It was only when I was 16 that my mother explained why. When I was two years old, my parents had a TV. Apparently, some of the people on the TV would set me off, causing me to freak out inconsolably. My parents solved the problem by getting rid of the TV.

You'll definitely want to read the rest. To be honest, I might have been-- at least in my younger days-- one of those narcissistic teachers (referred to later in the post) who would have assumed that such behavior was directed personally at me. I'd like to think that I've changed, but I've never faced this sort of challenge as a teacher-- although I did come close re: a girl with Asperger's back in 2005, during my first or second semester at Sookdae. In that case, I didn't take the student's behavior personally, but I was initially surprised by it, having never dealt with it before.

My question to Mr. Allen, though, is whether he believes his empathic experiences truly reflect the interiority of the people whose faces he has beheld (and still beholds, since he seems able to switch his ability on and off). I ask, first, because plenty of Koreans consider themselves gifted with nunchi-- a sort of socially oriented percipience that's all about reading faces and situations, and responding to them accordingly. I tend to think that the proportion of nunchi-blessed Koreans isn't as high as Koreans think it is. What's really happening, in many cases, isn't veridical perception so much as a "reading into." This is most apparent in intercultural situations, where Koreans think they know what the foreigner is thinking, but in fact are off the mark-- sometimes by a substantial margin.

I also wonder about this ability because of what Mr. Allen writes later in his post: he recalls feeling empathy for cartoon characters. To me-- and I truly mean no offense by this, because I'm trying to be as clinical as I can, here-- this indicates an inability (during Mr. Allen's childhood, but not now) to separate reality from fantasy, and calls into question whether a person can really "look at a person's face and feel exactly what that person [is] feeling."

I'm not discounting the possibility of such empathy; in fact, at the risk of sounding condescending, I think it is possible to be super-empathic. It would be inconsistent of me to write a post about how the similarities of our internal wiring point to the idea that we experience the world in very similar ways, and then to turn around and question whether super-empathy is possible.

But the question remains, and I ask it out of personal curiosity: to what extent does such a level of empathy lead to veridical insights about others' interiority?


I shouldn't be saying this...

...but I've hit the 280s. Unofficially. Confirmation at official weigh-in on Monday.


Friday, May 20, 2011


So I get paid this Friday, as happens every other week. Most of the paycheck (well, it's actually a direct deposit) will go to monthly expenses: two phones (land line and cell), internet, electricity, paying back one brother, etc.

But with the rest of the money, I'll be buying some GRE prep resources, and will begin studying for the test. Two weeks from now, I'll use what little discretionary income I have to register for my first test. I'll study some more... and then it'll be go time.

As for the Atkins Diet, my second "official" weigh-in happens this coming Monday morning. The true test: will I have broken the 290 barrier and reentered the 280s? If so, it'll be a moral victory more than anything; I see no difference at all in how I look, and honestly don't expect to see much difference until I've dropped a good 40-60 pounds. (Remember: the starting weight was 296 pounds. That's 21.14 stone for you Brits, and 134.5 kg for everyone else.)

The plan after induction (a keto-strip test again revealed a slight color change) is to introduce exercise into the mix. I have a program already written out; it's been sitting in my hard drive for over a year, waiting to be used. It covers the fundamentals: strength (including core strength, which is a big thing these days), flexibility, balance, and cardiovascular fitness. It also includes a meditative component. I look forward to a return to greater alertness and mental acuity.

Along with trying to improve my situation by finding better work and building a better body, I'm looking to start my speaking gig. I had thought about delaying this until after I had had my first planning session for the walk, but since that session won't be happening (not a single RSVP), I think I need to move forward in other ways. So I'll be accelerating my PowerPoint schedule and crafting my GBM presentation sooner than I had originally planned. Within the next month or so, I expect to be on the road, speaking about GBM, and raising my own money for the walk (not to mention supplementing my income!).

All in all, life is looking up. I see choices before me that weren't visible even a few months ago. While I'm not at a point where I feel exuberant enough to say that everything's going to be OK, I do feel I've taken the reins of my life again.

That's a start.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

NT forgery!

My brother David sends me a link to an article claiming that "half of the New Testament has been forged."

This isn't news, really, and I wrote back to David just now:


Yeah, this is actually not new news. We talked about this sort of thing in religious studies. Many books of the Bible are associated with certain authors, like Paul, but were in fact written by people who belonged to schools of thought that were associated with those figures. So someone in the "Pauline" school might write an epistle, for example, and then dub the epistle as having been "written by Paul." Whether this means the epistle has been "forged" is a matter of debate, I think; attributing a piece of scripture to a prominent figure was a common practice thousands of years ago, and may not have had the taint (from bad intent) that "forgery" has today.

Scripture, as a genre, sits in a murky realm. Is it purely fiction? After all, many of the historical events in the Bible likely never happened, and many biblical figures (e.g., Adam, Eve, Abraham, and Moses) likely never existed. Is the Bible purely a symbolic narrative? If so, then how do we explain the parts of the Bible that do correspond to actual history (many names, dates, and places mentioned in the Bible are, in fact, historical)? It's a difficult question.


I could just as easily have noted that the existence of Jesus has long been called into question as well. And had I taken more time in replying, I might also have mentioned the problems with establishing the historicity of much (most) of the Buddha's life, not to mention the lives of many of his spiritual descendants (e.g., Bodhidharma, Hui Neng, et al.). The Apocrypha isn't the only body of work that's apocryphal.



YB Far can give me only 4 hours of work today, as opposed to the usual six. My shift starts at 5PM this afternoon as a result. I've been told, by my boss at YB Near, that June and July tend to be slow months, which makes me wonder what sort of schedule I might have. YB expands its schedule from 6 hours to 8 hours of work during the summer, but I'm guessing that I might not be working a full 8 hours a day during that time. As things stand right now, YB Near usually gives me 4-hour days at least once per week (as happened yesterday), so I almost never work a full complement of hours.

For that reason, I continue to contemplate a move to Manhattan GRE, and recently discussed this with my buddy Mike, who wanted to know whether Manhattan would be able to provide steady work. That was a good question, and I had one other: did Manhattan actually offer classes in the DC area, or would I have to either move to New York City or teach online in DC? I needed to know the answers to these questions to figure out my next move.

What follows, then, is a recent exchange between me and Manhattan GRE about those two questions. I sent my email yesterday afternoon; the reply arrived earlier this morning.

I wrote:

To whom it may concern:

I recently saw the Manhattan GRE ad on Craigslist and am very interested in learning more about the ins and outs of employment there. I'm hoping to re-take the GRE in the very near future (the last time I did it was probably in 1998 or 1999), and if I score in the 99th percentile, I'd like to apply for a teaching/tutoring position at your firm.

I've already read some of the material regarding qualifications, interviews, and training. What I'd like to know, if possible, is how steady the work is. The reason I ask is that I used to work for ETS as a TOEFL essay rater; I was initially told that the work for TOEFL would be steady because the test can be taken at any time of the year, and because academic calendars vary from country to country (I used to live and work in South Korea, where the school year begins in March). However, it turned out that TOEFL essay rating follows the same sinusoidal "ups" and "downs" I associate with the SAT and other standardized tests. In my case, I left ETS after experiencing two months in a row in which I received only 3-5 days' work per month. No one can live on such a schedule.

Now cautious after my ETS experience, I'd like to know whether Manhattan GRE is able to guarantee a steady schedule; the Craigslist ad I saw said something along the lines of "must be flexible about working evenings and weekends." This gives the reader the impression that a fixed, stable, week-to-week schedule might not be possible, but I admit that I may be misinterpreting the ad.

I suppose my question boils down to this: if I were to sign on with Manhattan GRE, would I be able to work around 12 to 20 hours per week, Monday through Thursday? (I can't be flexible about weekends, I'm afraid. I have a personal project that requires my attention. I can be flexible about Fridays, however.)

As I've been writing this, a second question has occurred to me: what sort of work is available for those of us in the DC-Metro area? The Craigslist ad that I saw was on the Craigslist Washington, DC page, implying that DC-based work is available; but the Manhattan GRE "Contact" page has a sidebar that says "Manhattan GRE now offers courses in New York City, Austin, and Live Online." Does this mean that DC-based employees would be working online, or does the company have actual "meatspace" facilities in/around DC?

Thank you for your time and patience in reading this email, and thank you in advance for answering these questions. I look forward to hearing from you very soon.


Kevin Kim

The reply I received today:

Hi Kevin,

Thank you for your interest in an Instructor position at Manhattan GRE!

We are currently looking to hire instructors to help us launch our classes in DC. Our live classes will be held in our DC center (14th Street NW) where our sister company, Manhattan GMAT, holds their classes.

Class schedules vary during the course of a year, but there are opportunities for curriculum development, to teach online, and to tutor one-on-one. We would try to keep your weekly hours as steady as possible. That being said, we cannot guarantee that these hours would be Monday through Thursday. Many of our classes are held on the weekends and many of our private tutoring students prefer weekend slots.

When you are ready to apply please visit: http://www.manhattangre.com/resume_post.cfm


Kristin Edla
Manager of Recruitment and Outreach

While I wasn't entirely happy with the remarks about the scheduling, I believe I can work it out such that I have a three-day block to myself every week, even if that block is composed of nothing but weekdays. I'm more willing to compromise than I let on. So yes, weekend work will be fine, at least for a while. But as much as I value the money right now, given my financial situation, I also value my sanity. I could see myself working at Manhattan for a year, saving up money for the walk, doing the walk, returning to Manhattan for another year or two, and then heading back to Korea, where I know the work will be absolutely steady, even if the pay isn't as grandiose as $100 per hour.

All in all, Manhattan sounds like a good option right now-- certainly better than my present situation. Again, the problem with the current status quo isn't the job itself; I enjoy what I'm doing. The problem is the pay. Doing the same sort of work for five times the current pay sounds like a good career move, no?

We'll see. Stay tuned. All of this may be moot if I'm unable to score in the 99th percentile on the GRE.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

the decoding continues

I'm convinced that substance dualism is a losing proposition. Here's yet another reason why: we're now decoding visual information.

Professor Philippe Schyns, Director of the Institute of Neurosciences & Psychology and the Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, who led the pioneering study, said: “It’s a bit like unlocking a scrambled television channel. Before, we could detect the signal but couldn’t watch the content; now we can.

“How the brain encodes the visual information that enables us to recognise faces and scenes has long been a mystery. While we are able to detect EEG activity in certain areas of the brain when particular tasks are performed, we’ve not known what information is being carried in those brainwaves.

“What we have done is to find a way of decoding brainwaves to identify the messages within.”

A somewhat related post at Conscious Entities here. From Peter's entry:

Well, to begin with, says Churchland, it’s not the case that we’re dealing with two distinct realms here: objective and subjective overlap quite a bit. Your subjective inner feelings give you objective information about where your body is, how it’s moving, how full your stomach is, and so on. You can even get information about the exhausted state of certain neurons in your visual cortex by seeing the floaty after-image of something you’ve been staring at. Now that in itself doesn’t refute the qualophiles’ claim, because they go on to say that nevertheless, the subjective sensations themselves are unknowable by others. But that’s just nonsense. Is the fact that someone else feels hungry unknowable to me? Hardly: I know lots of things about other people’s feelings: my everyday life involves frequent consideration of such matters. I may not know these things the way the people themselves know them, but the idea that there’s some secret garden of other people’s subjectivity which I can never enter is patently untrue.

The above echoes my own sentiment from my long-ago essay on philosophy of mind, in which I point out that soft drink manufacturers operate on the assumption that a single formula will produce similar gustatory experiences in different people: our internal wiring is similar enough for us to assume we experience the world in similar-- very similar-- ways.


ontological stubbornness (restored and reposted)

NB: Blogger's restoration of previously lost posts seems to happening in a rather awkward manner: the affected posts are being returned to us as "drafts" that we can republish, instead of being re-inserted in the chronology. Comments that had been appended to the recovered posts may or may not appear soon.

Original post follows.

It was a metaphysical rumination prompted by birdshit on my windshield. Some incontinent ornithoid had voided a rather prodigious gout of splat onto my car, leaving me simultaneously chagrined and agog at the accuracy of nature's best dive bombers.

On the day this happened, I was in a rush to get to work, and when I hit the freeway, I gunned it and tore across the asphalt at 90 miles per hour. While I flew along, I activated the windshield wipers and spray and managed to clear off most of the offending mess. Some of the crap lay beyond the reach of the wipers, but that was all right; the greater part of the schmutz was literally gone with the wind.

We've had a string of beautiful spring days in my part of the state, and since my car's A/C doesn't blow cold air, I've been taking advantage of the weather by rolling down my windows as I scream along. On the day in question, I didn't want to open my windows until the wiper fluid had streamed completely off both the windshield and the driver's-side window. I rocketed down the road... thirty seconds... a minute... and almost all the water had disappeared from the window on my side, save three tiny drops that clung desperately to the glass and refused to be blown away. I may have hit the two-minute mark before those droplets finally disappeared, but their persistence is what prompted me to think about remainders—residue—in nature.

Apparently, it works like this: squirt a bunch of wiper fluid onto your windshield, and most of it will disappear in a flash as you're driving along. A small portion, however, will refuse to die a quick death. Sweep the dust off your hardwood floor with a dustpan and brush, and you'll always get that annoying line of dust at the front edge of the dustpan—the sort that can only be picked up by enlisting the aid of a damp paper towel. Try eating everything on your plate with just your utensils—fork or knife or spoon or chopsticks—and note how much of your meal remains stubbornly on the plate in the form of sauce blots and crumbs. We could take this thinking in a more sinister direction, and it would still hold true: bomb a city to smithereens, and you'll have survivors crawling out of the wreckage. In every case—windows, floors, plates, or cities—the only way to get rid of the remainders is through far more specific, targeted action. That, or there needs to be an overwhelming cataclysm: a supernova to get rid of your bombing-survivor problem, for instance.

What is this tendency, which seems built into the very fabric of reality? For the moment, I'll call it ontological stubbornness—a blind persistence in the face of ordinary measures to get rid of things. Hospital workers know about this phenomenon: sterilization procedures usually take care of 99% of the microorganisms they target, leaving that annoying 1% remainder. This is why sterilization so often involves a series of steps, wherein each step gets rid of 99% of the remaining pathogens, with zero pathogens as a sort of asymptote. The result of this procedure, as we all know, is the robust return of those pathogens, which can only be knocked back by even more stringent sterilization procedures.*

This train of thought about remainders has spooky anthropological implications. Could belief in the soul be rooted in our intuitions about this stubbornness? With the physical body no longer here, do we survivors instinctively expect there to be some sort of residue, some faded thing that clings to this plane of existence? "Everything is on its way somewhere," declared John Travolta in the movie "Phenomenon"—a sentiment that would make Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu nod energetically in agreement. But what if some of those things—included under Travolta's umbrella term "everything"—don't want to leave, and resist attempts at ushering them off the stage?

*It's enough to make one wonder what would happen in a typical SF time-travel scenario. We often assume that, were we to travel back in time, we'd succumb to pathogens that no longer exist or that no longer present much of a threat in modern times. The tougher people of the past, rife with germs and hardy thanks to their ironclad immune systems, would laugh at our weakness. But the reverse scenario is also conceivable: we in the modern age could be so used to superbugs that, upon traveling to the past, we'd unleash plagues and epidemics that would make the Black Death blush.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

what FBI agents dream about


slowly but... slowly

Blogger Buzz says that "most" posts have been restored at this point (mine haven't), but that the larger blogs, i.e., the ones that have been around and that have plenty of entries, are taking longer to restore. So I suppose all I can do is wait patiently a few more days and keep checking the Blogger Buzz updates. If "ontological stubbornness"-- a victim of the Blogger snafu-- doesn't reappear in a week, I may have to hurt someone.


did he lose anything?

Results of the official weigh-in, after a week on Atkins, here.


sign up

I've been asked to sign up for four online training sessions at YB. They all have to do with the upcoming summer session, where our work hours will change and the nature of the classes we teach will vary somewhat. Two training sessions are about teaching a "boot camp" for the SAT; the remaining two training sessions are to teach us how to run a "book and writing club" and an accelerated math course in pre-algebra, algebra, and geometry. Ought to be interesting.


Monday, May 16, 2011

we see "Thor"

I spent much of yesterday (Saturday) and part of today with my buddy Mike and his lovely family. It was actually something of an unplanned event, but I think we both decided that the time had come to hang.

Mike and I saw "Thor," which won't be in line for any major Oscars, but which was perfectly serviceable as an evening's entertainment. The costumes were over the top, the metaphysics (or was it astrophysics?) were incomprehensible, and I'm pretty sure that Charles would have a thing or two to say about the way Loki, the trickster, was handled.

"Thor" was in some ways too adult for kids: the movie was shot through with long patches of character-establishing dialogue, much of which dealt with matters that kids couldn't relate to (but which I enjoyed for the depth they provided). Stellan Skarsgård, the lone Scandinavian scientist in the motley group of nerds who encounter Thor, was underused: I kept hoping that his character's long familiarity with the stories about Thor would make him some sort of cultural bridge between our world and the world of these beings (who, in the Marvel universe, apparently never refer to themselves as gods, despite their array of godlike powers).

My final complaint is, as Mike put it, that there was a conspicuous absence of "the beauty of the female form." What with the presence of Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings in the film (for more on Kat Dennings, read Skippy here), you'd think the director, Kenneth Branagh, would give us guys a bit more skin. But no: the earthbound sequences in "Thor" take place in a desert, and the female characters wear coats, thereby shrouding all the lovely bits.

I was a bit worried, at first, about having Branagh at the helm. He's the perfect director for Shakespearean dramas-- I worship at the altar of his "Henry V"-- but turn him loose on any other sort of script, and he's very likely to screw the pooch. He certainly did this with the De Niro version of "Frankenstein," which was more of an abomination than the Frankenstein monster itself. (In response to this critique, Mike reminded me that Branagh did fine with "Dead Again.") As it turned out, though, my worries were in vain; "Thor" was indeed over-the-top, but this was for reasons that had little to do with the direction and more to do with set and costume design (too much shoulder-exaggeration for the men; too little ass-exposure for the women; it was easy to expect the cast to burst into operatic song).

The movie had its good points, though. It contained quite a few big-name stars who gamely chew the scenery; the special effects were impressive (Asgard is like Coruscant, but with huge pipe organ-like structures in place of recognizable buildings); and Thor's character arc was more mature than one might expect in a film ostensibly for kids. You do have to get used to the idea of a black Heimdall and an Asian guy in the role of a Norse warrior deity, but since this is the Marvel comics universe and not a strict interpretation of Norse mythology, I suppose anything is allowable. (Oh, yes: Stan Lee's pickup truck cameo is cute.)

I'll recommend "Thor" for a single viewing. I'm not so sure I'd go back to see it again; it didn't wow me in quite that way. It's a fine spectacle, but I'm not its target demographic.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

paradigm shift on the horizon?

With my current job at YB, on my current schedule, I'm making less than $2000 per month-- and that's gross pay. It's enough for me to eke out a marginal existence, because my personal needs are relatively small: give me food, books, and Internet service, and I'm a happy camper. Everything else is window dressing.

But because I'm barely getting by, I'm not saving anything up for typical adult necessities, like health insurance, better car insurance, and so on. I also can't save up for non-necessities like a TV (you'll recall that I took back my beautiful LG several months ago, when I was working for ETS, leaving me with a Blu-ray player and no way to watch Blu-rays), trips abroad, the books and vids on my Amazon Wish List, etc. If I were to continue to live the way I live, life would be little more than stagnation. Something has to change.

This isn't merely a question of enjoying the aforementioned non-necessities. I've got a goddaughter whom I'd like to take on trips to Europe; I've got Korean relatives that I haven't seen since before Mom's cancer; I've got family in Texas whom I'd like to visit; and more immediately, I've got a trans-American walk to think about. All of this requires money-- substantially more money than I'm earning right now. While I'm thankful to YB for the kindness they've shown me, and while I've come to truly enjoy my job there, the current situation simply isn't sustainable. What to do, then?

Going for the Hail Mary pass and trying to land some sort of role in the entertainment business (I keep thinking I might be a decent voice actor), while tempting, is too much of a long shot for someone my age and in my financial state. Such a radical move would probably result in a chorus of Don't quitcher day job!s.

But lately, I've found myself increasingly attracted to a different alternative: Manhattan GRE, which would be a major step up from YB, pay-wise. The institute offers $100 per hour for individual and group instruction. The perfect scenario for me would be to teach at such a place three days a week, four hours per day. Gross salary: about $57,000 a year with that schedule. Were I to work 20 hours a week-- still an undemanding schedule-- I'd be earning $96,000 a year. How could I not consider that possibility?

But there are two major obstacles to getting this job. First, Manhattan GRE requires employees to sign on for at least one year. That's a bit bizarre-- not to mention clingy-- for a company that only offers part-time work, but I suppose the company wants to see firm commitment from its employees, given how much it pays them. The problem for me, though, is that signing up with the company will mean a further delay in when I start my walk. It's May now; if I were to jump ship from YB to Manhattan in the next couple of months, I wouldn't be starting my walk until next summer at the earliest.

Second, a potential employee has to score in the 99th percentile on the GRE; Manhattan interprets this to mean at least a 730 on the Verbal section (which I can easily do) and an 800 on the Quantitative section.

Quantitative. My bugbear. See the problem?

It's not that I'm bad at math; it's just that I'm not as sharp as the typical math nerd. When I took the SAT two months ago for my current job, I scored a 700 on the Math section, and was later told that the difference between a 700 and an 800 was a mere five questions. In other words, to get the 800, there's absolutely no margin for error, and the Quantitative section of the GRE isn't all that different from the Math section of the SAT I. Why the demanding standard for math? My surmise is that most of Manhattan's students are going into fields like business or some sort of hard science, where math skills are essential. This explains why the Verbal standard is slightly lower than the Quantitative standard.

Manhattan doesn't seem to care what one scores on the Analytical Writing section. What? You've never heard of the Analytical Writing section of the GRE? Well, take heart: I didn't know about it, either, until I recently took a look at the current version of the GRE. The old Analytical section was ripped out a few years ago, and got replaced by Analytical Writing, which is apparently about critical thinking in rhetoric-- very Classical, that. In other words, no more logic problems. No more "seat these seven office workers in the correct cubicles based on their preferences regarding smoking and noise." Instead, the new Analytical Writing section presents you with an argument that contains deliberate flaws, and you have to salvage the argument by isolating where the logic has gone wrong, and then rewriting the argument. I like that challenge a whole lot better than I liked those old logic problems.

Upshot: since Manhattan's employment requirements don't seem to focus on Analytical Writing but do seem to place enormous emphasis on the Quantitative section of the GRE, I need to focus my study efforts almost entirely on math.

Slight digression: the Manhattan GRE website has a cute little mascot called Math Beast, and Math Beast offers students a weekly challenge problem. Here is this week's problem, which bolstered my confidence because it was easy to solve:

Got the answer? It took me well under a minute. (See the comments to this post for my solution.)

But there's one other problem for the prospective Manhattan GRE employee: the GRE's about to change again. As of August 1, everyone will have to take a new form of the GRE. Among the changes:

1. Antonyms/analogies will be gone from the Verbal section. No more vocab out of context. Emphasis will be on reading comprehension and sentence-related problems.

2. The Quantitative section will include "select all that apply" multiple-choice answers.

3. Like the SAT I Math section, the Quantitative section will have a "fill in the blanks" portion.

It seems I'll need to take the GRE soon if I hope to obtain test results and jump ship quickly. You can't take the test more than once per month, and you're also not allowed to take it more than five times a year. That gives me only five tries, this year, at getting a new, better-paying job.

Manhattan's hiring process doesn't end there. There's also a phone interview, after which you're asked to come in to teach a mock lesson, assuming the phone interview goes well. I'm fairly confident I'd do well with the in-class stuff, but I wonder what the phone interview might be like. I think the company then offers paid training ($4000 or something along those lines), after which they set you loose to terrorize potential grad students.

I've been thinking about this gig ever since I saw their ads on Craigslist in March-- right around the time I applied to YB for work. As things stand, I'm earning less money now than I did as a first-year high school teacher in 1992. Teaching adults while earning more money to do so is much more my thing, even if I won't be teaching French or religious studies. While I've grown to like most of my current students, there's still a "babysitting" aspect to my current job, plus the fact that I often feel stupid whenever I'm unable to help students with history, chemistry, calculus, etc. I'd rather feel both competent and needed. Wouldn't you?

Stay tuned. There's a very good chance I won't make the grade, so all of this may be a pipe dream. But it's not an impossible dream, by any means, and even if I don't make the grade with my first crack at the GRE, I've got four more tries this year.


sad news re: ketosis

See here.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

defining "hipster"

A comprehensive-yet-grating-on-so-many-levels definition of the word "hipster" is available at the Urban Dictionary. Whoever wrote the "winning" definition decided to pretend that the site was an online encyclopedia and not a dictionary-- that entry is pretty damn long. Unintentional hilarity in this section of the "definition":

Although hipsters are technically conformists within their own subculture, in comparison to the much larger mainstream mass, they are pioneers and leaders of the latest cultural trends and ideals. For example, the surge of jeans made to look old and worn (i.e. "distressed"), that have become prevalent at stores such as The Gap, American Eagle, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Hollister, were originally paraded by hipsters who shopped in thrift stores years before such clothing items were mass produced and sold to the mainstream consumer. The true irony here is that many of the detractors of hipster culture are in fact unknowingly following a path that hipsters have carved out years before them. This phenomena also applies to music as well, as many bands have become successful and known to mainstream audiences only because hipsters first found and listened to them as early-adopters of new culture. Once certain concepts of fashion and music have reached mainstream audiences, hipsters move on to something new and improved.

Too, too rich. The writer is obviously a hipster himself, and he wants to have it both ways: hipsters defy and define the mainstream. Can one really be both a part and apart? I don't think so: every mainstream has its vanguard, and that vanguard is still just part of the mainstream.

And say it with me, boys and girls: "Phenomena" is PLURAL!

I guess "independent thinking" means "liberation from rules of spelling and grammar."


from Blogger Buzz re: recent outage

I just saw this announcement from the Blogger team:

Update (5/13 7:46PM PST): Nearly all posts since Wednesday are restored, now bringing back comments from last couple days. We expect the comments to be back this weekend or sooner.

What a frustrating day. We’re very sorry that you’ve been unable to publish to Blogger for the past 20.5 hours. We’re nearly back to normal — you can publish again, and in the coming hours posts and comments that were temporarily removed should be restored. Thank you for your patience while we fix this situation. We use Blogger for our own blogs, so we’ve also felt your pain.

Here’s what happened: during scheduled maintenance work Wednesday night, we experienced some data corruption that impacted Blogger’s behavior. Since then, bloggers and readers may have experienced a variety of anomalies including intermittent outages, disappearing posts, and arriving at unintended blogs or error pages. A small subset of Blogger users (we estimate 0.16%) may have encountered additional problems specific to their accounts. Yesterday we returned Blogger to a pre-maintenance state and placed the service in read-only mode while we worked on restoring all content: that’s why you haven’t been able to publish. We rolled back to a version of Blogger as of Wednesday May 11th, so your posts since then were temporarily removed. Those are the posts that we’re in the progress of restoring.

Again, we are very sorry for the impact to our authors and readers. We try hard to ensure Blogger is always available for you to share your thoughts and opinions with the world, and we’ll do our best to prevent this from happening again.

Posted by Eddie Kessler, Tech Lead/Manager, Blogger

Ever since it was taken over by Google, some years back, I'd say that Blogger has radically improved in quality and service. Outages like the one we just experienced have been rare, so I'm not all that exercised about what just happened. (I do, however, think the "20.5 hours" figure has been fudged.)

Assuming the Blogger team means what it says, my "ontological stubbornness" post ought to be reappearing soon, along with the comments appended to it. If not, here's a Twitter-length summary of that post:

Fascinating, isn't it, how things never seem to go completely away: they leave residue, remainders, as if the cosmos resists change.


dry spell ended

Blogger has had some problems this week. I'm not sure whether the problems have all been fixed, but for the past 36 hours, I've been unable to make any updates. Those of us who use Blogger have been frustrated, for the past day and a half, by a message window telling us that the Blogger crew has been combating some unnamed glitch. We can only hope that the glitch has been defeated.

So I've microblogged instead. Twitter, as it turns out, is a piss-poor substitute for blogging. I suppose it's fine for those who don't have much to say, but as much as I appreciate the writerly discipline that comes with the 140-character constraints on Twitter, I'm more of a long-form writer (if a couple blogged paragraphs can be said to be "long-form"), and would rather work in a forum that at least offers a choice between haiku-esque brevity and full-on logorrhea.

So! Back to blogging.


Friday, May 13, 2011


Anybody home?  Did this publish?


Thursday, May 12, 2011

PCUSA moves forward

An article sent by my brother David: my denomination has finally approved ordination of openly gay clergy.

Let's not revoke this at next year's General Assembly, guys.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

not charmed

I've come to realize that I'm not charmed by "quirky" movies featuring "quirky" characters whose "quirkiness" manifests itself in the form of slow, soporific line deliveries from scripts that confuse mundanity with wit.

Case in point. And the voice and paws of that cat are just damn creepy.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

from Pesach to Vesak

'Tis the season!

We've gone from Pesach to Easter to what is now the Buddha's birthday! A little Dalma-do action to set the mood:

They've been celebrating in Korea for a while, now, but May 10, 2011 on the solar calendar corresponds, this year, to the traditional date for the Buddha's birthday on the lunar calendar, which is April 8-- at least for East Asians.

Happy Seokga Tanshinil (석가 탄신일, 釋迦 誕辰日)!


full-on Atkins

I had the false start, but today's the day it all begins in earnest. Wish me luck as I try to survive two weeks with almost no carbs in my diet.


Monday, May 09, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

To mothers and sons and daughters everywhere.

My relationship with my own mother was frequently rocky. She was, in many ways, the typical Korean mom who demanded scholastic excellence, but after the 6th grade, I was never a straight-A student. Luckily, she wasn't the insane sort of mother who demanded that her children all attend Ivy League schools and become doctors, lawyers, or prominent businessmen working in Fortune 500 companies. Education was important to her, but not robotic conformity to perceived social norms. Still, she had the Korean habit of trying to do my thinking for me, and I often rebelled against this instead of making the effort to see her behavior as a form of care.

I don't think I truly began to understand who my mother was until I went to live in Korea in 1994. By that point, I had already taught at a private Catholic high school for two years, and had discovered I was a better teacher for older, more motivated students. Once in Seoul, I taught paying adults, many of whom had a thirst for learning English, and this proved to be a much more pleasant experience than teaching French and English literature to recalcitrant high schoolers. My time in Korea, from 1994 to 1996, taught me a lot about the brighter and darker aspects of Korean culture; it was knowledge that unlocked and decoded many of the previously indecipherable patterns in my mother's way of thinking. Despite the unpleasantness of having to sue my first Korean boss in 1995, those two years in Seoul were invaluable to me, because of what they revealed about Korean cultural assumptions. What had previously seemed like leaps of logic in Mom's thought now made sense when viewed in the larger context of how Koreans see the world.

All the same, I felt somewhat defeated after two years in Korea, and came back home in 1996. From that point until late 1998, I drifted. I lived with my parents and worked in DC at a low-paying job that had nothing to do with my skill set. I'd been trained as a teacher-- a language teacher-- and I wasn't doing anything with what I'd learned, and wasn't earning enough to live independently. This drove my mother crazy: from her perspective, I had no ambition. Once again, she found herself trying to help out by arranging job interviews I hadn't asked for. Her frustration built; my rebellion against her annoying form of charity intensified. A week before Thanksgiving in 1998, everything blew up.

I don't even remember what started the argument, but it ended with me stomping out of the house in a rage, walking aimlessly around the neighborhood, knowing only that I was sick of my mother's meddling, sick of her nagging, sick of everything. I walked a few miles; Dad found me and drove me back home. Mom had retreated to her bedroom, as she always did when a family crisis had become too much for her. I walked up to her prone, bedded form and reached out a hand; she took it, and we agreed to talk things out. I ended up walking around the neighborhood again, this time with Mom at my side and shivering from the cold, as we aired all the grievances we held against each other. I don't know how long we talked, and at the end of it all, emotions were still raw. But that night was something of a breakthrough: I resolved to move out-- not because I was trying to get away from Mom, but because she had been right: I'd been sitting around for two years, doing nothing with my life.

With the move came the notion that I should return to academia. The following year, in 1999, I enrolled in an MA program at Catholic U. and began my coursework in religious studies. Direction and purpose had returned; life was moving forward again. Mom took a long time to return to her old self; despite her own tendency to wound her children, to dish it out, as they say, she was always the type to be easily wounded by what her children had to say, and after college, I was never one to hold back my opinion. That night in 1998 had been as harsh for her as it had been for me; she may not have realized the depths of my own resentment and frustration.

And I don't regret any of it. What we were doing was, I suppose, arriving at a Korean-American compromise. On the Korean side, Mom was right to be concerned about the drifting direction my life had taken. One of my old Korean-language profs used to say that "Koreans are bad psychologists," and I think this is generally true. They don't express concern very well or tactfully; they often come off as pushy and overly demanding when what they're really trying to do is show compassion. Mom was always a bad psychologist when it came to a tender introvert like me; like many group-oriented Koreans, she had trouble relating to the cultivation of an inner life-- all of my reading and thinking appeared, outwardly, as a sort of doing-nothing to her. I, meanwhile, had to learn to develop a thicker skin. Living in Korea helped with that, and it helped me understand that Mom's intentions, however poorly expressed, were pure and had nothing to do with oppression or self-aggrandizement. She wasn't acting the way she acted because she was selfish. Quite the opposite.

The American side of the Korean-American compromise was about setting boundaries. Group-first thinking doesn't respect privacy or individualism as much as it should: it's more friendly toward values like obedience, loyalty, and discipline. Love is a function of the chain of command, if you will; everyone in the hierarchy is keenly aware of his or her place. What I did, during that screaming match in 1998, was establish American-style boundaries: I let Mom know that there was a line she could never cross. We began to come to terms with these limits that night; I feel, now, that this event radically improved my relationship with Mom. She started to respect me more as an individual-- to let me go my own way, make my own mistakes, and seek out my own path.

1998 toughened us both up. Mom's actions before I went to Korea in 1994 prepared me for my time there, in such a way that the culture wasn't as shocking to me as it was to non-Korean expats; Korea, in its turn, helped me understand Mom, and gave me a better, clearer sense of who I was. This sense guided me in 1998 when things came to a head, and after 1998, we never had a titanic battle like that one again.

Perhaps this isn't the sort of sepia-toned, idealized remembrance that would be normal on Mother's Day. But I don't want to mis-remember Mom, either. She was difficult, sometimes hard to live with, sometimes very unfair. But life is unfair, and Mom's life contained its own share of unfairness, dating back to long before I was born. Some of that bitterness and loss was bound to boil over onto her children, and firstborns usually get it the worst. I want to remember all of that, because that's how it really was. Comforting self-delusion isn't my style, even though I may be guilty of it, anyway.

We love people both despite and because of their imperfections. Take those qualities away, and we'd never recognize our loved ones. Our flaws are, at least partly, constitutive of who we are; love is a "warts and all" proposition. Learning this sort of acceptance isn't easy; it takes time and patience and effort-- constant care and commitment and recommitment-- as is true with all the loving relationships we cultivate.

Whatever my assessment of my mother's imperfections, let there be no doubt about what I felt, and still feel, for her. She and I walked a hard road together, and if there's one thing I don't regret, one thing I did right as a son, it's that I was with her during her final nine months, holding her hand, kissing her cheek, giving her hugs, and telling her-- from the bottom of my heart-- how so very much I loved her.


Sunday, May 08, 2011

here we go again

Peter addresses the trendy-but-thorny topic of political consciousness: is it hard-wired in our brains? He takes the discussion in a fascinatingly hypothetical direction, at one point wondering aloud about the role of birth order in all this while bemoaning the lack of birth-order data. A good read, as always.


Saturday, May 07, 2011

science, religion, and science fiction

An insight came to me after watching "Tron: Legacy" the other day:

in holy churches, on the TV
religion and science do battle with glee
but in the dark walls of yon multiplex
religion and science have passionate sex

Think about all the SF movies you've seen, and then think about how many of them are completely bereft of explicit religious tropes or implicit religious themes. Not that many come to mind, right? It's enough to make one wonder why this might be so.

A cynical response might be that portraying hard SF requires an insane amount of rigor; religious topics are naturally "squishier," allowing lazy-minded Hollywood a certain amount of wiggle room: fictional universes don't have to follow the laws of physics to the letter. Hollywood also thinks in terms of marketability, and with the majority of the world's population being religious in some form or other, it would be daft, financially speaking, to make a film that did its best to ignore such an immense demographic.

A less cynical response might be the classic one: science and religion both strive for truth in their own respective ways, so it's only natural that themes from both worldviews should mesh together so well in movies. But if we take this response and run with it, the question then becomes: why movies? Hard SF has a large following when it comes to books, but how many movies have done those books justice?


Dr. Steve comes through

My long-time friend, Dr. Steve, recently sent in his $100 contribution to the cause.

Many thanks, man.


Friday, May 06, 2011

geekin' out

I've stumbled upon a fantastic, fantastic exegesis of the now-classic 1986 graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns. Written in six parts, with a promised seventh part on the way, the series of blog articles speaks in a pop-scholarly voice that manages to avoid the pitfalls of obfuscatory PoMo prose. There's the standard evocation of Nietzsche-- what discussion of Batman and Superman would be complete without mention of the philosopher who gave us the concepts of the Übermensch and the will to power? But along with that are discussions of the technical and artistic aspects of the graphic novel, with plenty of quotes from Scott McCloud (he of Understanding Comics fame) and Frank Miller himself.

On an almost subliminal level, I was pleased to see not a single typo in any of the six entries-- a feat that even I would have failed to execute. That sort of conscientiousness separates the author, AD Jameson, from the typical geek/fanboy who might be great with programming languages, but who has somehow failed to translate that competence into writing well in English. I can take Jameson seriously because he obviously takes his own writing seriously.

Reading through his posts will take some time, so unless you've got a few spare hours, I'd recommend tackling his posts slowly and steadily. Thank me later.


Ave, Anonymous!

For those who are visiting my other blog, you'll be delighted to know that I've received another $100 contribution. My PayPal total now stands at $554.64. Thanks, Anonymous! Most kind of you.


what the Buddhists think

Malcolm recently linked to an LA Times article titled "Dalai Lama suggests Osama bin Laden's death was justified."

This immediately reminded me of an old Beliefnet article from back in 2001 titled "Where are the Terrorists Now?"

Although Zen teacher Lorianne in no way rejoices in the death of Osama bin Laden, she picks up the karmic theme in a recent post that says in part:

Although I’m not blood-thirsty by nature, I acknowledge there are some acts so heinous, the world’s religions agree they are evil and cannot be tolerated. In Zen, we don’t talk about sin and punishment, but we do talk about cause and effect, “You make, you get” being our succinct way of observing how people tend to reap what they sow. As Jesus himself said, those who live by the sword will die by the sword, and Bin Laden’s death felt like the necessary and inevitable reaction to his own actions. As I watched last night’s news coverage, Bin Laden’s death didn’t seem so much a case of what “we” did to “him”: it felt like the natural and unavoidable outcome of his own choices, a sorry ending he brought on himself.

(NB: Please read her entire post to see this remark in its proper context.)

Agitate indiscriminately, and someone's going to agitate you back. Murder indiscriminately, and there's a pretty good chance you're going to get killed.

People on both the left and right-- each for their own reasons-- have been doing their best to shush any celebratory noises by the American people.* I generally agree that open celebration is unseemly, but I feel no shame or regret in experiencing the grim satisfaction I mentioned earlier. It's the satisfaction that comes when things seem, cosmically, to click into place the way you hope they will.

*In some cases, it seemed to me that the shushing began before any celebration could occur.


Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mom

She would have been 68 today, this little woman who meant so much to her family and friends. I'd be lying if I told you that the passage of more than sixteen months has blunted the pain of Mom's loss. I look at all these photos we have of her, and feel as if they had been taken just yesterday.

It was just yesterday-- when we all sat down to a Mother's Day meal at a super-expensive restaurant in northern Virginia, enjoying a rare extravagance; when we stood on the deck of The Maid of the Mist and got soaked by Niagara Falls; when we sat at a trestle table behind my French exchange parents' house in Carquefou, France, and enjoyed one of many family meals together; when we watched with pride as Mom spoke to a crowd in her capacity as Korean-American Women's Society president; when we listened to her tearful stories about the horrors she endured in the Korean War; when we were kids whom she helped get dressed for Halloween or school or church or an overnight with friends, running happily out of Mom's reach while she stood and smiled.

She would have been 68 today, and now all we have are these memories.


thou shalt neither poop nor shower

Somewhere in my neighborhood, at some point in the early morning when I was fast asleep, a crucial pipe burst, causing the water pressure in our apartment complex to go haywire. The rental office asked for the water to be shut off, and some county folks are out and about, making repairs as I write this. I learned all this from the rental office lady when I went to drop off my monthly check today.

In the meantime, it's not a good idea for me either to shower or to poop-- both of which I must do if I'm to go to work. I'm going to have to sit tight for the next hour or so, and if we don't have restoration of the water flow by 1:15, I'll buy some water (my single Brita pitcher of water won't suffice)-- enough to fill my toilet tank and to take a sponge bath. I'm not looking forward to that eventuality.

So let us pray to the local water-and-plumbing gods, that they be both merciful and quick in their healing of the metal circulatory system.

UPDATE, 1:00PM: Water restored! Sort of. The pipes and faucets are spitting, yowling, and blatting like gassy, diarrhetic cats right now, but I expect the flow to become steadier the longer I use the water.


Tuesday, May 03, 2011

let's point fingers, shall we?

Liberals and conservatives have a secret desire to finger each other's dark little holes. Witness this bit of finger-usage at Media Matters: FLASHBACK: Conservative Media Repeatedly Attacked Obama's Commitment to Fighting Terrorism.

Meanwhile, the conservatives are doing some fingering of their own: 'Cheney's assassination squad' just killed Bin Laden.

Do you feel the love? Wiggle your finger if you do.


bin Laden insights from round my neighborhood

1. My buddy Dave sends a picture which can be found here.

2. Joshua at One Free Korea has a short list of observations.

3. My buddy Mike thanks the soldiers, the intelligence workers, and the Obama administration for their work, and offers his own thoughts.

4. My Twitter feed is going nuts with retweets of witty and not-so-witty one-liners. A few that have caught my eye:

Bin laden followed me on twitter - sad to lose another follower.

How sweet would it be if the actual shot was fired by a gay soldier?

So, I guess Democrats DIDN'T want the terrorists to win.

I wish they got the son of a bitch alive.

5. Skippy began live-blogging last night.

6. Malcolm elaborates on the short post he'd initially slapped up last night.

7. Dr. V ponders the question: is Osama bin Laden in hell?

8. Elisson writes a thoughtful post.

9. My friend Nathan sounds a hopeful note.

What I gather, just from reading posts on my own blogroll and one or two major news articles, is that the focus will now be on US/Pakistan relations, since it's becoming obvious that Pakistan was harboring bin Laden. Also, priorities will now ratchet forward to the capture/killing of other terrorist leaders such as al-Zawahiri et al.

One of the debates I had with my friends back in 2003-- when I was arguing against our invasion of Iraq-- involved whether to think of Islamic terrorism as a decentralized network or as a covertly state-sponsored institution. The argument I heard from my right-leaning friends was that, if terrorism is a network, some of its major nodes are states, so it's best to put pressure on those states to undermine their support for terrorist training, protection, etc. After several years of stubborn resistance, I've come around to that view myself: the role of enemy governments is evident. While I still think the Iraq war was and remains a colossally mismanaged mistake, that particular argument-- that states play an integral role in supporting terrorist efforts-- seems sound to me. I mention this because it applies directly to how we proceed with Pakistan. Like so many others, I'll be curious to see where all this leads. My own feeling is that we need to continue to buddy up with India as a strategic partner.

UPDATE: Christopher Hitchens-- who despite his cancer has outlived Osama bin Laden-- writes on the whole What Next? issue.


Monday, May 02, 2011

Osama bin Laden dead?

Osama bin Laden-- shot in the head during a CIA operation in Pakistan? If this is true, then my first reaction is: fucking FINALLY. My next reaction is: when do we hoist his body on a pike and display his pig-gnawed corpse on the White House lawn?

President Obama is supposed to speak about this in a few minutes. I anticipate a diarrhetic torrent of commentary to ensue.

Numerological significance: September 11, 2011 marks the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attack. For now, at least, we can call bin Laden's death propitious, but as I just wrote on Twitter:


Bin Laden dead? Hooray if true, but that's just one head on the hydra. Keep slashing away and cauterizing neck stumps.

Oh, and never for a moment believe that you can make the hydra your friend. The hydra's way ahead of well-meaning folk who think that way.


Sorry if this sentiment offends a portion of my meager readership, but I'm sure you recall that this son of a bitch was instrumental in the deaths of nearly 3000 of my countrymen-- and yours, too, if you're an American. Allow me my moment of grim satisfaction.

UPDATE: President Obama says no Americans hurt in the operation that killed bin Laden. Good. "We must and will remain vigilant at home and abroad... [bin Laden's] demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity." Amen to that.


Sunday, May 01, 2011


My buddy Mike is coming over with his kids today, and we're going to go visit a set of caves, eat lunch, and then see where the day goes from there. Ought to be fun.


many thanks

Whoa-- Stafford has sent a generous sum to my PayPal account. Humble thanks, man.

Not to be outdone by anyone, my buddy Tom, in Seoul like Stafford, has sent me $150 via PayPal, putting my total at $464.12. Again, without any fundraising action of my own, I now find myself more than halfway to my goal of $800 to be able to file for IRS exemption.

My thanks to both of you.



Ketone strips that I bought last week.


Atkins update



beauty and humor

Much to be found here.

(re-found while trolling through my own archives)

ADDENDUM: I should note that several images are disturbing because they use rape as a theme.