Monday, October 31, 2011

Sunday, October 30, 2011

slip-sliding away

This morning's drive from my apartment to work was unsafe as hell. No one in my sleepy little town had started plowing and salting the snow- and slush-covered roads at 8AM. Although I'd left twenty minutes earlier than usual, I was still ten or so minutes late for work. Right now, I'm rather pissed off at my town for being asleep at the switch: the four-mile stretch from my apartment to Route 66 could have been a lot safer. I nearly wiped out several times, and discovered to my chagrin that my poor little Honda Fit is no good at fighting its way uphill when the roads are as bad as they were this morning.

Route 66 itself was in poor shape when I finally got to it: I normally do 80mph along the freeway, but today I spent most of my time crawling along at about 45mph. Matters improved as I drove eastward; from Alexandria to Manassas to Gainesville, there was only rain-- the snow arrived in those parts later in the day.

The drive home was better than I thought it would be; the salt trucks and plows must have been out in force. I'm still wondering, though, why the local plowing/salting service was so delinquent this morning. Last winter, the roads were very well maintained.

Lesson learned: when the weather's bad, leave for work an hour early.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

how my pre-August scores scale

Thanks to a tip from the Manhattan Prep Twitter feed, I've learned that ETS has converted "old" GRE scores into the new scale. As you'll recall, the old scale went like this:

Verbal and Quantitative: 200-800
Analytical Writing: 0-6

The new system, in place since the beginning of this past August, goes like this:

Verbal and Quant: 130-170
Analytical Writing: 0-6

As I reported some months ago, my July 1 scores were 710, 710, and 5.5-- the 710 Verbal put me in the 98th percentile; my 710 Quant put me in the 72nd percentile, and my 5.5 in Analytical Writing put me in the 94th percentile. I'm hoping to have done better in all categories on my August test, but I won't know those scores until sometime next month (approximately November 8). In the meantime, the above scores have now been converted to the new scale, and they look like this:

Verbal: 167 (out of 170)
Quant: 155 (out of 170)
AnWrit: 5.5 (out of 6, as before)

My old scores are still visible at my online account.


Friday, October 28, 2011

the unfortunate truth

I'm in debt. I don't like being in debt. Do you like being in debt? Do you find it empowering? Do you rationalize the national debt by saying it's somehow useful, that it plays a strategic role in the bigger picture? If you do, then I don't trust you with my money, because anyone who rationalizes the existence of that much debt is fucking crazy. When it comes to debt and fuel dependency, we should be beholden to no one.


Ralph Fiennes engenders mixed feelings

So it seems that actor Ralph Fiennes is taking a stand as a defender of the English language, which he sees as being eroded by microblogging services like Twitter. I applaud Fiennes's position, but cringe at his ungrammatical utterance in defense of our beautiful tongue:

Our expressiveness and our ease with some words is being diluted so that the sentence with more than one clause is a problem for us, and the word of more than two syllables is a problem for us.

Last I checked, Mr. Fiennes, a compound subject must be treated as plural. For purposes of subject-verb agreement, then, the phrase should be "are being diluted," not "is being diluted."

We may as well have enjoined the LOLCATS to defend our language.

Mr. Fiennes was later spotted asking a McDonald's cashier, in the stentorian tones of a trained Shakespearean player, whether he "can has cheezburger."



Regarding my crying foul: Manhattan GRE has graciously acknowledged its mistake and has awarded me a lifetime teaching position at their DC branch.


it's in Cthulhu's tentacles now

I've done all I can for the paper I've been proofreading. The process has taken the better part of two weeks, involving numerous email exchanges (mainly because I had to request clarifications) and several waves of proofing. Even as recently as this morning, I was catching things I had missed.

For me, at least, proofreading has to happen in waves, like the repeated sweeps of a radar. The first wave is the most important: it clears up about 90% of the clutter: all the botched phrasing, the misused vocabulary, the mangled-and-left-for-dead punctuation. The subsequent waves are part of a mopping-up action: during these waves, I find the errors that aren't visible when you look at them directly, and I deal with the more stubbornly tangled turns of phrase. Along with mopping up, then, there's a good bit of smoothing out. The goal is to get the paper as readable and natural-sounding as possible, without sacrificing either the author's arguments and intended meanings or the author's voice. The latter risk is, in my opinion, more of a danger than the former: preserving the author's arguments is easy enough, but if I replace one awkward word with another word that's not part of the author's active vocabulary, I risk making the author sound like someone she isn't.

There were moments during my proofing of M's paper where I wondered whether I had in fact picked le mot juste. Even now, despite my having given the paper back to M, I'm unsure of the way she used the word "ideological" in her writing. In the end, I took the risk of letting her diction stand on the assumption that ideological has a particular technical valence in her field of study (American and British literature).

At this point, it's no longer my problem. I hope M's paper is well-received by the peninsular scholarly community; when she sends her paper overseas as part of her grad school application, I hope her readers view her favorably. I wonder, though, what they're going to think when they start emailing her, and receive emails from her that display a distinctly lower quality of English than what appears in her paper. For all I know, the US-based scholars may have a cynical awareness of the problem, and may have resigned themselves to the notion that scholars from East Asia generally need a coterie of proofreaders to make themselves sound coherent. I hope that's not the case: I'm all for high academic standards. If a person writes so poorly as to require extensive, detailed proofreading simply to make a research paper readable, then I'd submit that that individual isn't ready to play in the big leagues of American scholarship.


for shame!

Over at the TEF blog, I talk about my dirty secret.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

when boredom strikes

First example of what happens in the Devil's workshop:

(Thanks, Jason!)

Second example:

The above blurry phone cam photo is heavily cropped so as to minimize the aesthetically disastrous component: the pea-green vegetable puree that sat under the chicken and potatoes. While the puree tasted fine, it made for bad plating, looking almost like the aftereffects of a visit from Linda Blair. So I've cropped out as much of the green stuff as I could (the plate was otherwise charming), but I didn't entirely succeed. Still, the meal as a whole tasted great: the mashed potatoes were graced with butter, heavy cream, salt and pepper, and a bit of powdered onion and garlic; the chicken breasts had been baked to perfection (it's amazing what happens when you bake chicken straight from its frozen state-- no need for brining!), and the gravy was-- if this expression is still used-- da bomb.

Such are the things I do when I've got a bit of free time.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

repost of MGRE flaw

This way, you can see MGRE's mistake on a single page. See original complaint here.


you can lead a horse to water, but...

I've been working with the sister of a Korean friend; we'll call her M. She's paid me generously to help her out with a paper that's to be published in a major Korean literary journal; M needed it proofread. She's also planning to submit her paper as part of a package for several US grad schools to which she's applying. I've proofed M's paper, and am proofing her footnotes and works-cited list, which she had added only belatedly, thus making the proofing a two-step process. M is also planning to retake the TOEFL after having failed to reach the minimum required listening score for at least two of the three schools she's hoping to attend (they require a 23 out of 30; she got a 17). I'd like to help her with some extensive tutoring, but the next test is just around the corner, so M has no time.

Almost two weeks ago, I had recommended that M watch video lectures from a certain site and practice taking notes. I don't think she's done this, which leaves me to wonder how serious she is about going for a doctorate. I should pause here and note that she's following, or trying to follow, in her mother's footsteps: M's mother is a retired scholar who worked at Smoo for many years; she knows her stuff, as I can attest after having engaged in several conversations with her about Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. M, meanwhile, seems steeped in the PoMo mindset of contemporary American humanities academe; she's certainly not an old-school Harold Bloom* groupie, and the level of her English is most decidedly not on a par with her mother's. M is, at best, a shadow of her mother. (I'm speaking of her chops as a scholar, not of her personal character.)

What to do? I tend to think that a foreign scholar planning to go through a four-year slog in the States should, at the very least, have a damn good command of the language and not be making basic errors, even when writing in the relaxed register of an email. I honestly have no clue how M would fare here, even among her fellow postmodernists/poststructuralists. Can a foreign student get away with four years of having her papers proofed every single time she needs to write something meaningful? Or does this particular student even care? Perhaps the plan is to write scholarly articles in Korean after she gets her Ph.D. I don't know.

Anyway, M doesn't seem to be going about this the right way. If she weren't saddled with family, I'd suggest that she spend two years in the States purely to bone up on her English, and then decide where she goes from there.

ADDENDUM: my Korean language prof during undergrad was fluent in French and English. Her English was heavily accented, but grammatically flawless, whether she was speaking or writing emails.** That's the standard to which I'd hold a foreign scholar, and it's obviously attainable by Koreans, despite significant cultural and linguistic disparities.

*Bloom was a huge influence on my favorite feminist thinker, Camille Paglia.

**We had kept in contact for a while after I had graduated; email wasn't popular back when I was in college.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Over at the TEF blog, I address a difficult point regarding the usage of who(m)ever.


I cry FOUL!

Regarding the solution to last week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge problem: I see a serious mistake that alters the nature of the answer. Here's a copy of MGRE's explanation for why the answer to last week's problem isn't D:

Notice anything?

The answer explanation assumes that the numerator of the fraction in Quantity B is a factorial!

Congratulations to whoever won last week's contest; they're not to blame for MGRE's mistake. But readers of this blog will recall that I was explicit in noticing that Quantity B's numerator was decidedly not a factorial, which made all the difference. And that's why I chose D.

So, yeah: I cry foul.


this week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge problem

MGRE's newest Math Beast Challenge problem is here:

This Week's Problem: "Likely Story"


{8, 10, 11, 16, 20, 22, 25, x}

In the set above, x is an odd integer between 13 and 21, inclusive. Each possible x value is equally probable.

Which of the following statements has the highest probability of being true?


(A) x is in the second quartile of the set
(B) x is in the third quartile of the set
(C) x differs from the median of the set by less than 2
(D) x differs from the median of the set by more than 2
(E) x is less than the range of the set

This feels more like one of the GRE's stats problems. Remember quartiles? At their most basic, quartiles are three numbers that divide a set of numbers into four equal "quarters." To find those four quarters, which are spaced evenly throughout the data: first determine the median by arranging the numbers and finding the middle term. Then, to find the lower quartile, find the median of the range defined by the first median and the lowest data point. To find the upper quartile, find the median of the range defined by the first median and the highest number in the set. If a set has an odd number of elements, the median is the middle value. If the set has an even number of elements, the median is the average of the two numbers that comprise the middle of the set.

Happy hunting. My answer will be in the comments.

Oh, and did I get last week's problem correct? I said the answer was once again D. MGRE says...


Their solution:

The answer is B: Quantity B is greater.

We could simplify both quantities, which are both positive by definition, then compare individual terms:

Quantity A: (y!)/[5(y-2)!] = [y(y-1)]/5

Quantity B: (y+1)!/[3(y-1)!)] = [y(y+1)]/3

The factor of y is common to both Quantities.

(y – 1) in Quantity A < (y + 1) in Quantity B. Thus, the numerator of Quantity A is smaller than that of Quantity B. 5 > 3, so the denominator of Quantity A is greater than that of Quantity B.

Therefore, Quantity A < Quantity B.

Damn, damn, damn. I suspect I did indeed misread the problem, as I noted in my second comment to it.


Monday, October 24, 2011

it's not that I'm ignoring you

I've been blogging more at the TEF blog lately, and I'm also working on more proofreading from Korea; the net result is that I'm not saying much here at the Hairy Chasms. I'd like to write a bit about three of the movies I've caught over the past month or so. The first of these is "Doubt," which deserves more than the two-word review I gave it some time back. The second and third are comedies that I watched 24 hours apart: "Tucker and Dale versus Evil," starring Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine; and "The Trip," starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Lots to say about these very different but equally funny comedies.


the perils of nonsense

On the TEF blog, I review two bits of language-related nonsense regarding end-of-sentence prepositions and sentences that begin with because.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

"feel bad," not "feel badly"

Over at the TEF blog.


reposted language rant

I've reposted my old rant on the vocative comma at the TEF blog. See here.



Back from work. Dead tired. More later.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

another one to read

And now I have to get my hands on some books by the cantankerous Raymond Tallis, thanks to what I've learned from this article. Favorite paragraph:

...a moment of anger ... propelled [Tallis] to write the first prose book somebody actually wanted to publish. The trigger was Of Grammatology, by the French philosopher and literary theorist Jacques Derrida. "I thought, this is the kind of bullshit that's dominating so many aspects of the humanities," says Tallis, a sentiment that inspired his 1988 critique of literary theory, Not Saus­sure. Tallis took theorists to task for "bad linguistics," in particular misuses of Ferdinand de Saussure, a linguist whose ideas influenced structuralist and poststructuralist writers. At the time, the idea was to deconstruct texts to uncover underlying ideologies. Tallis felt that theory drove students to hate literature. He failed to incite a reaction from his foes in the "Theorrhoea-poisoned Groves of Hackademe," but others enjoyed his assault.

I doubt I'd agree with much of Tallis's worldview-- his insights into the philosophy of mind, for example, strike me as a cop-out along the lines of mysterianism-- but this won't prevent me from slapping one or two of his books on my Amazon Wish List.

ADDENDUM: Credit for bringing Raymond Tallis to my notice goes to David Duff, who left this comment on Malcolm's blog.


Dawkins on Craig

Dr. Vallicella links to an article by Richard Dawkins on why he refuses to debate Christian philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig. I've never been a fan of Craig, based on my own sparse reading of him; Dawkins's essay merely confirms my chariness.


2 pics from my house-sitting stint

First pic: what do you do when you're house-sitting 90 car-minutes away from your own home, and you realize you haven't brought your contact lens case? You MacGyver one up, of course. See what can be done with thoroughly-washed egg cups, saline solution, and a little cling wrap:

And who, you might ask, is guarding the cling wrap and egg cups when they're not in use? Why, it's my brother's chihuahua Maqz (whom Sean has taken to calling "Maqzouelle" in his emails)! Behold the fierce dog-demon:


Friday, October 21, 2011

tiger farts

"When I fart," said Magpie, "You can hear the sound even if you're swimming underwater!"

"That's nothing!" laughed Rabbit. "When I fart, I shake the leaves off all the trees in the valley!"

"Both of you are weaklings!" growled Tiger. "When I fart, another tiger comes out!"

Magpie and Rabbit stared solemnly at Tiger for a long moment. Then all three of them burst out laughing. As they rolled on the ground, Tiger farted.

And suddenly, there were two tigers.

Magpie and Rabbit stopped laughing as quickly as they had started.

The two tigers exchanged a knowing look, lips curling back to expose gleaming fangs.

"There's one for each of us!" they roared.

And the chase was on.


breaking news

Muammar Gaddafi is dead, but the official romanization of his name is still at large.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

more internal links!

The TEF blog's Rates and Registration page now features internal links. More to come as I slowly sweep the remaining pages.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

when dumbasses become the standard

I just listened to a 6-minute clip of the Howard Stern show. Stern had one of his flunkies go out and interview some of the protestors in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and as you might imagine, the protestors didn't come off sounding particularly bright. This doesn't surprise me at all; I'm not a fan of demonstrations or other mass activities (which may be why I rarely attend sporting events or large-scale concerts); people in crowd situations rarely act intelligently, and political rallies tend to attract as many dim bulbs as they do normal folks.

The clip I listened to was on, and as you probably know, Andrew Breitbart has a huge conservative chip on his shoulder. It's in his interest to tear liberals down. But I think that, if his purpose in highlighting the clip was to show how stupid the OWS protestors are, he failed: liberals themselves routinely pull the same stunts when conservatives are out in force. Photos of misspelled signs, interviews with the nutball fringe... there are just as many freaks and retards at those movements as there are in the leftie movements.

I could expand the scope of this discussion to note the same thing about how America gets judged in the world. We're constantly judged by the behavior of our bumpkins, and those unenlightened folks somehow come to represent the essence of the American character. But as someone who has lived in two different foreign countries (Switzerland and Korea), I can attest that America isn't alone in harboring an embarrassingly large complement of fools. In the interest of fairness, then, I say to my European and Korean friends: judge us by our bumpkins and we'll judge you by yours. (Here's something I learned while teaching at a university in Seoul: many Koreans have no idea where New York-- the state-- is on a map. The same holds true if you ask them about major African countries like Egypt, Ghana, or Nigeria.)

As for the OWS protests... my feeling is that the whole thing will have lost steam well before the electoral campaigns begin in earnest. The smarter folks at those rallies will get bored; the dumber ones will get arrested or tossed off the lawn. The movement has no particular focus (an accusation also levied against the Tea Party, which seemed only belatedly to flesh out its raison d'être), and with someone like Stern mocking the folks in the park, I can't see how this campaign, if that's what it is, will ever be taken seriously.

Digression: the best right-leaning reactions I've seen to all this are at Chris Muir's website. His shamelessly didactic comic strip, Day By Day, is the conservative's Doonesbury, but funnier. Check this one out; it's reminiscent of Denis Leary's rant in the Sylvester Stallone actioner "Demolition Man." Remember that speech? IMdB has the goods, and I quote the speech below. A quick bit of background: Stallone is John Spartan, a 1990s cop wrongly convicted of a crime and "frozen" for several decades, along with the bad guy (Wesley Snipes as Simon Phoenix) he had been pursuing. When Spartan's thawed out, the future (which includes a constitutionally sanctioned President Schwarzenegger) turns out to be a dystopic nanny state where all seems harmonious on the surface. But the rebellious underbelly of society pops up with annoying frequency to remind the daylight citizens that all isn't well. These rebels are led by Edgar Friendly (Leary). Spartan meets Friendly and discovers he's simply a guy who wants his basic freedoms back, without the Orwellian state managed by Dr. Raymond Cocteau (Nigel Hawthorne, looking very out of place) looking over his shoulder and telling him what's good for him:

EDGAR FRIENDLY: You see, according to Cocteau's plan, I'm the enemy, 'cause I like to think-- I like to read. I'm into freedom of speech and freedom of choice. I'm the kind of guy who likes to sit in a greasy spoon and wonder, "Gee, should I have the T-bone steak or the jumbo rack of barbecued ribs with the side order of gravy fries?" I want high cholesterol. I wanna eat bacon and butter and buckets of cheese, okay? I want to smoke a Cuban cigar the size of Cincinnati in the non-smoking section. I want to run through the streets naked with green Jell-o all over my body reading Playboy magazine. Why? Because I suddenly might feel the need to, okay, pal? I've seen the future. Do you know what it is? It's a 47-year-old virgin sitting around in his beige pajamas, drinking a banana-broccoli shake, singing "I'm an Oscar Meyer Wiener."

The parallels with Muir's cartoon are striking. But interestingly enough, it wasn't so long ago that it was the liberal side that sounded more like Edgar Friendly, as President Bush was busily increasing the size and power of government in a way that began to alarm (or at least unsettle) many conservatives.

In 2004, I quoted this from the Tao Te Ching:

The more laws and restrictions there are, the poorer people become.
The sharper men's weapons, the more trouble in the land.
The more ingenious and clever men are, the more strange things happen.
The more rules and regulations, the more thieves and robbers.

--Tao Te Ching,
Chapter 57

And one last Muir cartoon for your amusement.


small victory

After years of dillying and dallying, I've finally learned (thanks to this tutorial) how to insert internal links into a blog post! This is useful on my tutoring blog, where prospective students might not want to rifle through an entire page merely to find one small piece of information. Now that I possess this new superpower, I have a feeling I'm going to be overusing it over the course of the next few weeks. Or months.

Check out what I've done with the Test Prep page of the TEF blog.


this week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge problem

This week's problem is titled "Yippee!" I'm guessing the important element is the exclamation point, which indicates that we're dealing with factorials. Remember those?

5! (pronounced "five factorial") = 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 120 (Whoa-- I see that Wikipedia picked the same example.)

If you have a fraction like 6!/5!, you automatically know you can cancel out everything up to 5!. Behold:

(6)(5)(4)(3)(2)(1)/(5)(4)(3)(2)(1) = 6.

As a rule, then, x!/(x-1)! = x. This might be good to remember, along with the fact that you can't do factorials with negative integers.


The MGRE problem this week:


y ≥ 2

Quantity A          Quantity B

(A) Quantity A is greater.
(B) Quantity B is greater.
(C) The two quantities are equal.
(D) The relationship cannot be determined from the information given.

Go to it. My answer will appear in the comments. Oh, yes: keep in mind that zero factorial, or 0!, is defined as equal to 1. Note, too, that 1! = 1 as well. Why? Because factorials are supposed to help a person figure out permutations and combinations. If there are zero items in a set (null set), then there's only one possible "arrangement" of zero, hence 0! =1. Same with the number 1: if all you've got is a 1 in your set, then once again there's only one possible "arrangement." That's why 1! also equals 1.

(And in case you're wondering, yeah, I did have to look all that up.)


the answer to last week's Math Beast Challenge problem

For last week's "Slash and Burn" problem, I had said the answer was D: the answer cannot be determined with the information given. I laid out my reasoning in the comment appended to the post.

The official answer is:

D. Woo-hoo!

But I obviously didn't win the random drawing. No more textbooks for me. (I suspect the drawing isn't entirely random; what if somebody won three times in a row?)


the sitting of the dog

I'll once again be house- and dog-sitting for my brother Sean from today through Thursday morning. Since I've given away my laptop, I'll be taking along my regular Mac and syncing it up with Sean's WiFi, so no loss there. I just have to remember to leave early from Sean's place in order to get to work: I was a minute or two late to the center the first time I underestimated my required travel time from Alexandria. You, Dear Reader, won't notice any changes to my blogging pattern.


Monday, October 17, 2011

me, elsewhere

An article I just wrote for my tutoring blog: on writing logically and clearly.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

the problem in a nutshell

Philosopher Nicholas Rescher on the problem of irreducibly diverse philosophical perspectives and the impossibility of achieving universal consensus regarding perennial issues in philosophy:

The evolution of philosophy is a matter of the concurrent development of discordant traditions and points of view in ongoing and increasingly sophisticated rivalry. Philosophy is the battlefield of a perpetual struggle between divergent approaches developing in continual opposition and apposition, destined never to subside in the comfortable harmony of general agreement. The Humean "noise and clamor" of disagreement in philosophy is a formative component of its fate.

Rescher, Nicholas. The Strife of Systems: An Essay on the Grounds and Implications of Philosophical Diversity. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985. The above is from Chapter 11: "Is There Progress in Philosophy? The Problem of Unattainable Consensus," p. 203.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

the fine line between proofreading and editing

I've told my client, who last week gave me a 19-page paper to proof, and ten days in which to proof it, that I was restricting myself only to proofreading and that I wouldn't be doing any editing. By that, I meant that I'd help clean up her prose, but that I wouldn't touch her content: if I detected any flaws in her argumentation, I wasn't going to change them myself; that would be up to her. She said she understood.

Of course, the line between proofreading and editing isn't always clear. Sometimes, the proofing that one does for the sake of clarity is tantamount to altering the paper's content. Perhaps there's a purgatorial realm that lies between proofing and editing-- content cleanup or some such. The notion that comes most strongly to mind for this activity is salvage: what you're doing is content-related, but it usually involves the reparation of grammatical and mechanical problems in order to bring out the text's intended meaning. You're taking a wreck and turning it into something better than it was.

Then again, "salvage" might be a poor metaphor, since the term can also mean re-dedicating junk parts to other uses than those for which the parts were originally intended.

Like re-gifting, but dirtier.


please stand by

I'm busy proofing a long paper and won't be writing again until Saturday night. (Saturday is, by the way, my brother Sean's 32nd birthday. Closeups of Sean's dog are here; I'll be house- and dog-sitting again next week.)


still a chance

Just a reminder that you've got until Halloween to post your questions for Candidate Hominid.


Friday, October 14, 2011

back to normal

The Oh In-hye craze seems to have died down; my traffic numbers are finally returning to normal.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

le plagiat

Plagiarism rears its ugly head. I'm busy proofreading a paper, and... I've got bad news for the writer: if she's seriously hoping to do doctoral work in America, she'll have to realize that good scholarship means, at minimum, properly citing any and all thoughts that are not one's own. This is basic integrity: thou shalt not steal.


o-rae il hasaeyo!

YB's regional director came by yesterday; she spoke with me in Korean, as she always does, and offered me a nice compliment during our brief conversation: "O-rae il hasaeyo!" --which in the context of the conversation would translate as "Work with us for a long time!"

True-- her utterance may have been more of an exhortation than a compliment ("Don't drop out and make us search for new hires!"), but I like to think it was the latter.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

if I were running for president

With my shamefully poor knowledge of history and my embarrassingly half-baked notions of economics and foreign policy, I can guarantee that I'd suck as president of the United States. But let's pretend for a moment that I am running for the highest office in the land. Imagine you're a reporter who's been given a chance to sit with me for an hour-- and further, you have carte blanche to ask me whatever you want, no matter how uncomfortable your questions might make me. Write up your list of questions for me and leave them in the comments. Over the next few days (or weeks, depending on how many questions appear), I'll make blog posts out of these questions and lay out my own political views. To be sure, some of your questions will catch me off guard and leave me fumbling to respond. That's OK: the main reason why I'm doing this is to help myself think out loud and figure out where I stand on the issues that confront the nation. Feel free to make your list of questions as long as you want, even if your questions run into the hundreds. I promise to respond to every single one of them, no matter how silly, discomfiting, rude, pointed, or complex.

One caveat, though, in two parts: (a) you get only one set of questions and no followups, so if you don't like the way I've responded to a given question, you can't hound me with further questions and expect me to answer them (I can't prevent anyone from writing followup questions, but I can elect to ignore them); and (b) your questions have to appear in the comments section of this post.

A quick word of advice: if you're late to the party, you might want to read over the questions that others have asked, so as to avoid repeating questions. I reserve the right to say "Asked and answered" to any question that feels like a repeat of a previous question.

You have until October 31 to submit your list of questions. I'll still be blogging as I normally do, so I'll link to this post in subsequent blog entries.

Fire away.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

hits for tits

I've been enjoying double the usual traffic since I published the entry titled "Contrasts"-- the one that refers to actress Oh In-hye and links to another blog. Many of the hits are coming from places like Malaysia and Singapore, where I can only assume that horny young guys are scouring the internet for a peek at Oh's chesticles (Oh? oh!).

By the way, I was using "chesticles" back in the 1990s, long before it came into common parlance, dammit.


a possible translation project

If I have time, I want to translate this article into English:

FANTASME AMÉRICAN [sic]: Le mythe de l’Europe islamisée

A en croire une série de best-sellers parus récemment aux Etats-Unis, le Vieux Continent, en crise d’identité, est en passe d’être submergé par sa population musulmane. Une théorie simpliste, réplique l’essayiste Pankaj Mishra.

AMERICAN FANTASY: The Myth of an Islamicized* Europe

If one were to believe a series of bestsellers that have recently appeared in the US, the Old Continent, in an identity crisis, is on its way to being submerged by its Muslim population. A simplistic theory, retorts essayist Pankaj Mishra.

If you already read French, go for it.

*This locution is, admittedly, slightly less common than "Islamized."


the other swing: my schedule

There's a chance that I may end up back with my original Monday-through-Thursday schedule at YB; I had a brief discussion, this past Saturday, with my supervisor about this very subject. A return to the norm may or may not be a good thing: with my Tuesdays threatening to become a string of four-hour days (as has happened twice in a row), it may be better for me to keep the Saturdays, which have the potential to be as long as eight hours. Weekday work is never longer than six hours, so losing Saturday and regaining Monday might actually mean less work overall, assuming nothing but full days. However, the two previous Saturdays were both only six hours in length, and there's a good chance that Mondays will be full, six-hour days. If so, then switching back to Mondays won't affect my weekly hours at all, and might prevent me from being shut out completely: before summer vacation, my center often needs only two teachers on Saturdays, not three.

What to do? It's a gamble. I told my supervisor that there's no hurry in switching me back to Mondays; in fact, some kids might be irritated by the change, since I had only recently begun working on Saturdays.

We'll see.


the swing

I just took the Political Compass survey-- something that I do once every blue moon-- and discovered that my stance, while still centrist, has shifted significantly rightward. My results:

My previous results:

October 28, 2010

March 2, 2007

May 28, 2005

Always somewhere in the Centrist Dickhead region, but the current rightward swing is interesting to me.


the meme I saw

I loved this when I saw it here:

Keep the meme alive.

ADDENDUM: A video about corporations controlling government. See here, too, and many other places as well.


this week's Math Beast Challenge problem

Here it is-- "Slash and Burn":

My answer will eventually appear in the comments.


Monday, October 10, 2011

la vie en famille

My buddy Dominique sent over some pics of his family's summer trip to Paris and le Lubéron. Here are two photos of the clan. The first was taken by Dom's wife, Véronique, so I've included another photo that has her in it.

I miss my French family. I really do.

(For other photos of them, see here and here and here, among other places.)



Click back here to see my answer to Steve Honeywell's Jesus/God question. It's not the most satisfying answer, but it's the best I can give at the moment.


Ave, Justin and Mike!

Two very cool videos to link to:

1. Justin Yoshida has embedded an amazing time-lapse video that, as Justin says, should be watched on full-screen HD. I just watched it and thought it was something else.

2. Mike at Scribblings of the Metropolitician has embedded a hilariously self-satirizing Korean video (that has apparently gone viral) by Mr. Pizza, a popular pizza chain in South Korea. Watch the video and read Mike's commentary; he's been hammering the issue of how Koreans market themselves globally, and I agree that this approach, which is far less self-serious than most Korean approaches to international marketing, is the way to go.


Sunday, October 09, 2011

confronting the TOEFL

On the TEF blog, I address some issues regarding the TOEFL.


Steve's Jesus/God question

My friend Steve Honeywell of the most excellent 1001 Plus (and, lately, co-host of The Demented Podcast-- see his blog's sidebar) wrote this in a recent comment:

I think I've noticed something, and I'd like your input on this, since you tend to be more religiously aware than my own muddled confusion. In fact, this might make an interesting blog post for you.

I've noticed with the Christian Right lately--politically mainly, but not exclusively--that there is far more talk about God and almost no talk about Christ. It's a subtle thing, but I'm almost positive it's there.

I realize that technically, God and Christ are two parts of the same unity, but they are also different, and extremely distinct biblically speaking. And, I think this is being done, consciously or unconsciously, as a way to justify particular positions.

It would be difficult, for instance, to picture the biblical Christ hating homosexuality or demanding a bigger military. But it would very much be in keeping with the character of the Old Testament Jehovah. This ignoring of Christ and focusing on what "God" this being used as a subtle justification for these policies?

I'm of several minds about this question. Part of me wants to say that there's nothing new about politicians using religion as a tool; there's long been something of a pragmatic, or even perverse, symbiotic relationship between politics and religion. I also don't think it's anything new for the American Christian Right to prioritize God in their public rhetoric: God is, as concepts go, more generic than Jesus, and is thus more accessible to a wider range of religiously-minded folk. It also comes as no surprise that religious conservatives might stress a God of justice and virtue instead of focusing on a God of compassion and mercy.

Having said all that, I'll have to admit publicly what I recently admitted privately to my buddy Mike, namely, that I've been out of the religious loop for a while, now. At this point, I'm having trouble keeping up with the liturgical calendars I normally track: Christian, Buddhist, and Jewish. For that reason, I'm really not aware of what's been going on in terms of public religious discourse.

Although I consider myself fairly middle-of-the-road in my political views (hawkish on foreign policy, pro-free-market on the economy, but pro-gay-marriage and pro-free-speech/expression on social policy), I've been a flaming religious liberal since, oh, freshman year in college, when my views were challenged in a Problem of God course. The course was Georgetown University's version of a Philosophy of Religion course, and it was, for me, the first time that I'd felt my beliefs systematically questioned. I also came to realize just how little thought I had put into what I believed, and once I began doing my own thinking, I knew it was no longer possible for me to hold to traditional Christian views. As the years have gone by, my religious liberalism has been tempered by the critiques of liberal thinking I encountered during my graduate studies at Catholic University, so while I still skew very liberal in my personal beliefs, my attitude toward things like dialogue has moderated somewhat.

I say all this because I, too, have trouble with the often-Pharisaic mentality of scripture-quoting literalists. But at the same time, I've gone through enough religious studies courses to know that everyone has a hermeneutical approach, even nonbelievers: we all interpret, we all have agendas, we all "cite scripture for [our] purpose." This realization somewhat softens my stance toward religious conservatives. I can't relate to the ones who obviously lack compassion, but my moderate perspective allows me to see that religious conservatives come in all shapes and flavors, like religious liberals, which makes it necessary to parse the overall sociocultural situation very carefully before I try to make any bold observations or pronouncements about it. And because there is no such thing as a non-hermeneutical approach to scripture, I can't begrudge someone their use of scripture merely because they have a purpose in quoting it. To be clear, I'm not interpreting Steve's comment this narrowly: I understand that he's asking a larger question, but my point is that I'd rather avoid painting a diverse group with too broad a brush.

So to answer the question at the end of Steve's comment, "This ignoring of Christ and focusing on what 'God' this being used as a subtle justification for these policies?"-- my answer is that, if this is indeed the case, it doesn't surprise me, because it's the sort of thing that's bound to happen. At the same time, if this rhetorical trend is real, it's not the end of the story: there are, doubtless, religious conservatives who disagree with the mindset that sacrifices a compassionate Jesus for a God of justice.


the job

Well, I haven't had my first tutoree knock on my door yet, but I got a proofreading job from a Korean friend who's hoping to apply to some US universities. I also received a CafePress commission payment via PayPal (always nice when those appear), so I've got a bit more money than I would have had otherwise.

My Saturday ended two hours early, alas. Less money for me. There's a rumor that I might be moved back to my old Monday-through-Thursday schedule, which would be great in terms of having a long weekend again, but bad in terms of income: Saturdays are (excepting today and last week) generally longer work days.

I also got a haircut today, after waiting three pay periods to get one. Shagginess gone!


Saturday, October 08, 2011

what the near future holds

First, there was the news about the conveyance of sense impressions-- qualia-- through artificial means, as monkeys proved able to distinguish the textures of different surfaces through the intermediary of virtual-reality technology. Now, there's news that we're getting even closer to building an exoskeleton that will allow a quadriplegic to walk.

The artificial conveyance of sense impressions-- something we already experience when we watch TV-- is an exciting field. Who says we need to stop with sight or touch? For those who've lost their sense of smell, we can install artificial olfactory nerves; we can improve on cochlear implants (which have been in use for years); we might even be able to help the tongueless to taste again.

But why stop with the mere restoration of lost senses? Why not install devices that enhance our sense impressions? Imagine being able to hear a wider spectrum of sounds, taste a wider spectrum of tastes, smell more smells, or see more than just the currently visible spectrum. Or, further: imagine a synesthetic world like that of Stephen R. Donaldson's fantasy series, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever: a world in which sights have texture, smells have timbre, touch has color, and so on?

I foresee a lovely convergence with nanotech, here... especially when it comes to condoms. Rubbers that enhance the sexual experience-- a sort of miracle fruit for the genitals-- can't be far off. I look forward to that day.



So I saw two pictures from recently-published articles that offer a striking contrast between North and South Korea. The South Korean picture was linked by The Marmot's Hole; it shows actress Oh In-hye in a very, very revealing dress as she walks the red carpet during the Busan International Film Festival (sample photo here). My first thought was, Korea's finally catching up to Europe! Congratulations!

The North Korean picture comes from this MSNBC article about starvation. Warning: click that link only if you're ready to see a frighteningly disease-ravaged child.

In South Korea, they're altering their eyes, noses, and boobs. In North Korea, by contrast, they're barely getting by.

The MSNBC article says that South Korea claims the North often exaggerates the extent of its various crises. There's truth to this. The peninsular situation is so shot through with irony and meta-irony that it's hard to know what to think or what to do. The North boldly proclaims its "self-reliance" while playing up domestic starvation to demand global aid. We in the West see these horrifying pictures and want to do something, but we know the North will, after displaying pictures of suffering citizens, shunt any food to its soldiers and political cadres first, leaving only scraps for the desperate populace.

I'm of the opinion that the best we can do is starve the NK government out. But there's no denying that this strategy comes at a horrible, horrible price.


whiteboards: discussed

A discussion of the merits of two online whiteboards, over at my tutoring blog.


Friday, October 07, 2011

pro forma

I've just spent the past two hours creating and tweaking a registration form for the TEF blog. The relevant post is here.


Thursday, October 06, 2011

my 2-word review of "Doubt" (Streep and Hoffman)

Frustratingly elliptical.


still not convinced

Are people still saying that Obama's going to be a one-term president? If they are, I'm still not seeing it. The GOP doesn't exactly have a field of plausible candidates, and the guy I like the most, Herman Cain, has zero experience in elected office. I also worry that Cain, if elected, might try the Ross Perot strategy of running the country like a business, when it clearly isn't a business. Cain's primary weakness seems to be a lack of foreign policy knowledge, but I imagine that other weaknesses will come out in various debates. Who else is there in the crowded Republican field?

Sarah Palin? What a joke. She symbolizes the current disturbing trend toward anti-intellectualism in the GOP. Where did all the William F. Buckley conservatives go?

Rick Santorum? Same deal, plus there's his odious stance toward homosexuals.

Ron Paul? While some of his libertarian ideas are close to my heart, advocacy of open borders and an overly dovish foreign policy make him an implausible choice.

Mitt Romney? He seems to bring baggage that is disturbingly similar to that of John Kerry, flip-flopping (viz. Romneycare) and insincerity being among his worst faults.

Rick Perry? He's got that James Brolin look about him, but I'm not convinced the man knows very much. A series of clumsy debate performances merely reinforces this impression.

Michelle Bachmann? She, too, strikes me as someone who shouldn't be running. And Aaron's embedded Bad Lip Reading video flays her mercilessly.

So I'm settling in for a second Obama term, and even if the GOP manages to field a winning candidate, I'm not convinced that their lofty aspirations-- heal the nation!-- won't be dashed once the new president's term begins. When in campaigning mode, everyone preaches some form of hope and change; once the campaign is over and the dust has settled, it's back to grinding reality.

For me, the most interesting question is whether Hillary Clinton-- who has repeatedly denied/disavowed a desire to run-- might challenge Barack Obama for the nomination. But The Maximum Leader's considered opinion is that, while Obama's base is upset with the status quo, Hillary doesn't pose a credible threat.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

interesting conversation

Ever since I started following Nigel Warburton's Philosophy Bites on Twitter (I own one of Warburton's books, a basal philo text that I'd bought in Korea), I've been privy to links to many interesting articles. Early on Tuesday, I was led to Sam Harris's interview with his buddy Steven Pinker. Pinker has published a new book titled The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, a book that argues (as Pinker has contended for years) that global violence is, on the whole, diminishing. The wide-ranging written interview (I assume this was done via email) brings up many issues worthy of discussion.

Delighted at having found this article, I printed off the interview and took it to class Tuesday afternoon, wondering whether I'd be able to share it with a student. Fortunately, I was able to do so during my second session; this student and I ended up having a very interesting conversation. At the end of class, she even said she'd had fun, and that she was going to show the article to her AP European History teacher. She told me he's a conservative, whereas she's an off-the-scale liberal. I wonder whether she sees Pinker's argument as evidence of human progress, and I wonder what sort of conversation she's going to have with her teacher.

I don't often have the chance to go off the beaten path with my students at YB; they usually come to the tutoring center for specific sorts of help, e.g., SAT prep. Tuesday's class was a pleasant exception.


Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Edward De Bono vs. Sam Harris

Philosopher Edward De Bono on social media:

THE world's leading thinker says social networks are making people lazy and stupid.

Edward De Bono, Maltese philosopher and inventor of the “six hats method”, told that he doesn’t use social networking because “he doesn’t want to be bullied by information”.

“There’s a danger in the internet and social media,” says Mr De Bono.

“The notion that information is enough, that more-and-more information is enough, that you don’t have to think, you just have to get more information - gets very dangerous.”

The author and philosopher says that people take the information they receive through social media at face value.

“That we can get information our computer and our communication systems are getting better and better, people say ‘I don’t have to think, information will make my decision for me’, and that completely rules out creativity using the information in a different way, or new way,” he says.

Neuroscientist and thinker Sam Harris on embracing e-books:

I love physical books as much as anyone. And when I really want to get a book into my brain, I now purchase both the hardcover and electronic editions. From the point of view of the publishing industry, I am the perfect customer. This also makes me a very important canary in the coal mine—and I’m here to report that I’ve begun to feel woozy. For instance, I’ve started to think that most books are too long, and I now hesitate before buying the next big one. When shopping for books, I’ve suddenly become acutely sensitive to the opportunity costs of reading any one of them. If your book is 600 pages long, you are demanding more of my time than I feel free to give. And if I could accomplish the same change in my view of the world by reading a 60-page version of your argument, why didn’t you just publish a book this length instead?

The honest answer to this last question should disappoint everyone: Publishers can’t charge enough money for 60-page books to survive; thus, writers can’t make a living by writing them. But readers are beginning to feel that this shouldn’t be their problem. Worse, many readers believe that they can just jump on YouTube and watch the author speak at a conference, or skim his blog, and they will have absorbed most of what he has to say on a given subject. In some cases this is true and suggests an enduring problem for the business of publishing. In other cases it clearly isn’t true and suggests an enduring problem for our intellectual life.

[The above is a build-up to the argument that e-books allow people to publish very short works, such as Harris's own e-book, Lying.]

You might come away from this thinking that De Bono and Harris aren't saying opposite things. After all, De Bono seems to be focusing on social media, even though he includes "the internet," that nebulous entity, in his critique. Harris, meanwhile, is a critical thinker par excellence, so he may, in a sense, be in full agreement with De Bono. But look at what Harris says above. Is his youthful impatience, visible in the above-quoted text, perhaps a vindication of De Bono's claims? Read both articles in their entirety to get the full context.

Or are you, perhaps, too impatient to do that?


MGRE's Math Beast Challenge problem this week

This week's MGRE Math Beast challenge is actually a much easier version of the problem that I and a student collaboratively created a few weeks back.

The Math Beast roars:

In the figure above, a circle with radius 2 is inscribed in a square. What is the area of the shaded region?

(A) –2π + 16
(B) –π + 4
(C) 2π + 8
(D) 4π
(E) 8π – 2

If you were able to get through my problem, this problem will be a piece of cake. Check the comment section for my answer after you've had a go at the problem.


Monday, October 03, 2011

SAT problem for you

Not much difference between this and a GRE problem, in my opinion. I encountered this one (well, a problem similar to this one) while helping a student review errors he'd made on a practice SAT.

Have at it.


barf bowl

It must have been something I ate. As near as I can figure, it was some bad eggs, and those eggs forced me to do a thing I haven't done in over 20 years: find a large barf bowl and take it into bed with me. I'd had only three hours' sleep the night before and had been hoping, last night, to get to bed early, but the churning in my guts wouldn't allow me to go to sleep. I lay in bed for a couple hours, imagining the peristaltic action in my abdomen and wondering whether everything was going to shoot out now as vomit, or shoot out later as diarrhea.

Luckily, I ended up with the best-case scenario: I faded into a comfortable slumber and managed to avoid any nocturnal leaps into the bathroom. This morning, I woke up with only an echo of last night's stomachache and nausea, had myself a decent poop, and now seem to be fine. We'll chalk this up to minor food poisoning and go have ourselves a day.

My barf bowl is awesome, by the way. It's metal, and almost two feet across. As I was lying in bed last night, I placed it over my face and recited Darth Vader lines in a stentorian rumble. Self-entertainment is a specialty of mine.


Sunday, October 02, 2011

is it fall yet, dammit?

I walked out of my apartment to a nice, cool morning, and it's been cool all day. Hail, October! More days like this, please.


Saturday, October 01, 2011

Blue Team blues: Jake versus Mike

I haven't been enjoying "Top Shot: Season 3" nearly as much as I enjoyed the previous season. The shooters this time around don't seem particularly distinguished, but even worse, this crop features some loudmouths and jerks. One of them-- a trash-talking redhead named Michael who was, appropriately, on the Red Team-- was finally eliminated a couple episodes ago. It was a relief to see him depart. The other, an ex-SEAL named Jake, lingers on, and in the most recent episode I saw (Episode 8, "Ramp It Up"), Jake managed to piss off the normally-Zen Mike, a fellow Blue Team member who could never be mistaken for the Michael who recently left the show. Mike's a big guy, and he's generally quite calm and methodical, but when Jake started in with his usual trash talk, Mike blew his stack on camera and very nearly hit Jake. Instead he backed down, shaking with fury, while Jake continued to mock him.

Jake has been a problem for Blue Team's esprit de corps. A former SEAL who was supposedly trained as a leader of men, Jake has shown no leadership ability whatsoever. The contrast between his leadership style and that of Season 2 champion Chris Reed was striking: in Episode 6 ("Turn the Corner"), Reed and Season 1 champion Iain Harrison were brought in as guest team leaders who offered advice on how to train for the Vltor TS3 rifle; Reed was laid-back, willing to listen, and able to improvise when his team's shooters were unable to determine whether they were hitting the target (Reed suggested shooting at a certain rock on the nearby berm so the marksmen could see the dust plumes and gauge their accuracy). Harrison, who was coaching the Blue Team in that episode, marveled at the Blue Team's internal disharmony, which to him looked like a bunch of alpha males vying for the top spot. Jake was, of course, one of those alphas. In the end, Reed's team (the Red Team) won, and I think this victory was due in large part to Reed's superb leadership.

Fast-forward to Episode 8. Jake told the camera, in the aftermath of his near-fight with Mike, that he had been in control the entire time, and that he was doing what he could to mess with everyone's minds, thus paving the way to victory. He also commented that the two previous seasons of "Top Shot" were "gentleman's shows," and that his presence this season shook up that dynamic. No disagreement here.

Although I find Jake to be a trash-talking jerk, I don't necessarily disagree with his brutal pragmatism. If I were in trouble in a foreign country, I'd want a dude like Jake to be the one leading the rescue: he'd burn his way straight from A to B and do whatever was necessary to accomplish the mission. Jake's pragmatism is a poor match for a show that had, for two seasons, featured a high level of class and sportsmanship, but I don't see Jake as entirely wrong to view the world, and his competitors, the way he does. As for Mike-- well, I think he lost that round against Jake, because he was on the brink of losing control while Jake manipulated him. Another Blue Team member, Dustin the cheerful Christian camp counselor, said he thought Jake was a coward, but I don't see it that way. Jake was in control, and he was inside Mike's head. Mike should never have allowed himself to get sucked into that vortex.

The upshot for me is that I'll continue to watch this season of "Top Shot," but instead of viewing each episode with eager anticipation, my overriding emotion will be morbid curiosity.

I have Jake to thank for that.


today's metaphysics of impermanence
is brought to you by Hamlet

One of the more memorable passages in a play full of memorable passages:

King. Now, Hamlet, where's Polonius?

Hamlet. At supper.

King. At supper! Where?

Hamlet. Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain convocation of politic worms are e'en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us; and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar, is but variable service-- two dishes, but to one table; that's the end.

King. Alas, alas!

Hamlet. A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king; and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

King. What dost thou mean by this?

Hamlet. Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.

Death is the great equalizer.


fingers crossed

Tomorrow is going to be a light day at work: most of the students I've been teaching for the past few weeks have been seniors (and a few juniors) who are taking the SAT tomorrow. Some are doing it for early-decision purposes (one girl, for example, is hoping to get into William and Mary early); some are taking the October 1 SAT as a possible first of several tries. I wish everybody good luck, although I mourn the upcoming loss of hours: instead of an 8-hour Saturday, it's going to be only 6 hours.

All the more reason to net some private students, right? I'm working on that.

UPDATE: YB Near is acquiring a TOEFL student, so it appears I'll have a full Saturday. And now I have to go find a TOEFL textbook.