Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind": review

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," a 2004 film starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet (whose American accent has improved since her earlier roles), is the story of a man who goes to a company called Lacuna to have specific memories erased: those of his girlfriend. Part "Being John Malkovich," part "Memento," the movie starts in medias res-- but without us immediately realizing this fact until the plot has begun to thicken. Jim Carrey is Joel-- quiet, bookish, introverted, and lonely. He meets Clementine (Winslet)-- free-spirited, impulsive, kooky, and temperamental. Joel falls in love, then falls out of love, and finally goes to Lacuna to have his memories of Clementine erased. Clementine does the same. In fact, it seems that she has done this first. But as Joel's erasure is in process, he experiences regret and his mind rebels. Much of the movie is devoted to Joel's internal struggle to resist his memory-erasure.

I was worried, at first, that this was going to be some sort of science-fiction version of "The Accidental Tourist," a movie I couldn't stand (for a concurring opinion, read Steve Honeywell's review here). The formulaic elements were certainly in place: the repressed nerd, the irrepressible sprite, both wounded and looking for companionship. But my fears proved groundless; instead, the movie posed a different problem.

You see, despite its complex plot, "Eternal Sunshine" is essentially making a very simple point, which is brought home to us during a "punchline" scene near the end of the story.

Let me build up to it: Joel and Clementine both discover the truth about the erasures (ideally, the procedure leaves no memory-traces of itself) when they are sent their own confidential files by a disgruntled Lacuna employee (played by Kirsten Dunst). The files include recordings of the pre-erasure interviews in which the patients explain why they want the procedure done. Joel is in the car with Clementine when she pops in her tape out of curiosity. He listens with horror as Clementine tells the doctor why she wants her erasure: Joel is boring, feckless, annoying, and worse. Her tone is seething with disdain. Furious at this revelation, Joel kicks Clementine out of the car. Later on, Clementine tracks Joel down at his apartment, where she hears Joel's own pre-erasure description of Clementine, which proves to be equally vitriolic. Clementine stomps out, but Joel chases her into the hallway and begs her to stay.

Here, then, is the movie's point: despite knowing what they know about each other, Joel and Clementine elect to start all over, to try again. Because that's what love is, right? To love someone is to accept him or her, warts and all.

Did we need an entire movie to understand this point? I don't think so.

Part of me feels gypped, as if I'd listened to an hour-long joke only to hear the world's lamest punchline. The movie was written by Charlie Kaufman, the scripter who gave us "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation" (both of which I thought were excellent). Kaufman is great at weaving, in a Baudrillardesque way, between layers of simulacra and simulation: where, exactly, is reality? What's it like to be inside someone's head? What sort of murky, fucked-up, ever-changing landscape is human interiority? Kaufman never makes it easy for us to know. However, after watching "Eternal Sunshine" and comparing it to his other films, I conclude that Kaufman is at his best only as long as he remains philosophical. As much as he likes to meditate on love, I don't think love is really his thing. The movie's ending struck me as disappointingly trite, as if all that intricate hand-waving ultimately meant something mundane. Or was that the point?

I don't think it was. There could have been something more-- a commentary about the stubborn resiliency of human nature, about how we find ourselves drawn to the same people, again and again, even when a cosmic "reset" button has been pushed. Joel and Clementine have a history (and the same turns out to be true for a few other minor characters in the story); it's almost as if they're destined to be together, despite whatever little hell they create for each other. Love makes the beloved hard to forget. Life and our inner natures push us insistently in the same direction, either until we get it right or until we crash and burn.

So, yes: I'm disappointed at how simple this film's basic message is. I don't mind simple messages coming from simple-hearted films, but from Kaufman I expect layering, complexity, and ambiguity. No central message should be this easy to discern. I'm still wrestling with whatever the hell "Being John Malkovich" is supposed to be saying. "Eternal Sunshine" is, by contrast, an absurdly easy puzzle to solve.

It didn't help that Clementine wasn't particularly likeable. I'm a fan of Kate Winslet's acting, but her character was completely unappealing to me. Jim Carrey did a decent job with his role, but perhaps because I think of him first and foremost as a comic actor, I found his crying jags in the film unintentionally funny. Come to think of it, his character, Joel, wasn't all that likeable, either. But Joel at least had the virtue of not being either selfish or self-destructive. He was timid; some might even call Joel a coward. But he wasn't harming anyone. Clementine, despite her virtues, struck me as the principal source of all the toxicity.

What it really comes down to is: would I watch this movie again? And the answer is: no, I wouldn't. It had its good points, and it certainly had potential on the cerebral level, but it was neither as fun nor as provocative as either "Being John Malkovich" or "Adaptation."


at the TEF blog

The solution to last week's Math Beast Challenge problem.


chihuahuas for everybody!

No one can have the original painting but my brother, but if you like chihuahuas and if "Maqz Versus Satan" gave you a chuckle, then you can buy a print over at my CafePress shop.

See here.


watch it

On Twitter, Sam Harris says that this video deserves to go viral. I read the video as a commentary on the nuttiness of religious belief.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Wyoming wants what?

While I agree that a "doomsday bill" might be a prudent move by states that fear a collapse of the country, why would Wyoming-- which is landlocked-- slip an aircraft carrier into its doomsday bill? "Batshit crazy" is right.


final stretch

My proofreading job is due on Monday morning at 10AM, Seoul time, which means it's due at 8PM tonight, Virginia time. Blogging today will be sparse, if it occurs at all. Chew on these links until I return:

I mentioned on Twitter a while back that 2012 seems to have heralded the advent of the cult of Artemis: several movies this year feature women bowhunters. Here's the trailer for Pixar's newest effort, "Brave." (Another such movie would be "The Hunger Games.")

Malcolm recently posted a link to a video that takes "The Matrix" and matches many of its scenes, shot for shot, with scenes from Hong Kong action flicks. My comment to Malcolm:

Thank you for that link to the Matrix video. Even after all these years, people keep on finding hidden and not-so-hidden references; it’s amazing. Personally, I think the Wachowski Brothers have nothing to apologize for; they had deliberately set out to make a multidimensional pastiche, and they succeeded brilliantly with the first two movies in the trilogy. The trilogy as a whole fails as serious science fiction (humans as batteries? really?), but works as an example of the power of modern mythmaking.

My buddy Mike embeds a video of George RR Martin, author of the much-heralded Songs of Ice and Fire books, reading his own twisted versions of children's nursery rhymes.

Just seen today: when public spanking goes horribly wrong.

If you haven't heard the sobering (albeit unsurprising) news about those supposedly faster-than-light neutrinos, read here.

More blogging sometime after 8PM today, local time.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

the dog's pronouncement

Maqz had the chance to see himself this morning when I placed my painting of him on his master's bed.


Saturday, February 25, 2012


At Jasmine Cuisine:

Nutella brownies.

Blueberry-almond tart.

Better a tart than a strumpet, I suppose.


I owe

I owe several of you emails-- lengthy emails in response to the lengthy emails you've sent me. Unfortunately, this is a bad weekend for replying: I'm working on a rather large proofreading job right now and can't spend too much time on personal correspondence. The job is due on Sunday night (DC-Metro time), which doesn't leave me too much time. Please accept my apologies, and I'll try to respond to you this coming week.


Ave, Malcolm!

Malcolm links to a far cuter version of Pat Condell.

(You do remember Pat Condell, yes?)


Friday, February 24, 2012


Here are some more Maqz-related pics. Two are details of the finalized painting; one shows the message I wrote my brother on the back of the canvas; the last picture shows Maqz himself from an angle that will allow you to compare the painting to the real deal. Enjoy.

(click to enlarge pics; clicking on one is enough to create a sort of slide show)


Maqz stares down the Devil:

The message:

My inspiration:

I showed the painting pics to some of my students and coworkers. One frequently asked question was, "Don't chihuahuas usually have thin necks?" Maqz is a deerhead chihuahua; these dogs apparently tend to have thicker necks. (Vampires, take note.)


a bit late for Valentine's Day, but...

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I've found my new girlfriend.

If you have the funds to travel to Italy, she can be your girlfriend, too.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

when something good goes bad

This review of a Korean restaurant is nicely written...

...until you get to the appalling final sentence.


yet again: how did I miss this?

One of my students linked me to this humorous video about Kim Jong Illah, Norse Koree-ahn lappuh. The comedian portaying Kim Jong Illah is familiar to me: it's Cali-based "YouTube comedian" David So (interview here), whose Koreablogosphere claim to fame is this reply to the stupid UCLA chick who made that racist "chingchong-tingtong-linglong!" video.


at the TEF blog

Ave, Lexilogos!


"Maqz versus Satan": Part 4 (final)

For what it's worth, here's the final painting. I made plenty of small corrections, did up the fur as best I could, played with the cave lighting a bit, and used a needlepoint to refine Satan's teeth. Compare this with the previous stage of the pic. (click the image below to enlarge)

I'll upload some details later, but right now I'm in a rush to get to work, then dog-sitting starts tonight.


at the TEF blog

The answer to last week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge.

This week's challenge (with expected answer already in the comments).

Steven Pinker's bizarre defense of "between you and I." I don't buy it.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

a song for our country?

Eric Clapton, by way of Syreeta Wright:


(Well) I'm goin' left
'Til you lead me to the right
Lead me to what is right
I'm goin' left
'Til you lead me to the right
Lead me to what is right

There's a train
People say
I can ride to get my whole life straight
But the bridge
On the way
Has a toll too much for me to pay
Yes I know
This must be
What I choose could be my destiny
Lights are green
All is go
But my heart keeps telling my mind no


There's a land
Over there
Where all are given equal share
What you get
Is so small
It's like never havin' nothing at all
Take my hand
As a friend
I will stick with you until the end
But I'm in doubt
I must decline
Even friends can change their mind



sitting the dog

I'll be dog-sitting for my brother Sean from Wednesday night through Saturday morning. I'm going to try to have the picture done by tonight or early tomorrow afternoon, but I can't guarantee this.



All hail Sandra Coast!

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Feb. 17, 2012) -- At 9 o'clock this morning, Sgt. Sandra Coast will graduate from Basic Combat Training on Fort Leonard Wood, officially beginning her Army career - at 51 years old.

According to the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, the average age for an Army Reserve recruit is about 23, making Coast one of the oldest people to go through Basic Combat Training.

"Everybody in the world thinks I am a total nutcase," Coast said. "I just want to support our troops. I love all of them."

Amazing. Read the article to find out the rest of her story.


"Run away! Run away!"

From my Twitter feed (hat tip to James Turnbull): this video clip showing how Koreans react when a foreigner starts asking them for directions.

While funny to watch, the video doesn't exactly ring true with my own experience after eight years in Seoul. The clips we see are, in fact, contradicted by another unflattering video that shows Koreans' preference for helping a white guy asking for directions versus helping a Southeast Asian guy asking for the same thing (see Mike's blog post for embedded video here). Suffice it to say that I find the "Run away!" video clips to be more than a little cherry-picked.

True: it's possible to encounter Koreans who will do whatever they can to let you know they have no intention of speaking with you. That happened to me once when I tried to buy movie tickets: the girl inside the booth took one look at me, waved her hands in a dismissive gesture and boomed, "I don't know!" in English-- her way of saying, "I'm not liable to understand anything you say, so you may as well leave now!" But that experience was unique, as far as I can remember. (Your expat mileage may vary.)

In fact, I've been through the opposite situation much more often: older Koreans in a subway station have sidled up to me to ask directions, and when they spoke to me, they spoke in Korean. No fear on their part, and no expectations that I would speak English to them.

That's how it should be.

I'm actually a big fan of assimilationist, integrationist cultural attitudes. I make no apologies for Americans who grouse, "Why the hell can't you speak much English after living here ten years?" Koreans have every right to feel the same way toward their expat population. If you're living long-term in another country, at least make a concerted effort to learn the language. Learning Korean won't guarantee entrée into the deepest, darkest corners of the country, but it does open doors to richer perceptions of the culture: the jokes, the political insights, and some of the other quirks. Learning the language also helps one move about more independently: imagine being able to ask for directions in Korean, and being able to understand the answer! Imagine not having to move about with a guide or companion constantly at your side. Imagine being able to read the multi-step instructions for cooking some sort of packaged food, or being able to use an ATM without having to hit that "press for English" option, or being able to sit down in front of the Korean version of Microsoft Word without getting lost in a sea of hangeul.

I've helped long-term expats figure out bus and subway routes, order at restaurants, and even negotiate apartment rental contracts. I've also been able to travel alone to places like Gyeongju and Daegu, relying on my own Korean to get me where I needed to go instead of having to gamble on whether any given passerby might know English. My Korean is far from fluent, but it's also far from pidgin. I don't think it's too much to ask, from the Korean perspective, for the expat to learn enough Korean to acquire some independence. I can't imagine living a crippled existence while overseas, dependent on people around me each time I find myself faced with something new, unable to perceive more than a dim echo of the present moment.

None of which is to defend the behavior of the runners in the video I linked to at the beginning of this post, of course. Shame on them for acting like the startled natives in a science fiction movie, fleeing in terror as an alien ship lands in their jungle. People in a cosmopolitan city should act-- you know-- cosmopolitan.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

may your Tuesday be fat

Happy Mardi Gras, all.

For the hunters among you: chipmunk eradication. (Not particularly graphic in terms of gore, but not for the faint of heart, either.)


nowhere beef

Awesome: beef that comes from no particular part of any particular cow. Excerpt:

The world’s first test-tube hamburger, created in a Dutch laboratory by growing muscle fibres from bovine stem cells, will be ready to grill in October, scientists believe.

“I am planning to ask Heston Blumenthal [the celebrity chef] to cook it,” Mark Post, leader of the artificial meat project at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Vancouver.

Researchers believe that meat grown in factories, rather than on farms, will be a more sustainable and less environmentally harmful source of food. Live cattle and pigs are only 15 per cent efficient at converting vegetable proteins to meat from the grass and cereals they eat.

“If we can raise the efficiency from 15 to 50 per cent by growing meat in the lab, that would be a tremendous leap forward,” Professor Post said.

Starting with bovine stem cells, the Dutch researchers have grown muscle fibres up to 3cm long and 0.5mm thick. The fibres are tethered and exercised as they grow, like real muscles, by bending and stretching in the culture dishes. They feed on a broth of vegetable proteins and other nutrients, equivalent to the grass or grain diet of cattle.

At present the fibres are a pallid yellowish-pink colour, rather than the red of raw ground beef, because they do not contain blood, but Prof Post plans to improve their appearance.

3cm long and .5mm thick? Congratulations, Holland: you've created Steak-Umm!

Incredible-- this is the same Europe that screamed about American "Frankenfoods." Well, we'll see whether European citizens are amenable to eating cultured meat. At a guess, there'll be some resistance until it's definitively shown that the process is more ethical and environmentally safer than factory farming.


at the TEF blog

Time-budgeting and test prep.


James K. Polk's inaugural speech

Since my buddy Mike has been on a Twitter rampage to promote James K. Polk as an #underratedpresident (see also his #teampolk hashtag), I thought I'd offer a link, this Presidents* Day, to President Polk's inaugural speech, which can be found at this very interesting archive of presidential speeches. An interesting excerpt:

It will be my first care to administer the government in the true spirit of that instrument, and to assume no powers not expressly granted or clearly implied in its terms. The government of the United States is one of delegated and limited powers, and it is by a strict adherence to the clearly granted powers and by abstaining from the exercise of doubtful or unauthorized implied powers that we have the only sure guaranty against the recurrence of those unfortunate collisions between the federal and state authorities which have occasionally so much disturbed the harmony of our system and even threatened the perpetuity of our glorious Union.

"To the states, respectively, or to the people" have been reserved "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the states." Each state is a complete sovereignty within the sphere of its reserved powers. The government of the Union, acting within the sphere of its delegated authority, is also a complete sovereignty. While the general government should abstain from the exercise of authority not clearly delegated to it, the states should be equally careful that in the maintenance of their rights they do not overstep the limits of powers reserved to them. One of the most distinguished of my predecessors attached deserved importance to "the support of the state governments in all their rights, as the most competent administration for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwark against antirepublican tendencies," and to the "preservation of the general government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad."

To the government of the United States has been intrusted the exclusive management of our foreign affairs. Beyond that it wields a few general enumerated powers. It does not force reform on the states. It leaves individuals, over whom it casts its protecting influence, entirely free to improve their own condition by the legitimate exercise of all their mental and physical powers. It is a common protector of each and all the states; of every man who lives upon our soil, whether of native or foreign birth; of every religious sect, in their worship of the Almighty according to the dictates of their own conscience; of every shade of opinion, and the most free inquiry; of every art, trade, and occupation consistent with the laws of the states. And we rejoice in the general happiness, prosperity, and advancement of our country, which have been the offspring of freedom, and not of power.

It's interesting, very interesting, to read the above and to realize that Polk was a Democrat.

*As with Veterans Day, the name of the day is normally spelled without an apostrophe. This has never sat well with me, but there we are.


Monday, February 20, 2012

"Maqz versus Satan": Part 3

I've made some progress on the painting, thanks to my rudimentary understanding of dimensionality and lighting (and also thanks to years of amateur-level Photoshopping, plus my years of cartooning). This is far from a finished work, of course: the cave glow isn't right, Satan's teeth seem comically thick, and I still have to solve the riddle of Maqz's fur. But for what it's worth, this is as far as I got tonight (click on the image for full size):

So that's where things stand. Sean emailed to say he'd liked those first images of the painting; I have no idea whether he'll like the progress made thus far.

If nothing else, I'm developing a lot of respect for people who paint well. Controlling a brush isn't as easy, for me, as making a cartoon or doing a brush painting (which I view as a type of cartooning: maximal expression through a minimum number of lines). I'm using acrylic paint, and I've discovered that acrylic is so thick that it's very hard to make super-fine strokes. I may need to practice that technique on a separate surface if I'm ever going to get Maqz's fur and Satan's teeth right.

At this point, I kind of like how the painting looks when seen in its reduced size. The overall impression, though not perfect, is close to what I was going for, but all the flaws are even more evident in the magnified view. But I think that, ultimately, the entire cave is going to be suffused, on some level, with that infernal glow. As things stand, the lighting isn't where it needs to be. Fortunately, we're nearing the details phase: most of the major work is done.


a refreshing change

I've been exposed to plenty of Christian scriptural hermeneutics, from ancient to modern, and I've skimmed old Buddhist commentaries, but I don't think I've ever paid much attention to modern Buddhist scriptural hermeneutics.

Until now.


magic tricks with an iPad

I was just sent this link: a "salesman" performs magic tricks with an iPad. The spiel is in German, but that shouldn't impede your enjoyment.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Saturday, February 18, 2012

how did I miss this?

Pixar intro parody.


at the TEF blog

Once again announcing a Philosophy of Religion course. Care to learn via Skype?


senile dementia: in the cards?

Should I be preparing for an Alzheimer's-addled future?



Both views brought to you by the BBC.

Personally, I think I'm going to be done in by a heart attack long before Alzheimer's will ever have a chance to take hold. If I make it beyond 60, I'll be very surprised.


"Maqz versus Satan": Parts 1 and 2

Promising to paint something for someone, when you don't actually know how to paint, makes for a daunting experience. The last time I made any sort of concerted effort to paint was probably in the eighth grade. It's been an struggle, after only a single day of painting, to remember color combinations. I finally managed to figure out how to make black with the acrylic paints I have (white, yellow, red green, dark blue, brown-- a "starter" set), but that took two tries.

The tableau is "Maqz versus Satan"-- just a cute little picture that I had wanted to do for my brother Sean in honor of his chihuahua Maqz. It's not a particularly original notion, pitting Maqz against the Dark Lord: many artists like placing chihuahuas-- so tiny, fragile, and ridiculous-looking-- in incongruously cosmic or heroic situations.

For me, the choice was between putting Maqz in the foreground or in the background. I think I've chosen well by putting him in the foreground, with Satan retreating in fear. When I penciled the image in, I had initially included Maqz's tail, but have decided against painting it. Maqz works better when depicted as a mountain-like foreground object. Here's the initial penciling, done Tuesday night/Wednesday morning (well, more precisely, 1:19AM Wednesday morning; click to magnify):

As you see above, the tail simply intrudes. I should probably have done the scenario on paper beforehand, so as not to waste time, but I was having too much fun actually working on a canvas.

Canvas has thick stitching, and even though the canvases I purchased from a local art shop are already painted over, the stitching shows through with every stroke of the pencil. The same goes for the paint, as it turns out. Below, the result of several hours of fumbling (click to magnify):

Definitely a learn-as-you-go experience. Figuring out color and shading has never been my point fort. I can also see that Satan's elbow needs work, and the goatee needs to go, since it adds nothing to the Gestalt. I need to work more on Satan's horns, and while I've made a good start on Maqz's fur (I'm especially proud of the fur between his ears), I need to do the same for the rest of Maqz's silhouette.

Today, I'll be coloring in the stalactites, stalagmites, and cave walls, as well as imparting an unholy glow to all the rocky surfaces. The question of light source keeps popping into my head: if this is hell, then in theory the light's coming from everywhere, but how do you handle that? I think it may be simpler to set the primary light source somewhere in the background. Given the shading I've already applied to Satan, I think this is the right move to make.

Right now, it's mainly about the gross aspects of the painting. Later on, I'll worry more about fine detail. In fact, this may affect how I handle Maqz's fur: I need to paint the background in first before I can do the wispy strokes.

More photos coming as the project continues.

UPDATE: My buddy Mike reports that he can't see any of the penciling, even when clicking the images to enlarge. Is anyone else having that trouble? I realize the pics are out of focus; they were taken at night, in poor lighting, and digicams are notoriously bad at handling poor lighting. All the same, on my screen the penciling is clearly visible in both pics. If you're not seeing any penciling at all, please sound off in the comments. While I'm hesitant to alter the contrast level of the pics, I'll do so if enough people are having trouble seeing the pencil work.


Friday, February 17, 2012


I've finally started painting "Maqz versus Satan," a work that I had promised months ago to do for my brother Sean, who owns a chihuahua named Maqz. I'm snapping pics of my progress, and will probably let those pics trickle onto the blog, one by one. Stay tuned.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

how they do geometry in China

Emailed to me by one of my Chinese students:

This is apparently from a textbook for high schoolers.


at the TEF blog

Shakespeare's Sonnet 109.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

egads! the hairy GRE problem

Here's a nasty-looking GRE-style math problem:

Last night, Dave and Kathy both arrived at Pizza Palace at two different random times between 10:00 p.m. and midnight. They had agreed to wait exactly 15 minutes for each other to arrive before leaving. What is the probability that Dave and Kathy were together at Pizza Palace last night between 10:00 p.m. and midnight?

Problem (with solution by commenters) found here. I've never seen a problem like that in either my GRE materials or the GREs I've taken, so I can't vouch for how realistically GRE-ish the problem is. All I know is that the problem is intimidating.


100 Below: Volume 41

Wendell embraced Corinne from behind, his tear-streaked face hovering close to her neck. She responded to the warmth of his breath with a sigh of her own, feeling passion and anticipation rise as one in her breast.

Then Wendell broke the spell. Parting Corinne's hair, he began licking her nape with startling ferocity. To Corinne, the disgusting action of Wendell's enormous tongue felt like the assault of a mutant gastropod: licklicklicklicklicklicklicklick.

"Stop that!" she commanded, but Wendell had lost all self-restraint.

"Why?" he sobbed. "Why are you so tasty?"


"Damn you!" Wendell wailed, unable to stop licking. "Damn you!"



I see, from Dr. Vallicella's blog, that John Hick has died. A quick search reveals he died on February 9 at the ripe old age of 90.

Hick is perhaps best known among philosophers and theologians as the exponent of the classical "convergent pluralist" view of religion. The view predates Hick, of course; it's an intuition that many have arrived at independently throughout the centuries. But in 1989 Hick published An Interpretation of Religion, a philosophical treatise that was inspired in part by the thinking of Immanuel Kant. This book put forth the argument that all religious traditions are culturally mediated responses to the Real: ultimate reality. The Real-as-experienced corresponded to the Kantian phenomenon; the Real-in-itself (ineffable and unexperienceable) corresponded to Kant's noumenon. Hick spent most of the rest of his life elaborating on and defending his "pluralistic hypothesis," which has, if nothing else, inspired and encouraged rigorous thought about the various truth-claims of disparate religions.

I still refer to the later editions of Hick's tiny-but-dense primer, Philosophy of Religion, which remains an excellent general introduction to that topic. Hick wrote on a variety of topics, to be sure; I also have his book on christology, The Metaphor of God Incarnate, which argues for a non-literalist view of Christ.

In recent years, I've drifted somewhat as I've done my own thinking on the question of religious diversity. My other influences include some of Hick's most vociferous critics, such as S. Mark Heim. Nevertheless, I'll always be thankful to Hick for the clarity of his writing, even if I'm no longer entirely in his camp. RIP to one of the great thinkers who has informed my own thinking about the ultimate. It saddens me to know that the man is gone.

UPDATE: Prosblogion's post here.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

Found here. (The closeup is incredible.)

On this day, may your love be wetter and stickier than ever before.

And here, good gentles, is a Valentine's Day poem from my book, Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms, on sale through Etsy.com.

But there's more! In honor of Whitney Houston, I will now Kevinize one of her love songs the way I always do when I sing love songs: I replace "love" (the noun) with "slugs"... and sometimes make other changes.

"Shaving All My Slugs For You"

A few stolen moments is all that we share
You've got your family, and they need you there
Though I've tried to resist, being last on your list
But no other man's gonna do
So I'm shaving all my slugs for you

It's not very easy, living all alone
My friends try and tell me, find a man of my own
But each time I try, I just break down and cry
Cause I'd rather be home feeling blue
So I'm shaving all my slugs for you

You used to tell me we'd run away together
Slugs give you the right to be free
You said be patient, just wait a little longer
But that's just an old fantasy
I've got to get ready, just a few minutes more
Gonna get that old feeling when you walk through that door
For tonight is the night, for feeling all right
We'll be making slugs the whole night through
So I'm shaving all my slugs
Yes I'm shaving all my slugs
Yes I'm shaving all my slugs for you

No other woman is gonna love you more
Cause tonight is the night, that I'm feeling all right
We'll be making slugs the whole night through
So I'm shaving all my slugs
Yeah, I'm shaving all my slugs
Yes, I'm shaving all my slugs for you
For you, for you

But why stop with only one?

"You Give Good Slugs"

I found out what I've been missing
Always on the run
I've been looking for someone

Now you're here like you've been before
And you know just what I need
It took some time for me to see
That you give good slugs to me, baby
So good, take this heart of mine into your hands
You give good slugs to me
Never too much
Baby, you give good slugs

Never stopping, I was always searching
For those perfect slugs
The kind that girls like me dream of


Now I, I can't stop looking around
It's not what these slugs're all about
Our slugs are here to stay, stay



math at the TEF blog

The solution to last week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge.

This week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge, with my attempted solution (you'll have to scroll down to see the solution).


at the TEF blog

My comments on the recent Hackers Group test prep scandal.


what I mean by "failure of imagination"

In the comment I appended to the previous post, I noted my own failure of imagination. Had I thought of the following scenario yesterday afternoon, I'd have spared myself hours of toil.

I already wrote about this scenario in the above-linked comment, but I thought I'd provide a visual representation for the curious.


Monday, February 13, 2012

the best I could do after much toiling

[REMINDER: Anonymous comments are never published.]

Ah, the things I do for my goddaughter. After hours and hours of struggle, I finally came up with what I think is a proof that will work (see previous post for the original problem). What you'll see below is called an indirect proof, also known as a proof by contradiction. The idea is to assume something that will lead to a contradiction, then make deductions therefrom. Because the hour is late and I've been working on this thing all evening, there's a good chance that the reasoning may be sloppy. I invite you to check the proof out and notify me of any holes you may find.


crowdsourcing a geometry poser

One problem that I encountered while tutoring my goddaughter stumped me, and I'm still working on it. It was one of a set of problems for which the instructions were these:

Given the following information, determine which lines, if any, are parallel. State the postulate or theorem that justifies your answer.

The accompanying image shows this:

For problem #2 of the aforementioned set, we're given only this information:

Angle 10 is congruent to angle 16.

I'm pretty sure there's some way to establish that lines C and D are parallel, but because we're given no information about lines M and N, I don't think we can prove they're parallel.

Normally, to prove that two lines are parallel, we look for certain data:

1. If corresponding angles are congruent, the lines are parallel. In the above illustration, the following pairs of corresponding angles would, if congruent, prove lines C and D are parallel: 9 & 13, 10 & 14, 11 & 15, 12, & 16.

2. If alternate interior angles are congruent, the lines are parallel. The following angle pairs would, if congruent, prove lines C and D are parallel: 11 & 14, 12 & 13.

3. If alternate exterior angles are congruent, the lines are parallel. The following angle pairs would, if congruent, prove lines C and D are parallel: 9 & 16, 10 & 15.

4. If consecutive interior angles are supplementary, the lines are parallel. The following angle pairs, if added together for a sum of 180 degrees, would prove lines C and D are parallel: 11 & 13, 12 & 14.

Intuitively, I know that, if angles 10 and 16 are congruent, the only possible configuration for these non-consecutive exterior angles lines is for them to be 90 degrees. But that's working the problem backwards: I need to show how they're 90 degrees, and that's where I'm stuck.

Here's what I can deduce (in an effort to establish that lines C and D are parallel):

1. ∠10 ≅ ∠16 (Given.)
2. ∠16 ≅ ∠13; ∠10 ≅ ∠11 (Vertical angles.)
3. ∠10 ≅ ∠13 (Transitive: ∠10≅∠16≅∠13.)
4. ∠13 ≅ ∠11 (Transitive: ∠13≅∠10≅∠11.)
5. ∠11 ≅ ∠16 (Transitive: ∠16≅∠10≅∠11.)
6. m∠11 + m∠12 = m∠13 + m∠14 = 180 (Steps 1-5, definition of supplemental angles.)
7. ∠12 ≅ ∠14 (Algebra. (a + b = a + c, ∴ b = c))
8. m∠10 + m∠12 = m∠15 + m∠16 = 180 (Steps 1-5, def. of supplementary angles.)
9. ∠12 ≅ ∠15 (Algebra. (a + b = a + c, ∴ b = c))

Feel free to write in with comments. If you have a short, sweet way to establish that lines C and D are parallel, I'm all ears. Meanwhile, I'll keep working at this on my own.

UPDATE, 3/19/12: Be sure to read this subsequent post. That the lines are parallel cannot be proven.


proud of my goddaughter

I tutored my goddaughter in geometry today, and am proud of the work she was able to do. I don't think that I myself did much except to point out, as we reviewed her quizzes and tests, where she might have gone wrong. She was able to figure out most of her errors for herself.

I don't think she was all that willing to be tutored at first, but she lasted through more than two hours' work, and was a good sport about it. I'm very lucky to have the goddaughter I do. (Even if she refuses to practice French with me!)


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Italy meets Germany

One of the most popular food-stall items in Germany is Currywurst-- usually something like a Knackwurst done up in a tomato-y curry sauce, served up with fries and sprinkled with seasoned curry powder. This must have come into popularity after my time in Switzerland (1989-90), because when I was traveling in Germany between semesters, one of the most popular items at the time was Leberkäs (literally, liver-cheese, but there's no cheese in it, and I'm not sure there's actually any liver involved), which was essentially a big hunk of soft, bologna-like meat: Germany's fuck-you to the sanctimonious, tofu-eating crowd.

A proper Currywurst uses a sausage that isn't too strong in flavor since it's all about the sauce. All I had with me was spicy Italian sausage, but since I'm getting sick of eating spaghetti, I decided to try and make some Currywurst. I'm hoping to try this again with a brace of brats from either Costco or Wegmans, but for now, here are the results of my own attempt at Currywurst:

All in all, the taste wasn't bad, but I couldn't help feeling that the sausage's inherent spiciness got in the way of the proper experience.

I've seen some Currywurst recipes that recommend using Kielbasa, but I'd rather stick with something German.



Whitney Houston is apparently dead. I offer this video in tribute. Loved her voice.


my buddy John, with spouse

Kiwis have hairy legs.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

at the TEF blog

Friday is Religion Day, and I've commented on one of Dr. Vallicella's recent posts.


culture as reductio ad absurdum

A peek at Elisson's latest post, which examines the slew of "posing" memes to come our way-- planking, owling, cat-breading (as opposed to the more ancient cat-breeding), Lion King-ing, Tebowing, Bradying-- it occurs to me that, when people speak of "cultural acceleration," what they're really talking about is the rapid spiraling-into-absurdity that occurs when a given meme catches on in a technologized, incestuously communicative society. While I haven't done any serious analysis of the phenomenon (whose catchphrase should be, as it is on that phone commercial, "That's so four seconds ago!"), I think I can break it down into phases:

1. Cool Novelty: the meme makes its first appearance, and as with new jokes, no one's ever quite sure where the meme started.

2. Parody: almost immediately, sincerity and earnestness give way to the cynical pose as the second-wave "memers" perform the same actions, but with a wry twist. People with who lack either a sense of sarcasm or the ability to sense a fading trend continue in a Phase 1 vein, thereby producing a sort of cultural white noise in which The Earnest and The Cynical do the same thing, but for very different reasons. The Phase 2 memers are often commenting on the Phase 1 folks.

3. Absurdity: either through extreme over-repetition or through serious injury, the meme spirals upward to its in(s)ane culmination and the public begins to lose interest. By the following week, the meme is already a faded, fond memory.

What does this mean for Andy Warhol's claim that everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes? Have we effectively reduced that figure to fifteen seconds?


Friday, February 10, 2012

Ave, Steve!

[NB: See update below.]

My buddy Steve Honeywell sends some love:

See his writeup here. I'm supposed to pass the love along to five blogs with under 200 followers. List to follow later tonight. Gotta get ready for work.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the meme requires me to pass along the Liebster love to those blogs with under 200 followers, and I have no way to determine that number unless I'm looking at a Blogspot blog with the "Followers" widget enabled. That automatically excludes most of the blogs I frequent. (Sorry, folks.) My Blogspot Five, then:

1. En-Uk's Art Blog features quirky art with terse captions. En-Uk's father, Jeff Hodges, now has the unenviable task of telling En-Uk about this cyber-honor... but En-Uk, being twelve, can't know that I'm the one who linked to him. Wouldn't want to poison the child's mind.

2. Postcards of the Hanging, the blog of one Skippy Stalin. Last I checked, Skippy had under 200 followers. God knows why. In a just world, he'd have 2000. Just as I have been known to mix the scatological with the saintly, Skippy regularly blogs about the Three Ps of his existence: Porn, Politics, and Pud-pounding. You're never quite sure, from day to day, whether you'll be greeted by the sight of a politician's gut and double chin or by a porn star's angry nipple poking out of a tee shirt.

...and you know what? That's it. We're done. I can't find even five Blogspot denizens who fit the Liebster requirement. Most of the Blogger-based writers on my roster are using old Blogger templates, and they haven't even tried to activate the "Followers" widget yet (and probably never will, the crotchety old farts). A couple younger bloggers do have the widget on their blogs, but they've already got over 200 followers.

So there we go. Two blogs-- that's the best I can do. And one of those two bloggers can never know that his benefactor was yours truly.


Malcolm's diverson

Go ahead. Let it drive you insane. The first of the two problems is supposed to be easy, but I still have no answer for it.


Thursday, February 09, 2012

at the TEF blog

1. What's wrong with this sentence?

2. Old French rocker meets the socialist candidate for president.



Out of respect for his privacy, I haven't written about my friend Charles's recent loss: his mother-in-law died on the morning of the Lunar New Year after a years-long battle with cancer. Now, Charles writes a touching remembrance for public consumption here.


Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Sunday dinner

How I ate while I wasn't watching the Super Bowl:

The star of the show was the roasted potatoes. I found a very good, very simple online recipe-- minimal fuss, and very tasty.


Sam Harris goes all budo

Sam Harris on martial artists' self-delusions and the virtues of Brazilian jujitsu.


teachers teach the damnedest things

I have a student, a high-school junior, who tells me that his English teacher has taught his students to write five-paragraph essays by making each of the three body paragraphs, respectively, an example of Aristotle's rhetorical techniques of ethos, pathos, and logos.* I don't recall ever learning this in high school-- at least, I don't recall ever hearing any of my teachers use explicitly Aristotelian terminology whenever they discussed essay-writing technique. I was also nonplussed at the idea of separating Aristotle's techniques out that way: it made no damn sense to me. But the student insisted that that's what his teacher has been teaching. I marveled when I heard this.

So, curious, I did a bit of research and quickly discovered that Aristotle never intended the techniques to be separated in that manner: all three are meant to overlap in a mutually supporting way. This selfsame teacher has been using a "textbook" titled Thank You for Arguing by Jay Heinrichs.** (My student has brought the book in several times.) From what I've seen of it, the book mostly concentrates on the emotional to the near-exclusion of the logical. Far from teaching critical, analytical thinking and the role of logic, far from talking about formal and informal fallacies, the book seems content to focus on rhetorical parlor tricks-- the histrionic tactics that can sway an audience during a live debate as opposed to the tactics that will impress an educated, rational reader.

I think the book is garbage, and I'm increasingly convinced that this teacher should be fired for twisting Aristotle and ruining crop after crop of juniors passing through his classroom. As I mentioned to my student, it'll probably be the job of the senior-year English teacher to undo the damage this teacher is causing.

*Very roughly: ethos refers to a writer's or speaker's respectability and believability. Someone who can speak with authority based on experience and expertise is more likely to be believed than someone who can't. Pathos refers to the appeal to the emotions: pulling at the heartstrings, using shaming tactics, etc. Logos, meanwhile, involves the use of reason, and is considered by the majority of scholars to be the most important component of rhetoric. After all, if your arguments have no logic to them, they'll succeed only in persuading the illogical.

**Some Amazon reviewers feel Heinrichs places the most emphasis on ethos. I haven't sat down to read the book all the way through, but I'd say he values ethos and pathos much more highly than logos. Superficial dickhead.


Tuesday, February 07, 2012

at the TEF blog

1. Handling the long reading passages in the SAT Critical Reading section.

2. The solution to last week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge.

2. This week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge (with answer in the comments).


that Fiat ad

Over at Naked Villainy, Mike talks about the sexy Fiat ad that aired during the Super Bowl. I hadn't seen it, so I watched it on Mike's blog Monday morning. The Maximum Leader wryly noted that the ad might mark the continued "coarsening" of American culture, but in a comment I appended to his post, I saw it differently:

What’s interesting about the [Fiat] ad is ... its raw animism. The dude was basically experiencing a hierophany-- in this case, an intimate encounter with a car-spirit. Mircea Eliade would have smiled. (Stephen King would have, too.)

While it helped to have a smoking-hot Italian chick as the ad's centerpiece (not the car, I'm afraid; the car looked like a toy), what struck me most was how primal and-- well-- mythological the ad was. Many cultures envision an encounter with the sacred as somehow sexual; this ad fits perfectly into that tradition.


Korea: the primer

My cousin asked me to help out a coworker of hers by offering him basic advice about Korea. This coworker is going to be staying in Korea for a two-month training program, and he's apparently very interested in learning something about the culture. So I wrote the following:

Thanks for the email! I hope you have a wonderful time while in Seoul.

I suspect that, if you're already approaching your upcoming trip abroad with a respectful mindset, you'll do just fine by relying on your own common sense. Koreans appreciate it when people take an interest in their culture and make an effort to eat their food, speak their language, etc. Since you're going to be in Korea for only two months, I imagine you're looking primarily for the basics, so I'll give you a bit of background on the culture, some tips for Not Doing the Wrong Thing, and some parting advice.

Part I: Culture

Modern South Korean culture is heavily influenced by young and old historical forces. First, there's the original, native peninsular culture, which has always been rather primitive and shamanistic (its influence is still around today). Next, there's Buddhism, which still accounts for almost half the believers who are religious. Alongside Buddhism is the heavy influence of Chinese culture: Koreans didn't have their own writing system until the 1440s; before that time, Koreans spoke Korean but wrote in Chinese. The Korean language is also about 70% Chinese loan-words, but pronounced the Korean way. China's influence on Korea is mainly important because of Confucianism, i.e., the social ideology and ethos of Confucius (I'll talk more about this in a second). More modern influences include Christianity (which has had a foothold on the peninsula for more than a century) and capitalism, which South Korea inherited when the peninsula was divided after World War II.

I mentioned Confucianism. It's important to understand that Confucianism (called yu-gyo in Korean) rules the way Koreans interact in all social situations. While modern South Korea may be a bit more democratic and egalitarian than it used to be, the old ways still prevail. What does this mean for you?

1. Respect all elders. This can be taken to absurd extremes in Korea, but because the culture is so hierarchical, it's not a good idea to disagree openly with a boss or supervisor. If you feel you need to discuss something that the boss has gotten wrong, either do it humbly-- and in private-- or do it via a third party who will intervene on your behalf. If you hear the boss tell you all to do something that sounds stupid, don't announce your thoughts to the world: "This is garbage! I'm outta here!" Even in America, it's a bad idea to act that way, but in America we've got more leeway to openly question something the boss has said.

2. Respect the older. This may sound like "respect all elders," but in this case I'm talking about people closer to your age, but who are still older than you. By Korean reckoning, if a person is even one day older than you, then that person is your "big brother" or "big sister." For Koreans, this means listening to what Big Bro or Big Sis has to say, and offering them the same sort of deferential respect that should be offered to a boss or a grandparent. Many Americanized Koreans hate this aspect of the culture: if hyung (i.e., "Big Brother" for a guy) decides he wants to go out drinking, and he wants you to come along, then you can't say no. (Of course, if you're into drinking, then this shouldn't be much of a problem.) Non-Koreans, however, occupy a weird place in Korean culture, because they're considered outsiders. You, as a foreigner, might be able to get away with saying "no" to certain social demands. "Nah, sorry, guys, but I'm feeling a bit under the weather tonight" could work as a strategy for not going out. Just don't use it too often!

3. Respect the group. Korean Confucianism is group-oriented, not individualistic. Koreans see themselves as part of a large social web. Americans, by contrast, often seem selfish and cold to Koreans, whereas Americans themselves would say they're merely exercising their autonomy. One example of this contrast is in how parents view college-age kids: in Korea, you're not a true adult until you've been married. In the US, parents can often be heard to say, "Boy, I can't wait until the kids are all out of the house and on their own!" It's a question of Korean interdependence versus American independence.

My cousin tells me that you'll be over in Korea on business, so I can imagine a lot of team-building exercises and activities in your future. Just go with the flow and work with your team, unless your conscience tells you that what you're doing is wrong. That sort of awkward situation won't happen to you within the context of work, but if your male coworkers decide to go to a strip club one night, for example, you might want to ask yourself whether you really want to join in. Even if they don't do the strip club thing, they may want you to go drinking with them.

4. Respect relationships. Confucianism talks about the so-called Five Relationships: (1) ruler/subject, (2) father/son, (3) husband/wife, (4) brother/brother, (5) friend/friend. These relationships still play out in modern Korean society, albeit in relaxed form (especially siblings and friends). Koreans can form friendships with foreigners pretty quickly, and they take friendships seriously, so be careful not to hurt anyone's feelings by turning down too many invitations to do this or that. You might get away with being introverted and aloof, but in Korean society it's hard to do things alone. In fact, as a foreigner, you'll probably need a friend or two to guide you through everyday basics like shopping or ordering at restaurants or catching a bus somewhere.

I think you'll learn the ropes pretty quickly. I have the feeling that you're young and open-minded. OK... let's move on to...

Part II: Survival Tips, or How Not to Do the Wrong Thing

Every culture has its quirks, and foreigners don't always know they're doing something wrong. I can't go into every little detail in this email, but I'll try to hit some of the major stuff (which you may already be aware of).

1. Shoes and socks. Make sure you wear respectable shoes and socks. Make sure the socks don't have unsightly holes in them, because you're going to be shoeless a lot-- maybe even in certain public places (e.g., restaurants where you sit on the floor at short-legged tables). Remember to take your shoes off before entering anybody's residence. Koreans' heads will explode if you step on their nice, clean floor with your shoes on. This particular custom should be treated as absolute law.

2. Finger-lickin' good? It's rude, in Korea, to lick your fingers when eating fried chicken. Even though KFC is popular in Korea, the slogan "Finger-lickin' Good!" is conspicuously absent from the advertisements.

3. Gotcher nose! The "gotcher nose!" gesture-- where you jokingly grab at a kid's face, then pull away your fist with your thumb sticking out between your index and middle finger-- is the most obscene gesture you can make in Korea. I lived in South Korea for eight years, and I still have no idea why the gesture is considered obscene. Maybe you should ask someone while you're there. (Heh.)

4. Proper bowing. Don't make a big deal when you bow. The bow is simply the Asian version of a handshake. No need to incline your upper body too deeply to show respect. In fact, as one of my friends says, if you bow too deeply, people might think you're a gangster (because gangsters bow deeply to their bosses). Just keep your hands at your side, palms facing into your legs, put a smile on your face, and bow from the waist, no more than 30 degrees. NEVER BOW FROM THE NECK!! This is considered arrogant. Only the President of South Korea, or the powerful CEO of a major conglomerate, or someone else of equivalent stature, can get away with that gesture.

5. Table manners. There's more to Korean table manners than not licking your fingers. Koreans consider it dirty to drink straight from a bottle or can. Think of it this way: even in the States, we joke about "backwash." It's a gross thought, and for Koreans, leaving backwash is a cultural faux pas. Koreans, when they drink beer or soda or whatever, will always have some cups handy. If someone pours for you, hold your cup with two hands. If you're doing the pouring, pour with both hands. If you need to blow your nose, step away from the table to do it. Koreans think it's rude and unsanitary to blow one's nose while at table.

6. Remember to stand up. When the boss enters the room and you're with your coworkers, you'll probably need to stand up out of respect. Remaining seated would be rude. Come to think of it, this isn't so different from how it is in America.

There's more, but I think you can rely on your own common sense to get you through most situations. Remember, too, that there are always exceptions to the above advice. When you're dealing with Koreans who have lived in the West or who have Western friends, you may find that they're relaxed about the rules of etiquette.

Part III: Other Considerations

Last thing-- you may need to be prepared for what Koreans might inadvertently do to you. Koreans are expressive, and they can also be blunt to the point of rudeness, despite having so many social rules about being polite. Expect the unexpected and keep an open mind. But watch out for these situations:

1. Rude, probing questions. Koreans might ask you things like, "How old are you?" or "How much money do you make?" They're not actually trying to be rude; they're trying to determine how they should address you, per their Confucian way of thinking. The Korean language contains many different sentence endings to indicate one's tone and one's level of respect; this may be one of the most complicated aspects of the language, and I wouldn't expect you to master it in only two months. Let your Korean coworkers and friends guide you as to what to say and how to say it. But yeah, you might get asked some uncomfortably personal questions, including the classic, "Are you married? No? Why not?" The women in your conversation group will be especially interested to know why you're still single. (Yes, there'll be dating opportunities aplenty.) You might also be asked how much you weigh, if you look beefy from a Korean point of view. (This is a culture that thinks Bruce Willis is fat.)

2. Anti-Americanism. It may come out at some point during an alcohol-fueled conversation: Koreans are obsessed with America, and they both love it and hate it. They hate the fact that American troops are stationed inside their capital city. (How would you feel if Korean troops were stationed in DC or Houston?) They hate the way America seems to bully other countries (whether this is true or not is a topic for another email!). At the same time, Korean pop culture is heavily influenced by American culture: the jeans, the soda, the rap and hip-hop music, the increasingly American-style movies. Be careful about being sucked into a political discussion, and don't be surprised if you hear occasional derogatory remarks about the US. At such moments, it's good to keep in mind that we Americans often say critical things about other countries and cultures. It's also good to remember that Korea's been opening itself to massive global influence for only a little while, so it's still not used to living in a globalized world. Inside Korean culture, there are many mixed signals about how much or how little foreign influence to let in. As a result, there's a lot of insecurity as Koreans try to figure out where they fit in the global scheme of things.

3. Racism. Koreans can be almost casually racist. They can say stupid things about African-Americans, Jews, or whomever. They can see themselves as cleaner, smarter, and more hard-working than people of other ethnicities. They tend to judge a group of people by its individuals, so if you appear at work looking unshaven and stinking like someone who hasn't showered, they'll judge your race as being that way. It's unfair, but that's how it is.

OK... that's a quick survey of what you'll need to know to survive for two months. I had mentioned to my cousin that you might want to get busy learning hangeul, the Korean alphabet. Luckily, unlike Japanese (which uses syllabaries) and Chinese (which uses tens of thousands of characters), Korean uses a 24-letter alphabet, which is very easy to learn. For navigation purposes (menus, subway signs, etc.), it might be good for you to be able to sound out words, even if you're not sure what they mean.

Obviously, I can't cover everything in a single email, but I did want to cover as much ground as I could, even at the risk of boring you with too many details. Feel free to email about any specific questions you might have, and I'll do my best to answer them. If you're looking for useful Korean phrases, you might want to try some online resources, such as:


(They have a little fun at the end, and offer you the useless but hilarious expression, "My hovercraft is full of eels.")

If you're serious about learning from Square One, starting with hangeul, then Sogang University has a self-paced program you might want to try. See here:


Good luck!


Monday, February 06, 2012

no Super Bowl for Kevin

I will not be watching the Super Bowl. First, I don't have a TV, and watching live-stream TV on my Mac is a pain in the ass because of my slow connection (thank you, Comcast). Second, I'm coming up on a proofreading deadline: I've got a 120-page manuscript (English conversation textbook) due by Monday evening, Virginia time, i.e., Tuesday morning, Seoul time.

I'll check the Net for scores every now and then, but that's going to be the limit of my participation in this blessedly Tebow-free event. For the record: I hope the Giants gnaw on the Patriots' guts and eat the brains of the Patriots' fans.


interesting parallels

A Korean scholar in small-town USA chafes at the prejudice she encounters. Excerpt:

I made the mistake of going to this Chinese New Year festival that the students put together. I ended up at a table which included the parents of a (white) students who attends the school. At one point that father asked me if the students are “shocked” to find me in the class (teaching American literature) when I am probably not who they expect to teach American literature. Wow. I said something to the effect of “well, if they are shocked, they don’t show it.” But I had to excuse myself from that table pretty soon after that. Actually, there was another guy at that table–a friend of these parents–who was a tad worse than this other guy.

A Canadian university instructor in Korea chafes at the bigotry he encounters. Excerpt:

After all, it’s one thing for you to encounter a bigot out there in the world, out in life. But classrooms are not life, and it’s far from unusual for me to run into a student who seems to think it’s all well and good to criticize Jews, blacks, women who behave in any way other than the wholesome expectation set upon them, white foreigners, “the Japanese” (each of these in one huge, easy-to-generalize-about monolith) or any number of categories of people. Richard Morgan attributes his penchant for violence in his writing at least in part to all the pent-up rage he repressed during his years of teaching ESL, and hearing people say the most nasty, bigoted things in a context where it was his job to be friendly, supportive, and to encourage them to speak more, as long as they use English.


Saturday, February 04, 2012

stop choppin' dat wood

Sam Harris on "the fireplace delusion." On Twitter, he writes that this post has generated "an entirely new species of hate mail."


French quiz

Here's an excerpt from an excellent culinary blog I'm now following:

Ce filet de porc peut être dégusté en raclette, servi sur des canapés ou apprécié seul, avec des fromages. C'est toujours gratifiant de faire ce genre de recette maison, car on peut l'adapter à ses goûts personnels et on a toujours la fierté d'affirmer aux invités que "C'est moi qui l'ai fais..." La prochaine fois, je me munierai d'un coûteau mieux aiguisé pour faire des tranches plus minces, mais c'était quand même très bon et addictif.

1. The excerpt contains one grammatical error. What is it?

2. The excerpt provides one clue that the writer isn't French, but is likely Canadian. What's the clue?


the stupidest question I've seen today

On Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds links to an article about an Amazonian fungus that eats polyurethane. A commenter to that article then writes the following:

now why on earth would a fungus be able to metabolize polyurethane, and an environment where none exists in the first place? that's what I would like to know.

By the questioner's logic, it's astounding that Eskimos can eat enchiladas.


the dialogue went like this

Conversation between me and a learning-disabled student. The quotes aren't exact, but I think I've correctly captured the overall pace, tone, and spirit of the exchange.

ME: OK, so you remember the slope-intercept form for graphing a line?

LD STUDENT: It's "y equals mx plus b."

ME: Perfect. And you've worked with finding a line's equation by using two points, right?

LD: Yup. (makes a weird, bubble-popping sound when pronouncing the final "p")

ME: So let's review that. Here are two points. Point A will be... (writing while talking) at (5,5), and Point B will be at... let's see... (-1,-3). Can you find the slope from that?

LD: Uh...

ME: The slope, in general, is what over what?

LD: Umm... 2 over 3?

ME: No, it's rise over...

LD: Oh, yeah-- rise over run.

ME: Right. So in this case, with the two points I gave you, can you calculate the slope?

LD: Uh...

ME: We talked about this before. You're basically making a fraction, but you have to subtract something from something, and something else from something else.

LD: Huh?

ME: The top of the fraction is going to be what minus what?

LD: Uh... this and this? (points to "5" and "-1," the x-coordinates)

ME: No, those are the x-coordinates. Is the top of the fraction going to be the difference of y's or the difference of x's?

LD: Difference of y's?

ME: Right. Slope is rise over run, and the y-coordinates are all about the up/down while the x-coordinates are all about side-to-side. So where are the y-coordinates?

LD: Here? (points to "5" and "-3," the proper y-coordinates)

ME: Good. So those are the y's. And which ones are the x's?

LD: These? (points to "5" and "-1," the proper x-coordinates)

ME: Great! So can you make this fraction?

LD: Is it like this? (writes "(5 - (-3))/(5 - (-1))")

ME: Perfect! So what's next?

LD: (writes "8/4")

ME: Hm. Something's wrong here.

LD: (writes "-8/4"; he's obviously just guessing)

ME: OK, you did the subtraction correctly on the top of the fraction: minus a negative is like adding a positive, so 5 minus negative 3 is like 5 plus 3, or 8. That part's fine. So--

LD: Oh! (redoes the subtraction in the denominator and gets the proper result: 6)

ME: So it's 8 over 6, right?

LD: Yup. (weird popping sound)

ME: Are we done yet? Can this fraction be reduced?

LD: (wordlessly reduces 8/6 to 4/3)

ME: You got it! So now we have our slope. What do we do next?

LD: (stares at me uncomprehendingly)

ME: What's the whole point of this exercise?

LD: (still staring, brow furrowed in earnest concentration)

ME: We're trying to find the equation of this line by using two points, right?

LD: (nods, not really following)

ME: So now we've got the slope, right?

LD: (nods)

ME: So where do I plug that into the slope-intercept form? Which part is the slope?

LD: b?

ME: No, it's m. Remember, m is the slope. So now we can plug m into the original equation, like so-- (jotting down "y=mx+b," then replacing m with 4/3). But we're not done, right? We still have to find b. So how do we do that?

LD: I don't know.

ME: Sure, you do! We've already been over this three or four times, you've done it at school, and you went over it with my coworker the other day.

LD: Uh...

ME: You've already been given two points, so all you need to do is choose one of those points, then plug the x and y values into the equation we're making. So choose a point. Point A or Point B?

LD: (looking distracted) A.

ME: OK. So Point A is (5,5). How do I plug these values into the equation?

LD: b equals 5?

ME: No. Remember that each point is in the form (x,y), so--

LD: Subtract?

ME: No. You--

LD: Multiply?

ME: No; you need to plug the numbers into the equation. Do you understand what I mean by "plug the numbers in"?

LD: (blinks rapidly, uncomprehendingly)

ME: (sighing) OK, so we've got this equation: y = (4/3)x + b. We've chosen (5,5) to plug into the equation, so I write a "5" instead of the y and a "5" instead of the x. What's the equation?

LD: y = mx + b?

ME: No-- what's our new equation after I plug in all the numbers?

LD: Oh. (starts writing... eventually writes "5 = (4/3)(5) + b")

ME: Good! So where do we go from here?

LD: (stares again)

ME: We're trying to solve for b, right?

LD: (nods and blinks rapidly)

ME: So we've got to get b all by itself. How do we do that? What's the first step?

LD: (clearly no clue, and this is pre-algebra stuff)

ME: Let's multiply 4/3 by 5 first. What's that going to be?

LD: (calculates on paper) 20 over 15?

ME: Where'd that extra 5 come from?

LD: I don't know.

ME: Do you remember how to multiply fractions? Top to top, bottom to bottom?

LD: Yeah, so I did 4 times 5 and 3 times 5.

ME: But there's no second 5.

LD: (sullen silence)

ME: The whole number 5 can be rewritten as a fraction, right? What's that fraction?

LD: 5 over 5.

ME: No, it's 5 over 1.

LD: Oh, riiiiight...

ME: OK, so if we multiply 4/3 by 5/1, we get...

LD: Oh, wait-- that's 20 over 3.

ME: Right! So if we're trying to get b by itself, what happens next?

LD: (blank stare)

ME: Don't we need to subtract...?

LD: OK. (does nothing)

ME: (sighing again) So we subtract 20/3 from both sides (writing out the subtraction), which means the left side of the equation now says "5 minus 20/3," and on the right side, all that's left is...?

LD: Zero?

ME: No...

LD: One?

ME: No...

LD: I don't know.

ME: It's b. All that's left is b.

LD: (sounding skeptical) O...kay.

ME: So b equals...?

LD: 5 minus 20/3?

ME: But we need to evaluate that expression. We can't leave it that way. So...

LD: It's minus fifteen thirds?

ME: Huh? No, that's not it. You've got to convert your whole number into a fraction-- something over 3.

LD: (blinking while staring at the paper we've been working on)

ME: (writing "5/1 = [ ]/3") 5 over 1 equals something over 3.

LD: 3?

ME: No. How did I go from 1 to 3 for the denominator? What times one is 3?

LD: 3?

ME: Right.

LD: (irritated) But that's what I said.

ME: No, you were saying "three" for the wrong thing before. So if 1 times 3 is 3, then 5 times 3 is...?

LD: 15.

ME: Good! So what's the fraction?

LD: 15 over 3?

ME: Right. So now we can subtract. 15/3 minus 20/3 equals...?

LD: Negative 5?

ME: Negative 5 over 3.


ME: So where do we go from here?

LD: (that famously blank stare)

ME: We've just solved for b, right? So what do we do?

LD: (still staring)

ME: We've got our slope and our y-intercept. Can't we plug those into the equation?

LD: I guess.

ME: So give it a try.

LD: (poised, looking ready to write something on the page... eventually writes nothing)

ME: What's our slope?

LD: Negative 5 over 3?

ME: No, that's our y-intercept. (pointing at the slope written on the page) What's the slope?

LD: Oh, yeah-- four thirds.

ME: And what's the y-intercept?

LD: Negative 5 over 3?

ME: And what's the slope-intercept form?

LD: y equals four-thirds x plus b?

ME: No, no-- the general form?

LD: (stares, unsure what to say next, fearful of being wrong again)

ME: It's y = mx + b.

LD: Oh. Right.

ME: So now let's plug in our slope and our intercept...

LD: y equals four-thirds x plus five thirds?

ME: Almost there, but remember that the y-intercept is negative.

LD: y equals four-thirds x minus five thirds?

ME: Good!

LD: (frustrated) But I said four thirds a second ago and you said I was wrong!

ME: I was asking you for the general equation before; now we're talking about the equation for this particular line. But at long last, we've got our equation, so congratulations. So, one more time-- what's the slope of this line?

LD: (long pause) Five thirds?

ME: (sighing)


Ave, Regan and Dave!

Friend and correspondent Regan sends me this link to a statue of The Hulk that's apparently in Seoul, Korea. What makes this statue different? It's what The Hulk is doing.

And from off my Twitter feed, Dave Trowbridge posts a hilarious link to The Oatmeal, featuring a line of Horrible Greeting Cards. I laughed until dragons were shooting out of my ass. Those cards are definitely in line with my sense of humor, and if I had a lady love right now, I'd be sure to send her any one of the Valentine's Day cards on the second page.


Friday, February 03, 2012

a Marissa update

Marissa's in surgery now, and her cousin Megan (see previous post for my correction: I had thought Megan was a friend, not a relative) is providing updates for the long procedure, which began this morning and is supposed to go for as long as eight hours. Here's the first such update. I won't be linking to every update that appears, so please check Marissa's blog periodically for news.

Marissa is, according to her dad (with whom I spoke at length last night), Patient #19 in a Phase I clinical trial that uses a modified version of the cold virus to attack the GBM tumor. The analogy that had been given to Brad by one of Marissa's doctors was that the tumor would essentially be catching a tailor-made cold. As the virus did its work, the tumor's cells would "explode" and propel more of the virus into neighboring tumor cells. This sounds pretty revolutionary to me. Today's surgery is about exploring what sort of progress the viral treatment has made; it's been hard to determine via MRI, partly because this particular trial is so new that the docs are still in the data-gathering stage.

I'll be keeping Marissa in my thoughts.


Thursday, February 02, 2012

are you a Koreablogger who uses Blogger?
then you'd better watch yer ass

This is double plus ungood.

Google has quietly announced changes to its Blogger free-blogging platform that will enable the blocking of content only in countries where censorship is required.

Twitter announced technology last week addressing the same topic. It said it had acquired the ability to censor tweets in the countries only where it was ordered removed, instead of on an internet-wide basis.

Twitter’s announcement via its blog sparked a huge online backlash. The microblogging service was accused of becoming a censoring agent.

Yet Google’s announcement three weeks ago — buried in a Blogger help page — went unnoticed until it was highlighted by TechDows on Tuesday.

Google wrote Jan. 9 it would begin redirecting Blogger traffic to country-specific URLs, meaning whatever country you’re in, you’ll get that country’s domain for Blogger-hosted blogs.

TechDows reports that this is now happening in India, for example. So when you’re there and click on a Blogger blog, the URL will end .in.

Doing that, Google wrote, means content can be removed “on a per country basis.”

“Migrating to localized domains will allow us to continue promoting free expression and responsible publishing while providing greater flexibility in complying with valid removal requests pursuant to local law,” Google wrote.

Twitter did not announce how its new technology functions, but said Twitter has the ability to remove tweets only in countries where that content was barred.


budgetary paradigm shift

It seems that my three proofreading gigs this month are being redistributed: one gig in February and two in March. That sucks, but I'm working on catching another proofing opportunity or two with the same company-- hopefully something equally as lucrative. We'll see. I'm beginning to realize that the publishing world has a lot in common with the art world: because the smooth action of the entire machine depends on the reliability of its parts, things can go wrong, schedule-wise, when some of the parts aren't running at full efficiency (hence the delay in two of the three manuscripts I was supposed to have been proofing this month). My contact at the company isn't at fault for this; she has no control over the speed at which a given manuscript is prepped for proofing. We're both somewhat frustrated, I think.

But all is not lost. I'm hoping the new, extra gigs will come through soon. Soon.


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow..."

Be sure to visit Malcolm's post on three modern renditions of the famous Macbeth soliloquy, and to leave your opinion. I've already submitted mine.

Here's the soliloquy in Korean.

Here's a version in French:

Demain, et puis demain, et puis demain encore
à pas menus avancent, coulant de jour en jour vers
l'ultime syllabe des annales du temps,
et nos hiers n'ont tous éclairé que des sots
sur le chemin qui mène à la mort poussiéreuse.
Eteins-toi donc, brève chandelle!
La vie n'est qu'une ombre qui passe, un pauvre acteur
qui parade et s'agite pendant son temps sur scène
et puis qu'on n'entend plus.
C'est un récit conté par un idiot, rempli de bruit et de
fureur, qui ne signifie rien.