Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mustang Sally

A few weeks ago, a new student came to YB. Let's call her Mustang Sally. I had been warned by the center director that she might be "a bit LD" in math. This turned out to be an understatement: her low ability put that of my other student to shame. In addition to her learning disability, however, Mustang Sally revealed herself to be a princess, with all that that entails: she was a lazy, smartass bitch with a sense of entitlement, and she now enters the hall of shame as the first student to have made me truly angry.

I once tried talking with her about her future. That was a mistake. Sally cares nothing for her future. That day, she actually had trouble remembering, five minutes into our conversation, why I was talking to her about the future. Her answers varied in tone from sullen to guarded to overtly disrespectful. Her forgetfulness, which plagues her during regular tutoring sessions, may be in part the result of her relatively dim intellect, but I suspect that it's also an act: a little bit of passive-aggressiveness to keep the world, by which I really mean teachers and other authority figures, at bay. Reality can't be allowed to intrude, and those pesky teachers ask such annoying questions about the connection between current actions and future consequences. It's better just to be a forgetful, flighty lotus-eater, blithely flitting from pleasant thought to pleasant thought while showing the world a world-avoiding gaze. Sally's very good at that, actually: she keeps her tone neutral and rarely shows any expression at all.

Saddening and maddening. Some students seem congenitally incapable of thinking further than their nose; they care nothing about current events or about anything that isn't instantly accessible through their smart phones. If such students run blogs, their blogs tend to be of the Tumblr sort, i.e., a place to post pictures-- usually pictures taken by others-- and short captions containing insights that are wholly unoriginal. It's sad to think that such kids represent the future, and that they probably occupy the majority of the demographic pie graph. Mustang Sally, in all her cluelessness, sits squarely in that majority.

Do I sound old?


Friday, March 30, 2012

you don't have free will

Sam Harris at a recent Cal Tech talk, opining on the illusion of free will.

Harris's points seem almost to be grounded in Indian philosophy:

• Consciousness is the one thing that can't be illusory.
• The self, meanwhile, is an illusion.*
• Decisions, being based on previous states of affairs that include both previous decisions and random factors, cannot be parsed in such a way as to reveal free will at any point in the decision-making process.

There's more going on in this talk-- much more. If you find yourself with about 80 minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching Harris's spiel and the brief Q&A period that follows it.

My own sense that I have free will is both strong and undeniable, but Harris makes a pretty good case for the idea that a combination of deterministic and random factors can never be a recipe for freedom in the cherished philosophical sense, i.e., that I am somehow the "author" (Harris's term) of my actions. I wish he'd had more time to tease out the moral implications of this way of thinking. The talk heads, somewhat fuzzily, in the direction of emphasizing compassion and understanding-- especially regarding violent criminals-- as core values in this new, post-libertarian ethos, but Harris's spiel does little to unpack these concepts.

I'm wary of attempts at social engineering. When people propose new moral paradigms, I feel as if I'm witnessing a sort of top-down attempt at restructuring human interaction. Of course, Harris isn't seriously proposing a thorough, comprehensive reparadigming; the lack of detail in his talk is enough to make that clear. But as a prominent author and respected neuroscientist, he's in a position to influence a lot of people, and his facility for accessible explanations means he can insert his ideas into the pop-cultural nomos with ease. There is indeed a top-down dynamic at work here, and it's worrisome.

All of this has made me want to read more Herbert Fingarette. Fingarette has done a lot of work in the areas of freedom and responsibility, and I think he comes down on the side of moral agency: there is some sense in which we are morally responsible for what we do. I've cited Fingarette before, mainly because he talks about two senses of the word "responsibility": (1) being the locus of action, and (2) being the locus of moral agency. From here:

In the first sense, being responsible means being the locus of a given action. In the second sense, it refers to being an accountable moral agent. The first sense applies when we think of, say, a bear attacking someone: no one seriously attributes malice to the bear. The second sense is more in line with how we approach premeditated murder: the killer is not only the enactor of the murder; he is also someone who can be held accountable for having done wrong.

Harris's way of thinking detracts nothing from sense (1), but it certainly complicates our evaluation of sense (2). I may watch this Cal Tech talk again soon. If I do, I'll likely have more to say on the matter.

*This is somewhat unfortunately phrased, since the term "illusion" requires a self that grounds the perspective from which illusions can be perceived. Harris might have done better had he said that the self doesn't exist.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

at the TEF blog

Some excerpts from a book my French Papa gave me years ago: La foire aux cancres (i.e., The Dunce Fair), a collection of writing samples from students who had given up on school before even trying. Despite being published in 1962, the book is still on sale on the French-language Amazon site (I've provided the link at the TEF blog)-- a testament to the enduring charm of human stupidity. My own copy of La foire aux cancres is very old and weather-beaten. Here are some excerpts that I didn't include in the TEF post, along with my translations:

La Lune est habitée, puisqu'il y a de la lumière.
The Moon is inhabited, because there's light.

Il y a des corps solides, des corps liquides, et des corps gracieux. Les corps se dilatent sous l'action de la chaleur. Exemple : en été, les jours s'allongent sous l'action de la chaleur.
There are solid bodies, liquid bodies, and gracious bodies. The bodies enlarge under the action of heat. Example: in summer, the days become longer under the action of heat.

(NB: The student was trying to write "corps gazeux," i.e., "gaseous bodies.")

Principe d'Archimède : Tout corps plongé dans un liquide, s'il nest pas revenu à la surface au bout d'une demi-heure, doit être considéré comme perdu.
The Archimedes Principle: Any body immersed in a liquid, if it hasn't returned to the surface after half an hour, should be considered lost.

I remember once seeing, years ago, a similar collection of writing by English-speaking students. One student claim stuck with me:

The ancient Ionians believed the universe was a giant orgasm.

America has more than its share of cancres, but I do wonder whether that student might have inadvertently stumbled upon something profound.


Ave, Marmot's Hole!

A very, very educational post on Korean politics in this election year. Some of the comments are-- surprise, surprise-- worth reading as well. (Ten comments as of this writing.)


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

at the TEF blog

Unabomber victim David Gelernter on "cyber-English," plus some of my own thoughts on language-- thoughts that will be nothing new to readers of this blog.


Ave, Skippy!

I've been predicting, for a long time now, that Obama is going to have his second term. Reality-deniers may disagree, but the signs are all there. Here's Skippy's take:

The Republican party has apparently forgotten the central lesson of Tropic Thunder: You never go full retard. The evidence of this is everywhere you look, but [it] stands out the strongest in the Grand Old Party's field of presidential candidates.

Only the Republicans could see a discredited hack from twenty years ago and say, "Newt Gingrich? Why not?" For all of the folks on the right that have devoted their lives to defending her, I have yet to see one of them say that Michele Bachmann doesn't actually look crazy. In an election year that should be dominated by the economy, Rick Santorum can't stop lovingly describing his jihad against rubbers, pornography and, yes, even amniocentesis.

It's almost as if the GOP is deliberately throwing this election.

I encourage you to read the rest, because Skippy lets loose his inner Tarantino later on. As for Mr. Cain... you know, I liked that guy a lot at first, but if he's gone "full retard," per Skippy's (and Robert Downey Jr.'s) analysis, then all I can do is pity the fool.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

at the TEF blog

We're flying blind this week: MGRE's site is undergoing an overhaul that has affected the display of this week's Math Beast Challenge. I've attempted to reconstruct the illustration that, on MGRE's site, no longer appears above the word problem (it was there, ever so briefly, on Monday). I've also provided my own attempted solution right there in the post, as opposed to my usual habit of tucking my solution into the comments.


"But do they taste like, you know... beef?"

At the local Costco the other day, I found myself in the frozen- and refrigerated-foods section. A group of people was hovering by the hot dogs, of which three brands were displayed most prominently: Kirkland dinner franks (Kirkland is Costco's house brand), Nathan's hot dogs (same as the Nathan's restaurant chain), and my favorite: Hebrew National. One woman in particular was staring dubiously at the Hebrew National hot dogs; she began to move away from the refrigerator door, which allowed me to slip past her and grab a four-pack (seven dogs per pack). She turned to me and asked, "Are those any good?"

"Oh, yeah-- these are great!" I said.

"But do they taste like, you know... beef?"

"Of course!" I said. Unconvinced, she left the area. I have no idea what she was expecting, but this was a great example of how people trust only what they know. I'm guessing the word "Hebrew" threw her for a loop. I live out in Jesus country, where "Hebrew" probably calls to mind vague recollections of Sunday school and little else.

An interesting, if typo-ridden, blog post on Hebrew National franks versus other types of franks can be found here. I'll let my one or two Jewish readers comment on the post's factual accuracy. Me, I like Hebrew National franks because they're far more flavorful than other hot dog brands. They microwave better, too, if you're in a rush. Lastly: they're my go-to hot dog when I make budae-jjigae.


at the TEF blog

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

2. Recommended online geometry help.


Monday, March 26, 2012


Today-- at least so far-- isn't a day when I feel like saying anything worthwhile, so I'll let others do the talking for me.

From my blogroll:

Joshua's "Anju" links are up. The Casey Lartigue link is a good one. Joshua also wrote a post saying "I told you so" re: South Korea's push to sell North Korean products from the problematic Kaesong industrial complex to America and Europe.

Japan and Nietzsche commentary from Nathan.

Jeff on homesickness, or the lack thereof.

Lee, at A Thinking Reed, has been posting his thoughts on vegetarianism. His latest is here.

Jasmine makes margarita cookies. You should also check out her creamy chicken lasagna. (NB: posts are in French)

Holden Beck talks about mastery in 10,000 hours.

From the Marmot's Hole: why I won't be buying a smart TV.

From the Web:

Teacher fired for not noticing third-graders having oral sex. Whoops.

The brother of Mohamed Merah (the self-proclaimed jihadi who killed seven people in Toulouse and Montauban, France, and who died after a 32-hour standoff with authorities) has been jailed and is being questioned. (in French)

Far-rightist Marine Le Pen wants to bring radical Islamism "to its knees." (in French)

Hugo Chavez still thinks he can cheat death.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

death of a cat

It's always the same when hunting mountain lions, it seems: the guys go out with their hounds and let them loose; when the dogs pick up a scent, the whole hunting party starts off after the big cat. The dogs usually get to the cat first; in fact, most hunters say it's almost impossible to hunt cougars without dogs: the cats are too sly and quiet to be easy quarry. What usually happens next is that the dogs tree the cougar-- also called a puma, a catamount, and various other names-- and when the bipeds catch up, they leash the dogs to the nearby trees. The hounds keep baying; the cat stays put.

This particular cat, on this particular day, was already up in the tree, trapped by the dogs. The air was crisp and cold; it was winter, and the tall Ponderosa pine that served as the cat's refuge still held clumps of snow. The cougar looked down; it saw and smelled and heard the dogs. Its strong claws gripped the branches; it could probably stay in that tree indefinitely-- at least until the dogs got bored. The men who tended the dogs were loud, too, but their attention often seemed more focused on whatever objects they were handling than on the cougar itself. Every now and again the cougar let out a threatening hiss, exposing its fangs. After the effort of running and climbing that tree, its breathing was quick and shallow.

The cougar was still watching the dogs when the crossbow quarrel slammed into its chest and buried itself so deeply that not even the feathers were visible. Startled, the cougar leaped reflexively and somehow managed to keep its perch.

"Oh, my God!" one of the men cried.

The cougar stared down at the men. Blood poured in a frightening torrent from a gaping wound high in its ribcage. Twice, the cougar tried to roar, but dark crimson surged out even faster with each attempt. Despite its efforts, the cat made no sound.

"Heart shot, baby! Heart shot!" one of the men shouted, excited and triumphant.

But the quarrel hadn't struck the heart: had it done so, the cat would have died much more quickly. Instead, the cougar tried in vain to adjust its posture, perhaps not realizing how weak it had become in the space of five seconds. It lost its balance, clawed desperately at some branches, then tumbled to the cold earth. The men released one of the hounds; the cougar somehow managed to right itself, but at that point it was too late: too much internal damage had been done. Its shredded lungs full of blood, the cougar ran a few yards, then died. The last sounds it heard were the baying of the hounds and the triumphant whoops of one of the men.

The above is based on this video. Click only if you're not squeamish, because that blood flow is truly horrifying.

To be clear: I'm not anti-hunting, and I'm aware that mountain lions have become numerous enough, in places like New Mexico, to qualify as a legitimate menace. Such cats attack a sufficient number of people-- hikers and oblivious children-- to make their culling a necessity. My Buddhist readers might not want to hear this, but I'm all for hunting cougars. That said, I can't help feeling uncomfortable about the crass way in which the hunter in the video celebrates his kill.

Having watched a number of hunting vids on YouTube over the past couple months, I've come to realize that hunters seem to come in several flavors. At the tasteless end of the spectrum are the guys who see animals as trophies, and who act as if their kill took enormous courage. In reality, the kill is the result of careful planning and experience. That in itself is fine; I don't think there's anything smart or noble about hunting in a heedless, self-endangering manner. But shooting a treed mountain lion is a far cry from defending your family from a mountain lion that has entered your home. The latter takes true guts.

At the other end of the spectrum are the quieter, more analytical hunters who do what they do for practical reasons. They may be getting rid of an overpopulation of nuisance animals, or they may be hunting for food and pelts. Such hunters-- civilized and stoic-- have my respect. They've learned something from the ethos of the American Indian about being thankful for the animal they've brought down, and they don't engage in embarrassing displays of fist-pumping, shouting, and jeering.

I subscribe to the old wisdom that, when you bring an animal down, you are bound to that animal. Even if the link is only a biological one, scientifically explainable, the fact remains that that animal now gives you some of its energy. You're both playing your roles in the great cosmic drama, life feeding on life, and that's something to take seriously.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

"The Hunger Games"

[Suzanne] Collins is an efficient no-nonsense prose stylist with a pleasantly dry sense of humor. Reading The Hunger Games is as addictive (and as violently simple) as playing one of those shoot-it-if-it-moves videogames in the lobby of the local eightplex; you know it's not real, but you keep plugging in quarters anyway. Balancing off the efficiency are displays of authorial laziness that kids will accept more readily than adults. When Katniss needs burn cream or medicine for Peeta, whom she more or less babysits during the second half of the book, the stuff floats down from the sky on silver parachutes. And although the bloody action in the arena is televised by multiple cameras, Collins never mentions Katniss seeing one. Also, readers of Battle Royale (by Koushun Takami), The Running Man, or The Long Walk (those latter two by some guy named Bachman) will quickly realize they have visited these TV badlands before.

-excerpt from a faint-praise review by Stephen King of Suzanne Collins's dystopian novel The Hunger Games

Stephen King is justifiably displeased about The Hunger Games, a story that is an obvious rip-off of his 1982 Richard Bachman novel, The Running Man. This review of the newly released film got me chuckling:

"The Hunger Games" may be derivative, but it is engrossing and at times exciting. Implicitly, it argues that "The Truman Show" might have been improved by Ed Harris lobbing fireballs at Jim Carrey, and it's now clear what "American Idol" was missing all those years: a crossbow for Simon Cowell.

I have no desire to see the film, which has already broken box office records. Let the younger set enjoy this retread, which doesn't seem to offer anything more innovative than the boilerplate dystopia and a heroine who may, in the end, bring the system down.

Roger Ebert's perceptive review is here.


with money comes freedom

No two ways about it: unless you plan on living a risky existence off the grid, you need money to get around. As of yesterday, I can get around. Two of my three income sources have paid me this month, and I'm waiting on the third source: the Seoul-based publishing company (we'll call it "Maison Boussole," or "MB" for short), which experienced a one-day delay in sending out payments. That's damn inconvenient, but not extremely inconvenient. If the payment isn't in my bank account tomorrow, I'm sure it'll be there on Monday.

Thanks to this infusion, I've just paid off my pressing bills, and have renewed my Costco membership for another year of Executive Gold-level madness. Now it's time to go out, drive to the local Costco, purchase another six months' worth of contact lenses plus other sundries, then tool over to Skyline Drive to renew my one-year pass (it expired last November). As for food: I really enjoyed what I did a couple months ago when I purchased a bunch of groceries at the local Korean store and made myself enough Korean stew to last me three weeks. I'll probably do that again this week, but since I've got some extra dough, I might include some other food purchases as well.

UPDATE: The $430 arrived just a few minutes ago. We're set, baby!

At least for the next week or so.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Mr. Reynolds says...

I don't normally quote the scribblings of Glenn Reynolds, manager of Instapundit, mostly because I find that his blog is little more than a clearinghouse for links to other sites. But this snappy quote caught my attention:

You want to redistribute wealth? Spend your endowment to provide free tuition. You want to fight inequality? Start admitting applicants at random, without regard to SAT scores or grades.

This was in response to the news that many elite universities have entire centers devoted to the study of "inequality." See the relevant post here. Some people just don't get that hierarchy is woven into the fabric of the cosmos. Think I'm wrong? Try talking to someone stupid, for starters.


as suspected

Mohamed Merah (this is the French spelling of his given name) is dead. It turns out that he had been a psych patient for two weeks.

I'm wondering what the optics are for Sarkozy, who's currently running for his second term. The French Left is spinning this as Sarkozy's problem for having created/exacerbated a climate of racial/cultural intolerance. The French Right, meanwhile, sees people like Mehra as justification for stricter measures to be taken against certain foreign and/or non-integrated communities.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

at the TEF blog

It's French Day every Thursday at the TEF blog, so I've chosen to highlight an article from L'Express about (1) Mohamed Merah, a putative jihadi currently holed up in an apartment building in Toulouse, and (2) jihadist movements in France. I don't expect this to go well for Merah, even though French authorities are determined to bring him in alive.


Ave, Gord!

Food for thought as Gord leads his classes of Korean students through discussions of race, prejudice, and all the rest. An excerpt:

I have in the past written about negative things in my experience in Korea, and not as much (especially in recent years) about positive experiences. So I thought I’d talk about a positive one, and believe it or not, it was a class discussion of the recent blackface incident on MBC TV.

It could have been a negative experience, if I’d just sort of scooped up what people said and poured it into a blender and posted the mess online, or had decided (as so many do) to ignore the fact that a lot of people have never talked about such issues in a class before.

Instead, I asked the groups to share their opinions and thoughts, taking notes (and sketching out themes and connections) on the board. There were things that, you know, are quite obviously problematic, such as, “Since there wasn’t an intention of hurting black people, the intention wasn’t bad, so it wasn’t racist.” There were reactions like, “Well, since old people don’t get it about racism, and young people do, we need to understand our elders.” There was also the perennial standby, “This is all a big misunderstanding.” Or, “Those bloggers are overreacting to this incident.”

So I left my students with a few questions to consider. Like:

1. Who gets to decide whether something is racist or not? Why do they get to decide?
2. Where do we draw the line between reaction and overreaction? Who gets to say which is which?
3. What kind of action are we talking about when we talk about “helping” older people understand, or being “patient” with them?

There were other questions.

I encourage you to read the rest. And if you're a Korean unused to dealing with these issues, I definitely encourage you to read Gord's post and do some serious thinking. For my part, I think that, when Korean racism rears its ugly head, excuses like "it's a misunderstanding" or "foreigners don't understand Korean culture" are little more than a childish dodge-- an attempt to avoid real discussion. Many Koreans privately acknowledge the existence and power of racism; it'd be nice for the discussion to become more public. I take satisfaction in noting that Korea's economic success has brought with it an influx of foreigners desirous of opportunities on the peninsula; many of these foreigners stay for years and start families. A demographic shift is slowly but surely occurring, and Koreans are eventually going to have to address the question of what, exactly, it means to be Korean.


Ave, Dr. V!

Dr. Vallicella writes:

Joe Sixpack is a tweeting twit whose attention span is commensurate with the length of his 'tweets.' Do not these tweeting twits fear that their brains will soon be fit only to flit?

I see this happening at my tutoring center, as students with cell phone addiction try to hide the fact that they're either texting or tweeting under the table. Some bloggers who tweet have observed that Twitter sucks out any desire to blog at length. "Brains that flit," indeed. I worry about where this is leading.


Dropbox question

My latest assignment, from the Seoul-based publishing company that gives me occasional work (about one gig per month), involves writing several chapters for a children's English-language textbook. The materials I'm working on, a cluster of files that represent book chapters, were sent to us writers via a shared-folder system known as Dropbox. The downloading of the Dropbox software was easy enough, as was the accessing of the files I needed for my assignment (any given shared folder is accessible only through invitation). But I'm not familiar with the system, and I'm hoping that one or more of my readers might know the answer to a question I have.

The question: my Dropbox folder is a shared folder, but does this mean that, when I remove the folder's contents and place them on my hard drive, those contents are no longer available to anyone else who's sharing that same folder? I ask this because I had initially tried selecting and dragging all the documents from my Dropbox folder in an effort to copy the folder's contents (that's the standard procedure on a Mac)... but instead of copying the files onto my desktop, I somehow ended up emptying the folder, i.e., the contents were all on my computer. I yelped when this happened and immediately dragged all the files back into the shared folder. I then created duplicates of all the files and dragged those duplicates out of the Dropbox folder and into a designated desktop folder.

Dropbox seems highly interactive. The program's icon sits inside my top-of-the-screen task bar and gives me notifications whenever the shared folder's contents are updated-- another reason for me to fear that tampering with the folder's contents might be a bad thing. I had originally thought that Dropbox would operate like a typical online hard drive, i.e., even after you download the contents of such a drive's folders, the contents remain in the online drive because they've merely been copied, not shunted.

Any insights about Dropbox's properties will be most welcome. In the meantime, I need to look up the instructions: in my rush to get working, I had heedlessly downloaded and installed Dropbox in order to access the requisite files. It's time to learn what sort of monster I've invited into my foyer.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

at the TEF blog

A repost of my earlier piece on the varying dignity of letters.


thank you

To the kind person who mailed me a Blu-ray copy of "True Grit": thank you. I don't know who you are, but I bet I can guess your identity from my short list of about five people most likely to do such a thing.



two articles

I've got a lot to do between now and the time I shove off for work, so I'm going to leave you with these two articles, both found through my Twitter feed:

1. When the Good Do Bad


It’s always interesting to read the quotations of people who knew a mass murderer before he killed. They usually express complete bafflement that a person who seemed so kind and normal could do something so horrific.

Friends of Robert Bales, who is accused of massacring 16 Afghan civilians, have expressed similar thoughts. Friends and teachers describe him as caring, gregarious and self-confident before he — in the vague metaphor of common usage — apparently “snapped.” As one childhood friend told The Times: “That’s not our Bobby. Something horrible, horrible had to happen to him.”

Any of us would be shocked if someone we knew and admired killed children. But these days it’s especially hard to think through these situations because of the worldview that prevails in our culture.

According to this view, most people are naturally good, because nature is good. The monstrosities of the world are caused by the few people (like Hitler or Idi Amin) who are fundamentally warped and evil.

This worldview gives us an easy conscience, because we don’t have to contemplate the evil in ourselves. But when somebody who seems mostly good does something completely awful, we’re rendered mute or confused.

2. Susan Gelman on Essentialism


Essentialism has a lot of positive implications. You could say it’s one of the motivators for science. One of the reasons why we keep looking and digging for non-obvious similarities within a category is that we have this optimistic belief that the world has a lot of structure to it. That seems to be true. As far as we can tell, there is an awful lot of deep structure to the world, which goes beyond superficial appearances. That’s a very productive and positive feature of essentialism. What’s not so productive and positive is when we turn this lens on to thinking about social categories. A great example of that is when Larry Summers made those off-the-cuff comments about women at a conference a few years ago. If you read the transcript, which I did, he really made essentialist claims. He said that there are inherent differences between men and women that are responsible for women not reaching as high levels in academia and that he didn’t think factors like environment, or outward causes that aren’t located in the individual, had much weight. Interestingly, he also linked these [differences] to childhood. If something is really essential, it should be there from the beginning, it should be innate. It unfolds with development – it doesn’t come to be with development. It’s there all along, within the individual, just waiting for its expression. So he gave anecdotes from small children, where girls wanted to play with dolls, as evidence, as if these were relevant to his claims about the economic situation of women in academia.

Read on!

Of note is the irony that Gelman spends most of the time speaking anti-essentialistically, then later quotes a writer who feels women are "underrepresented in the highest reaches of business and academia." Hmmm. Isn't it essentialistic to believe that any given field or human endeavor should manifest an exact, 50-50 representation by both sexes?


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

at the TEF blog

This week's Math Beast Challenge involves sums-- yet again. I hate sums.


also passing this along

Blogger Michael Hurt of Scribblings of the Metropolitician suffered a stroke earlier this month. All the news can be found at ZenKimchi.

This kinda' bugged me, but it sounds so familiar:

Mike’s mother is Korean and works in the cardiology section of a hospital in the U.S. But she’s admitted that being in a Korean hospital has been a bit of a culture shock. She has to go buy supplies that American hospitals usually have available in the rooms, like rubber gloves. Patients in Korean hospitals don’t really get much care. The families supply the meals. There’s little, if any, concept of bedside manner. And the lack of communication is astounding. [emphasis added]

For example, they had trouble tapping a vein to get some blood. So a doctor set up a tap so that hospital workers could easily get blood when needed. That didn’t stop some person at 4 a.m. from sticking his foot to try to get more blood.

Joe goes on to talk about one of the positives of Korean hospitals. Be sure to click over and read. For me, one of the things I dread about a long-term stay in Korea is precisely the question of hospital care. Not that the American system is perfect-- over at the Kevin's Walk blog, I wrote at length, on several occasions, about the problems our family experienced with Mom's care-- but the Korean system often seems to lack certain basics, like proper and thorough communication, whose absence would make a hospital stay nightmarish. Patient advocacy seems even more important in the Korean system than it is in the American system.


from LiNK re: forcible repatriation of NK defectors

I subscribe to LiNK's newsletter, and this email just arrived:

China's Forced Repatriation of 31 North Korean Refugees

Dear friends,

We are sad to convey that the North Korean refugees that had been detained in China have been forcibly sent back to North Korea.

The group, numbering at least 31, included a teenager whose older brother and sister were already in South Korea, a father with his daughter, a mother and her two children, an elderly woman of 70 years old whose daughter was waiting for her in Seoul, and a child of just 5 years old.

Our North Korean refugee friends consistently tell us that they fear for their lives when they leave the country, but they do so in the hope of escaping extreme impoverishment and government repression, and for some, to have the chance to reunite with their family members in South Korea.

We know from our partners on the ground that security has recently been heightened on both sides of the North Korea-China border. This has made it even more dangerous for North Korean people to try to escape the country and has also made it more difficult for North Korean refugees hiding in China to travel on to countries where they can safely resettle.

The relatives of the repatriated refugees first tried to secure their release through quiet diplomacy. It was only when it became apparent that the Chinese authorities would imminently be sending the refugees back that the issue was publicized in a desperate last ditch effort to save them. What started as a small campaign in South Korea quickly grew and garnered an unprecedented level of attention from the international community, and over 175,000 people from around the world joined to voice their support for the 'Save My Friend' campaign. Despite this, the Chinese government decided to side with the leadership in Pyongyang and repatriate the refugees.

We are extremely saddened that the Chinese government has taken this course of action. The North Korean people are currently suffering from even more restrictions during the transitional period and the new leadership is reportedly ordering even harsher punishments for attempted defectors and their relatives. By actively cracking down and forcibly sending North Korean refugees back to face severe punishment, the Chinese government is making itself complicit in North Korea's horrific human rights abuses.

We have been moved by the strength of compassion that has been shown around the world for the North Korean refugees. We believe it is more important now than ever to come alongside the North Korean people, to advocate for them, and to demonstrate to the Chinese authorities that people and governments all over the world are increasingly concerned and are willing to stand up for the basic human rights of North Korean refugees.

In our dedication to the North Korean people, we will also continue to work directly with our partners and staff on the ground to help North Korean refugees leave China and make it safely to countries that will protect them.

With hope,
The LiNK staff

I'm not much of an activist, but I do think often about the plight of NK refugees, and thought I'd do my part to spread the word. Visit LiNKGlobal to sign up for their mailing list.


what lies ahead

I'm working on a writing project for that Korean publishing company (many thanks to my former coworker Z for getting me the gig), and I'm tutoring my goddaughter in geometry this evening (she took a test last week, and I'm hoping she did well on it). Otherwise, it's an evening of laundry. I hand-washed this week's load and have allowed everything to air-dry, but not everything's as air-dried as I'd like. Might have to wait a few more hours before the thicker materials (socks, etc.) are ready for folding. In the meantime, my shirts and pants are dry enough to iron, so I got that goin' for me.

Which is nice.


at the TEF blog

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


Monday, March 19, 2012

another thing happening next month

Next month, assuming it's as lucrative as hoped for, I'll be dropping my land line. I've thought long and hard about this, and have decided that, if the only reason I'm keeping the land line is for faxing purposes, then that's not a reason at all. Some commenters had written in last year to say that online faxing is perfectly feasible; I resisted at first, but now think that that's the way to go. Cutting out the phone line will mean a savings of $60 per month-- a ridiculous amount to be paying for a land line. (Not many choices out here in the boonies.) But I can't cut the line right now: I'll probably have to pay some sort of penalty, along with whatever remaining charges there are on my bill. I have to wait until I've got money in the bank.

Am looking forward to being rid of this phone-y burden; the liberated cash will significantly increase my gas budget (gas costs me about $50 per week for my tiny car). I might even be able to drive to places other than the workplace for a change! Living life on a tight budget is a bit like living under house arrest.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

coming soon

I had loaned a bunch of my old Stephen R. Donaldson books to a friend in Korea back in 2008; having read all of Donaldson's latest books, I've found myself wanting to go back and read through the older ones again. So I wrote my friend last week, and he very obligingly said he'd mail the books to me; I imagine they'll be arriving in the next couple of weeks. Can't wait to be reunited with my old friends.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy Saint Paddy's!

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! On the 15th of this month we killed Caesar, so now let's chase some snakes and have ourselves a beer! I'll be wearing my usual Saturday tie, which has a bit of green in it. Must avoid being pinched by naughty students and staff members.

This would also be a good day to re-watch the most Oyrish movie of them all:

God, what an awesome film.


every active, long-running blog is part-zombie

If you've been blogging for years, as I have (this blog was born on the Fourth of July, in 2003), then there's a 100-percent chance that your blog suffers from link rot. Bloggers are link-happy individuals; link rot is what happens when a linked-to site disappears. Someone stumbles upon an old 2004 post of yours, clicks the link in hopes of seeing a photo or news article, and is instead rewarded with a "404 Not Found" error message. It's impossible for a long-time blogger to go back through the archives and undo years of link rot: reassigning dead links is not a task that anyone looks forward to. This is also why bloggers are often tempted to violate copyright by quoting large chunks of text: they know that, eventually, link rot is going to set in, so they need to preserve the text on their own blog.

While it's often said that anything slapped onto the Net stays there forever, I'd argue that that pearl of wisdom is, at best, only partially true. Actively updated blogs are generally vivacious creatures, but as they grow ever larger, their trailing ends start to show signs of decay-- the leprous putrefaction of cyberspace. No such blog is rot-free; every such blog is part-zombie.


Friday, March 16, 2012

the modularity of bullshit

Thanks to a friend on Twitter, I've been alerted to this: Write Your Own Academic Sentence. My favorite part: the "Edit it!" button, which shows that all these terms are interchangeable to such a degree that the bullshit never resolves itself into clarity. For instance, if I select the following phrases to plug into a sentence--

the gendered body
the gaze

-- I can generate this sentence:

The eroticization of the gaze invests itself in the construction of the gendered body.

Then by repeatedly hitting the "Edit it!" button, the above can be reshuffled to create:

The construction of the gaze invests itself in the eroticization of the gendered body.

The eroticization of the gendered body invests itself in the construction of the gaze.

The construction of the gendered body invests itself in the eroticization of the gaze.

The eroticization of the gaze functions as the conceptual frame for the construction of the gendered body.

I feel... exalted.


at the TEF blog

I quote a chunk of Sam Harris's latest blog post on Islam and liberalism.


haiku with a student

One of my most adorable students is with me every Thursday. Let's call her Chris. She's this itty-bitty wisp of a Korean girl, a quiet 5th- or 6th-grader who comes to our center for tutoring in math and reading/writing. Today, we worked a bit on some of the homework I had given her before, then turned our attention to an assignment that Chris had been given at school: write two haiku, one about nature and another about any subject you want. The English teacher was asking for a standard 5-7-5 syllabic structure, so we looked up* translations of Basho's famous frog haiku. In doing so, we stumbled upon this page, which features over thirty English versions of the original Japanese poem-- most of which aren't in the 5-7-5 structure-- and ends with commentary by the late Robert Aitken roshi (three of whose books I own, one or two more of which are on my Amazon Wish List).

After examining the various translations for a bit, we set out to write our own. Chris wrote two; I wrote seven. I didn't copy Chris's haiku, so I can't reprint them here. My first three were just random:

hunger gnawing me
unable to concentrate
gonna get some food

I hate tiny dogs
all their yipping annoys me
wish they'd disappear

(The above doesn't apply to Maqz, who gets special dispensation, but it's true that I normally find tiny dogs exceedingly annoying.)

most TV is dumb
few shows really interest me
wanna play Xbox

My final four haiku were all seasonal:

bears in burrows sleep
water pauses in its dance
earth awaiting spring

old and withered leaf
launches itself from the tree
joining its fellows

(I was probably thinking of that leaf-suicide scene in "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.")

glass of lemonade
sweating on the front porch rail
blissful indolence

upon my windshield
telltale splatters indicate
bugs have come back out

Not my best haiku, to be sure. Still, Chris's favorite was the one about summer. As she was writing her own poems, I watched Chris dutifully counting out syllables, trying her best to shoehorn meaning into the prescribed structure. In the end, I think her two haiku were mostly successful. Overall, I was impressed with how quickly she caught on to making them.

We also took a look at Langston Hughes's powerful "A Dream Deferred." Chris and I discussed it for a few minutes, since she initially had no clue what "deferred" meant. I get the impression that she might like poetry a lot more than I did at her age (I still find most poetry-- including mine-- to be varying degrees of lame and/or pretentious, which is why I stick with doggerel). We'll see. She's also into short stories, and we're making our way through an anthology titled Heroes and Villains, which has served us YB tutors well when students need something to read and to write about.

*I use my smart phone at work all the time to Google information.


I'm off by a month

I had thought that March was going to be the month when things would get better financially, but it's looking more and more as if April's going to be that month. If I'm not mistaken, I've got a large proofreading project coming in early April (no fixed date, but I'm hoping it'll arrive within the first week to ten days), and I'll also be involved in a writing project this month that will net me around $750 (minus bank transfer fees) when I'm paid for it in late April. I could really use the funds now, but them's the breaks.

This month, I've got a direct deposit from my day job coming on the 23rd, plus about $430 coming from the publishing company that's providing the writing project, plus the remaining $150 of a private tutoring fee. The $430 is for work done in late February; all payments go out on the 20th of any given month, so any work done after the 20th of any month is shunted to the next calendar month.

So the windfall, such as it is, will happen in April. I'll be too late to renew my Costco membership (expires at the end of March) and won't be able to get new tires for the car for a while, but at least I'll be able to pay Uncle Sam the $280 I owe him (the Commonwealth of Virginia, meanwhile, owes me about $80), and once I re-purchase a Costco membership sometime in April, I'll be able to get another six months' worth of contact lenses (am on my last pair from the current six-month batch... I can make them last two months if necessary).

I also called Sallie Mae's automated line and requested a second forbearance. The first one ended in January and I paid my February bill, but that left me with next to nothing. A forbearance sucks because, on a scholastic loan, any accrued interested will be capitalized if it's not paid off during the forbearance period. At the same time, I've got too much hardship to pay the $320/month that Sallie Mae (bitch!) is asking for, so I've requested a delay in payment through August.

May April be as bountiful as I'm hoping it will be. It's not as though the bounty will last, but at the very least it'll afford me some breathing room.


much quieter

A YB student, whose "last" day had supposedly been last September, has returned. His math grade has plummeted, according to his parents. I saw this kid sitting in our lobby before class yesterday, and marveled at how he had changed in the intervening months. He's noticeably taller now, and has lost all of his pudginess. In addition, he seems to have shed all the annoying goofiness he used to possess: this is the same kid about whom I'd blogged last year-- the one who kept falling out of his damn chair. It's almost as if the goofiness had been beaten out of him: he's much quieter now, and he doesn't fidget in his seat the way he used to.

It's hard to know whether these changes are positive, but I'm thankful that this student now approaches his math tasks with more seriousness.


at the TEF blog

A link to a French article on why dogs' noses are wet.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ave, Elisson!

Elisson reminds me that today is Pi Day.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

the varying dignity of letters

I respect the letter "i"
Which I find more dignified
Than "y" or "ee"

When I spell Korean words
On the page they're seen, not heard:
I write "kimchi"

Same is true when I write "u"
It's superior to "oo"
Ask Noh Moo Hyeon

Would you rather be a "Wu"?
Or instead a lowly "Woo"?
That can't be fun

Letters know their place and rank
Like the fishes in a tank
They dominate

Change a spelling, add some verve
Set your words upon the curve
From good to great

"Chattahoochee," lacking wit
Fails with dignity to sit
Upon the page

"Chatahuchi," by contrast--
There's a name that's meant to last
Through every age!

It's an orthographic game
But some spellings are too lame
To greet the eye

Know your letters! Treat them well!
Don't consign your words to hell
With glyphs awry!

I admit I like "y" when it's pronounced "ih" as in "dysfunction" or "nymph"-- or the aforementioned "glyph." "Y" acquires an aura of power and mystery(!) in such contexts.

But spelling a foreign word with unsavory letter choices leaves me cold: I don't like "kimchee," which looks infantile, but I do like "kimchi." While I'm used to seeing surnames romanized as "Lee" and "Woo," I prefer "Li" and "Wu." True: the "Lee" versus "Li" distinction is often useful in distinguishing Korean versus Chinese surnames, even though the respective surnames are derived from the same Chinese character. If, back in the beginning, the Koreans and Chinese had some sort of contest to decide who got to use which spelling, I think the Koreans got the short end of the stick. But I've also seen Koreans deliberately choose the lamer orthography, as in "Jee-young" instead of the far more dignified "Ji-yeong." That unsavory "ee" combination should be reserved for childish utterances: "Oh, gee!" or "Hee hee hee!" (which can't be rendered in English as "Hi! Hi! Hi!" for obvious reasons).

My orthographic sensibility kicks into overdrive whenever I see names like "Sarkozy" and "Grozny." Wouldn't Sarko's name be cooler as "Sarkozi?" The change from "y" to "i" would give it a sort of mafioso cachet. And "Grozny" is just plain sad, whereas "Grozni" is, at least, not totally prostrate.

For Koreans, the inconsistent romanization of Korean names has led to some intractable problems. What's the valence of "u," for example? In the official ROK romanization scheme, it's clearly an "ooh" sound, but so many Koreans use it to mean "uh" that it's hard to tell who means what (e.g., "Sun-hee," where "Sun" sounds like the English "sun," not "soon"). That's why a dude with the surname "Yoon" is probably trapped into writing it that way: were he to write "Yun," it'd be hard for a non-Korean to know whether the name should rhyme with "tune" or with "fun." (Officially speaking, "Yun" should be pronounced "yoon," and if the name rhymed with "fun," it would/should be romanized "Yeon.") "Yoon" looks too close to "cartoon" for my taste. The most infamous example of the Korean surname problem? "Moon."

Does anyone else share this aesthetic, or am I all alone on this one? If you do feel similarly about letters, do you deplore, as I do, the change of that cable channel's name from "Sci-Fi" to "SyFy"? I just can't take the new spelling seriously.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

at the TEF blog

The newest MGRE Math Beast Challenge problem, along with my attempted answer in the comments.


at the TEF blog

MGRE's explanation for last week's math problem.


at the Kevin's Walk blog

My final words about Marissa Parks.


Monday, March 12, 2012

sad news

Marissa Parks has died. She spent more than a year fighting her GBM. For more information (or to leave words of comfort for Marissa's family), visit her blog here.

NB: Seon Joon sunim recently wrote a meditation on death that'd be worth your while.


"24" gaffes

The action drama "24" came out in 2001, debuting in the midst of national crisis: 9/11 was two months old, and global threats were on everyone's mind. Season 1 of "24," which I'm re-watching through Amazon Instant Video, doesn't really deal with what would eventually become the series' bread and butter: Islamic terrorism. Instead, it chronicles a Serbian plot to kill both a presidential candidate-- David Palmer (the imposing, authoritative Dennis Haysbert of Allstate fame)-- and the series protagonist, Jack Bauer (a perpetually growly Kiefer Sutherland). Palmer was part of a committee that had authorized a mission to kill Serbian warlord Victor Drazen (played with fiendish, scenery-chewing glee by Dennis Hopper) two years earlier; Drazen's body double was killed, but his actual wife and daughter were also killed, leading to the vendetta against Bauer and Palmer.

"24" makes no effort to be realistic, but if art is a vehicle for Big Thoughts, then on an artistic level, the series can be seen as a study in morality. It made for compelling viewing despite its cartoonish delivery. Even on my second run-through now, after all these years, the series is gripping. But this time around, I'm catching all sorts of things I had missed when I'd first watched Seasons 1 through 6 on a bootleg DVD in Korea (thanks, Tom). Among the things I'm catching this time are some hilarious gaffes in filmmaking. In two episodes, now, I've seen inadvertent shots of (1) a cameraman filming a scene in which one of the characters is supposed to be alone in a room, and (2) a camera dolly that ends up in frame during a scene in an otherwise-bare interrogation chamber.

In 2001, wide-screen TV was only just becoming popular; my guess is that the makers of "24" were themselves unused to the nature of the new format. I've seen the occasional boom mike appear at the top of the screen in other TV series, but I've never seen people and dollies show up with such prominence. I missed all this back in 2005: the bootleg DVD wasn't a copy of the wide-screen format of "24"; the edges had been sliced off.

All of this leaves me curious as to what other mistakes lie in my viewing future. For now, I'm treating them as an unexpected, inadvertent form of entertainment.

NB: "24" left the airwaves in 2010. See my tribute to it, and to "Battlestar Galactica," here.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mike says to spring forward

As my buddy Mike reminded me during a Skype chat: at 2AM on Sunday (that's a bit less than four hours from now for those of us in the DC-Metro area), clocks need to roll forward an hour. That means that I and Seoul will go from being 14 hours apart to being only 13 hours apart. 3PM on Tuesday in Virginia will be 4AM on Wednesday in Seoul, for example.

Modern guy that I am, I find Daylight Savings to be a quaint, outmoded concept. The original idea behind shifting the clock had to do with farming, if I'm not mistaken: farmers needed as many daylight hours as they could use to perform their tasks, especially during harvest time in the fall. With the advent of nighttime illumination and automated technology, however, much of the need for a clock-shift became irrelevant. What's more, many countries in the world (including South Korea) do just fine without shifting their clocks-- and these countries also have farmers. Is there really a need to continue this bootless custom? To me, it's more of a bother than anything else: far from saving time, it seems to waste it. My waking hour will come one hour earlier tomorrow; I never celebrate a curtailing of my sleep.

We'll talk another day about my plans to change the entire world to Global Standard Time.


good karma finally pays off

I admit it: when I'm alone in the car, I often drive fast. As in: 95-100 miles per hour fast. In a tiny Honda Fit, that's asking a lot of your car. It was also, I suppose, only a matter of time before I was going to get caught, and today my number was up.

Gotta hand it to the police officer: he chose a particularly good spot at which to snare us cars. Instead of parking in the usual spots-- e.g., just around a bend, tucked under a bridge, just over a rise-- he parked between two man-made hills, on the grass, and I swam right into his maw. I've seen that trick only once before on this stretch of freeway. "Clever bastard!" I muttered through my teeth.

He was slow about pulling out, too: I knew I was toast, so I watched in the rear view as he languidly rolled onto the freeway and turned on his lights (no siren). I had slowed 70 at that point, irrationally hoping that he'd pass me in favor of some other quarry, but no: he was after me, as I already knew. He slid behind my car; I pulled over, he sauntered up to my window, and we plunged into The Ritual, which I haven't undergone in years and years.

"How you doin'?" he began.

"Fine, Officer," I said.

"Clocked you at eighty-four," he said. (That's 135.5 km/h for my metrically inclined readers-- not too fast by my standards.) "What happened? Were you just not watching?"

"Guess not," I shrugged.

"In Virginia, over 80 is reckless driving.* License and registration, please," he said. I handed them over.

The officer walked back to his car, and came back only seconds later, which I found unusual. The Ritual normally takes a lot longer. Was I about to be placed under arrest?

"You've got a clean driving record, so I'm gonna let you off with a warning this time," the officer said. He handed me back my license and registration.

I smiled, said "Thank you," and went on my way-- much more slowly.

God, 70 miles per hour feels like crawling.

So what's the moral of the story? Probably not Be better at anticipating speed traps.

*I forgot to add that rather important utterance when I first typed this up. Wouldn't want to portray the officer as remiss in informing me of the relevant law.


Saturday, March 10, 2012


A belated Happy 15th Anniversary to my buddy Charles and his wife Hyunjin. Here's to another fifteen years, and more.


a gut full of worms

I bought a ton of Barilla pasta from Costco a couple weeks ago, and still haven't reached the halfway point on it. Last night, however, I came home from work around 10:30PM, and by 11PM I was chowing down on a huge pile of spaghetti topped off with the remainder of my seafood sauce. It was a damn good meal, but it was also too much: this morning my ass started howling mournfully, and it's been baying like Dracula's wolves for the better part of today. It would have been nice for all the pasta to leap out in a single session, but that was not to be. Today, I've eaten little more than a bowl of peas. I hope I won't have to take a megadump tomorrow, as I work 9 to 5. Keep your fingers crossed.


Friday, March 09, 2012

at the TEF blog

Every Thursday is French day, so I've slapped up a little something about President Sarkozy's recent remark that "there are too many foreigners on our soil."


Thursday, March 08, 2012

Lucy's karma


frame 1

The first frame of the comic I'm working on. Five frames in all. The line art is done; I just need to tweak, color, and resize for maximum bloggability.


Ave, Elisson!

As Jews celebrate Purim, Elisson provides us with a little bit of Jewish nondualism: should revel on Purim “ad lo yada” - until one no longer knows (ad de-lo yada) the difference between “Blessed be Mordechai” and “Cursed be Haman.”

Even Elisson's blog post title, with its "yada yada yada," subverts the text and points to something trans-textual. The image on that post does the same: it's The Finger Pointing, and as Zen students know, that finger is meant to point beyond itself, beyond words and concepts, to what is Real.

A mindful Purim, then, to all Jews everywhere.


Wednesday, March 07, 2012

la haine

A deeper hatred of semicolons I have never seen.



I had an idea for a cartoon, but I won't be able to draw it until later tonight. This blog post is a reminder to me to draw that puppy.


Tuesday, March 06, 2012

at the TEF blog

A tough-ass math MGRE Math Beast Challenge problem this time around. I think the answer is (D), but I've been wrong before. Feel free to give it a shot.

UPDATE: I had an epiphany and changed my mind. It's not (D). Besides, (D) is usually a cop-out, and is rarely the answer for these MGRE Quantitative Comparison problems.


Ave, Skippy!

I can't conjure up any strong emotions about the death and/or significance of Andrew Breitbart, but I appreciate Skippy's insights in his latest post on Republicans and the media:

The Republican party didn't win seven out ten presidential elections between 1968 and 2004 because of people like Andrew Breitbart. At the end of the day, Andrew Breitbart wasn't championing conservatism as much as he was championing Andrew Breitbart. And that's fine. We live in a market society where such things should be admired. But let us not pretend that it was anything other than what it was.

I watched a few videos of Breitbart in action, and was struck by how he did next to nothing to elevate the level of discourse. This isn't to let the usual liberal suspects off the hook-- the Janeane Garofalos, the Keith Olbermanns, and all the other leftie blowhards. Neither side can claim any special nobility or integrity. And it's appalling to witness, live and in color, a mythologizing in progress. Breitbart hagiographies are everywhere; I'm having trouble avoiding them online. Did the man serve a purpose? I suppose he did, insofar as he encouraged certain conservatives to be less timid in expressing their views. But if "less timid" means "obnoxious," how does this bring us closer to a culture of true discussion and debate? Are we really in the era of "punch back twice as hard"?

Skippy writes:

It doesn't matter if what [Breitbart] did was pioneered by the "mainstream media" or the left, and that's a highly debatable point. Adopting the other side's deplorable tactics doesn't make one better than one's opponents[;] it merely levels the playing field in tawdriness.

All too true-- and this observation from a Canadian conservative.


what's on tap for today?

1. drop off rent check

2. slap up MGRE Math Beast Challenge problem tonight

3. create some brush artwork to display and sell at my Etsy shop

4. prep for tonight's geometry tutoring session w/the goddaughter

5. iron clothes for the week

6. finish that ponderous email to a Korean friend

7. start a ponderous email to another friend

8. write up vocab worksheets for YB (part of a project I'm working on)

9. get ready for a brutal week, financially speaking


Monday, March 05, 2012

to re-Facebook, or not to re-Facebook?

My friend Justin Yoshida wrote me a day or so ago to ask whether I'd consider returning to Facebook. I told Justin that one of the major reasons I had left Facebook was the litany of problems he had cited way back when, especially those problems related to security and the use of my personal information. I said, too, that it would be weird if Justin's arguments now were to be the reason for my return.

I've had some time to think things over... and I still see no compelling reason to come back to FB. Justin made the point that FB non-joiners are like those holdouts who refuse to use cell phones. That may be so, but I'm not persuaded. When I was on FB, I saw no significant increase in my blog traffic (I tend to think of my blogging as the most significant manifestation of my online presence; I had joined FB as a way to enhance the blogging), and often found myself both bored and annoyed by Facebook's surfeit of saccharine cuteness. I did manage to track down a couple old acquaintances, but the correspondence went nowhere, and nothing ever happened with those contacts-- probably because of my native introversion, but also because I had lost contact with those people for a reason. FB might make sense for people who are outgoing and/or who love to network (the two traits do seem to go together), but for us recluses, the social network holds little charm.

There's also the question of how I'd handle my Facebooking. Students are always curious to know whether their teachers are on FB; up to now I've been able to say "no" without lying. The way I see it, I'd need two FB accounts, which would be a pain in the ass to maintain: one for anything Hominid-related, and one for my YB students, with no guarantee that they'd never figure out the connection between the two accounts. As it is, I'm already actively updating two blogs and two Twitter feeds (the Kevin's Walk blog and Twitter feed are dormant for now); adding two FB accounts to that would feel like work. I blog as a hobby, as a form of enjoyment and release. Why turn a labor of love into just labor?

Sorry, Justin, but I'm afraid I must Just Say No to Facebook.


spaghetti ai frutti di mare

Tonight's dinner:

Alas, the sauce is bottled: it's Prego. But the shrimp and scallops were all me, baby. I thawed them and placed them in separate bowls, then I salted them and tossed them in olive oil. After that, I seared them separately-- just enough to get the caramelization going, but not enough to cook them through. I then readied a separate skillet with a garlic-and-butter sauce (plus a dash of lemon juice), put the heat on medium-high, and cooked the little critters together, tossing in some dried basil toward the very end. I then drained the lot (should've kept that lovely liquid for dipping, but I didn't have any decent bread with me) and poured the red sauce over my creation.

Lemme tell you: the shrimp tasted fan-damn-tastic. The scallops were fine, very soft and delicious, but scallops in general are bland and somewhat sweet. I wish I'd had the money to do this right: I'd have added some chunky whitefish and calamari to the medley, along with a bit of white wine, and then it would've been a real party.

But I was right to pan-sear the seafood first. That definitely made the dish tastier.


"Learning languages makes you smarter."

Amen to that. Best line from this short blog post:

Speaking only one language is apparently the mental equivalent of living a sedentary lifestyle.


Sunday, March 04, 2012

the lube and the cut

Went to Jiffy Lube. Got my oil changed, my fluids topped off, my tires and filters checked, and my floor vacuumed. Then I went and got myself a haircut. Damn... if 2011 is the year the gray started to come in, I'm guessing that 2012 is going to end up being the year I go gray in earnest. And no: I won't be dyeing my hair. That's for pussies.


Saturday, March 03, 2012

interesting counterpoint

I recently saw a conservative lament that liberals have known for years how to harness the media to disseminate a political message, while conservatives have been largely clueless as to how to do this.

From my Twitter feed comes an interesting liberal response: a preference for country music correlates to a dislike of openness to experience-- a trait more prevalent in conservatives than in liberals. In other words, the Right has been doing its own media thing this entire time.

I'd like to write more on this, but now I've got to get ready for work.


email update

I've sent out responses to about half the big emails I've received, and am working on a monster of an email right now, to a Korean friend. Your pardon if blogging seems a bit slow today.


Friday, March 02, 2012


On March 1, 1919, Koreans in Japanese-occupied Korea openly declared their independence from Japan. Liberation by the Allies didn't come until the end of World War 2 in 1945 (at which point the peninsula was divided in two by larger powers), but on that day in 1919, Koreans made known that they would not stand for colonial rule.

Read more about the Samil Undong (March 1st Movement) here.


Thursday, March 01, 2012


Famous Musician Davy Jones Dead After Fatal Cardiac Incident:

Seen here during one of his final performances:


Guy Sorman fights for us

What? A pro-market Frenchman? My nouvelle découverte (new discovery) this evening is Guy Sorman, economist, author, professor emeritus, and rabidly pro-free-marketeer. I quote him over at the TEF blog, since Thursday is the designated day for foreign language.

A look at Sorman's About page shows that he splits his time between Paris and New York.


North Korea through the lens of porn

Over at One Free Korea, there's this classic line:

Talks with North Korea are the porn shoots of diplomacy — staged, loveless, and ultimately unsatisfying exhibitionism after which nothing endures except for the sense of self-debasement, years of awkward explanations, and possibly a painful burning sensation.

That about sums it up.



Dr. Hodges's son has competition.


at the TEF blog

This week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge.

What's wrong with this locution?