Monday, April 30, 2012

aiming for moksha

I have just taken my first real stab at applying for a job in Korea. This job, to be exact. It's for a position in the TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) department of Korea's oldest university. I have no idea whether I'm sufficiently qualified for the position, but a friend of mine, who teaches at that university but in a different department, is pulling for me. The ad itself is frustratingly vague on several important matters; I've sent a query-- not a formal application-- to the university to ask for clarifications. Normally, I wouldn't bother responding to such vaguely phrased ads, but my buddy vouches for the place, so I thought I'd give it a try.


Ave, ZenKimchi!

For putting me in the mood for escargot, Korean-style.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

kein Blut heute Morgen

I'm still coughing, and the lung-crackles haven't completely departed, but the redness seems to be gone from the phlegm-- hooray!

I'm going to be spending today working on a proofreading project and possibly doing some shopping. If symptoms are abating, then I probably won't visit a clinic today or tomorrow; I need what little money I've got if I hope to stay financially afloat. Meanwhile, almost all of my upcoming YB pay (this coming Friday) will be going into the rent pit.

Proofing, shopping, laundering, resting-- my day in a nutshell.


"Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol": a review in three words

Good, crunchy fun.


giving in

YB was nice enough to give me a $50 Amazon gift card and a $30 Barnes and Noble gift card this past Christmas. I ended up giving the Amazon card to my goddaughter, who's an avid reader (she had a lot of fun unwrapping that gift, which I'd nonsensically placed within five or six layers of packaging; the outermost layer was a huge cardboard box), but I kept the BN card and basically forgot about it until this afternoon. My students at YB have, after endless campaigning and cajoling, convinced me to give the Hunger Games trilogy a go, so I ordered the boxed set. It was on sale for $31.50; BN charges tax on its purchases, which added another $1.80, so I ended up paying a grand total of $3.30 for all three books.

They'd better be good, dammit!


Saturday, April 28, 2012

9 to 5

I generally work from 9AM to 5PM on Saturdays, although I've had shorter Saturdays these past few weeks. This Saturday morning promises to be a full day, alas-- not the best time for that to happen. I plan to see how I am by the end of the day, and if I'm miserable, I'm going to request Tuesday off and see about getting to a clinic either Sunday or Monday.

My thanks, meanwhile, to the folks who've commented or emailed privately.

UPDATE: There's a Minute Clinic in Gainesville, Virginia, which is where I do my Wegmans shopping. That's probably where I'll be headed.


from Mike

My buddy Mike sends me a link to an entertaining io9 article on ten untranslatable words.


my phlegm: communist, conservative, or just angry?

Starting yesterday, and continuing this morning, I've been coughing up dark red phlegm. This may mean I'll need to visit a doctor, which in turn means I'll likely trundle over to a primary care facility, since I have no health insurance (YB is part-time, so we employees get no benefits). My nose, meanwhile, is alternately/simultaneously stuffy and runny, and every time I wake up from deep sleep or a nap, my breathing crackles quite lustily.

I'm still trying to figure out how and why this happened. I've had one student who's had similar symptoms for a couple weeks, so he's a major contender in the etiology sweepstakes. There's always the possibility that my apartment has mold (in the drywall, under the carpeting, or blowing through the air vents), but the place is well maintained by me and by the guys who come in seasonally to change out the filters. My car could be the culprit: I haven't changed the air filters since I bought it. Then again, my most recent trip to Jiffy Lube resulted in no dark diagnoses about either air filter: both were declared fine.

My worry is that I'm sharing my malady with every student who sits across the table from me at YB. My frustration, meanwhile, is that a good chunk of my recent cash infusion is going to go toward a checkup and a clutch of prescribed meds. For that reason, I'm hesitant to seek out a doctor. The last time this happened to me, I was prescribed antibiotics that did little to resolve the problem.

There's a wrinkle to this: I seem to have another symptom. Every once in a while (I haven't figured out the interval), my stomach emits an intense pang that feels, superficially, like a hunger pang, but has nothing to do with hunger. The pain isn't debilitating, but it's enough to make me wonder whether something funny is going on in Ye Olde Gut. For now, I'm combating this by glugging some Pepto and reducing my food intake. I have no idea what the pain signifies; my amygdala is desperately screaming that it could be anything from My Very First Ulcer to My Very First Stomach Cancer. That's ridiculous and hypochondriacal, of course (amygdalas are liars!); the onset of the symptom is too sudden. I'm hoping the pain is just a function of whatever upper-respiratory nastiness I'm experiencing.

Since I'm off today, as I am every Friday, I may spend it chillaxing in the bathtub, encased in a cocoon of warm dihydrogen monoxide. With my spittoon at my side and Mucinex at my beck and call, I'll have everything I need. I've got errands to run first, though, including the paying of my electric bill and the renewing of my Costco membership. I've also been given another assignment from Maison Boussole, a $450 gig that'll pay out next month, so, come to think of it, I may not get as much bath time as desired.


Friday, April 27, 2012

"going forward" and "takeaway"

My buddy Charles alerted me, in a recent email, to a trend that I hadn't really noticed until he mentioned it: the overuse of the expression "going forward" (or any variant that incorporates "forward") as a way to say "in the future." I need to go back through my own archives to see the extent to which I myself have been hypnotized by this trend.

One thing that I've noticed is the increasing use of the compound "takeaway" as a surrogate for "moral," as when referring to the moral of a story. "The takeaway is that we should be more vigilant going forward." Those familiar with British English know that "takeaway" (or "take-away") is the UK version of "take-out." I wonder whether the Brits have adopted this newest meaning of "takeaway"... or whether the new meaning originated in the Isles.

Language changes fast, and as I get older, it seems to change ever faster. I'm still trying to deal with the popularity of "I know, right?" --which has been around a couple years, now.


at the TEF blog

Nasal vowels in French.


the sickness continues

If this is indeed bronchitis, as I suspect it is, I may be in for a ride lasting several weeks. I swung by Wegmans on the way home last night and bought some Cold Eze and Mucinex. My breathing was a bit less rattly when I woke up today, but I'm still hawking chunks of dark, evil-looking mucus. I guess it's just a matter of seeing this thing through to the end.


Thursday, April 26, 2012


Luckily, I was able to satisfy an irrational craving for fried chicken before the sickness hit me. My small town doesn't have Popeye's, which I prefer, so I had to make do with KFC. Bought myself a bucket of chicks plus trimmings-- enough to last me three days. The wholesale slaughter that ensued, once I brought that bucket home, was pleasing to the gods.



I do believe I've got bronchitis. It's probably the result of the weird weather we've had lately, and possibly my fault as well, since I allowed the temperature in my apartment to creep downward to the low 60s (mid- to high teens-- 15.6°C-17.2°C-- for you Centigraders). My breathing has a lovely rattle to it, so I'm coughing up chunks of mucus, taking cold medicine and aspirin, and spraying disinfectant all over my bed and various work stations. I had bronchitis back in 2009, when Mom was sick. To avoid infecting her, given the ravaged state of her immune system, I wore a mask around the house. No mask this time around, but I worry that the bronchitis I'm experiencing now might be a vicious remnant of what hit me three years ago, lying in wait for the right moment to enact a covert strike. Will have to study up on bronchitis and its wily ways.

My biggest worry is that my students are going to catch something from me. Here's hoping that their young constitutions are hardy enough to resist invasion by whatever I've got, because I have no plans to call in sick. When I was teaching at Smoo from 2005 to 2008, I never once called in sick; it would have been impossible, anyway: my classes began at 7:40AM, and there was usually no one in the office until 8AM. At my current job, the situation is similar: calling in sick entails a lot of rescheduling, which is an inconvenience for both the front office and the students. The supervisor also worries about the damage that perceived unreliability will do to the school's reputation; if the teachers are disappearing without warning, what happens to the students when one teacher cancels?

Upshot: I'm goin' to work.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

the thing I fear most

Taking a standard deviation is an intimidating, multi-step process. The newest MGRE Math Beast Challenge problem involves just this activity, alas.


at the TEF blog

1. Dealing with errors in SAT Reading Comprehension practice problems.

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


people I respect(ed)

There are people I normally respect who have said, recently, that John Derbyshire did nothing wrong in writing what he wrote (see here). Derb's basic argument is that one should judge black people one doesn't know based on statistics. What's ironic is that these supporters of Derbyshire are conservative, and conservatives are usually the ones who talk in terms of people, not systems-- individuals, not statistics. Racism is an example of negatively judging an individual based on what one thinks one knows about the group to which that individual belongs. All prejudicial "-ism"s stink of this same trait, and deny the individual any benefit of the doubt-- a point being missed again and again by Derb's obtuse defenders. What I find ironic about this particular school of thought is the fear that underlies it: I thought there was no room for fear or cowardice in an ethos of rugged individualism. Perhaps I was wrong.


Monday, April 23, 2012


I've seen videos of lions that hug, so I suppose this picture, which looks to be a combination of live action and CGI, isn't completely implausible:

My dose of cuteness on this rainy day.

(Pic found here.)


bad news from France and the States

My buddy Dominique wrote to tell me that his father's two brothers passed away in fairly rapid succession: one this past December, and another this past February. I never met Dominique's paternal uncles; I met only Oncle Charles, on his mother's side, back in 1986 and later in the 1990s, when Dom got married.

The teenaged grand-nephew of one of my online friends was killed in a one-car accident when the vehicle he was in (driven by someone else) hydroplaned and struck a tree. Funeral arrangements are discussed here. The kid's name was also Kevin. There's a brief news article about the crash here.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

naughty, naughty!

Look at that lovely face:

Why couldn't I have been "assaulted" by a teacher who looked like that when I was seventeen?

I wonder what goes through the minds of these women-- most in their late twenties to mid-thirties-- who lust after their young male students. Is this simply the mirror image of male predatory behavior? The ways in which men can abuse authority are well documented, and it's hard for me to associate most women with the same abusive proclivity. But case after case appears on the American news; Ms. Glide (what an aptronym!) is far from alone.

Lusting after the very young isn't new, of course. I'm rereading Tom Robbins's Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, in which the protagonist, the mid-thirties Switters, has a thing for sixteen-year-olds-- particularly his steaming-hot stepsister Suzy. Robbins's approach to the matter is in consonance with evolutionary psychology: men are wired to be the way they are, and it's society that's gone bonkers in shunning and condemning such lust. But implicit in this view of the problem is the idea that it's men who are this way, not women. (Like a lot of lusty men whose only real objective, with women, is to spear their Georgia O'Keeffe paintings, Robbins is paradoxically gallant toward the fair sex. The group Tenacious D expresses this contradictory protectiveness/predatoriness well in its song "Fuck Her Gently.") How might Tom Robbins explain a thirty-something woman's lust for a fifteen-year-old boy?*

Ms. Glide reminds me very strongly of a teacher I worked with back in 1992, when I first began teaching full-time. That lady also had perfect teeth, a cute jawline, dirty-blonde hair, and big, alluring brown eyes. She was, perhaps, a year or two older than I was, and the senior guys lusted after her. Perhaps she found validation while basking in all that male attention. If that's the dynamic operating in these other women (to be clear, I'm not accusing my colleague of having done anything with her students), then the answer to my question might be as anticlimactic as ego. Ego-validation can have a sexual resonance, and that resonance can be felt by both men and women. If that's the case, though, then evolutionary psychology, at least in its pop form, might need to place more emphasis on the psychological and less on the evolutionary aspects of the problem, because it's not just men who are wired to have egos.

A 2009 article on Ms. Glide, from before her sentencing, is here.

*Robbins aside, there's the obvious biological explanation: women in their thirties are supposedly in their sexual prime. But are they really that uncontrollably itchy? Ladies: this is your chance to set the record straight!


my collection of fortune-cookie aphorisms

Fortune cookies rarely contain fortunes, but they do seem big on proverbs, aphorisms, and the like. I've uglified my beautiful Mac by taping all sorts of crap to its edges-- Chinese "fortunes" among them. Here's the collection:


You take a [sic] optimistic view of life.

The usefulness of a cup is in its emptiness.

The only way to enjoy anything in life is to earn it first.

One must dare to be himself, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.

Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.

The simplification of life is one of the steps to inner peace.


The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get less than you settled for.

Learn to enjoy every minute of your life.

Someone from your past has returned to steal your heart.

The luck that is ordained for you will be coveted by others.

To love and be loved is to feel the sun from both sides.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

goofy but brave

This is a 2009 video of an American kid trying to use his low-level French skills to order a pizza. I give poor Austin full marks for bravery. Were I in his place, at his age, I would be too scared to make a mistake. Such is perfectionism.

The video is more emotionally compelling than some movies and TV dramas I've seen: I sat through most of it in a half-cringing posture. Hats off to the Domino's pizza service reps for being much nicer on the phone than stereotypes would have us imagine.


at the TEF blog

A repost of an old essay of mine regarding the narrative and philosophical workability of the multiple universes in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series.


Friday, April 20, 2012

relief is on the way

As happens every pay period, I've just spent most of the past two weeks in the red, but relief is coming. I got paid by YB-- the direct deposit came in right after midnight-- and this coming week, I'm expecting payment from Seoul-based Maison Boussole for the work I finished earlier this month. Along with that, I'll soon be receiving a fee for private tutoring, and sometime in May I hope to be getting a puny $80 refund check from the Commonwealth of Virginia. There may or may not be other payments in the offing... we'll see.

This infusion comes at just the right time: I owe Uncle Sam $288 (sent in my check last week after waiting as long as I could); I also need to renew my Costco membership, get my car's tires and air filters replaced, restock my fridge (never cheap these days), resupply my utility closet (light bulbs, paper towels, etc.), get my yearly emissions inspection, pay back a friend, buy some new shirts, and do a host of other things-- all of this on top of my usual, unrelenting conveyor belt of monthly bills. Most of the money I'm getting will be gone by the end of May, but at least I'll have a breather for a few weeks.


I never tire of reading about this

The glorious Sokal Hoax, as it's now known, is recounted in this article to which Lee linked in one of his tweets:

THE [POSTMODERNIST SCHOLAR ANDREW] ROSS star, like the NASDAQ index, continued its remorseless ascent, but only for so long. First came cracks, and then a bust. Reality started to mug Andrew Ross—albeit in distinct stages. The first crack in his brand came in May 1996, via an admirably executed literary hoax: the so-called Sokal affair.

Many of us remember this event as a turning point in American intellectual life (or at least a turning point for the cultural studies movement). Alan Sokal, a physicist at NYU, wrote a complete bullshit article, putatively about physics but mainly significant because it was chock-full of postmodern jargon and quotes from then-fashionable theorists. (Its absurd title: “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.”) Sokal sent it to Social Text, hoping Ross and his fellow editors would publish it, positioning him thereby to expose their vapidity. The trick was a wild success, even garnering front-page coverage in the New York Times.

What we might not remember is just how squarely Sokal’s blow hit Andrew Ross. It was Ross, after all, who took leadership in obtaining the article. He wrote Sokal back in November 1994, soon after the physics professor submitted the article, to say that the editors found it “interesting”; in March 1995, he followed up with a letter to Sokal requesting that he revise the piece for inclusion in a forthcoming science-themed issue of Social Text. The editors then went ahead and accepted Sokal’s piece as it was. And at that point in the trajectory of Ross’s career, the editors of an anthology called The Sokal Hoax recount, “Ross’s visibility helped to ensure that Sokal’s hoax reached a wide audience.” More to the point, though, Ross’s views on science—as just another fiction or belief system relative to other contested narratives—were just the kind of balderdash that Sokal wanted to mock. Here, for example, is Ross’s critique of “objectivity” in Strange Weather, his book-length meditation on the cultural politics of the Weather Channel: “Any picture of the world purporting to be ‘natural’ and fundamental is in fact heavily underscored by particular moral and political beliefs about nature and social behavior.”

The Sokal hoax showed, in other words, all the classic signs of an intellectual mugging. Ross himself described feeling “snakebit” in the wake of the embarrassing disclosure that the whole thing had been a put-up job. Still, stodgy empirical matters could never deter the appointed course of theory, so Ross and his co-editor Bruce Robbins engaged in acrobatic apologetics. They explained that Sokal’s article appeared “a little hokey” to them but “not knowing the author or his work”—and not even bothering to pay him a visit in his nearby office on the NYU campus—“we engaged in some speculation about his intentions, and concluded that the article was” in earnest. But they didn’t send it out to anyone with a knowledge of science any deeper than what you might learn from the Weather Channel or the various philosophers of science published by Verso Books. In an especially telling maneuver, Ross tried to turn the political tables on Sokal, accusing the physicist of defending the science status quo. (The populist rebel in Ross just wouldn’t die.) At one point, Ross told the New York Times that Sokal had written “caricatures of complex scholarship,” now sounding like a boundary-policing academic elitist. He zigged this way and that. Katha Pollitt reported on a conversation with Ross in which he argued that “Sokal had possibly written his article seriously, and only now claimed it as a parody,” that “its being a parody was, in any case, irrelevant to its content,” and that “leftists should support Social Text out of ‘unity and solidarity.’” Solidarity, it seems, being the last refuge of the mugged.

Today, the idea that science is an elitist practice that excludes what ordinary citizens want to believe is no longer the domain of the populist academic Left. Like so many of the populist tendencies in cultural debate, it has become a hallmark of the Right.

A very interesting article, and worth reading all the way through. But I love the above part, and just had to share. The Sokal Hoax is one of my all-time favorite pranks.


knob and bollocks

With thanks to my friend Ruth, I had a good chuckle at this man's expense.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

at the TEF blog

A review of le futur proche in French.


ululate! (and Ave, Elisson!)

Elisson's got a humorous, touching tribute to Dick Clark up. Clark was a fixture from my childhood; it's sad to hear that he's gone.


stop the press! Obama ate dog meat!

Is there really nothing better to talk about than Barack Obama's former diet? I think that his frank account of long-ago dog meat consumption (it's in at least one of his books) is a bolder move than Bill Clinton's disingenuous "I didn't inhale." Knowing this juicy, chewy, somewhat gamy biographical tidbit does nothing to affect my judgment of Obama.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

spot the robo

I guess we know who the artificial person will be in "Prometheus."

(Link found via Steve's blog.)


another reason why I hesitate to buy an e-reader

From here:

Now, most ebook customers are not tech-savvy. It is possible to unlock the DRM on a Kindle ebook and transcode it to epub format for use on other readers[,] but it's non-trivial. (Not to mention being a breach of the Kindle terms and conditions of use. Because you don't own an ebook[:] in their short-sighted eagerness to close loopholes the publishers tried to make ebooks more like software, where you merely buy a limited license to use the product, rather than actual ownership of an object.) So, because Amazon had shoved a subsidized Kindle reader or a free Kindle iPhone app into their hands, and they'd bought a handful of books using it, the majority of customers found themselves locked in to the platform they'd started out on. Want to move to another platform? That's hard; you lose all the books you've already bought, because you can't take them with you.

So... no one toting a Kindle actually owns the books he/she has "bought"?


at the TEF blog

"Like" versus "as (if)."


spot the error


New nests then become either self-sufficient or are abandoned.

Do you see the problem?


an Aussie journalist's perspective on NK

My Seoul-based buddy Tom took a tour of North Korea (primarily Pyongyang) years ago. Joshua Stanton, of One Free Korea, has linked to a report by an Australian journalist who went on a somewhat similar tour this past February. The report is written in sparse, arid prose, perhaps in deliberate mimicry of the sparse, arid social and urban environment he encountered. Definitely worth your while. Having read Tom's series of articles, and now having read this newest article, I can say that almost nothing has changed.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Yes, I'm thinking of writing this book. Been contemplating it for a few months, now. This is only a very rough draft cover, of course; I'm still exploring ideas. My most obvious inspiration is, as you can imagine, the For Dummies series. What's amazing is how much you can accomplish simply by using the elliptical "select" tool to create shapes.


at the TEF blog

Try your hand at this week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge problem.


all hail The Oatmeal!

Never fear semicolons again.

The Oatmeal has several comics devoted to grammar and usage, but I've noticed, alas, that the comics contain certain errors, e.g., lack of vocative commas. The moral: take your Oatmeal with a grain of salt.


passing on "Pass On"

This poem by Michael Lee left me with a lump in my throat because I've had similar experiences since my mother's death. When a loved one is gone, we look for, and occasionally find, pieces of that loved one in the lives we continue to live. Lee concludes:

Death does not come when a body is too exhausted to live
Death comes, because the brilliance inside us can only be contained for so long.
We do not die. We pass on, pass on the lightning burning through our throats.
when you leave me I will not cry for you
I will run into the strongest wind I can find
and welcome you home.

Wind imagery, the pneuma, is prevalent in the poem. Last year, in May, I was standing at an overlook on Skyline Drive. It was late afternoon, and I had already driven about halfway along the Drive-- beyond the reach or interest of most tourists. I had the overlook all to myself-- the Shenandoah Valley spread out below me, a fierce sky and glaring sun above me, softened by the benevolent intercession of clouds. Nature herself was singing its chorus, and Mom was there-- there in the mountaintop wind. I wept for her.

I'm still not at a stage where I can safely say, like the poet, that I won't cry for Mom, but I know what Lee means about running into that wind and welcoming her home.

NB: I can't take credit for finding this link. I saw it on Lorianne's blog, where it had been contributed by a commenter.


Monday, April 16, 2012

friendly reminder to commenters

My comments policy is written in the space right above the text window in which you write your comments. Please read that policy and abide by it. I once again had to delete a comment that failed to follow the policy. It was a perfectly civil, perfectly intelligent comment, but the commenter hadn't bothered to read the rules.


at the TEF blog

I savor my victory over last week's Math Beast Challenge problem.


one of my high school classmates

When it comes to the cosmic "Where Are They Now?" of the Mount Vernon High School Class of 1987, little to nothing will be written in the book of the angels about yours truly. I've lived a tiny, obscure life and will likely die a tiny, obscure death. Then there's a classmate of mine-- the talented James Connor-- who became an entrepreneurial success in New York while studying Tibetan Buddhism (of which he is now a prominent exponent), and who then sold his multimillion-dollar rebranding business to one of his company's creative directors after fourteen years. He left while he was still on top. Where is Jim now? It's hard to say, but I'm pretty sure he's on a three-year Tibetan Buddhist retreat. Quite a life he's leading.

See more here. And be sure to watch the 2009 Fox interview at the bottom of that page. I'm still trying to figure out when the retreat actually started. Jim's site doesn't seem to have this information, but it may just be that I'm looking in the wrong places.

I admit I'm pretty old-school about the whole God-and-Mammon thing. I distrust the ancient association between religion and money. It's nice to see Jim doing what he's doing-- renouncing worldliness for three years (I'd never say that a Mahayana Buddhist renounces the world), and then moving on to... to what? I don't know, but it's good to see he's not attached to wealth. The Fox interviewers focused on the God-and-Mammon angle, too: they asked Jim whether he was planning to get back into the money-making game after his retreat was finished, and his answer was "no." I hope Jim's sincere. While religion and money are often not-two, history offers overwhelming evidence that money often combines poorly with the human ego. Jim's retreat website shows him tooting his own horn quite a bit; the site is a long litany of accomplishments. He's as much a marketer as he is a Buddhist, I think, and marketing is all about ego. Jim will have to watch himself.

Having just finished a rereading of Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, I'm now rereading Tom Robbins's hilarious Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. Strangely enough, I'm at the part where the main character, a CIA operative named Switters, is thinking of starting up his meditative practice again as a way to endure the hardship of the Amazonian jungle:

He was out of practice, having meditated with increasing infrequency since he left Bangkok. He was also well aware that meditation was intended neither as a diversion nor a therapy. Indeed, if he could believe his teacher, ideal meditation had no practical application whatsoever. Sure, there were Westerners who practiced it as a relaxation technique, as a device for calming and centering themselves so that they might sell more stuff or fare better in office politics, but that was like using the Hope diamond to scratch grocery lists onto a bathroom mirror.

Robbins gets it wrong about meditation and therapy; there are veteran Buddhist monastics who call their practice a kind of "medicine." But Robbins is probably right to think that meditation shouldn't be used as a way to chain oneself to material things or to social status. If you think your Buddhism will make you better at performing hostile takeovers, then you're just as misguided as Christians who feel the same way about their Christian practice.


speaking of "touch..."

I want this man's job.


my buddy could be rich

A while back, I gave my buddy Mike and his family a fragile, yellowed copy of a newspaper dated about a week after the sinking of the Titanic. That paper's massive headline blared, "THE FOUNDERING OF THE TITANIC." In its current state, the paper wouldn't be worth more than a few cents: if you were to try to unfold it, it would crumble like a flaky croissant. I had mentioned to Mike, some moons ago, that if he were to get the paper professionally restored, it would be worth a hell of a lot more. Did he do it? Is my buddy rich?

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic (yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's having struck an iceberg). I doubt that any member of my family tree has any sort of connection to that event, so I'm not nearly as interested in it as some are. My big Titanic memory comes from the 1998 Academy Awards, when James Cameron's so-so film won Oscar after Oscar. Cameron's a talented filmmaker, but he's also a consummate dick. Earlier in that show, he had accepted one of the Oscars and asked, piously, for a moment of silence in honor of the over 1500 dead. The audience gamely obliged, and air time was wasted on a John Cage-style tacet moment. Later in that same awards show, Cameron won again-- this time for Best Director. Forgetting his previous piety in the face of all those dead, Cameron held up his arms-- in imitation of Leonardo DiCaprio's moment on the bow-- and shouted, "I'm the king of the world!" As I said: a consummate dick.

Fuck you, you 1500 drowning victims! This is MY moment, bitches!

That is, unfortunately, how I remember the Titanic on this day.

May your own remembrance be untainted.

(NB: I've written about James Cameron's true nature before. See here, too.)


Sunday, April 15, 2012

about to drop "Touch"

I've now seen four episodes of "Touch," and I'm about to drop the series altogether. It's not the acting; it's not the editing; it's not the dialogue or the music or even the screenwriting. The problem is that the show's premise-- that even the most random-seeming occurrences are evidence of a larger, inextricable, cosmic interconnection-- leaves me with no reason to feel any suspense. The show's desired message is that everything works out in the end, but the real message seems to be that everything works out with ruthless, clockwork efficiency in the end. There's nothing organic or human about a rigidly Pythagorean world of numbers; and because it seems that little Jake (the perhaps-autistic child acting as an "air-traffic controller" to guide people to their proper ends) can never be wrong, there's no reason for me to be emotionally invested in any of the characters. Everything's going to be OK... ho-hum.

The show's approach leaves it open to the same sort of critique that philosophers aim at theists. There are questions of theodicy here: why is Jake sensitive to the respective plights of these people but not those people? Where's the fairness in that? Why, if Jake and other "air-traffic controllers" exist, is there any suffering at all in the world? How is suffering even possible if the numbers are guiding us all along our individual-yet-interwoven flight paths?

Upshot: I've pretty much lost patience with the show, whose writers have demonstrated no desire to create a truly fascinating mystery and sustain it. So on second thought, I take back what I wrote above: the screenwriting is a problem. Watching "Touch" is a lot like watching a happy-joy version of "Final Destination": there's no escaping the dual pressures of causality and fate; if you veer off your flight path, some force will put you back on it.

Ways to make the episodes more interesting and compelling:

1. Harlan Ellison showed us the way when he wrote the magnificent "Star Trek" episode, "City on the Edge of Forever." In that episode, Kirk's love interest must die for history's continuity to be preserved. In that spirit, it might be nice to see that Jake has to guide some people to a grisly end in order to save even more people. This would, of course, put "Touch" into the same ethical territory as "24," which trafficked rather heavily in harrowing moral dilemmas. But that might be a good thing. Right now, "Touch," which shares traits with do-gooder shows like "Touched by an Angel" and "Highway to Heaven," seems to have been designed for a milquetoast audience, not the younger, bloodthirstier audiences that Fox shows typically attract. The show needs to be edgier.

2. Let's see what happens to Jake when his actions put his long-suffering father in a coma. Right now, Martin Bohm (Kiefer Sutherland) is the articulation of Jake's will. Jake doesn't talk, but Martin is getting better at reading Jake's intent. What if Jake demands something of Martin that Martin simply can't do-- that brings Martin to harm? This would be a welcome contradiction of Martin's line in the first episode, in which he parrots the old saw about God never giving us more than we can handle. (Tell that to the quarter million dead in Indonesia, or the earthquake victims in Japan.) What will Jake do if ol' Dad is in the hospital, unable to carry out his son's will? Will Jake finally come out of his shell and try to speak to his dad?

3. Make Jake fallible! If Jake remains infallible-- if we never see that he's just a kid-- then to my mind he's basically a divinity of some sort, the show's quantum pseudoscience be damned. Divinities generally make for flat, boring characters, which is why they're used sparingly in dramas and comedies. "Bruce Almighty" is mostly about Bruce, not God. The theistic force in "Battlestar Galactica" is a deus absconditus, not a constant, visible presence. The movie "Troy" dispenses entirely with literal polytheism. When a god is portrayed as the main character-- as in the 1980s classic "Oh, God!" starring George Burns and John Denver-- he's usually fallible. Thus far, alas, Jake seems even less capable of error than the Pope, and he's also front and center in the show. That's a bad combination.

I'll watch another episode or two of "Touch" to see whether any of the above happens. I'm not hopeful, though. "Touch" seems to be following its own predetermined flight path right into the ground. Is there a Jake-like being who can save the show from self-destructing?


Saturday, April 14, 2012

we're off to outer space: a review of "Space Battleship Yamato"

I was a kid when the animé series "Star Blazers" appeared on American TV. The characters all had funky names like Derek Wildstar, Mark Venture, and Captain Avatar. If I recall correctly, the space battleship began its existence as the Yamato (from World War II) and was rechristened the Argo once it had been refitted. The Argo's claim to fame: the so-called "wave-motion gun," a massive cannon that ran the entire length of the Argo and vomited an unstoppable energy beam out the front. The crew's mission: to save the earth from an alien species called the Gamilons (led by the grim-faced Desslok), who have been pummeling the earth with radiation-emitting "meteor bombs." The crew succeeds in its mission during the first season. The ailing Captain Avatar, like Moses, manages to see the earth, his promised land, one more time before he dies.

The live-action movie "Space Battleship Yamato" (hereinafter SBY) was released in 2010; what I saw was the French-dubbed version of the film, which currently appears in its entirety on YouTube (watch it before it's deleted!). It took a moment for me to readjust to French designations for terms used by the Yamato's crew; for example, the wave-motion gun has now become "le CDO," i.e., "le canon à diffusion ondulatoire." I also have to wonder how much was lost in translation: Japanese, like Korean, is a language spoken in multiple registers, where the choice of words and suffixes can say much about the relationship between two interlocutors and what they're feeling at the moment.* French conveys its own subtleties, too, but not the same ones.

Those issues aside, I thought the film was entertaining, if only in a B-movie sort of way. The engaging story moves along at a good clip, and captures many of the elements from the late-70s animé series, even reproducing some of the old series' iconic moments. Some of the changes, especially regarding the nature of the bad guys, were a bit jarring, but they were also a fitting update for a more sophisticated moviegoing audience. On the down side, the movie's acting and dialogue are anything but sophisticated. One francophone YouTube commenter said the acting was "un peu moisi,"-- a bit moldy (i.e., corny, hackneyed). As with many Korean dramas, this Japanese film didn't engage in much emotional subtlety, although it did feature a few playful moments.

The overarching story is basically the same as that of the first season of the animé series. The earth's surface has been almost completely irradiated by a mysterious alien race known to the humans as the Gamilas (no longer the Gamilons). This seems to be an attack, but we learn later that the aliens are actually "seeding" the planet in preparation for colonization. Old Captain Okita requests the reactivation of the battleship Yamato, the earth's only remaining ironclad. The Yamato is refitted for combat. Susumu Kodai, a former fighter pilot, is on the earth's irradiated surface during a metal-salvage sortie when an alien drone impacts next to him; the drone contains information about a new warp drive and the location of a planet: Iskandar. The drone's impact throws off Kodai's helmet, but instead of being killed by the ambient radiation, Kodai somehow manages to survive. The drone's plans are incorporated into the Yamato's design, and a volunteer crew-- including the newly reenlisted Kodai-- is off to outer space. They manage to reach Iskandar, discover the solution for decontaminating the earth's surface (the drone's decontaminating properties provided a hint of what Iskandarian tech could do), and return home. The film's finale, which features an honorable self-sacrifice, would make a Klingon proud.

As other reviewers have noted, SBY's special effects have a bit of a "Battlestar Galactica" vibe to them, right down to the shaky camera work during some of the dogfight scenes, and the retro interior of the Yamato.** Japanese SF films don't enjoy the massive budgets that Hollywood productions have, so the viewer will need to scale down his or her expectations. The military uniforms, meanwhile, are straight out of Buck Rogers/motocross chic. I had an easier time relating to the black-clad special ops team than I did to the officers: the latter look ready to hop on dirt bikes. The other thing I couldn't get past was the hair. The main character, Kodai, wears his hair longer than that of most of the female crew of the Yamato. He manages to retain his gravitas despite the flowing locks, but I kept expecting to see slo-mo shots of him tossing his hair back and forth like Fabio. Not that it mattered: the female character who becomes Kodai's love interest is able to see past the femmy 'do.

Ah, that love interest. The character's name is Yuki, a fighter pilot who has gained prominence in the absence of former ace Kodai, and she makes more of an impression on the viewer than the 1970s character did. The animé version of Yuki (can't remember what her English name was) did a lot of squealing and running into Derek Wildstar's manly embrace, but the 2010 Yuki is-- for most of the film, at least-- all business, and very reminiscent of BSG's Starbuck.*** She gets weepy at the end, once she lets down her emotional defenses, but she's a tough soldier the rest of the time. The love story between her and Kodai happens a bit too hastily, in terms of screen time, but we have to remember that the Yamato's round trip is supposed to last the better part of a year-- plenty of time for a romance to blossom. Which leads me to what I thought was the movie's coolest scene: Kodai and Yuki in passionate embrace, falling slowly to the floor right as the Yamato jumps into warp. I remember I yelled at my screen: Why hasn't anyone ELSE thought to do that? We need more hyperspace love scenes, people.

But this is a Japanese film: feminism, while ascendant, is still a hard sell in East Asia. Unlike the broad-shouldered, butch, and somewhat muscular Starbuck, Yuki is slim and cat-eyed; she's in the movie to attract the teen boys. There's an unintentionally hilarious scene, around the beginning of the third reel, in which Yuki is possessed by an alien force that blows her clothes off-- well, her spacesuit, anyway-- leaving in her nothing but a tank top and tight pants. I had a good laugh. Had I been fifteen years old, I might have stared at Yuki in awed, reverent silence, but as a guy in my early forties, I was more amused than titillated.

Thankfully, the movie does bring in some mature themes for us older folks. Kodai's friendship with most of the Yamato's senior bridge crew, and with his old Black Tigers fighter squadron, keeps the film grounded, and his ongoing conflict with the Yamato's grizzled captain, Okita, drives the plot forward. At the beginning of the film, Kodai's older brother had sacrificed his own ship to allow Okita's ship to escape a Gamilas attack. The younger Kodai had left the military as a reaction to this loss, which is why we first meet him on earth, scrounging for scrap metal to sell. Kodai, young and impetuous, doesn't understand how Captain Okita is able to sacrifice crew members... until Kodai himself is given the chance to command the Yamato after the captain falls ill. I thought this interplay was one of the better subplots in the movie.

While no one would accuse SBY of being particularly profound, it does deal with questions of bereavement, the fraternity of warriors, courage in the face of the unknown, and total commitment to a cause. All in all, the film is worth a look-see if you remember the old TV series, but the story is perfectly comprehensible to newbies as well. I doubt that I'd have paid to see the movie on a big screen, but it works well enough for small-screen viewing. Expect plenty of cliché dialogue and situations, and if you're a BSG fan, prepare to see the "Adama maneuver" along with many other visual references to BSG.

*In Korean, for example, if an older character says "Ant-gae" ("앉게") to a younger character, this command to sit down would resonate with the fact that the older character feels superior enough to the younger character to dispense with politeness. The closest we could get to translating that in English might be a terse, "Sit." If he speaks with enough venom, the voice actor might succeed at conveying, to an anglophone audience, the interiority of the Korean actor over whose voice he's dubbing. But I've rarely heard a successful instance of this over many years of watching dubbed films. Subtitles, distracting though they be, are infinitely preferable.

**The bridge design of the Yamato will be of special interest to SF nerds: its hierarchical layout is more reminiscent of the bridge of the Klingon fighter from "Star Trek III" than of the more democratically laid-out CIC of the Galactica (by the way... did the Galactica not have chairs for its senior officers?).

***There are, come to think of it, enough BSG references in SBY to make me wonder how popular BSG might have been in Japan. One such reference was the "blind jump," which also occurs in the "Razor" special episode of BSG. Ever since "Star Wars," SF fans have known the importance of plotting your hyperspace/FTL/warp jumps before you actually leap into that mode of travel. Jumping blindly is likely to get you killed, as Han Solo noted: "If we didn't have the right calculations, we'd fly right into a star, or bounce too close to a supernova, and that would end your trip real quick, wouldn't it?"


Lorianne loses a friend

Sadly, Lorianne's dog Reggie had to be put to sleep after fifteen good years.


Friday, April 13, 2012

anything can be given positive spin

As you know, North Korea's attempted "satellite" launch has failed. But we can be sure the North will spin this in a positive way.

Of course, there's always the chance that Kim knew the launch was going to fail. He may have found other ways to occupy his time...

Pyongyang has broadcast news of the failed launch to its own people. This move is, in itself, fascinating to ponder. Why not lie to the citizens? It's been done before, after all. My take: the government realizes that the citizens have their own ways of finding out what's up. As Kang Chol-hwan averred in The Aquariums of Pyongyang, North Korean citizens are neither as stupid nor as brainwashed as we in the free world might think: they know a lot about what's going on in the world. Were the NK government to propagate a lie, the people would likely catch it. These days, they'd get the information via clandestine cell phone messages, TV broadcasts, and whatever serves as a grapevine in such a repressive country.

Joshua has excellent insights on what we might do next.


la mer (version scatologique)

Version originale, 1ère strophe (paroles et musique de Charles Trenet)

la mer
qu'on voit danser
le long
des golfes clairs
a des reflets d'argent
la mer
des reflets changeants
sous la pluie

Version scato:

la merde
qu'on a chiée
elle reste
sur la chaussée
elle ne sent pas très bon
la merde
poussée par un con


funkiness resolved

The problem seems to have been my browser: a pop-up blocker was somehow activated-- I may have done it accidentally-- and it prevented me from seeing any previews for blog posts and comments. All fixed now. For the moment.


two movies

I normally have Fridays off, so either tonight or tomorrow, I'd like to write reviews of two movies I've seen recently: the French-dubbed version of "Battleship Yamato," and "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," which I've now seen twice.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

you're kidding, right?

This Korea Herald article by Daniel Fiedler, on Korea's developing "a culture of killing," beggars the imagination. My thanks to The Marmot's Hole for linking to it. Excerpt:

The high incidence of suicide in South Korea is often attributed to a cultural willingness to sacrifice oneself in order to avoid shame for one’s family. The act restores lost honor to the deceased and to his or her family.

But this willingness to kill oneself also reflects an underlying lack of respect for life in general. As renowned psychologist Carl Jung stated, “[we] ought to realize that suicide is murder, since after suicide there remains a corpse exactly as with any ordinary murder.”

Thus the murder rate in South Korea, which is only slightly lower than the murder rate in America without including suicide, jumps to double that of America when suicide is viewed as murder. This fact combined with the all too frequent murder-suicides by South Koreans living in America suggests that when South Korea’s culture of self-sacrifice, as reflected in suicide, moves to a country where guns are easily obtained it becomes a culture of killing. To address this issue South Koreans should look inward to consider what aspects of their society may contribute to these tragedies.*

Am I missing something, or was there a galactic leap in logic in the article's transition from the notion of suicidal depression to that of murderous rage? The term "culture of killing" strikes me as a cruel and imperceptive parody of what Korean culture and society actually are. Without a doubt, suicide is a problem in South Korea, and the cultural stressors aren't hard to find. But the article fails to make the case that a suicidal impulse can suddenly flip, like a switch, to a murderous one. Citing a snippet of Jung to support a vague assertion that many Koreans "lack" a "respect for life in general" is insufficient justification for accusing Korea of cultivating a culture of killing. Fiedler would have done well to cite his studies and to establish a clearer connection between suicide and murder. For the moment, I'm not convinced that such a connection exists.

*Much of Fiedler's research seems to come from Wikipedia.


Ave, David!

David Brightly, whom I know primarily as a commenter at Bill Vallicella's blog, has created his own philosophical blog: Tilly and Lola. Mr. Brightly might not remember me, but some years back we had a friendly exchange regarding philosophy of mind. I'm happy to see that he's blogging; he's an insightful thinker. His blog has been added to my news feed.

It occurs to me that my news feed-- which I see whenever I log into Blogger to write something-- no longer matches my right-hand sidebar blogroll. As I may have mentioned before, I'm thinking of doing a redesign of the blogroll, although I won't be using the funky categories I had mulled over previously.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

somethin' funky be happenin'

Blogger is experiencing a series of hiccups, I think; it appears they're fiddling with the software, and we'll just have to endure this until everything's been worked out. Some of my current Blogger-related troubles:

1. The comment form's preview function isn't working: line breaks aren't appearing except between paragraphs. This means that a series of sentences will extend rightward forever without bumping down to the next line. It's almost as if the right-hand margin didn't exist anymore.

2. The edit window's preview function is also kaput: when I hit "Preview," I get no preview screen.

It could be that these problems are linked. Since I'm probably not the only person experiencing these glitches, I think it's safe to assume that people have already contacted Blogger about what's going on. I hope we get some satisfaction soon.


pourquoi les Américains haïssent les médias

Why Americans Hate the Media: an Atlantic article from 1996. Fascinating reading.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

at the TEF blog

This week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge problem, plus my attempted solution.


Uma's dad comes to Korea

Robert Thurman is a prominent figure in Buddhist academe. His own studies (and practice) are mostly within the Tibetan tradition, but his knowledge isn't confined to one narrow field. Thurman has taken a trip to Korea to visit Buddhist monastics there; it's thanks to my friend Charlie (of KimcheeGI fame-- his Twitter feed is here), who sent me a link to this Joongang article (it's in Korean) about Thurman's visit, that I know about this at all. Trivia: since there's no "th" sound in Korean, the article calls him "Robert Seomeon."*

And yes: Dr. Robert Thurman is indeed Uma's dad, so if you're planning to send Uma a love letter, you'd have an easier time tracking her father down than trying to get past Uma's handlers. (For all I know, though, he may already be long wary of Uma-seekers, and would see right through your tactic.)

*The "eo" represents a sound between "aw" and "uh."


at the TEF blog

The solution to last week's MGRE challenge.



I ended up staying home yesterday, which means I've got stuff to do today. Laundry, for instance. And charoset shopping. About the only thing I accomplished on Easter Sunday-- aside from writing a few blog posts-- was watching the rest of the shows on my Hulu queue, then watching "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy." The latter turned out to be a very good film, though it did proceed at a snail's pace, and the ending left me a bit confused as to the role of one character in particular; after watching the film, I had to read the Wikipedia synopsis to de-confuse myself.*

In all, I've used this weekend to relax. The Seoul office of MB wrote me back yesterday to say that my (extensive!) revisions were all satisfactory, which means I'm officially done with that project. Today, despite my short list of things to do, I'm planning to take it easy.

*I didn't know whether Jim Prideaux (played by Mark Strong), who ends up killing the mole, was himself a second mole. There was a flashback scene that made it seem as if Prideaux and the mole actually had a history. That scene, in turn, made it seem as if Prideaux's motive for killing the mole was to preserve his own cover. According to the Wikipedia synopsis, though, this wasn't the case: Prideaux, a loyal Brit, killed the mole out of a sense of betrayal. I'll need to watch the film a second-- and maybe a third-- time to get it all straight.


Monday, April 09, 2012

"Touch": a losing proposition?

I've now seen the first three episodes of "Touch," a show executive-produced by and starring Kiefer Sutherland. I can see why commenter John from Daejeon says the ratings for the show have dropped: the second and third episodes feel like repeats of the first, with very little forward movement in the story arc. I have a feeling the show's going to fizzle, and it'll fizzle for the same reasons that killed "Flash Forward": a mystery show that has a strong beginning needs to keep the mystery fresh and intense from show to show. If it fails in this, viewers will lose interest. The second and third episodes of "Touch" feel almost like clones of each other. Both episodes have some heartfelt moments, but those scenes aren't enough to hide the fact that the show's formula has become obvious in under three hours. Sutherland's character, Martin Bohm, even makes reference to this fact in the third episode: "From here on in, my life is going to be running down random numbers for [my son] Jake?" One of the reviewers I had linked to in my previous post expressed a similar fear:

What remains to be seen, though, is whether future installments of Touch will play out as an interesting, interwoven narrative that's as satisfying as it is unusual — or, on the other hand, whether they'll just turn into some sort of metaphysical Mission: Impossible, with new cases to solve each week as in dozens of other adventure series.

The show seems to have gone the "M:I" route, which is unfortunate. While that was a good formula for TV series from the 1970s and 80s (e.g., Kwai Chang Caine and David Banner as ceaselessly wandering do-gooders), modern viewers prefer stories with multiple arcs to them. "Touch" offers little more than a mildly fascinating string of improbable coincidences. The fact that we know the coincidences will all come together ten minutes before the end of the episode leaves us with little reason to feel suspense... or even interest. On top of this, we have no evidence that these coincidences really do fit any sort of Fibonacci pattern.

I'm also annoyed by Sutherland's obviously dyed hair. What's wrong with being in your mid-forties and showing a little gray, dammit?


belated chortle

A student of mine told me about Google's latest April Fool's joke, which I'd missed: the Google Tap. The best part of that "commercial" is the sexual innuendo:

You can tap it in the morning, you can tap it at night, you can tap it in the bathroom...

While I'm at it: I also enjoyed this Axe Anarchy commercial.


Ave, Lorianne!

Lorianne is Twitterpated.

For me, the appeal of Twitter doesn’t lie in its rapidity or its reach, with celebrities gathering thousands of followers who hang on every Tweeted word. For me, the appeal of Twitter lies in its enforced brevity: the fact that like a poet you are required to count and consider every character. There is a lot of disposable chitchat on Twitter–that is, after all, what the site is designed to cultivate. But in the hands of a writer, Twitter’s space constraints are invaluable, forcing the long-winded and prosaic among us to jettison every scrap of dead wood.

I am not a poet; I deal exclusively with prose. The danger that nonfiction writers flirt with perpetually is the temptation to over-elaborate, providing an entire blueprint of a house when actually an impressionistic sketch will do. Prose states and poetry implies, and sometimes the declarative nature of prose makes it possible to over-emphasize a point, preaching on about something that could have been stated far more succinctly, and toward more effective ends.

I like the idea of transforming a transitory, superficial medium into something both crafted and contemplative. Well-wrought Tweets won’t slow Twitter a whit, but they speak toward the boldness of brevity and the purity of prose.

I've written similarly:

...microblogging presents a sexy challenge to those of a writerly mindset: the challenge of making one's thoughts as concise yet information-saturated as possible in the face of tight constraints...

And here:

I've tried to make my Twitter experience as entertaining as possible by attempting, alternately, to (1) see what sorts of poetry are possible; (2) see how much information I can cram into 140 characters; (3) see how much I can imply or evoke in 140 characters; (4) use the "reply" function to start bizarre, solipsistic dialogues with myself; (5) write parodic movie summaries; (6) see what happens when I write in different languages; and (7) slip in bits of wisdom learned from others. I'm obviously in the minority; most people on Twitter seem to think that "social networking" means "be a link whore; engage in mutual following." And that's it.

Many of my Twitter-related writings can be found by searching for "Twitter" in my blog's search window. See here.


good riddance!

On April 5, 2012, the extremely unlikable conservative "thinker" John Derbyshire shoved his foot so far down his throat that it popped out of his ass. In an article called "The Talk: Nonblack Version," "the Derb" (as he's known among conservative admirers) wrote, in part:

(10) Thus, while always attentive to the particular qualities of individuals, on the many occasions where you have nothing to guide you but knowledge of those mean differences, use statistical common sense:

(10a) Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.

(10b) Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.

(10c) If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date (neglect of that one got me the closest I have ever gotten to death by gunshot).

(10d) Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks.

(10e) If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.

(10f) Do not settle in a district or municipality run by black politicians.

(10g) Before voting for a black politician, scrutinize his/her character much more carefully than you would a white.

(10h) Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway.

(10i) If accosted by a strange black in the street, smile and say something polite but keep moving.

(11) The mean intelligence of blacks is much lower than for whites. The least intelligent ten percent of whites have IQs below 81; forty percent of blacks have IQs that low. Only one black in six is more intelligent than the average white; five whites out of six are more intelligent than the average black. These differences show in every test of general cognitive ability that anyone, of any race or nationality, has yet been able to devise. They are reflected in countless everyday situations. “Life is an IQ test.”

I find this rhetoric odious but unsurprising, considering its source. Unlike my conservative friends and acquaintances who find Derbyshire intelligent, articulate, and insightful, I've found him, since I first heard of him in 2003, to be a pugnacious know-it-all blowhard on the order of Keith Olbermann, and no less deserving of an Olbermannesque fate.

Well, the universe has granted my wish. On April 7, two days after the publication of the above article, John Derbyshire was fired from his post as writer at the conservative National Review Online. While I'm not a regular reader of NRO, I've visited the site perhaps ten times over the past several years, mostly to read columns by the civilized and professorial Victor Davis Hanson, whom I admire. Hanson belongs to the old William F. Buckley school of urbane conservatives who know better than to traffic in leftist-style race-baiting. It's gratifying to see the more combative (and far less intelligent) Derbyshire shown the door. NRO staffer Rich Lowry comments:

Anyone who has read Derb in our pages knows he’s a deeply literate, funny, and incisive writer. I direct anyone who doubts his talents to his delightful first novel, “Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream,” or any one of his “Straggler” columns in the books section of NR. Derb is also maddening, outrageous, cranky, and provocative. His latest provocation, in a webzine, lurches from the politically incorrect to the nasty and indefensible. We never would have published it, but the main reason that people noticed it is that it is by a National Review writer. Derb is effectively using our name to get more oxygen for views with which we’d never associate ourselves otherwise. So there has to be a parting of the ways. Derb has long danced around the line on these issues, but this column is so outlandish it constitutes a kind of letter of resignation. It’s a free country, and Derb can write whatever he wants, wherever he wants. Just not in the pages of NR or NRO, or as someone associated with NR any longer.

NRO is right to jettison this fool, who does the right no favors by confirming the left's suspicions that conservatives are all, to some degree or other, racists. I've seen intelligent conservative discussion of racial differences at other blogs on my blogroll, and in no case did any blogger known to me cross the line by warning non-blacks to stay away from black folks on the basis of statistics. Derbyshire has been getting things wrong since the 2003 invasion of Iraq; I should dig through his old columns and find examples of failed predictions and faulty analyses. But why waste my brain on such an exercise?

So! Good riddance, jackoff. I hope your racist column haunts you for years and makes you as hard to employ as Mel Gibson. But there's hope, Derb: instead of sucking off the tit of NRO, you can now go full-on Ayn Rand and make yourself into a self-made man. Build an empire from the ground up, my friend! Show everyone how it's done! Surely there's a market for erroneous analysis, racism, and xenophobia! But believe me when I tell you that I'll be very disappointed if your answer to this crisis of employment involves hitching your wagon to yet another established publication. Not very individualistic, that.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Happy Easter!

Went to a Holy Saturday vigil with my buddy Mike. It was a long mass, about three hours in all, and it involved quite a few extras: multiple baptisms and confirmations, extra scriptural readings (Mike was one of the lectors), and plenty of singing. I can't remember the last time I set foot in a church. It's been a year or more, I'd guess, and I'm lucky I didn't burst into flames upon passing over the threshold. Mike, meanwhile, has been rediscovering his Catholicism over the past year, and is increasingly involved with his parish. It was good to watch him up there in front of everyone, reading a passage from Exodus.

I may celebrate Easter by going out to the nearest Wegmans and buying the components for my yearly charoset. Might take a drive along Skyline Drive while I'm at it. In the meantime, I wish all and sundry a very Happy Easter.

Some links to past Easter posts:

1. Put it down.

2. Four days before my mother presented with cognitive symptoms. At this point, none of us really understood that Mom had a brain tumor.

3. First Easter without Mom.

4. Contra Sam Harris.


Saturday, April 07, 2012

at the TEF blog

At the TEF blog, Friday is Religion Day, so I've written a Good Friday post on the concepts of low and high christology.


a happy Good Friday to you

It's too bright and sunny to be gloomy this Good Friday. Enjoy the day, whatever your creed, even if you're a Spaghettimonsterian.* To my Jewish peeps: a mindful beginning to Pesach come sundown. That reminds me... it's charoset season! Gotta get cracking and make some. A trip to Wegmans might be in order.

*Charles, in the comments, notes the correct term is Pastafarian.


Kiefer's back in business

A few weeks back, I added the new Fox series "Touch" to my Hulu queue, but it wasn't until last night that I sat down to watch the pilot episode. "Touch" stars Fox favorite Kiefer Sutherland in a very un-Jack-Bauer-like role as Martin Bohm (shades of scientist and philosopher David Bohm, he of Wholeness and the Implicate Order fame), the father of a child, Jake, who may be afflicted with severe autism. In the opening seconds of the episode, Jake speaks to us directly in voiceover narration:

The ratio is always the same: one to one point six-one-eight, over and over and over again. Patterns are hidden in plain sight. You just have to know where to look.

Things most people see as chaos actually follow subtle laws of behavior. Galaxies, plants, seashells: the patterns never lie, but only some of us can see how the pieces fit together.

Seven billion, eighty million, three hundred sixty thousand of us live on this tiny planet. This is the story of some of those people.

There is an ancient Chinese myth about the red thread of fate. It says that the gods have tied a red thread around every one of our ankles, and attached it to all the people whose lives are destined to touch. This thread may stretch, or tangle, but it will never break.

It's often predetermined by mathematical probability, and it's my job to keep track of those numbers, to make the connections for those who need to find each other. The ones whose lives need to touch.

I was born four thousand one hundred and sixty-one days ago, on October 26, 2000. I've been alive for eleven years, four months, twenty-one days, and fourteen hours.

And in all that time, I've never said a single word.

NPR has a review of the pilot episode that pretty much reflects my own thoughts on the series. Read it here (a more critical review is here, and a more philosophical review is here). I found the pilot generally compelling, but perhaps a bit too hasty in introducing us to the show's premise. The appearance of Danny Glover (way lispier than I remember him from his "Lethal Weapon" days) is jarring in its suddenness, as he becomes the guy who reveals that Jake is one of a few beings blessed with a special gift: the gift of seeing the large-yet-subtle patterns that undergird our interconnectedness-- patterns related to the Divine Proportion.

One of the looming questions for me-- aside from the question of whether the fuzzy philosophical underpinnings of the show will resolve themselves into clarity-- is whether Jake will ever become more than a plot device. Danny Glover's character, Dr. Teller, says Jake is like an air-traffic controller, guiding people along these invisible patterns. Obviously, Jake is vital to the show because he has a function, like any machine. It's up to Jake's dad, then, to provide the emotional core of the show, since Jake himself is blank and affectless. Is it possible for the unchanging, impassive Jake to have a character arc? Only one character in the pilot undergoes any real change, and that's social worker Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw-- what a name!), who starts off as a doubter but converts pretty quickly to Martin and Jake's cause. What exactly that cause is will be, I imagine, the subject of the rest of the series. Right now, all we have to go on is Martin's unquestioning love for and belief in Jake, which is enough to make me wonder whether the show isn't also a parable about faith.

In the meantime, I'm left to ponder the philosophy. As I wrote above, it's fuzzy right now. The core concept for the series seems loosely based on notions of quantum entanglement, but at the anthropic level, not the quantum level. In other words, human events manifest the same patterns as do subatomic particles, plants, galaxies, and all the rest. This ontological recursiveness also calls to mind fractals or holograms. Fractals are repeating patterns that look the same no matter the level of resolution: zoom in X times, and you'll see the same configurations as when you zoom in 100X times. Holograms, when cut into pieces, still depict the same whole image: the explicate order isn't changed by any rupture of the implicate order.

All of this makes for some nifty metaphysical analogizing. Are we all parts of a cosmic fractal pattern? Are we instantiations of holomovement? Was Fibonacci, with his funky, hypnotic spirals, on to something big about the nature of the universe?

Such speculation is very mystical and picturesque, but there's something incoherent about Jake's role/mission. If these patterns are ingrained in the fabric of the universe, what need is there for an air-traffic controller? Perhaps the series will explore this question. It might go in a theistic direction and suggest that Jake, and others like him, are guardian angels of a sort. The series is too uplifting in tone to go a darker route: these air-traffic controllers won't be like William Sadler's Colonel Stuart in "Die Hard 2"-- the guy who maliciously guides a plane into the ground to prove he's become master of Dulles Airport. There will be no revelation that the universe is run by the evil demon of Descartes.

Two more episodes of "Touch" sit in my queue right now; I've got some catching-up to do. In the meantime, I wanted to offer these initial impressions of the series, and to welcome Kiefer Sutherland back to prime-time TV.

Friday, April 06, 2012

I shouldn't be laughing, but...

HEADLINE: Ex-Girlfriend Busted For Brutal Scrotum Attack
SUBHEAD: Cops: Assault left Indiana man bloody, swollen, unable to work

APRIL 5--An Indiana man had his scrotum severely torn when his “on-again, off-again” girlfriend entered his home and pummeled him in an attack that resulted in the woman’s arrest on several criminal charges, including two felonies.

Christina Reber, 43, was freed from jail yesterday after posting $10,000 bond in connection with her bust for the alleged attack last Friday at the Muncie house of her ex-beau (who told cops he had ended the couple’s eight-month relationship days before the assault).


Reber, the victim told cops, first struck him repeatedly in the head before latching onto his scrotum and “squeezing as hard as she could.” The man, interviewed by police at a hospital emergency room, said that he “was in incredible pain when Reber grabbed his scrotum and began digging in her fingers.”

The victim recalled that Reber “refused to let go of his scrotum,” but that he was “finally able to pry his scrotum from Reber’s hand” after they fell to the ground during the scuffle. The man then called an ambulance, which transported him to Ball Memorial Hospital.

Those final three words made my day.


Ave, Mike!

My buddy Mike sends me this link to a B-movie called "Zombie Ass." It's pretty much what it sounds like.


Maundy Thursday

According to tradition, this is the day that Jesus celebrated his Last Supper with the disciples. It is also the night of his betrayal and condemnation; Good Friday is the day of his crucifixion.

For me, this day represents the return to work on that writing project: the data file was sent back to me with a request for revisions. We had all been warned that this would be part of the process, but I've got a lot to revise. All the text and images must conform exactly to the publisher's parameters, and the content editor can be extremely finicky about what passes muster. Not that I blame him/her: when a textbook is being written by a team of writers scattered all over the world (I had been given six of the 28 chapters), cross-chapter consistency is paramount. I seem to have contributed too much material: my exercises are too involved, my passage word counts are too high, and even though my F-K readability score was only slightly higher than 5.0 for some passages (5.1 or 5.3), I've been told that the passages need to be dumbed down to under 5.0.

Upshot: more work for this hominid.


Thursday, April 05, 2012

at the TEF blog

French verbs that take être as an auxiliary.


congratulations, sunim!

I had just finished a rereading of Mark Salzman's Lying Awake, a novella about a Carmelite nun, when I saw the news that Seon Joon sunim has been ordained, along with many (107?) of her fellow nuns. It's a moment at least six years in the making, but in a real sense it's only the start of her journey, just as every new day is a new start for each of us. Click over to her photoblog and congratulate her.

In the blog post that accompanies her photos, Seon Joon discusses why she chose Korean Buddhism over other kinds of Buddhism as the framework for her growth and practice. Six years ago, I attended a dharma talk by Hyeon Gak sunim, in which he was asked a question on that very topic:

When asked why he had chosen to follow the path of Korean Buddhism as opposed to other Buddhisms, Hyeon-gak said, "Why do I drink coffee and not something else? Why do you have the friends you have? Why are you Korean?" (laughter)

Before ending her post on a note of gratitude, Seon Joon writes:

I’ve always been aware that even though we say, “I took precepts,” this is not precise or accurate language. We don’t take precepts, they cannot be lifted like a stereo or claimed like a prize. We receive them; they are given. We don’t keep precepts, either, like a casserole in the freezer or cash in an account. We hold them, like a living thing, and we care for them, and they care for us. We may break precepts, like a heart, or a bone; but they don’t break like something inanimate. They break like we break, because they live as we live, and they die as we fail to respect and love them, to see them as that which will shape us into beings capable of helping other beings and guide us toward wisdom and skillfulness, for the greatest benefit and joy of all.

I congratulate Seon Joon on her attainment, but I also know that this is "no attainment, nothing to attain." Be happy, sunim!


Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Ave, Aaron!

From my bloggers' news feed: a sudden flurry of (re-)publishing over at Idiots' Collective. One of Aaron's more interesting contentions (well, all his contentions are interesting) is that South Korea should drop conscription. I'm of two minds about this, but Aaron makes some good points, not least of which is:

Yes, South Korea faces an existential threat on its northern doorstep, but what does it say about a country - one which ostensibly represents the side of freedom - which must force its citizens to defend their own nation?

Be sure to read him.


I breathe easier

It is accomplished.

The writing project is finished, but unlike with previous projects I've done for this publishing company, it wasn't done on time. I was able to turn in half my work on the day it was due, but once the week began, I was slower at turning in the other half. I had been given the task of writing up six chapters of a 28-chapter reading textbook for children. The task had originally involved only five chapters, but one person had to drop out of the project for personal reasons. That meant more work for me, which in turn meant more pay.

I don't think I'd realized how involved the work would be. While there wasn't much per-page text to worry about, we had to abide by some strict formatting considerations. Part of our work involved hunting down appropriate clip art from a site called Shutterstock; we had to take down the serial numbers of the images and place them onto the pages we were working on. Shutterstock's images are all heavily tagged and searchable, but sometimes, if your search string is either too vague or too "popular," you end up sifting through hundreds or even thousands of images. That happened to me repeatedly, which added to the time-consumptive nature of my work. As we wrote up each article, we also had to confirm that what we had written was within a 5th-grade level, which meant copying and pasting our passages into a particular website (try it!) to determine our text's word count, average sentence length, and Flesch-Kincaid grade level. An F-K rating of over 5.0 meant going back and simplifying the passage, then re-running it through the readability program. All this, plus comprehension questions, puzzles, and answer keys, made for a lot of work.

In the end, though, my Seoul liaison was a good sport and said she wouldn't penalize me for lateness (in fact, some other writers were late, too). The work itself, while requiring attention to detail, was never tedious, and I'll be getting a decent chunk of change sometime after the 20th of the month. I'm very thankful to Z for providing the work.

So I can breathe a sigh of relief for now. The project is done, except for the possibility of minor tweaks requested by the Seoul office. I'm now waiting for the arrival of a much larger job-- a proofing job that promises to be fascinating work. In the meantime, I'm finally free to kick back and watch my iTunes copy of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy." At long last.

But not tonight. It's after 2AM, and I have no intention of staying up until 4AM, the illustrious Gary Oldman notwithstanding.


IQ test gripe

Look at the following question:

Which of the following doesn't belong?

a. quarter
b. dime
c. penny
d. nickel

Did you pick "penny" because it's the only one that's not silver? According to one IQ test by Hans Eysenck (I have it in dead-tree form, so I can't link to it), you'd be correct. But this irks me: what if you happened to notice that the dime is the only coin with an even-numbered value (25¢, 10¢, 1¢, 5¢)?

I'm curious as to how people create IQ tests. What makes people decide, for questions like the one above, that this unique trait is correct while that unique trait is beneath consideration? Is there something more "obvious" about the respective colors versus the respective values of each coin? I admit I don't get it... which is probably why I'm not a genius.


conscious robots and what they (don't) prove

Dr. V sounds a bit desperate in this latest attempt at deconstructing the functionalist/emergentist account of mind:

Suppose that there is a group of philosophizing robots. These machines are so sophisticated that they ask Big Questions. One of the problems under discussion might well be the mind-body problem in robots. The fact that they know that they had been constructed by human robotics engineers in Palo Alto, California would do nothing to alleviate their puzzlement. In fact, one of the philosophizing robots could propose the theory that the emergence of consciousness in their silicon brains is not to be interpreted as an emergence from matter or as a dependence of consciousness on matter, but as a Cartesian mind's becoming embodied in them: at a point of sufficient complexity, a Cartesian mind embodies itself in the robot.

In other words, what could stop a philosophizing robot from rejecting emergentism and being a substance dualist? He knows his origin, or at least the origin of his body; but how does knowing that he is a robot, and thus a human artifact[,] prevent his considering himself to be an artifact housing a Cartesian mind? He might trot out all the standard dualist arguments.

For me, this question has already been asked and answered by Arnold and Britney. Dr. V, in his post, insists upon his own willful ignorance. As philosopher Arnold says in my post:

Look; you’re saying that the mind is immaterial and that qualia are radically subjective. This means that your side can never really understand what mind is, because you’re convinced there’s no way to explore it scientifically. Further, you insist there’s no way to test for the presence of consciousness, which is tantamount to saying you don’t know what consciousness is. After all, when you want to test for something—to see whether it’s there or not—you have to know something about it. Take AIDS testing. If I don’t have any idea what AIDS is, it’s kind of hard to design a test for it, don’t you think? By the same token, if you don’t have a clear idea what consciousness is, it’s kind of hard to test for that as well. I infer your ignorance from your inability to envision a test for consciousness.


Tuesday, April 03, 2012

at the TEF blog

A work/rate problem involving a predator chasing its prey. I've already slapped my answer in the comments, so no peeking if you want to work it out on your own.


another of my Korean peeps goes nuts

Why, why, why are Korean guys going nuts (recall Cho Seung-hui and the dude with three widow's peaks)? Do they need to be raised on a diet of The Dangerous Book for Boys to give all that pent-up masculine energy an outlet? I'm being facetious, but this latest crime is serious: a gunman named One L. Goh shot ten people at Oikos* University, a small Christian school in Oakland, California. Seven of Goh's victims are dead; Goh himself was arrested by police after entering a store and announcing what he had done.

I see that California does have the death penalty; it had been reinstated in the 1970s. Alas, crushing by elephant isn't one of the methods used by the state. Too bad: I could Goh for that.

*The Greek term oikos refers to a sort of Gestalt in the sense of household or home, and often implies larger concepts like family, community, land/country, and even the entire world. Its modern incarnation is the prefix eco/ecu, as in economy, ecology, ecumenism, etc. Glenn Reynolds has been trying, for at least a year or so, to get people to use the term oikophobia to describe liberals who supposedly hate their own homeland, and who go to any length to "blame America first." I find this linguistic move simultaneously ridiculous and pathetic, but I do admit I like the term itself: it has a nice, Hellenic ring to it. Whether it actually corresponds to reality, though, is another matter.


late work = bad Kevin

I had thought that I could finish my work on time, but I was wrong. My liaison in Korea is being very gracious about my lateness (I turned in half my work yesterday), but I need to get the rest of my project done by tonight-- to salve my own conscience, if for no other reason. Am toying with the idea of cancelling my tutoring session with my goddaughter this evening. Hmmm.


at the TEF blog

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


Monday, April 02, 2012

Robert Wright doth squirm

With thanks to Lee, on my Twitter feed, I've seen part of an exchange between Robert Wright and UVA psychologist Jonathan Haidt (a self-proclaimed "Durkheimian" skeptic of the far-left view), in which Haidt says "politics is much more like religion than it is like shopping." Early on in the dialogue, he notes that recent studies show that conservatives are better at understanding liberal positions and perspectives than liberals are at understanding the conservative mentality. Haidt also makes the claim (dubious, in my opinion) that politics is a product of genetics. I haven't finished watching the whole thing, but the dialogue thus far seems interesting, and Wright is more animated than he normally is-- perhaps because Haidt has struck a nerve.

Haidt (pronounced "height") looked familiar to me, and that's when I realized I'd seen him before: he's given a TED talk or two.


Sunday, April 01, 2012

final dash

I have about twelve hours to complete my writing assignment. Once it's over, I plan to kick back and watch "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," which I bought from iTunes about a week ago-- my one indulgence (well... except for my iTunes rental of "The Way"). I'm also going to have an extra day of free time this week: the Powers that Be at YB Near have told me that, because this coming week is spring break for Fairfax County kids, we won't be hosting enough students at the center to warrant having all the teachers there every day; as a result, we teachers will be suffering "rolling blackouts": one colleague, who's there five days a week, will be losing two days; another colleague and I will be losing a day. My Day of Sacrifice is Tuesday, which means I've got an imposed four-day weekend. May as well enjoy it.

Things will get better by the end of this month, despite the lack of work this coming Tuesday. I'm expecting a large payment for a big proofing job, another payment for private tutoring, and of course the $900 payment by Maison Boussole for the work I'm finishing up today.

Off to work.