Tuesday, June 30, 2015

in case you didn't notice

Last week, I dropped SiteMeter from my sidebar. One paranoid commenter had done the same thing, and I guess his(?) paranoia finally rubbed off on me. I might slap SiteMeter back on in a few days, but I'm in no hurry. SiteMeter was originally a very reliable counter back in 2003, but over the years it's become less and less stable, crapping out at odd times, miscounting (as it did recently), and generally acting weird. I don't know what happened, but the counter went from great to shitty, and I'm no longer sure it's worth using. I may just stick to Blogger's built-in counter, even though it provides precious little vital information.


Monday, June 29, 2015


I just found out that a Korean cousine of mine is getting married this August. She's out in Texas, and while I'd love to attend the wedding, I'm already committed to a different wedding this coming October... because MY BROTHER SEAN IS GETTING MARRIED!

This is also the moment when I inform you, Dear Reader, that Sean is gay, and that he'll be marrying his beau Jeff, who came to Korea with Sean last August when they were on their whirlwind Asia tour (photos here). I don't feel awkward telling you any of this, but Sean himself has been circumspect, for a long while, about allowing me to make such an announcement on the blog. He worries—not without justification—that a public revelation of his sexuality might damage his music career, especially since a large proportion of his income is from Korean families in northern Virginia, and Korean attitudes toward homosexuals aren't exactly the most enlightened. On that note, I've been tasked with breaking the news about Sean to our Korean relatives here. I haven't had the chance to talk in depth with them yet, and this isn't something I'm going to do via text message. Still, I do wonder how the relatives are going to react once I've outed Sean to them. It's not going to be the most positive thing, I fear.

Anyway, Sean's upcoming wedding is happy news to me. The date has been set for October 17, two days after Sean's birthday on the 15th. My Golden Goose boss has already generously said I could have that whole week off (vacations will be at a premium for me once I become a corporate drone: no more four-months-a-year holidays for ol' Kevin!), and this is important because Sean and Jeff have asked me, perhaps in my capacity as church elder, to act as the officiant for the wedding.* Strangely enough, the wedding is to take place in West Virginia. At a guess, most of you are probably thinking the same thing: isn't West Virginia one of the most gay-unfriendly states in the Union? I don't blame you. That's what I thought, too. Turns out, though, that West Virginia has sanctioned gay marriage for years. So, yes: yours truly will be donning a hanbok and saying ritual words in front of a happy crowd as two families are united through Sean and Jeff's public commitment.

And now you understand why I've been so vocal a supporter of gay marriage: it's a very personal matter for me. I've hinted at my personal involvement in the past, noting that "someone close to me" or "someone I love" is gay. Now you know whom I've been talking about. I'm very protective of my brother; I don't want anything bad to happen to him, and I want him to be free to enjoy the rights and privileges that heterosexuals take for granted. This is why I take a dim view of the "let the states decide" crowd: they're advocating for the slower solution, and while the legality or illegality of gay marriage was working itself out in a patchwork manner, my brother would have to travel the United States knowing that he was legally married in some states and officially unmarried in others. That's a weird and stupid sort of limbo to experience, and not consistent with my wanting the best for my little brother. It makes far more sense for the right to marry to be bestowed upon all, everywhere, at the same time, so I applaud the Supreme Court's June 26 decision to legalize gay marriage. There will be much whining and moaning from social conservatives about this as they complain about perceived judicial tyranny, but the fact of the matter is that, no matter how gay marriage had come to be the law of the land, there would always have been such moaning and groaning—there would always have have been this or that reason for not allowing it, and for thinking that it somehow erodes the nation further. Utter nonsense.

So that's the big announcement: my other little brother is getting married this October, and I'm the officiant. I wish peace, joy, and happiness to my cousin Jihae, my brother Sean, and my soon-to-be brother-in-law Jeff. I hope they all lead great, fulfilling lives.

*In the Presbyterian Church, USA, there are two sorts of elders: ruling elders and teaching elders. Teaching elders are more commonly known as pastors or ministers. I'm an ordained ruling elder (which means I have voting power regarding internal church matters), so I don't have the authority, within the church context, to conduct weddings. West Virginia law, however, allows anyone to become an officiant of a wedding, but there is a good bit of paperwork involved. So while my elder status may have something to do with why Sean and Jeff have chosen me, it's ultimately West Virginia law that gives me the authority to step into this honored role. I do so proudly and happily.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

one last, loving look

This is the last bit of burger porn, I swear. I took these pics just today, after cooking one of my two remaining megaburgers. Hover your cursor over each image to see its caption.


Tom's food-porn shots

My buddy Tom is a man of many talents, and one of his passions is photography. Tom was so thrilled with the burger he got on Saturday evening that he said, "I don't usually do food porn, but in this case I'll make an exception." All four of the following beauty shots are from Tom, who reverently posed the plate of burger-ness on my bed, checked his lighting, and clicked away. I was tickled to have my food treated with such respect. Hover your cursor over the images to read the captions. Enjoy, and imagine the flavor.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturday burgerfest

My buddy Tom was in Goyang to help out with a sort of English-learning activity at a minor-league baseball game, so I had invited him and our mutual friend Patrick over for burgers stuffed with Gorgonzola and bacon. Here are some food photos from today's festival of burgers. Hover your cursor over each image to see the related caption.

A few remarks about tonight's dinner.

1. Broiling meat is a gamble if you don't know your broiler, and I still don't know my own broiler well enough to use it properly. I think the burgers I did broil went a wee bit overcooked—not enough to be tragic, but just enough to be slightly noticeable. I'll know better what to do next time around, I think.

2. The patties cooked amazingly well: there was very little shrinkage or cheese leakage, and the burgers were huge and hefty. Tom had started off thinking he might be able to down two burgers, but as it turned out, he could handle only one before he was stuffed. I had only a single burger, too; the remaining two huge patties have been placed in the freezer for later.

3. I accidentally doused Tom's shoes with bacon grease, ensuring that they would be fragrant during his bus ride home. The grease was sitting in a bowl on a high shelf, atop some plates. I needed a plate but forgot that the bowl atop the plates was full of grease; when I forcefully yanked the bowl off the plates, the grease sloshed out, most of it landing on poor Tom's shoes. Tom was very gracious about the fuckup, but I felt guilty. Tom claims he'd been planning to take his shoes in for a professional cleaning, anyway, so no worries.

4. The cut of beef that I received from the butcher was beautifully marbled. It might not have been galbi (short ribs), but it was damn close. As such, I decided not to take my usual approach to hamburger prep: normally, I flavor up my meat with salt, pepper, and herbs like basil, parsley, and oregano; I occasionally mix in a bit of garlic and onion powder (never actual onions!). I also add a bit of oil if I think the meat might be too lean. I almost never use an egg for binding, and these days I almost never add bread crumbs, having taken to heart Bobby Flay's scoffing remark about how we're supposed to be making burgers, not meatloaf. (There is, however, a reasonable school of thought that notes that adding some bread crumbs to your burgers is a good way to retain the meat's juices during cooking: the crumbs sponge up the fluids, making for a moister burger.) On Saturday, I used no herbs and no aromatics: all I added was a bit of salt, a shot of black pepper, and very little olive oil. The meat itself was left to carry its native flavor into the finished burger.

5. I forgot to mention that Patrick, the bastard, couldn't make it. Something about how he needed to eat dinner with his wife, whom he hadn't had time to dine with in ages. Meh. Wife, shmife, I say—burgers are far more important than marriage.

All in all, a great dinner. Tom repeatedly sang the meal's praises, despite his bacon-fat-sogged shoes. I, for one, was happy that the burgers turned out as well as they did: I had worried they would split open and essentially turn into double Whoppers. They didn't, thank Cthulhu.


Friday, June 26, 2015

who gets the last laugh?

On Twitter, I followed a link to this Korea Observer article with the somewhat misleading title, "Is the Korean college entrance English test too tough for Americans?" (The phrase "college entrance" really ought to be hyphenated because it's a phrasal adjective preceding the noun it modifies.) The article includes an embedded video that I encourage you to watch. The video shows two capable Korean test-takers and one American (ostensibly an English teacher) who take a 50-minute section of a TOEIC test. Results: the two Koreans score 100% and 96%, respectively, while the American scores a dismal 76%. However, the video also shows that when Dave, the American, tries to ask basic questions of his two co-examinees, they (1) can't understand what he's saying and (2) can't make fluent replies.

The point being driven home by the video is one that's familiar to expat English teachers in Korea: Koreans are great when it comes to test taking, and since Korean business culture also seems to prioritize exam results over actual linguistic competence, this is what Korean students emphasize in their studies. In a course that stresses "teaching toward the test," Korean students will flourish. More abstractly, the video is a warning that tests do not measure actual competence, but merely test-taking ability. There's truth to this, but it's also true that test design can be good or shoddy.

Witness the TOEFL, which underwent a revolutionary redesign when too many Koreans were scoring in the high 90s. TOEFL had originally been a test of the passive/receptive macroskills, i.e., reading and listening. After the redesign, TOEFL also included the elements that Korean students dread: the active/productive macroskills of speaking and writing. I worked with ETS as a TOEFL essay rater, and I can personally attest to how easy it is to guess what part of the world a tester comes from based on that tester's writing. I now live in Korea, but because I also lived in Europe, I'm familiar with both Korean and European ways of thinking through English. If 5 is the maximum score on a TOEFL essay, Europeans, especially western Europeans, all tend to score 4 or 5 while Koreans are generally stuck in the doldrums of the 3 zone. This isn't just because English is a European language: it's also because of the differing approaches to language teaching adopted by Europeans and Asians. The European/US approach puts far more stress on communicative competence than does the Korean approach, which is more about rules, structures, rote memorization, and rote repetition—a scheme that completely ignores the fluidity and unpredictability of actual conversation.

Another, less comfortable, point of the video—one that might be visible only to the linguistically and pedagogically aware—is that many English teachers in Korea aren't worthy of the name: they have little to no real understanding of grammar, mechanics, and the finer points of rhetoric. (The Korea Observer article itself is an unholy jumble of egregious errors: it's not just English teachers who lack competence.) Watch Dave in the video: near the end, he reads aloud one of the sentences from the test, a sentence written in somewhat complex prose.* Frustrated, he asks rhetorically, "What does this mean?" Well, sir: I understood the sentence's meaning even if you didn't, and that's because I'm actually competent in my native tongue. Too many foreign English teachers in Korea would do just as poorly as Dave on a standardized test targeting their knowledge of and skill in the technical aspects of English.

At the end of the video, poor Dave hangs his head in shame while one of the two Koreans pats him reassuringly on the back. I found that interesting, because you'd think the Koreans would be equally ashamed of their garbage-quality English. But that's not how the makers of the video chose to spin the situation. Who, then, gets the last laugh?

*The sentence refers to philosopher Thomas Kuhn, author of the now-classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, who gave the world the phrase "paradigm shift" to describe a radical change in modes of thinking. Dave really should educate himself.


Ave, Instapundit!

Quite likely the only such "Ave!" I'll ever give to Glenn Reynolds's (in)famous blog, this shout-out isn't for Reynolds himself, but for one of his guest bloggers: Randy Barnett, who had the balls to write a post that most definitely rubs certain conservatives the wrong way because it goes against the current rightie groupthink. Here's the post in full:

MAX BOOT: Rightfully Reversing Decades of Secessionist Rehabilitation:

But there is a big distinction to be made between remembering the past — something that, as a historian, I’m all in favor of — and honoring those who did bad things in the past. Remembrance does not require public displays of the Confederate flag, nor streets with names such as Jefferson Davis Highway — a road that always rankles me to drive down in Northern Virginia. Such gestures are designed to honor leaders of the Confederacy, who were responsible for the costliest war in American history — men who were traitors to this country, inveterate racists, and champions of slavery.

In this regard, honoring Jefferson Davis is particularly egregious, or, for that matter, Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan. But I believe even honoring the nobler Robert E. Lee is inappropriate. True, he was a brave and skilled soldier, but he fought in a bad cause. Modern Germany does not have statues to Erwin Rommel even though he — unlike Lee — turned at the end of the day against the monstrous regime in whose cause he fought so skillfully. Thus, I don’t believe it is appropriate to have statues of Lee, or schools named after him, although I admit in his case it’s a closer call than with Jefferson Davis.

This is not “rewriting” history; it’s getting history right. The rewriting was done by Lost Cause mythologists who created pro-Confederate propaganda (such as Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind) to convince their countrymen that the South was actually in the right even as it imposed slavery and then segregation. This required impugning those Northerners who went south after the Civil War to try to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. They were labeled “carpetbaggers,” and their memory was tarnished while the actions of the white supremacists they opposed were glorified.

Boot is exactly right. I wasn’t kidding when I said before that I am glad to see Nikki Haley get the Stars and Bars removed from government buildings. Eric Foner and other historians like James Oakes and Richard Sewell are to be credited with correcting the historical record from the pro-Confederate revisionism that is still accepted by all-too-many on the right. Where the “Lost Cause” fable might once have been justified as a useful fiction to unify the country, lying about the Civil War and Reconstruction now only serves those who wish to sully the reputation of those who opposed slavery and promoted the civil rights of blacks when doing so took real courage (as it did for the civil rights activists of the ’50s and ’60s). In this way, like the Southerners of old, they can claim that there is a moral equivalence between North and South, between the USA and the CSA.

MORE HERE: I highly recommend the books I link to above about the men who opposed the pro-slavery reading of the Constitution before the Civil War, and who established the Republican Party to see their vision of the Constitution affirmed in its text. You can also read my articles on antislavery constitutionalism here and here. The more I learn about the history that has been concealed by pro-Confederate revisionism, the more I find to admire in our past.

Cross-posted on The Volokh Conspiracy. h/t Eugene Volokh

Posted at 5:09 pm by Randy Barnett

This is a reversal of the current conservative Zeitgeist. Conservatives, many or most of whom want, for whatever reason, to see the Confederate flag preserved, falsely equate the removal of the flag from public spaces like the state capitol to an erasure of history (a matter I discussed earlier: it's not). The above post rightly asserts that such a removal, far from being a distortion or an erasure of history, is a correction, a remedy for pernicious Southern revisionism. I can only say "Good!" to that. Imagine Holocaust deniers having their way, or imagine if Koreans abandon the fight to make Japanese textbook publishers publish a true and correct history of Japan's role in World War II. The above post is talking about something like that.

As of this writing, Barnett's post has garnered a whopping 382 comments, many of them outraged that Barnett would refuse to drink the Kool Aid.

All of this anger in the comment threads reminds me of one of Charles's posts.

Trivia: I know Jefferson Davis Highway. It runs through part of Arlington, Virginia, maybe 30 to 40 minutes from where I used to live in Alexandria.


bye-bye, Dongguk

June 25th is a day of remembrance in South Korea, as it marks the beginning of the Korean War, which began in 1950 and ended in 1953. Strangely, though, it's not a national holiday: offices were open, including the offices of the Dharma College Foreign Language Center at the Seoul campus of Dongguk University.

On Thursday, I trundled over to the Seoul campus to finalize some paperwork and clear out my work station. The paperwork passed muster, which meant that the dragons of bureaucracy were pleased. It took me only a few minutes to clear out my desk and shelves; I stuffed everything into my trusty Costco shopping bag, said goodbye to my coworker JJ* (the only other person in the faculty office at the time), and lumbered out to the street. I took a cab to Gwanghwamun, grabbed the 7119 bus home, and took the following shot of my stuff:

Barring some very unusual circumstance, I now have no reason to set foot on the Seoul campus again. Of course, I may end up back there just because of Namsan, but there are other access points to the mountain, so then again, I might just leave the campus be.

Bye-bye, Dongguk. It was an interesting and enlightening year.

*As I said goodbye to JJ, I observed that he was the first teacher to greet me upon my arrival on campus for the very first time as a hired professor, so it seemed only apropos—as an instance of cosmic symmetry—that JJ should be the last prof whose hand I would shake on my way out. JJ's a good guy. I'll miss him and several other faculty members.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Saturday! "S" is for "BURGERS"!

I'm celebrating the end of the term with my buddy Tom and our mutual friend (also my former KMA supervisor) Patrick. Tom and Patrick will be in Ilsan this coming Saturday to work all day at a baseball-related function, manning some sort of stand and helping kids speak in English. At the end of the day, they'll be heading over to my place for a mess of hamburgers stuffed with bacon and Gorgonzola cheese plus all the trimmings.

The menu:

Cola, water, tea, juice (with big, nasty chunks of ice)

Hamburger on toasted bun, beef patties stuffed with bacon and Gorgonzola cheese
Condiments: ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, mayo
Trimmings: lettuce, tomato, onion, sweet gherkins
Side 1: potato chips
Side 2: franks and beans
Side 3: simple cole slaw (last time, it was a little too complicated)
Possible addition: salmon steakburger with wasabi mayo

To be decided

To buy from the local grocer:

• iceberg lettuce
• salad greens
• tomatoes
• onions (already have, actually)
• 3 cans of pork and beans
• cabbage
• gherkins
• mustard
• canola oil
• eggs

UPDATE: I went out and bought all of the above. So that's done.

To buy from Costco:

• burger buns
• Gorgonzola
• ground beef
• salmon
• thick-cut bacon
• pre-crumbled bacon (for the franks & beans)
• potato chips (lg. bag)
• heavy cream
• butter

Much to be done before my guests arrive. Much deliciousness to be had once they do.


the checklist

A blogger(?) going by the moniker "Tyler Durden" has picked up and passed along a list, apparently written by a certain "Daisy Luther," called "The Last Rebels: 25 Things We Did As Kids That Would Get Someone Arrested Today." The post begins with a rant about how pussified we as a nation have become (I mostly agree with the rant), then gives us the list (here slightly edited for style):

1. Riding in the back of an open pick-up truck with a bunch of other kids
2. Leaving the house after breakfast and not returning until the streetlights came on, at which point you raced home ASAP so you didn’t get in trouble
3. Eating peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches in the school cafeteria
4. Riding your bike without a helmet
5. Riding your bike with a buddy on the handlebars, and neither of you wearing helmets
6. Drinking water from the hose in the yard
7. Swimming in creeks, rivers, ponds, and lakes (or what they now call *cough* “wild swimming“)
8. Climbing trees (one park cut the lower branches from a tree on the playground in case some stalwart child dared to climb them)
9. Having snowball fights (and accidentally hitting someone you shouldn’t)
10. Sledding without enough protective equipment to play a game in the NFL
11. Carrying a pocket knife to school (or having a fishing tackle box with sharp things on school property)
12. Camping
13. Throwing rocks at snakes in the river
14. Playing politically incorrect games like Cowboys and Indians
15. Playing Cops and Robbers with *gasp* toy guns
16. Pretending to shoot each other with sticks we imagined were guns
17. Shooting an actual gun or a bow (with *gasp* sharp arrows) at a can on a log, accompanied by our parents who gave us pointers to improve our aim. Heck, there was even a marksmanship club at my high school
18. Saying the words “gun” or “bang” or “pow pow” (there['s] actually a freakin’ CODE about “playing with invisible guns”)
19. Working for your pocket money well before your teen years
20. Taking that money to the store and buying as much penny candy as you could afford, then eating it in one sitting
21. Eating pop rocks candy and drinking soda, just to prove we were exempt from that urban legend that said our stomachs would explode
22. Getting so dirty that your mom washed you off with the hose in the yard before letting you come into the house to have a shower
23. Writing lines for being a jerk at school, either on the board or on paper
24. Playing “dangerous” games like dodgeball, kickball, tag, whiffle ball, and red rover (The Health Department of New York issued a warning about the “significant risk of injury” from these games)
25. Walking to school alone

Let's see... I did (1) when I was a high schooler on an exchange program in France in 1986; (2) when I was a kid; (3) because Mom sometimes made me such sandwiches; (4) I still do; (5) never; (6) I did all the time—what's wrong with this?; (7) only rarely; (8) I didn't do this until I was in high school; (9) got into plenty of snowball fights, but accidentally hit a friend's mom with a frisbee; (10) all the time as a kid; (11) quite often, and no one cared; (12) many a time; (13) threw rocks at jellyfish at the beach; (14) nope, never; (15) toy guns? yerp; (16) of course—that, and with Legos and actual toy pistols that shot foam bullets; (17) shot a bow and a BB gun; (18) of course! (19) yup; (20) what's "penny candy"? but I probably did this; (21) yes; (22) maybe, but I don't specifically remember; (23) I wrote lines... along with my whole class; (24) dodgeball and kickball are dangerous? (25) all the damn time.

Should my folks have been arrested for neglect?

Seems that, out of the 25 items listed, I engaged in 22 of them. And I'm still here.

(Hat tip to John Pepple for pointing out this list.)


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

driving ol' Dixie down

My coworker at the Golden Goose asked me my opinion on the whole "Confederate-flag thing." This is with reference to whether South Carolina should take down the Confederate flag (a.k.a., The Stainless Banner, among other names) in the aftermath of the recent shooting by racist nut Dylann Storm Roof (apparently pronounced "rofe") at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina (Wiki writeup here). Before I talk about the flag, though, let's back up and deal with some prior issues.

As I told my buddy Tom regarding the fate of Mr. Roof: "I say fry him. I don't give a shit that he may have been off his meds." What do you do when a bear wanders into town and kills nine of your people? Do you negotiate with it while thinking, "After all, it's just a bear; it's only following its instincts"? Not at all: you shoot the bastard—you bring it down, and that's how you stop more killings from happening. (This is, by the way, the best and only necessary argument for the death penalty. Screw the notion that capital punishment deters other people: it deters the only person who matters, i.e., the killer himself.) As I've noted before in writing about suicide and depression, these mental conditions may constrain our human freedom, but they don't eliminate that freedom. Even the most depressed person in the world is ultimately responsible for his or her actions. Freedom is always constrained in some manner; like water, it inevitably follows certain channels as it runs its course.

I told my coworker, regarding Roof, that the good folks at Emanuel—many of whom openly forgave the killer—were much more noble than I would have been in their place. Dylann Roof would have received justice from my bare hands had he killed either or both of my little brothers. I simply don't have it in me to forgive certain things, and in Roof's case, I would gladly pull the hangman's lever, or the rifleman's trigger—or would twist his head until I heard and felt his neck bones pop—and sleep soundly that very night.

Getting back, though, to the "Confederate-flag thing": as I also told my coworker, I'm technically a Southerner, having been born and raised in Virginia. That said, I've never felt particularly Southern. Other Virginians will note, jokingly, that this is because of my long-time proximity to Washington, DC: northern Virginia has never been "real" Virginia by most Virginians' reckoning—this despite the fact that I lived in Mount Vernon, on what used to be the property of George Washington himself—and who, if not President Washington, is the ultimate Virginian? So because I've never felt all that Southern, I can't say that I feel any twinge of regret or despair, or even nostalgia, at the thought that South Carolina might, by forever lowering the Stainless Banner, finally put aside an odious part of its past and move forward into this modern century.

I recognize that others feel differently, and part of the reason for this has to do with the power of symbols. Symbols operate on agreements (see my post on the supposedly pagan symbolism of the Christmas tree), and they also accumulate history. Think about the swastika: it may rotate differently depending on whether it's a Nazi swastika or a swastika coming out of ancient Indian culture, but the symbol has a powerful resonance in both the West and the East—all thanks to agreements as to how to view the symbol, and to the accumulated history of tradition that naturally accretes around the symbol. So I, along with many Northerners and most black folks, view the Confederate flag as a symbol that still echoes with the racism and oppression of the past. Other Southerners ignore this dimension and focus solely on how the flag represents "Southern culture," a notion with which I have little sympathy.

This brings me to an article by William Cawthon that I saw via Malcolm Pollack's fine blog. Malcolm's post is brief, but the article itself is dauntingly long. I spent an hour slogging through it during my lunch break yesterday, but I still failed to finish it. Not that finishing it was necessary: the author, a Southerner himself, repeatedly utters the same self-pitying refrain—the South's defeat turned everything upside-down; the North swept in and began systematically replacing Southern cultural notions and values with Northern notions and values; the South is steadily disintegrating. Alas for the poor, dying South. In that vein, Malcolm seems to be arguing, the taking-down of the Confederate flag is part and parcel with the continued dismantling of Southern history and culture.

Two things impressed me—negatively—about Cawthon's article: (1) he complains about the steady loss of Southern culture but provides almost no examples of what elements of that culture are worth saving, and (2) his article makes only the barest mention of slavery, which makes everything he does say in the article utterly beside the point. He claims, for example, that the South was economically more robust than the North before the Civil War. I almost laughed: the South's economy was largely founded on a booming cotton industry that was driven by slave labor! (Read more here. This is telling: "By 1850, 1.8 million of the 2.5 million enslaved Africans employed in agriculture in the United States were working on cotton plantations.") Is Cawthon really that blind to the irony of what he's saying? While lamenting the demise of his culture, the author offers us no reason to believe it worth saving. And out of 5,824 words, the author uses some form of the word "slave" (enslavement, slavery, slaves, etc.) only six times. Slavery is an issue that he actively avoids.

(In the interest of fairness and full disclosure, I should note that, having lived out in the sticks and having known country folk, I can think of a list of reasons to preserve certain aspects of Southern culture—perhaps a subject for another post. Most of the folks I knew while living in Front Royal were good, kind, and hard-working. It is, perhaps, condescending to say this, but the people I knew would have been horrified by the notion of owning a chattel slave. That said, there are also, even now, rotten undercurrents to that culture which, in an ideal world, would be rooted out and eliminated. Conservative churches in Front Royal, for example, aren't all that friendly to, say, gay couples looking to become members.)

There are Southerners who still maintain that the Civil War wasn't fundamentally about slavery: it was about states' rights. That may indeed have been an issue, and I don't think Cawthon is wrong to mention that issue in his article when he complains about Northern steamrollering of Southern ideas and values. But for Cawthon to elide the role and importance of slavery is a dirty move on his part, and I refuse to accept it.

My Golden Goose coworker, during an idle moment in the office, pointed out the so-called "cornerstone speech" given by the vice-president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, on March 21, 1861. Stephens lays out the South's convictions, and its motivating principles, with grim and appalling clarity:

The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away... Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it—when the "storm came and the wind blew, it fell."

Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.

Stephens, speaking with the implied authority of Jefferson Davis, says above that slavery is indeed a central issue—if not the central issue—in the coming conflict, and that the black man is most assuredly inferior to the white man. Southerners who shy away from this are shying away from their then-leaders' own words. Stephens also makes abundantly clear that he sees slavery as right, just, and an integral part of what makes the South the South. Is it any wonder, then, that black people nowadays—and non-black Northerners, too—might see the Confederate flag as a symbol of hatred and oppression?

So I can't get all that exercised about the taking-down of the Stainless Banner. I'm happy to see it go. And it's about damn time.

As for whether the South is really withering away, Wikipedia has this to say:

In more modern times, however, the South has become the most integrated region of the country. Since the late 1960s black people have held and currently hold many high offices, such as mayor and police chief, in many cities such as Atlanta and New Orleans.


Historically, the South relied heavily on agriculture, and was highly rural until after 1945. It has since become more industrialized and urban and has attracted national and international migrants. The American South is now among the fastest-growing areas in the United States.


The arrival of millions of Northerners (especially in major metropolitan areas and coastal areas) and millions of Hispanics means the introduction of cultural values and social norms not rooted in Southern traditions. Observers conclude that collective identity and Southern distinctiveness are thus declining, particularly when defined against "an earlier South that was somehow more authentic, real, more unified and distinct". The process has worked both ways, however, with aspects of Southern culture spreading throughout a greater portion of the rest of the United States in a process termed "Southernization".

Upshot: Mr. Cawthon's piteous whingeing notwithstanding, the South's going to be around for a very long time yet. It's not going anywhere, and by some measures, it seems actually to be thriving. If anything, southern red-state economies are proving, with Texas as a prime example, to be more robust than blue-state economies like California—a state that's managing itself into the ground thanks to over-regulation and a business-unfriendly climate. Perhaps like Germany, the South will reach a point where it repudiates its ugly past and begins to share only its good, positive, constructive aspects with the larger land.*

One last note: I see that Republican Senator Mitch McConnell has come out in favor of removing a prominent statue of Confederacy President Jefferson Davis and placing it in a history museum. I think this is a good thought, and it evokes the compromise that I personally envision: the removal of hateful icons and symbols doesn't mean their total erasure: erasing the past is never a good thing. We have to remember our mistakes if we're to have any hope of not repeating them. This is why Auschwitz and Buchenwald still exist; it's why Washington, DC, hosts the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Any Jew can tell you about the vital importance of memory. Put the past aside, forgive if you must, but never forget.

And that applies to a certain flag as well.

*Some readers might scoff at the idea that Germany nowadays is sharing only its positive qualities with Europe, especially given its own problems with race relations and immigration. From the perspective of someone in Korea who shares Koreans' frustrations with Japan's repeated attempts to change or erase its past culpability for countless depredations, I'd say that Germany has been remarkably forthright in its acknowledgment of and contrition for its past deeds. Germany now stands as one of two or three economic powerhouses in western Europe and is doing what it can to keep the Eurozone afloat, with little help from indolent Mediterranean sun-belt siesta cultures like Greece, Spain, and—obliquely—Portugal, all of which probably should be jettisoned from the common currency before the entire ship sinks.



It is now confirmed that famed and infamous Hollywood composer James Horner has died in a plane crash. Horner was 61.

I have an ambivalent relationship with Horner's music. On the one hand, the man was capable of weaving together seemingly disparate strands of power and subtlety into a coherent, harmonious whole. You can hear both of these dynamics at work in the scores Horner prepared for, say, "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" or, much later, for "Apollo 13." On the other hand, Horner was a shameless self-cannibalizer—brazenly recycling themes, tropes, rhythms, and leitmotifs from previous movie scores in what can only be interpreted as sheer creative laziness. I heard the Klingon theme running through Horner's score for Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Commando," for example, as well as through James Cameron's "Aliens." Parts of the "Genesis Countdown" theme from "Star Trek II" were audible in Horner's music for Ron Howard's "Cocoon." The list of sins goes on.

But when Horner produced original material, it was undeniably majestic, and other composers seemed to crib from him, as I'm pretty sure Richard Gibbs did in crafting some of his themes for the "Battlestar Galactica" miniseries. Gibbs was definitely channeling Horner's "Braveheart." "Apollo 13," mentioned above, is some of Horner's best and most inspiring work. I have the album, which sits alongside his scores for "Star Trek II" and "Star Trek III." The "Brainstorm" soundtrack features moments of mystery and glory. The score for "Titanic" was, of course, memorable.

And now, it seems, James Horner is dead.

Despite the man's creative flaws, he was a composer that I had grown up with, whose music marked me deeply. I'm only a couple degrees of separation away from him, too: my brother Sean, a professional cellist, has an extremely talented violist friend named Katie who actually worked with Horner on one or more of his film scores. I wonder what that must have been like. But all of this is to say that I'll miss the man and his music. Very much.

RIP, Mr. Horner.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

two strikes, one hit

After finishing my Tuesday work in Daechi-dong, I went over to the Seoul campus of Dongguk University to collect some paperwork and to drop other paperwork off. While I was in my office, I met a coworker—we'll call him Ampersand—who told me he was shopping around for a new place to live. He said that, for now, a yeogwan would be fine, so I told him I'd take him over to the Jongno 5-ga neighborhood where I had stayed a couple nights on the recommendation of a former coworker.

Amp and I taxied over to that neighborhood, but when I told him that we'd be heading into a back alley, he suddenly betrayed a great deal of trepidation, which I found amusing. We walked into the alley, and Amp started muttering, "Damn... this is filthy..." Now, I'm actually okay with a certain level of squalor (witness my multiple stays in the pube yeogwan), but Amp was apparently unready for even this rather modest level of trashiness. We passed the juicy girls; we passed the bars; we passed a few shadier-than-usual love motels. The buildings' façades had been redone since my last visit, so I ended up skipping past the yeogwan I had stayed in, but when I asked Amp if we should turn around and look for it, he said, "Naw, man. Let's go back to the main street."

So we headed out of the alley and back into the world. At that point, breathing fresher, less whore-y air, Amp felt a bit better and asked me whether I'd eaten dinner. I said no, so Amp said we should step into the soondae-guk restaurant right next to us. It looked like a nice place, so I shrugged and said "Why not?" The blood-sausage soup, laced with stringy beef, turned out to be fantastic, and was a great deal at barely $5.60 per large bowl. Good call on Amp's part. I paid, despite my colleague's protestations, so he insisted on paying the fare for our next cab ride, which was over to my old neighborhood from last semester, right in Chungmuro 5-ga. I wanted to take Amp up to the Hyundai Residence, a building just up the street from my former yeogwan. I had visited the real-estate office there months ago to ask about the cost of an apartment in the building. Amp said he'd like to see an apartment if possible. When we got to the front desk, the two harried clerks told us there were no apartments available—just hotel rooms. This contradicted what I'd heard from the real-estate office, but the night manager said, "I'm just the night manager; come back during the day and somebody higher up can help you better."

So my two attempts at hooking Amp up with a place to stay turned out to be a bust. The only high point of the evening was that soondae-guk restaurant, which was truly memorable. Amp and I walked back to Dongguk's campus, collected our stuff, walked back down to the street, and parted ways. Amp was intent on having a beer in Itaewon; I was tired and wanted to catch the 7119 bus from Gwanghwamun back to Goyang.

At least I got a good bit of walking done.


Monday, June 22, 2015

holy fuckhole, Batman! [probably NSFW]

A friend of mine said he had recently sent out, on eBay, for a new case for his cell phone. When the package arrived, he opened it and found himself looking at the following:

I've heard that some of those silicone vaginas are molded from the cooters of actual porn stars. I guess this somehow aids the imagination. Instead of thinking about the fact that you're fucking something cold and utterly unresponsive, you can imagine you're banging the queen of all whores. Delightful.

My friend received an embarrassed message from the eBay seller once the mixup was made known. The phone cover is now on its way, and my friend is free to do whatever he wants with the fuckholes. Moral: life is like buying shit on eBay. You never know what you're gonna get.


another step forward in the F-4 visa saga

My brother David was kind enough to do an end-run around the incompetent VitaChek people and obtain Mom's death certificate from a DC office. David and I both wondered why it was that a DC office would have Mom's document; I conjectured that it was because Mom had died at Walter Reed Medical Center, which is a military facility and thus an arm of the federal government. Not that the mystery interests me at all: the only thing that matters is that I now have a copy of Mom's document. Well, technically, David has a copy of the paper document, while I have a scanned copy of same (thanks, again, to David's hard work).*

So with that out of the way, the next step is to obtain Mom's naturalization paperwork. The guy at the US Embassy in downtown Seoul told me to Google "USCIS FOIA" to find the webpages devoted to explaining how to obtain naturalization documents. There's a form to fill out, G-630, along with plenty to read both on the website itself and in downloadable documents, like the well-hung, 25-page Freedom of Information Act Request Guide. I've got plenty of homework ahead of me.

I'll be aiming to obtain "certified true copies" of Mom's naturalization papers; based on the USCIS site's explanation, this sounds as though the papers get apostilled, which is exactly what I'm going to need if I'm to show this paperwork to Korean Immigration.

So, to review:

1. I have a copy of my birth certificate.
2. I have a copy of my Korean family register.
3. I have a copy of Mom's death certificate.
4. I'm going to get a copy of her naturalization papers.

Once I have (4), I can apply—I think—to Korean Immigration for the F-4 visa. How long that process will take, I have no idea. Days? Weeks? Probably the latter. At a guess, I'm not going to be able to jump ship over to the Golden Goose at the beginning of August, so I'm anticipating having to spend an extra month here in Goyang/Ilsan. That's a bit of a pain in the ass, because leaving Ilsan would mean recovering the 3 million won I had deposited to establish the rental contract. I had been looking forward to that windfall this August. Instead, it appears I'll be relying solely on my last gasp of Dongguk University income (my contract with Dongguk ends on August 31, my birthday). I may be barely squeezing by in August.

Another side effect of all this rescheduling is that I'm going to have to redraw my budget. That's a big cause of old-man-style grumbling, but there's no way around it. Not to worry, though: it's just a matter of shifting figures around on my Google Docs spreadsheet.

But first things first: send in the application for Mom's naturalization papers—yet another offering to the ever-hungry gods of bureaucracy.

*VitaChek only just got around to sending me their own copy of Mom's death certificate, so we're going to end up with two hard copies. I told David to scan and send me an image of the VitaChek version because I'm curious to see how different it looks.


in pictures

Here's the statistical phenomenon I've been talking about:

As you see, we seem already to have peaked.

So I can stop writing about this shit now.


dying down?

I think we've maxed out on the exaggerated number of unique visits to my blog. I've got about three or four hours until the end of this 24-hour period, and SiteMeter is registering only 1,803 unique visits as of this writing. I had flirted with 3,000 visits yesterday, but today I'll be lucky to hit 2,000. Perhaps this is the beginning of a downward trend. If so, I'm glad. This whole experience has been very strange, to say the least.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

on the street

This past Friday, I had dinner with my buddy Tom. We had intended to hit Seorae, the galmaegi-sal (grilled, boneless pork chunks) restaurant that Tom had introduced me to last year. To our horror, we discovered that the entire block where Seorae used to sit had been torn down. No more Seorae. And that sucked. So Tom switched to Plan B: another grill house called, patriotically enough, Uri Nara. We sat down to a modestly sized plateful of raw, trimmed beef galbi (rib meat without the rib bones, in this case), and it was pretty good. Not as good as Seorae would have been, but good enough to stop the hunger pangs. Tom's an ice-cream hound, so it's our postprandial ritual to head over to the local Baskin Robbins to sit down to cups of ice cream—a huge pint in my case, and two scoops in Tom's case.

After dinner, we went our separate ways, at which point I took the following selfie in my favorite part of town:

So that was how I capped off my ultra-busy Friday. Exhausted, I trudged over to Gwanghwamun and took the 7119 bus back to my neighborhood in Goyang City (nice to know that such a bus exists). I had promised myself that I'd finish everything up on Saturday, but Saturday—very monsoony—came and went with nary a thing done. So I'm finishing up what I can tonight, then likely taking a trip over to the Seoul campus on Monday to physically turn in some last bits of paperwork and clear out my desk for the next chump to occupy it. After Monday, it's Goodbye, Dongguk! and Goodbye, teaching! for the next little while. A very different life, and lifestyle, awaits me on the other side of this sweaty summer.



The previous 24-hour period (my SiteMeter seems to track hits from 1PM to 1PM every day, despite my having set it to the Korean time zone) saw me receive almost three thousand unique visits. Since these visits aren't resulting in anything new, like a pile of comments from strangers, I'm beginning to think it may be best to call these hits "phantom visits," because they're that insubstantial.

The initial faux-excitement at receiving an inordinate number of visits has disappeared; I'm just waiting for this anomaly to blow itself out. That might not happen just yet, though: barely two hours after the previous 24-hour period ended, I've got almost a thousand phantom visits. If anything, this indicates a pattern of acceleration, not decline.

I can almost hear the acceleration in my head. It sounds like a jet engine being cranked higher and higher, and eventually, something's going to explode.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

the statistical hypertrophy continues

The previous 24-hour period, according to SiteMeter, ended with 1,594 unique visits. It's the next day, and as of this writing, I've already got almost 600 unique visits. I think I'm going to break a thousand yet again. Very bizarre.

There is no way in hell that this blog got discovered by someone influential—someone who turned around to his own followers and said, "Dudes! You gotta read this guy!" As much as my ego would love for that to be true, I know I'm the victim of some weird cyberspatial fluke. It feels a bit hollow, to be honest; it's almost as though I had paid money to a service to bump up my hit stats. Meanwhile, Blogger's much more sober site tracker is registering only 154 hits for today. It's enough to make me wonder how it is that Blogger is ignoring all the extraneous hits while SiteMeter is failing to do so. Hmmm.

UPDATE, 7:48PM: 1,017 unique visits. Over 400 such visits in about 2.5 hours, or about 160 visits per hour. I've noticed that, when the hits happen, they tend to come from one particular place, then another, then another. In each case, I'll get a bajillion hits from the same IP address, then the hits will start coming from a different IP, and so on. This tells us something about the anomaly, I think: it seems to be jumping from server to server, with a focus on driving hits (presumably just) to my site. Why I would be named the Chosen One is beyond me. In fact, I'm starting to wonder whether this isn't actually some sort of attack directed against me—an attack that's only now gathering force. I'll be curious to see whether we beat yesterday's high of 1,594 visits. How high can this go before something finally explodes?


a bit of grade-related psychology

Since yesterday morning, I've been bombarded by student requests to know grades. The kids have no sense of timing or decorum; they hit me during mealtimes; they message me after midnight. One pushy student was rude enough to message me again fifteen minutes after his first texting. His second text contained an animated cartoon that said, in Korean, "I'm shocked! I haven't heard anything back yet." Really fucking rude. "Please be patient," I texted civilly in response. I was on the bus at the time, and although I was technically able to access his grades through my cell phone (I've stored all that data on Google Drive), looking at grades on a tiny screen is a bitch for these steadily oldering eyes.

One thing I've noticed, though, is that the students who suspect they're getting "A"s and "B"s are much faster to ask after their grades than are the students getting lower grades. I imagine that we all have a gut instinct when it comes to whether the sword of Damocles is going to fall. I can understand why a self-aware student who knows his or her own mediocrity would hesitate to ask about that final grade. The worst, though, is when a student with an unaccountably high opinion of him- or herself comes to learn that, no, s/he didn't get that hoped-for "A" or "B," but has instead been slapped across the face by the raw steak of a "C+." D'oh. Whom the gods destroy, first they make proud, and there is oh-so-much self-delusion among my students.


Friday, June 19, 2015

site-traffic spike

In this blog's heyday, before 2008 (which is when I temporarily abandoned this blog to go on my cross-country walk), my blog enjoyed about 350-400 unique visits per day, according to SiteMeter. I like SiteMeter because it seems to be conservative in how it counts visits; Blogger has its own built-in site-traffic monitoring system, but if I were to trust Blogger, I'd believe I was receiving far more hits—something on the order of 480 unique visits per day.

Ever since I came back to this blog, after Mom's death in early 2010, my traffic has been fairly stillborn. Currently, I'm averaging about 82-90 unique visits per day, which is a fourth of what I used to get. So I've been limping along.

Today, however, I came home from an all-day visit to the Seoul campus of Dongguk University and was shocked to discover that my traffic total was 860 visits and counting. None of this makes sense, and I can only assume it's a quirk—a mistake of some sort. I don't seem to be getting hits from a famous blog that linked to one of my posts; such an acknowledgment would have been nice, but it's a bit much to ask for. (I did once get an Instalanche, and I also once got a halfhearted shout-out from Steven Den Beste. Those miracles happened years ago, however, and are part of this blog's faded and ever-fading glory.)

I think it's safe to assume that the anomaly will peter out and things will revert to normal within the next twelve to eighteen hours.

How I know this is an anomaly: in the few minutes since I began writing this post, my hit count has gone from 860-something to 902. At the same time, the "visits in the last hour" count is registering only three visits. Something's not adding up, and I mean that literally: the hourly hits don't match the rapidly increasing total.

So yeah—this will straighten itself out by the morrow, I'm sure. In the meantime, I'll look at my inflated numbers and dream a little dream of minor fame.

UPDATE: SiteMeter is now more accurately registering the number of visits per hour. I'm going to easily surpass a thousand visits before the clock turns over. Most of my visits are coming through (1) Mike's blog, Naked Villainy; (2) a Google portal in Norway; (3) a Google portal in Sweden; and (4) one other portal whose ID I didn't catch because the hits from Naked Villainy have now buried it.

UPDATE 2: Blogger, for a change, is more conservative in its hit count. This post, for example, has received only three hits, by Blogger's count, since it was published.

UPDATE 3: As of 10:21AM on Saturday morning (6/20/15), I'm up to 1,240 unique visits. According to Blogger, however, this post, the post you're reading, has received only 17 hits. It's weird to think of Blogger as having the more sober site tracker, but there we are.

UPDATE 4: 11:50AM, and up to 1,455 now. I'd love to hit 2,000, but the numbers don't seem to be ratcheting up quite that fast.


don't oversimplify the issue

I'm at Dongguk's Seoul campus right now; I've accomplished items 1, 2, and 3 on my to-do list (see previous blog entry), and am taking a quick break before I finish grading my students' finals (I got through half of the load last night before calling it quits).

Saw this BBC article on evolving pronunciation and noticed that it made this unsound claim:

pronunciation is not a matter of right and wrong but merely fashion

First, I'll note that I'd insert an "of" before "fashion" to maintain parallel structure. More important, though, is the content of the claim, which I contend is absolutely incorrect. I'm not even speaking as a prescriptivist, here (which I'm not, as I've written before). Just think about it for moment. Is the author of the article seriously maintaining that there's no right or wrong at all when it comes to pronunciation? If that's so, then I can look at a word spelled T-R-U-C-K and pronounce it "philodendron." What's to stop me? This puts us in the realm of Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty:

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'

Change Humpty Dumpty's "use" to "pronounce," change his "mean(s)" to "sound(s)," and you've got this article. To be charitable: the author is likely referring to small variations in pronunciation, but that doesn't absolve him of the sin of making a stupidly over-broad claim about language. Language is an evolving system of agreements, yes, but there's also a right way and a wrong way to go about using it. Otherwise, beautiful words like "To be or not to be" could easily be read as "Smoking banana in ass not utile."


Thursday, June 18, 2015

one final spasm

I've got thirty-eight tests to grade and record tonight. Tomorrow, early in the morning, I head off to the Seoul campus to take care of all my end-of-term obligations in one final paroxysm of effort. Tomorrow, I have to:

1. turn in a letter of resignation.
2. turn in a copy of my bank book.
3. pay a W300,000 tax-related fee (bullshit—no other college has ever asked for this).
4. enter my kids' grades into the system and publish them.
5. upload my "portfolio" and write up my end-of-semester observations.

That last item is a weird ritual that some Korean colleges engage in: teachers must write up a sort of self-evaluation that covers how classes were taught, what seemed successful, and what might be done differently next time. As I had done back in Daegu, I asked the Dongguk Seoul campus staff whether anybody bothers to read our self-evals. The overwhelming consensus: no one does, so this is purely a masturbatory exercise. The "portfolio" refers to a set of electronic documents that we must upload to the campus database—documents like copies of our midterms and finals, a color version of our attendance sheets, etc.

Although I'll miss my students, I'm happy to leave Dongguk inasmuch as it's an overly bureaucratic school. The amount of paperwork that's required of us teachers is ridiculous, and it serves little to no purpose. And that's why I'm going to try to get everything done tomorrow by 6PM, after which I'll be free and clear to begin my new life as a (gasp) non-teacher.

But you never know: as the characters said repeatedly in "The Bridge on the River Kwai," there's always one more thing to do. I have a sinking feeling that Dongguk University, with its unceasingly grasping, Lovecraftian tentacles, won't let go of me quite that easily.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

destinies determined

Just finished grading my second set of final exams, plugging the scores in, calculating final semester grades, and mapping those natural percentages against the accursed artificial curve. I've told my students not to write me grade-grubbing emails beseeching or demanding grade changes; such pleas will fall on deaf ears. I've done what I can to minimize the impact of the curve, but inevitably, some students are going to get burned.

So let's talk about the burned students—those crispy critters.

In the Monday class:

• Two students with natural "A"s will be receiving "B+"es.
• Three students with natural "B+"es will be receiving "C+"es.
• Two students with natural "B"s will be receiving "C+"es.

That's seven people affected—afflicted—by the curve. In a class of fifteen, that's almost half the class that'll be coming away very unhappy. Can't say I blame them, but I really hope they don't turn around and blame my ass for this, because it ain't my fault.

In the Wednesday class:

• Four students with natural "B"s will be receiving "C+"es.

That's not as bad a situation as Monday's class is, and Wednesday's class has nineteen people in it, so 4/19 is a smaller fraction of unhappy campers than Monday's 7/15.

Tomorrow, I've got my last two classes, both of which have nineteen students. My goal is to grade all thirty-eight exams, enter all final grades, then go to Dongguk's Seoul campus on Friday to take care of all my end-of-semester obligations. Friday promises to be an insane day; I'm going to try to be on campus by 9AM, and I plan to work until 6PM to get absolutely everything done.

In other news: my Thursday classes were lackadaisical in their text-messaged responses to my attempts at organizing two end-of-term parties, so both parties have been canceled thanks to an overall lack of enthusiasm. The kids have only themselves to blame, but at the same time, my wallet is quietly breathing a sigh of relief.

It's been an insane week. Saturday can't come soon enough.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

because of vs. due to

The "because of versus due to" issue comes up as an actual grammar point on the American college-entrance exam, the SAT (there's now a new version of the test, which has been significantly redesigned, so I'm now out of date). It's an interesting issue, and to be honest, it's one I wasn't aware of until I started teaching at YB [not its real name], the tutoring/test-prep center where I faced off against squirmy young people from grade school to high school, from early 2011 to mid-2013.

Most people—me included—tend to think that because of and due to are more or less interchangeable:

The outdoor orgy was canceled due to rain.
The outdoor orgy was canceled because of rain.

Most of us probably have an intuition that due to is used when we're formally stating the reason for something. Because of, meanwhile, looks and feels less formal. As it turns out, however, the distinction between these two locutions doesn't exactly follow our intuition.

Here's the rule of thumb that I learned: use the phrase due to only if you can replace it with the phrase attributable to without committing a grammatical faux pas.


The outdoor orgy was canceled due to rain.
The outdoor orgy was canceled attributable to rain.

Putting attributable to into the sentence makes it obvious that it's ungrammatical. Nix the due to and use because of:

The outdoor orgy was canceled because of rain.

Let's try another set. Which is correct?

a. His hand strength was largely due to his constant, furious masturbation.
b. His hand strength was largely because of his constant, furious masturbation.

In this case, (a) is correct: leave the due to in. The phrase "was largely attributable to" makes grammatical sense, and as you now see, the reason we use due to in this case is that there's a verb, "was," almost directly in front of the locution. (The verb would be directly in front were there no intervening adverb.) Due to is functioning suspiciously like a predicate adjective.

So now you know the due to/because of rule of thumb. May all your future linguistic success be due to your constant, furious masturbation.

ADDENDUM: the wise and powerful Mignon* Fogarty, a.k.a. Grammar Girl, notes the "attributable to" rule of thumb as well. She associates the rule with Strunk and White.

*As with the "Imperator/Imperatrix" problem I noted in my review of "Mad Max: Fury Road," the name "Mignon" is based on the masculine form of the French adjective meaning "cute." The feminine form of mignon is mignonne. Kind of ironic that a woman who has devoted her life to correct grammar should be cursed with a grammatically incorrect first name. (Or has she been compensating all this time?) Another woman cursed with a grammatically masculine name: Cher. Ideally, it should have been Chère. If we could turn back time, if we could find a way, we might be able to rewrite history and name the woman properly.


Monday, June 15, 2015

the adventures of my buddy Mike

A letter from Mike to his wife and children:

Dear Family,

Kevin has very kindly been chauffeuring me all over the place. We stopped in DC for a bit, and I snapped this selfie in front of the White House:

We then flew to Europe to go walk around old buildings. Bumped into Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman while were were there. Didn't know they were back together.

We were in a rented car, so we drove down to the Mediterranean coast and hit a beach. A nude beach, of course. But the people were friendly. Wish you were here, honey!

We ditched our rental to get into a special car that can travel through time. Somehow ended up at the Battle of Falkirk. That promised to be exhilarating, but I think we got a little too close to the action. Kevin ended up with an arrow in the throat and a sword in the groin; I got an axe full in the chest. That kinda' sucked. Anyway, it was worth the selfie.

Kevin and I both died of our wounds, but we found ourselves on the threshold of heaven. In the pic below, that's the Divine Presence glowing behind me. Pretty cool, right?

So, yeah, we're both dead, and neither of us will be back anytime soon. We've decided we'll just hang here and wait for you guys to catch up. Laters!

Happy 46th, Mike. Just a bit of weirdness to celebrate your special day, which—based on your binge tweeting—also coincides with the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta.


"theological whimsy"

Dr. Vallicella, over at his blog, had been discussing the notion of whether "World + God = God." He took time out to address a comment made by blogger and commenter The Big Henry, criticizing Henry's numerical analogy. (Read this post to learn the details.) I stepped in to comment and left the following remarks:

I don't know what Henry had in mind when he made his analogy, but it sounds at least somewhat consistent with something I'd read, once, in a textbook on philosophy of religion.* In the textbook, the metaphor of an infinite bookshelf is used: imagine a bookshelf that stretches forever to your left and to your right. On this shelf is an infinity of books that alternate between red and black covers, i.e., every other book is black, and every other book is red. That's the setup for the thought experiment.

If I pluck a single book, of either color, from this shelf, how many books remain on the shelf? An infinity of books! In that sense, perhaps we can say that "infinity minus one is still infinity." If I were somehow able to remove all the red books from the shelf, how many books would I remove? Why, an infinity of books. And how many books would still be on the shelf? An infinity! So it may be legitimate to say that, at least in this case, "infinity minus infinity equals infinity." Were I to add an infinity of green books to this shelf, such that the books now alternated "black-red-green, black-red-green, etc.," how many books would be on the shelf? An infinity! So perhaps "infinity plus infinity equals infinity," too.

I don't know, but perhaps it's to this additive oddness that Henry is referring, and as for "God is not a set," well... no matter what analogy we try to use when talking about God, it's a safe bet that, in any "God:X" analogy, God is not an X.

Henry replied with this comment:


That is essentially the infinity I had in mind when I offered my analogy for Bill's consideration. And, indeed, Bill is correct in noting that I had not considered Cantor's work on the concept of infinity. Bill's claim that, "Since Cantor we have an exact mathematics of infinity", however, is questionable. As the greatest mathematician of all time (Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss) noted, "Infinity is nothing more than a figure of speech which helps us talk about limits. The notion of a completed infinity doesn't belong in mathematics".

The analogy I suggested was not meant to imply that God is humanly conceivable by any analogy. From the only philosophy course I ever took as an undergrad (philosophy of religion) I remember that God's attributes are deemed to be "wholly other". That is to say (to use another mathematical analogy) if human attributes are real numbers, then God's are complex numbers.

Finally, in the spirit of Bohr's response to Einstein, if God wants to be a "set" or any "X" you care to mention, God can be whatever He wants to be.

It was that final sentence about God that snagged my attention. So I wrote:

[slightly edited for style]


"God can be whatever He wants to be."

Fascinating theological claim. My inner Sunday-school student wants to accept this unquestioningly because, after all, God can do anything.

But can He really?

What if God says to Himself, in the spirit of Rachel Dolezal's claiming to be black, "You know... I want to be a deer. And you know what else? I think I am a deer! So be it!" So God transforms Himself into a deer, and does so in such a thorough, complete way that He is now wholly a deer, i.e., an animal with no deific attributes at all, which further means that God now lacks the ability to turn Himself back into the God of all creation. At this point, having only a deer's powers of cogitation, God is no longer in a position to say about Himself, "Well, shit... now I'm a deer. What the hell do I do?" Even that thought is beyond Him.

If God's omnipotence includes the ability to become something less-than-God so completely that God loses His God-ness, then the claim that "God can be whatever He wants to be" can be true only once. Otherwise, if God turns into a deer but retains the deific power to revert back to being fully God, then God has not truly become a deer in full: He's kept an ontological escape clause.

I realize you were just being playful with your Bohr/Einstein remark, but I saw an opportunity to engage in some theological whimsy. Apologies.

I should note that, technically speaking, nothing I wrote above invalidates Henry's claim that "God can be whatever He wants to be." The modal can refers to potential. If we think spatiotemporally, and if we assume God does exist, we can further safely assume that God hasn't exercised His prerogative to become a deer just yet: that remains a potential action. The fact that God can perform this action only once (because becoming a deer means abandoning the universe) doesn't undermine the notion that God can become whatever He wants to become. The claim becomes invalid after God's first—and only—transmogrification.

[NOTE TO NEW READERS: I don't believe in a literal God of the Bible. I am, in fact, about as far from being a classical theist as it's possible to be. At the same time, I wouldn't call myself an outright atheist, either; I prefer to call myself, in the language of nondualism, a nontheist. Ultimate reality is apophatic—ineffable, inexpressible—in nature. Even saying that much about ultimate reality is saying too much, and saying it misleadingly.]

*Stairs, Allen, and Christopher Bernard. A Thinker’s Guide to the Philosophy of Religion. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2007.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

all set

It took several hours of toil, but I've gotten my final exams prepped for the students for this coming week. As was true with the midterm (I believe in keeping the testing format consistent), there's a speaking section and a listening section. The speaking section is a five-minute, one-on-one interview; the listening section involves answering questions based on audio segments: five semi-involved interview questions, twenty quick listening questions. The students know they're on a timer and being recorded, and that they'll lose points if they hesitate too long and go overtime (unanswered questions = lost points).

For the interviews in each level, I placed ten sets of interview questions onto a single sheet of paper, in table form. Each box of the table is numbered: 1, 2, 3, etc. The students will come into the classroom one at a time (the other students have to wait in the lounge) and will be asked to draw a card with a number on it. This randomizes the process. If a student picks "2," then I ask them the five interview questions in Box 2 of the table:

1. VOCABULARY: define [word] or use [word] in a sentence.
2. GRAMMAR (A): Form a question or statement according to [learned grammar rule].
3. GRAMMAR (B): Answer an "if"-conditional question with an "if"-conditional sentence.
4. TOPIC: Quickly answer a "What do you think" question based on a chapter topic.
5. TOPIC: Quickly answer an "advantages/disadvantages" question based on a chapter topic.

These are Level 1 kids, so this segment of the exam isn't meant to become an involved, abstruse discussion about heavily philosophical matters. I'm looking for quick answers, correctly executed. I told the students that, unlike many of their English teachers, I do actually care about the structural correctness of their utterances: they need to worry about things like word order, dropped articles, correct tense control, and so on. It's not enough merely to "convey essential information," as the oral-proficiency school's mantra goes.

I like the oral-proficiency school inasmuch as it drives students to produce when they might otherwise be silent, but where the school fails is in not correcting erroneous output. So much stress is placed on producing, producing, producing that students are allowed to get away with misspeaking—to the point that, after years of such schooling, they begin to form bad speech habits that calcify and become nearly impossible to unlearn by the time the kids reach my classes. This is why history keeps repeating itself when Koreans learn English: we expat teachers never bother to correct them properly, and native-Korean teachers of English often lack the skills to make corrections themselves. Fortunately or unfortunately, native-Korean teachers are usually the first English teachers these students have.

My exam reflects my pedagogical philosophy. It's a modest thing, of course; there's nothing special about formatting my final in the way I have. But one of the things I've stressed over the course of this semester has been correct output: don't just convey the basic info; convey it well. And that's a large component of this test.

Good luck to the students this coming week. I'm morbidly curious to see how the grade landscape is going to change. My Monday class—which is full of my highest performers—is going to suffer the most, I think: several students will drop from "A" to "B," and more students will drop from "B" to "C" because of the curve... unless this exam succeeds in naturally whittling away those extra "A"s and "B"s. My other three classes were more stoic about facing the ugly reality of the curve, but we'll see how stoic they are when they get their actual letter grades. I'm expecting several plaintive emails, with much weeping and gnashing of teeth.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

well, that settles that, I guess

It appears I don't have Asperger's or any other condition on the autism spectrum. I took a test and these were the results:

A friend of mine tweets, on occasion, about being "an Aspie," i.e., someone with Asperger's (in English, we don't pronounce "Asperger's" the French way;* instead, it sounds like "ass burgers," both repellent and vaguely delicious). She recently wrote that she's never been officially diagnosed with the condition, but she's taken online tests and they seem to match her own internal assessment. Her mention of online tests is what led me to look those tests up. So I found one and took it, as you see above.

*The French verb asperger ("ah-spair-zhey") means "to squirt" or "to spritz/sprinkle" a liquid. Sprinkling a powder, as when you're dusting a cake with confectioner's sugar, is a completely different verb: saupoudrer, which has the root poudre (powder) in it.


Ave, Fred!

Journalist Frédéric Ojardias tweets:

Trop fermée, trop lente, fuyant les médias, déconnectée, mal entourée... la présidente sud-coréenne dans la tourmente...


Too closed off, too slow, fleeing the media, disconnected, poorly staffed... the South Korean president in turmoil...

I tweeted back to Fred:

Avant de lire "la présidente sud-coréenne," j'ai cru que vous parliez d'Hillary Clinton.


Before reading "the South Korean president," I thought you were talking about Hillary Clinton.

The parallels certainly are interesting to consider. Nota bene: this isn't to say that a female leader will necessarily be less competent than a male one: there are far too many examples of male incompetence for that to be true, and there are plenty of examples of strong, competent female leadership (Margaret Thatcher comes to mind, and Angela Merkel nowadays, to name two). But President Park and Hillary Clinton both seem to be following a pattern. Both come from entitled backgrounds; both have known only privilege, and both do seem to be living inside a reality-defying bubble marked by secrecy, oversensitivity, and lack of clear, decisive communication with the public. What would an HRC presidency look like? It'd probably look a lot like what we're seeing in South Korea. And that's a good reason to worry.


Friday, June 12, 2015

"yes, maybe" to a party or two

My final two classes, this past Thursday, halfheartedly said yes to having jjong-parties, but we were completely unable to decide on a proper date, time, and location. The fourth class, my loudest, was particularly obstreperous: "Will there be alcohol?" several students asked breathlessly. Mortified, I blurted, "No!" My questioners sagged, then loudly declared, "That's not a party!" Eventually, even these rebels were convinced that it might be possible to have a party without the Devil's brew. We didn't have time, in either class, to discuss the matter further, so I told everyone I'd create a Kakao Group and we'd continue talking via text message before the final exam next week.

So, shit. My wallet will be taking a hit after all, and I'll just have to brace for impact.



The great Sir Christopher Lee is dead at 93. Probably best known for his early, iconic work as Dracula, Lee went on, in his later years, to play SF/F roles like that of Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels (Lee's scenes were among the best in those lame films) and Saruman the White in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies, thus earning him the affectionate moniker "Count Dooku the White."

Lee's Saruman is the subject of a hilarious YouTube parody video titled "Trolling Saruman," which you can watch here. For background, though, you need to view the original Russian "Trololo" video on which the Saruman parody is based: "Trololo" is, from what I gather, Russia's answer to Rick-rolling.

But the quirkiness doesn't end there. As you might imagine, Lee didn't just have an impressive speaking voice: he had an impressive singing voice that he sometimes put to strange uses, as in this bizarre musical number with—of all people—Alan Arkin in 1983's Australian production, "The Return of Captain Invincible."

Lee lent his voice to the dragon-like Jabberwocky (it should have been called the Jabberwock; "Jabberwocky" was the title of Lewis Carroll's poem, not the name of the monster) in 2010's "Alice in Wonderland." He also spoke excellent French (radio interview here, all in French), with only the barest trace of an accent, and had French-speaking roles in French movies (e.g., the so-so action film "Crimson Rivers II: Angels of the Apocalypse").

As far as I can tell, Lee was active almost all the way up to the end of his long and storied career. He did claim, in his 90s, that he had been having trouble flying long distances for certain engagements, but he was a tough old bird, a World War II veteran who mostly served in British military intelligence, even once surviving a bombing. A bit on the darker side, Lee has said he did work with the British SAS, although he never went into detail as to what, exactly, that meant.

The world will miss Mr. Lee's deep, subterranean voice, his unforgettable screen presence, and his exemplary perfectionism. There's a moment in "Attack of the Clones" during which Lee's Count Dooku is fighting Ewan McGregor's Obi-wan Kenobi, and Dooku breaks into a crazed, gleeful smile right before he wounds Kenobi twice. For just that moment, Lee seemed to be the only actor actually having fun on set, and I'll always be thankful to him for that: no matter how silly the role was, Lee always put his heart into it.

RIP, Sir Christopher. You'll be missed.