Tuesday, February 28, 2006

a real midnight snack

Here's how we do it at Rancho Hominid:

Ritz (or similar) crackers
2 pineapple slices
1 can tuna and mayonnaise (no other seasonings)
1 equally large glop of Kevin-style salad (see below)

Kevin-style Salad

1 Korean cucumber
1 large, fat Korean carrot
1 large clump of alfalfa and other sprouts

olive oil
black pepper
fresh ground garlic
dried oregano
dried basil

Ohhh, how tempted I was to buy and add some cheese.

Grate the cucumber and carrot. Add the sprouts. You now have enough for two decent-sized servings of salad.

I can't give you exact proportions for my salad dressing, but it's hard to go wrong if you start with massive amounts of olive oil, followed by enough vinegar to achieve slightly more than the desired tartness. Follow this up with sugar-- again, to taste. Don't expect all the ingredients to mix happily: like Italians themselves, these ingredients tend to be a bit rowdy with each other. Add other seasonings and spices to taste. Start conservatively; add more as needed. Garlic is, of course, essential.

The salad dressing, because it doesn't mix well in the bowl, will fail to make sense until you mix it in with the vegetables. Then, quite suddenly, every piece of the puzzle will magically fit. Because you will have unloaded a mess of black pepper into your mix, there's no need to add pepper to the tuna mixture.

To eat the above salad, use your common sense:

Bottom layer = cracker
Next layer up = tuna mixture
Next layer up = salad
Next layer up = pineapple

Everything should fit precariously on your cracker. Eat in one gulp. Don't be dainty about it. It's the struggling human; you're the tyrannosaur. No mercy.

Bon appétit!


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 38


Monday, February 27, 2006

and in yet another blow to my massive ego...

Not only are higher-traffic blogs slighted in the TTLB Ecosystem, but the top Google result for the search string "koreablogs" isn't even in English: it's in fucking German!

I weep; you go on and laugh, you leprous asshole.


go spam her NOW!

Koreablogger Kathreb is apparently settled down and back to blogging. She's also allowing comments! Now's the time to send her your unsolicited declarations of lust and fealty.

She offered only one photo of herself that I know of (a side-view, midair photo of her while bungee-jumping), which showed off her body to great effect, but didn't reveal her face (she was in a Superman pose; her arms covered her face, but you got a fantastic view of her armpits). I knew, then and there, that I'd never have a great body like that. First: I'll never be that athletic. Second: I am a man.

Or so it seemed when I checked inside my pants this morning.


TTLB Ecosystem is bullshit

Your moment of peevishness:

How can one be a "large mammal" in the TTLB Ecosystem when one's blog gets only 97 unique visits per day-- most of those hits being random Google searches? Ever since NZ Bear did his renovation, the Ecosystem's been fucked.

For those of us getting more than 97 hits: take heart. TTLB don't mean crap. For those "large mammals" with a puny number of hits: I hope you enjoy the false impression that you have a significant readership!

Damn you, NZ Bear and false mammals! Damn you all to hell!


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 37


Sunday, February 26, 2006

it nods off, coughs, and farts

Temple today. A large crowd. Obviously, word had gotten around that Hyeon-gak sunim would be doing the dharma talk. Because of the number of people, the temple's top floor felt a bit overstuffed, and when it was time for walking meditation, we walkers formed a truly enormous Zentipede. The Zentipede was a strange creature: at the crack of the monk's wooden ch'uk-p'i, the creature's components bowed while seated, rose from various cushions, then assembled themselves into the great macroorganism. The Zentipede then lumbered (or shuffled, or waddled, depending on the condition of its individual segments) about the room for ten minutes before breaking apart again, each part settling back onto its rightful cushion.

But the Zentipede was not the romantic picture of absolute tranquility. I, for example, have a ticklish throat; it's been with me ever since I recovered from my other illnesses. While I survived the first round of meditation with no coughing today, I had little choice but to cough a few times during the second and third rounds. So today's Zentipede was a bit noisy.

In between zazen sessions, walking meditation wasn't noiseless: one person close to me farted. The Zentipede, we gather, was a bit gassy. A woman in front and slightly to the right of me (almost directly in front of Sperwer) began nodding off during the first round of zazen. Perhaps "nodding off" is misleading: her entire upper body was like a time-lapse film of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, running forwards and backwards, oscillating dangerously. The woman's "nods" were rhythmic: strangely enough, they matched the pace of my breathing. The Zentipede was, along with being noisy and gassy, rather pooped.

In the end, the creature managed to survive the 110 minutes of seated and walking meditation; its pieces then waited patiently for the arrival of Hyeon-gak.

Hyeon-gak's dharma talk contained the two standard features of every Korean dharma talk I've seen, both here and in the States: swearing and stick-banging. It's how you know you're home, I guess, when a teacher's mannerisms become familiar to you. Various Zentipede segments asked questions of the master as we reviewed an English version of a text written by Huang P'o. Most of the questions were simply shot down, quite a few with a "Shut up!" or "Shut your mouth!" in both English and Korean-- answers meant to cut to the root of the asker's problems, not provide a discursive recipe to be followed and re-followed invariably forever.

In all, a good dharma talk. Hyeon-gak has a flair for the dramatic. Now I'm hungry, and I've got more work to do, so it's time to eat and work.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

hell freezes over

Impossible! Dr. Vallicella and I find ourselves in agreement about something (actually, we're in agreement about a few somethings, but we're fundamentally opposed when it comes to other somethings)!

In a recent post titled "Dennett on the Deformation of the God Concept," Dr. V wrote:

One of the striking features of Dennett's Breaking the Spell is that he seems bent on having a straw man to attack. This is illustrated by his talk of the "deformation" of the concept of God: "I can think of no other concept that has undergone so dramatic a deformation." (206) He speaks of "the migration of the concept of God in the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) away from concrete anthropomorphism to ever more abstract and depersonalized concepts." (205)


What Dennett is implying is that the orginal monotheistic conception of God had a definite content, but that this conception was deformed and rendered abstract to the point of being emptied of all content. Dennett is of course assuming that the only way the concept of God could have content is for it to have a materialistic, anthropomorphic content. Thus it is not possible on Dennett's scheme to interpret the anthropomorphic language of the Old Testament in a figurative way as pointing to a purely spiritual reality which, as purely spiritual, is neither physical nor human.

Dennett seems in effect to be confronting the theist with a dilemma. Either your God is nothing but an anthropomorphic projection or it is is so devoid of recognizable attributes as to be meaningless. Either way, your God does not exist. Surely there is no Big Guy in the Sky, and if your God is just some Higher Power, some unknowable X, about which nothing can be said, then what exactly are you affirming when you affirm that this X exists? Theism is either the crude positing of something as unbelievable as Santa Claus or Wonder Woman, or else it says nothing at all.

Either crude anthropomorphism or utter vacuity.


Dennett needs to give up the question-begging and the straw-man argumentation. His talk of the "deformation" of the God concept shows that he is unwilling to allow what he would surely allow with subject-matters, namely, the elaboration of a more adequate concept of the subject-matter in question. Instead, he thinks the theist must be stuck with the crudest conceptions imaginable.

I agree with Dr. V's critique, and this is the comment I wrote in response:

As much as I like Dennett, I'm forced to agree with you here. What Dennett is saying flies in the face of what we know through a study of the history of religions. The move from "concrete/literal" to "abstract/mystical" (or as some people put it, from exoteric to esoteric) is quite common in all religious traditions and not a deformation at all.

The Hindu notion of yajna, sacrifice, moved from the externalized, concrete ritual to something a Hindu practices daily-- every moment-- in his or her quotidian existence.

Magico-religious Taoism took several centuries to catch on to the fact that literally imbibing the products of alchemy could be a deadly business. Taoist internal alchemy came to replace external alchemy: there's no need to ingest real cinnabar when your body already has "fields of cinnabar."

In Islam, it was only a matter of time before a mystical movement like Sufism would arise. The other monotheisms evince the same sort of evolution.

External forms of kung fu gave birth to internal forms; other martial arts sired martial "ways" (the famous move from "-jutsu" to "-do").

This move from exo- to endo/eso- is so common that it boggles my mind to think Dennett is trying to attack religion here, at a spot where there are no chinks in the armor.

Read Dr. V's post here.


Ave, Corsair!

Corsair has a great photoblog post about a recent pro-Danish rally in the DC-Metro area. Check out the pics.


pictures from a fantastic Smoo term

One of my favorite Intensive English Level 2 students, Ji-soo, emailed me a mess of pictures from both the bazaar (in early February; see this post) and from the Thursday end-of-term event.

Pics plus explanations follow. Captions will be beneath the pictures they explain.

Here I am with Eun-gyeong, Ji-soo, and Sae-ra. It was cold that day, and we were holding the bazaar on the breezy first floor of Smoo's Social Education Building, so a lot of people were wearing coats.

Soon-shil, Min-seon, Mi-yeong, and Sae-ra making bbop-gi, a close cousin of the traditional yeot candy.

Yeong-hui, Mi-yeong, Soon-shil, Seon-hyae, Min-seon, and Eun-gyeong, all at our table, either cooking bbop-gi or selling used items. See the purple money box?

Penelope (a.k.a. Ji-eun) and Yeong-hui, over at some other group's table, playing Jenga. Or at least pretending to play.

The resident ogre, coatless thanks to a comfortable layer of blubber that can protect it from Arctic temperatures.

Sae-ra takes the ogre's place and proves she's got quite a bit of artistic talent. If I recall correctly, that's a picture of Ji-soo.

The taekwondo team that showed off its funky, made-to-order dance routine. The team leader, who you'll recall offered to give the girls the phone numbers of the guys they liked, is pictured here-- back row, second from the right.

And now: pics from the two skits we performed!

Ji-soo looking pretty in her hanbok, giving the standard Korean "V" sign. In the "Tiger and Dried Persimmon" skit, she plays the role of the mother trying to shush her crying baby. See the next pic for more.

"Do you want the tiger to get you?" the mother asks her bawling (blond!) child. The tiger, unbeknownst to the mother, is outside the window. It hears this question and feels great pride at being feared. But the baby keeps on crying, which infuriates the proud tiger. The tiger readies itself to strike, when suddenly--

"Oh, here's a dried persimmon!" the mother chirps. The baby stops crying immediately. The tiger, having no idea what a dried persimmon is, assumes it must be a truly fearsome creature: the baby had no respect for the tiger, but immediate respect for the awful, horrifying persimmon. (Little did the tiger know that the baby had gone silent simply because it was chewing happily on the dried persimmon.)

A thief, looking for a nice, fat ox to steal, sneaks over to where the tiger is prowling. Because it's dark, the thief can't see what he's capturing. Instead of roping the ox, he ropes the tiger. The tiger freaks, convinced he's being attacked by the dried persimmon.

The thief is played by Hyeon-jeong. The ox (I love that mask) is played by Ji-eun.

Soon-shil, in her early 40s and married, was one of four narrators for this skit. Since we had nine people who needed roles, and no one wanted to say too many lines, having four narrators seemed the best solution. Soon-shil was a great student this semester. She got an award for perfect attendance. She also got an "A" in my class. I'll remember her fondly because, the evening before I had that huge pasta party, she drove a few of us around Seoul, moving from Lotte Mart by Seoul Station to Hannam Market past Itaewon, then back to Smoo campus to drop me and my groceries off.

Back to the story, then! The tiger has shaken off the thief and run into the forest, ecstatic about having gotten away. The thief, equally glad to be alive, has taken refuge inside a hollow tree. The tiger celebrates not being killed by the dried persimmon, but his frolic is interrupted by a rabbit, who asks the tiger what all the noise is about. The tiger informs the rabbit that he has just survived an encounter with the most horrible creature in the world-- a dried persimmon!

The rabbit is doubtful and vows to find the persimmon. The tiger warns the rabbit that it'll be killed by the creature, but the rabbit is confident that its fast legs can save it.

The rabbit finds the thief, who is still hiding in a tree. The rabbit immediately realizes that he, the thief, is the cause of the tiger's travails. The rabbit sticks his butt in the hole of the hollow tree to keep the thief from escaping. He then calls out to the tiger and says, "I found your dried persimmon! Come on over-- it won't hurt you!" At the same moment, the starving thief, intent on eating the rabbit for a meal, grabs the rabbit's tail and yanks. The rabbit lets out a piercing scream; the tiger freaks out again and dashes off; the thief screams in partial triumph because he's come away with the rabbit's large tail. "And that's why rabbits have short, stubby tails," says our narrator. The end!

We were lucky to be able to change costumes and scenery as quickly as we did. Just in time for... "What to Do with a Dead Kevin."

Seon-ju, who played the rabbit in the previous skit, is the student who kills me in this skit. It's a bit blurred in the photo, but you can see that Seon-ju's arm is really moving. She did indeed stick my bloated, padded "stomach" good: tomato juice dribbled out, and the blood bag got a boost from my pushing hand. Juice ran down my shirt and into my crotch. I spent the time on stage looking as though I'd pissed myself.

In this picture, I've been stabbed, I'm already dead, and the students have made their first attempt at trying to conceal the murder. They've stuck sunglasses on me, and plopped a hat on top of the knife. You might not be able to tell from the picture, but in reality, the hat's material was so soft that the knife handle's shape was easily discernible (actually, you can see that the hat is tented). That was supposed to be part of the comedy. Because I was "dead," I couldn't see any of the action following my death. I now see that some students were having a bit of trouble remaining serious! Hrrrmmmm.

This is the moment after the students have stuffed cake into my mouth. As you can see, it was a messy job. To me, it looks as though someone stabbed me, then I died, then I voided in my pants, and then some prick shat in my mouth for good measure. My eyes were closed to help me act out the death, but I could hear howls of laughter as the cake was stuffed into my mouth.

In this pic, the dead Kevin is pretty much alone. Just sitting. You can see a slice of Eun-gyeong in the background, and it looks as though she, too, is stifling laughter. I sympathize: I was deathly afraid of suddenly cracking up while my mouth was full of cake.

I stayed in the above posture as the cast took its bows, then suddenly "woke up" and voilà-- here we are. Damn, that was a fun skit to do.

[UPDATE AND CORRECTION: the above pic doesn't show the tail end of the skit. As you can see, two students are hiding behind my corpse. They're the ones who will operate my arms and jaw, as well as provide my voice in the attempt to fool Z.

When the skit ended, however, I was essentially in the position you see above.]

All that's left now, Dear Reader, is the parade of "aftermath" photos. Here they are:

The nine people in my class. Standing, left to right: Yeong-hui, Ji-soo, Hyeon-jeong, Soon-shil, Seon-ju, and Seon-hyae. Seated, left to right: Ji-eun, Eun-jeong, and Sae-ra.

Kevin with his class/cast. The blurring of the photo is evidence of the screaming aura of evil I project.

Eun-jeong and me. Eun-jeong wrote a nice, huge "I LOVE KEVIN" on the chalk board.

A large Kevin and a tiny Ji-soo. Ji-soo's going to be teaching Korean to foreigners on Smoo campus. Alas, she won't be paid for the work: it's a volunteer project.

Hyeon-jeong and me. This girl is a nut, as well as another of my favorite students. Loud, expressive, says what's on her mind, and speaks English pretty well-- better than all her classmates.

Well... that's it, folks. Unless other students send me photos, I've got nothing more up my sleeve. Hope you enjoyed this glimpse of life on Smoo campus. I'm off to bed.


your saintly deed for the day

Go to Jelly's blog and leave her a note of comfort. Her best friend in Korea recently tried to kill herself, and Jelly's asking for support. Read this post and append a comment to it.


Thursday: the day that kicked ass

Thursday, February 23, 2006: the final day of our eight-week Intensive English term. Class in the morning, 10AM; ceremony at 2PM.

I doubt I could have had a better day, as a teacher, than the one I had at Smoo this past Thursday.

It started early, yet late: I'd gone to sleep around 8:30PM the previous evening, and didn't wake up until 7AM-- something I regretted as soon as I opened my eyes, because I had hoped to get some tasks accomplished Wednesday evening. I'd stayed up all night from Tuesday to Wednesday, crafting a tiger mask to wear for our "Tiger and Dried Persimmon" skit. From 7 to 8:30AM on Thursday, I finalized the body armor for our second skit, which was called "What to Do with a Dead Kevin." (The incomplete version of the armor was pictured in an earlier post; the final version included folded towels around the edge to soften the outline of the rectangular plastic tray.)

I packed up the props I had-- tee shirts, tape, scissors, and other sundries-- then headed over to Smoo campus. Got there around 9AM, and was invited by my colleague V to come downstairs to Room 101 to watch her students do PowerPoint presentations. I thought about declining at first, because I was hoping to continue studying my lines before my 10AM class began, but decided I could risk going down.

V's students, who were Intro-level (i.e., before Level 1), did a great job-- easily performing several levels higher than Intro. One student spoke about her experience at an international youth "work camp" held in a small French town. The students at the camp, who came from all over the world but especially from France and Spain, spent 20 days repairing roofs and learning about life in the Avignon region of France. The second student talked about her long trip through India-- her displeasure at eating with her fingers, her fear of the dangerous, bombed-out towns near the border with Pakistan, and her newfound love and respect for the Indian people themselves, who were the highlight of her trip.

I left the presentation with 20 minutes to spare (thanks, V, for feeding us while we watched!), went back upstairs and began poring over my script. I had memorized my lines, but some of them were still a bit fuzzy in my brain. Thursday was both the final day of class and the day of the end-of-term ceremony; because I had been hoping to do a dress rehearsal with the class, it would have been bad form for me, the teacher, to be totally unprepared.

My students trickled in; some were late for the 10AM start, which was, unfortunately, par for the course. But I should also note that my group had the highest attendance rates of all four Intensive English classes: 75% attendance or better on a near-constant basis over eight weeks: 9 out of 12 students. This might not mean much to Westerners unfamiliar with how things are at Korean universities, but it's significant here. College students here tend to slack off; very few actually take their studies that seriously, compared to Western students (let me qualify that: many students are serious about courses directly related to their majors).

I was impressed by the costumes I saw for the dress rehearsal: the student playing "The Ox" in the "Tiger and Persimmon" skit had made a great 3-D ox mask out of paper (I'd drawn her the paper cut-out pattern on the chalkboard the other day; her final design was an improvement over my drawing); another student, playing the role of "the mother" in the "Tiger and Persimmon" skit, had put on her hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) and crafted two walls of a house-- the place where she would be sitting while trying to stop her baby-- a large, freaky-looking doll provided by yet another student-- from crying.

Once everyone was assembled, we sat down and rehearsed our lines together, most of us without the script. There were a couple flubs, including some by me, but nothing serious. We then rehearsed both skits in full dress (except for the bag of blood), and it was a good thing we did so: the girl who was supposed to stab me in the second skit was very hesitant at first to drive the knife deep into my "stomach." When she finally succeeded at landing the blow, we made an interesting discovery: the knife went into the foam, but the tee shirt covering the body armor was undamaged: when the knife was pulled out, the resultant hole looked a hell of a lot like... well, a navel. We had a good chuckle at that.

We rehearsed from 10AM to about 12:3o; each rehearsal contained flubs-- most of them by yours truly, as I kept missing or "jumping" my cues. We didn't get everything right until the final rehearsal before we stopped for lunch. At that point, I wasn't sure whether we'd have a mistake-free performance. In fact, it seemed I was the weakest link in the chain. Lunch was at a Korean restaurant; my 40-year old student, Soon-shil, decided to treat us all, which was awfully nice of her. I left the table early to go back to class and make final prep, and then, all too soon, it was 2PM and time for the actual end-of-term ceremony.

Unfortunately, our weonjang-nim couldn't stay for the performances, which was highly disappointing to all concerned. That didn't stop the rest of us from having a good time, though. Our supervisor (not the weonjang) suddenly told us that our skits were part of a competition, and that the grand prize involved money. That didn't faze our group; we were nervous, but ready, undistracted by filthy lucre. (Or so I'd like to think.)

The first group up was Level One-- V's students. They did a fantastic job with their presentation, which was a mix of speeches and jokes. V had done a good job of researching the jokes (she chose clean ones) for her students to recite; the speeches, however, were original works by the students, who performed so well that we teachers commented that they didn't sound like Level One students at all. I get the impression that V sets her standards pretty high.

Our group went next, but I want to save the telling of our performance for last.

After us came the Level Threes, taught by D the intrepid Brit. Apparently, D's group had planned-- for seven weeks-- to do a skit based on The Little Prince, then they nixed the plan. At the last moment they changed their skit to a story about a foul-mouthed, irascible parrot. The girl in the parrot costume, flitting about the stage and cawing insults, was a former student of mine who had been in one of my regular Level 2 conversation classes the previous term.

The story was this:

The parrot is a troublemaker-- unruly and vulgar-- from the moment its owner brings it home. Finally, in disgust, the owner grabs the parrot and crams it into the fridge. The parrot squawks and kicks and pounds on the fridge walls, then suddenly goes quiet. The owner, curious, opens the fridge up and the parrot flies into its owner's arms, screaming, "Forgive me! I love you! I love you!" The owner asks, "Why the sudden change of heart?" ...and the parrot indicates the half-eaten turkey it saw inside the fridge.


The final group, Level Fours taught by A the Aussie, did a very clever newscast-- news from the future, no less. Their skit was set in Korea circa 2020, and the presentation included a TV and video camera, with a live feed to "Pyongyang" at one point. A the Aussie was the cameraman.

In 2020, most of the world's birds are dead, and a single bird has been sighted in a forest on the peninsula. The sea level has risen and several more coastal villages have been submerged. George W. Bush has just been released from prison, and he still denies any wrongdoing. During the weather segment, we also learn that Korea is in for another scorching winter. Funniest of all is the interview with President Kim in Pyongyang. President Kim, a woman, gets interviewed live on camera (we in the audience watch this happen on TV). It turns out she has two husbands, and has just given birth to a genetically designed baby. She doesn't know and doesn't care who the father is. We in the audience had a lot of fun watching this.

My own group, the Level Twos, went second, and everyone performed beautifully. As far as I could tell, no one made a mistake. The audience enjoyed the story and costumes in the first skit-- the one about the tiger and the dried persimmon. But the second skit was the one that had everyone rolling, and I was glad we pulled it off without a hitch.

That skit, "What to Do with a Dead Kevin," presented two major difficulties: (1) Would my student be able to stab me with enough conviction to penetrate the sandwich bag containing the fake blood (in reality, tomato V-8 from a can)? And (2), would I be able to hold still while dead?

I'm getting ahead of myself. The plot of "Dead Kevin" went like this:

Kevin is already in front of the class. His 90 minutes of teaching are up, and he says, "Okay, we're done, and Z's up next." A student informs Kevin that today is Z's birthday, so the class has bought a cake. Kevin asks who will be cutting the cake. An excitable student jumps up, knife in hand, and says she's going to do the honors. Kevin chuckles and cautions her to "be careful with that knife." The student claims she's a "knife expert," then shows off some bad martial arts moves, finishing up with three flourishing stabbing motions. The final stab accidentally plunges the knife into Kevin's gut. Kevin is startled; the class screams in horror; blood is gushing. Kevin sits down in a nearby chair (stage center), reassures the class he's going to be all right, then dies.

The class freaks. Z is coming to teach them soon-- what to do with the body? Kevin proves far too heavy to lift, so the students stick sunglasses on him and gingerly place a hat over the knife to disguise its presence. Another student suggests that Kevin be puppeteered by somebody to fool Z into thinking he's alive. Two students hide behind Kevin and prepare to execute voice and gesture.

Z walks into class, greets Kevin, talks to the students. The class does what it can to divert Z's attention from the corpse; "Kevin" reassures Z that he is merely a bit under the weather and thinking about taking a nap, right there in the chair. Z, who's delighted to see the birthday cake, asks Kevin whether he'd like some. The students manning Kevin make the mistake of saying "yes," which makes the other students silently scream, "No! No!" Because of the puppeteers' mistake, people are now obliged to feed the corpse and somehow make the act look real.

Z realizes that a knife is needed to cut the cake; two students distract Z while Kevin's murderer sneaks over to the corpse, removes the knife, replaces the hat, and offers the bloody knife to Z, who remarks that it looks as though someone has been cutting meat with it. Yet another student gamely offers to clean the knife; she takes the knife, cleans it very thoroughly, then gingerly hands it to Z.

Z asks Kevin how big a piece of cake he'd like. "Kevin," unfortunately committed to eating the cake, replies, "A biiiiiig piece!" Z cuts a monstrous slice of cake and sticks it on a plate. Another student walks over to Kevin, but has no clue how Kevin is supposed to feed himself. Kevin's puppeteers solve this by making Kevin command, "Feed me!" The student with the cake lifts the piece up and crams as much of the cake as she can into Kevin's mouth. The puppeteers do their best to make the corpse appear to be chewing.

One student, who had quietly left the class, rushes back in and informs Z that Z's best friend is in the hospital. It's a lie, of course, but it's enough to make Z rush out of the classroom. The students sigh in relief after Z leaves. One suggests calling the police, but the murderer objects: she doesn't want to be arrested. The other student says, "Don't you remember how thoroughly I cleaned the knife? It's got Z's fingerprints all over it now! Let's call the police and get out of here!"

The students head en masse for the exit, but the murderer says, "Wait! There's one more thing we need to do!" She wraps the knife in a napkin, careful not to get her own fingerprints on the handle, then re-stabs Kevin, leaving the knife in his gut. More blood. The students cheer and get the hell out of Dodge. Kevin's corpse, bloody from the stomach down, wearing sunglasses, face smeared with chunks of chocolate cake and icing, just... sits there.

The audience is left confused: is this the end of the skit? The rest of the cast waits outside for 15 seconds, then they all barge back in and take their bows. Lots of clapping and cheering. Kevin's corpse still doesn't move. Finally, when we can take it no longer, Kevin "wakes up" and bows along with the students.

The end.

The play happened pretty much as I described above. My student did drive the knife home (both times), but she stabbed the sandwich bag too high, forcing me to grip my stomach and push in order to get a decent bleeding effect. That wasn't a big issue at all; we'd discussed that contingency during rehearsal. The other potential problem-- my ability to hold still, especially with a bloody stomach and cake stuffed in my mouth, turned out not to be a problem during the actual performance. It was during the first dress rehearsal that I burst out laughing, probably because it was the first time that we'd used real cake.

The prizes were announced, and I'm happy to report that our group got the grand prize-- W70,000, which we immediately blew on food-- fried chicken, Chinese delivery, fruit, drinks, and other victuals. I was euphoric almost all day; things couldn't have gone better, and I was thankful to have fallen in with such a good group of students. Hell-- even two of the failing students continued to come to class just to help with the play.

So: February 23, 2006 marks a high point in my brief career at Smoo. It's going to be hard to top this.

And now, the cool thing is... I've got ten days' vacation, interrupted by only three things: (1) some test rating that'll take a chunk of my Saturday; (2) a test rating workshop this coming Tuesday; and (3) lesson plans to draft for the spring term.

I've still got a ticklish throat, but that's nothing. It's time to get back into hiking. I'm hitting the temple on Sunday again, which is a good thing. Life feels like it's coming together.

The picture below shows the silly tiger mask I'd made for the first skit; the damn thing took my clumsy fingers and brain all night to craft. That's right: I pulled an all-nighter for a five-minute skit. But I think the effort was worth the plaudits.

Congrats to all the other students for doing a great job, too. Funny... while we were chowing down on our victory meal Thursday afternoon, I told my students that I thought the other classes had done a great job. "But we were the best!" some replied. Yes-- they were. Am I wrong to be proud of what we'd accomplished? I hope not. This was our brief moment in the spotlight. Why not relish it, yes?

I'm hoping that some of the students, whose friends were taking digicam and phone cam pictures during the performances, will remember to email me their photos. I'd like to slap them up on the blog for you.

Ah, life can be shweet.


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 36


Friday, February 24, 2006

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 34


bye, Dad!

Dad left Seoul quietly this morning, dropping his dorm key off with the concierge and taking a taxi to the Yongsan army base. He's probably caught a bus and is on his way to Osan, where he hopes to catch a military hop out to Japan, and thence to Parts Unknown, eventually to end up back in northern Virginia.

It was great having Dad in town, even if only for a few days.

Have a safe trip back, Dad!


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

up and making body armor

Tonight, I can't afford to sleep. It's around 3:30AM as I type this, and it looks as though I'll be pulling an all-nighter, or something close. My Intensive English class, along with the other Intensive English classes, is doing a ten-minute production as part of the end-of-term ceremony. In our case, we've elected to do two very short skits.

One skit is an English-language version of a classic Korean folk tale, "The Tiger and the Dried Persimmon." The other skit is a Kevin original: "What to Do with a Dead Kevin." In truth, "Dead Kevin" is not that original: it's essentially a five-minute version of "Weekend at Bernie's," in which a dead body-- mine, in this case-- gets abused.*

The class I teach, Level 2 Intensive English Conversation, has been the best this term as far as attendance goes. We still have about 9 out of 12 students coming. Other classes have been lackluster-- not because of the teachers, all of whom are doing a great job in my opinion-- but because the groups themselves seem a bit sleepy and unfocused. I've heard plenty of complaints from my colleagues about their students, and I sympathize: I've had my share of lackluster classes, too. This semester has been a lucky one for me.

The attendance problem is relevant because some other teachers are having trouble scaring up enough people even to be in their productions. One class, for example, has dwindled from about a dozen people to only three regular attendees-- a sad contrast to last summer's Intensive English attendance rates, in which all teachers had over 80-85% attendance the entire term.

I have no idea what the class of three people will be doing on Thursday, nor do I know what other classes will be doing. I think the Level 4 class has had low absenteeism, and it's my understanding that they're planning a rather large production, just as we are. Ought to be interesting.

So I'm up tonight, crafting a tiger mask, because I'm the tiger in the first skit. I'm also up making body armor, because I get stabbed in the second skit. The body armor was supposed to consist of a huge rectangle of inch-thick hard rubber, plus a three-inch layer of foam into which a student could ram a knife, but when I tried on the prototype armor before midnight this evening, I saw how ridiculously huge it was-- basically a big, nasty rectangle bulging out of my tee shirt. Even with padding, the rectangle would have been too obvious. So I've scaled the armor down, dispensed with the rubber shielding, substituted a plastic tray, and mocked up a bag of "blood" (for rehearsal purposes, it's tap water). See photo below:

We're having a dress rehearsal Wednesday morning, and another one Thursday morning. The production happens for real on Thursday afternoon, at 2PM. If you're interested in watching me die, bring a bunch of friends and come on over to Smoo's Social Education Building. I'm not sure which room we'll be in yet, but you can check for that info in Room 206. Those folks know everything.

Back to my mask- and armor-making.

*Come to think of it, "Weekend at Bernie's" would have been a hell of a lot funnier as a stage play. As a movie, it was pretty damn lame.


uh-oh: large-breasted Asian alert

Hardy and Tiny, meet your silicone-enhanced competition.

(link via the Maven)


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 33


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

la salope dans l'ascenseur

Cette fois je blogue en français.

C'était cet après-midi que j'ai rencontré une vraie salope dans l'ascenseur en descendant du troisième au premier étage. Je suis entré dans l'ascenseur; j'ai appuyé sur le "1," et la garce, qui était derrière moi, a chuchoté en coréen (de façon que le mec à côté d'elle puisse l'entendre), "Merde, mais il ne descend que deux étages? Ça fait chier!" Apparemment elle a cru que je ne pouvais pas la comprendre.

Je me suis tourné vers elle et je lui ai dit "Désolé" en coréen. Elle a ri, bien sûr; c'est ce qu'on fait en Corée quand on a honte. Le souvenir de cette rencontre est resté avec moi pendant toute la journée, en partie parce que ce genre de connerie ne m'arrive pas si souvent. J'aurais dû lui donner un bon coup de pied dans sa putain de mâchoire.

Va te faire foutre, sale pute.


fire your weapons in the air!

Yes! The Tardy Heinie returns!

The latest post is on "lesbian action."

UPDATE: Now we've got topless pics. Hardy and Tiny go where other Koreabloggers fear to tread.


Monday, February 20, 2006

Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 32


busy times, busy times

Aside from a relaxing two hours with Dad this evening (movie party: watched "The Incredibles" on a large projection screen, with stereo surround sound, while eating Chinese delivery), it's been a busy Monday. The whole week is looking busy as the term winds down and Dad prepares for his long voyage back to the States, so blogging might be reduced to little more than slapping up Golgotha comics. Just a note to my dwindling readership.


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 31


Sunday, February 19, 2006

two hours of Hyeon-gak

I went to Hwagye-sa with my father today and met up with D, an old EC coworker of mine. We three had a quick lunch at the Outback Steakhouse by Suyu Station, then Dad and I hopped into a cab while D took his scooter over to the temple. This was to be Dad's first time seeing a Buddhist temple in action-- not merely as something pretty to photograph.

We were told the dharma talk would be entirely in Korean-- something of a disappointment for Dad, I suppose. We got to the dharma hall about 15 minutes early; the place was already crowded, but ended up becoming so crowded that the bosal-nim* up front took the mike and asked us all to scoot forward to make more room for the throng of latecomers.

Hyeon-gak himself was "fashionably late," as D smirkingly observed, but his talk was quite good. I didn't understand every single thing he said, but he touched on a sufficient number of familiar themes for me to be able to follow without too much difficulty. Many of his points were illustrated by multiple anecdotes, which also aided comprehension.

This was the first time I'd heard Hyeon-gak speak entirely in Korean, and it was great to see that the rumors were true: his Korean is indeed quite fluent. His accent remained as Joisey as ever, but pronunciation isn't everything when you're judging fluency. I'd say my own pronunciation, while far from perfect, is better than Hyeon-gak's, but my lack of knowledge of the necessary vocabulary, grammar, and idiomatic expressions would make me unable to duplicate Hyeon-gak's two-hour feat.

Hyeon-gak covered a number of topics, the central theme of which was the core teaching of the Diamond Sutra. Perhaps the two most important teachings for today boiled down to, "This very moment is already perfect," and "no-self is the basic reality." Hyeon-gak spoke for an hour, then took an hour's worth of questions. Many of the questions were answered with a slam of his stick on the lion's throne; other questions were answered with characteristic wit and humor.

Some random notes from the talk, then:

1. Many religions teach that this world is somehow imperfect, but that's not true: this very moment is already perfect.

2. Everything you need to know about the Diamond Sutra is contained in its first chapter. In it, you see the Buddha's mindful behavior as he performs each action deliberately, one at a time.

3. Regarding no-self: people say this teaching is difficult, but in truth, it's just the way things are. The "I" is a fake "I."

4. 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)

5. When asked by one lady (who was obviously kissing ass) why he didn't run for president in the US, Hyeon-gak replied that he didn't want the job, and that it was a far better thing for a person like him (or like us) to be meditating and practicing, even if only for ten minutes a day.

6. We often go through our day with many minds. Hyeon-gak gave an example from his own experience of being at his office in Korea and talking with someone in Korean about an extremely important matter, then being interrupted by a phone call from New York (conversation in Korean), then being interrupted by another phone call from Boston (conversation in English), and finally being interrupted by a second visitor right there in his office. The only way to get through such times, Hyeon-gak advised, was by keeping one mind, not by splitting the mind into many minds and being distracted.

7. When one questioner looked confused after receiving Hyeon-gak's "stick thump" as an answer, Hyeon-gak riffed off the man's confusion, noting that he'd been asked a similar question by someone else at a different dharma talk, and that he had given his stick-answer. At the time, a pigeon had flown into the dharma hall. When Hyeon-gak thumped his stick that day, the questioner had looked confused, but the pigeon had taken flight immediately. To the questioner before him at today's dharma talk, Hyeon-gak said, "That pigeon understood what I was saying better than that man did!"

8. The stick-thump is part of Zen's wordless teaching. Hyeon-gak returned to this nondiscursive theme several times, both in his talk and during the Q&A period. While he was talking, a temple bell rang outside, and Hyeon-gak said, "Compared to everything I've said here today, that bell's teaching is greater." He stopped to listen to the bell until it had said its piece.

9. When asked how he had felt when he had first shaved his head, Hyeon-gak said, "I knew I was doing this for you." Classic Mahayana answer.

10. To my delight, Hyeon-gak at one point focused on the same passage of the Diamond Sutra I had quoted in an earlier post. But whereas I had been using the text to talk about the mind "having no address," Hyeon-gak's focus was on what the text had to say about the doctrine of no-self (mu-a in Sino-Korean) in general.

11. Hyeon-gak used an illustration from the Bible, the story of the widow's mite, to make a point about what is truly great.

12. The dharma talk featured a lot of "finger pointing to the moon" imagery.

Many other things were said, but I can't remember them all. It would have been poor taste to take notes during the dharma talk, but my inner academic was sorely tempted to do so. Good thing I had no pen or paper with me.

I had thought I'd be meeting Sperwer today, but it turns out he skipped the 1PM Korean-language talk in favor of Hyeon-gak's 3PM English-language talk, which means he got in his two hours of zazen (1-3PM) while Dad, D, and I took the lazy route-- listening without meditating. Sperwer called me later in the afternoon to say he was going to be having dinner with Hyeon-gak (how the hell did he manage that?). I wonder how much of the dinner conversation will appear on Sperwer's fine blog.

In all, an interesting day.

*The Korean word bosal indicates a bodhisattva, but is used less cosmically in Korean Buddhism to refer as well to the laywomen who have various caretaking roles in a temple. Robert Buswell's The Zen Monastic Experience offers some descriptions of these women's daily lives.


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 30


Saturday, February 18, 2006

yeah! dem crazy muthafuckaz!

Dad and I took the subway from Sookdae-ipgu Station to Chongno 3-ga Station to do some shopping for my upcoming skit. Upon stepping into the car at Sookdae-ipgu Station, we found ourselves in the middle of some sort of drunken tableau. A short guy in his late twenties or early thirties was screaming obscenities and kicking at the subway walls and windows. His kicks weren't particularly good, but he was noisy, and the noise was enough to have driven most people away from him: he had about a ten-foot radius all to himself. The guy wasn't assaulting anybody, but he seemed passionate about kicking through one window in particular. I smiled and told Dad I'd seen stuff like this before, and that you don't do anything unless he attacks you or goes after a little old lady. Dad grinned and nodded; he's an easygoing fellow.

We had to transfer to Line 1 at the next stop, Seoul Station. Dad and I got off... and so did Shorty. As we walked by the window he'd been kicking, I got a good look at it. Pretty amazing, the amount of damage the window sustained: it was shot through with a tight network of cracks and was slightly dented outward.

Shorty, red-faced, marched ahead of us and disappeared into the Saturday crowd. Lucky guy: I doubt he'll suffer any consequences for his behavior, unless some enterprising person surreptitiously recorded his flailings on a cell phone camera.

Something for Dad to write emails home about, eh? Wish we'd taken a picture of the guy ourselves!


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 29


Friday, February 17, 2006

being stuffed, enduring cabbies,
and enjoying the new mouse

Dad's safely ensconced in dormitory accommodations, and gleeful about the chance to move around in Seoul fairly independently. We went on base twice today-- once for brunch and shopping, and once for dinner. Brunch at Dragon Hill Lodge was essentially a breakfast plate-- pancakes, bacon, sausage, orange juice, and a wee bit of fruit. I bought a cool, cheap, Mac-compatible optical mouse to replace the shitty, 1999-era mouse still attached to my keyboard after all these years.

We shopped for some hard-to-find-in-Korea items at the PX and commissary. I was allowed into neither, so I loitered (read: napped) while Dad shopped. We headed off base in the early afternoon. I met my buddy Tom soon after; Tom met Dad and later remarked, "I see where your sense of humor comes from." I've known Tom the Wild Man since 1994; the fact that he and Dad met only today brings home the fact that I travel in very different worlds. I suppose all of us are, to some degree, tangent points for many non-overlapping circles of friends.

I had some work to do at the office and Tom had business on Smoo campus; we left Dad to, uh, do my laundry. Before you think ill of me, you should know that Dad offered to do this-- a gesture I appreciated. Bad son that I am, I said yes to his offer. Tom and I hung out in my office a bit; Tom left and I got to work. Dad came by later to report the laundry was done, and we then grabbed a cab to hit the army base again for a Mexican buffet at Dragon Hill Lodge.

Our cabbie from Smoo to the Yongsan Main Post was friendly but appeared to be ripping us off. He kept taking us away from the main post, despite the fact that I'd clearly explained that I meant the gate that's just past the war memorial and before Itaewon. Even in bad traffic, the cab ride from Smoo to the main post is not that long. When the cabbie finally stopped at exactly the wrong side of the base, I calmly and carefully reiterated my initial request (I'd asked him a couple times why we were headed the wrong way), and reminded him that "8th Army Main Post, just past the war memorial" was what I'd said earlier. He made a big point of smacking his forehead and apologizing for his misunderstanding ("You said the war memorial?"). He then doubled back and took us the right way.

Something was missing from the cabbie's behavior, though: an offer to slash the fare for the wasted time. So I told him, flat out, that I wasn't planning to pay full fare. I wasn't rude about it, but I did make myself clear. It's a good thing Dad and I weren't in any rush; the cabbie's mistake would have brought out my temper had we been pressed for time. The cabbie apologized several times for his "confusion," then offered to slash our fare by about 60% (W9600 down to W4000), which was more than just. During our twisting, turning ride, we'd kept up a fairly friendly conversation; as a result, I wasn't feeling too bitter about the overall experience. The cabbie had apologized, and he'd offered a generous cut. I gave him W6000 because (1) I had no hard feelings, (2) I was with Dad and wanted to be polite, and (3) I was on my way to an enjoyable evening that didn't need to be spoiled with an outburst in bad Korean.

Dad and I went through Gate 10 and lumbered over to DHL (Dragon Hill Lodge, not the delivery service). The place was decked out for some sort of Mardi Gras celebration, but the Mexican buffet downstairs was still open, so we went on down and pigged out (OK, maybe Dad didn't pig out, but I did). We both slaughtered Mexican food and chicken, then I made myself a dessert three times larger than Dad's.

The cab ride home was with a cabbie who took us straight back to the Smoo neighborhood, no problem. Dad went on back to his dorm, and I pulled my new optical mouse out of its package, apprehensive about having to download new software. I unplugged the old mouse, plugged the new mouse into my keyboard's right-hand USB port, and jiggled the mouse to see whether it worked. It did! Curious to see whether the mouse's roller/scroller worked, I toggled it. It worked, too! Next, I tried right-clicking on a link. YES!

So it appears my new mouse works without any installation. The basic functions-- movement, left-clicking, right-clicking, and scrolling-- are all available. What more could a man possibly need? Thank you, Samsung; you kick ass.

My evening isn't over, as you might imagine: I've got more blasphemous Golgotha panels to create, a final exam to finish drafting, some lesson plans to draw up, a skit script to rewrite, and a few other things to do. Come back soon for updates. You know you want to.


postal scrotum: remarks on the Muslim flap

A reader writes:

I've really been enjoying your Golgotha series. Great stuff. Very funny. It's odd to me how you can say that you're Christian and yet at the same time write such sacrilegious stuff. I wonder how you reconcile that.

Also enjoyed your piece on Muslim two-facedness. Will generalize a bit here when I speak of "Muslims." I feel very much the same way. I didn't know that caricatures of Jews were a staple of the Islamic press. So how can they be so two-faced about the Danish cartoons? Western appeasers will say that we have to understand Muslim anger because of the poverty and inequality in Muslim countries, and also because of the history of cruel Western imperalism there. No doubt they have suffered and continue to suffer many indignities, but that doesn't warrant riots and the like.

It's all the worse, though, when the U.S. up and bombs more innocent civilians (a la Gulf War Part II) mainly in the name of energy interests. The thing is, though, the Muslim countries don't seem to understand tolerance. You know, you didn't see a lot of the Jewish survivors of concentration camps coming out and going ballistic on the Germans. A lot of them took it lying down (quite literally).

It's also interesting when you compare the post-WWII U.S. occupation of Japan to the present occupation of Iraq. The Japanese knew they were beaten, but they were smart about it. They didn't resist, and they set about rebuilding their nation. Look at Japan now, the world's number two economy. The Iraqis, though, seem to just want to spill blood.

One thing the Western press doesn't talk about much is how much dissent there is among Islamic countries. For example, I've heard that everybody hates the Palestinians; they're treated like shit in other Arab countries, from what I hear. Bin Laden's pretext for nine-one-one was not the Palestinian-Israeli debacle but the American occupation of the Holy Land (KSA). Look at the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. Muslims have to get their act together.

re: your first paragraph

One of the extra chapters to appear in my upcoming book deals with just this issue. The question "Are you a real Christian?" has come up several times, usually in a personal context. The notion of "real" Christianity (or "real" religion in general) is fodder for an interesting discussion.

re: Muslim rage and comics

My blogrolling of cool blogs is paying dividends. I saw over at Riding Sun that British comic artist Frank Miller, famous for his mid-80s classic Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, is creating an openly propagandistic graphic novel in which Batman will take on al-Qaeda. Pure fantasy, of course, but:

Holy Terror, Batman! is no joke. And Miller doesn't hold back on the true purpose of the book, calling it "a piece of [propaganda]," where "Batman kicks al Qaeda's ass."

The reason for this work, Miller said, was "an explosion from my gut reaction of what's happening now." He can't stand entertainers who lack the moxie of their '40s counterparts who stood up to Hitler. Holy Terror is "a reminder to people who seem to have forgotten who we're up against."

It's been a long time since heroes were used in comics as pure propaganda. As Miller reminded [us], "Superman punched out Hitler. So did Captain America. That's one of the things they're there for."

I admit I was uncomfortable when I heard that some artists had tried their hand at post-9/11 superhero scenarios-- most of them of the "Why wasn't I there to stop this?" variety. The survivor's guilt of a fictional hero rang hollow to me. Much more touching was the famous post-9/11 picture of the snow sculpture depicting a fireman being comforted by an angel. Those guys, the firemen, were the ones who had the balls to go into still-shifting rubble, risking their asses for folks they didn't know and might not even have liked in other circumstances. Whether you believe in angels or not, you have to agree that the sculptor's heart was in the right place: the firemen deserved a tribute. I have no problem mythologizing that sort of hero.

That's also why, when I think about the Republicans I like and dislike, Rudolph Giuliani stands much taller in my mind than the likes of Dick Cheney or George W. Bush. Rudy, whatever his faults, was out there in the dust and rubble on that day, seeing to his people. Cheney, in the meantime, was in some James Bond-style capsule, shooting toward Undisclosed Location #237 somewhere near the earth's core. GW Bush took a few days to get to NYC; he then stood atop the still-smoking rubble with his blowhorn, voiced his steely determination in the face of the enemy, and absorbed the ragged cheers of the firemen and the other workers who'd been laboring non-stop without any thought to "how this would play on TV."

If St. Anselm was right in thinking that what exists in reality is somehow "greater" than what exists only in the understanding, then I'll take a real-life Rudy Giuliani to a comic book superhero any day. But this won't stop me from having a childish chuckle at the sight of Batman mopping the floor with al-Qaeda flunkies. Frank Miller often sets a brooding tone, but he rarely goes for survivor's guilt.


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 28


Thursday, February 16, 2006

"paradise" versus "heaven"

In a comment on a previous comic, the christic Charles of Liminality remarked:

You should know, though, that paradise and Heaven are two different places, and paradise is not for all eternity. I have heard, however, that there is a mosh pit, and the line to get in is murder.

Far be it from me to question our Lord and Savior, but this piqued my curiosity because, while I was aware that "paradise" could designate the Garden of Eden (e.g., Milton's Paradise Lost), I was pretty sure that Jesus' remark to the penitent criminal intended "paradise" (Gk. paradeisos) to be a synonym for "heaven."

A bit of online research reveals that the meanings of the words "paradise" and "heaven" are not universally agreed upon. Here, for example, is a page listing sources claiming that "heaven" and "paradise" can be understood as identical or as referring to different things:

1. often Paradise The Garden of Eden.
2. Christianity.
1. The abode of righteous souls after death; heaven.
2. An intermediate resting place for righteous souls awaiting the Resurrection.
3. A place of ideal beauty or loveliness.
4. A state of delight.

[Middle English paradis, from Old French, from Late Latin paradisus, from Greek paradeisos, garden, enclosed park, paradise, from Avestan pairidaeza-, enclosure, park : pairi-, around + daezo, wall.]

On that same page are other references implying that the word's meaning has changed over time, making the question of whether paradise cannot mean heaven somewhat unclear.

And check this reference out. In it, paradise is considered part of heaven:

Paradise. What does scripture mean by the phrase “bosom of Abraham” in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man? It appears that the answer is Paradise since the Holy Spirit tells us that Paradise is either in heaven or is heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-4),

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago - whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows - such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man - whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows - was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. (NASB) 2 Corinthians 12:2-4

Paradise is in the third heaven. The first heaven is our atmosphere; the second heaven is our universe and the third heaven is where God lives. The third heaven is a spiritual realm. This is where Jesus promised the thief on the cross he would go. The thief believed in Jesus, and as a result, the thief did not have to do anything.

And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (NASB) Luke 23:43

There was no time, no opportunity. He just believed, depended on Jesus, and as a result he went to Paradise (Rev. 2:7).

But wait-- there's more! This is from a much more reliable source, the Catholic Encyclopedia (paragraph breaks added for easier reading):

The uncertainty and confusion of the current Jewish ideas concerning paradise may explain the paucity of reference to it in the New Testament. The first mention of the word occurs in Luke, xxiii, 43, where Jesus on the cross says to the penitent thief: "Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise."

According to the prevailing interpretation of Catholic theologians and commentators, paradise in this instance is used as a synonym for the heaven of the blessed to which the thief would accompany the Saviour, together with the souls of the righteous of the Old Law who were awaiting the coming of the Redeemer.

In II Corinthians (xii, 4) St. Paul describing one of his ecstasies tells his readers that he was "caught up into paradise." Here the term seems to indicate plainly the heavenly state or abode of the blessed implying possibly a glimpse of the beatific vision. The reference cannot be to any form of terrestrial paradise, especially when we consider the parallel expression in verse 2, where relating a similar experience he says he was "caught up to the third heaven."

The third and last mention of paradise in the New Testament occurs in the Apocalypse (ii, 7), where St. John, receiving in vision a Divine message for the "angel of the church of Ephesus," hears these words: "To him that overcometh, I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God." In this passage the word is plainly used to designate the heavenly kingdom, though the imagery is borrowed from the description of the primeval Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis.

Another site says:

Question: "What is paradise? Is it different than heaven? Where do people go when they die until Christ comes back?"

Answer: The word paradise is used as a synonym for Heaven (2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7). What we do know for sure is that there has always been a separation of believers and unbelievers (Luke 16:19-31). The righteous have always gone to paradise, the wicked have always gone to Hell (Hades). For right now, both heaven (Paradise) and Hell (Sheol) are “temporary holding places” until the day when Jesus Christ comes back to judge the world based on whether or not they have believed in Him. One day, all will be sent to their eternal destination. The wicked to the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15) and the righteous to a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21-22).

Earlier in the day, while researching this question at the office (shhhh), I found a source that very explicitly said that, in Christian theology, paradise and heaven were in no way the same thing. I've been trying to find that particular source again, and would gladly quote it now if I had the link handy.

Suffice it to say that paradise and heaven are seen as synonymous by a number of theologians. This doesn't answer the objective question of whether either really exists, and if they exist, whether they are identical. Perhaps they aren't.


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 27


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

the Diamond Sutra and meditation

When I began Seon-style seated meditation (Jpn. zazen; Kor. jua-seon or ch'am-seon, the latter term being more explicitly Seon/Zen in valence) at a Korean temple in Germantown, Maryland, Master Shin told us to approach meditation thus: "The mind has no address." Later on you come to realize that that maxim applies to more than just when your ass is on the cushion, but I've found Master Shin's formulation to be the perfect way to get me right into meditating.

When your mind has no address, you don't "make" or "own" any mental phenomena. When a thought arises, it simply arises. Eventually, it falls away. Let your mind be like a cork bobbing on the ocean: when a wave lifts the cork up, the cork simply goes up, then comes back down again. There should be no hand there, forcing the cork to remain at the same level. When you don't "make" or "own" any mental phenomena, your mind is like a mirror, which keeps none of the images it reflects. Red appears in the mirror; it disappears. Nothing kept. Light is reflected off the mirror's surface; it doesn't take up residence there. The mirror's surface, like your meditative mind, is not an "address" for light.

Sperwer, who will also be listening to Hyeon-gak sunim's dharma talk this coming Sunday, told me he was brushing up on the Diamond Sutra, which is one of Hyeon-gak's favorite subjects (it's the topic this Sunday). Early on in that sutra, we read this:

[The Buddha said] Subhuti, what do you think? Does a holy one say within himself: I have obtained Perfective Enlightenment?

Subhuti said: No, World-honored One. Wherefore? Because there is no such condition as that called "Perfective Enlightenment." World-honored one, if a holy one of Perfective Enlightenment said to himself "such am I," he would necessarily partake of the idea of an ego-entity, a personality, a being, or a separated individuality. World-honored One, when the Buddha declares that I excel amongst holy men in the Yoga of perfect quiescence, in dwelling in seclusion, and in freedom from passions, I do not say within myself: I am a holy one of Perfective Enlightenment, free from passions. World-honored One, if I said within myself: Such am I; you would not declare: Subhuti finds happiness abiding in peace, in seclusion in the midst of the forest. This is because Subhuti abides nowhere: therefore he is called, "Subhuti, Joyful-Abider-in-Peace, Dweller-in-Seclusion-in-the-Forest."
(emphasis added)

Subhuti has no address. Fundamentally speaking, there is no Subhuti.


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 26


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Turkish action flicks and freedom of speech

A recent news article talks about how Turks are cheering a new anti-American action film that depicts American soldiers in Iraq as bloodthirsty barbarians. The movie's premise comes from a real-life event in which American Marines inadvertently captured a group of Turkish soldiers, having mistaken them for insurgents. Turks were, it appears, quite angered by the 2003 incident. I don't recall reading about it, and I don't know whether the gaffe got wide play in US news sources. It could be that the capture was dismissed by the US as a simple mistake-- one that could have cost lives, but a mistake all the same. Many Turks apparently viewed the incident as a blot on Turkish soldiers' honor. I can understand this somewhat: most modern militaries subscribe to an honor code.

The outrage now forms the emotional background of the Turkish action flick in question, "Valley of the Wolves: Iraq." Cool title. I like it. But here's what the article says about how Americans and Jews are portrayed:

Sam William Marshall, played by Billy Zane, is portrayed as a sociopath, killing people without a second thought and claiming that he is doing God's will, a thinly veiled reference to statements by President George W. Bush about America's "crusade" for democracy in Iraq and the Middle East.


Other scenes show ruthless marines killing Iraqis and soldiers mistreating inmates at Abu Ghraib prison. A Jewish-American doctor, played by Gary Busey, is shown as shipping inmates' organs to New York, London and Israel. All these, according to the screenwriter, Bahadir Ozdener, were inspired by real events.

Turkish audiences are cheering the film, in which evil Americans get their comeuppance. The article explores the possible roots of a burgeoning Turkish anti-Americanism, and I invite you to read the rest. But my concern is in a different area: freedom of expression.

Personally, I'm not motivated to see the film, though I'll be curious to see whether Korea decides to run it.* But I have no problem with Turkey producing such a film and allowing it to enjoy a wide audience. I trust that Americans will not be pouring out into the streets by the thousands, firing rifles in the air and screaming about defending their honor against insults by infidel dogs.

I also think we have no leg to stand on when it comes to filmic propaganda. I'm proud of our flag, but having lived overseas for several years, I've heard people from different countries observe that many American films and TV shows find some excuse to sneak the flag into a scene somewhere, even if only peripherally. I agree that we do export our patriotism.

And look at beefalo** Sly Stallone's contributions to cinematic jingoism: "Rocky IV" featured a heavily anti-Soviet message; "Rambo II" was anti-Soviet and anti-North Vietnam; "Rambo III" was thoroughly anti-Soviet (but also seemed pro-Muslim to me). I remember quite a few Vietnam vets-- people who'd actually seen war-- complaining about the draft-dodging Stallone's posturing. While I have nothing against an anti-Soviet or anti-communist message per se, I look back on those films-- especially our Vietnam prisoner of war extraction fantasies (Chuck Norris's "Missing in Action" films also come to mind) and cringe. In part, I cringe for the same reason that those vets were angry: Stallone seemed to be portraying himself as a hero. But I also cringe because, well... look at those films! They went far beyond the merely anti-communist to the heavily jingoistic. The 80s were, among other things, a time for Vietnam War catharsis and anti-Soviet rhetoric. A lot of flag-waving was going on.

In an earlier post, I said that a certain journalist was naive not to realize that a given country will have a country-centric perspective. The same insight applies here: why shouldn't Turkey make a pro-Turkey film? Sure, I might think the film is the collective product of assholes, but then I remember that hilarious slow-mo shot of Rambo firing an explosive-tipped arrow into the Vietnamese camp commander in "Rambo II"-- a reminder that asshole filmmakers are everywhere. It's entertainment, folks. If I uphold free expression as a universal right, then self-consistency demands I do the same for Turks as I do for the Jyllands-Posten cartoonists.

And there's a reason why I'm sure Westerners won't be rioting over this Turkish flick. Classicist blogger Michael Gilleland at Laudator Temporis Acti provides the reason, courtesy of Hugh Lloyd-Jones:

The occasional fun poked at the gods in comedy is no evidence against the religious conservatism of the common man; it is when religion is sure of itself that such amusement is permitted.

And so it goes with culture, too. Read the news about "Valley of the Wolves" and have a good chuckle.

*Foreign films in Korea tend to come mostly from the US, the UK, and France (oh, and Italy on occasion). I don't think I've ever seen ads for any films from Scandinavia or Russia-- or from any part of Africa, for that matter. This isn't a critique of Korea: such films are hard to find in America.

**Don't get me wrong: I like Stallone in general. His performance in films like "F*I*S*T" and "Copland" show he can be as talented an actor as he is a writer. He does seem to have a thing for playing inarticulate morons, though.

***Getting behind Eastern European nations is something I can understand. These folks, at least for now, still appreciate America's role in abetting the Soviet Union's collapse and removing the yoke of communism.


safe but tired

The Dad called me in the afternoon and told me he'd finally landed in Osan. It doesn't look as though I'll be seeing him any earlier than Wednesday afternoon or evening, though: he's pooped and wants to rest. If I had just completed a three-day trek on military hops from the DC area, through Illinois, then the state of Washington, then California, then Hawaii, and finally Korea, I'd be tired, too.

Sleep well, Dadso. See you when I see you.


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 25


Monday, February 13, 2006

the Dadso: arriving soon at a Seoul near you

Dad's been flying to Korea on Uncle Sam's dime, but it's taking a while. If I'm not mistaken, he left DC on Saturday, and won't be arriving in Osan until, I conjecture, early or mid-Tuesday. I may have to go down and get him, or the military'll show him how best to travel up to Seoul.

This morning (Monday), I got an email from my brother David saying that Dad was in Hawaii, and would be waiting about 14 hours before taking a direct hop from Hawaii to Korea. I have no clue how long it takes your typical military transport plane to fly that distance, but if the email arrived around 8AM, and I'm typing this at 11PM... Dad should've left Hawaii about an hour ago, and should in theory be on his way. So, yeah-- Dad'll be here Tuesday morning, maybe in Seoul by the afternoon. I finish teaching at 3:40PM, and imagine I'll hook up with Dad sometime soon after that.

Dad's here on business, I guess you could say. On behalf of my mother's Korean-American women's society, Dad is supposed to take pictures (or is it video?) of a certain school for orphans. The footage is then to be edited into a larger presentation by the women's society, explaining what sorts of things the society is funding. Dad'll be here for a few days, maybe even a week, then head on back. It'll be great to have him over. Maybe this time he won't choose the expensive accommodations, eh? I'm prepping my humble abode for him.


how not to write a news article

This, from an article by AP writer Nancy Armour re: about poor Michelle Kwan, who at age 25 has lost her last chance to go for an Olympic gold (cringe-inducing part in italics):

Kwan's last chance to win the only medal that has eluded her grasp -- an Olympic gold -- ended sadly Sunday when she withdrew from the Turin Games because of a groin injury.

She has chased that medal for a decade, coming so close twice that she could feel its heavy weight around her neck. Now she's headed home, her neck as empty as her heart.

Ms. Armour, your head is as empty as my... head.

Shit, that is hard to write.

UPDATE: Here's another example of suck-ass Olympic coverage. While I'm leery of over-the-top conservative rhetoric, I'm also leery of bitter, petty drivel like this from journalist and blogger Pierre Tristam. It's the sort of diatribe that reminds us that evidence for the existence of liberal media abounds. While I'm not so naive as to say all media are liberal, I think it's a good bet that most of the print media, and much of what's on TV, skews leftward. Tristam tries several times to paint NBC as a neocon shill; I'll leave it to actual neocons to rebut that silliness, if they feel so inclined.

One thing that bugs me in the article is the naive assumption that American coverage shouldn't feature more America-related material. A globe-trotting journalist should know better than to complain about this without qualifying his complaint: the fact of the matter is that other countries covering the Olympics are busily putting their own country-centric spin on the proceedings. That's how it works in Korea when there are major international events, and it's what I remember from my time in France. This is only natural, not a sign of arrogant hegemonism. I don't resent Koreans for a Korea-first approach to coverage, nor do I resent the French for a France-first approach. It's a long-known fact that cultures tend to view themselves as Omphalos Gas, the belly-button of the earth. Tristam, intent on showing us how one-sided a journalist he can be, fails to note this.*

On his blog, he also rather embarrassingly misspells indépendant in his Voltaire quotation (right-hand sidebar). It's "-dent" in English; "-dant" in French, mon pôte. For those who don't read French, the quote is a good one, and Tristam's misspelling gives it new meaning:

Il n’y a rien de si dangereux qu’un homme indépendent [sic] comme moi, qui aime à rire et qui hait les sots.

"There is nothing so dangerous as an independent man like myself, who loves to laugh and hates fools."

*Then again, you might counter that I should stop resenting newspapers for having a "my agenda first" approach. Ouch. Touché.


Smells Like Golgotha: Chapter 24


Sunday, February 12, 2006

un week-end mouvementé

Along with the powerblogging, I've had plenty of stuff to do this weekend:

1. extra work for a buddy of mine
2. shopping for DVDs for my upcoming Movie English class
3. planning the Movie English curriculum
4. writing up lesson plans for my Intensive 2 Conversation class
5. writing up skit scripts for the same class (we're performing a skit for the end of term; the other Intensive classes are doing the same as well)
6. preparing for the imminent arrival of my father, who's taking military hops to get here courtesy of Uncle Sam (ah, the benefits of being a retired E-8)

On Friday I had the chance to eat a rib-sticking dwaeji-kalbi lunch with Nathan Bauman of Seoul Hero, and just today I spent a couple hours meditating at Hwagye-sa with the inimitable Sperwer, who also brought me over to his pad to meet his adorable daughter and to chow down on some fantastic home-made Italian grub. I'm still bloated from that experience-- a day that began with middle-way intentions ended in the wholesale slaughter of penne pasta with red sauce, Caesar salad, and great bread.

The dharma talk today was by the two resident Eastern European monks, whom I've seen many times before. I can never remember the name of the serious, senior Polish dude. The other monk, Bo Haeng sunim, who I think is Lithuanian (Sperwer's surmise as well), claimed his talk was about "life and death." He covered a wide range of topics, actually: the problems with practicing too hard, how to handle the deaths of loved ones, the lack of wisdom among those who talk about the dharma (the Polish monk smiled at this, as he was next up to talk), and a few vignettes about the Kwaneum order's founder, Seung Sahn.

Of those vignettes, the one that struck me most was in response to a question from a Korean man in our group. The man had two children in their twenties, and he was worried because they were both influenced by Christianity, while he and his wife were still practicing Buddhists. "My children might want to bring home prospective spouses who are Christian. What can I tell my children to get them thinking correctly?" he asked (or something to that effect).

Bo Haeng's answer was a story from Seung Sahn's early days at a Zen center outside Korea. Apparently, some gentleman, a super-dedicated practitioner, was causing his family a lot of grief: he'd want to meditate from 8 to 9AM every Sunday, and he demanded that the family be absolutely quiet. When they weren't, he'd storm about telling them to SHUT UP! The family members finally complained to Seung Sahn that the man's Zen practice was causing them suffering. Seung Sahn called the man in and wasted no time yelling at him: "Your most important Zen practice is loving your family!" How easily we miss the point of practice, eh? "So first, love your children," Bo Haeng told his Korean listener.

A lot of people today seemed to be missing the point in some way or other. As per usual, many of these people had not shown up for seated meditation; they had come only for the dharma talk (Bo Haeng shook his finger a few times at such people). Both monks noted that lack of practice leads to the sorts of useless questions being asked. Neither monk gave particularly satisfactory answers to the questions they heard, but that's pretty consistent with the Zen monks I've heard elsewhere: in the end, you can't expect to be spoon-fed an answer.

One girl in particular seemed intent on asking question after question; Sperwer later noted that the monks showed "remarkable restraint" in how they dealt with her. The flatly declarative tone of her questions, and the fact that she kept interrupting both monks, indicated that she was more about the business of telling than asking. We all have those moments, I suppose, but most of us retain enough awareness to know when we're overstepping our bounds. This girl had no such clue, and the Polish monk eventually closed his eyes and said, "Hannah, I like your questions, but you have to give other people time to ask theirs." Bodhisattva ethic: consider others. It doesn't matter how loftily intellectual you are if you're prone to forgetting the basics of what it means to be human.

Hannah's questions were a strange combination of technical discourse and impertinent accusation. At one point, she proclaimed, "Zen is Taoism." Made me wonder if she'd been reading Ray Grigg. "Zen is not Taoism," said the Polish monk. Perhaps he said that merely to shake her tree, or maybe he really meant it. Hannah didn't like Bo Haeng's negative comments about Muslim behavior on the news (Bo Haeng was in no way casting aspersions on Islam as a whole; he was noting the same thing I've been trying to note-- that such behavior is abysmally stupid), and she said, "But if we practice sincerely, then we have to be believe that we are all one, so we can't make distinctions!"

Hannah betrayed a naive understanding of what the nondualistic "one" means for a Zen Buddhist. "One," in the Buddhist nondualistic sense, isn't really approachable through the discursive. It's certainly not the numerical "one" to which Hannah was referring. The numerical one is still dualistic: one as opposed to two, or one as opposed to three, or one as opposed to nothing. Nondualism is not monism.

Hannah is right to see Taoist themes in Zen, but she should have known better than to come to a dharma talk looking for technical answers to questions she could research on her own. The monks are, as always, interested in dealing with the person-- with Hannah herself, and her situation. Neither monk's answers were intended to make her (or any other questioners) comfortable, but to throw the questioners' questions back on themselves. This is the style of monkish compassion.

I did admire Hannah's doggedness, though. While she was manifesting a certain amount of ego in her rudeness and attachment to her own ideas, she was also un-self-conscious in her aggressive hunt for answers. I think the monks admired that as well, however exasperated they might have been.

The monks dealt ably with all questions, but as I noted before, not everyone was happy with the answers they received. One shy Korean woman, freaked out after reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead following the death of a relative, didn't seem too pleased with the incomplete answer she got from the Polish monk, who truthfully proclaimed himself ignorant of many aspects of Tibetan Buddhism. He congratulated the lady on her fear of death ("The stupidity all humans share is to think death is far off"), and told her she should try living mindfully in the present ("Keep this moment," he said). The lady smiled and bowed, but the look on her face said she wasn't comforted.

People often make the Marxian mistake of thinking religion is primarily about comfort or refuge-- an opiate for the alienated masses. It can be an opiate, to be sure, but religion is many other things as well. Sometimes it's the kick in the ass that gets you moving in the right direction-- toward love and compassion and altruism, as opposed to hate and evil conduct and selfishness. Today, I think, we saw a good example of religion's better traits. Compassion, despite certain leftist myths to the contrary, doesn't always take a tender form, and isn't always about coddling and being sensitive to others' feelings.

I had my own pride issues to deal with during meditation. Having long ago given up on the half-lotus (thanks to fat thighs, my left foot keeps slipping off the top of my right leg), I usually do the so-called "monk's posture," which involves cheating a bit: your left calf is simply placed atop your right calf, such that your left foot is resting partly on your right knee, not tucked in the fold of your hip as the lotus requires. This is far more comfortable for me, but it still cuts off circulation in my left calf. The question then becomes what to do during walking meditation.

Had I listened to my pride today, I would have maintained the posture throughout the first thirty minutes, then risked limping with a sleeping (then tingly) leg during the walking session. Instead, I dropped my left leg and stuck it under my right leg: voilà-- regular Indian style posture. Circulation returned, and I was fine during the walking meditation. I kept that posture for the following sessions of seated meditation.

My second bout with pride occurred as I felt a tickle in my throat approaching "cough" status. Not good. The question that formed in my mind was: if the coughing gets bad, what should I do? Then I remembered the lesson of snot, and suddenly everything was better. I let go of the problem and kept on meditating.

And now I'm home. Tonight, I'm finishing up a lot of my to-do list, so the next thing you'll see from me will be Chapter 24 of "Smells Like Golgotha."

PS: Hyeon-gak sunim is giving a dharma talk next Sunday at Hwagye-sa, at 1PM. I expect it'll be crowded. He'll be using the main dharma hall and not the smaller Zen Center for his talk. Come one, come all-- but most important, come early. I'm thinking of bringing my own cushion next week: I imagine they're going to run out of cushions at the temple. Hyeon-gak is something of a celebrity here: an American Zen monk from the Kwaneum order who speaks Korean pretty fluently, but with a heavy New Jersey accent.


on holding people accountable

What does it mean when we hold people accountable for their actions?

Before we talk about "accountable," let's talk about "responsible."

According to Herbert Fingarette in his little book Confucius: The Secular as Sacred, there are two major senses of the word "responsible." In the first sense (1), it merely means being the originator/locus of a given act. In the second sense (2), it means being a moral agent.

Consider a hungry bear that kills a hiker. The bear is responsible for the hiker's death in the first sense of the word, insofar as it is indeed the being who killed the hiker: we can point to the bear and say, "That bear did it." The bear is not responsible, however, in the second sense: the bear isn't a murderer. It killed the hiker because it was hungry and because it is the nature of a bear to kill its prey, human or otherwise.

No one seriously contends that the bear is morally reprehensible because "it could have done otherwise." A family member might harbor enmity against the bear, and the community might desire the bear's death, but it's doubtful that the bitterness would arise from a moral assessment of the bear. The bear isn't adjudged evil.

The same is not true for a perfectly sane but enraged person who kills another person. In this case, the murderer is responsible for the killing in both senses of the word, and is generally thought reprehensible. This is why murderers love the insanity plea: it's a declaration that a person is not responsible in sense (2) of the word. The murder "couldn't be helped."

Let's move into current events, then.

If some person "P" wants to argue that violent/deadly Muslim outrage is the inevitable result of provocation-by-cartoon, they are saying that Muslims are responsible for their behavior in sense (1) of the term, but not sense (2). This attitude, which is meant to be charitable, instead dehumanizes the Muslims in question and treats them as beings without freedom of choice, little different from (and just as inhuman as) the hungry bear.

Suppose P, upon hearing the above, decides to backtrack and say "Well, such Muslims aren't inevitably moved to overreact, but come on-- did you really expect them to do otherwise? You have to admit that their overreaction was a likely outcome." What then?

I hate to take Dr. Vallicella's tone, but the above indicates deep moral confusion. If there is even a slight likelihood that other actions are possible, then a person who chooses to be violent has still made a choice and is still responsible for his action in the second (moral) sense of the word. The person who chooses violence is not exculpated by specious talk of probability and likelihood.

Consider my own case. I'm a fat slob and constantly hungry. Let's pretend that I've publicly declared I'm on a diet now. If you offer me a cookie (especially a Pepperidge Farm chunky chocolate chip one, with a small glass of milk), there's a very high probability I'll break down and grab it, perhaps accidentally taking your hand and forearm as well (no hard feelings).

I've said I'm on a diet. I know I shouldn't take the cookie. Am I acting according to my compulsions and therefore a "victim" of the effects of obesity? Not at all. Choice is still open to me. I am not exculpated, no matter how strong the compulsion that moved me to take the cookie and part of your arm. You would be right to hold me accountable for not having shown any self-discipline.

Moral convictions are useless if inconsistently applied. We are told by the appeasers that we in the West need to be sensitive to the feelings, morals, and mores of other cultures and religions. The appeasers are very quick to say these things, and there's some validity in the admonition, but they seem unwilling or unable to broadcast the same message to the other side-- to the people who, in my opinion, need to hear such a message far more than we do. Why is that? Why the hypocrisy?

Can we hold violent protestors and kidnappers and threat-makers accountable for their actions? Of course we can, if for no other reason than that they are threatening us (though I hope we would do so for nobler reasons than that).

As a side note, I'll observe that the contention that we live in separate cultures, and should therefore suspend judgment of the Other or resign ourselves to our impercipience, is increasingly suspect. Yes, there are distinct cultures, but in an era of globalization, we are discovering not only what makes each culture unique, but what makes them all, in many ways, the same. It is therefore less and less legitimate to argue that standards from one culture cannot apply to actions in another. And as long as the angry Muslims demand respect, it is merely parity that we should do the same. If everyone managed to do this nonviolently (which is, after all, the more civilized route), so much the better.

Conclusion-- the appeaser can take one of two routes:

(1) He can contend that a Muslim protestor's violence is an inevitable reaction. In doing so, the appeaser is denying the protestor's status as a human being, for such a protestor lacks free will and is, morally speaking, no different from an animal following a natural compulsion.

(2) He can contend that a Muslim protestor's violence is not inevitable. In doing so, he commits himself to the (correct) notion that the Muslim is a human being who has freely chosen the path of violence, in the knowledge that other paths are available. It matters nothing whether those other paths are exceedingly difficult, or if the provocation (by a cartoon, say) is unbearably insulting. And in contending the Muslim is a moral agent, the appeaser commits himself to the idea that the Muslim is subject to moral judgement. To be consistent, to be moral, the appeaser must abandon his appeasing stance and act on his conviction that the protestor's violence is wrong.

Bernard Lonergan, my theological bugbear, framed human thought and action this way:

(at the cognitive level)

1. experience
2. understand
3. judge
4. decide

(at the "transcendental imperative" level)

1. be attentive
2. be intelligent
3. be reasonable
4. be responsible

Belief not followed by action is worthless.

FOUND: At the end of an online article at CNN's website, the following:

CNN is not showing the negative caricatures of the likeness of the Prophet Mohammed because the network believes its role is to cover the events surrounding the publication of the cartoons while not unnecessarily adding fuel to the controversy itself.

There are any number of reasons not to show those cartoons, but CNN cites not wanting to "unnecessarily add fuel to the controversy." Based on what I wrote above, what do you suppose CNN's assessment of the angry Muslims is? In CNN's view, are those Muslims free human beings? Is CNN making a paternalistic assumption about the knee-jerk, animalistic nature of Muslim anger? Might CNN be committing the fallacy of contending that Muslims are free, but likely to overreact, and therefore not to be blamed for overreaction (i.e., increased Muslim anger would be CNN's fault)? Discuss!

A general question: Is it ever legitimate to say, "So-and-so makes me angry."? Sure, we say such things all the time. But is the thought justifiable if we seriously believe ourselves free?

And a meta-question (this one will make Sonagi happy): by focusing the discussion on the moral obligations of the provoked, as I have, are we implying that all who provoke are blameless when they do so?

(I already have my own answer to that last question, at least as relates to the cartoon flap, but I'm curious what you all think.)