Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Ave, al-Jiha'awa!

My Pet Jawa is currently hosting a YouTube video that simultaneously parodies radical Islam and The Charlie Brown Christmas Special. I have to agree with the commenters who predict that this video will be pulled by YouTube's hypocritical minders (the ones who allow terrorist propaganda to flourish on their site) soon, so watch the vid while you can. If you can't fuse religion with humor, there's little hope for humanity.

That reminds me: "South Park" and Comedy Central need to grow a set of balls on this issue. "South Park" just parodied the recent death of "Croc Hunter" Steve Irwin by portraying Irwin in hell with a stingray stuck in his chest, and Comedy Central defended "South Park" by noting that the show routinely offends people-- so what? So why not apply that logic to a good ol' Islam parody? Hell, Jesus is a regular cast member on the show, right? And Judaism is gleefully flogged as well. I think there's enough room for the youngest of the Abrahamic religions to be set on the grill alongside its parents.


the upcoming spanking

US general erections are upon us; they happen November 7th, and it's not looking good if you're a Republican. George Allen's small-minded attempt at smearing his opponent Jim Webb by pointing to the latter's trashy novels is a bad move, very likely to backfire. Mark Foley's fall from grace, while almost certainly helped along by Democrats, was fundamentally Foley's own doing, and didn't exactly help the GOP cause.

I've been predicting a Democrat backlash for 2008, and see little reason to back off that prediction (though I'd still vote for Rudy Giuliani if we were to be the GOP nominee for president). The backlash may be starting early, though; my tentative prediction for the US Congress is that the Dems won't enjoy a sweeping electoral victory, but they will end up with a bare majority in both Houses. Which is good: these are midterm elections, and our government could use a little dynamic tension right about now. Nearly two presidential terms' worth of GOP yes-manning hasn't convinced me that a single party holds all the wisdom. While I'm not a fan of the Democrats, either, I think the GOP could do with a good spanking this time around. No hard feelings, gents, but I'm pretty sure your number's up.


Halloween party

Well, it was certainly better than last year's party. More students came by, games were actually fun, and though the party was still a bit disorganized, it wasn't a bad deal at all-- more of a benign chaos than a logistical snafu. Alas, the food featured pizzas that all had onions in them. But the subtly flavored popcorn balls-- almost the size of my fist-- made up for the pizza. Another difference this time around: last Halloween, I was suffering those interminable headaches. Things are better this year.

More later.


Monday, October 30, 2006

death on my mountain

The pre-Halloween ghoulishness continues: the Nomad reports that a group of four people entered into an online suicide pact; three ended up drinking poison on Namsan; the fourth backed out and is being charged by police for having abetted the suicides of the other three. Her reason for wanting to kill herself?

I was suffering from guilt for temporarily withdrawing from university without telling my parents.

Readers of this blog already know how I feel about suicide. Yes, I do judge.


caught up on "Galactica"

I've made it. I'm through Season Two of "Battlestar Galactica," and at the suggestion of Jason, have also begun to listen to the Ronald Moore podcasts. I'll try to follow Season Three somehow. Not sure how yet, but I'll figure it out.

The story, so far, seems not to be quite as liberal as some would make it out to be (though Ronald Moore himself does come off as a typical Hollywood lefty). As a political centrist, I see the show, overall, as fairly left-leaning, but offset with some perspective from the right. The idea, for example, that a military should remain vigilant and that humans too easily forget the horrors of the past is illustrated quite clearly by the time we reach the end of Part Two of the Season Two finale. The episode about the black market reaffirmed the conservative conviction about the necessities of human imperfection. The political aspect of the show seems pretty much to derail (wildly!) by the end of Season Two, but the thing that interests me most right now is the question of Cylon consciousness.

It's established early in Season One that Cylons come in twelve distinct models and that the humaniform Cylons, if killed, can have their consciousnesses uploaded and then downloaded into new bodies. We discover in Season Two that this procedure also applies to Cylon fighters, and that these fighters learn from experience with each successive download after each successive death. Death, it turns out, is a painful, unpleasant experience for Cylon entities, humaniform or otherwise, and individual Cylons can develop grudges if killed too often by the same parties (cf. the episode titled "Scar").

Imagine it this way. You're playing a video game. There's a nasty character in the game who always nails you: you die several times, always killed by the same bad guy. Your frustration builds, you keep on dying, but pretty soon you've got this character's patterns pinned down. Eventually you nail the bastard, because he has come to occupy your full attention. Understand that mindset? That, apparently, is what a Cylon becomes if it's killed often enough. It nurses a grudge, gains experience, and eventually gets its way. Pretty cool.

I'm tempted to say that Cylon consciousness follows a Hindu reincarnational template (in fact, the so-called "resurrection ship" doesn't facilitate resurrection, but reincarnation, as it's not the same Cylon body that comes to life). An individual Cylon, once killed, can be downloaded into another body. To that extent there's continuity of experience.

But several copies of the same model can have separate experiences, and it appears that, if more than one copy is killed, memories from the various bodies can be transferred into a single new Cylon body. The Cylon notion of selfhood, which appears still to be forming (Moore tells us the Cylons are "a young species"), is already something of a metaphysical-- not to mention psychological-- muddle. I find the muddle fascinating, but right now I'm not quite sure how it can be coherent.

Another question I have about the series relates to Cylon and human prophecy. Prophecy-- if defined as "words or visions having predictive value in relation to concrete future events"-- presents obvious philosophical problems for human freedom. In what way are you free if the future is already known?* The humans in the series view freedom as paramount: to be without freedom is to be like a Cylon, a slave to one's programming.

What, then, is prophecy for the humans and Cylons in "Battlestar Galactica"? It's not obvious that the series advocates the existence of any deity or deities; the Cylon predictions seem explainable by naturalistic means, and even President Roslin's chemical-induced visions strike me as little more than riffs off reality, low-risk predictions about the very near future. The series is frank about the diversity of religious perspectives, even within the respective human and Cylon societies.

So when a Cylon makes a prediction like, "You're going to find Kobol," the planet on which humanity supposedly originated, I would argue that the prediction's realization has everything to do with either Cylon manipulation or commonsense deduction. After all, as regards the Kobol prediction-- it turns out the Cylons are already on Kobol. The constant human search for a habitable planet, and the fleet's location in that part of the galaxy, made it inevitable that Kobol would be found. An easy call, then, for the Cylons. When President Roslin sees a vision of ancient Kobol on a satellite map, the vision is merely an extrapolation of what the satellite map actually shows: the ruins of a city. Prophecy in this series, then, doesn't seem to offer much in the way of stunning revelations.

Cylon society continues to intrigue me. We have no clear idea about Cylon social hierarchy. Who's in command, exactly? Cylons are a strange mix of telepathic massmind, machine consciousness, and human individualism. It's hard to say whether this is (a) the result of sloppy writing or (b) the tantalizing hints of a much larger but still-hidden civilizational pattern. It's interesting to see certain Cylons-- those that have experienced love to some degree or other-- developing something approaching a conscience.

Gaius Baltar, alas, remains about the same as he's always been, which is a disappointment. There is one Baltaric twist I enjoy, however: just as the curvy number Six infects his consciousness and appears in visions, so it is that Baltar now appears in visions to one of the Sixes on Caprica. This would seem to suggest that the illusory Six and the illusory Baltar really are just unconscious projections. But don't quote me on that. This might not be the "Fight Club" scenario I think it is.

The writers have to be careful, though. If Cylons are already capable of human emotion, they should be capable of falling into the same psychic traps humans do. They should be foiled by their own impatience, for example, and dissension should be more a fact of life in Cylon culture than it currently is. This, I think, needs to be worked out in successive episodes. I'm not sure the writers themselves have a clear idea what, exactly, Cylon society is all about-- how it's organized, what motivates it, etc. Season Three apparently brings a new writer on board; I view this move with some caution, because there's a chance that too many cooks can spoil the pot.

By the way: you all know that Jim Kirk wouldn't hesitate to fuck a Cylon woman. All hail the interstellar Canadian!

*Example: I know my son will eat a cookie I place on the corner of the dining room table. Some people leap on this scenario as an example of how human freedom and foreknowledge can be compatible: I foreknow the cookie-eating event, and my son freely chooses to eat the cookie. But that's not the case: if I know for a fact that my son will eat the cookie, in what way have I made a case that my son is free? If anything, my foreknowledge would appear to be based on my son's lack of freedom, to wit: his inability to break a compulsion.

The deeper point is this: if you know something is going to happen, then it must happen. Your foreknowledge doesn't cause the event, but it is a reflection of that event's inevitability. Something known must be there to be known. To know of a future event is to imply that the event actually lies in one's future.

Coming back to the son/cookie example, then: if there's even a chance that my son might not eat the cookie, then it cannot truly be said that I know what my son is going to do. All I can say is that I know what he might do, or what he's likely to do. Not the same thing at all as knowing what will come to pass.

Let's expand this discussion. If (1) God knows that you're going to sneeze in five minutes, and (2) God has known this since eternity, and (3) God's knowledge is infallible, then you will sneeze in five minutes. In fact, if you think about it, you will see that cosmic events have to line up in such a way that your sneeze is even possible: this galaxy has to form; this solar system has to come into existence; this planet has to coalesce; natural history has to produce human life; humans have to produce precisely the civilization in which you currently find yourself; your life has to be ordered in such a way that you find yourself before a monitor, reading this prediction: your sneeze will occur in a spatiotemporal context that is the result of an amazing constellation of factors. All those factors crystallize into the sneeze-moment. To say that "God knows you'll sneeze in five minutes" is to imply God's foreknowledge of all the events leading up to the sneeze. And quite likely, those that follow it, as no one seriously argues that God's foreknowledge has temporal limits.

The above is an argument for strong determinism; I reject it not on logical grounds, but on the hunch that people enjoy a measure of free will, and that there are "possible worlds" in which certain events occur or don't occur. Freedom means that, when I perform action X, I could have done otherwise. I am not a compatibilist; I don't see how freedom and determinism can be reconciled.


pretty horrible

An 18-year-old girl had to have a mastectomy when she became severely infected after receiving nipple piercings for her 18th birthday. Ugh. Remind me never to get piercings.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

"Galactica": the real allegory

The Cylons aren't radical Muslims. They're North Koreans.

America and the Soviets created them.
They started a war.
They live among us.
There are many copies.
And they have a plan.

Yes: the Cylons are an analogue for the North Korean spies who live among us in various guises, posing as seemingly harmless Korean-Americans, infiltrating the highest levels of government, working toward the day when an eroding South Korean democracy will finally collapse and implode, and baby flesh will be on the menu both north and south of the DMZ.

The Cylons are the "children" of humanity-- blood relatives. North and South Korea claim to be united by blood, and the South views the North paternalistically. Like the Cylons and humans, the two Koreas share the same language; they understand each other's culture. And like the Cylons, the North either wants the South dead or assimilated. In addition, the South, like the humans in "Galactica," finds itself forever on the run-- on the run from the consequences of its own actions.

Oh, and it should be noted that in "Galactica," the nukes are an allegory for nukes.


liberté, j'écris ton nom

It was not killed.

It cannot die.

It roams among us.


100 Below: Volume 26

Lord Fortus: She will be mine.

Flunky: Indeed, my lord. You have seduced her.

Lord Fortus: Her soul belongs to me.

Flunky: She cannot break away. She is in your thrall.

Lord Fortus: The power of my dick has overwhelmed her.

Flunky: Your dick has wrapped itself snakelike around her mind. There can be no escape.

Lord Fortus: What is that smell?

Flunky: It is the smell of sexual conquest.

Lord Fortus: No, no-- that smell! Do you smell it?

Flunky: She poops in the bathroom, my lord.

Lord Fortus: She will never poop again!


Saturday, October 28, 2006

apple polly loggies

Apologies to certain fellow Koreabloggers who were in my neighborhood for a KOTESOL conference happening at Smoo. I, being single and lazy, woke up around 3:30pm after a nearly twelve-hour repose-- catch-up for the lack of sleep during the week (I was averaging five hours). If I'm not mistaken, Nathan gave a paper presentation today... it would have been worth the W60,000 admission fee to see him present, but while the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak, and I woke up far, far too late to attend. How'd it go, Nathan?

Apologies as well to Brian, who was (is?) in the area. Hope you gents had a good time. If I can manage to wake up about eight hours earlier next time, perhaps I'll join you all for lunch.


Ave, Maven!

The Maven sends me a link to a site demonstrating how Klingons carve pumpkins. She also provides a vivid graphic of what must be the world's deadliest hamburger.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Dear Mr. Limbaugh

Your recent accusation that Michael J. Fox, a victim of Parkinson's disease, was somehow faking his condition for the cameras has prompted me to remind you that you will never know the sweet taste of Grace Park's ass. That Mr. Fox's TV spot might have been calculated is beyond dispute: all such appearances are calculated. This is what philosophers call "trivially true." But claiming that Fox might be faking his symptoms is beyond contemptible.

Fat men with a lot of power think they can get all the ass they want. Maybe they can get their hands on the low-quality stuff, but when it comes to pure, refined, unadulterated assness, well... this is beyond their power to obtain. Grace Park is not for sale. Besides-- she's married. It gives me great pleasure to dangle her ass in your face, Rush: she will never be yours.

Goddammit. This political statement isn't working out the way I wanted it to. It's making me miserable as well, perhaps more miserable than Rush Limbaugh: I'm a fat man with no power, which means I have even less of a chance to tongue-wash those magnificent cheeks.

No power... except the power of the Force.

The Force is the Force-- of course, of course;
I'm using the Force on my horse, of course
that is, of course, because the horse is greeeaaaaaat at giving head!

Sorry... that just slipped out.

Me and animals. We go waaaaaay back.


why I'm in love with Camille

I wish I could write and talk like the world's smartest lesbian. Camille Paglia's take on Noam Chomsky, and on Bush's role in his increasing popularity (courtesy Droog):

Chomsky's hatred of the United States is pathological -- stemming from some bilious [problems] with father figures that are too fetid to explore. But Chomsky's toxic view of American imperialism and interventionism is like the playbook of the rigid foreign policy of the Bush administration. So, thanks very much, George Bush, you've managed to rocket Noam Chomsky to the top of the bestseller list!

Points off, Camille, for saying "boldfaced lie" instead of "baldfaced" in a different part of that interview. But otherwise, I love you and I think you've got a point. The current administration has long suffered from, among other things, a major PR problem.


LiNK email

One of the benefits of being with LiNK is getting the LiNK newsletter and LiNK-related emails (unfortunately, I have to fish them out of the trash because the subject line doesn't contain the magic words).

Since I don't do very much for LiNK despite having invited myself to be a member (they say anyone can join), the very least I can do is involve myself with some consciousness-raising. Not that the Koreablogosphere needs much help in this area: expat bloggers are pretty good about making themselves aware of what's happening up north, and about discussing the problem openly. But it's more than Koreabloggers who read this humble blog, and if I can get others in, say, the States or Europe or Africa to pay attention, to care, and to speak out on this issue, then so much the better. If a few of my regular Stateside and European readers could take up the battle flag and spread the word among their own readership, I'd appreciate that.

Here's the letter I just received:


The Plight of North Koreans in China and Beyond

Seoul/Brussels, 26 October 2006: The international community needs to do more to help thousands of desperate North Koreans who are fleeing their country or it may find the nuclear crisis with Pyongyang even more difficult to resolve.

Perilous Journeys: The Plight of North Koreans in China and Beyond,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the hidden, often shifting networks through which the border crossers seek better lives in China and third countries. The number is growing, and they are a source of tension between the two Koreas, but also between China and its neighbours and South Korea and the U.S.

China and South Korea have held back, even during the recent Security Council debate over post-test sanctions, from applying as much pressure as they might to persuade Pyongyang to reverse its dangerous nuclear policy, in part because they fear that the steady stream of North Koreans flowing into China and beyond would become a torrent if the North's economy were to collapse under the weight of tough measures.

"Clearly, the primary responsibility for the mounting humanitarian tragedy lies with North Korea but the international community has failed to find an effective means of dealing with the situation", says Peter Beck, Crisis Group's North East Asia Project Director.

Scores of thousands of North Koreans are risking their lives trying to escape their country's hardships in search of a better life. Meanwhile, due to natural and man-made disasters, the perfect storm may be brewing for a return to famine in the North. Though generally impervious to outside advice, Pyongyang should at least explore small steps of travel liberalisation. Some measures could be taken relatively easily without giving its leadership cause to fear for the survival of the regime.

Otherwise, China is the key to improving the situation. It should shift focus from keeping North Koreans out to protecting them once they have entered. Even if China does not allow North Koreans to seek asylum officially on its territory, it should stop forcible repatriation. At least until Beijing does so, neighbouring countries, who are all too eager to pass the buck, should not turn North Koreans crossing from China back to Chinese authorities, but instead contact either South Korea or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Having been most vocal about North Korean human rights, the U.S. and the EU member states should recognise and accept many more of these people for resettlement. South Korea should also play a more active (but understandably quiet) role to help North Korean border crossers trapped in China and beyond. But China is the key country.

"There needs to be a more sustained international engagement with Beijing on this issue", says Robert Templer, Crisis Group's Asia Program Director. "It should see how dealing with it better, and in cooperation with other countries, is really in its own interests".

Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) 32 (0) 2 541 1635
Kimberly Abbott (Washington) 1 202 785 1601
To contact Crisis Group media please click here
*Read the full Crisis Group report on our website: http://www.crisisgroup.org

The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering over 50 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.



My brother David emailed me the following pumpkin photos, which I now share with you, Gentle Reader. I'm especially fond of the vomit and suicide pumpkins, but I also love the pumpkin that appears to have ripped someone's skull out.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

holey crotch, Batman!

I am blessed with magnificent thunder thighs. When I walk, they rub each other through my pants like desperate lesbians in a prison porno. The result, as you might imagine, is not so different from Andy Dufresne's tunnel in "The Shawshank Redemption." Remember how Dufresne spent years and years digging that tunnel, inch by inch, until he had punched through the thick wall and dragged himself out of Shawshank? Geology is the study of pressure and time, Morgan Freeman's Red informs us. Well, after enough pressure and time, after enough passionate thigh-rubbing, the fabric of my pants begins to wear away, and tiny holes appear. It's taken my newest pair of jeans about ten months-- one lunar year-- for this to happen, but the dreaded crotch holes have finally arrived. If I leave those holes alone, they'll grow.

Like cancer.

Cancer generated by lesbian thighs.

The image is a bit muddled, but I think you understand what I'm trying to say.

On the main drag of the Smoo neighborhood, downhill from where I live, there's a cackling fat woman who runs a little second-floor shop in which she does clothing alterations and repairs. She repaired a different pair of pants for me without charge when I helped her decode an English-language letter from America that pertained to her son, who is attending high school in the States. The report basically had nothing but praise for her boy, so Madame Cackle happily patched up my pants for free and sent me on my way. I'll probably have to visit her again soon to repair these jeans before the holes become too big. While I'm at it, I've got another pair of pants needing even more extensive crotch repair; I might give those to her as well. While I've done such repairs on my own before, I know there's no substitute for the surgical precision of a sewing machine, and I think I can trust Madame Cackle to treat my crotch with care.

So that's on the agenda for tomorrow.


postal scrotum: Richardson on "Galactica"

Richardson writes with regard to "Battlestar Galactica":

On Battlestar Galactica; the 'politics' was extremely disappointing for me, but seems to have passed for the time being. Perhaps the writers made their statement, although I now conclude they do indeed live in their own little worlds.

The occupation to freedom fighter/terrorist comparison to U.S. policy and Iraq sort of bypasses some fundamental differences. First, the humans (blameless) in the series had been on the run from the Cylons for centuries, while Iraq (not so blameless) had been (at least until the Gulf War) manufacturing actual WMD and destabilizing the region. Second, the U.S. isn't trying to subjugate and absorb Iraq; we just need them to stop blowing themselves up for awhile before we go-and we aren't even taking their oil. Third, the series implies that Iraqi policemen are somehow traitors to their country, when In Reality, those guys are risking their arses to bring a little peace to their corner of the world.

But Sci-Fi knows that their audience is too hungry for more to let the politics stop them from watching. Me included, unless the BS continues. Leftist writers drive me nuts when they inject their politics into something that could be a lot better w/o it...

That's my vent...

Another conservative friend of mine said the show's politics are "so liberal my eyes bleed," but I see a good bit of political incorrectness to balance that out. First, note that the show affirms the largely conservative assumption that human nature isn't redeemable. No matter what idealistic rhetoric the characters bandy about, their actions bespeak a familiar human meanness, craftiness, and deceit. Humanity is as much a danger to itself as the Cylons are.

Plus, there's plenty of shit being blown up in almost every episode, which I think keeps the show appealing to righties. Heh.

If the series is going to last beyond the Iraq war (whenever that ends), the Cylons and humans will ultimately have to symbolize something other than an Islam/West conflict.* Perhaps they can simply evolve as characters in their own right, not necessarily linked by metaphor or analogy to events in our times.

A general remark about the series: the whole "riotous applause in the Command Information Center" thing is getting old.

"We've found water!" Yaaaaaaaay!

"We've found Starbuck!" Yaaaaaaaay!

"We've found the fleet again!" Yaaaaaaaay!

What Galactica needs is a nice orgy, right there in the hangar bay. It's the hangar bay, after all. Howzit hangin', babe? An episode devoted to the ins and outs of female Cylon pubic hair would be nice. I'll mail that request to Santa.

I've also begun to notice the clever ways in which the writers have crafted each episode's plot to show a minimum of "toaster" centurions. The centurions appear to be almost entirely CGI, so it's expensive to put them on screen. Animating them must be a bitch not only because the centurions have to be rendered in great detail (their silver coats reflect the light patterns of their surroundings-- not easy work for an animator), but also because the series is filmed in that jittery, hand-held cam style. Making a finely detailed CGI Cylon jiggle for the camera-- while running, no less... c'est pas évident, as the French say. It's not an easy thing to do.

The Cylons puzzle me. They can get pregnant, which implies they're made of organic (i.e., "wet") circuitry, a simulation that is accurate down to the genetic level, which implies accuracy at the atomic level. Biologically speaking, then, Cylons are clones, aren't they? Based on the Season One two-part finale, in which we're treated to the delightful vision of many naked Boomers inside a Cylon base star, we can also surmise that Cylons are, effectively, telepathic: they speak in turns, finishing each other's thoughts, in precisely the way the Agents from the Matrix series do.

So what we have is a race of telepathic clones-- of which there are twelve versions-- that are endowed with enormous intelligence, agility, and strength (cf. "Blade Runner" replicants). They are human in most respects: sweating, crying, laughing, and capable of holding perfectly normal conversations with human beings, which means they've mastered the fuzzy logic of human social interaction and possess anthropic percipience.

What confuses me about the Cylons is that, if they've developed a technology that demonstrates mastery reaching down to the genetic level... why aren't they attacking humans with mutagens? Cylons obviously have highly advanced nanotech. Seed a mutagen in the Galactica's constantly recycling atmosphere and quietly turn everyone Cylon!

Hmm. Always in motion is this series. Meditate on this, I will.

*I can hear the replies to this already: "That conflict isn't ending anytime soon!"


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

remarks on "Galactica"

I'm about to finish off Season One of "Battlestar Galactica." It's a compelling series, though not perfect. Here are a few thoughts.


The series seems mostly to be about politics at this point. We've got freedom fighter/terrorists, the phrase "stay the course," questions about constitutionality, the coexistence of government and the military, the separation of military and police powers, behind-the-scenes murders for political gain, and perhaps most amusingly to me, the full and very recognizable implementation of Robert's Rules of Order for parliamentary procedure. The rise to power of Gaius Baltar (I'm at Episode 11 or so) is intriguing. Speaking of which...


The character is cool in a "goofy Limey" sort of way, but the writers stripped away questions of moral ambiguity early on, which makes Baltar less interesting than he could have been. While the series is obviously shepherding the good professor toward a religious conversion from atheism to Cylon theism, I think it would have been more interesting to explore whether Baltar has even a trace of a conscience or altruism. Or maybe some writer decided that that would be too obvious a storyline.

Baltar's "hallucinations" of the buxom Number Six might be a bit more entertaining if the show didn't cue her scenes with the same damn music every time. That gets irritating when you're watching back-to-back episodes on DVD. But the discussions that Six and Baltar have inside Baltar's head (and the often hilarious consequences of those discussions for Baltar, who usually wakes up to find himself half-aroused in public) are necessary plot devices, because they give us tantalizing insights into what the Cylons are up to and why Baltar figures so prominently in their plan. Alas, Baltar's initial dismissal of religion sounds a bit dated, at least for people who've been involved, on some level, in the science/religion discussion over the years.


This device confuses me. The series didn't exactly make it clear that Baltar actually had a plan for a plausible detector, and then suddenly poof-- there it was, and it worked fine in sniffing out Boomer (to whom Baltar gave a pass at the prompting of his generously betitted Cylon muse).


Having read the extensive Wikipedia entries devoted to the new series, I already know that "Caprica Boomer" will bear a half-human, half-Cylon child in Season Two, which would mean that Cylons are a perfect genetic match for humans (in principle, then, Cylons can age). Even the crescent-shaped Cylon fighters (robotic Islam? we'll get to this in a bit) are organic on the inside, possessing something akin to blood and guts. This raises all sorts of philoso-geek issues for intellectual fans of the show. First and foremost is the question-- asked and answered in an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation"-- of whether a Cylon is a full-fledged sentient being that should be treated as though it possessed the same rights as humans.

The series-- at least as far as I've seen it-- doesn't provide easy or clear answers. The Cylons appear, for the most part, to be religious, and they even share the human trait of chauvinism, as seen in how two Cylons discuss a third Cylon, the Boomer model. Cylon religion is monotheistic, and God, for them, is always referred to in the masculine. This is in contrast with the humans' polytheism (humans worship the "Lords of Kobol"), and I take this difference in religion to parallel a similar theme found in the Matrix series: in those movies, machine intelligence (with the notable exception of the Oracle) views events in terms of their inevitability, whereas the humans are the ones who venerate the ability to choose. A pantheon of multiple gods, then, might represent human freedom, the power of choice: here is your sacred menu! The Cylons, who seem to care little for choice, funnel their theology into one true god, a god with an unalterable plan, no less, and this is consistent with the idea that the Cylons (most of them, anyway) are fatalists.

What's unclear to me is whether humaniform Cylons can communicate in a Borglike manner. Caprica Boomer and Number Six communicate verbally, but Six and her male cohort are able to follow Boomer and her human companion Helo... how, exactly? At a guess, there's a good bit of nonverbal communication going on.

The Cylons are self-replicating robots, but they are also able to evolve far more quickly than humans (about forty years from Robbie the Robot to "Blade Runner" replicant). If anything, Cylon evolution should follow a logarithmic curve. They might have missiles and projectile weapons right now, but within a year or so they should be toting far, far deadlier weapons along the lines of Larry Niven's Slaver disintegrator. One thing I always enjoyed about the Borg on Star Trek was their ability to adapt quickly to the new tricks the humans threw at them. I have high hopes that the Cylons will prove even scarier in that regard.

Then there's the problem of Cylons wanting to simulate humans at all. The human form isn't exactly the most efficiently designed. If I were a Cylon overlord, I'd want my Cylons manufactured (or bred, or force-grown, or nano-generated) in all different shapes and sizes, always with an emphasis on the intangible traits: adaptability, creativity, and so on. Why go through so much effort to pass undetected among humans? Why simulate humans to the point that a Cylon can breed with a human and produce progeny? I guess I'll have to wait and see what the Cylon master plan is before any of this can make sense.


The human religion, aside from being polytheistic, espouses a belief in historical cycles: this has happened before, and it will happen again. Many of the Cylons (at least the Number Sixes) seem to share this belief. How did the Cylons form their picture of history? Where did they get their notion of God? If we assume that humaniform Cylons possess intellects on the order of (or surpassing) Gaius Baltar's, we can also assume that they have been able to gather and process enormous amounts of data about the physical universe, as well as human history and psychology (so far, in Season One, there haven't been any aliens to learn from). How has this rapidly evolving view of the cosmos affected their religious outlook?

Cylon religion appears to be monotheistic and fatalistic. All things move according to plan, and no Cylon is uncomfortable with the idea that the plan's fruition is inevitable. In the episode where the Cylon gets tortured by Starbuck, he utters the phrase "I am God," a phrase that got Shirley MacLaine in a lot of trouble here on Earth, mainly because she was using the term in a fairly advaitic Hindu sense and not the traditional, Western classical theistic sense. This means that Cylon monotheism might actually have a bit in common with the vedantic worldview.

There appears to be some dissension among the Cylons, however, especially regarding how to relate to humanity. When one Cylon seriously ponders what it means to be the "children of humanity," perhaps implying that children have filial obligations, another Cylon blithely reminds the first that parents must die so that children can come into their own. That's a creepy thought: in the human world, parents and children can literally grow old together. There's no law of nature saying that parents must die for offspring to mature. It's enough for offspring to leave the nest-- something the Cylons did, after much violence, decades ago. Where did the Cylons get this idea of the role of parents and children?

Cylon religion, as represented by Number Six, also appears to be exclusivistic, and this might be a good moment to bring up the question of Cylon-as-militant-Muslim.

Think about the Cylon religion for a moment: we see conformism, an affirmation of God's omnipotence, a belief that all other gods are false gods, and what appears to be a strong desire to get some sort of message across or die trying. Cylons in Season One have already resorted to suicide attacks two or three times-- in one case the attack was an obvious allegory for Muslim suicide bombing. We also see that Cylon fighters are all shaped like crescents. Why would a machine intelligence design a crescent-shaped fighter? Are the Cylons basically militant Muslims in pursuit of the Twelve Tribes of Israel? Islam is, after all, a "child" of Judaism, seeing as it claims the same Abrahamic roots claimed by Christianity. If the Islam parallel holds, then the Cylon plan isn't the destruction of humanity: it's the assimilation of it.

Finally, there's the matter of divine influence on the proceedings. Up to now, I've had no reason to believe that the series takes the existence of God or gods seriously, but in the latter half of Season One, we see President Roslin having visions that turn out to be exactly like those found in scripture. This might be coincidence, of course, or the series' writers might be sneaking the divine in through a back door. In any event, it's quite cool to see that so much of the show's time is devoted to religious issues.


Ha ha! Totally American! I'm loving this, but I do have to wonder what people in other countries think of the show's take on the military, especially the question of military humor.

This isn't Star Trek. Star Trek was Gene Roddenberry's optimistic counterpoint to Robert Heinlein's starker, more bellicose vision of humanity's future, as seen in a novel like Starship Troopers. For Roddenberry, it's the military that does all the exploring, and especially in "The Next Generation," the military is barely a military at all, as the Borg demonstrated nicely when they first plowed through the Terran solar system, obliterating all defenses along the way. (Obviously, things were different when we got to "Star Trek: First Contact.") In "Battlestar Galactica," the military is the military. These are hardened fighters, not bon vivant scholars like Jean-Luc Picard.


The space combat scenes in the series owe a lot to Ron Howard. Let me explain. I remember being entranced the first time I saw the pilot episode of "Battlestar Galactica": space combat struck me as fairly realistic, with spaceships behaving like spaceships and not like the Millennium Falcon. But there was something awfully familiar about those combat scenes, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it until I remembered back to one scene in Ron Howard's excellent "Apollo 13."

You know the scene I'm talking about: it's where the three crewmen are doing a controlled burn of the LEM's engines to alter their approach vector so as to avoid skipping out of Earth's atmosphere or burning up on reentry. The frenzied camera, the small thrusters firing crazily in the external shots, the great CGI-- watch that sequence, then go watch a space combat scene in "Galactica." You'll see what I mean.


Easily the coolest character in my book. His repartee with Colonel Tigh is a great example of good writing: the senior officers' relationship is the first satisfactory SF analogue for the Kirk-Spock-McCoy rapport I've seen. Adama has his flaws, many of which are predictably brought to light whenever he locks horns with President Roslin, but he's also a man who understands honor and loyalty (at least so far in the series).


The second-coolest character. Cranky, crusty, still learning to be tough... and pussy-whipped by a scheming whore of a wife. This series isn't particularly kind in its portrayal of women.


Quite possibly the funniest character in the show. A bitter cynic and, it would appear, a chain smoker to boot. The anti-McCoy.


Whiny bitch in the Luke Skywalker mold. Perhaps disgruntled fans will send in millions of emails and his character will suffer a gruesome death at the hands of the first true alien the fleet encounters. Let us speak no more of him.


Quite cool, though I keep hoping Dirk Benedict will pop up in the series at some point, just as Richard Hatch has. Perhaps Dirk can claim to be the current Starbuck's father or something.


Sexiest cancer victim out there. I'd do her.


The CGI replacements for the ridiculous Cylons of the 1980s series look badass, but can't shoot for shit. They're obviously not Terminator material. I'll give them this, though: they always die well. It's a bit unnerving to watch machinery go limp after two shots to the metal brain casing.


Grace Park wins the International Yummy Award. Tricia Helfer's nicely built, and gentlemen prefer blondes, but... I'm no gentleman. Sorry, Trish. I'm curious to know whether Caprica Boomer is ever going to meet Galactica Boomer. Where I am in Season One, Helo now knows that Caprica Boomer is a Cylon, but no one in the fleet is aware that there are at least two Boomers wearing military uniforms.


"There are only twelve models," we learn in the pilot episode. (Who gave that message to Adama, anyway?) The humans now know how to spot three of them, including Number Six. I see no reason why the Cylons should limit themselves to only twelve models, but having complained about that already (see above), I'll say no more here.


Probably the weakest element in the show. Human fashion, human architecture, and human appliances all recall early 21st-century America. Cities have recognizable roads; flashbacks to scenes on Caprica show Humvee-like vehicles prowling the tarmac. This is unacceptable. How could humans develop faster-than-light travel-- the ability to move something as massive as a battlestar across great distances in a short amount of time-- and not have learned how to build superbuildings or create devices more clever than a toaster or a Humvee?

The big problem with this conception of humanity is that it seems highly unlikely that the fleet will ever find Earth. How embarrassing would that be for the show's writers, eh? The colonials reach Earth, where, by sheer coincidence, everyone dresses the same and speaks the same language-- English! Gods be praised! Let's go shopping!

Which reminds me: how could twelve human colonies, composed of what I assume to be billions upon billions of people, all speak one language? (I've wondered the same thing about the Klingons: surely that fractious alien race would speak thousands of different languages, just like Terrans!) If we've got English, why not French? Korean? Russian? Caprican?

Having recently enjoyed the movie "Thanks for Smoking," I can't help thinking that human civilization, as depicted on "Battlestar Galactica," is bringing the sexy back to smoking. Most of the main characters smoke, and at least two characters-- Tigh and Starbuck-- make drinking seem pretty cool, too-- or they at least make it look tempting for fence-sitters. Yet strangely, there's a dearth of fat people in the fleet. Perhaps they were too heavy to board the evac flights off the colony worlds? Were they roasted and eaten by the Cylons?

More thoughts are forming as I mull over this fascinating, well-written series. While I've got my misgivings about some aspects of the show, there's no doubt that the writers have hit upon an addictive mix of narrative tropes. In plain language: the series tells a damn good story, and I'm enjoying the hell out of it.


postal scrotum: LiNK makes Reuters

I received the following by email from a LiNK source:

North Korea nuclear row sharpens humanitarian fears

WASHINGTON, Oct 20 (Reuters) - An already dire humanitarian situation in North Korea looks set to worsen this winter after the impoverished country's nuclear brinkmanship resulted in sanctions and intensified scrutiny, aid workers and experts said on Friday.

North Korea has still not recovered from famine in the 1990s that experts believe killed about 2.5 million people, or 10 percent of the population. United Nations sanctions imposed after North Korea's Oct. 9 underground nuclear test do not cover food and humanitarian supplies and aid groups say they have been assured that the curbs won't bar them from operating in the country.

A day after North Korea announced its nuclear test, the World Food Program, the U.N.'s food relief arm, warned that it could be forced to halt distributions as early as January without more donations. Donors had committed only 10 percent of the $102 million the WFP sought last June North Korea, with only Ireland and Australia contributing.

Food aid from South Korea and China has also been scaled down, with Chinese relief down to a third of 2005 levels, WFP officials have said. "If the Chinese were to cut off their food program, there would be a more acute crisis," said the aid official. "There is a critical medicine shortage and there has been for the last decade because they spend their money on a million-man army instead of medicine."

U.S. activist Adrian Hong, whose group Liberty in North Korea helps refugees gain asylum in Western countries, said a recent tour of the region left him "very worried at the moment for the people we have in our shelters." China has stepped up security on its border with North Korea, a move that may have represented compliance with U.N. sanctions on illicit weapons trade.

But Hong said China was also fencing part of the border in a sign it might be trying to "eliminate the refugee problem by stopping refugees entirely."

"Once those fences go up and this winter gets difficult, more people are going to try to leave," said Hong, who talked with recent refugees in China last week and said all relayed accounts of hunger and malnutrition.

Marcus Noland, a scholar at the Institute for International Economics in Washington, said low grain output this year due to floods, appears to reflect hoarding by farmers after the state seized crops last year. "In certain areas, it's clear the government just sent the army in to take grain," said Noland. History and the political structure of North Korea suggests the army will pass the pain of sanctions on to the population.

"The military is going to get the resources it needs and ultimately the burden of these sanctions is going to be felt by common people," said Noland.

Just spreading the word. More:

N Korea food shortages "critical"

North Korean food shortages have grown worse after its recent nuclear test led donors to withdraw aid, the UN says. The UN official monitoring human rights in North Korea, Vitit Muntarbhorn, said the food shortage was critical. North Korea is already short of food and this year floods have damaged the harvest, making matters even worse.

President Kim Jong-Il's nuclear test has led to international condemnation of the secretive regime and sanctions against its nuclear programme. Pyongyang was due to receive 100,000 tonnes of food aid but will now get less than that, Mr Muntarbhorn said "Matters became ultra-complicated because of the missile test in July as well as the nuclear test recently, which prodded various potential contributors to reconsider giving the aid," he said.

"So there has been this sad and regrettable linkage between the various tests and the impact on the food situation."

And even more:

Thai police detain 83 North Koreans in raid

24 Oct 2006 13:01:17 GMT

Thailand violence

BANGKOK, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Thai police detained 83 North Koreans in a raid on a Bangkok apartment block on Tuesday in what appeared to be the latest group of refugees spirited out of the isolated hardline communist state.

The North Koreans, who had been living in the northern suburb of Pathum Thani for nearly one month, were being questioned at a local police station, Lt. Col Nikorn Chaivirawong told Reuters.

A South Korean man was also arrested in Tuesday's raid on the Ekpathum Apartments, a five-storey building where the North Koreans had occupied the entire fourth floor.

"He will face charges of bringing illegal immigrants into the country," Nikorn said of the South Korean whom he did not name.

It was not known how the group -- including 15 children -- had entered Thailand, but they may have followed the same route as other refugees, Nikorn said.

Last month, a group of 159 North Koreans were released after serving a 30-day jail sentence for illegal entry and allowed to leave Thailand.

Their destination was not made public, but it was likely South Korea, which almost always grants citizenship to asylum seekers from the North and which has lent tacit support to fugitive groups in the past.

That group was arrested in a police raid on a Bangkok house in August after being smuggled out of North Korea and into Thailand via China and eastern Myanmar.

Several organisations run by Christians or human rights activists and former North Korean refugees are known to be at work helping people get to South Korea.

To avoid a crackdown in China, which has deported some fugitives, they are shifting operations to countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.

According to Seoul's Unification Ministry, 1,054 North Koreans made it to the South in the first seven months of 2006 -- an increase of nearly 60 percent over the same period in 2005.

Come on, Thailand! Actually, it would be nice if those refugees continued on their way to South Korea.


postal scrotum: Oriental Redneck writes in

Tony writes:


First of all, I can't believe that I just had to put in that subject line just to avoid your spam filter. Whoa.

Second, regarding your post on Alberto Fernandez, yes, he is a dumbass. Apparently, this isn't the first time he's said stupid stuff, as shown in his Sept. 5 appearance in Al-Jazeera:

"I think that there are factors providing negative American thoughts in the Middle East. First, we should admit that there's an American haughtiness and stupidity. . . . Today, no doubt, Americans, corrupted Arab regimes and other people, organizations and individuals are trying intentionally to encourage hell in the Arab world."

Sort of puts me in mind about the saw about the State Department needing an American desk.



Tuesday, October 24, 2006

vive l'Angleterre!

Ever since I taught myself how to teleport, I've been taking little trips to England.


Battlestar Galactica!

With many thanks to the bootlegging gods (incarnated as one of my coworkers), I'm now able to catch up on the episodes of "Battlestar Galactica" I've missed-- that is to say, all of them. I saw the pilot episode when I was in the States a while back, but hadn't seen any of the series episodes. Pretty fascinating. I'll have to second the Nomad's thumbs-up regarding Grace Park, not to be confused with this Grace Park.


when fear of litigation deprives you of dignity

In Britain, an elderly woman was obliged to drag herself up a flight of stairs and down a hallway because paramedics declined to help her, citing health and safety regulations related to heavy lifting.

If I were that old woman, I'd go through the exercise one more time: I'd work my way down to ground level, pull off my trousers, then drag myself upstairs and along the hallway again, defecating the entire way.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Ave, Charles!

Liminal pornography: Charles writes about "eating pie" and uses the phrase "some fickle Australian snatch."

Charles's entry reminds me that I recently bookmarked this entry: Fried Apple Pie. It's apple season now, so I'll be attempting to make this dish soon. And foodblogging the attempt, of course.



No matter what your opinion of the war in Iraq might be, I think we can all agree that State Department diplomat Alberto Fernandez is a fucking dumbass.

Mr. Fernandez, you're paid a fairly decent salary to represent a certain point of view. You're also free to express your own point of view-- as long as you make clear what you're doing. However, Mr. Fernandez, it is the height of cowardice to make a statement like "...I think there is a big possibility ... for extreme criticism and because undoubtedly there was arrogance and stupidity from the United States in Iraq"-- on Al Jazeera, no less-- and then attempt to retract the statement by saying:

This represents neither my views nor those of the State Department.

Who the fuck's views were you airing on Al Jazeera, shitcake?

I can't quite put my finger on the reason, but this pisses me off royally. One reason why I like anti-diplomat John Bolton: he always knows where he stands. Agree or disagree with him as you will, but you have to admit that Bolton doesn't equivocate.


who is Lord of the Ringworld?

I thought "ring species" referred to the life forms having a poolside party in my toilet bowl. Obviously I was mistaken.


Saddam Hussein's final thought



Sunday, October 22, 2006

A Day in the Life of Kim Jong-il

how does Jong-il
start his day?
he starts it the
American way!

cereal, toast
with butter, jam;
thinnest slice o'
Virginia ham

eggs and milk,
but he ain't done--
he eats ten babies
just for fun

pulls his pants down
shows his balls
reflectin' off
the mirrored walls

"Ping-pong! Ping-pong!"
Jong-il cries
his women coo
and shake their thighs

then to show
that he's got class
he jams a dildo
up his ass

"Hole in one!"
his guards exclaim
Jong-il booms,
"Don't doubt my aim!"

breakfast done,
it's time to work
so Jong-il dons his
Captain Kirk

"Fire phasers!"
Jong-il yells
skipping past
some prison cells

"Call my bitch!"
he then commands
a signal jumps
across the land

and somewhere in
the depths of Seoul
down inside
some marmot's hole

a shaky hand
picks up a phone
and Noh Mu-hyon
lets out a groan

"Morning," mumbles
Noh Mu-hyon
and Kim Jong-il cries,
just for fun:


"Yes, O Great One,"
Mu-hyon sighs
"Money's coming;
that's no lie."

Jong-il hangs up
"Ha!" he scoffs
asks a girl
to whack him off

And so it goes
with Kim Jong-il
eating babies
taking pills

starving peasants
raping goats
singing opera
missing notes

shooting mommas
shooting dads
shooting traitors
in the nads

drinking cognac
eating fish
thinking life is
so delish

North Korea--
all is fine
finer than the
best French wine

no big headaches
time to kill
--at least if your name's
Kim Jong-il


Ave, Nomad!

The Lost Nomad sends me this link to an old SNL skit: Love Toilets. The whole thing is hilarious, but for my money the funniest part is the deadpan, New Yawk-accented blurb at the very end.



Do people seriously think Kim Jong Il feels any sorrow or regret for his nuke test? I doubt his recent expression of contrition was truly meant to be contrite. If anything, it was probably a non-apology along the lines of "I'm sorry that you were offended"-- a marked difference from "I'm sorry I offended you."

Koreans aren't usually satisfied with Japanese expressions of "regret." Why should China be satisfied with North Korea's?


Saturday, October 21, 2006

out in da boonies #3

More photos from last weekend's trip out to the Yeongju region! We continue with Buseok-sa (Floating Rock Temple), pass by some apples (it's harvest season), and look at a simulation of a scholarly community (seonbi-ch'on).

A note about the above pic: Sperwer wanted to know what the reflective material under the trees was for, so I asked one of the apple sellers. She said the idea was to accelerate ripening by driving the sunlight back up toward the apples. Cool.

Abandon all hope.

Sperwer and I visited a village that was meant to simulate life around the beginning of neo-Confucianism's arrival in Korea. The jangseung "totem poles" were out in force at the parking lot; you can walk by a whole row of them before you get to the ticket office. What I found strange about these guys, though, was that you usually see jangseung in pairs-- a male and a female. This group seemed to be nothing but males (I think); perhaps they were having a boys' night out. Watchin' da game. Drinkin' a Bud.

The above jangseung seemed to be the only one looking forward to an FTA with America.

Note the graffiti above. Poor woman.

I'm a big fan of Korean mung bean pancakes (bindae-ddeok) as well as flour-based pancakes (jeon). One of my favorites is haemul p'ajeon, a pancake with green onions and seafood-- usually squid and shrimp.

Sperwer, who had been to Buseok-sa before and who knew the region fairly well, introduced me to a simple delight I'd never had before: gamja-jeon, which is a potato jeon with other vegetables added in. We ate this dish, along with several others, every day of our stay. I'm going to have to try to make this at home, for it doth kick much ass.

One thing I regret not having photographed is the grapes. It's also grape harvesting season, and I had the chance to eat a free bunch of grapes after helping Sperwer negotiate the purchase of a couple boxes. Lemme tell ya', those grapes were pretty damn good.


Ave, Richardson!

Richardson sends me two links that announce the next step in toilet evolution: toilets for the very, very big.

Here and here.

I love this:

  • 150% More contact area on the seat.

  • Extra wide base with 4 anchor points on to prevent tipping.

  • “Side Wings” to prevent pinching if your fat hangs over the side of the seat.

  • Reinforced structure holds up to 2000lbs.

  • My fat doesn't hang over the sides of the seat quite yet, but I'll definitely have to keep these toilets in mind for when I do finally reach my weight goal of 2000 pounds.


    molluscan endowments

    Dr. Hodges's seven-year-old son claims that dwarf octopi (nakji) are hung like bears.


    A, F, awwww

    One of the FroshEng girls finally emailed her essay; she's generally a good student, so I cut her some slack and didn't penalize her. She ended up with a midrange "A" on her essay and an "A-" (90%; we use a 10-point scale) as her final grade for the 5-week term.

    Another girl never bothered to email her essay despite having sent me a text message to confirm my email address. Tough titty-- she gets a zero for the essay and, given her other suck-ass grades, an "F" for the term. An "F" was in the cards, anyway: she was absent five times, which means she was probably going to fail; the FroshEng attendance policy stipulates a maximum of three absences, beyond which an automatic "F" is given. It's possible that the main office will take pity on her and allow her to pass, but I sincerely hope not.

    This girl has to be one of the dumbest students I've seen at Smoo. While most of the girls had brains, this one was either naturally or willfully clueless-- probably the latter. I can imagine what she'll do when she gets her "F": call the office and protest that she sent her email, and that her grade is just not fair. Korean students are slowly morphing into American students in that respect: I remember many cries of "unfair!" from American high school students unwilling to face the consequences of their own indolence, particularly when it was time to turn in projects.

    Too bad for her. She had the entire five weeks to work on a 200-word (i.e., barely a page) essay. She learned about the assignment on the very first day of class, along with everyone else, and she had a calendar that listed not only what we would be doing every single day, but my contact information as well-- phone and email. Had she looked at her calendar, she would have seen the proper spelling of my email address, and there would have been no need for her to text me this evening. Instead of handing me a printed copy of her work, she chose a riskier path-- email-- and I can't muster an ounce of sympathy for her.

    But my heart is not a heart of stone. As much as I hated teaching the Level 4s this term, I do appreciate the two-part text message I received almost an hour ago, which said:

    Tr. Kevin! ["Tr." apparently means "teacher"] I am a Sushi class student in Level 4 at [Smoo]. Past for a month, thank

    [she ran out of space and sent a second message to finish up]

    you so much to your teaching! We never forget you..! ^0^ Because kevin is best tr.!

    Awwwww. This sort of thing also reminds me of one of the bizarre rewards of teaching high school in America: students might hate your class, but they quickly lose their animosity after a summer, and greet you in the fall as though nothing had happened. Go figure.

    I kept vigil in the office, waiting for those essays to arrive by email. Because I waited until 11pm for Dumb Girl's essay, I entertained myself by watching a bootlegged copy of "Thank You for Smoking," a film I highly recommend. Very smartly done. It's based on Christopher Buckley's novel of the same name, and as you might expect from a mind like Buckley's, no one is left unskewered. Buckley is, as you may know, the son of William F. Buckley, the grandfather of American conservatism. Buckley fils seems to be a softer touch than his dad.

    Beginning Monday, I'll be teaching a "Movie English" class proposed by my supervisor. It's there mainly to replace the FroshEng class and keep me working above the 18-hour weekly minimum. I'll be spending Saturday and part of Sunday in the office, methinks, trying to get ready for this course. Because I taught a short Movie English course before, I might be able to recycle some of the old material for this go-around.


    Friday, October 20, 2006

    Justin steps through the membrane

    The Cosmic Buddha leaves the Land of the Rising Sun for Thailand. Enjoy the shift from Mahayana to Theravada, man.


    unfinished business

    It's hard to believe, but I'm still waiting for two Level 4 FroshEng students to send me their essays. This business won't be over until sometime tonight. Cosmically irresponsible, this group.

    Our Level 4 "jjong-party" didn't happen: everyone neglected to bring food. This was probably deliberate: the teacher after me had told the students they were having a pizza party, and the students doubtless focused all their attention on that. I had brought two bags of food; after the straggler teams had done their presentations (the ones they should have done on Monday), I simply plopped the bags down at the end of class and let the students have the contents.

    At least I won't have to teach that group again. Good riddance.

    And, hey-- thanks for the 93.8% rating, ladies. Wish I could reciprocate.


    Ave, Robert!

    Showing off the diplomatic skills for which the graduates of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service are known, Robert of the Marmot writes:

    From the bottom of my heart, I’d like to issue a sincere "Fuck you" to the presidential secretary, who, I'd like to remind readers, might replace Ban Ki-moon as foreign minister.

    Of course, you're right in a way, Mr. Song-- the United States does fight a lot of wars. One war, for instance, had the rather peculiar consequence of allowing you to insult the United States in Korean rather than Japanese. Another ensured that you [don't] have to eat tree bark with your buddies in the North.

    A response worthy of that amazing anti-diplomat, John Bolton.

    And I happen to think Robert's right.


    Thursday, October 19, 2006

    Q: Why is this man smiling?

    A: Because Friday is the last day he'll be teaching the slimy creatures.

    A five-week slog through the swamp of nightmarish memories-- memories of my pain-wracked indenture as a high school teacher in the States-- has left me spiritually winded, mentally flaccid, and emotionally impotent. I detest teaching high schoolers, and this was by far the worst crop of incoming freshmen ever to splat brownly at my feet.

    I did, however, recently watch a bootleg copy of the French animated SF thriller "Renaissance," which was a fun ride; the movie partially compensated for my existential gloom. The plot of "Renaissance" is fairly conventional, and the animation is reminiscent of the motion capture done in films like "Waking Life" and "Through a Scanner Darkly" (a movie whose title is a cyberpunk reference to 1 Corinthians 13). I watched "Renaissance" in the original French-language version; my coworker, X, had downloaded the movie and burned it to a DVD. Unfortunately, the movie was useless to X because it was bereft of features like subtitling and dubbing. X, undeterred, is going to search for and download the English-language version of the film (the one where the big corporate bad guy is voiced by the always-cool Jonathan Pryce).

    "Renaissance" is a crime drama set in a futuristic, "Blade Runner"-style Paris that is dominated by a megacorporation called Avalon (possibly a pun based on the verb "avaler," to swallow, because Avalon sounds a lot like the present participle "avalant"). In the story, a cop named Karas has been tasked with finding a kidnappee named Ilana Tasuiev, a Russian-born Frenchwoman who was scooped out of the Caucasus along with her sister Bislaine when they were children.

    Ilana was originally wanted by Avalon for her intelligence, and she develops into a formidable scientist under the tutelage of a certain Dr. Muller. Muller is a man driven by demons, not least of which is his obsession with finding a cure for progeria (an actual disease involving rapid aging; Rabbi Harold Kushner's son died of it, which in part led Kushner to write his famous When Bad Things Happen to Good People). Bislaine is more street-smart than book-smart, and you know right away she's going to develop a thing for the maverick Karas, because that's how these cop flicks work (speaking of flicks, "flic" is French slang for "cop").

    Muller and Ilana work for Avalon, a company that sells youth and beauty; someone kidnaps Ilana, Karas is brought in to find her, and that's when the fun begins. Gunfights, car chases, wild cityscapes, weird apartment buildings, some animated titties, and a large, imposing Muslim dude-- what's not to like?

    I won't spoil the film by revealing anything more; go see it if you can.

    Yessssss, Precioussss... by noon Friday, I'll be free of the filthy freshmenses. FREE, I SAY!

    (fresh menses?)


    postal scrotum: Dan on anti-Jewish violence

    Dan writes in with reference to this post:

    Antisemitic incidents in the US: LINK

    1757 antisemitic incidents in '05 - an average of just under 5 per day. You could look at this as evidence of a declining trend, and take solace that France is showing much higher numbers - and that, with a smaller overall population and a much smaller percentage of jews in the population. Also, France does have a longstanding reputation for religious intolerance and specifically for antisemitism; for a nation that outlaws Holocaust denial, they're very slow to come to terms with their own complicity in exterminating their infestation of Jews. I guess you'd also have to control for what is being defined as an antisemitic act, but I've heard for some time about truly egregious Krystallnacht-style attacks taking place in France lately with the full complicity of local authorities.

    Dan's email also had more on Judaism and Buddhism, and I hope to get to that later.


    Ave, Jeff!

    Dr. Hodges tackles big hominids and food anomalies.

    His geopolitical insights are, of course, not to be missed.


    Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    subject and object questions

    On the final exam I gave my Level 4 FroshEng class, I had this question:

    Change the following statement into a SUBJECT QUESTION and an OBJECT QUESTION. (CORRECT GRAMMAR, PLEASE)

    Larry ate twelve hot dogs last night.

    Ideally, the students should say:

    Who ate twelve hot dogs last night?
    (subject question: "who" is asking after the subject)


    What did Larry eat last night?
    (object question: "what" is asking after the object)

    One student wrote, as an object question:

    What ate Larry last night?

    This had me rolling. The image of twelve hot dogs attacking Larry as a pack was just too baroque.

    Technically, the student's response is a subject question, as the unfortunate Larry has become the object of "ate." Too bad I can't award points for inadvertent humor.

    On a more sour note-- I caught one of my Level 2 students cheating during the exam today. The class was doing a mixer-style test, and this student was using a previous quiz as a guide. I had passed out the quizzes at the beginning of class and had told the students to put them away along with their textbooks, cell phones, and electronic dictionaries, but this student had her quiz flush against her final exam sheet and was comparing her current answers with her quiz answers. I had changed the questions somewhat for the test, but the quiz still provided enough of a hint to a savvy student.

    I docked the girl 50 points and told her she was lucky: in an ideal world I'd have ripped her paper to shreds and given her a zero. I also docked her participation grade. She'd been on her way to an easy "A," but now she ends the semester with a "D+." Funny thing is, I doubt she'll have learned anything about cheating; it's done so damn casually in this culture that she probably won't lose any sleep over her misdeed.

    I'm thankful, though, that I was dealing with a Korean student: had I done the same thing with an American high schooler, I'd have had to put up with a theatrical display of bullshit denial and shameless belligerence. Having caught students cheating during my stint as a high school teacher in the States, I know whereof I speak.


    Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    per day?

    Can this be right? French police register 10-12 anti-Jewish incidents per day? I guess I need some perspective. What's the rate in the US? Anyone know? If not, I'll go dig up the stats.


    out in da boonies #2

    These are pictures 2 through 20 (out of 34) from my recent trip to Yeongju with Sperwer.

    More pics later.


    postal scrotum: Dan replies

    Dan of Chucklehut writes in reply to my previous remarks:

    ...I'll try to respond to some of the questions you aptly raised in your comments to my email.

    I believe that "religious" philosophies in general (those that self-identify as foundations for righteous living or something like that, rather than mere exposistions on the nature of truth or the universe or some such nonsense) are tools by which good people seek to achieve similar ends all over the world. Any religion can be subverted, but mostly I think they appeal to an inherent preference in most people to get along and improve things generally. Thus, buddhism is inaptly described BY ME as a philosophy of retreat. However, it is a philosophy that seems to encourage a distance from the realities that confront and confound us all. Judiasm differs, perhaps because Jews traditionally were too enmired in their difficulties ever to achieve much distance from them: we are taught to embrace our troubles and thereby to resolve them. It's a very hands-on process. Even in the meditations of the jewish mystics (a tradition that has been substantially supressed but is regaining recognition), the purpose was to achieve clarity of mind so that the world and its challenges can be more clearly understood, addressed, and ultimately resolved.

    It's worth mentioning that the "vanity" quote is from Ecclesiastes - a book written by a hermit, in which he denies that anything can change or that anything ultimately matters, because the unending cycle of reality will overwhelm anything we do - but he undercuts his own thesis by writing the damn thing down. His isolationist philosophy that all will fade and the echos will forget their source, has survived for 3000 years and continues to change lives, impacting how we experience reality. His writing, interestingly to me, is one of those books that has been moved around from its place in the hebrew bible to a different place in christian bibles - in our tradition he's quite near the end, next to Esther (the book that doesn't mention god). There is a movement in the hebrew bible from the immediacy of god to the mere implication of god, whereas christian bibles switch the books and show a curve beginning with god's presence, then an attenuation, and then god's impending return - a process that is capped off by the new testament's assertion that god bodily walks the earth among us as a man. In my tradition, the latter books are designed to ease us into assuming the responsibility of taking on god's work, because god ain't gonna do it for us. By moving the latter prophets to a place following what are, for me, the last books of the bible, this message is badly muddied.

    Spinoza: I like me some challenging reading, but maybe I wasn't ready for Spinoza. I read about half of his discourse on every goddamn thing or whatever it was called, and it just about killed me. However, the parts I was understanding were pretty damn cool. I'd be interested in your opinions once you've had a chance to form some.

    Jews are renowned historically as a "stiff-necked people" and there are many zealots and conservative thinkers who simply will not conscion a "flexible" judisam. Their faith is catholic - liturgical, structural, and ordained. With such people, little discussion is possible. But even so, common ground can be recognized (though sometimes only after exhasuting effort) that the goal of the faith is to uplift the condition of the human spirit everywhere and to fulfill the promise that the universe embodies. Having so said, if someone is hellbent to believe the book of Genesis or to live by Leviticus, there's no point in trying to convice him that it's an analogy. You can only demonstrate that different paths can lead to this goal. However, the goal is still only seen as a specific afterlife or paradisical redemption by a very few literalists. And who has time for such people?

    There are clearly as many senses of the holy-in-life as there are people willing to undertake the effort to consider it. However, I would assert that the nature of jewish philosophy, the liturgy itself, encourages questioning, which is one of the reasons that I always found something of value in it. We are challenged, consistently, to be critical of the received knowlege and to test it against our own experience. The very nature of jewish law is dialectical - we adjust for circumstances, rather than vice-versa.

    You ask how a non-theistic jew might sense that the universe needs to be repaired: this question is best answered by the history of the jewish people, who look back on 40 years wandering in a wilderness as "the good times." People are cruel, beauty fades, truth is relative and morality is fluid. Any person who sees no way to "heal" the world just isn't looking carefully. It's not a question of redeeming our inherent fault, but of helping to perfect a universe in which our very presence is a terribly disruptive force. Whether by giving charity, doing a good deed, or just refraining from hurtful speech, we all have the power to make a difference, and when we do, we are participating in the essence of godliness. I don't think this is so different from christian theories, except that it's not done for purposes of future salvation but for present perfection. We're not pointed to some downstream destination - we are already there and it's high time we did something about it. Creation was "good," but if it were entirely a godly phenomenon, it would be frozen in perfection. It is said that god literally vacated some space in which the universe could exist so that it could grow and fructify - since god is permanent and perfect, and our universe clearly is neither, we must be in a space that is not 100% godly, though it is filled with "sparks" of the godhead to inspire and guide us. It is our responsibility to revive and nurture those godly sparks that spangle our existence until that "vacated space" has been restored to true holiness.


    Great reply. A couple points:

    1. In interreligious dialogue, it's often a good idea to check the other religion's self-understanding. How do Buddhists view their own belief system and praxis? I doubt any Buddhist would agree that Buddhism represents a philosophy of retreat: it is, instead, an ethical call to mindfulness and compassion that recognizes the nature of reality just as it is, i.e., having the character of emptiness (viz. the Heart Sutra). When you write with regard to the mystical strand of Judaism: "the purpose was to achieve clarity of mind so that the world and its challenges [could] be more clearly understood, addressed, and ultimately resolved," you're saying something that many Buddhists might actually agree with.

    Buddhism is ostensibly about "escape from the wheel," but this is a superficial reading of it. A closer reading shows that what Buddhism actually advocates is full participation in reality, not retreat: the only way around is through. Clarity of mind is, of course, one of the great virtues upheld in Buddhism.

    2. With regard to Ecclesiastes-- yes, I tried to cover my ass by using the adjective "Qohelethian" in that other post.

    3. I do have to ask: what do you make of Madonna and Kabbalah? Is she for real?

    4. Your remarks re: Ecclesiastes called to mind something I had read in Jack Miles's God: A Biography. Miles notes that, for Jews, it's the TaNaKh, whereas for Christians it's more of a "TaKhaN." About the writer of Ecclesiastes, you say: "...he undercuts his own thesis by writing the damn thing down," and this reminded me of the Tao Te Ching, a work whose central irony is that it begins with the claim that the Tao is beyond description... after which the TTC spends a great deal of time describing the Tao. Much the same inconsistency can be seen in how Christians posit a God supposedly beyond all categories, but to whom they ascribe all manner of anthropomorphic attributes.

    5. You write: "Any person who sees no way to 'heal' the world just isn't looking carefully."

    Just to clarify: when I say "the universe," I'm talking about physical nature along with the living creatures that populate it, but not about humanity. This might place me at odds with certain Jews, but my own feeling is that the world-- in the narrow sense of the physical cosmos without humanity-- simply is what it is and needs no healing. Avalanches, for example, are "bad" only from the perspective of people whose homes have been destroyed. When they occur on other planets, they're assigned no moral value (if for no other reason than that we're unaware of them happening). Animals on our world aren't in need of healing, either: they simply do their critterly thing.

    If anything needs healing, then, it's people: the assessment that existence is somehow painful or otherwise unsatisfactory is a conclusion that only a human being can reach. Even our closest primate cousins strike me as having no pressing existential concerns. Nature is red in tooth and claw, but this only implies its naturalness, not its need for redemption.

    People, on the other hand, have an acute sense of justice and suffering. The universe's blind motion might contribute to humanity's suffering (what philosophers awkwardly refer to as "natural evil" as opposed to "moral evil"), but the universe isn't hurting people on purpose. To the contrary: the fact that I'm alive seems to indicate that the universe is, at least for the moment, congenial to my existence.

    Of course, when I say that the universe's motion is "blind," I'm expressing a bias; a theist with a providentialist bent might well think otherwise. For many religious folks (including atheistic Buddhists), everything occurs for a reason.

    6. I very much enjoyed this comment: "I would assert that the nature of jewish philosophy, the liturgy itself, encourages questioning, which is one of the reasons that I always found something of value in it. We are challenged, consistently, to be critical of the received knowlege and to test it against our own experience. The very nature of jewish law is dialectical - we adjust for circumstances, rather than vice-versa." This resonates with me. My knowledge of Judaism is paltry (which is one reason why I appreciate your insights), but one book I own, Fasching and Dechant's Comparative Religious Ethics, asserts something along the lines of what you're saying: the Jewish attitude toward the holy is marked by a certain chutzpah, a sort of Job-like cosmic cheekiness in the face of the awful mystery. I like that.

    7. Where do you suggest I start with Spinoza?

    Thanks again for your email!


    tossing salad with the girls

    The taco salad brunch with my Level 1s went well, and I'd made enough to feed my next class (Level 3), too. Perhaps the most pungent ingredient in taco spice is cumin; unfortunately, many Koreans dislike cumin's odor, which may be one reason why Mexican food has never caught on here (cf. Koreans' dislike of the smell of lamb, which is why real gyros are hard to come by in Korea). My students, however, claimed to like what I had made; they chowed down eagerly, and I chomped along with them.



    More experts are leaning toward the conclusion that North Korea's recent test did in fact involve a nuclear weapon that probably had a yield of less than one kiloton, and there appears to be evidence that NK is setting up a second test.

    A coworker of mine was spooked by the drills yesterday and told me he's planned his escape route in the event of a war: he'll motor south as far as his bike will take him, then keep right on going. "Back roads, not the freeway," he said.

    And that's where the horde will be heading: south. As soon as the fighting starts, Seoul will choke on its own traffic as people climb over each other to flee the city amid the shelling. If experience is any guide, I'd venture they won't get far in vehicles. I was in Washington, DC when the 9/11 attacks occurred, and I remember that DC had nothing in the way of modern evacuation plans: the most recent plans dated back to the 1970s. On September 11, 2001, the city experienced immediate gridlock; had the situation not been so tense, it might almost have been funny. Multiply the DC snafu by several hundred and that's what Seoul will be like in the first few hours of a new war.


    out in da boonies #1

    As it turns out, I don't have time to slap all the pics into one entry right this moment, so I'll leave you with this teaser of Sperwer at the front gate of Buseok-sa (Floating Rock Temple):

    In case you were wondering, that's Sperwer's actual face. Even up close, he looks all pixellated.

    The Chinese characters on the gate read "T'aebaek-san Buseok-sa," or Great White Mountain, Floating Rock Temple. Here, as with all temples, the characters on the gate (technically, the ilju-mun, or "one-column gate") should be read from right to left.