Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ave, Sewing!

Over at the Marmot's Hole, guest blogger Sewing notes that a second (and possibly third) Korean hostage has been killed in Afghanistan. Drudge continues not to report this on its headlines, but it is top news at ABC's website.

In the comments following Sewing's post, commenter Sonagi notes that Korean Netizens aren't buying the "government-inspired Korean media campaign to shift responsibility to Uncle Sam." In one comment, she writes:

This Yonhap story is claiming that the US is standing in the way of a hostage for prisoner swap:

Naver link

Check out the message board at the bottom. The fish aren't biting.

This story on netizen reactions includes a couple of quotes from commenters who feel the US, as an ally of South Korea, should intervene actively to secure the release of the hostages. The most rec'd messages on the related board make no mention of the US. While browsing another news board, I did see one post blaming Bush and the US for the hostage crisis. I guess if you dig hard enough, you can find whatever you're looking for. I do admire the persistence of the Korean media in trying to foment public pressure on the Bush administration.

While I don't admire the Korean media's persistence, I agree with the basic thrust of Sonagi's comments on that thread.

UPDATE: Good post over at the Lost Nomad as well (short hiatus, eh, man?). One strongly emergent theme, especially since the death of the first hostage, is Why doesn't Korea enact its own military solution? I agree: this is a golden opportunity for Korea to act on its own behalf. It's certainly more expedient for politicians and the media to blame the US for whatever goes wrong (and it's mightily convenient that Noh and his cronies have, for the moment, explicitly ruled out a military option), but it would be nice for cooler heads in the Korean government to assess the situation with an eye toward long-term geopolitical results. As has been pointed out by nearly everyone in the blogosphere but me, Korea has frighteningly good special forces. Those guys could go into Afghanistan and make an unforgettable statement to the Taliban. At the very least, they'd have my blessing.

UPDATE 2: The story is headlining MSNBC.


our loss

My wild Aussie colleague Andy had his last day today. It was a bit strange for him to end in mid-week while our term is in full swing, but this apparently has to do with the dates on Andy's contract. Our terms don't start start on exactly the same calendar dates every year, whereas the contract is strictly reckoned according to date.

Andy was a good coworker and a fine teacher. He had many loyal students who often popped by our office just to say hi (few of my students do that... go figure), as well as three or four hardcore groupies.

It was a hoot to work with him over the past two years, and I wish him well as he looks to travel around a bit and seek greener pastures in Korea or elsewhere.

Happy trails, man.


Brian was right

Kwandong Brian was right re: Larry Niven's short story titled "The Locusts," in which humanity reverts to primitivity due to population pressure. I brought the short story collection Limits back with me from the States and just finished it last night. Brian had indeed remembered correctly that the hominid-birthing problem wasn't merely happening on the colony world (as I had claimed); it was also happening back on overcrowded Earth.

The story puts forth the idea that humans are like locusts, genetically encoded to revert to a more primitive, brutal form when population begins to exceed food supply and the time comes to move to a new home. This reversion seems to happen all at once as mothers begin giving birth to babies whose features and cranial capacities are more pithecine than modern. The reversion makes the species tougher and more able to survive in foreign environments. Unencumbered by the modern morality that obliges us to respect the rights of the weak, the slow, and so on, humanity starts building itself from Square One again, with natural selection weeding out those unable to survive. After several million years, there will be modern humans again.

Funky, huh?


Monday, July 30, 2007

scenes from a Saturday

I know I promised pics from the bazaar, but I've been lazy about uploading them. In the meantime, my buddy Tom was kind enough to send me his digipics from this past Saturday's shindig at my buddy JW's house.

The first pic was Tom's idea-- Tom is addicted to cell phones, and it's frustrated him to no end that I've been hard to contact for a year. I've enjoyed his frustration, but now, those halcyon days are over. On Saturday afternoon, before we went to JW's house, the three of us (Tom, JW, and I) went to an LG Telecom office and got my phone number switched over from the old phone to this newer phone. Tom wanted to capture the moment for posterity, so here we are.

The rest of the pics are from inside JW's house. JW's son Ji-an is about ten months old. Not pictured: Tom (who took the pics) and JW's wife Bo-hyun.


one spunky Kiwi Aussie

All hail New Zealand Oz!

(Thanks, Charles, for pointing out my enormous gaffe. I thought the article had been written in a Kiwi accent.)


comments redux: the sword of Damocles

Charles sends me a link to an essay by "your host, Joel Spolsky, a software developer in New York City," on why blog comments are detrimental. The essay is a good expression of my own introversion.

I admit I'm still not a big fan of comments. I currently allow them, though I can't for the life of me figure out why. Spolsky makes some good points:

When a blog allows comments right below the writer's post, what you get is a bunch of interesting ideas, carefully constructed, followed by a long spew of noise, filth, and anonymous rubbish that nobody ... nobody ... would say out loud if they had to take ownership of their words. Look at this innocent post on a real estate blog. By comment #6 you're already seeing complete noise. By #13 you have someone cursing and saying "go kill yourself." On a real estate blog. #18 and #23 have launched into a middle eastern nuclear [conflagration] which continues for 100 posts. They're proving John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory every day. Pathetic. On a real estate blog. Lockhart Steele, is this what you want Curbed to look like? Really? It's not fun, freewheeling freedom of expression, yay first amendment! It's mostly anonymous hate speech.

I'm happy to report that my comment threads, heavily patrolled by me, Your Humble Dictator, are not scattered with anonymous hate speech. In general this is because people seem to have taken to heart my demand for civility (which I reserve the right not to reciprocate, by the way: I never said I'd play fair on my blog), but it's also because commenting on my blog is inconvenient. And that's how I like it.

None of which is to say that I've grown to like the comments feature. It's enabled, but it's probationary, always probationary. As I've written before, I might yank comments at any moment. If I do, it's not as though people will suddenly be unable to contact me: my email address is clearly written on my sidebar, along with guidelines for how to get through the spam filter. Losing comments wouldn't be tragic, and readers should be emotionally prepared for such a loss-- I will tolerate no screeching if I choose to amputate!

So far, comments have been decent, and I'm cool with allowing them. But Spolsky's points are well taken, and if I dwell on his points long enough, I might just decide to yank the comments feature, anyway. Elvis shot a TV. That was a big deal. Yanking comments is not. So be prepared. It could happen anytime.



What the hell am I doing up so early in the dingle-damn day?


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Ave, Charles!

Charles of Liminality has just posted his latest essay, which is a response to my book, Water from a Skull. It's an excellent meditation and well worth your time. As Charles says, this essay isn't so much about my writing as it is about his own thoughts after finishing the book. He deals in part with one of the major themes running through my essays on interreligious dialogue: the willingness to be reinterpreted by the Other.*

A phrase that pops up a few times in Water from a Skull when talking about interreligious dialogue is “the willingness to be reinterpreted by the Other.” In other words, interreligious dialogue is about be willing to listen to people who don’t share my beliefs talk about what they think about my beliefs. This is a harder thing to do than it might seem at first. Of all beliefs, religious beliefs in particular tend to be the most dearly held. In fact, this is why interreligious dialogue is so important—when you have a bunch of people with conflicting views running around, and each one of them is convinced that they are right, you have a powder keg waiting to explode. All we have to do is turn on the news to see this powder keg exploding around the world every day.

If you are convinced you are right, there would seem to be little need to be reinterpreted by the Other—after all, if your truth is the Truth, why do you need to listen to what anyone else is saying? So interreligious dialogue is, on a deeper level, about admitting that you might not have all the answers, no matter how strong your convictions may be. But if you admit that, is it still tenable to hold to an exclusivist position? If there is the possibility that you are wrong, how can you maintain an exclusivist position?

After thinking long and hard about it, I have come to the conclusion that I do not know everything, and that I may be wrong in some of my beliefs. This does not mean I am abandoning my faith, though. The core elements of my faith are still intact, but I am willing to admit that of the many different interpretations of certain theological issues, mine is only one. Some of these, like what I consider the “core elements,” are matters of faith—I cannot argue them logically, but I still believe them to be true. When it comes to peripheral elements, though, I am willing to consider other views.

Charles notes toward the end of his essay that "exclusivists can engage in interreligious dialogue." I believe it is absolutely essential for exclusivists to join in the ongoing exchange. Otherwise, what you have is a round table of religious liberals, none of whom are really desirous of convincing the others of the rightness of their faith, and few of whom are actually in tune with the exclusivistic majorities of their traditions. How sad that interreligious dialogue, which many of us consider indispensable, routinely fails to include most potential participants.

For more on the question of exclusivism and interreligious dialogue, I highly recommend a paper I've cited a few times on this blog: Kate McCarthy's "Reckoning With Religious Difference," which can be found in Chapter 3 of Twiss and Grelle, Explorations in Global Ethics (Oxford: Westview Press, 2000). The book is an excellent collection of papers on the subject of global ethics. Many papers are from specific religious points of view (Buddhist, Muslim, etc.).

*If I were to point out another theme in my work, it would be the empirically based notion that religions are as they are practiced. Charles's essay is actually a fine example of good religious practice.


missionaries? volunteers? the future?

The Chosun Ilbo has a "timeline" article chronicling the current hostage crisis in Afghanistan. Very telling is the fact that the article does not refer to the hostages as missionaries but as "short-term volunteers."* I suspect that the media have not given us a clear view of who these hostages are and in what capacity they were traveling, but many people in the blogosphere have leaped to the conclusion that these were all missionaries out to proselytize. Perhaps they were, but I prefer to suspend judgment until we know a bit more.

This doesn't absolve the hostages of their own heedless conduct (one remark I heartily agree with is: "They thought they were still in Korea," a familiar critique of Korean behavior when abroad), but does oblige us to avoid rashly jumping to conclusions.

If the hostages are indeed committed missionaries who knew the grave risks, they have little place begging for help. Death is always a risk in spreading the gospel, especially in a place like Afghanistan. But that's a big "if," because we still don't know to what degree the hostages actually knew what they were getting into. With so many conflicting reports, it seems best to suspend judgment for now and to focus our hopes on the safe return of these people.

Much blogospheric discussion has turned to questions of the future. Will Korean missionaries still go to Afghanistan if the rest of the hostages are killed? I wouldn't be too quick to answer "no" to this: after all, many early missionaries to Korea ended up being killed, but Korean Christianity is now one of the two largest religions on the peninsula.

For a very long time, discussions about mission work have focused to a greater or lesser degree on Western imperialism. The idea is that Western culture has spread outward to the Third World through the work of Western churches. Christianity is on the wane in "post-Christian" Europe, but it is burgeoning in the Third World, targeting much the same demographic as Islam.

Now we see that one of the most strongly missionary forms of Christianity in the world, Korean Christianity, is making headlines in Central Asia, whether justifiably or not. Islam is itself a strongly missionary religion; I'm watching with some fascination as Islam finds itself face to face with an aggressively proselytizing strain of Christianity that hasn't directly sprung out of the West. Perhaps wave after wave of Korean missionaries will wash over Afghanistan, changing the religious landscape there over the coming decades. This isn't as unrealistic as it sounds: Christianity has always thrived under conditions of persecution; the psychology underlying its theology is tailor-made for the oppressed.

Both Christianity and Islam share the religious theme of struggle, which means they will both cling hard to whatever beachheads they establish. Both religions have a strong sense of in-group versus out-group, and the majority attitude in both religions is exclusivistic. The ancient rivalry between these two traditions is far from over.

*Granted, this term may be a euphemism for mission-related volunteer work. While I am trying to suspend judgment on this, my own suspicions lean toward the idea that these hostages were not merely in Afghanistan for the narrow purpose of giving medical aid to the Afghan population. It's more likely that some members of the group were there with explicitly missionary goals, while others were volunteers with who never had any intention of proselytizing, but who went on the trip because it was sponsored by a church or religious organization. I elaborate a bit on the fine distinctions in a comment at Malcolm Pollack's blog. I also grant that the Taliban would not be concerned with such fine distinctions.


a heartwarming story

You have no idea how much pleasure I take in the story of the 93-year-old man who, after being beaten senseless in his own home by a robber, came to, took out a gun, and shot the robber in the throat. The linked article notes that the robber was able to speak, and he told police: "I got what I deserved."

Perhaps these two gentlemen can meet and strike up a friendship after the dust settles.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

sad news

I'm very unhappy to announce that I now have a phone that works. I've waited over a year to switch my old phone over to a new one; a coworker gave me this phone in, oh, 2005, and I did nothing with it. It sat at my desk in the office for many moons. After much procrastination, I found myself in an LG Telecom office this afternoon with my buddies Tom and Jang-woong, and the three of us got the phone taken care of.

There are two reasons why I didn't get the phone switched over right away, and these reasons will give you some insight into my character.

First: I hate cell phones and see no reason to have one. I'm not a Luddite, but I am an introvert. I have a cell phone only because one was foisted on me in 2002 by my Korean buddy as soon as I arrived in Korea. "It's modern society, man!" he told me. "You need a cell phone!" But I don't like being found. It's a bit like Lindsay Lohan and her ankle bracelet: I feel as though you can track me no matter where I am. That's not a good feeling.

Second: I hate the fact that I'm unable to make the cell phone switch on my own. I tried it once; the dude told me that, as a foreigner, I would need my Korean companion to do the honors. As a guy nearing 40, I find this extremely degrading, so as a simple matter of pride (I may blog about my shitting habits and my split pants, but I do have my pride), I didn't want to enter the LG office with my buddy to do the deed. That state of affairs obtained for over a year.

In any case, I've got a phone now. It works just fine. You can send me text messages and other obnoxious shit. This phone has a camera, which I might start using, though I'm not really into moblogging.

Grudging thanks to my homeys for helping out with the changeover.



what's cookin'?

A potluck dinner in Huam-dong is what's happening today: my buddy Tom is bringing chicken, I'm bringing salad and making fettuccine alfredo on site, and our Korean hosts (my buddy JW and his wife) are making Korean food. You, Dear Reader, will just have to imagine the goodness.

Crap-- who's bringing dessert?


postal scrotum: Maven and the Blogathon

The Maven writes:


If it's not too much of a favor to ask, would you mind spreading the word a bit that I'll be participating in Blogathon 2007? I will be blogging for 24 hours straight starting at 9 a.m., NY time Saturday a.m. until Sunday a.m.

I'd really appreciate it:)

Peace ("two fingas")


Mark your calendar! 9 a.m., this Saturday, July 28th, I will be participating in Blogathon 2007. I will be blogging every half hour for 24 hours straight, hopefully raising money and awareness for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome... and hopefully having fun doing so! If you're interested in sponsoring me (and my ovaries!!) in this worthy cause, please take a moment to go to www.blogathon.org, and register (it's free and private). You can find me blogging my polycystic ovaries off at Welcome to the Sanctum Sanctorum, located at http://ijustknowitsoutthere.blogspot.com.

I wish you good luck!


why science is bad

Dr. Stephen Asma (I have to thank Sperwer for introducing me to his site) sent out a shotgun email to announce his appearance on a recent Scientific American podcast (is "appearance" the right word?). He was interviewed about his visit to a new "anti-evolution" museum that opened recently in Kentucky. Asma had written an article about his visit, so most of the podcast dealt with the content of his article. I found the interview quite intriguing. Asma does his best to be gracious in his descriptions of the fundamentalist Christians who run the museum, but even he can't paper over the fact that he disagrees with them on almost every point in their agenda.

I'm happy to report that my Christian friends are well-grounded folks... but this museum reminds us that there are plenty of believers out there with some very whacked-out ideas about the cosmos. Young-earth creationism-- one of the ideas the museum is trying to sell-- is a meme that should have died out by now; unfortunately, it lingers on. The museum's exhibits also contend that science's claims about the age of the universe are contributing to social decay. Read Asma's article or listen to the SA podcast to find out how this is so.

NB: Dr. Asma hasn't updated his blog in a year. When I got the shotgun email from him, I emailed him back to ask why he hadn't been updating. His answer:

Thanks for your interest in the blog. I regret that it is now defunct --I can't find the energy/time to keep up with it, especially when I have paying writing gigs coming in. I'm trying a podcast thing now... Half-heartedly.

Alas. I'm going to have to either nix it or reroute the link to his main site. Probably the latter.


Friday, July 27, 2007

are the Taliban blameless?

While I agree with many commenters that the Korean hostages (especially their leaders) share a significant measure of blame for the current circumstances, I find myself stumped by certain people's refusal to place primary blame on the barbarism of the Taliban. Witness this incredible comment over at Malcolm's site:

The Taliban are doing nothing other than what Korea’s own Daewongun was doing a mere century and a half earlier. That the war-ravaged lands of Afghanistan haven’t “caught up” to the rest of the world should really be no surprise. This lack of historical commensurability is key. Unless you are ready to call George Washington and Thomas Jefferson brutes and savages for owning slaves, which I doubt you are, the castigation of the Taliban is mere posturing, and rather racist and imperialist posturing at that. “You must accept our sweet dumb missionaries, because that’s the way we do things!” The Taliban, no matter how morally repugnant we may find them, doesn’t have to answer to anyone in regards to what they do on their own land. They’ve guaranteed no safety for foreigners, offered no invitation to missionaries. They’ve quite plainly done the opposite, a fact the Korean Government and others have wisely heeded. If Taliban come to Korea, or the USA, to do their bidding, you are certainly obliged to “extirpate” them. Until then, this moral castigation is but chest puffing that only serves to fuel the fires of a more general anti-Islamic hatred that consumes a certain segment of the West.

This is arrant nonsense, straight out of Edward Said's Orientalism. I utterly reject the idea that condemning the Taliban's murders is somehow an example of "racist and imperialist posturing." You don't have to be a "privileged" Westerner to condemn the Taliban's actions.

You want to know what's racist? Assuming the Taliban are not human beings who should be held accountable for murder. Every time I hear the "Would you play with a rabid dog?" argument, I find myself wondering why the arguer is so keen to suspend judgment of the Taliban while strongly condemning the Koreans. Remind me: who are the victims here?

This isn't to say I absolve the Koreans of blame. It's insane to enter a strongly Muslim country and attempt anything even approaching mission work there. The trip organizers had a duty to apprise their charges of the very real dangers associated with entering a war zone.

But let's not lose our critical faculties and assign equal guilt to all respective parties. If the Koreans came to spread God's word, then at the very worst, they were being as obnoxious as the Jehovah's Witnesses who've occasionally knocked on my family's door in Virginia. How exactly does that compare to shooting a pastor full of holes and dumping him by the roadside? If you think the sins of obnoxiousness and murder are equivalent, then you are truly lost.

Some Koreans are, fortunately, coming around to the idea that the Taliban are the primary locus of blame.


Ave, Jeff and Charles!

Along with Malcolm's post, Dr. Hodges's post on the hostage crisis is a must-read, as are the comments-- especially the one left by Charles at the beginning of the comment thread.


Ave, Malcolm!

Well worth your time is Malcolm Pollack's take on the Korean hostage crisis. His post has generated almost 30 comments as of this writing, including comments from people I don't normally see on his threads.


back from the mountain

I'm back from the Bukhansan hike. The hike in three words:

Humid. Arduous. Sweaty.

I should add that my pants didn't rip and my boots, now repaired, worked out fine. I probably took longer with the hike this week because of the humidity. Two weeks ago, the weather was quite beautiful.


see? see???

I fuckin' told you that self-checkout would be a problem.

Remember when I mentioned self-checkout here?


Thursday, July 26, 2007

the looks on my students' faces

A Korean hostage has apparently been killed, but the hostage crisis still gets no mention on sites like Drudge Report (at least as of this writing).

Some of my students are upset by what's happening in Afghanistan. Can't say I blame them: some of these girls might themselves have been contemplating mission work; others might have close or distant connections with the hostages and/or the relevant religious/aid organizations.

I find it hard to maintain a cynical sneer in the face of the hurt this is causing my girls. Sure, we might say that this is, to a large extent, a self-inflicted wound: it was stupid to head blithely into such danger. But we should remember, too, that the Taliban should be held accountable for their actions. They are not animals: they are people who know what they're doing, and as such, they are accountable for whatever bloodshed they commit.

The current misery is the result of a confluence of factors: the naiveté or arrogance of certain Korean organizations, the relative weakness of the US-supported Afghan government, and the religious fervor of the Taliban, to name a few. Placing all blame entirely on the missionaries (if that's what they are) is unfair and uncalled for.

In my Level 1 writing class, one student, a devout Christian, wrote that she was praying for the safety of the hostages. She wrote this before we heard about the first killing. Personally, I'm not hopeful that God will intervene; I have grave doubts about the physical efficacy of prayer. If the Taliban decide that enough is enough, Korea will soon be reading about its first platoon of latter-day martyrs.

I hope it doesn't come to that.


pics on the way

Sometime in the next few days, I'll put up some pics I took from our bazaar. I didn't see any of my readers; perhaps the heads-up was on too short of a notice. Sorry about that; I normally advertise about a week in advance.


Smoo bazaar

Final call: you're invited to the Smoo Lingua Bazaar!

Our bazaar is held every summer and winter semester. The idea is to allow our students the chance to practice their English in a slightly more free-form environment than the language classroom. You're especially welcome if you're a foreigner: all the more chance for the students to practice with you!

This time around, the English and Korean classes will be holding their respective bazaars together, so you can expect a great deal of food, games, and other fun activities.

My group will be doing several things at once:

1. selling takoyaki (luckily, my colleague had a takoyaki-p'an)
2. selling watermelon slices
3. selling iced tea
4. selling p'atbingsu (Korean crushed-ice sundae)
5. selling clothing and other castoffs/hand-me-downs
6. selling laminated bookmarks
7. selling Polaroid shots
8. selling art (Kevin-made art, as always)

My luck varies when it comes to selling art. The foreigners seem to like it more than the Koreans, who tend to complain, "That's too expensive!" no matter what price I quote. So if you come to the bazaar, I'll be selling to you, Joe or Jane Foreigner, Jacques ou Jeanne Etranger/ère.

The particulars:

DATE: Thursday, July 26th (today!)

TIME: 1:30 to 3:30PM (the office mis-posted this as 1:30-3PM, or they changed the time on me without telling me, which wouldn't surprise me at all)

LOCATION: Smoo Social Education Building, 1st Floor (cafe/lobby level)

Other things you might see at the bazaar:

1. Middle Eastern-style café
2. Nail painting and/or fake tattooing
3. Massage
4. Korean food cooked by foreigners (the Korean classes are usually big on food)
5. Games (possibly a water balloon contest, though I don't know whether that will actually happen)

Things you probably won't see:

1. the peep show one of my colleagues mentioned
2. crack dealers
3. pop star Rain (not appearing due to lack of interest)
4. Dr. Hwang Woo Seok
5. my brother's spoiled black chihuahua

Hope to see you there. I'll be the large, half-Korean dude featured prominently on this blog.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Stafford tags me

I don't do memes, but no less an immortal than Stafford tagged me, so I am now obliged to present you with the Five Things You Don't Know About Me list.

1. A hard, chitinous beak, like the kind you'd find in a squid or octopus, resides just inside my asshole. Ladies, no rimjobbing or you'll end up giving rimjs for the rest of your lives.

2. I can fire my urine with enough force to bore holes in concrete. Effective killing range is twenty meters. When people ask me whether I can write my name in the snow, I laugh and show them some of my intricate granite engravings.

3. In 1998 I had a botched Lasik operation that left me unable to see women's underwear.

4. My scrotum is divided down the middle with a forcefield because one testicle is concentrated matter while the other is antimatter. Were my testicles to touch, I would destroy the entirety of Seoul. One interesting corollary to this arrangement is that I can either ejaculate photon torpedoes or propel myself backwards at one-half impulse power.

5. My soul has hair.


Ave, Brian!

Brian at Markandeya links to a hilarious video.

When you're lyin' in your bed and you feel somethin' spread...


takoyaki and bazaar

I went shopping for a takoyaki-p'an the other day. I'm going to try again today. Anyone know where to get one of these things in Seoul?

For anyone who doesn't know: a takoyaki-p'an is a sort of tray, reminiscent of a muffin tin, used for making the Japanese fast food takoyaki (fried octopus balls... yeah-- octopi have balls). The depressions in the takoyaki-p'an are often in a three-by-three square arrangement, allowing you to make nine at once on a normal-sized gas range. Instead of being muffin-shaped, though, the depressions in a takoyaki-p'an are hemispherical. You pour batter into the them, allow a little cooking to take place, and as the bottoms of the balls firm up, you take two chopsticks and roll the balls a bit to allow more of the uncooked batter to cook. As you keep rolling, the batter eventually forms nine edible spheres. You then plop those puppies on a plate, cover them in two kinds of sauce plus dried fish flakes, and serve.

Wikipedia has an entry on takoyaki featuring a picture of prepared takoyaki and a 4x4 takoyaki-p'an.

Unless I get some comments soon, I'm going to try Namdaemun Market and the nearby department stores. I wouldn't normally shop in a department store, but the takoyaki-p'an appears to be a specialty item, and I need it for tomorrow's bazaar.

Which reminds me: BAZAAR TOMORROW!

I'm assuming you know what university "Smoo" is. We'll be holding the bazaar on the first floor of the Social Education Building (sahwae gyoyuk-gwan) from 1:30PM to 3:30PM. You are all cordially invited to come and help our students practice English. I might or might not be selling artwork there... if I do, I'll probably whore myself out and sell for cheap this time around.


Koreans: a low priority?

While I understand the general lack of sympathy for the Korean hostages in Afghanistan, I don't understand how Lindsay Lohan's recent arrest (as of this writing, her story tops the headlines at the Drudge Report) is more newsworthy than the terrifying drama unfolding in Central Asia. What exactly am I missing?

A cynic might say this is a reality check for Koreans, who tend to view themselves as the center of the world. I respond that every culture tends to view itself as the center of the world, and the current hostage crisis deserves a lot more airplay than it's getting. Certainly more than the trivial misfortunes of Lindsay Lohan.

UPDATE: Jeff in Pusan responds. He may have a point.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Daehee with a heads-up about a contest

Daehee Park wrote to tell me about a contest for bloggers being run by a watch-making company called Fellin's (not felons). If you're a blogger and want a chance to win a new Fellin's watch, visit this site.


meanwhile, in lovely England...

Kathreb reports she is safe from floods and trying to avoid Harry Potter spoilers.

Hey, K--

The entire plot hinges on Peter Pettigrew and his silver hand.


Ave, Malcolm!

Malcolm links to an article about a man who functions normally despite having almost no brain. Go to Malcolm's site and follow the link from there. When you see the image, remember that the large, dark, brain-shaped mass in the middle is not the brain.

My question, after being thoroughly freaked out by that image, was:

Are there others like this?

In the comments to Malcolm's post, Dr. Hodges answers in the affirmative.


Ave, Nathan!

Nathan points me to an article that says:

Stop Terror with Sexual Healing


English weather is no joke

I've been watching the news about the flooding in England with mounting apprehension. They're saying it's the worst flood in history, and the rains aren't about to let up anytime soon. I've long been aware of England's reputation as a gloomy, rainy place, but it never occurred to me that England might suffer the wrath of a monsoon.

I guess this is the first major challenge for Gordon Brown, the new prime minister.

Donations to the UK Red Cross can be made here.

CORRECTION: I should be referring to this as the UK flood. There's already a Wikipedia article about it.


near-midterm assessment

I'm teaching courses in three levels of our intensive English program this time around. Three lesson preps. That's a much-reduced schedule from what I'd been assigned before my June vacation. Being down from six preps to three has its perks; I get to sleep later, for one thing (though that's not really a good idea). On the down side, I have to make up over 70 hours of work this semester, which means being asked to do slave labor when requested. The makeup work I do is "comped" toward my missing hours, but because I'm on salary, I'll receive no extra pay for it. I'm not really complaining, though; the makeup work usually takes less than the allotted time. In other words, if I'm told that Task X will be counted as ten hours toward my 70-plus hours of "undertime," I can complete the task in three hours and still receive ten hours' credit.

The students in Levels 2 and 3 are doing fine; I enjoy teaching both classes. Level 1, on the other hand, is stocked with unmotivated girls who spend all their time talking in either Korean or Japanese. Only one or two students are making any effort to speak in English. It's a lot like dealing with high schoolers again, because that seems to be about the maturity level of this group. That's unfortunate. I've had other Level 1 classes that were much better behaved.

We'll be losing the Japanese students well before the end of the semester, which might be a good thing this time. As I may have mentioned before, I've been largely impressed with the Japanese students who have attended classes in our department. Overall, they're hard workers and motivated learners. I'm chalking present circumstances up to a bad crop. Simple as that.


Monday, July 23, 2007

my Patronus

In the Harry Potter books, there is a thing called a Patronus. You conjure it by casting a spell. To do this, you think happy thoughts and shout Expecto Patronum! ("spit out the Patronus!"). What happens next is that a shape will leap from the end of your magic wand-- silvery, ghostly, and able to do your bidding. You need this spell if you ever find yourself surrounded by Dementors, which are floating, soul-sucking creatures that smell like zombies but dress like the Grim Reaper. Everyone's Patronus is different, and a Patronus can change shape depending on what's happening in one's life. Harry Potter's Patronus is shaped like a stag. Hermione Granger's Patronus is an otter. Albus Dumbledore's Patronus is-- no surprise-- a phoenix.

I'm pretty sure that, if I were a Harry Potter character, my Patronus would be a huge, talking penis. It would chase down and fuck every Dementor in sight, then crawl contentedly back into my wand.


rumble in the Rösti

Interesting goings-on in the country I called home for a year.


"Empty Ocean" by Jeong Ho-seung

Going to visit, no place to go
Coming back, no place to come back to
Leaving again, no place to leave for
Though I live, there's no living
Though I die, there's no dying
In the empty ocean
wrapped in a dawn sea-fog, a typhoon gone by
one mustard seed floats.

I'd love to see the Korean original.

The above is from a music program my parents gave me. While I was in the States, they went to see a Korean musician named Jang Sa-ik, whose musical style might best be called "fusion" because it incorporates modern Western rhythms and the traditional music of the old Korean court. It's a fascinating sound; I wish I had asked my folks to buy me a CD. The program is full of poetry; I assume the poems are translations of the lyrics used in Jang's songs. "Empty Ocean" is the first poem in the program.

I just thought the above poem would be a serene chaser after the tumult of the Marmot's comment threads.


missionaries: love 'em or hate 'em?

What we might term a "spirited" exchange is occurring over at the Marmot's Hole. Check the comment threads appended to a post about the current crisis in Afghanistan involving Korean Christians who may or may not have been doing mission work along with aid work (this post is being updated as we learn more). At present the comment thread is almost 150 comments long and is dominated by a handful of commenters. I don't normally read through Hole threads anymore, but the sheer number of comments appended to a topic of personal interest caught my eye, so I decided to go against protocol and read through the entire mess.

Most of this particular comment thread is devoted to debating whether missionaries who go to dangerous places like Afghanistan are worthy or respect or scorn (no mention, so far, of scornful respect). Should we respect people who seem to be sincere believers, who are willing even to risk death for their beliefs? Or should we scorn these people as misguided idiots* who know what they are getting into and are therefore undeserving of sympathy?

While the thread contains a lot of hot air, it also contains the elements of an actual, substantive exchange. Instead of providing meta-commentary here (a waste of time), I'd encourage you to go visit that post, read through the ever-growing thread, and make your own judgments. I might discuss my own views on mission work later... but I think longtime readers of this blog already know what I'm going to say.

*"Idiot" is here used in the sense of someone who possesses rational faculties but lacks even a modicum of common sense, especially with regard to danger. I'm pointing this out because the phrase "misguided idiots who know what they are getting into" can be read as a self-contradiction. How can you know what you're getting into if you're an idiot?

The topic of idiocy is itself good blogfodder. I tend to think we are all idiots in some areas of our lives.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter: done!

I'm not a fast reader, so I pretty much had to devote almost two days to getting through over 750 pages (I bought the US version of the book; here in Korea, the US and UK versions of the Harry Potter series are sold side by side).

The wave of book-buying continues worldwide (as you can imagine, this book has been #1 on Amazon.com's list for months, thanks to the miracle of pre-ordering), so I can't let out any real spoilers. Perhaps in a month or two, after I've read the book again, I'll write a bit more about it. For now, the important questions are whether I'd recommend the book and whether the book was a worthy finish to the series.

Yes and yes.

Now I can start answering all those neglected comments and emails...


blogger makes the WaPo

The intrepid Malcolm Pollack made it into a recent issue of the Washington Post.


Potter spoilers!

I should be asleep, but I've been reading all night, and now it's after 5AM. I decided to renege on my previous promise not to reveal some Harry Potter spoilers because they're just too juicy not to reveal. So here goes. Ready your tomatoes if I'm ruining things for you.

1. I was shocked that Hermione was killed off in the first twenty pages. That was totally unexpected. Wow.

2. Percy Weasley is one of the seven Horcruxes? That, too, came out of nowhere.

3. I suspected that Harry was actually a relative of Dumbledore, so it was cool to see this suspicion finally confirmed.

4. Dumbledore's "ghost" (a ruse by Nearly Headless Nick) was a lame plot device. I wanted Harry to be the one to kill Snape.

5. Rita Skeeter is back, and her fight with Professor McGonagall (who accidentally kills Skeeter) is one of the more memorable passages.

6. Voldemort was actually a pawn of the evil wizard Grindelwald the entire time? Silly. Why wait until Book 7 to reveal this?

Other than that, no complaints. The Voldemort-Potter fight is everything I imagined it would be, though poor Ginny didn't have to die in Harry's arms, did she?


Saturday, July 21, 2007

target acquired

Yes, I've got the newest Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and will be spending the evening (along with a goodly chunk of tomorrow) reading away.

And then I'll post the spoilers.

Just kidding.

I will note, though, that I'm amazed at my own will power this time around: not being the best practitioner of "delay of gratification," I've deliberately read or accidentally stumbled upon the spoilers for most of the major media events of the past few years. The Star Wars prequels come to mind: I knew the plots to all of them before seeing them. I also knew the salient points of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince because I floated over to Wikipedia and read the entire spoiler article. But this time around, I've somehow avoided the spoilers (aside from those rumors passed along to me by a coworker).

For those who have been following the recent foreknowledge/freedom posts on this blog, it's worth observing that JK Rowling's Potter books, from Book Five onward, do deal with this very question, though in Rowling's universe the question takes the form of prophecy. Prophecy is itself an interesting issue to explore, because there are several forms of it and different authors and thinkers handle it in different ways. Perhaps a post for another time.


omniscience and omnipotence
cannot go together

This is a quick followup to the previous post.

I need to find the source for this argument, but some thinkers note that, if God knows the future, this would seem to include God's knowledge of his own actions. Just as humans cannot be free if God knows what they will do in intimate detail, God himself (sorry for the sexist language, ladies) cannot be free if he knows everything he will do in intimate detail. An omniscient God is not omnipotent: he cannot refrain from doing what he knows he is going to do.


if God knows the future... are we free?

You might object that while God knows what choices you will make, he doesn't make those choices for you. That may well be true, but it's irrelevant because you are free to do something only if you can refrain from doing it. If your doing something is inevitable-- as it must be if God foresees it-- then your doing it cannot be a free act.

--Theodore Schick, Jr., Professor of Philosophy at Muhlenberg College, in the chapter "Fate, Freedom, and Foreknowledge" of The Matrix and Philosophy

I've actually been through this before several times on this blog, but a very lengthy comment exchange between myself and blogger USinKorea (check out his fine blog here) has convinced me that I need once again to set out the logical problem of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. It's an interesting topic to explore.

Please note, from the outset, that this argument focuses purely on the logical aspects of the question of divine foreknowledge. Believers who are secure in their faith won't be bothered by a logical attack on God, because their faith will be rooted in something deeper than logic. So I'm not trying to tear God down so much as I'm trying to deconstruct a faulty and self-contradictory conception of God.

At issue is whether human beings are free if God knows the future down to the minutest detail. The answer is no: humans are not free if God has such knowledge. Why? Because if God knows that event A is going to happen, then event A will happen exactly as God knows it will.

Before we go further, we need to clear up what "freedom" means. Most (not all) philosophers take human freedom to mean the ability to do other than what one has done. In other words, a situation might play out one way, but if we rewound to a crucial moment and hit "play" again, the situation might play out differently. Freedom entails openness and possibility.

Let's say I'm agonizing over whether I will order pizza or Chinese food tonight. God, who knows all, knows that I'll order pizza (he also knows I'll agonize over the menu). If God's knowledge is infallible, then I will indeed order pizza. Can I have done otherwise? No: God knew I was going to go for the pizza. He knew this five billion years ago. Or he knew it while "outside of time." It matters little; the point is that God's knowledge is infallible. I will order a pizza. I will not do otherwise. I cannot do otherwise. Why? Because if I could do otherwise, then God couldn't be said to have infallible knowledge of the future.

Did God cause me to order the pizza? Is God's knowledge somehow causal? That's an interesting question, but not really relevant here. The reason God knows event A (my ordering the pizza) will happen is that event A is somehow there to be known. You cannot know what is not there to be known. This is the only fact that counts.

When talking about knowing, we can divide the act/event into (1) the knower, (2) the act of knowing, and (3) the thing known. If God knows the future, then the future exists from God's point of view: it is there to be known. We should also note that knowing has two senses: a strict sense and a loose sense. If I say, for example, that "I know my dog will beg for food tonight," that's knowing in the loose sense. It is not the same as infallible knowledge, and therefore not relevant to this discussion.

Why isn't it relevant? Because I don't really know for a 100% certainty that my dog will beg for food tonight. I base my guess (and that's what this is: a guess) on previous experience. If my dog gets shot before dinner, this invalidates my claim to knowledge. If my dog gets sick or gets distracted by the bitch in the next yard, this also invalidates my claim to knowledge. If the future is not predictable, I cannot claim to know it. If the future is predictable, then its inevitability (true predictability implies true inevitability) justifies my claim to knowledge.

If I know for a moral certainty that my friend Jack always buys a Cherry Coke whenever we go to a convenience store, then I haven't demonstrated how Jack is free. If anything, my ability to predict his behavior is evidence of his lack of freedom. If you counter that Jack might someday choose a different drink, then I obviously didn't know what I thought I knew about Jack.

So: freedom precludes foreknowledge, because if we are truly, objectively free, then the future is not written. If the future is not written, it is not there for God to know it. If it's not there to be known, God doesn't know the future.

By the same token: if God truly knows the future, this can only be because the future is there to be known-- i.e., it is already written, already actual to God. Infallible knowledge is tied to inevitability, otherwise it isn't infallible knowledge. Causality isn't relevant.

All of which is to say: you can have one or the other, but not both. If you take freedom seriously, then there's no divine foreknowledge. The future is open, unwritten. If you take divine foreknowledge seriously, then there's no freedom. If God knows the future in intimate detail, you're not free. This line of thinking quickly becomes uncomfortable: if you're not free, you're not responsible for your actions. If you're not responsible for your actions, it is unjust for God to reward or punish you for what you could not help doing. In this worldview, the one where God knows the future, choice is an illusion.

NB: In Christian theology, there is a theological notion called "middle knowledge" that attempts to reconcile the above contradiction. In my opinion, it fails to accomplish its goal. I've written on it a couple times, and have to thank Dr. Hodges (and William Lane Craig!) for initially providing me with readings on the topic.

Middle knowledge is a fascinating concept, but in my opinion it merely pushes the logical problem back a step because it deals with conditionals-- the "ifs" of a situation. It is impossible to allow for conditionals and counterfactuals while still claiming that God knows the actual future.

While we're on the subject of theism and theology, I should also note that many theists have no trouble with the idea that we are all somehow predestined. Strict Calvinism holds to this notion. Most Muslims also affirm that all that happens, including human action, is the will of Allah. The "problem" of human freedom is not a problem for all believers.

In the comments to that previous post, USinKorea made an interesting remark: "I wonder, if [the critique of divine foreknowledge] is a matter of simple logic, why I have not heard before that everyone generally agrees that logic dicates there can be no God as defined by the [Judeo-]Christian and Islamic tradition and free will at the same time. If logic has proven the two cannot exist at the same time, I would have thought those three religions would have taken a much bigger hit in the world than they have as of yet."

First, we should note that the problem of freedom and foreknowledge is an ancient one, and is well known. Second, we should note that religion is more about faith than logic, so there's little reason for the faithful to feel threatened by logical argument. Religion is, for many, a deep-rooted conviction or orientation; reasoned arguments against religion are rarely persuasive for most believers, so it's unsurprising that certain religions have flourished in the face of blistering logical critique.

I don't want to sound condescending with the above. My point is not that religious folks are all benighted, irrational fruit loops. Most of my closest friends have some sort of religious conviction. My point is that logical arguments can only deal with the logical elements in a person's religious worldview, and that's it. I can't use logic to prove or disprove the existence of God, for example, but if people insist on making specific claims about God's nature, I can subject those claims to logical critique. That seems only natural.


Ave, Jason!

Jason sends me a link to a site for us Harry Potter addicts: the page shows alternate, "manly" book covers that, when printed, will allow you to hide your pussifying Harry Potter addiction from the world. My two favorites are the covers for Death Hall and for Ari Posner: Nazi Hunter.


food for thought

So if I pass through Newark International Airport on my way to DC again... do I have to ponder whether I'm going to be blasted out of the sky?


"Live Free or Die Hard": short review

After finishing "24," it's hard not to compare action heroes. Unfortunately for John McClane, Jack Bauer comes out on top. "24," despite being a drawn-out TV series, actually has more suspense in it than "Die Hard" has. Part of the problem for "Die Hard" is that the movie has been chopped down to fit a PG-13 rating. Very little hardcore language, and despite the massive property damage, very little in the way of blood and gore.

A few remarks:

1. We need to set the record straight. Some reviewers said this movie was about the triumph of lo-tech. Some even said the movie features relatively little CGI. Bullshit. The movie is loaded with CGI, up to and including most of the scenes in DC. I'm pretty sure Bruce Willis was in front of a green screen for many of those traffic jam sequences. And since when does DC have toll gates at its tunnels? Is this some new development? DC natives will, of course, wonder where the hell that car/helicopter chase was happening. It seemed to be happening all over town.

2. Maggie Q as Mai: very yummy. However, when McClane made a crack about her being the bad guy's "Asian hooker," I felt the temperature in the theater drop a couple degrees, and also realized how white I am. I, of course, remain in thrall to Maggie Q after having seen her in "Mission: Impossible 3."

3. The movie actually felt a bit tired. Again, an unbidden "24" comparison: in "24," the scriptwriters have made it clear that they don't mind wasting principal characters. In "Die Hard," it's no spoiler to say that, if the bad guys capture John McClane's daughter, he's gonna get her back. You know this. It's as foreordained as the plot of a romantic comedy.

4. Kevin Smith was a hoot as the super-hacker codenamed Warlock (real name Freddie). His basement was decked out completely in Star Wars memorabilia. Smith, already no slouch as a screenwriter, turned out to be a decent actor. Now if only he could improve as a director...

5. Yamakasi (a.k.a. Parkour) seems to have mainstreamed into action films. "Banlieue 13" featured it; the opening chase sequence in "Casino Royale" was all yamakasi; "Die Hard" has a bevy of international bad guys, including one or two yamakasi practitioners (zey spoke zee French!). Expect even more yamakasi until people get sick of it and move on to the Next Big Thing.

6. Iconic image, occurring several times in this film: John McClane limping out of smoking wreckage. It got funny after a while. Or maybe that was the idea.

7. Not sure how much I liked Tim Olyphant as a bad guy. He had a natural grimace and effete manner that tainted every scene. Didn't work for me. If you want effete and deadly, get Alan Rickman. That dude rocks.

8. Plausibility? What plausibility? Just about every scene featured something implausible. Am I a crotchety old fart to harp on this? My advice to people my age: just suspend disbelief, kick back, and enjoy. The sequence with the F-35 is over the top.

9. In all, not a bad film, but it was fairly forgettable. It'll go down easy and leave no traces on the way out. True summer fluff.


Friday, July 20, 2007

housekeeping notes

1. My phone is pretty much dead. I can send and receive text messages, but the battery can no longer stay latched onto the phone, making it nearly impossible to use for verbal communication. The phone is already stuck in its charger cradle: I can't remove it from the cradle to use it, which makes it tantamount to a land line. Now, thanks to the phone's having vibrated and dropped off my desk, the battery's fasteners (what's the proper term for those holes and hooks?) have broken and the battery won't sit flat against the phone without help. To use the phone, I now have to pin it to the charger cradle with my thumbs.

2. I have my boots back. It was a W10,000 repair, and I'm going to test them out later today, probably during an evening Namsan walk (which I'm not looking forward to).

3. My book appears to be up and running on both sites.


Ave, Malcolm!

Two posts of note over at Waka Waka Waka:

1. You all doubtless know about the New York City steam pipe explosion by now. Not terrorism, but still pretty horrific. One dude in a truck was idling right over the point that exploded. The live steam gushed around him and his truck, and he now has third-degree burns over eighty percent of his body. Malcolm's a New Yorker, and he saw and heard both the blast and the subsequent gushing of steam. His take.

2. Malcolm claims to be a "carnivore's carnivore." He writes, in prose worthy of Mark Leyner: "I’ve even considered attempting a diet that consists solely of animals that are themselves carnivores, just to get right up on the tippy-tippy top of the food chain." I had a good laugh.


beast in the Smoo gym

Today, because I bagged on Sperwer, I dragged my carcass over to Smoo's gym, which is normally open at 7:30AM on weekdays. Or so I thought.

No dice today. Closed.

I then talked to the B1 concierge, who told me to try the gym again in a few minutes: the cleaning lady probably needed time to go through the gym and clean it. So I waited until 8:45.

Again, no dice.

So I waited in my office another thirty minutes and then went back. Hooray! The gym was open! Disgruntled by the delay, I Jabba-sloshed my way up to the girl at the counter, waved my eyestalks threateningly and asked, "Why weren't you open when I came by earlier this morning?"

"We have summer hours," she said meekly, pointing to the white board behind her. Sure enough: "Weekdays, starting at 9AM."

Gastropod rippling in agitation, I rumbled, "Why isn't this posted outside your door, where people can see it in the morning?"

The girl's eyes widened in mock sympathy and she shrugged.

"Is this information available online somewhere?" I demanded, lashing my tail for effect.

"No," she admitted meekly.

"Okay!" I declared, opening and closing several slimy air holes in my back to indicate the discussion was over. I wrapped a tentacle around the pen and signed in. With another tentacle, I slipped my Smoo ID card into the little wooden key slot and took the locker key out, then schlepped across the hall to the men's locker room. I shed my normal skin, put on my workout skin, and lumber-sloshed back across the hall to the gym.

I'm quite a sight when I'm on that elliptical trainer: an enormous, sweaty mass of flailing tentacles, writhing eyestalks, click-clacking fangs, and fetid ropes of tobacco-colored drool. It's hard to get my gastropod onto those pedals (two pedals, one gastropod-- you see the problem), but I usually manage. The girls in the gym just stare in horror as I huff and chug away, bellowing out-of-tune Mariah Carey songs.

Today was actually my first day back at the gym since my return from the States. I had hoped to hit the gym in the mornings on weekdays, but have instead been staying up late and focusing on Namsan hikes (damn this freaking humidity). Everything at the gym seems about the same.

Except the goddamn hours.


at the office because...

The gym is not open. I went to the B1-level concierge and asked what was up. He said that the cleaning lady was probably late in opening the gym. I nodded and walked away, but then wondered at what the guard was saying: even if the cleaning lady opens the place up, there's still supposed to be a staffer at the gym's front desk. That staffer is, in principle, the one who opens up the gym, ja? if the cleaning lady opens the place up and no staffer is there... well, I guess I'll just stroll on in.

Anyway, I'm going back down at 8:45 to try again.


the wuss-out

I was supposed to hit Bukhansan with Sperwer again this morning, but decided to cancel. I had intended to buy a new pair of boots to "hold me over" for today's walk, but I didn't leave the office until late last night and didn't buy the footwear (my battered pair of boots are being repaired, but I was told to pick the boots up on Friday afternoon, which would have been too late for today's hike). While I imagine that Bukhansan is, for the more athletically inclined, hikable without hiking boots, I wasn't about to risk the abuse to my feet and ankles that would have resulted from a climb in running shoes. So I sent Sperwer a text message around 5:10AM to cancel, and followed that up with an explanatory email. Since I'm already up, I'm going to hit the Smoo gym when it opens at 7:30AM to alleviate some of the guilt.

Shit, I'd better get moving.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Fightin' Bill Buchanan and the "24" finale!

I finally finished Season Six of "24," and damn! Bill Buchanan turned out to be da man! Lesson for the audience: Don't fuck with the Irish!

I also couldn't help noticing that Jack Bauer had the chance to go on another Season One-style killing rampage this time around when he took out all(!) the Arab terrorists including ol' Baldy Fayed. That was a cool episode.

Unfortunately, TV Links didn't have Episode 22 in its listing, so I don't know how CTU managed to free itself from the Chinese strike force (perhaps they simply retreated once they had Josh Bauer?). But all in all, I'd have to say that Season Six seemed to enjoy about the same overall quality of scriptwriting and acting as Season One. The inclusion of a bunch of way-cool Old School actors didn't hurt, either: Powers Boothe as the randy vice president and James Cromwell as Jack's father were standouts, and the always-awesome William Devane did a great job as James Heller.

Still-unfinished business: poor Milo bites it in defense of Nadia Yassir, the lady he loves. Nadia didn't have the courage to stand up when the leader of the Chinese force asked who the CTU commander was. She fudged the event when Milo's brother came to pick up Milo's body, saying simply that Milo saw she was in danger and intervened to save her. On top of this, Nadia was romantically torn between Milo and Mike Doyle (Ricky Schroder, also good in his role), so it almost feels as though poor Milo really got shafted. I wonder how Nadia's going to handle all this in the next season.

Two major themes in Season Six were (1) it's important not to die in vain, and (2) damn the orders! Sometimes you have to do what's right! In Jack Bauer's case, it seems that going against orders is a five- or six-time-a-day business.

Anyway, I enjoyed the season, loved the suspense, and think that the scriptwriters could teach Dan Brown a thing or two about real tension. Gripping TV. I can unclench my balls now.


Ave, Richardson!

Richardson, who runs the excellent DPRK Studies, is now a dad.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

more on divine plans

Bill T. writes, over at Dr. Vallicella's blog:

Hi, Kevin.

You wrote: But yes, Dr. V, at a visceral level, I find the idea that something as massive as Stalin's purges or the Holocaust might be part of a divine plan utterly repulsive.

As we all should. God does not will the evil that men like Stalin or Hitler do. Those crimes are not part of the "plan". No evil is. If any good comes from the evil we do, sobeit. But there is no doubt that it is far better that we do no evil in the first place.

God's purpose in creating us as moral beings capable of freely choosing to do good or evil is that more good will result from us having that capability than if we did not. So the less evil we do, the better.

Regards, Bill T

It would be reassuring to think that evil is not part of the plan and that human freedom somehow exculpates God, and if I were a theist, I would probably lean in that direction. But I think the majority of Christians and Muslims who believe God has a divine plan also believe that nothing lies outside of God's control, and that the holy scriptures predict a specific outcome toward which all human (and, presumably, material) action is being funnelled. This outcome is in the general form of an ultimate victory for the forces of light, a happy ending to the story. If it's true that the plan predicts and, through God's will, ensures an ultimate victory, then historically speaking, the dice are loaded.

Not being a scriptural literalist, I'm not a big fan of using scripture to make a point. But for those who listen to such arguments, I'd note that scriptural evidence would seem to support the idea that nothing occurs without God's knowledge and, on some very basic level, consent. Witness Jesus' whisper to Judas to go and do what needs to be done. Some might say that, if Jesus is indeed God (as most trinitarian Christians affirm), then God willed Judas to enact his betrayal and pave the way for Jesus' execution. The evil of crucifixion becomes part of a greater plan.

As an aside... I've long wondered whether a divine plan can be interrupted by a random asteroid impact. If the plan is supposed to end in some kind of personal or collective ultimate human fulfillment, be that in the form of a new heaven and new earth or something equally glorious (Teilhard de Chardin's Omega Point comes to mind), then what becomes of that plan if a chunk of rock slams into Earth and we go the way of the dinosaur? I suppose diehard literalists might call such an impact the star Wormwood, spoken of in Revelation. I wouldn't be so inclined.


book situation

There's still some sort of problem with my book. Both of my CafePress sites are experiencing the same malfunction. Customer service got back to me very promptly last night, but they didn't answer my question. I've written them again, in much greater detail (the first email was already long), and am hoping they'll take the time to read me carefully instead of providing pat answers.


avoiding Harry

Gotta avoid the spoilers for the final Harry Potter book. I've already heard too much from a gleeful colleague of mine.

I heard that the book will be available in Korea on July 23, two days after its appearance in the US. Will be pouncing on it at the bookstore, but will have to avoid the temptation to follow links to online spoilers. Ah, penisnuts.


postal scrotum: Adam asks...

Adam Yoshida asks, "Is this accurate?" I had a look at the link, and I'd have to say... pretty much, though the Koran-burning episode is news to me.

The Exciting World of South Korean Protests

The bottom of that article includes links to other articles about Korea's career protesters; one of those links is to a recent article by Mike the Metropolitician. I highly recommend Mike's article, which includes a first-person account of some madness in which he was unwillingly involved.


book glitch

I'm not sure whether the problem is from my end or over at CafePress, but for whatever reason, my book seems to have become unavailable when I click the link on my banner (see above). I had been working inside my CafePress account when the trouble began; I'm corresponding with CP's customer service, and hope to have the issue resolved shortly. I'll update you when I know more. Hang tight.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

almost forgot

Happy Constitution Day, Korea!

UPDATE: Stafford has bad news about future Constitution Days.


Big Hominid versus William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig is a philosopher and theologian with an evangelical Christian background. Many in academic circles know him as one of the foremost apologists for the Christian worldview. In a recent blog post, Dr. Vallicella linked to some YouTube videos of Craig giving a presentation of some sort. This might have been in the context of an atheism/theism debate.

In the comments section of Dr. V's blog, I took issue with Craig on a couple points. My initial comment received two replies, and I have just written a reply to those comments. I reproduce the relevant part of the comment thread here.

Kevin's comment:

WL Craig says: "The purpose of life is not human happiness, as such, but rather knowing God and eternal life."

Is Craig saying that knowing God is unconnected with human happiness? I should think that most theists would argue that knowing God is the ultimate happiness (or bliss, or whatever the correct word is). If that's the case, then why can't God create beings that enjoy full knowledge of him without having to send his poor creatures through the existential wringer?

I also have trouble with Craig's "hidden harmony" argument-- the idea that a greater, perhaps unknowable, divine purpose can somehow make human suffering meaningful. My gut reaction to this has always been, "Look a concentration camp survivor in the eyes and say that to her with a straight face: your suffering and your family's suffering were part of a larger plan." How many people seriously believe such a twisted notion?

If the hidden harmony argument is true (and based on Craig's overview of the epistemological difficulties inherent in trying to assess whether suffering has a point, it seems only God can truly know), then I'd rather not have anything to do with such a God.


Dr. V's reply:


Craig does not mean that human happiness is unconnected with knowledge of God. Ultimately, human happiness consists in the knowledge of God. Why the existential wringer? The trad. answer would be in terms of free will, Original Sin, etc.

I don't have the time to discuss this in detail, but I think what it comes down to is that your intuition that there cannot be a providential plan given the fact of evil trumps every other consideration.

Timothy's reply:


You wrote:

"Look a concentration camp survivor in the eyes and say that to her with a straight face: your suffering and your family's suffering were part of a larger plan."

Christians, including concentration camp survivors, take comfort in that very sentiment (e.g. Corrie Ten Boom).

If the hidden harmony argument is true (and based on Craig's overview of the epistemological difficulties inherent in trying to assess whether suffering has a point, it seems only God can truly know), then I'd rather not have anything to do with such a God.

If there is a God, then the hidden harmony argument or something like it must be true. And if there is a God, then by definition you can't help but have everything to do with him one way or another.

I wrote in response:


re: camp survivors taking comfort in hidden harmony

That's a good point, and it's one I've encountered before. I actually don't mind so much that the sufferer should try to comfort him- or herself with such a thought, but it seems perverse for another person to suggest it to them.

And just as there's anecdotal evidence for sufferers who accept the hidden harmony argument, there's anecdotal evidence for sufferers who don't. Europe's current status as "post-Christian" is partly due to the harrowing effects of World War II. Post-WW2 French existentialism became popular in part because it saw the cosmos as fundamentally absurd (NB: I don't share that view), with people not so much discovering meaning as building it through their choices.

If there is a divine plan of some sort, this seems hard to reconcile with human freedom. If everything we do somehow fits into that plan-- and because it's a plan, I assume there is supposed to be a specific outcome-- I have to wonder just how free any of us really is.

I think I'll go and write something about this on my blog. But yes, Dr. V, at a visceral level, I find the idea that something as massive as Stalin's purges or the Holocaust might be part of a divine plan utterly repulsive.

If God, like human beings, created a plan with a certain objective, but allowed our freedom and the waywardness of Heisenbergian matter to diverge from that plan... that would go a long way toward alleviating my disgust. But if everything is ultimately Part of the Plan-- no. No.


I'm sure there will be more to this.

Craig argues, in the linked videos, that atheists cannot justifiably claim that pointless suffering exists. His argument actually makes sense, for it comes down to the "horizoned" (i.e., limited) nature of human knowledge and experience. God or no God, the universe is an unimaginably huge place, so how can we possibly make such sweeping claims (e.g., "some suffering is pointless") without having grasped even a fraction of the Big Picture? I'm willing to concede this to Craig.

The problem with Craig's argument, though, is that it's not exactly a ringing endorsement of the traditional Christian conviction that there is a divine plan of some sort. What Craig's argument comes down to is a claim of epistemic parity-- "You can't know, and I can't know, either."

This puts both the believer and the nonbeliever in the same boat, and the Christian is then left with "I have faith" as his or her only justification for believing that all suffering has a point. From the modern standpoint, the claim "I have faith" becomes problematic when viewed in the larger arena of rival religious traditions, many of which make contradictory truth claims when you start looking at the specifics of their belief structures, and which also cite "faith" as the impetus behind their claims. So... who's right?

I have for years been horrified by the idea that human evil on a grand scale can all be considered part of a larger plan. It's one thing for a parent to punish a child and to say, "You'll understand why this is happening when you're older and wiser." It's quite another thing to claim "Divine plan!" when faced with an evil like black slavery, or the slaughter of Tutsis by Hutus, or the ravages of World War II. The difference between these two examples is, to my mind, not a difference of degree, but of kind. I haven't put my finger on why that's true; perhaps that will be fodder for another post.


Monday, July 16, 2007

inadvertent Spanish lessons

I've skipped Seasons 2, 3, 4, and 5 of "24" and have been watching Season 6. The intensity level is still high, and the acting and scriptwriting remain sharp. I'm not sure how they manage to sustain the suspense, but Jack Bauer is still a man on the edge, and he's still fun to watch. I also like the CTU team they've assembled for Season 6; each of those actors is doing stellar work, and some-- like the actress who plays Nadia-- are quite easy on the eyes. The actor playing Morris O'Brian takes the cake, though: he's some of the best comic relief on that show, and he's versatile enough to do pathos well.

I'm far enough along Season 6 to know that the first suitcase nuke has detonated in Valencia, California, and that poor Morris was tortured into prepping the remaining nukes by programming the detonator. Sometimes I feel that Morris is our Everyman surrogate-- he can't withstand a year of torture like Jack Bauer can, nor can he fend off three "hostiles" the way Milo did while defending Graem Bauer's wife. I'm not far enough along in the series to know whether Morris will redeem himself or, as seems likely, kill himself, but I'm rooting for his character. I mean-- what would you do if a terrorist starts puncturing your back with a power drill? It's easy to say, "I'd stay loyal to my country," but you can never know until you're in that situation.

The TV Links site has two sets of Season 6 links to watch; one set is from the Stage 6 DivX site, and that's the set I'm watching because it's got a crisper image.* Whoever uploaded the episodes chose to grace us with Spanish subtitles, so I've been learning Spanish in spite of myself. I took a semester of Spanish back in 1991 and found it to be fairly easy, thanks to my French background, but it's obvious I know precious little Spanish vocabulary: as it turns out, many Spanish words are not cognates with French words. Italian is actually easier for a French speaker to decipher. On paper, anyway.

Thanks to the subtitling for "24," I now know expressions like "matar" (to kill) and "listo" (ready) and "seguro" (sure, certain). I also see that some Spanish expressions are very similar to French. For example, I now know that "de acuerdo" means "OK," which is the same as the French "d'accord." Some Spanish expressions are fascinating for their links to English words. For example, one says "discúlpame" in Spanish when one means "pardon me" or "excuse me." The astute observer can see that the Spanish verb looks a lot like the English verb "disculpate," to remove from guilt or suspicion, to exculpate. Veddy eenteresteeng.

Tomorrow is a national holiday in Korea (jae-heon jeol, Constitution Day), and it's likely I'll be back in the office catching up on "24," Season 6. Woo-hoo!

*Stage 6 is basically a high-end version of YouTube. Larger files, better image quality.


postal scrotum: mobility and ventilation

From my buddy Mike:

I was amused by your post about ripping pants. May I suggest:


No more problem with ripping and plenty of ventilation...


A note for Johnny-come-latelies to this blog: the term "postal scrotum" is simply a nastified Kevinism for "mail bag."


Sunday, July 15, 2007

hell, yeah

ABC News 20/20 reports on the remarkable "conversion" of Rev. Carlton Pearson, a man who went from preaching fire and brimstone to questioning the existence of hell (the link with pictures is here). Pearson experienced a crisis of faith, one that included an interreligious aspect:

Through the years, as Pearson studied the ancient Greek and Hebrew Scriptures, he developed a crisis of faith.

"I couldn't reconcile a God whose mercy endures forever, and this torture chamber that's customized for unbelievers," Pearson said.

And he often agonized over the fate of his non-Christian family members. According to his faith, they were doomed to hell.

"How can you really love a god who's torturing your grandmother? And that's what I went through for years."

The more he studied, the more Pearson saw the Bible not as the literal word of God but a book by men about God -- primitive men prone to mistranslations, political agendas and human emotions. And one night, as he watched Peter Jennings' report on the parade of suffering in Rwanda, he had a revelation.

"I remember thinking that these were probably Muslims because God wouldn't let that happen to Christians," he said. "Unbelieving Muslims, little starving babies and that they were going to die and go to hell."

"And that's when I said, 'God, how could you, how could you call yourself a loving God and a living God, and just let them suffer like that, then to suck them into hell?'" he continued. "And that's when I thought I heard an inner voice say, 'Is that what you think we're doing?' I said, 'That's what I've been taught. You're sucking them into hell.' And that voice said, 'Can't you see they're already there? That's hell. You created that.'"

Pearson believed that God was telling him hell is the creation of man on earth.

"The bitter torment of the idea of an angry, visceral, distant, stoic, harsh, unrelenting, unforgiving, intolerant God is hell. It's pagan, it's superstitious, and if you trace its history, it goes way back to where men feared the gods because something happened in life that caused frustration that they couldn't explain."

Pearson had some guts. He began preaching a different message, one that rejected hell. As a result, he began to lose his followers by the thousands, and also got cancer during that time. But his persistence has paid off: his cancer is in remission, and his base of followers has begun to build back up, though he now attracts a very different sort of crowd.

The sad part of all this is how his previous followers, upon hearing his new (in my opinion, more sensible) message, turned on him in hatred. Such behavior isn't surprising, of course; this is the reaction of people in the throes of attachment, people with no understanding of what true religion is.

The internal move Pearson has made here-- the move away from a poisonous idea-- is the sort of thing I'd like to see more of in the Muslim world. I can't help thinking, as I have for a long time, that Muslims in the West are the answer to this, that they are the ones most likely to experience just this sort of internal jihad (struggle), and then share it with their community. The fact that outspoken Muslims have already tried this in places like Europe, at the risk and cost of their own lives, gives me hope. It also keeps me from hopping in with the far-rightist crowd that presume Islam itself is inherently twisted. As I always say, religions are as they are practiced. They are not fundamentally one thing or another, not fundamentally violent or fundamentally peaceful. Traditions mired in violence are not irredeemable. It's simply a matter of finding the way that leads out of the cauldron of pettiness, hate, greed, selfishness, and attachment.

While I might not share Reverend Pearson's overall theology, I think he deserves praise for having the guts to bring a better message to the people than the ancient, stunted one we so often hear.


a word about my boots

Ô, scandale!

Commenters are knocking my hiking boots, but they should know that I've had those boots since the 1990s, and they've been damn good. They've served me well in places as diverse as the mountains near Colmar, France; the Shenandoahs in Virginia; Kyeongju, South Korea; Taos, New Mexico; Interlaken, Switzerland; and of course some of the mountains around Seoul-- Bukhansan, Dobongsan, and Gwanaksan. The boots also saw use on last year's trip out to Yeongju with Sperwer, and were with me in 2000 when I hit Haein-sa, which is on Kayasan. They're old, grizzled veterans of Europe, the States, and Korea. The fact that they've lasted this long, under the abuse of a guy who has never weighed less than 200 pounds (91kg) since their purchase, is a testament to their quality.

None of which is to say I'm sentimental about my boots, mind you. I'm not sentimental about things like clothing and footwear. I'll use something until it's no longer usable, but once it reaches that state-- bye. So if my boots cheese out on me during my next run or two up Bukhansan, I'll simply go and buy new boots. There's no shortage of decent mountaineering stores in a place like Korea. Since I need to look for a large, America-traversing backpack, anyway, I'm going to end up in such a store in due time.*

*My preference is for the Gregory brand of backpack, and I'm partial to internal frames, which are usually molded on site at the store (in America, anyway) to conform to the shape of your spine.


Ratzinger begins to show true colors

Pope Benedict XVI, the erstwhile Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, has apparently begun to show his true conservative colors more forcefully than before. My buddy Tom sent me a link to the following English Dong-A Ilbo article:

Pope Benedict XVI approved a document that says Roman Catholic Church as the only proper church and other Christian denominations as “defective” or not true churches on July 10. Other churches, including Protestant and Orthodox churches, immediately attacked the Pope’s remarks, Reuters and DPA reported.

The document states that “Christ ‘established here on Earth’ only one church,” and as for Orthodox churches, it pointed out that the fact that the churches did not recognize the authority of the pope. Regarding Protestant churches, Pope Benedict mentioned that they couldn’t be called “churches” in the proper sense because they lacked apostolic succession.

The foreign press pointed out that the substance of the document is similar to the one that the Pope made when he was secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Censure is coming from all around regarding his remarks. The World Alliance of Reformed Churches said, “We are wondering if Catholic churches really have intention to excommunicate other brother churches.” German Evangelical churches criticized that a chance for unity between denominations was “getting far away again.” Leaders of the Copt, a traditional Egyptian Protestant church, dismissed his remarks as a joke.

Benedict also announced on July 7 that he would revive the Latin mass, which caused a backlash from Jewish people since the Latin mass, known as the “Tridentine Mass,” contains a chant that calls for Jewish people to renounce their religion.

Some catholic churches have questioned the statement and consider it a step back from the reform of the Vatican Council II (1962-1965). The council decided that the language of the mass should be decided according to the church that the mass is held in.

Pope Benedict XVI created a controversy by describing Islam as a violent religion last year.

As with the 2000 document Dominus Iesus, which was written largely by Ratzinger while Pope John Paul II was still alive, Ratzinger's latest move is merely a reaffirmation of a long-held Church stance, one that was tweaked during the Second Vatican Council, a.k.a. Vatican II (1962-65).

The issue here is not that the Roman Church has suddenly turned vicious; the issue is that some folks in Rome insist on trumpeting unsavory aspects of Church doctrine in what can only be billed as spectacularly inept attempts at public relations. The Church is free to declare whatever articles of belief it wants, but I fail to see how such moves further the Church's somewhat paradoxical wish to promote interreligious harmony. Do harmony and hegemony mix? If a certain religion holds not only that other traditions are in error, but also that the One True Religion should be spread as far as possible, how is this consonant with the desire for peaceful coexistence? That has been one of the themes I've explored, in some fashion or other, on this blog and in my book.


Bukhansan hike: crotchless edition

I had wanted to write this post on Friday evening after my morning hike up Bukhansan, but after a brief run to the office that afternoon, I discovered I was simply too tired to do the necessary photo editing. I collapsed in bed at a much earlier time than is normal for me.

On the morning of Friday the 13th, Sperwer and I met near one of the mountain trailheads at around 6:35AM. I had promised a 6:15 meeting, but ran a bit late. This was partly my fault, for two reasons: first, I had gotten up about fifteen minutes later than I should have; and second, I had to lumber over to the office to grab my trusty backpack. It was also partly the fault of the cabbie, who was friendly enough, but who took a somewhat longer route to the trailhead than I was used to.

The hike took us about five-and-a-half hours. It turned out that my backpack was probably the trustiest thing on the trip. The honor of Most Trustworthy certainly didn't go to my legs, whose strength was horribly diminished from when I had first done this hike last year. On my very first trip up Bukhansan, which I took after having been in training on Namsan for a while, I was able to make the trailhead-to-Daeseongmun leg of the trip in a little over two hours, which is about the time the old guy at the ticket booth had told us we'd take. This time, however, the same trip took a shameful 3.5 hours, and not because Sperwer was slowing us down. No: Sperwer has been dieting and exercising like a madman for the better part of a year, and the results are apparent. He maintained an energetic pace, and I was the one who kept calling for rest stops.

Not only did my legs fail me, but my arms and lungs failed me as well: I had forgotten just how much Bukhansan can take out of you. It also didn't help matters that I was doing this climb in warmer weather; cold, as I've mentioned before, energizes me. Bukhansan wasn't especially hot on the 13th, and thank the gods there was relatively little humidity, but I still felt the sun's unkind caress.

The worst was yet to come, as I had two major equipment failures. About two-thirds of the way through the hike, somewhere during the downhill stretch, the soles of both my hiking boots decided to part company with the uppers. On both boots, the rearward two-thirds of the soles slipped off while the front third stuck fast. This wasn't as big of a problem as it seemed as long as I was stepping up or down, but whenever I walked on flat ground, a distinct slap, slap, slapping noise could be heard, as if I were wearing extremely heavy sandals. I joked with Sperwer that, if I were to die on the mountain, that slapping noise would be the sound of my ghost.

An even worse equipment failure occurred before my boots gave up the ghost: my heretofore faithful pair of dark blue shorts, which had served me well for years, finally decided to betray me in a most public fashion barely halfway into the hike. The hike was instructive in that it gave me an idea of where I needed to improve and how I needed to train, but the most memorable part of the hike was, without a doubt, the sundering of my pants.

This wasn't some simple split along the ass crack. In fact, I had no idea how severe the rippage was until I got home to my apartment and took a look for myself. As it turned out, the rip went along most of the length of the crotch, but also curved sideways around the upper thigh region. While on the trail, I had some idea of how well-ventilated I had become (going crotchless actually has its good points when you're on the mountain and sweating), but couldn't really bring myself to look. Sperwer had a good laugh, especially while I was deliberating over how best to proceed. Ripping your pants when you're on a mountain trail-- and hours from sartorial rescue-- is no small matter.

I finally managed to jury-rig a solution, with Sperwer's help. As he was grinning at my predicament, Sperwer said, "I've got a jacket if you need one," and that remark reminded me that I had brought an extra tee shirt and my jacket along with me. So I took these out, tied the jacket around my waist to hide the rear view, then tucked the folded tee shirt into my belt at the front in order to minimize the horrifying sight of my sweaty, underwear-clad Gentiles. I was almost-- almost-- passable, and was now wearing two-thirds of a kilt. The point was make myself socially acceptable to all the hikers we would be passing along the way. I think, for the most part, that my solution worked, but I can't be sure. Unlike the emperor with his new clothes, I was pretty self-conscious about accidentally flashing strangers.

"You look like you should be holding a claymore," Sperwer cracked, indicating my man-skirt.

I knew that the pants-ripping episode was perfect fodder for a Hairy Chasms entry, but I had to think long and hard about whether I would actually show you, Dear Reader, pictures of the damage. In the end, I decided to put my ego aside and reveal all. What follows, then, is a series of pics that show the damage to my shorts and boots, and how I handled the situation. If you're not sure whether you'd care to see me in a revealing pose, you'd better skip this post and go visit other blogs. By the end of the day, I'll have posted a couple more times, and this post will have been shoved down too low for you to see.

The first pic shows me in a reconstructed version of the makeshift kilt-- tee shirt in front, jacket wrapped around the back. The next pic shows the damaged boots (I ended up tying my laces around the soles to keep them from clop-clopping too much), and the final three pics are all about the shorts. Again, skip those final pics if you're shy.

Here goes.

Ha! Did you really think I was going to hawk the jewels? Fool!

Lessons learned:

1. Work on leg strength. I've only just re-started stair training; this needs to continue, and if possible, intensify.

2. Work on arm strength. Pushups are good because they exercise your punching muscles (pecs, triceps, etc.), but getting the biceps and forearms in shape is also a good idea for when you're hiking in the mountains. Navigating a Korean trail is, as Sperwer agrees, a whole-body workout. Sometimes you're heaving yourself over large rocks. Sometimes you're pulling yourself up by grasping roots and thin trunks. Sometime you're holding onto a rail while navigating a steep, slippery, rocky slope.

3. Wear clothing that doesn't rip.

4. In the event of rippage, be sure to have kilt-making material (or perhaps another pair of pants).

5. I'm not sure what could have been done about the boots, which appeared fine on Friday morning, but I guess the moral is to check the boots for any problem, however small. In the meantime, these boots need to be repaired. I hope to do so early this week, as I plan on heading up the mountain again this coming Friday. God help me.

6. Maintain blog readership by not exposing genitals. Only female bloggers have the cleavage- and genital-exposing prerogative.