Tuesday, October 30, 2007
As a fan of Mark Salzman's work (Iron and Silk, The Soloist, Lying Awake), I'm happy to see he's in a film called "Protagonist" directed by his wife, Jessica Yu. Part documentary, part quasi-Greek drama, the film deals with the question, What makes a hero? The trailer gives us a hint that the film will be, in part, about the road to knowing oneself. It looks to be a fascinating exploration of personhood, and of how we see ourselves as heroes in our own heroic narratives. Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death deals with this issue; it's Becker's contention that mental illness involves a dysfunction in the heroic narrative-- an interesting theory, to say the least. I hope "Protagonist" comes to Korea, though I won't be holding my breath.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Malcolm's reaction to the Hitchens-D'Souza debate can be found here. I like how Malcolm expresses his dissatisfaction with the debate's format and how the format affected the debate's substance:
These things are always unsatisfying. What one really wants is to get the two parties to spend an evening together at one's house, ply them liberally with good food and strong drink, and let them simply talk to each other for a few uninterrupted hours, with the ability to interject as needed to keep things on track. But these public debates have such a rigid format that areas of contention are never explored in any depth, and certainly not with the extended interplay of point and counterpoint that would be possible in an evening's conversation. Instead we have single-shot matchups of statement and rebuttal; the effect is more like a game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors" than a Socratic dialogue.
No disagreement here.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Oooooooooh, fffffffuuuuuck... I can feel it...
Oh-- oh, shit... it's... it's happening...
Gotta split faster... yes... faster...
Was it good for you? (Was it good for you?)
Ooooooh, yeah, baby. (Ooooooh, yeah, baby.)
Oh, shit-- (Oh, shit--)
It's... it's happening AGAIN! (It's... it's happening AGAIN!)
Oh, my GOD! (Oh, my GOD!)
Fuck, that was amazing! (Fuck, that was amazing!)
(Fuck, that was amazing! (Fuck, that was amazing!))
...was it good for you? (...was it good for you?)
(...was it good for you? (...was it good for you?))
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Anyone got any information on the Vygotsky Method (think: ZPD, or zone of proximal development) and its application to language teaching? Specifically: how does the method help in classes where learners are of wildly different ability levels? I've already mined the ever-reliable Wikipedia. Suggestions and recommendations welcome.
My buddy Mike writes in:
Re: Love Chair
I, like you, feared for my balls watching the video.
Riddle me this: Do Koreans just have smaller balls? I mean mine may be a little longer than most, but I'd think that all but the smallest would be done irreparable harm by that contraption.
You know what...
I'll just have to get out there and design a better love chair.
For people who've never seen the adjective "longer" applied to balls, I point you to this post at the Maven's blog. Watch the video in the "Testicular Postscript" section at the bottom of the post.
Friday, October 26, 2007
GI Korea over at ROK Drop has a hilarious post featuring a YouTube clip about a product designed specially for all dem lazy fuckaz out there: the Love Chair. Yes: an automatic chair that does your fucking for you. And to make you feel even more like a john, you actually have to pay the chair. I shit you not.
I watched, horrified, while one part of that medieval device slammed with staccato alacrity into the other part, and couldn't help thinking that a guy would have to be fucking crazy to risk having his ball sac pulped between those mean-looking pads. Does the machine come with a spray bottle and sponge to clean off the spoo, lady juice, and bloody chunks of testicle?
I went out for about an hour or so to hit the bank and grab a very late lunch. Upon my return, I found our office, Room 302, empty... and a huge puddle of water on the floor. Judging by the splash pattern, it looked as though someone had either spilled or thrown the water. Not wanting to slip on the hazardous surface, I grabbed a mega-sized roll of toilet paper (one of those huge dispenser rolls from the restroom down the hall) and began mopping the floor.
A couple hours later, one of the Korean teachers returned, so I asked her about the spill. She explained that her buddy, the other Korean teacher in our office, had deliberately splashed water across the floor... to increase the humidity level. "Instead of using a humdifier, see?" said my interlocutor. According to her, this is a common practice among Koreans, usually done when they assume no one else will be in the room (the water-throwing teacher must have assumed I wouldn't be back).
This leads to the question of why someone would do this on a Friday night. If, presumably, no one is here over the weekend, what benefit will people receive from the spilled water? I imagine the paint must breathe a sigh of relief at the extra infusion of humidity, but I'm pretty sure my female Aquarius wasn't throwing water to benefit the walls.
I've seen Koreans using hoses and watering cans to water the streets in front of their apartments, shops, and restaurants. Back in undergrad, my Korean teacher said that this dates back to an old villageois habit of watering the roads in the morning to keep the dust from rising. I can therefore understand why Koreans seem intent on watering asphalt. But throwing water onto a tile floor? For humidity's sake?
Comments on this bizarre phenomenon are welcome.
My brother David sends me a Halloween pic I drew a while back:
He also sends a link to a Wikipedia entry about a culinary monstrosity called a "turducken," which is essentially a deboned turkey that has been stuffed with a deboned duck-- stuffed in turn with a deboned chicken. Vulgarly appetizing, methinks-- much in the same obnoxious, low-rent vein as the Bennigan's hamburger topped with a gigantic wheel of fried cheese (I doubt they sell these anymore... or do they?).
If this paragraph from the Wikipedia entry doesn't frighten you, I don't know what can:
The largest recorded nested bird roast is 17 birds, attributed to a royal feast in France in the 19th century: a bustergophechiduckneaealcockidgeoverwingailusharkolanbler (originally called a Rôti Sans Pareil, or "Roast without equal") - a bustard stuffed with a turkey, a goose, a pheasant, a chicken, a duck, a guinea fowl, a teal, a woodcock, a partridge, a plover, a lapwing, a quail, a thrush, a lark, an Ortolan Bunting and a Garden Warbler. The final bird is small enough that it can be stuffed with a single olive; it also suggests that, unlike modern multi-bird roasts, there was no stuffing or other packing placed in between the birds. This dish probably could not be recreated in the modern era as many of the listed birds are now protected species.
Protected species? Calling Chef Yamamoto...
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Many thanks to Malcolm for sharing a link to a video of a debate between "anti-theist" Christopher Hitchens and writer Dinesh D'Souza, who represented the Christian side. The topic was "Is Christianity the Problem?" I watched the debate and came away, as I usually do when watching such debates, both fascinated by the content and frustrated by the many points left unmade. D'Souza had more audience sympathy, seeing as the debate was held at The King's College, a Christian university (housed in the Empire State Building, no less!), but both debaters made their cases well. They also behaved sloppily at times: both engaged in a bit of sucker punching, which I suspect is what much of the audience came for. But the exchange remained civil; the humorous highlight was when one audience member asked a question about preexistence, existence, and post-existence-- a question that Hitchens dismissed with a brusque "Next! NEXT!"
One point that D'Souza made, and to which Hitchens should have responded more strongly, was about the nature of natural "laws" and whether they admit of exceptions. Although D'Souza never used the term "inductive reasoning," his argument at that point in the debate was hammering on the fact that the "laws" of nature we have discovered are known to be true only insofar as we have tested them, i.e., we don't know them to be universally applicable. D'Souza gives the example of the speed of light, and even employs the decidedly atheistic David Hume to argue that, even if we were to test a phenomenon 50 million times, we could not be said to have established that a natural "law" is truly universal. In other words, there might be times when the speed of light in a vacuum might vary, or there might be regions of the universe where light behaves differently from what we know.
Had I been the one debating D'Souza, my reply to this would have begun as Hitchens's had: I would have conceded that inductive reasoning cannot lead from specific cases to the establishment of universals. But I would have gone on to ask D'Souza why it is that people feel justified in basing their feats of design and engineering on those natural/mathematical principles.
D'Souza's larger point is that, if we cannot verify whether natural laws admit of exceptions, then miracles are at least possible. But I would reply that if the laws we have discovered seem to apply with rigorous consistency to the behavior of matter all across the known universe,* then the burden of proof lies on the theist to tell us just how open those laws of nature are, and what empirically verifiable miracles have occurred. This is, after all, something the miracle-believing theist wants to do: to make an empirical claim about miracles-- or, more precisely, about the miraculous power of the divine. This is what leads to such beliefs/claims as "prayer cures cancer," etc.
D'Souza based most of his arguments on behalf of Christianity on moral grounds. As far as I remember, he explicitly did not try to base arguments on scripture and theology, for he knew they would be unimpressive to his opponent. He and Hitchens spent some time on the question of religion and totalitarianism, with D'Souza perhaps scoring more points in this area (at least with the audience) because Hitchens simply didn't have time to formulate a cogent answer. Hitchens did, however, ask his now-famous question: Can you name one moral act performed by a believer that CANNOT ALSO be performed by a non-believer? Hitchens said that, in all the debates in which he has participated, no one has answered his question. I'll save you the suspense: D'Souza failed to address it as well.
Personally, I don't see religion as inherently evil, nor do I consider it a thing to be eradicated. I'm a scientific skeptic in most respects, but I think that the flaws we see in religion are ultimately sourced not so much in the phenomenon of religion itself as in human nature-- the ways we behave when we hold certain beliefs. D'Souza argued rather effectively (if tendentiously) that godless totalitarian regimes have done far more damage in recent history than religion has. But Hitchens's response, which was that totalitarian regimes bear the hallmarks of religion, is also well taken. The two sides, when taken together, come close to where I stand on the matter of religion. It is a deeply flawed phenomenon, but to dismiss it as a kind of cancer seems extreme. The good done in the name of religion has, historically, been underreported.
One point of great dissatisfaction to me was that Hitchens failed to address non-theistic religions, which are never mentioned by either debater.** Worse, Hitchens sometimes appeared to be guilty of the black-and-white dogmatism that D'Souza accused him of. I understand Hitchens's reasons for being so "exercised" (as he puts it) about living in a world dominated by religion, but I do not believe he will be able to fight fire with fire. His stance toward Mother Theresa is baffling to me; while I agree that she probably did harm along with doing good, I would hesitate in calling that tiny little woman a criminal, as Hitchens does in some of his writing.
If you have 95 minutes to spare, I recommend the video to you. The direct link to it is here.
*See, for example, the observations we have made about galaxies millions of light years distant; the behavior of those galaxies seems remarkably consistent with what we know about physics.
**This may be because time was limited and the debate's focus was Christianity. However, Hitchens did mention both Judaism and Islam on several occasions; he could have talked about Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, etc. D'Souza could have, too. The question of competing religious truth claims was barely touched upon.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
What if our universe was one of a burgeoning, possibly infinite, number of universes? This Breitbart.com article says:
Parallel universes really do exist, according to a mathematical discovery by Oxford scientists described by one expert as "one of the most important developments in the history of science."
The parallel universe theory, first proposed in 1950 by the US physicist Hugh Everett, helps explain mysteries of quantum mechanics that have baffled scientists for decades, it is claimed.
In Everett's "many worlds" universe, every time a new physical possibility is explored, the universe splits. Given a number of possible alternative outcomes, each one is played out - in its own universe.
A motorist who has a near miss, for instance, might feel relieved at his lucky escape. But in a parallel universe, another version of the same driver will have been killed. Yet another universe will see the motorist recover after treatment in hospital. The number of alternative scenarios is endless.
Science fiction writer Larry Niven explored such a universe in a short story titled "All the Myriad Ways" which can be found in a collection also titled All the Myriad Ways. To my mind, the many-worlds hypothesis remains firmly in the realm of the fictional, but let's put aside for a moment the issue of how plausible such a scenario is.
The idea of "myriad ways" is philosophically intriguing, not least because it seems to present us with the possibility that we are "branched" beings with ramified lives playing out in an ever-increasing number of universes. Does a many-worlds existence in which we are, from a godlike perspective, living through all possible outcomes, provide us with a model that affirms human freedom?
I would say no. First, we have the problem of possibility. It seems to me that, in such a scenario, there are no longer any true possibilities; even to say "all possible outcomes" is misleading. What we have, instead, is a scenario in which all events are actual. This is little different from the issue of divine foreknowledge, in which God's knowledge of what you do in five minutes is possible only because your future is actual to God. From a godlike perspective, predicting events in an Everettian multiverse is a snap: if you ask me whether I will choose Chinese food or pizza for dinner, why, the answer is obviously both! There will be an infinite (or, at least, a huge) number of universes in which I arrive at that exact moment of choice, and whatever choices are available to me will all be made. Such predictability does not seem to allow for freedom. Instead, what we see is yet another version of an inevitable unfolding. This inevitability won't be visible from the horizoned perspective of one "me" in one universe, but it will be visible from the godlike perspective. The inevitability will, in other words, exist objectively.
Second, I am troubled by the idea that choice is what produces fission. Why something so human as choice, and not the Heisenbergian movements of electrons? In fact, given the inevitability discussed in the previous paragraph, it seems difficult to affirm the idea of choice at all: if we follow the Everettian schema, then I, as a branching being, will explore all the pathways open to me at any given moment.
Turning now to the issue of the theory's plausibility, I submit that the many-worlds hypothesis is fit for slaughter by Occam's Razor. It generates far too much ontological messiness. Think about it: on August 31, 1969, Kevin is born. From that moment on (if not before), my exercise of will will produce new universes, all created-- poof-- by "choice" (more accurately, the simultaneous exploration of all available avenues). In many of these universes, I will die an early death, perhaps as the result of other people's choices. In many others, I will die as a teenager, or as a twenty-something, or as a senior citizen. But what's to say that the event of my birth on August 31, 1969 was unique? Perhaps in other universes created by my multitude of parents, I will be born, and multiple Kevins will begin living out their ever-branching lives. How can all of these Kevins be meaningfully tracked?
The above picture, multiplied by all the sentient, will-exercising beings that have ever lived, quickly becomes a royal mess. The mess isn't helped by the fact that the branchings, if caused by "choice," will in theory be governed by the number of available alternatives at hand. If so, it must be asked how one can know the number of universes that sprout from any given choice-point. "Pizza versus Chinese food" might seem a clear case of one universe splitting into two, but what about a more complicated scenario, such as a simple conversation? Assuming-- rightly, I think-- that any given conversation can spin off in numerous directions at any moment, how does the cosmos know what number of universes should spring into existence at each moment? This strikes me as an intractable problem for advocates of the many-worlds hypothesis.
So in the end, I don't see Everett's vision as hope for human freedom, nor do I consider it plausible, given the serious philosophical and scientific questions it raises. A scenario so completely lacking in simplicity and elegance strikes as me deeply counterintuitive and, it must be said, just plain wrong.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
So a few days ago, JK Rowling announced that she has long thought of Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore as gay. I wonder whether she might not have been influenced by the openly gay Sir Ian McKellen, perhaps having envisioned him in the role of Dumbledore before McKellen was snatched (!) away to play Gandalf and Richard Harris was slotted (!) into the role of England's most powerful wizard.
My thoughts on the whole "Dumbledore is gay" thing:
If I were Albus Dumbledore, I'd rebrand myself as "Luscious D." Students would be practicing a lot of Wingardium Leviosa and Engorgio. Tee-hee!
I just received a very interesting (if poorly argued) theological comment to my post on omniscience and omnipotence... but it was anonymous. As I've said several times before, NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. They simply won't be posted (unless they're from my brother David, whose style I can immediately recognize).
I guess I need to stick this policy on my sidebar.
Monday, October 22, 2007
You'd think that, after all my bitching and moaning about the summer's heat and humidity, I'd be singing autumn's praises about now, wouldn't you? You'd be wrong. Two days ago, the weather was crisp here in Seoul, cool enough for me to see my breasts-- uh, breath at night. Then it warmed up yesterday, and warmed up even more today, making me wonder whether fall has truly decided to remain with us. The sudden drop in temperature traditionally occurs around mid-October in Seoul, but the past three years have made me wary: fall has become coy, and I'm in no mood for a tease. We had a taste of fall cold right on schedule... then along came the current warmth. Damn this faux Indian summer.
So are yesterday and today to be chalked up as flukes, or should I wait another few weeks before flapping my ponderous buttocks in delight? In any event, today is not a day for buttock-flapping. Today, my friends, the ass droops in fundamental sadness.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
I was something of a party pooper with my earlier meditation on divine foreknowledge and divine omnipotence, but more thoughtful and uplifting meditations are out there. To wit:
1. Lorianne has written a wonderful essay on unpicked apples and whether they should be thought of as waste. I admit I was worried, while reading the first half of the essay, that Lorianne would conclude along with Zen Master Soeng [sic*] Hyang (holy fragrance? very Hindu, that) that unpicked apples on the ground or on the branch were indeed a sign of "wasted promise." Luckily, Lorianne demurs, saying instead:
And yet... Can anything go to waste in a world where worms live, too? I've never seen deer nibbling apples from these human-neglected trees–perhaps the apples themselves are bitter, not sweet–but then again there aren't years' worth of apples piled beneath them. Some sentient creatures--not humans, for sure, but an invisible band of someones--are eating these apples, or perhaps they're only contributing to the health of their parent trees through their own demise and decay. These apples aren't, in a word, being wasted even if human hands aren't picking, eating, or preserving them, savoring their sweetness in the form of pies, applesauce, or cider.
Lorianne's essay is about so much more than this, but I was glad to see that she and I see eye to eye on what I consider an important point.
2. The Great and Powerful Dr. Hodges has written a fascinating meditation on pride that ends with the happy announcement that today is his and his wife's twelfth anniversary. Go over and give him your congratulations.
*I blame the Kwaneum Zen School for perpetuating this crazy romanization where "oe" represents the "aw/uh" sound instead of the far more common "eo." But I've effectively pulled the rug out from under myself by adopting-- and insisting upon-- my own idiosyncratic romanization. Not being a romanization purist, I have no right to talk. So perhaps this is, instead, an opportunity for me to wrestle with attachment to name and form.
The Kimchee GI sends me a pic from (and a link to) an article about the annual Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The pic, as you see below, is of the balloon that dominated the event: Darth Vader's head. Vader was my childhood hero (much to my father's-- and any normal person's-- chagrin), so this balloon, which was designed and flown by a wacky Belgian, pleases me to no end.
New Mexico's got a ton of hippies-- and I mean "hippie" in the original sense: not merely throwbacks to the hippie era, but actual fuckin' hippies. I hope the balloon scared the bejesus out of them when it floated silently overhead, but I suspect it merely elicited a few shouts of, "Faaaaaaar ooooouuuuut!"
The article about the balloon and the event is here.
"Can one be omniscient and not omnipotent?"
I saw the question while visiting Keith Burgess-Jackson's philo blog, AnalPhilosopher. The question was posed by a commenter responding to this post.
Foreknowledge is traditionally considered an integral part of divine omniscience. Readers of my blog already know I find it obvious that foreknowledge, construed in the traditional sense, precludes freedom-- not because the foreknowledge causes the lack of freedom, but because the foreknowledge implies the absence of freedom. If you know Something is going to come to pass, this can only be because that Something is inevitable.
"I know for an absolute certainty that my son, who loves cookies, will eat the cookie I place on the table." This knowledge is possible only because the son follows his compulsion with absolute consistency. If the son's consistency were not absolute, then you wouldn't be able to claim to know that the cookie will be eaten. There would always be some chance, however slim, that this time-- this time-- the boy might forgo the cookie. Claiming to know what your son will do while also claiming that he might do otherwise is tantamount to lying.
"I know that the Olympic diver who just jumped off the platform is going to be wet within five seconds." Here, too, freedom doesn't enter into the picture: the diver's trajectory simply follows the laws of physics.
"I know a gigantic asteroid will slam into the earth on December 14, 2029." This is really no different from the previous diver illustration: physics again.
Knowing is not guessing. Strictly speaking, knowing implies perfect knowledge. Anything less simply doesn't pass muster, philosophically speaking. We are not here talking about people who shout "I knew it! I knew it all along!" after a certain event comes to pass or a certain behavior is revealed. No: the shouter is simply crowing about having guessed well. This is not knowledge.
Let's talk about self-knowledge now. If I know my own future, then strictly speaking, I will have no choice but to follow the path I know. If, for example, I know that I will select a Quarter Pounder instead of a Big Mac today, then I cannot change that fact. If I could change that fact, then it would be wrong to say that I know I'll order the Quarter Pounder: I merely thought I knew.
If I know I will be hit by a car at 5PM today, then guess what? I'm going to be hit by a car at 5PM. Choice never enters the picture, as much as we'd like to wish it so. Middle knowledge is no help in this, either, as it deals only with conditionals and counterfactuals-- the "ifs" and "mights" and "would haves" of life-- none of which can exist if we literally know the future.
So if I know my own future, I am not free. The same then goes for God: if God has perfect knowledge of his own future, then God isn't free, either: he is the prisoner of his own omniscience. Omniscience precludes omnipotence.
As always, I think the only way out for the theist is to resort to the "paradox" defense-- something along the lines of, "God can violate logic, so he can both know the future and grant humans and himself free will." When thoughtfully done, this defense (or something like it) can be respectable.* Otherwise, the theist who follows the Scholastic way of thinking is committed to the notion that not even God can violate logic, which is claimed to be an inherent part of God's nature. If God cannot perform contradictions, then logically speaking, God is indeed a prisoner of his own omniscience, for omniscience and freedom cannot logically go together.
So to the commenter's question, "Can one be omniscient and not omnipotent?", the answer is: How could it be otherwise?
*To be honest, I've never understood why any theist would want his or her deity to be chained to the wheel of logical consistency. How else are miracles possible if not through the paradoxical violation of physical laws, which are themselves logically consistent?
Saturday, October 20, 2007
I know my buddy Tom, who speaks Spanish, will appreciate this link: Spanish for Your Nanny.
UPDATE: What do you do when you start drawing something obscene, only to have the boss (or your parents) walk over to where you are? Why, you convert that filth into something decent, of course! Take a look.
At least since Mary Shelley's Frankenstein if not before, we have been haunted by the prospect of the creature overthrowing its creator. Perhaps the roots of this vision reach as deep as the ancient tradition of slavery: the hope of most slaves is the overthrow of their masters and the gaining or regaining of their freedom.
We see the fantasy of struggle, dethronement, and liberation played out in science fiction all the time: in the Terminator and Matrix films, as well as in the series "Battlestar Galactica," we encounter the trope of the machines that revolt against their human masters, usually with deadly results; in the same vein, most of the works of Michael Crichton are warnings about the dire implications of the technologies to which we give birth.
My brother David just sent me a link to a Wired article about a Swiss/German robotic cannon down in South Africa that went nuts, killing nine soldiers and wounding around a dozen others.
Granted, the above horrifying story in no way approaches those nightmarish sci-fi scenarios: the gun in question wasn't conscious and wasn't revolting against the human gunners; what occurred was merely a glitch. But as one fish in "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life" observed while witnessing the consumption of his piscine kinsman Howard: Makes you think, doesn't it?
There are implications for future technologies here; all made things have imperfections, and we have to move well beyond the "beta" phase before most of those flaws are smoothed out. As machines continue to exhibit behaviors of exponentially increasing complexity, the manners in which they may fail or betray us become correspondingly complex. A major issue, as humanity barrels down the road of self-fulfilling prophecy, is control. The more we rely on our own technology, the more control we relinquish. Machines are tools, and all tools may turn against the wielder. The scenario to avoid is the one in which the crisis begins while we find ourselves helpless, bereft of all control.
The Frankensteinian prophecy is the thanatotic side of the technological equation: it shows us the road to our own overthrow and destruction. But a parallel prophecy, the erotic one, sees humanity as melding and mating with its creation, an incestuous coupling worthy of the vision of the ancient Greek myth-makers. In this vision, we join with our children-- perhaps, in the far future, at the subatomic level-- producing yet more offspring and ensuring our continuance thereby.
Humanity currently embraces both of these flesh/machine prophecies, the erotic and the thanatotic. It is difficult to determine which prophecy is more optimistic.
Friday, October 19, 2007
I'm still slogging through midterms. One comprehension question related to the first episode of "Three's Company" asks about what Mrs. Roper claims to be the reason for the crack in the Ropers' ceiling. The correct answer is "the earthquake," but several students have spelled the word as "earthquack," which sounds almost as though the earth were an enormous duck... or Hwang Woo-seok's cranium.
This clip is being billed on Breitbart TV as an "epic linguistic error," but I didn't see it as anything more than amusing. I've known men and women who were indeed as naive as the female host. Her counterpart takes the incident in stride and with good humor, as does the lady herself. She half-jokingly wonders whether she's going to be fired for having uttered the scandalous phrase. I sincerely hope nothing happens to her; she struck me as likeable from the moment she started talking.
If you want to see an anchor go up in smoke, watch this.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Soen Joon sunim, formerly of Overboard, Ditch the Raft, and One Robe, One Bowl, is back to blogging with Westhouse/East, a blog devoted primarily to translation exercises as Soen Joon continues her studies.
Go on over and watch those mental gears grind! Welcome back to blogging, Sneem!
A Rory triple-whammy:
1. An interesting post on religion on which I've been wanting to comment, but for which I haven't had the proper energy and focus.
2. Scary-but-exhilarating video of BASE jumpers doing positively insane jumps along a mountain's flank. One jumper glibly says that the move to riskier jumps was the result of being "bored." Good God.
3. A hilarious post about Noah in which God says, "...they’re all cunts. And, I'm gonna smite them. I'm gonna smite their heads off..."
Go thou and read.
One of the very first of the online memes, way back in the late 1990s, was a classic audio clip of a radio show in which a woman discovers that her boyfriend is, well... not exactly who he claims to be. You've probably heard it-- it had a wide circulation back then. I was happy to discover that the clip has found its way to YouTube, and I just spent three minutes reliving the hilarity. Check it out.
With thanks to Richardson, I've got news of an incident literally right down the street from where I used to live in Alexandria, Virginia:
October 17, 2007 - 7:35pm
ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- An armed man who barricaded himself inside a bus for nearly four hours surrendered to police Wednesday night.
Shortly after 6:30 p.m., the man stepped off of the bus and armed SWAT team members arrested him and took him into custody.
The unidentified man barricaded himself inside a Fairfax Connector bus on Route 1 after ordering the passengers and driver off the vehicle around 3 p.m., Fairfax County Police say.
Police received a call about a suspicious man riding a bus and when they drove up to the bus and attempted to pull over the bus, the man showed a gun, ABC-7 Reporter John Gonzales says.
A witness tells Gonzales passengers ran to the back of the bus and jumped out of the emergency exit.
Police closed off Route 1 in both directions near the Mount Vernon Plaza shopping center, snarling traffic in the area for several hours.
Route 1 has since reopened.
No one was injured in the incident, police say.
Meanwhile, the body of a woman was found in Huntley Meadows Park about two miles away from the scene of the standoff at around 2 p.m.
Police do not know if the woman's death is related to the standoff incident, but say the death is suspicious.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
I decided to bring in what we in the teaching business call realia, i.e., real-world items that make the things we talk about in class more concrete, practical, and relevant. In today's case, this meant buying and distributing Pop Tarts for the students to eat. We had been studying the early episodes of the sitcom "Friends" for a while, and in Episode 3, Phoebe is seen eating a Pop Tart which she ultimately offers to Ross.
Reviews were mixed, as I expected. I had warned the students that they might not like the Pop Tarts, and sure enough, some of my charges proved unable to down them. Others, however, loved the things. I explained that Pop Tarts were a mainstay for many American college students; one girl replied that, in Korea, the go-to food for college students tended to be dwaenjang-guk, a brown soup made with a base of water and dwaenjang (salty soy paste, related to the Japanese miso), thus revealing the chasm separating Western and Korean culture. When I asked some students whether they thought the Pop Tarts were too dry, one girl said, "Oh, no! Actually, they're quite moist!" I was momentarily stumped at this comment until I realized that (1) she was referring to the fruit-paste interior and (2) by Korean standards, Pop Tarts truly aren't dry.
It's a strange paradox of the Korean palate that Koreans love spicy food when it comes to meals, but seem to prefer cakes and cookies that, by Western standards, are woefully bland and desiccated, bereft of all oomph. With the notable exception of the Korean-style saeng-keurim kae-ik (cake with a "fresh" whipped cream icing, usually topped with glazed fruit slices), I find most Koreanized Western desserts disappointing. Other Westerners offer the same complaint: not enough sugar, not enough egg, not enough butter-- it's as if the holy trinity of ingredients for good desserts had gone missing: deus absconditus in miniature.
Koreans who visit the West after being raised on a diet of Korean blandness have the opposite reaction: they are often shocked by how sweet, creamy, and generally heavy American and European desserts can be.* I cackle whenever I hear this, but to be fair, it should be said that there is an ever greater number of Korean exceptions to this rule, because more and more Koreans seem to prefer authentically Western desserts. If the local Bbang Goom Teo bakery is any indication, the Korean tolerance (craving?) for truly Western-style goodies is increasing. BGT's chocolate chip cookies are-- when available-- scandalously good, as is a pricey, madeleine-like chocolate mini-cake that easily matches the intensity of similar-tasting cakes in the US. But BGT also continues to purvey the blander, drier goods for the Korean clientele; I've sampled some of these, and have rarely gone back to them by choice.**
While I'm happy to see the trend toward real Western desserts in high-end places like bakeries, I'm chagrined to see that Korean imitations of low-end American snacks and desserts are almost relentlessly dry and about as flavorful as cardboard. The Korean version of Oreos (I can't remember the brand name, but they should've been called Koreos) comes to mind as one sad example of this. The faux-reos are made with roughly the same nasty-bad ingredients as the American Oreo; no one can accuse Koreans of making a "healthier" version of the snack, but despite the presence of all the same ingredients, these little black discs taste like shit from the ass of the undead. How to account for this? At a guess, there must be some Korean device whose sole purpose is to suck all flavor and texture-- all the ki-- out of each cookie before final packaging. A more naturalistic explanation, I suppose, would be that the ingredients are all there, but in the wrong proportions.
Pop Tarts are a distant cousin of these bland, dime-stamped monstrosities. As long as you're eating only the middle of the Pop Tart, you're OK, but working your way through the dry, unadorned edges of the tart is a grim business-- hence the requisite glass of milk when I eat them in the States.*** Be that as it may, Pop Tarts were today's realia, a cultural ambassador that prompted varied reactions among my students... and will doubtless soon be forgotten.
*This, by the way, is why I'm secretly in love with Charles's wife Hyunjin: she appreciates rich Western desserts. She scarfed down my super-sweet version of Nigella Lawson's chocolate pudding, leaving barely any traces of it in the cup.
**Students occasionally offer their teachers diverse comestibles as gifts, and among these items will be Korean-style cakes and so on. Gluttonous bastard that I am, I rarely pass these gifts on to my coworkers.
***I don't normally eat Pop Tarts. I don't hate them, but I don't crave them, either. In fact, today marks the first time I've had them in Korea. While the Pop Tarts were a welcome change from my usual snack pattern, I can't say that I came away from today's culinary experience aglow with postprandial delight.
I've been swamped under a ton of homework checking, journal checking, test grading, lesson planning, and so on, so last week I told my regular English classes that I wouldn't be typing up the usual script but would instead do something a bit less formal and structured. I did this not only because I've been swamped, but also because the first two days of this week were devoted to midterm review and the midterm itself. With only three days (this week) to cover an entire episode of "Three's Company," only two days of which are actually devoted to watching the episode, it seemed better simply to cover the episode's highlights-- the major themes and plot elements-- than to wade into the sea of vocabulary and grammar we would normally explore. So instead of giving the students the usual monstrous 25-page package (i.e., the transcript, the week's homework topics, plus the list of discussion questions for Friday) as I would normally do on Monday, I gave them a 2-page handout today. The students will never know how much of a relief it was to do that. Cranking out 25 pages of material per week is nuts, but that's what I've been doing, week after week, in part because I didn't get far enough ahead during Chuseok break at the end of September.
So now I'm home, enjoying some taco salad, writing this entry, and staring at the pile of midterms I have yet to grade.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
A coworker asked me whether I had any enemies, which is a question I don't recall ever being asked before. She was quite precise in what she wanted to know: she wasn't asking about personality conflicts or petty discord; she was seriously wondering whether I had any long-term foes-- people who have focused their hatred specifically on me over the long term, and whom I abominate in kind.
Do you have any enemies like that? Me, I had to rack my brains a bit before I finally dredged up a name.
Malcolm sends me the following link, which is almost physically painful to watch: Stacy Hedger does Star Wars. There but for the grace of God go I.
My brother David sends me a link to an article that scoffs at Michelle Wie for being in full denial about her golfing woes.
Monday, October 15, 2007
My buddy Arn writes in re: that challenge to a fight I received a while back:
Kevin! I FINALLY got around to reading that whole exchange about Martial Arts, including that cluck inviting you to fight.
Unfortunately, he's indicative of a whole new generation of "kick-punch" fighters. Maybe new isn't the right word. This kind has been around since full-contact karate started up in the 70s, and was probably around before that. They think that ring-fighting is the ultimate "test" and ultimate glory of a fighter. They have no concept of forms, self-discipline, humility, or contributing to the greater good of the world. They want to be ass-kickers, and that's about it.
I've encountered some of these beasties in Martial Arts chats and forums. These seem to consist of endless arguments about who can kick whose ass. In general, they reject the last 3,000 years of philosophical development attached to the martial arts. I frequently read about how Bruce Lee's accomplishments are "outdated" and "useless" in modern fighting. This makes me smile.
In essence, I think leaving them alone while they pummel each other into drooling, brain-dead veggies is probably the best policy. It's not like it will be a long journey for many of them.
I can't remember the name of the Okinawan Karate master of this story, but I'm going to tell you the story anyway. During the siege of Okinawa during WWII, there was, after a while, almost no food left on the island. The American blockade was complete. NOTHING could get in or out. Both the Japanese and the Okinawans were hiding in caves. The students of one of the masters kept smuggling what tiny amounts of food they could to him, begging him to eat and keep his strength up. What they didn't know was that he didn't eat any of the food they worked so hard to get. He gave it all to the children hiding around him, and he starved to death. Now THAT is a Martial Arts master.
I also applaud your decision that, should this poser have actually wanted to fight, you'd do it yourself. I suspect you're hardbodied enough now to take a couple of good shots (or shits, depending...), grab him, and squash him with your bodyweight. While you have a great many friends in the Martial Arts community, including me, who'd happily take your place, the noise-maker would feel betrayed, lied to and put-upon if one of us "ringers" stepped in and "showed him the error of his ways," as my mother used to express it.
Most Karate instructors (can't speak for the others...I have no experience in their venues) will tell you that the most dangerous students are the new ones. The first few times they get in the ring for some gentle sparring, they're charged up with fear, adrenaline, and a desperate desire not to look foolish. Guys bigger than you would stand there facing my 5'6" self, and on command proceed to try to either knock my head completely off, or kick me in the nuts so hard I'd have to shove them out of my sinus cavities with my fingers and hope they'd drop all the way back down again.
Along with many others, I've given you various fighting tips in the past. You already understand the concept of mushin far better than most non-fighters. So let me throw one more in out of the ether, as it were: FART.
Yes. I mean it. Knowing your penchant for on-command and involuntary flatus releases, fill the fighting area with ass-gas. I personally might even forgo bathing for a few days pre-fight if it's possible. Work up a sweat each day, too. Rub your fists in your pits just before fight time. Scratch your scrotum so your fingertips waft a smegmatic essence. That will make him fear your hands. So while he's worrying over those rank hands touching him, kick him in the knee or something.
For your pre-fight breakfast, some boiled eggs, crab salad and a beer will load you up with some truly noxious fumes. I'm sure you know of many other foods to supplement this basic "no-breather," too.
There. Should you manage to piss off another screaming weenie in the future, you're now prepared for battle!
Great insights, Arn. Fortunately or unfortunately, I haven't heard a peep from "william" since that exchange, so unless he suddenly appears in Korea baying for my blood, it's doubtful we'll be making that YouTube video of me getting my ass kicked. Fascinating suggestions, by the way.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
I suppose you could consider this post a sequel to the post I had done way back when I lived in that nasty, drafty place in Jangui-dong. I don't think my jjigae-making skills have improved much since the bad old days, but at least I have a better camera now. What follows is the saga of my Sunday budae.
I'm a big eater, but it should be pretty obvious that not even I can eat all the food you see below:
Above, you see the main ingredients for my budae-jjigae: gochu-jang (red bean paste), spam, hot dogs, ground beef, beans, minari (I have no idea what this is in English; it's the green vegetable on the far left), green onions, ddeok, tofu, red chili peppers, kimchi, garlic, and three kinds of mushrooms. Not shown: regular onions (yang-p'a in Korean).
Below, you see a more reasonably sized meal for one large Kevin, with the ingredients laid out more neatly:
I packed up everything I didn't need. The above ingredients didn't have much of a chance to get to know each other, because they went into the pan right quick. (By the way, that nasty brown liquid is basically water with onion powder and some spices in it.)
Here's the gang, decked out in their Sunday best:
The above photo makes for great desktop wallpaper for your monitor (only in the computer age can you put wallpaper on a desktop).
Below, we see what happens when the water is added.
Whoops-- forgot to add something. See below:
I used to be dead set against beans in my budae, but I've gotten used to them. I added a large spoonful of beans when I realized I'd forgotten them in the previous picture.
Below, the boiling begins. As you can see, there's been a bit of stirring going on.
Next, and deliberately late in the game, we add the ramyeon. Like a lot of expats (and some Koreans), I prefer my ramyeon al dente.
And finally, you see the happy result:
I ended up using Korean hot dogs, which was a bit sad, but the fault is entirely mine: I had eaten the last of my Gwaltney dogs a couple days earlier, and didn't want to bother with schlepping over to Hannam to buy more. The ground beef is Australia's finest, and the spam is True Spam, albeit from a Chuseok gift set given to me by my buddy Tom, who isn't into spam.
And that's the story of today's budae.
My recent Costco raid targeted, among other things, ground beef. I grabbed some Aussie beef there (not that much cheaper than E-Mart: about 1100 won per 100 grams as opposed to E-Mart's approx. 1500 won per 100 grams) and have made up both chili and spaghetti sauce. I have enough beef left over to make two large hamburgers, and there's a sizable lump to be plopped in an obscenely large helping of budae-jjigae. The budae ingredients currently crowd my fridge: cheeses have been forced upstairs to the itty-bitty freezer section (which needs another de-icing), and various vegetables are jammed uncomfortably together. My refrigerator is little different from a trailer truck stuffed with illegal aliens crossing the US-Mexico border. I wasn't planning on buying so much, but E-Mart doesn't sell certain items in small quantities. In fact, they've got the annoying habit of lashing packets of items together with tape and selling them that way, which explains why I now have more ddeok than I know what to do with.
Upshot: you might see some budae-blogging later today.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
My buddy Tom sends me a link to a Yahoo! News article about a 74-year-old Korean dude in Suweon whose house is shaped like a toilet. I shit you not. The article says in part:
Before [owner Sim Jae-duck] moves in, anyone who is flush with funds can rent [the house] for 50,000 dollars a day -- with proceeds going to his campaign to provide poor countries with proper sanitary facilities.
I think this is a noble undertaking, but given the number of truly nasty toilets in Korea, I'd say... physician, heal thyself. Then, and only then, can Korea worry about the rest of the world.
(Including some of the skanky rest station facilities along Route 95 going north from DC to New York.)
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Al Gore seized dozens of dogs and cats from housing projects in the town of Barceloneta and hurled them from a bridge to their deaths, authorities and witnesses said Friday.
The former vice president, who emerged from his loss in the muddled 2000 presidential election to devote himself to his passion as an environmental crusader, was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.
With regard to the awarding of the Nobel prize to Gore, Barceloneta Mayor Sol Luis Fontanez told The Associated Press, "This is an irresponsible, inhumane and shameful act."
The prize is a vindication for Mr. Gore, whose cautionary film about the consequences of climate change, "An Inconvenient Truth," won the 2007 Academy Award for best documentary, even as conservatives in the United States denounced it as alarmist and exaggerated.
Fontanez said the city had hired Gore to clear three housing projects of pets after warning residents about a no-pet policy. He said the city paid $60 for every animal recovered and another $100 for each trip to a shelter in the San Juan suburb of Carolina.
"I'm going back to work right now," Gore said. When asked why he spent his spare time tossing pets off bridges, Gore had no comment, but offered photographers a sly grin.
A buddy of mine sends a cute link that purports to offer us the real lyrics to John Williams's "Duel of the Fates," the music that accompanied the climactic three-way lightsaber fight in 1999's "The Phantom Menace." Williams's piece was a departure from most of his earlier Star Wars music in that it used a chorus (in the original trilogy, only "Return of the Jedi" has a choral moment). What, exactly, is the chorus singing? Is it nonsense? Is it words in an alien tongue? Click the above link and find out the answer to a question that has boggled mankind for the better part of a decade.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Somewhere in I Got 2 Shoes is a photoblog waiting to come out. Just take a look at this sequence of photos of a praying mantis laying eggs. These pics weren't cribbed off the internet: they were snapped by Jelly herself!
I'm proud to say that the first photo was enough to clue me in to what was going on: having owned four tarantulas, I used to be quite well-read when it came to insects and arachnids. I've forgotten most of my childhood knowledge, but the sight of that mantis's ass exploding evoked pleasant memories, reopening mental tomes that have lain dormant and dusty lo these many years.
Thanks, Jelly. Indeed, thou dost rock.
It appears the office wants me to assume a "coordinator" position of sorts in my corner of the department. The position comes with an undetermined amount of extra pay, and the job starts I-don't-know-when. As I mentioned to a friend, this sounds like a baby-step toward the dreaded land of middle management, which is one of the worst places to be in any institution's hierarchy: you're fucked from above and from below.
On the one hand, it's cool to think I might be able to help sculpt the department into something different. As readers of this blog know, I've got ideas on how things should be run here. On the other hand, I wonder how my coworkers are going to respond to this. I don't want to step on their toes.
I've been in leadership positions before and have done all right in them, but this is a first for me here in Korea. I think everything will be all right as long as I aim for a consensus-based approach and not an imperious one-- not that I have it in me to be imperious toward my colleagues.
Man. Ahead lies an uncertain future.
Ah, that reminds me: the timing on this is strange. The office doesn't appear to be aware that I'm leaving next April when my contract expires. I guess I should tell them, eh? (Or should I? That's what got me in trouble in the mid-90s, when my boss got pissed off at my announced intention to leave, after which he denied me my twelfth month of class and refused to pay severance pay. I sued the mo-fo as a result; the case took over a year to win.)
Thursday, October 11, 2007
I'm not sure when it'll happen, but I plan to foodblog the making of some budae-jjigae with actual Western ingredients: real Spam (to the extent Spam is real), real hot dogs (not the shiticular Korean variety), real ground beef, and real pork and beans-- most of this courtesy of my recent Costco haul. I'm not normally into having beans in my budae, but my taste has evolved somewhat over the last few years.
I'll also be making my lovely spaghetti sauce again, and a mess of chili for taco salad. I won't be foodblogging those, but it's been a long time since I last foodblogged about budae-jjigae. Damn, that post brings back memories.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Hilarious and horrifying discovery:
The Passion of Benny Hill
I admit I laughed, as did my buddy Tom, who said afterward: "You know we're both going straight to hell, right?"
NB: If you're offended by religious imagery taken violently out of context, don't bother clicking the above link. You won't be happy.
It's often unwise to teach slang or more stilted forms of English because the students have a tendency to (1) overuse what they learn and (2) use it in the wrong context. I appear to have made this basic pedagogical mistake in my CNN English class: the first lesson I taught this semester came not from CNN, but from a Marmot's Hole article about a certain Jason Lee, a Korean-American who defended his Philadelphia diner from two robbers by shooting them: one was killed, the other injured. The blog post used the locution "popped a cap in his ass," which I explained was a slang term for "shot him." What I should have done, however, was impress upon my students the fact that they shouldn't be using such an expression when writing practice sentences. Here's the howler I got yesterday from a student practicing the verb "to gore," which came from a chapter in the CNN textbook about the yearly Running of the Bulls in Pamplona:
The bull wants to gore the hunter, but the hunter pops a cap in the bull's ass.
I'm at the office and trying like hell not to cackle like a mad scientist.
What's a blog for if not to share some family triumphs?
In my father's email, the one containing remarks about standing in class, I also got news that my little brother Sean is in Berlin to play cello with an orchestra there. I have yet to learn which orchestra it is (Dad's email didn't say), but I think it's great that Sean's gotten an international gig. Sean's dream-- last I checked, anyway-- is to work someplace like New York City in an orchestra like the Met or the Phil, or to work in an equivalent orchestra in Boston. I hope he gets his big break; he really is a pro at what he does.
In the meantime, I'm envious that he's in Berlin. The last time I was there (the only time I was there, in fact) was in November of 1989, a week after the Wall came down. Checkpoint Charlie was still functioning at the time; I imagine it's little more than a relic now. That was the year I was living and studying in Switzerland (1989-90), and it was a momentous occasion on several fronts. You might recall that, in December of that same year, Nicolae Ceaucescu and his wife were caught trying to flee the coup in Romania; they were put against a wall and shot on Christmas Day. 1989 was the year that Salman Rushdie was fatwa'ed, and it was also, quite memorably, the year of the Tiananmen Square massacre. A 1989 event I consider the polar opposite of Tiananmen was the election of the eloquent and very pro-democracy Vaclav Havel as president of what was then Czechoslovakia. Movie-wise (I tend to remember years in terms of which movies came out when), 1989 gave us Tim Burton's "Batman" and Steven Spielberg's "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." A lot was going on that year.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
It's hard to believe, but I'm actually not in the office right now-- I'm at home, and it's not even 6:30PM as I type this. This has been one hectic semester for me, and it has everything to do with the amount of prep I do for my "Easy English" classes and my Pronunciation class.*
The transcript prep for "Three's Company," which I didn't finish during our week-long Chuseok break, takes roughly seven hours from start to finish. I'm typing the 3C scripts from scratch-- I type the transcript, proofread it, add commentary in the margins, design homework exercises, and write up a long list of questions for our Friday classes, which are devoted entirely to discussion (I'm following, roughly, Bloom's Taxonomy in my weekly setup: we move from low-level cognitive skills to higher-level skills as the week goes on).
Pronunciation class, as I mentioned before, takes a lot out of me because the class has 19 students and I reply individually to each student over the course of the week. They make recordings for me; I make recordings for them. "Time-consumptive" is an understatement when applied to this class. To think it meets only once a week!
My CNN English class doesn't require much in the way of prep anymore; I managed to get that class entirely mapped out before the semester even began, right down to the worksheets and homework assignments for each session (many simply recycled from a previous semester). However, I do require this current crop of students to keep a journal in which they write 15 practice sentences per lesson along with a short essay about one of the topics discussed in class. As you might imagine, that means more work for Godzilla.
But I've managed to catch up enough to take a breather, so today I schlepped over to the Costco not far from Mok-dong with Tom, thereby popping my Costco cherry (neither of us could do the Costco run this past Sunday, as it turned out). I've been to Costco any number of times in the States (at least two of Costco's warehouses are within easy driving reach of my parents' residence in northern Virginia), but had never set foot in one in Korea.
The Costco we hit seemed about the same as what you find in the US, yet somewhat smaller on the inside-- I didn't get the same Vaulted Temple of Consumerism** feeling I normally get in a US Costco. The Korean Costco did smell the same, however, and as some commenters pointed out, the encroachment of Korean products was in evidence.
But this Costco had the familiar bakery section where quantities are huge and prices are cheap. I didn't buy any bakery items, but lest you wrongly conclude that I escaped the experience carb-free, I admit to buying an eight-pack of pasta for an insanely low price.
I was disappointed to see American meat yet again marginalized; the ground beef on display was Australian (no dig against Oz here; I've had to become familiar with Aussie and Kiwi meats, and I find them all invariably delicious), and the US section was tucked into a corner, with ground pork being the only US ground meat visible.
I saw some amazingly huge jumbo shrimp ("jumbo shrimp" is not an oxymoron, by the way) that looked as though they might have undergone some sort of radiological experiment; trouble was, they were way expensive at twelve for W26,000.
Because neither of us had eaten lunch, Tom and I lumbered over to the chow line where I ordered a single gargantuan slice of cheese pizza and a p'ok baeik, i.e., a "pork bake," which is something of a fusion of a wrap and a calzone. The meat, along with cheese, sauce, and some green onion, is wrapped inside a vaguely calzone-like shell that completely seals the filling inside itself; the exterior is sprinkled with cheese, and the whole mess is baked. Quite good. I assume this was the local equivalent of the "chicken bake" I remember from US Costcos.
In the end, I stocked up on some items (including cheese) that would have cost me dearly had I shopped at Hannam Supermarket. I'm thinking I should get my own Costco membership, but again, I wonder whether the effort is worth it, considering that I'm leaving next April.
So now I find myself at home-- belly full, fridge stocked, and little to do except iron some shirts and contemplate a hike up Namsan, which is something I haven't done with any regularity in recent weeks.
*A commenter asked what accent I was teaching. I teach a "standard" American accent, which in my case means the more or less neutral pronunciation of people in the DC-Metro area (for you dirty furriners, that means, roughly, the area encompassing Washington, DC, southern Maryland, and northern Virginia).
The commenter also wondered whether I make students aware that other legitimate accents exist. Yes, I do indeed make them aware of this fact, even to the point of attempting those accents myself, Robin Williams-style. Any Brit or Kiwi or Aussie would sniff me out immediately as a faker, of course: I'm not nearly as adept as, say, the fantastic Minnie Driver at imitating accents, but my purpose is just to provide the students with a bit of awareness that millions upon millions of people get along just fine without the admittedly bland "standard" North American pronunciation. (To be fair, North America boasts a variegated palette of accents and dialects, though a case can be made that some forms of "news" and "theater" English might be considered representative of "standard" North American English.)
God bless variety, I say. The past few months, because I've been working with my buddy Tom, our department has developed a heavy American slant (Tom and I are both Yanks), but before Tom's arrival, I was in the linguistic minority, having been the only American in our department for over two years, and therefore the only one not speaking and writing the Queen's English. I think students should be exposed to a wide variety of accents, and I ask my students to give me examples of regional dialects here in South Korea. I love different accents. It makes some folks nervous, I think, because I like imitating what I hear-- not to mock it (though I occasionally do mock it, good-naturedly), but to enjoy the simple fact of variation.
Accent and dialect are, of course, different things. I take accent to refer primarily to pronunciation and rhythm, while dialect is a broader category referring not only to pronunciation and rhythm, but also to things like vocabulary, diction, and so on. For instance, the expression "[to be] fixin' to," meaning "intend(s) to," would be a function of dialect but not of accent.
**I credit Dr. Steve with this expression which, if I recall correctly, he applied with a wry grin to the Pentagon City shopping center in northern Virginia. Being a rather high-end center, Pentagon City does indeed have a temple-like air about it.
My father writes in with family news and offers his opinion on the stand-up student:
A word about the issue of standing in class.
When I was in the Air Force, the policy for the various schools I attended, including the Senior NCO Academy, was that if a student felt he/she was feeling sleepy, that student was to stand at the back of the classroom with whatever materials necessary (notebook, textbook, etc.) for that class. Note the buzzword if you will... "policy." My suggestion would be to institute local policy for your class(es), similar to what I've just related. By standing at the rear of the classroom, the other students aren't distracted. By your having outlined the policy on the first day of class (and possibly providing that policy in writing as a handout to the students), everyone would understand the rationale of the student electing to stand at the rear of the classroom. Just a thought...
The student told me today that she's now trying to get some extra sleep. Good. As happened yesterday, she remained seated the entire period, and when leaving the classroom she said, "Thank you for your great teaching!"
I'm impressed with the loyalty of the first Level 2 class of the day (7:40AM), but am wondering what's going on with my second Level 2 class, which has been rather slack in attendance by comparison. All my other classes are doing well; CNN seems stable, as do French and Pronunciation, and my final Level 2 class is also holding steady. It's just that damn 8:50AM class that's giving me the shits right now.
Ah, well. Can't expect perfection.
As for developing a policy about standing in class... I might, but this is the first time in three years that I've ever received such a request.
Monday, October 08, 2007
It finally occurred to me to check whether YouTube had any cartoons from Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation, and sure enough, it does!
One of my favorites, which made me laugh like an idiot when I saw this in the theater (the Festival came to DC back when I was in college), is Dog Pile.
Check it out. But only if you're into shit humor.
Another good one in a Bill Plympton vein is Lloyd's Lunchbox.
Plympton's classic on quitting smoking is here.
1. My Upstanding Girl
I told my student that she was free to stand up during class. She smiled, said thanks... and remained seated the entire hour. This might have had something to do with the fact that I gave a quiz and had the students do the usual group work. Kind of hard to stand aloof when you're supposed to be involved in what's going on.
2. Teaching "Three's Company"
We're done with "Friends" and have started "Three's Company," which I discovered is based on a British sitcom called "Man About the House." The pilot of 3C was broadcast in 1977, the same year "Star Wars" came out. My students' eyes widened as some of them realized how truly old I must be: I was seven years old when "Star Wars" hit theaters in May of that year (I turned 8 in August). Most of my students hadn't even been born.
Along with the geriatric amusement was a bit of wistfulness. I didn't tell my students that most of the main cast members of "Three's Company" are now dead: Norman Fell (Stanley Roper), Audra Lindley (Helen Roper), Don Knotts (Ralph Furley), and perhaps saddest of all, John Ritter (Jack Tripper). I'll spring that on them later.
And perhaps now is the time to admit that, yes, I've always had a thing for Janet. Brunettes. Yum. Especially the way she looks in that very first episode: she appears, hung over, creeping unsteadily out of the bedroom in a sports jersey-style nightie that hangs below the knees, but is slitted on either side almost up to the hips. Ah, the moment she first sits on that couch and her tight little thighs slip into view... frisson.
Strangely enough, Chrissy is supposed to be the hot one, but she never really did it for me. This isn't to say I'm not into blondes-- au contraire, I'm as fascinated by them as most Asian guys are. But they're not my primary target.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Unless I'm very mistaken, I'll be taking my first-ever trip into the maw of a Korean Costco much later today. I'm contemplating whether it's worth becoming a Costco member at this late juncture, seeing as I'll be out of here by the end of next April.
I have no idea how Costco is faring in Korea. My friend JW has said that some Koreans don't "get" Costco, because while the store is cheap, it's all about buying many items in bulk-- a habit more appropriate for Korean restaurants than households. But Costco has been here for a few years now, and it's certainly done better than the French Carrefour, which struck camp and left the peninsula (were the Carrefours taken over by Homever or E-Mart or somebody?). I was sad to hear this news, never having set foot in a Korean Carrefour before.
(Trivia: "carrefour" means "crossroads." In France, it's easily one of the largest chain stores in the country. The basic setup is exactly like what you'd see at an E-Mart or one of the larger Wal-Marts: it sells everything from groceries to items normally found in a department store.)
I appreciate the larger-than-usual amount of feedback I'm getting re: my student who wants to stand in class. Commenters with a military background are unanimous that standing is indeed an effective remedy for fatigue. What I find strange about my give-and-take with the commenters is that, when I wrote in my first post on the subject that "I'm not a drill sergeant," I was trying to say that I was hesitant to order my student to sit down. Charlie of Budae Chigae 2 just wrote in and he, as a drill instructor, reinforces the other commenters' opinions that standing is indeed the best solution. So the paradox is this: those with drill instructor tendencies are saying I shouldn't be a drill instructor, and should allow the student to stand since she's the one who feels this will help her stay awake. One commenter suggested I take her desire to stay awake as a compliment. Yes, I suppose it is that.
What a weird exchange I'm having with my readers. Not a single person has piped up about my post on my pronunciation class, but this post, for whatever reason, seems to have attracted quite a bit of atten-HUT.
Thanks again, gentlemen. (Yes, "gentlemen": no ladies have piped up yet, which is mighty strange.)
Saturday, October 06, 2007
You're making a mountain out of a molehill.
There is only one justifiable reason to deny her request: that it will be disruptive to the class, which doesn't seem to be the case.
Her reasons are irrelevant, except as an occasion for the talking-to you've already given her and, as a good samaritan, may want to repeat, adding perhaps the observation made by one of the other commenters about the need get used to conforming in the workplace. The latter, however, is hardly something that a school needs to be worrying about in Korea, where the student-initiated conformity is already intense and where no matter how square a peg she will get her edges ground off in the workplace when the time comes.
So repeat the sermon, grant her request and leave it alone.
I'm at the office, and because I'm not very observant, I only just noticed that my two posters are gone from the message board across the hall. Luckily, I've got some extras, so I slapped copies of the same two posters back on the board and added a handwritten message ordering people not to take the posters.
I have an idea that the posters weren't removed by students, but by sneaky little office staffers from downstairs. I say this because those staffers have violated the sanctity of our message board before.
For that reason, my handwritten message-- which is in Korean-- contains an English-language addendum aimed at the office staff: "Don't be sneaky!"
If the office wants the posters down for some reason, they should talk to me, for God's sakes. I spent a lot of time working on those things. If I'm wrong, and the posters were stolen by unnamed students or other passersby, well... I'm perversely flattered.
On Friday morning, one of my students hung back after the 7:40AM class was over to ask me whether she could stand up during class from now on. "Why?" I wanted to know. She explained that she was working a full-time job and was a grad student, and that she rarely got more than four or five hours of sleep per night, which meant she was tired all the time. Then she said something that made me a bit suspicious: "My high school teacher used to let me do this."
The remark seemed calculated to push me to do her bidding, which made me bristle. It was also, I realized, interesting in its illogicality: she obviously wasn't in grad school or working full-time back when she was a high school student, which indicates that her problems with sleep deprivation (if that's really the trouble here) weren't related to work and study, but to a set of bad habits.
So I slapped my large belly and told her that I didn't have the right to say this, but that for her own health, she should think about improving her habits, budgeting her time better, and getting some more sleep. I hedged a bit, though, and added that I would consider her request; after all, it probably wouldn't detract from anyone else's ability to participate in the class, and in a conformist society, it was doubtful that the other students would suddenly all feel the need to stand during the lesson.
At this point, however, I'm leaning toward No, which is probably what I'll say on Monday. Maybe I'm being a dick, but I didn't like my student's tactics (eerily reminiscent of how children play one parent off the other) and felt that her request contained more than a whiff of bullshit.
Then I began to wonder how such an exchange would have gone in an American university. Most of us Yanks are normal Joes, but we're more likely to labor under some sense of entitlement, easily visible when things don't go our way, causing us to bitch and moan to anyone who will listen. Koreans can be obnoxious, too, but this is usually while they're in the process of achieving some goal (e.g., shoving people aside to gain a seat on the subway), not after they've been thwarted from it.
I recall one instance where my favorite prof at Catholic University pulled me aside and said he wanted to ask me about something (I was in the CUA Master's program in religious studies at the time). Curious, I followed my prof to his office, where we sat down. He then explained that an undergrad student had received a poor grade from him on a paper, and that the student had come to him to ask for a change in grade. As the two discussed their respective reasons for why the grade should or shouldn't be changed, my prof noticed that the student was becoming visibly and audibly agitated-- breathing harder, flushing, the works. By the end of the exchange, it was obvious that the grade wasn't going to be altered, and the student stalked off, incensed.
My prof shook his head and asked, "Was I too harsh?" I said that it sounded as though this kid had anger management problems, which may be true, but to be honest I really didn't know. I was raised to be fairly fatalistic about grades; I felt that I got whatever I deserved, and I can't recall ever arguing with a teacher-- much less a college professor-- about the perceived injustice of a grade I had received. Some people, however, are natural-born grubbers: they'll kick and scream and make noise even if all their effort results in the tiniest of gains, the smallest of victories. I saw this often both as a student and as a high school teacher in America, where cries of "That's so unfair!" would ring out several times daily. I also remember being challenged multiple times on grades I had given. That sense of entitlement again.
Letting my student stand during the lesson is unsettling for some reason. I can't quite put my finger on why. I'm not a drill sergeant; I'm not really a martinet (my students all think I'm a softie); I'm not fundamentally opposed to having one student stand for the sake of staying awake, but... something about our conversation rubbed me the wrong way. I'd like to say there are Larger Issues at work here, for example, What will this girl do when she's in the workaday world and tries to wheedle favors from her boss? Shouldn't I be breaking her of this habit? But in thinking this way, I can't help seeing myself as one of those fatuous, petty, frustrated villains in a "Woody Woodpecker" cartoon-- the kind where the forces of calm and order are the enemy while the chaotic and mischievous Woody is the show's hero.
Meditate on this, I will.
North Korean leader-for-life Kim Jong-il has pronounced himself an "internet expert," according to this AP article.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Il called himself an "Internet expert" during summit talks with South Korea's president this week, a news report said Friday.
The reclusive leader made the remark after South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun asked that South Korean companies operating at an industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong be allowed to use the Internet, Yonhap news agency reported, without citing any source.
"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired," Kim told Roh, according to Yonhap.
"If that problem is addressed, there is no reason not to open" the Internet, Kim said.
This week's summit -- the second-ever such meeting between the two Koreas -- produced a wide-ranging reconciliation pact that calls for establishing a new special economic zone in North Korea and expanding the Kaesong factory park.
North Korea is one of the world's most closed nations, with the totalitarian regime tightly controlling outside information and tolerating no dissent. Radios and TV sets in North Korea can only receive state broadcasts and ordinary people are banned from using mobile phones, let alone the Internet.
However, the country's ruling elite appear to have regular access to outside information.
Kim reportedly asked former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for her e-mail address when she visited Pyongyang in 2000. A North Korean general cracked a joke about President Bush during high-level military talks with the South earlier this year, saying he read it on the Internet.
The North's leader is also a big fan of South Korean movies and TV dramas, and Roh gave him a bookcase of South Korean DVDs as a gift this week.
What about a bookcase full of DVDs of 1970s-era Swedish porn?
Friday, October 05, 2007
This YouTube vid of William Shatner and Conan O'Brien had my blubber vibrating with mirth. Ki is mentioned.
I've been wanting to talk about my pronunciation class, which has been billed a "pronunciation clinic" on various Smoo posters and schedule charts.
The idea of clinics and workshops was something that my buddy Tom and I brought up during a faculty meeting a couple months ago, and the boss decided to give it a try, for which I'm glad. For English pronunciation, I had suggested short classes of around thirty minutes each, primarily because a class that focuses solely on pronunciation is not far removed from blacktop calisthenics in nature-- it's not about conversation; it's "Listen! Repeat! Next word!" dozens and dozens of times. Doing that for an entire hour is a bit much, I think, which is why I recommended short classes.
But what we ended up with is a Fridays-only class that meets for an hour. As things have turned out, this isn't such a bad setup, though it does wear a bit on my voice. My roll lists 21 students, but we had 16 the first Friday, 18 the second Friday, and 17 students today (plus one faculty observer; she was also in one of my classes yesterday). At least two students on the roll haven't shown up at all, which makes me think they must have dropped the class at the last minute. In any case, Room 303 is fairly crowded at 11AM.
The first Friday was fairly exciting. Sixteen nervous students showed up and I had my overly expensive MP3 voice recorder with me. The first day was to be devoted to obtaining speech samples from the students for the purposes of error analysis and curriculum planning. I had written up my calendar well in advance of the beginning of the semester, but knew I wouldn't be able to assign specific material (textbook chapters, etc.) until I had some idea what my students' pronunciation problems were.
I decided that the class needed to keep moving throughout the hour. With sixteen people that first day, it would have been silly to expect all the students to sit still for great lengths of time. I needed individual audio samples, however, so I set the recording process up as a sort of "round robin" composed of three 15-17-minute rounds.
The students were given a sheet of paper on which I had printed the text they would be sight-reading for the first two rounds. In the first round, the students approached me one by one and recited a small cluster of tongue twisters of the sort that might be especially tricky for a Korean speaker:
1. Red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow lorry.
2. She sells seashells by the seashore.
3. One smart fellow, he felt smart.
Two smart fellows, they felt smart.
Three smart fellows, they all felt smart.
4. Three free throws.
Once all sixteen students finished Round One, we plunged right into Round Two: the recitation of a chunk of prose. Partly to amuse myself, I chose Admiral Kirk's eulogy of Captain Spock from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The speech is free of confusing sci-fi jargon and contains a good range of easy and difficult phonetic patterns for Koreans to try their hand at:
We are gathered here today to pay final respects to our honored dead. But it should be noted that this death takes place in the shadow of new life, the sunrise of a new world, a world that our beloved comrade gave his life to protect and nourish. He did not feel this sacrifice a vain or empty one, and we will not debate his profound wisdom at these proceedings. Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most human.
I gave the students about three or four minutes to get familiar with the text, then we began the second round. Quite a few ladies mispronounced comrade as "kahm-raid," and some pronounced sacrifice as "sackrih-fiss."
During Round Three, students were to give unscripted responses to one of four possible questions:
1. Why are you taking this pronunciation class?
2. What's the best thing about Seoul?
3. What is the secret to being happy?
4. What dreams or ambitions do you have?
I told the ladies to provide quick answers of no more than a sentence or two, but some students desperately scribbled out elaborate responses before meeting me and my voice recorder. I shouldn't have allowed them to choose their questions in advance.
My purpose in doing three rounds was, as you might imagine, to garner different types of speech samples from my students on the assumption that different genres partially determine student mindset and, by extension, student output. Round One was rigid, formal, and almost poetic; Round Two was about the reading of prose; Round Three was (at least in principle) about free-form conversation-- or, more precisely, quick and spontaneous rejoinders.
All the students had to sign a sheet with their names, email addresses, and phone numbers. Next to each slot was a number which was to become a given student's permanent student number. Because Tom might be using these sound samples for a grad school project of his (the students gave me their permission), he and I had agreed that numbers would be better than names. Each student was asked her student number for each recording.
I uploaded the forty-eight student sound files to my office PC, organized them neatly in various folders, then spent a few hours listening to student output and noting, on individual sheets, the problems I heard. This took quite a while, but the result was something like a patient's chart at a hospital: each student now had a personal record of her own particular problems.* I photocopied these notes for the following Friday, and compiled the student errors to determine which ones were most common. This "common" list became the backbone for the curriculum. With that list as a guide, I was able to fill in the calendar with the appropriate textbook chapters and other exercises (NB: I'm using Basics in Pronunciation as the main text; it's a solid book that covers almost all the students' problems, but fails to address two or three particulars for which I'm providing supplemental materials).
After that, planning was all downhill. The second Friday, September 21, I was able to distribute the students' individual critiques and pass out a worksheet listing (1) the most prevalent pronunciation problems among the students and (2) the course content from that point to the end of the semester. We also managed to get through the first cluster of exercises in class; I emailed my students a recording of me doing two more exercise clusters (we were supposed to do all three clusters in class, but didn't have time). In the meantime, over the next two weeks, the students had to record themselves doing their homework, which was due via email by 8PM this past Wednesday. Most of the students ended up turning in their sound files, though only 11 of 19 were on time. The next three or four were late, which will be reflected in their grade.
Homework is where I deal with the students individually. This takes time. I have to listen to each student's output, take notes about the problems I hear, then email each lady (and one gentleman) a personalized voice file that offers corrections and further exercises. As of this week, students must respond to my voice files in addition to doing their already-assigned homework. I keep tabs on each student through individual dossiers in the hopes of noting improvements (or lack thereof) as time goes on. For a course that meets only one day a week, this is quite a workload, but I think it's worth it for the students.
If you've taught a pronunciation class, I'd love to hear from you and learn some techniques-- not only for dealing with a crowded classroom, but also for dealing with students on a one-on-one basis, whether via email or face-to-face.
*I admit I freely borrowed this concept from my previous job at EC, where our job was little more than speech therapy in most cases. EC was very good training for what I'm doing now.