Caveat: En la verde orilla

Los rayos le cuenta al Sol
Con un peine de marfil
La bella Jacinta un día
Que por mi dicha la vi
En la verde orilla
De Guadalquivir.

La mano oscurece al peine;
Mas qué mucho, si el abril
La vio oscurecer los lilios
Que blancos suelen salir
En la verde orilla
De Guadalquivir.

Los pájaros la saludan,
Porque piensa (y es así)
Que el Sol que sale en oriente
Vuelve otra vez a salir
En la verde orilla
De Guadalquivir.

Por sólo un cabello el Sol
De sus rayos diera mil,
Solicitando invidioso
El que se quedaba allí
En la verde orilla
De Guadalquivir.

Luis de Góngora, 1580

Caveat: Thank you, I don’t want to do that

I told my student David today that he explained some vocabulary words so well, in English, today, that he should be an English teacher. He smiled politely, and said, in almost perfect pronunciation and intonation:  "Thank you, I don't want to do that." I was pleased.

It's the last week of the Winter term. As has become my habit, I tried to take pictures of my some of my classes, to remember my students by. I don't try to force them… some classes are more enthusiastic than others, and I feel uncomfortable insisting. But here's a few who cooperated, to one degree or another.

200902_IlsanKR_LBkids_P1010555 [Left] The Goldrush2b kids:  Thomas, Dexter, Kevin, Alex L, Peter P,  Peter H (in front), Tommy (way in back), Silver, Jenny, Stephany, Lisa, Sophia.

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200902_IlsanKR_LBkids_P1010556

[Right] Sydney, waxing eloquent, and Eunice, saying something funny (undoubtedly).
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[Below, Left] Eldorado1a kids:  Sincere, Ellen, Julia (in back), Joseph, Mad Steven, Small Steve (NBA Steve).
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200902_IlsanKR_LBkids_P1010560

Caveat: 악플 isn’t in the dictionary

What does 악플 mean? “악플” (akpeul) is a slang term I learned today, that means, roughly, the negative comments or “flames” that people write on internet sites. I think it’s cool that Korean has a special slang word for this. Not sure it’s particularly useful knowledge. But I’m always especially happy to learn words that can’t be found in any dictionary.

Caveat: “Off topic you are!”

My student Eric was giving a speech.  Harry, another student, leapt to his feet and, pounding his fist confidently on the table, proclaimed, "Off topic you are!"  It was pure Yoda-speak.  And I began laughing uncontrollably, which left Harry a bit uncomfortable.  So I had to explain that Yoda, in the Star Wars movie, is a very funny-speaking character, but that, if you study his language carefully, you realize he's basically speaking English words with Korean grammar.  Which means that Korean students can "do" Yoda, sometimes, without meaning to.  I'm not sure my kids fully understood or accepted my explanation completely.  But they realized they could make me laugh by ending sentences loudly and confidently with verbs. 

"Homework what is?" they demanded, at the end.  Good students.  Funny students. 

Caveat: apple-onion-bean-rice-curry-stuff (Uh oh, Jared’s in the kitchen again)

In the spirit of my thoughts about meat, yesterday, and inspired by my success with some leftovers last week, I decided to get creative in my kitchen area.  In a couple tablespoons of olive oil, I fried a chopped-up small onion, a generous scoop of minced garlic (which you can buy in tubs from convenience stores in Korea), some sesame seeds, some roasted salted peanuts, and half of a an apple, finely chopped.  I added a pinch of red pepper and a tablespoon of curry powder.  When things were browned, I added the remains of my cooked red beans (about 2 cups, which had been cooked with red pepper, soy sauce, etc, a few weeks back).  I added a cup of cooked rice, and voila, apple-onion-bean-rice-curry-stuff.  Totally delicious.  Very nutritious.  And completely vegan.

The attitude barometer, episode 5:

    * Number of times I've opened my resignation letter and edited it:  4
    * Barrier-surpassing moments of Korean-language usage (outside of work only):  3
    * Spirit-destroying moments of Korean-language communication breakdown (outside of work only):  1
    * Number of students that have said something to the effect of "teacher, you're so funny" while fighting off an apoplectic fit of giggles:  1
    * Number of times I've told someone that I am "much happier than when I was in L.A.":  1
    * Number of times I really meant it (as opposed to the "fake it till I make it" approach I'm fond of): 0
    * Days I was late to work this week:  0
    * Total number of minutes I was late, minus total number of minutes I showed up early:  0 (plus, I worked Saturday, again, for a few hours)

soundtrack:

Minnesota Public Radio ("the current" streaming)
Silvio Rodriguez
The Go Team
Aly & AJ
Proyecto Uno (Nuyorican rap / hip hop)
Big Bang (k-pop)
The Cure
Kray Van Kirk (really!)
Gordon Lightfoot

 

Caveat: Incidental Meat

I've been thinking about meat.  I read an article in Scientific American about the "carbon footprint" of eating beef, specifically.  It's quite stunning, and it has got me to thinking, once again, about whether or not I would ever seriously become some kind of vegetarian (maybe a chicken-and-fish-only type, or a real vegetarian, or even a vegan).  All those things have crossed my mind many times.  But I lack the self-discipline to stick to any of them, it seems like.

Only hours after reading the Scientific American article, I was ordering and eating bibimbap from Gimgane.  The amount of meat in it is negligible, I suppose – at most some flecks of meat that might equal something under a tablespoon.  I'm not even sure what species of meat it is.  But… I'm not the sort to be a hardcore "I don't eat such and such," it seems like.

Still, it seems the compelling reasons for avoiding various types of meat keep building.  There's health impact (unless you're an Atkinsian).  There's ethical impact (I have been reading a book by Douglas Hofstadter, I am a Strange Loop, wherein he offers in his first chapter a meditation on meat-eating vis-a-vis the question of the relative sizes of souls).  And now, particularly for beef, there's global environmental impact, too.  The basic point: if we ALL quit eating beef tomorrow, and let the beef industry die, we'd do more to prevent the continuing global warming trend than if we ALL stopped using cars tomorrow.  That's very plausible, if you examine the facts.

So, I'm wondering how I feel about it.  I've been developing a sort of approach that is kind of based on the distinction between "incidental meat" versus "intentional meat."  Intentional meat is when I go out and seek it.  When it's the "purpose" of a dining experience.  Incidental meat is where I'm eating meat because someone else has ordered it.  Or they're giving it to me.  Or it got added, unexpectedly, to something I ordered (like the bibimbap the other day).  Maybe something can be made of this distinction.

Caveat: Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood

Last night, it was snowing.  Or sleeting.  Or freezing raining.  Something like that.  A blustery, damp, wind-driven, granular sort of snow.  And it didn't really stick.

Today, there are patches of white, but the sky is thickly hazy, yet it's quite windy.  A western wind, it seems like.  That's a spring pattern, here, a deviation from the north wind (bitterly cold) or south wind (warmer but wet) that normally seem to alternate in winter.  And yet it's quite cold, which means that it doesn't FEEL springlike – it feels like Minneapolis, this time of year, with the winds having whipped up across the plains.

That haze is the famous Chinese pall, I'd be willing to bet.  The Mongolian desert sands, from a 1000 km to the west, saturated with some juicy Chinese industrial wastes.  A bit early in the year for that, but the direction of the winds, and the color of the sky, make me suspicious.

Walking to work, these days, it's almost inevitable that I run in to some students, former or current.  I feel like a Mr Rogers, strolling like a conspicuous alien through his Ilsan neighborhood.  Putting on my teacher "happy face" despite the occasional turmoil inside.

"Hi Kevin!"  "Hi, Annie, how are you?"  "Hello, Joseph.  Don't forget you have a test tonight."  And I get those weird, disorienting bows that kids give to adults in public places (but that are utterly absent from the inside-the-hagwon environment, which I suppose is a tribute to the hagwon's efforts to instill a more "Western" atmosphere). 

Soundtrack:
Beastie Boys
임형주 (that 행복하길바래 song I like)
Radiohead
Madonna
Spagga y La Raza (Nueva York)
PM Dawn

Caveat: Collateralized

Speechcontest_090204_10th I have been collateralized – in the buzzword sense used in marketing departments these days:  I'm being used to advertize a product. 

See the recent picture from the L-Bridge website at right, with the winners of the speech contest of a few weeks ago, with me and a few other spokesforeigners standing in the background, looking respectably foreign. [Clicking the photo will pop up a bigger version.]

Genius Willy is right in front of me, wearing a silly grin (I'm in the middle between Joe and Jeff, in the back).  Other students I'm proud of:  Sydney (far left of photo); Johnny (third from left, front row); Sarah and Rebecca (back row of students, 3rd and forth from right) – the face between Sarah and Rebecca is Sarah-teacher (the somewhat hard-to-get-along-with curriculum manager at L-Bridge.  In the small square photos, top row, 2nd from left is Eunice (better known as CGHP! "crazy girl hot pink!" — don't ask what it means, I don't have a clue, myself) and top row, 4th from left is Lisa.

Actually, I'm most proud of Sydney, because she placed into the final 20 despite the fact that she pridefully rejected any kind of coaching of any kind from any of her teachers.  All the other finalists received extensive coaching and help of various sorts (grammar, pronunciation, etc.) from their teachers.

Caveat: … restart your dog.

I dreamed an eerie, very coherent dream.  Real plot.  Real characterization.  A story.

In the dream, I was driving in my pickup truck along an unpaved (or very poorly paved) stretch of highway.  A very desolate place.  There were two of me.  Not like two sides of myself;  not like a doppelganger or something;  just two of me.  Side by side, one driving, the other staring out the window.  Traveling companions.

It was near sunset, and bitterly cold.  The landscape was not mountainous, but not flat.  The vegetation was Patagonian.   Really, the stretch of road was like that long, mostly straight rise from Osorno to the Argentine border in Chilean Patagonia.  Like… driving up to Bariloche, on the Argentine side, with the volcano Igi Llaima (err, I think it's Igi Llaima) hovering like some undiscovered, exotic Fuji above the distant lake, below and behind.

It was starting to snow.  And although the landscape seemed like Chile, the roadsigns were in Korean.  Of course.

It was getting dark, and I was worried about something.  One of me was worried.  The other just shrugged, and muttered, do what you want.  So we stopped.  We pulled up a steep stretch of side-road, up against a fence under some gnarled, twisty, Japanese-painting pine trees.  Darkness fell.  We climbed into the back of my pickup, to sleep.

We awoke to the sounds of traffic.  I looked out and it was morning.  There was at least a foot of freshly fallen snow, but it was heavy, wet snow, like heaven throwing snowballs at Earth.  Still falling.  On the road below, there was a traffic jam.  All the cars had Korean plates, but I saw a group of Chilean carabineros monitoring the situation from the comfort of their idling car, a ways up the road.

Several vehicles had pulled off the highway behind us, up the steep drive to stop near us under the trees.  One truck, driven by a smoking team of Korean blue-collar types, was trying to negotiate around a pile of snow that appeared to have a car buried inside it.  And suddenly, the truck began to skid sideways down the steep drive.  It plunged into the traffic below, with almost no sound — in the weird, puttering silence that comes in blizzards.  Squoolurshshsh…

There was a weird yelping sound.  I saw that a dog lay in the road near the bottom.  Like a golden retriever puppy.  I popped the back of my camper top on my pickup truck and ran down the slippery road to pick up the dog.  It was dead — struck by the out of control truck.

The other me came down beside me, looking on impassive.  I was horribly upset, but I didn't say anything.

And then I said (the other "I" said):  "You'll need to get to level ground, if you want to restart your dog."  Like… giving advice to someone who's trying push-start an old car.  It made strange sense, but it was still utterly useless advice. 

I woke up.

Caveat: Subversive Hilarity

As part of our curriculum, we have these newspapers (which are presumably level-appropriate current-events newspapers that the kids can read, and from which we get many of our debate topics).  I actually rather like the newspapers, despite their many mistakes, as the kids seem to get into actually being able to talk about relevant current events in class.  I had a funny experience, however, recently.  And some of my students actually "got it" when I pointed it out to them.

You see, with the newspaper comes a workbook, which includes some pages of difficult vocabulary to review.  At the top of the page, it says, "반복 학습을 통해 반드시 암기하고 Reading Comprehension과 Writing을 통해 그 쓰임새를 학인합시다." (rough translation:  blah blah memorize these words blah blah")…. Then, farther down, in the list of vocabulary words to memorize, they give this word with its example sentence:  "proficiency 숙달, 능숙 example: Pushing children to memorize vocabulary or grammar rules will not lead to a high level of language proficiency."  This is subversively hilarious.

Caveat: The Richard Nixon of Operating Systems

Really?  Check this out:  "In many ways, Windows Vista has become the Richard Nixon of operating systems: controversial, scandalous, perhaps unfairly vilified at times, but ultimately reviled by many." – at ChannelWeb.

Hahahaha.  Cry.  Cry.  Etc.  Truth is stranger than fiction.  And true metaphors are stranger than fictional ones? 

Alternately, in the spirit of the just-passed V-day, consider this:  "Fantasy love is much better than reality love. Never doing it is very exciting. The most exciting attractions are between two opposites who never meet." – Andy Warhol.   Indeed, my life is profoundly, inexcusably exciting.

The attitude barometer, episode 4:

    * Number of times I've opened my resignation letter and edited it:  1
    * Barrier-surpassing moments of Korean-language usage (outside of work only):  1
    * Spirit-destroying moments of Korean-language communication breakdown (outside of work only):  2
    * Number of students that have said something to the effect of "teacher, you're so funny" while fighting off an apoplectic fit of giggles:  2
    * Number of times I've told someone that I am "much happier than when I was in L.A.":  0
    * Number of times I really meant it (as opposed to the "fake it till I make it" approach I'm fond of): 0
    * Days I was late to work this week:  1
    * Total number of minutes I was late, minus total number of minutes I showed up early:  15

recent soundtrack:

Last Alliance (JPop with a sanitized grunge flavor)
KoRn (pure anger from Bakersfield)
Bob Dylan
Elis Regina
Queens of the Stone Age

Caveat: Reflections on (of) Glass Houses. And the Future.

Here are some disorganized reflections of mine on the subjects of facebook, the internet, the panopticon, and the glass houses.  An extension to some initial thoughts I posted on February 6th, in reaction to an article in the guardian.

The web's "transparency" has two aspects.  There is the "taken" or "stolen" transparency (meaning that it grants organizations or individuals a power to spy — cf. a concept such as Foucault's panopticon prison, which is carrying the problem to a philosophical extreme).  This is something that people fear.   But there is also a "granted" or "given" transparency, which is fundamentally empowering, in my opinion — especially when viewed as an opportunity for those who hold power of any kind to "come clean" vis-a-vis those over whom they exercise power.  Or, at a more personal level, it is the power recognized from time immemorial in the liberating nature of confession.

In terms of potential, this power of revelation/confession trumps the power to monitor (panopticon).  Governments and organizations are in glass houses, now.  They try to throw up barriers and blinds, but it's a losing battle, at best.  There is a man in China who is in prison because some exec at Yahoo! (or group of execs, more likely — corporate ethical lapses are so often the consequence of groupthink) had an ethical lapse vis-a-vis the Chinese government, but, the truth remains… we KNOW about that man in prison.  In past times, a similar man, in a similar prison, would have disappeared completely, and we'd only have known of his situation by extrapolation from the situation of others whom we'd heard about.  Recall the many "disappeared" victims of past dictatorships.  Such total "disappearances" are, erm, disappearing in this new internet-enabled world.  Everything gets documented.

Bushcheneyian tyrants will always find ways to harrass us, and they will be assholes, regardless of the technology available.  Quakers, freethinkers and resisters were blacklisted by the CIA, the FBI, not to mention King George III, long before there were internet servers.   Cheney and his secretive, Nixonian ilk are a fading breed… a failing adaptation.   Or is this overly hopeful?

Perhaps if I believed in such a thing as divine providence, I'd be more inclined yearn for such a divine providence to be controlling our internet infrastructure, but there's nothing divine:  there's only Al Gore – a deeply flawed human at best (and Al Gore's not really controlling the internet, obviously, but he's a good proxy for the human collectivities that ARE controlling it, and he's an amusing proxy, too, since he "invented" it). 

Broadly, my primary assertion is that the internet as a whole, and facebook in particular (mostly seen as a somewhat more intensely managed version of the internet as a whole), are AT WORST forces of an ethically neutral value, and AT BEST they offer the potential for radically transforming our human ethical space, mostly due to the eerie powers of grassroots transparency.

Partly, I'm thinking in terms of evolutionary psychology.  Humans evolved an ethical space in which LYING and DECEPTION (including self-deception!) were easy strategies, and therefore they were (and still ARE) also quite frequent.  The direction in which technology is taking us has the potential to transform the social evolutionary pressures that led that way.  Perhaps I'm guilty, here, of transhumanist (q.v.) thinking – which in general I find vaguely worrying.  Be that as it may.

Writers like Tom Hodgkinson worry that facebook (and the internet in general) are primarily technologies that accentuate this potential of deception, and worse, that they can even facilitate oppression.  That's a very pessimistic view, and it will lead down the path toward luddism.   Of course, all technologies present grave dangers:  the warmongers and the kleptocrats will always be beating plowshares into swords, wherever and whenever they "need" them, and using campaigns of deception and spying to discover the weaknesses of their enemies.

My feeling is that the people who most fear the internet are the sorts of people who fear things in general, and that the people who extoll the internet are the sorts of people who extoll things in general — in other words, whether we fear the future or extoll it has more to do with our own inner selves than with aspects inherent in world-changing technologies.

There have always been future dystopians (once called millenarians, for example).  There have always been pie-in-the-sky optimists regarding the future of the human condition.  What's true — or reasonable — must fall somewhere in between.

Caveat: Trapped on Planet Earth

Messyearth_45470530__45218515_spaced_esa_226-1 The recent satellite collision in the news got me to thinking about a thing called Kessler Syndrome.  The idea that it's entirely conceivable and possible that we litter our Earth-proximate space with so much high-speed junk that it becomes difficult or impossible to launch vehicles into space anymore, as the debris becomes a kind of space-borne mine field that will pelt and puncture anything passing through.   Humanity's forays into space might be ended by humanity's own shortsightedness vis-a-vis the appropriate utilization of it. 

Caveat: Wow, Fantastic!

My student Jenny has adopted the custom of saying "Wow, Fantastic!" as a sort of catch-all response.  It can mean anything from, "I don't understand anything you said" to "I don't care" to "I'm very happy!"  All of those.  So, today, during class, as a kind of joke, I gave a 45 second speech that consisted of nothing but the words "Wow, Fantastic!"  You know, with different intonations, gestures, rising tone, falling tone, questioning, stating, exclaiming, muttering.  This was a big hit, and the students in the next class heard about it, and demanded I do the same for them.  It became the thrill-du-jour.  But now, of course, I have the phrase stuck for ever and ever in my brain, both Jenny's mindless version and my own highly variable one.

Wow.  Fantastic.

In other news, Ellie writes, "All over the world, terrorizers are terrorizing people."  This is SOOOO true, don't you think?

Caveat: Obamiconography

Mail.google.com I saw the photo of our Future Space Emperor at the Telegraph (.co.uk) website.  It looks like some weird Orthodox Jesus icon, with the presidential seal behind him exactly just so…

Don't get me wrong… I'm really not trying to be sarcastic when I call him Future Space Emperor.   I think, first of all, that it just sounds funny.  It captures the weird Obameschatology that grew up around his campaign.  But also, what if he really does turn out to be Space Emperor, at some point? 

Really!  It could happen!