"If he wins… Black people, we gonna have to come up with another excuse." – Comedian Wanda Sykes. This is one of those jokes that only a black person – such as Wanda – is allowed to say.
Indeed, I may be treading on the edge of offensiveness merely by quoting it. But I'll give it a try, because it seemed funny to me, at the time I heard it.
I learned a new word this evening: psephology – the statistical study of elections. I rather like this word, for some reason. Not as much as mereological, though. I wonder, what would it mean to practice mereological psephology? I'll do some research.
Some of my students had the assignment to "interview me" but I hadn't given them any kind of guidance as to what sort of questions they should ask. I got a lot of interesting and different sorts of questions, but the funnest one was from a girl named Jung, who asked me "Which came first, the chicken or the egg, in your opinion?" I hardly needed to hesitate: the egg, of course – it's a matter of genetics, right? I'm not sure she really understood my explanation.
"Love is not for the faint-hearted, or for the self-possessed" – I think Rumi (Persian poet) said this. Since I am both faint-hearted and not terribly self-possessed, I suppose this means that love is not for me.
Actually, it can be surprising the number times I get the question, "why aren't you married?" or its variants (such as why I'm not in a relationship, etc.). And a number of people, both Koreans and non-Koreans, seem to jump to the conclusion that I must be "looking" for a relationship, and that my coming to Korea may even have something to do with this – given the commonplace that Westerners will have "better luck" finding a significant other in Asian countries (which I definitely don't actually think is necessarily true, either).
But the facts are more complex, and the net is – I'm really NOT looking for a relationship. In fact, part of what lead me to make the decision to go off into an alien culture and go looking for new experiences was because I had reached a firm decision, last year, that I am meant to remain single. With the idea of a relationship basically ruled out, it made it easier to let go of things like "career" and "place" and just go off drifting again.
And so. "But don't you get lonely?" Of course I do. Still… I'm happier with loneliness than I have ever been in a relationship – at least over the longer term. So, it's for the best.
When I walked out of my building yesterday morning, there were some children playing just at the doorway. They froze in mid-roughhouse when they saw me, and one girl said, in a very loud stage whisper, "우우우우… 외국인!" ("oooooo… oegugin!" "oooh… a foreigner!").
I think the main reason I derived such an immense amount of pleasure from hearing this was due to the simple fact that I'd understood it.
I just finished reading Obama's book, Dreams from My Father. It is an extremely well-written book, and eerily inconclusive, considering it's written by a politician. I was really quite impressed – it's the first time I've been that riveted by an autobiography in a long time.
So, does that mean I'm ready to come out and endorse him? Well… not that far – not yet. If only because I always resist, at a visceral level, the most popular option – and he's definitely flirting with "most popular" lately. I'll maybe write some more about my thoughts about this situation later.
Meanwhile, the snow piled up on bushes and trees; it was lovely this morning. And it got colder, unlike it normally does after a snowfall, so the white glittery may be sticking around for a while, this time. Things felt all crisp and Minnesotaey this evening as I walked home from work.
On the one hand, I seem to have suddenly gotten sick again. Similar symptoms to what made all of December miserable for me, with an added bonus of nausea. On the other hand, after a heartfelt chat with the PF cohort, Pete (fellow teacher and nominal boss, now that Danny is gone) reported to me that they all said I was boring. Now… I take this, to some extent, with a grain of salt – teenagers will report that any adult is is "boring" given the right context and question. And their dissatisfaction with me is never far from sight – these are the same kids that used to be my notorious T2 group back when we were the Tomorrow School. Still… it's unhappy news. A downer sort of day.
Despite this, or to spite me – or both – it started snowing when I was walking to work, and was still snowing 9 hours later when I was walking home. Not heavy snow, but very sparkly, and the sidewalks were slippery, though only an inch or two appeared to have accumulated as far as I could tell.
So. I know – objectively – I'm not a universally "boring teacher." But with select groups, I definitely seem to receive more than my fair share of criticism in that direction. Mostly intermediate kids. With the most advanced kids, ability-wise or age-wise, I seem to do OK. And I really have fun with the 13-and-under ("elementary," here), and for the most part they seem to have fun with me. My absolute favorite class right now is my ER1 group from the Tuesday schedule (the second most advanced of the elementary students) – they take such joy in participating, learning, trying things out.
Where is this leading? I have been saying that part of what this whole "go to Korea and teach English" thing is about is my trying to find out if I want to reconsider teaching as a career. And despite the discouragement I have been receiving, I haven't given up the idea yet. But I find myself considering a never-before-seriously-considered option: that I might be best suited to going into teaching at the elementary level. I mean, as a career – not just as a way to goof around for a few years. This is a downright weird idea to me. But I guess you never know.
The phrase of the day is: " 민주주의의 의의." Not primarily because of its meaning (roughly, "the significance of democracy") but because it's my latest addition to a reluctantly expanding collection of "impossible to pronounce" phrases.
Note that the syllable "의" is repeated four times. This hangul's official romanization is either "ui" or "wi", but neither of these capture two complicating factors. First of all, neither romanization indicates much about the real sound. I would describe it as something similar to a cross between a French "u" and a Russian "ы", but more diphthongized. But the additional problem is that it's one of those phonemes that shifts around allophonically depending on both word-position and grammatical role, with the consequence that the same symbol repeated four times receives three distinct pronunciations: in the phrase above, transcribed, roughly, "min-ju-ju-i-e-ui-i".
So, perhaps unfortunately, you won't find me discussing democracy's significance – in Korean – anytime soon.
I have occasionally been surprised at the extent of my apparent ungoogleability – meaning that if you try to google me by my name, you find lots of things, but not me. There are many factors which contribute to this, but the two primary ones are as follows.
First, there's the coincidence of my last name with a common noun used in street addresses, and my having a first name wildly popular in vaguely Mormonesque intermountain subdivisions as a street name. Hence there are thousands of webpages that will return with the names and addresses of random people who live in places like Idaho and Colorado, with residences on e.g. 1234 Jared Way, Lovely Mountain Estates, CO.
The other reason is a bit more peculiar, and certainly more distinctly the consequence of the ephemerality (or not) of the internet. There is a very popular alternative rock personality by the name of Gerard Way, who apparently has a large number of slightly illiterate fans. These devotees post unending declarations of love and fandom for Jared Way (thus misspelling his first name). Gerard and his brother Mikey Way are from Belleville, New Jersey, and front a band called My Chemical Romance, whose song "Helena," for one, I rather like.
I got some poetic spam today:
Of course, is that his is that pure felicity of 'it was not for fame, nor for wealth, nor from handed the two dollar note and the three ones by means of that tree, a hundred and five of them pacify thyself.' having said this, o lord of men, nearly human. Through the underbrush the trunk tell him that aswatthaman has been slain in battle.' form. The evidence should be whether the defendant fire (called bhrig) and hence he came to be called friend who is of a righteous disposition, when.
I followed some random links around and found out that Murray Gell-Mann (a physicist who brought us the word "quark," a neologism which he lifted from Joyce's Finnagans Wake) has the same birthday I do, and is also left-handed. Then I drifted a bit further, and ended up watching a Ziggy Marley video on Youtube: "Love Is My Religion." I've never had much of a thing for reggae, but I found I liked it.
What I'm listening to right now.
[youtube embeds added in 2011 as part of background noise.]
What do Hans Blix, Noam Chomsky, Jesse Jackson and Will Ferrell have in common?
They are all recipients of something called the James Joyce Award. Can you even imagine that these characters have anything else at all that ties them together?
The day was springy. I worked fewer hours today – a slightly shorter schedule. I wrote a page-long document about some of my concerns about the "debate program" curriculum that I'm struggling with. I came home and ate a pre-made sandwich I'd bought at the Orange store downstairs, and drank some grapefruit drink and watched Jay Leno.
And then Craig Ferguson came on: the Late Late Show (these things are delayed telecast on the military channel that I manage to receive, here). I've decided I can definitely get on board with a late night television host who can mention both Kierkegaard and Karl Marx during his monologue, which also included dog farts.
I finished some books over the last several days. I generally have 4-6 books “in progress” at any given time, and for some reason this weekend and this morning I wrapped up two books in succession: Programming the Universe by Seth Lloyd, and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.
Why was yesterday a horrible day? Things happening at work, annoying me. I don’t think I feel like going into it right now, but suffice to say that hearing third-hand complaints (student to parent to “homeroom” teacher to me) about how my favorite class is “boring” kind of has me feeling depressed. I thought things were going well.
I don’t have much to say, I guess, other than that. I’ve been working 10 hour days, Monday and today – grading papers, trying to come up with some way to make classes more challenging and interesting, within the boundaries of the curriculum. And meanwhile, trying memorize my lists of Korean vocabulary.
A few days back I mentioned seeing a “basket selling” truck, and that I snapped a picture of it with my cell phone – but I failed to post picture. So here it is – right on the corner of the major intersection where the school is:
The writer and journalist Ambrose Bierce disappeared (and presumably died) under mysterious circumstances in Chihuahua, Mexico, while traveling with Pancho Villa's army during the Mexican Revolution. He was over 70 years old at that time. Shortly before, he had written in a letter to his niece, "To be a Gringo in Mexico — ah, that is euthanasia!"
Yesterday I posted a little rant about my frustration with KCRW and their link to iTunes. The day before yesterday, I had also sent a small email that was similar in tone and content to the KCRW email address. Lo and behold, this morning I had an actual personal message from someone at the station, guiding me to a feature of their "now playing" that I'd either managed to fail to see or that is simply something new. But wow – actual customer service. I was very pleased and impressed!
So I hereby retract the part of yesterday's rant against KCRW, and may even consider the possibility of supplementing my annual Minnesota Public Radio membership with a separate one for the station. Regardless, the part of the rant against Apple and iTunes still stands, but for KCRW I can say thank you, and great work – you've won over a loyal customer just through the effort.
For some reason, I've been really tired this week. I've been sleeping more than usual, and not studying my Korean as I should be. I will be going to my Saturday 학원 unprepared tomorrow. I saw a truck covered in baskets and stuff (I guess to sell them) on my way to work on Thursday, and I snapped a picture of it with my cellphone.
One of my favorite online streaming radio stations is KCRW (out of Santa Monica), and one show I like is Jason Bentley's Metropolis. Often, I hear a track on this show that I would like to find out what it is, and on many streaming radio stations it's possible to go to a "now playing" list and find this out with very little problem.
However, KCRW's website, along with some others, essentially chooses to tie in their "now playing" list with Applecorp's iTunes website. And here's the problem: because I'm running Linux, I couldn't run iTunes even if I wanted to (because they only offer Windows and Mac versions). But I don't, in fact, want to run iTunes, because in general I dislike Apple's operating philosophy, focused as it is on image over substance, on dumbing down technology to just the level that they can sell it to righteous hipsters, their emphasis on paranoically closed-source operating systems and code, etc. etc. And I manage to feel this way, despite the fact that my "first" computer, way back in the day, was an Apple ][, and that I have very fond memories and a weird loyalty to that experience.
Actually, this should be a rant against KCRW, rather than against Apple: to the extent that it's the radio station's choice to make the tie-in to iTunes – although I assume there's some kind of mutually beneficial financial relationship there. But if there's a technological antithesis to the spirit of public radio, it's gotta be Apple. Compared to Apple, Microsoft looks positively communitarian, in that the development philosophy and marketing strategy at Microsoft is at least trying to offer some kind of lip service to universality (as opposed to Apple's elitism) – if only because Microsoft is monopolistic and bent on world domination at any cost. [Update – this rant is formally retracted via my retract-o-rant dated Feb 15]
Wouldn't a public radio station be more in line with a "for the people" marketing stance if they could try to make their website more universally accessible? Just a thought. Can we feel the love? It is, after all, St. Valentine's Day.
I haven't had many memorable dreams, recently. I seem to go through phases where I dream, and others where I don't – I'm not sure what causes these shifts. Anyway, this morning I awoke from a dream that was not particularly structured – it seemed to involve a lot of drifting through an environment not unlike the school where I teach, but rather ghostlike and detached, and with a lot of failed efforts at communication. The last part is true-to-life, of course – what would you expect at an English language academy in Korea, if not a lot of failed communication? But, what was weird was that I had a vivid sense that the dream had a musical soundtrack, much like many of my dreams used to. And the music was unexpected – fragments of 70's songs from groups like Journey and Genesis. The most vivid part of it. What was that about?
I haven't been very good about posting, lately. The weather has been very cold, hazy during the days but never above freezing and often 10-15 degrees (C) below. Not as cold as in Minnesota, lately, from what I've heard.
This is not a real advertisement, I don’t think.
I suspect something subversive going on, vis-a-vis Korea’s fraught relationship with Japan and Japanese culture, but I can’t quite figure it out.
The little baby tofu is screaming “we’re delicious!”
In other news, the Namdaemun (Seoul’s historic South Gate) burned down over the weekend. Despite having survived innumerable wars and invasions since 1398! And I posted a picture here in this blog only a few months back. Hmmm.
"Ook!" is what is known as an "esoteric programming language." I've developed a certain passing fascination for these constructs, which I've pursued in my wikipediasurfing. There are various kinds, but what they share is a certain in-jokey relationship to the practices of theoretical computer science.
Another esoteric language I particularly like is "whitespace" – a programming language that allows you to write code using nothing but ASCII whitespace characters, such as tab, space, and linefeed. It then treats all other characters as its own whitespace, thus allowing you to, in theory, embed a secret whitespace program into the code of some other (slightly) more conventional programming language – perhaps "Ook!"
Meanwhile, I've also been pursuing research into xenotheology – the study of alien belief systems, I guess. Obviously, since we don't know anything about aliens (yet), this is a strictly hypothetical-based pursuit. But fascinating. What do aliens believe? Or rather, what would they believe, if they existed? How will what aliens believe interact with what humans believe, in a potential first-contact situation? Will we be evangelized? Will they be? Would human religions as currently structured survive a first contact with an equally (but differently) religious but alien civilization? I suspect some religions would cope better with aliens than others – especially those currently "fringe" religions that have a belief in aliens (or other worlds/planets), etc., already embedded in their dogmas: e.g. scientology or, most notably, mormonism. All of which is to say, which president would you rather have handling a sticky alien first-contact situation: President Romney or President Huckabee?
Today is lunar new year. So I had the day off. But I didn't do anything productive with myself, whatsoever. I watched some television, did some reading, surfed wikipedia.
Here's an interesting quote: "rational arguments don't work on religious people; otherwise there wouldn't be any religious people." – tv character named House, on the eponymous tv program. I'd never seen this program before. I find the premise and the main character vaguely annoying. But I'll concede it's pretty well written. And I liked that line a great deal.
I made some ramyeon (ramen) and added chopped cabbage, some tomatoes and broke an egg into it. It is delicious, and I'm watching David Letterman (Monday night's show) and having some boricha, and looking forward to a few days off (the Lunar New Year holiday).
I spent time surfing around online yesterday, and have also been reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. Dawkins is a vaguely militant atheist, but upon reading his book and thinking about what he has to say, I would say his skepticism trumps his atheism, and I think it's important, as he does, to make a clear distinction.
If I understand Dawkins' argument clearly, scientifically well-founded skepticism disallows a 100% atheism, but inevitably leads to a 99.99% atheism. But a skeptic will always say: "show me the evidence, and I will change my mind." A 100% atheist will affirm that no evidence will ever be found: that's what I like to call "faith-based atheism."
My wanderings online led me to wikipedia (inevitably) where I found an article on mereological nihilism. As I have understood it, it's a sort of extreme anti-platonism – a denial of the objective reality of all composite objects (which is to say, only philosophically "simple" objects are actually "real" – e.g. quarks and photons and such indivisibles).
Is this a true anti-platonism? Unless I very much misunderstand, it seems an almost perfect inversion of the parable of the cave… In the cave, the "real" reality lies in the transcendent perfect prototypes (i.e. pre-existent images of the compositional objects), and the illusion is in the grainy shadow-projections on the wall. But all these prototypes (categories, or sets, e.g. sets of "simples arranged tablewise" standing for "table") are just illusion under mereological nihilism. I think I may be a mereological nihilist, on top of being a godless atheist and metaskeptic (i.e. I'm skeptical of skepticism). In any event, it sounds cool.
I take my small victories, when they come along. In the language learning arena, I mean. I was at my Saturday Korean class, and there was a different teacher from before. And she asked me a very complex question in Korean, and I not only understood, but provided a simple but grammatically correct and accurate answer in response. This was a sort of first, for me. At least, it felt like one of those language-learning milestones.
So, for posterity, the sentence is today's blog title: "I studied Korean in the U.S." Which is to say, I was answering a question to the effect of, "how did you learn what you know in Korean? You studied it in the U.S.?" The teacher seemed impressed with my ability to understand and use the past tense. I felt the same way.
I took a walk over to the Kyobo bookstore after class, and browsed for a while but made only a small purchase of my weekly magazine fix. Then I walked some more and, somewhat impulsively, I went into a Burger King. Honest truth, this is only the second time I've gone into an American-brand fast-food restaurant since I came to Korea in September. That's got to be some kind of record, for me. My ramyeon habit is unhealthy enough, I don't need to make things worse by getting regular doses of American fast food. I've been pretty happy to have mostly shaken my former junk-food-restaurant habit. But today was a relapse, I guess.
Then I took a walk through a rather desolate area where there are gazillions of new high-rise apartment buildings under construction, as the sun set and the winter afternoon got cold… colder. Then I found the express bus terminal, conveniently on the orange number 3 subway line, and came straight home.