Caveat: Unclear on the concept

I spent 20 minutes last night explaining the debate topic to my Eldorado 1 class.  I knew the topic was a bit over their heads, but I had no idea by just how much.

The topic is whether or not South Korea should join the US in a "proliferation security initiative" – basically, should South Korea join other nations in working hard to prevent the nuclear proliferation problem.  But it's a sensitive issue, here, since North Korea is the number one offender on the nuclear proliferation front, at the moment.  And the South has ambivalences about its other neighbors, too:  China is increasingly public about its military (including nuclear) capacity, and Japan is NEVER to be trusted in its non-proliferation commitments (for obvious historical reasons, from the Korean perspective). 

The consequence is that while many South Koreans clearly want to side with the US in the non-proliferation movement, there are just as many that would like to simply ignore the situation, either because they don't want to offend the North for fear of antagonizing it (typically, those on the left), or because they would like to see the South developing (perhaps secretly) their own nuclear deterrent (typically, those on the right). 

Anyway, I spent lots of time drawing maps and diagrams on the board, and explaining in as simple vocabulary as I could muster, the situation regarding nuclear proliferation.  And then, as the bell rang, my student Ann timidly raised her hand, and said, "Teacher… which Korea?"  I said that I didn't understand.  She elaborated, "Here, Ilsan.  Which Korea – North, South?" 

"This is South Korea," I said, bemused.  Her face brightened.  "Oh, thank you.  Good night."  Oops!  Sometimes you need to make sure basic concepts are clear.

In other news… my web-access problems at home are getting progressively more annoying.  I couldn't get into facebook, last night.  And unlike with my blog host, I was unable to "sneak" in using a proxy.  I may be better off trying to freeload wifi off my neighbors, and not pay the $25 a month to SK Broadband.  I certainly would never dream of trying to interact with customer service in Korean.  I remember vividly my shock and dismay when I realized that the person at the customer service call center at my DSL provider in the US didn't know what a Domain Name Server was.  Nothing is more depressing than trying to explain technical stuff to the technical helpdesk people.  And to try to do so across a severe language barrier might just cause my brain to self-destruct.

Caveat: The Positive (The Urinal)

Basil and I were joking around earlier. I still meet with him sometimes for coffee or whatever, even though we’re no longer colleagues. We were “focusing on the positive” about being in Korea, and about working at LBridge (my current and his former employer). The joke was: well, one thing that’s nice about LBridge is the urinal in the men’s bathroom.  It has a window, and you look out on the alleyway behind the school and the apartments across the way. There are lots of flowers and trees, the air is fresh, you can watch people walking by on the street below. I’ve watched a cat that lives among the bushes occasionally venturing out, when no one was about. So, one thing I like about LBridge is the urinal.
I decided that that made for a rather forlorn list, all by itself. I have probably spent too much time over the last 9 months thinking of things I didn’t like about this place, so here is a list of things I like about LBridge, that tries to add at least a few things.
the urinal
the fact that each teacher has a computer (my last two hagwon didn’t)
some of my coworkers (Peter, Christine, Joe, Jenica… sometimes Sean is nice, sometimes Sarah)
the color printers
the consistency in designed syllabi
… most of all: the students! the students are awesome.

Caveat: Hypomnemata

I guess Plato advocated something called hypomnemata, which, based on what I could figure out on wikipedia and other places, was a sort of personal journal of philosophical reflections on whatever topics one might run across.  It sort of sounds like a very low-tech blog.  A journal, or introspective philosophical diary.   And one little thing I saw (I didn't keep track of where) mentioned the idea that in 500BC or whatever Plato's epoch was, this idea of personal journal-keeping was radically disruptive technology.  It was, on the one hand, an acknowledgement of the imperfection of human memory, over time, and on the other, a sort of solution to it.   I find the idea that journal-keeping is a disruptive technology a compelling one.

Caveat: Hermits

I keep obsessing over the concept of Juche:  the North Korean political philosophy.   It's not that I agree with it, or even understand it.  And North Korea, as a political or even cultural entity, scares me much more than it interests me.  But I keep coming back to Juche as being some kind of secret key to understanding Korean national character.  Not that I really even believe such a thing.

I've been reading a book by Simon Winchester, Korea:  A Walk Through the Land of Miracles.  It's very interesting.  At the beginning of the first chapter, he quotes The Description of the Kingdom of Corea, the English translation of Hendrick Hamel's 1668 book written in Dutch, which was the very first account of Korea by a westerner.    The words that struck me:  "This kingdom is very dangerous, and difficult for Strangers." 

Out of curiosity, I found the original Dutch, too (which I find fascinating just because it's weird language… archaic Dutch): 

"Dit lant bij ons Coree ende bij haer Tiocen Cock  genaemt is gelegen tussen de 34 1/2 ende 44 graden; in de lanckte, Z. en N. ontrent 140 a 150 mijl; in de breete O. en W. ongevaerlijck 70 a 75 mijl; wort bij haer inde caert geleijt als een caerte bladt, heeft veel uijt stekende hoecken. Is verdeelt in 8 provintie ende 360 steden, behalve de schansen op 't geberghte ende vastigheden aanden zee cant; Is seer periculeus voor de onbekende, om aan te doen, door de meenighte van clippen ende droogten."

I like the way that the name of Korea is romanized… the way that it provides clues to both 17th c. Dutch phonology and 17th c. Korean phonology:  "Tiocen Cock" represents what is now written in Korean 조선국 = joseonguk. 

Anyway, the phrase " Is seer periculeus voor de onbekende, om aan te doen, " definitely sums up Kim Jeong-il's Hermit kingdom even today.   And the account of the foreign Dutchmen being captured and enslaved by the Koreans for 13 years, until they finally escaped, stole a boat, and went to the relatively more hospitable Japan.  It's hard to imagine late-medieval Japan as being more hospitable to strangers than some other country, but Korea was definitely much more inwarding looking than even Japan, I think.

OK.  I was thinking about Juche.  Inward-lookingness made into an explicit national philosophy.  Inward-lookingness but with external hostility.  Hmm… that could be my boss.   It's a bad idea to make generalizations about "national character," and to project those generalizations onto individuals is even worse.  But… it's so tempting.

Notes for Korean
일반 = general or universal
액세스하려는 파일은 일시적으로 이용할 수 없습니다 "file access cannot be completed at the moment"
일시적으로 = at the moment, temporarily
방법=means, plan, method, way, recipe

Caveat: Stealth Server

When I worked at Paradise Corporation (a pseudonym), in the National Accounts Department (within the broader realm of Sales & Marketing) with my boss’s permission, I constructed a database server which I used to download and manipulate a complete “copy” of the official corporate data warehouse. The server was not a powerful machine, and a full ETL (extract, transform, load) of the previous week’s data took all weekend (more than 24 hours). But I kept adding more hard-drives, because the size of the dataset was so large. Ultimately, the server had 9 200GB hard drives, meaning it was approaching 2 terabytes. There were only 6 slots for hard drives, however, so I attached the additional drives using duct tape to the inside of the case. I was very proud of the jury-rigged contraption.
The server became known as the “stealth server,” and employees from the IT department would sometimes come by my cubicle simply to admire (and express alarm) at my handiwork. I deployed a business-intelligence website called, alternately, the report-o-matic or NADA (a cynical backronym of my own creation, meaning National Accounts Data Analysis), which ran on one of my two desktops and linked to the stealth server for its source data. Linking directly to the data warehouse was not an option, because the dimensional data there was of the wrong “granularity,” which is why I’d built the copy in the first place. I was “flattening” the dimensions substantially, and then re-normalizing to the “correct” granularity to be able to support invoice reporting for certain finicky National Accounts customers.
GoogleServerMedium I was reminded of my beloved stealth server recently by an April Fool’s blog posting at CNET news. The picture (click thru for the CNET article) is not unlike my stealth server, and I felt both alarmed and proud of the fact that my stealth server’s secret twin was working hard for google. But of course, no real corporation would rely on such jury-rigged hardware for mission-critical data support functions. Right?
To Paradise’s credit, the report-o-matic is now hosted on proper hardware, and most of the “back-end” has been rewritten by “guys in India.” But last I heard, the website was still presenting data for the National Accounts team, much as I’d designed it.

Caveat: 東 / 西

It was an overcast day, and chillydamp, in the wake of yesterday’s rain. I went on a long walk. I was going up the east side of Jeongbalsan.
The pictures (below) were both taken at the exact same spot. I simply spun on my heels between pictures. The first picture is looking west. It’s a bit blurry, but you get the idea.  The second picture is looking east. I thought the contrast was interesting.
Later, I walked down the plaza south of the hill, after my long walk, and bought a few things at HomePlus – it’s impossible to find good imported cheese lately, though, and Korean cheese is scary.  All the stores that I habitually found cheese at no longer seem to carry it.  But I found some canned lentils — I was missing lentils. Maybe I’ll make something with them.  I bought a new electric fan, too, as I know it will get warm, soon, and my last fan died last summer and I never replaced it.
I went home and dropped my things at the apartment, but then I went and sat in a Starbucks (gotta do my small part to boost that stock price, right?) and studied some hanja for a few hours.  I’m making a list of about a hundred and copying it. It’s hard to get the sequence of strokes right.
The hanja in the title to this post:   동 / 서  = east / west.

Caveat: 내리는 문’입니다

What’s with the apostrophe?
I saw “내리는 문’입니다” on the back door of a bus, facing out. It makes perfect sense: Nae-ri-neun mun-ip-ni-da (roughly, “exiting door is” meaning “this is an exit door”).  Korean typically and in very standard fashion will attach a “be-verb” (in this case, ip-ni-da, which is a highly formal and deferential form used for public discourse) to any noun, to make a sentence. The noun is in turn modified by a relativizer (or adjectivizer) of the “exit” verb.
But, there’s a little apostrophe, between the mun and the ip. Why? [imagine this pronounced in a weird Homersimpsonish risingtone]
So… but who thunk to put an apostrophe? Korean doesn’t use apostrophes. I’ve never seen that before. It makes a weird kind of sense, but it doesn’t follow the rules of Korean orthography and word-separation that I’ve been exposed to. It was definitely an apostrophe – the font showed one of those little blobs with a tail hanging down, just like an elevated comma. It can’t be a mistake, can it? It’s some kind of westernish orthographic affectation, I suspect. Makes it “look cool,” somehow.
Here is a backlog of “Notes for Korean,” some random vocab words I should be memorizing:
발송중 = delivery . [in the course of / in the middle of]
현재 = current; present day; nowadays
-령 = dominion, land
동인도 [east india] = indonesia
옛 = old, former
회사 = company, firm
표준= standard, as in, 표준어 = standard language / linguistic norm
추가 = addition / -하다  add to, append, supplement
마치다 = be done, finish, complete
기타 = the rest; and others; and the like
대학입학= university admission
선배=senior, elder
잠시=shortly, later / 잠시후 =after a short while
실패는 성공의 어머니이다 = failure success’s mother is.
Picture: walking from work toward 주엽 subway station in the rain, at about 5 pm today. It was so greeny and beautiful.

Caveat: Customs Detail; Emeralds; Raindrops

The dry season (aka winter) is ending.

Northwest South Korea is actually the wettest place place I've ever lived, except for those months in Valdivia, Chile.  My hometown of Arcata, on the southern edge of the allegedly rainy Pacific Northwest, actually doesn't get as much precipitation as Seoul, but its rainy reputation is reinforced by the vast number of overcast days each year.  I blame my Arcata upbringing for my somewhat problematic relationship with sunny days. 

Anyway, despite the "on average" wet climate, here, it's all concentrated into the summer monsoon.  So winter is dry.  Drier than a midwestern winter, although bitterly cold just like Minnesota.  But with spring, and warming temperatures, the moisture begins to come.  Rainy days.  And of course, since it's spring, everything turns stunningly green.

Some of my most vivid memories of "greenness" are from the spring of 1991, when I was assigned to a special "customs detail" outside of my assigned US Army support battalion, here in Korea.  I was a "liaison" attached to a group of Korean truck-drivers / movers, basically.  The movers were employed by the US Army to come in and move US soldiers from base to base, or to pack them up for their return to the US, etc.

Because there was a Korean government customs official involved, the US Army liked to send along a "throwaway" liaison to kind keep an eye on things, I guess.  That was me — because my sergeant didn't like me, he gave me what everyone supposed was an onerous extra assignment.  But I loved it.  I spent a good portion of that spring riding around in a Hyundai 2-ton truck with a team of about 4 Korean blue-collar types who had very poor English, as we went from base to base, and from off-base apartment to off-base apartment, packing up and loading up US soldiers' worldly goods and transporting them around.

I remember riding in the back of the truck, watching the rain beyond the canopy, as the green countryside whirled past.  Stopping in some hole-in-the-wall restaurant and having chili-ramen with cheese-whiz (some kind of weird lower-class Korean delicacy).  Picking up a few bits of Korean.  Standing aside in the barracks at Camp Boniface (the forwardmost post of the US Army in Korea, facing the North Korean border), looking uselessly officious, while the Korean customs official went down his checklist of "forbidden items," and the impatient infantryman-du-jour looked on.  And then returning to my unit that evening, only to be told I was still responsible for that broken humvee or deuce-and-a-half truck, and working late into the night in the motorpool shop.

But it was during this "customs detail" in 1991 that I first fell in love with the emerald, rainy Korean countryside of spring and early summer.  I flash back on these memories, stepping outside today to walk to work: the sting of a raindrop on my cheek, the flash of suddenly green treebranches lifted by wind.

Caveat: All the world’s a stage…

In the latest Atlantic magazine, Hua Hsu replies to letters critiquing his article "The End of White America," which I mentioned once before.  And there is one thing that he says that bothers me (and he may have said something similar in his article, but at the time it didn't stick with me): "I am reminded of the commentary about Barack Obama's skill (and more important, success) at 'playing white.'"

This statement of Hsu's bothers me because in my opinion it underscores the problem with so much analysis of race, everywhere in the world:  it conflates the issues of physiognomy on the one hand and cultural background on the other.  You see, Barack Obama is not, in fact, skilled at "playing white," as Hsu says.  Culturally, Barack Obama is white.  He was raised by a white mother (and her white parents, his grandparents) in the multiethnic but mostly culturally "white" enclaves of Honolulu.  It doesn't require any skill on his part to "play white," because it's what comes naturally to him.  Being white is Obama's birthright.  If anything, Obama's skill is in "playing black," given that he had very little exposure to black culture during his childhood and adolescence (whether we're speaking of blackness of the American, slave-descended variety or of the African immigrant variety).

In fact, Obama's ability to navigate "alien" cultural spaces (such as Chicago's Southside African American world) is a great gift he has, and his success in "nativizing" himself contributed hugely to his political success later on.  And far be it from me to criticize his desire to "go native" — the challenges of cultural adoptees (where physical "race" doesn't match that of one's parents) is something I feel I have some small insight into, but in reality is far beyond my ability to empathize with deeply.
Nevertheless, Hsu's confusion of Obama's cultural background (white) and physiognomy (black/white), along with the inevitable overweighting of the latter vis-a-vis the former, is what I would term a central tenet of the "racist fallacy."  Obama demands huge credit for his ability to cross the cultural divides that permeate our society, and there's no denying that his physiognomy introduced complexities into that navigational process, both positive and negative, but to say that Obama is successful at "playing white" totally misses the realities of the way culture and ethnicity work, from an anthropological standpoint. 
Well, that's just my opinion.

Caveat: 꽃보다男子

I began watching a new Korean TV series.
I never got more than few episodes into the last one I tried, which was called 밤이면 밤마다 (which is translated, I think inaccurately, as “When it’s at night”).  I couldn’t get into the rather rah-rah-yay-Korean-history premise, of these people working for the “cultural properties division” of some government agency, mostly bashing Japanese thefts of Korean national properties.  It’s not that I don’t believe such things are happening, or at the least, have happened in the past.  It’s just that, when couched in tones of unreflective nationalism it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
This drama was all the rage over the winter, here.  It’s a Korean remake of a Japanese remake of an originally Japanese manga series: 꽃보다男子  (“Boys over flowers”).  The premise is OK, I guess, and I’m trying my best to watch it partly because with a bunch of 10-13 year old students who are obsessed with it (especially the girls), I felt like I should try to know what it was about.  Maybe over time, it will grow on me.  So far, it seems the acting is of lower quality than some other series I’ve seen — partly, the problem is having a bunch of 20-somethings playing supposed high school students.  I heard that the Taiwanese remake of the show reset it to college, and that might have been a better strategy here, too.  I find the main actress’s efforts to be a wide-eyed innocent high school junior implausible when not downright annoying.  And the “bad-boy” gang-of-four heroes are more of the entitled, tantrums-will-always-get-you-what-you-want young men that seem all the rage in Korean romantic comedy these days as lead characters.  I’ll try to remember to report back, I guess.

Caveat: Education

So I read in Newsweek an editorial by Jacob Weisberg, entitled "What else are we wrong about?"  The observation that caught my eye:  "Homeownership encourages longer commutes.  And at least one study says it makes you fat and unhappy."

I've had less-than-glowing sociological intuitions about America's homeownership-as-secular-religion for some time.  And the recent subprime mortgage crisis points up some of the instabilities, although it mostly seems the blame lies with exploitative financiers.  The point is, a homeownership "religion" can can be exploitative.  At the least, it becomes a form of social control:  keep your citizens in sufficient debt that they can't challenge the underpinnings of the economic system.

But as I reflected on the homeownership question, this morning, I had a curious new insight.  One of the sociological factors that seems to drive US homeownership trends is the "problem of public education."  Which is to say, families in search of "better schools" search out "good school districts" which are inevitably "farther out" – leading to overleveraged mortgages and longer commutes, etc., etc.  Look at the recent immense movement of lower-middle-class and working-class hispanics into California's Inland Empire, to get away from the "city problems" and "city schools," among other things.

All of which means that, at least indirectly, the US "public education problem" could be viewed as a root cause (I said a root cause, not the root cause) of things as diverse as the current global financial crisis (via the subprime mortgage problem) and global warming (via the excessively long, automobile-dependent commuting pattern of American workers).

Maybe that's just my biases at work.  I really believe that the single thing that needs to be "fixed" about the American polity is the education system.

Caveat: Pirates!

Pirates are all over the news.  On the one hand, Obama is facing off against pirates, not far off the coast of his father's homeland.  See this somewhat silly article in Mother Jones.  On the other hand, the Swedes have convicted the leaders of The Pirate Bay (a torrenting website that I have confessed to using on occasion) of copyright infringement, unexpectedly granting a huge boost to a Swedish Piratpartiet (really!), propelling them past even the Greens, at least temporarily, in the polls.  And meanwhile, Lars Ulrich (of the rock band Metallica, notorious for having essentially sued his own fans for piracy in the past) has now announced that he's siding with Trent Reznor and Radiohead and believes major record labels are no longer necessary.

So… which pirates are the real pirates?  What does all this mean?  What ties them together?  I would speculate, for both best and worst, that there's a sort of libertarian ideal that provides the linkages.  It was the example of Somalia that has caused me, in recent years, to reconsider my own libertarianism.  And it is movements like Sweden's Piratpartiet that make me think libertarianism still has something to offer, ideologically.  I'm offering no answers… just meditating on things.

Caveat: The Bus to Xenopolis

Subways are awesome.  But I sometimes forget that subways still end up working a little bit like a teleportation system – one can lose one's awareness of the surrounding spaces.  Today I did something I don't do often enough:  I had a random public-transport adventure.  Not really an adventure… I had heard that the 9711 bus would take me straight from Ilsan to Gangnam faster than taking the subway.  I set out with no particular destination in mind, but when I saw that bus going by, I decided to try it.  It wasn't really faster, but what it was, was a great reminder of just how freaking huge this city I live near is. 

Seoul metro area (including the Special Admin Cities of Seoul and Incheon along with Gyeonggi province) has a population of around 23 million.  I think, roughly, the area is the same size as Los Angeles county, if maybe a little bit smaller, even – but with double the population.  It's one of the most populous cities in the world, and this bus ride really made that clear… more than riding the subway does.  Better for seeing all the parts of the city go by, etc…

I've been feeling kind of down about "Korea" lately.  Mostly, frustration with the extraordinarily slow and not very rewarding language-learning efforts, I think.  But also puzzling about the cultural enigmas:  is it possible for a society to be both cosmopolitan and xenophobic?  I think so.  Does that mean it's xenopolitan?  Nice portmanteau word, but it doesn't quite work out to what I want, semantically.  Xenopolis would just be a city of aliens, which rather more accurately describes NYC or LA, than Seoul.  Nevertheless…

Just random thoughts, I guess.  I wish I'd bothered to take my camera and taken some pictures from the bus ride.  It just seemed so vast… 30 km of continuous high-rise apartments and businesses, and the expressway weaving along the north bank of the Han river like something out of Bill Peet's Wump World.

Still, I tend to feel so much more positive about Korea and about my experience here, when I take the effort to go out into it, rather than sitting and stewing in my apartment or neighborhood.  I really like Korea.  Weird country.   But regardless…  the alienation I feel, is mostly endogenous.  Endogenic alienation?  Does that make me endoxenic?  OK, basta de neologismos.

Caveat: Motivational Deficit Disorder

MDD.  I was going to go to work to get something done, but didn't. 

Later, I became a bit more motivated, and I went into the city with Basil.  We went to his favorite Russian restaurant again.  I'm not totally into it, but it's a nice change of pace, and there's something fascinating about visiting the Russian ethnic enclave in this mostly homogeneous metropolis.   I found a sign in Mongolian (at least, I think it was Mongolian – it was a phonologically un-Russian-looking cyrilic) advertising bank services.  I should have taken a picture.  

Basil and I debated about when the last train back out to Ilsan runs.  I found signs that alleged it ran around 11:30, but he insisted it was around 10:30.  The issue was unresolved, as we took the train out at around 10:15.  It's not something you want to end up testing — the taxi fare out from Gupabal is mildly outrageous.  I bet there are buses, though, if you're brave enough to figure them out.

Caveat: Little Mexico on the Prairie

I’ve been kind of trying to follow the Coleman v Franken thing in Minnesota, as they keep arguing and battling and trying to out-maneuver one another. Does “democracy” come down to this?  It seems like it so often does… one can be reminded of the 2000 Gore v Bush debacle, but I’m actually more reminded of the Calderon v AMLO mess in Mexico a few years back.  The way that the losing side kept hanging on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on… In comparison, Gore’s “graceful” exit was full of class and probably better for the health of the system. Of course, whether it’s a system whose health is worth preserving is questionable, too.
Anyway, the Minnesota senate race makes me think of Mexico’s last Presidential election. Nuff said.
In other news, it’s spring around here. And Iris drew a funny picture of the Goldrush 1d class that I liked alot. Here are some snaps with my cellphone.

Caveat: Proxymate Cause

I have been obsessing over trying to solve my connectivity problem.  It annoys me that it only seems to apply to one specific type of internet connection:  Home-to-typepad (where typepad is my blog hosting service, where you're reading this).  All other connections I've tried work just fine, with zero problems.  I can do:  work-to-typepad; home-to-anything-else; work-to-anything-else. 

I got a prompt answer from the typepad helpdesk, today.  Basically, there is not nor has there been any kind of outage at typepad.  And, since I'm able to connect from work, it's not a Korea-wide problem.  Although… I got a bit of a hint of what might be going on, when, as an experiment, I tried connecting to my blog using the raw IP address rather than the name:  I got a notice from the Korean Police State that they prohibited that particular connection. 

I reckon there may be something involving Korea's "national firewall" – just like China (and, in fact, like most countries outside of North America), Korea monitors and surreptitiously manipulates the contents of the DNS's (Domain Name Servers) in-country.  These are the devices that tell the internet how to find things for you.  The result is that if they don't want you going somewhere, they can "block" it in some way.

Still, I don't think my blog host (typepad,,, etc.) is being intentionally blocked, because I was still able to go there from work.  I think there may be problems with my particular at-home DSL provider's commitment to correctly maintained DNS's. Regardless, I successfully solved the problem, at least for now.  I found a list of inside-Korea proxy servers, and configured firefox to connect to the internet using one of them.  That way I can piggyback on that other Korean service's DNS, and still get fairly speedy connectivity. 

Why not use a proxy outside Korea?  Because doing such is impossibly slow.  Most connections will time out long before you get anything back, because the browser has to handshake with its proxy through undersea cables, I guess.  I'm speculating… I don't really understand this stuff.  Just enough to hack around a bit, to try to solve my problem.

And here it is, solved, I guess.  I'm posting to my blog, using firefox connected to a Korean proxy, thus bypassing my apparently imcompetent DSL provider's DNS.   Now, back to your regularly scheduled narcissistic caveatdumptruck.

Caveat: Crashage

Last night when I got home, I went to try to write a little post to this blog, and it simply didn't load.  And didn't load, and didn't load.  The effort to load "", "" and "" all would time out.

I've been having some bandwidth issues with respect to outside-of-Korea websites, but that didn't seem to be the problem, as everything else I tried worked fine, including my U.S.-based bank and several other blog services I surfed to, out of curiosity.  So, typepad was "down" in some way. 

I've manged to post a blog entry of some kind EVERY SINGLE DAY this year.  I'm weirdly proud of that, although it's kind of an artificial constraint, and I could easily cheat, since I can manually change the "post date" if I wanted to.  But so far, I've actually met that "every day" criterion with no cheating of any kind, this year.  So, I felt horrible that I would miss a post because of technical difficulties.   Finally, I sent a scream of annoyance from my cellphone (which is the "No Title" post just previous), having figured out it was just barely possible to do that a few weeks back. 

Right.  Except now, this morning, when I went back in to check, typepad was still down.  And only now, sitting at work around noon, is it available.  Yet the typepad support area and status area mentions absolutely ZERO about any kind outage or crash, although there's a vague "4:15 PM ET: The TypePad application should now be working without any problems for all users."

What gives?  Was it only because I was sitting in Korea that I was unable to access the site?  Was it only because I was sitting at home?  I will have to keep poking around, but, I'm annoyed. 

I'm not so much annoyed that there was an outage… that's not a big deal, these things happen, after all.  I'm annoyed that I can't figure out why there was an outage, or what kind of outage it was.   Was it a general outage?  A total outage?  An only-because-I'm-trying-to-access-from-Korea outage?  An only-because-my-home-DSL-provider-sucks outage?  I want answers!

Interestingly, the "scream-from-cellphone" post appears to have worked.  Which strikes me as odd, if typepad were truly completely down.  It lends to credence to the possibility that it was a "because-I'm-in-Korea" type problem.

Sigh.  Whatever.  Hopefully, it will work tonight when I get home, and I can post normally again.  And I'll probably forget how annoyed I feel and move on.  But it does get me thinking… perhaps I should "snapshot" my blog (capture all the posts) and back it up somewhere, just in case there is a real, truly horrible loss of data or service. 

If I had to end my relationship with typepad at some point, either due to a failure on their part or because I just became too annoyed with them, I'd need all my old posts to migrate to a different location.  In theory, I'm sufficiently competent with HTML etc. that I could in essence "manually" host my blog, at least for a short term, on my own underutilized server.  But only if I have good backups, right?  Uh oh… this is starting to sound like a weekend-eating project.  Jeez, and I never finished killing Ubuntu, two weekends ago.  That was my last project.  Sigh.

No Title

argh…  the typepad website is unreachable

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[this was posted via an email-based “back-door” to my blog from my cell phone. Hence the incomprehensible advertachment and the lack of title.]

Caveat: 이해해 수 없는 한국말은 많아요

Lately it seems like I keep stumbling on Korean that my dictionaries can’t help me to understand.
Consider the notice found in the lower right on the webpage at the grade-entering application at work.
I know from context that 등록된 원생이 없습니다 should translate roughly as “there is no one enrolled in this class,” but all the dictionary searches say that 원생 means “abiogenesis” (which is to say, the spontaneous genesis of life from non-life).  Which would give a translation more in line of:  “there is no enrolled abiogenesis.”  Hmmm…  So, I deduce that 원생 means “student” or “child,” which some understanding of how chinese-rooted words work makes at least a little bit of sense (I know 생 has to do with kids), as it would give: “there is no enrolled child.”  But it’s frustrating the dictionary won’t cooperate.  And babelfish, in this instance, concurs:  “There is not an abiogenesis which is registered,” it says.  Hahahum.
And I saw a sign in a cafe earlier, it said, in part, “다 드신 후!”  After that, it said, roughly, “please return your trays to the first floor.”  That second part, I translated and understood, almost effortlessly.  But that initial alert was completely impenetrable to me.  I can’t make any meaning of it whatsoever.  The dictionary is not useful.  Babelfish provides:  “after holding all…” which makes a little bit of sense, but I can’t really contextualize that either.

Caveat: Wealth Evaporation

So, I saw a graph somewhere recently that showed how all the world's stockmarkets have gone down, everywhere.  And I began to ponder how much the cumulative global market capitalization of all companies had gone down.  And after some googling, I found a figure for global "wealth evaporation" that documented $40 trillion and hinted at $70 trillion, in a blog called My Budget 360. 

Gone.  Disappeared.


Caveat: I’d much prefer a long visit with the dentist…

… than work on my taxes.  For that reason, despite anger and disgust with my accountants, I've retained them for another year.  And my taxes remain puzzlingly opaque, despite the fact that I have unclaimed refunds for my last two tax years.  It's just complicated and annoying and somehow… I can't wrap my procrastinating brain around the whole thing.  Why?  What sort of weird psychological avoidance mechanisms are at work?  I do other "paperwork" things in a fairly timely manner:  as one example, my Korean work-visa is always up-to-date, despite seemingly byzantine bureaucratic hoops involved.   What gives?

Caveat: Unwarranted Faith

David Brooks, in the New York Times, writes about "The End of Philosophy."  He's talking about new approaches to morality that are less founded in rationality, and more based on what appears to be the concrete evidence of modern neurological research.  But he also defends "religion."  And attacks "new atheism" — whatever that is.  He writes,

The rise and now dominance of this emotional approach to morality [meaning founded in, among other things, evolutionary psychology]… challenges the new atheists, who see themselves involved in a war of reason against faith and who have an unwarranted faith in the power of pure reason and in the purity of their own reasoning.

Some of this, I agree with.  I am not comfortable with the idea that atheism is purely rational.  Indeed, I have often, only half-jokingly, referred to myself as a "faith-based atheist."  And I'm very skeptical about the "purity" of my reasoning.

But then he uses the phrase "unwarranted faith in the power of pure reason."  What, exactly, is "warranted" about other types of faith (as opposed to an atheistic faith)?  Isn't the definition of "faith" something akin to "unwarranted belief"?  This seems to force the whole argument to collapse in on itself, because instead of successfully defending religion against atheism using evidence from evolutionary psychology, he ends up merely supporting the irrationality of the whole edifice of both philosophy and religion.  I doubt that was his intention.

Caveat: What the pho?

"What the pho" was the name of a Vietnamese restaurant I used to drive by in Huntington Beach when I was commuting from Long Beach to Newport Beach so frequently, 3 years or so ago.  I thought of it because we went out for pho after work today at a Vietnamese "pho joint" near where we all live – "Team D" (Jenica, Peter, me and Christine and honorary member Joe, who is actually "Team A" but is Christine's boyfriend).    The pho was good, but I think I wasn't doing very well at being sociable… I felt awkward, even though we've all spent time together I just felt I had nothing in common with any of them.  Sometimes I feel like I'm trending too much toward being an anti-social hermit.  I do great with the kids, but with adults it's like I lack the basic social skills necessary to be desirable company.  It's almost bewildering. 

I read in the New York Times, several days ago, the following quote of Yeats on the Irish national character (cited by Timothy Egan in an editorial), "…an abiding sense of tragedy that sustained people through temporary periods of joy."   But, I was thinking… this could describe lots of people and lifestyles.  In a fit of inappropriate overgeneralization, suddenly I wonder:   are the Koreans the Irish of Asia?

Caveat: The Gas Demands of Costumers

You’d think a concept such as the gas demands of costumers would be the kind of mistake I’d find in my students’ writing, but no… it was on the Wall Street Journal website.  Here’s a screencap (since linking to it will eventually show a corrected version, no doubt).

Caveat: 점심 물냉면을 먹었어요

I had 물냉면  for lunch. I was craving it, kind of. Cold super-thin noodle soup, with julienned cucumber and radish, sliced boiled egg, mustard, sesame seeds, and ice-cubes floating around. Such an interesting dish. Very good in combination with the first “hot” day of spring — not really that hot, but I broke a sweat walking jacketless to work, and there was a haze in the air, along with lots of pollen.

Caveat: Tyler Brown IN MEMORIAM

I recently learned, much to my shock, that a former close colleague of mine passed away last year.  Tyler and I worked together at HealthSmart in 2005-2006, in Long Beach and mostly at the Pharmacies division in Newport Beach.

I've mentioned Tyler twice in this blog (which is pretty notable, considering how little I was blogging during the time he and I were close colleagues).  First, in April of 2006, I didn't give his name, but only wrote of him obliquely:

… the future is scary.

So I guess this is one of those flexion-points, where I might decide to step away from my current future, and toward another.  But a friend (a colleague) made an observation to me the evening before the interview – really, also, an observation OF me.  He pointed out (and somehow had figured this out despite missing major portions of my biography) that I was a serial quitter. 

And maybe I should get over that?

The hardest future to adopt, in other words, is the one currently coming at you.  Alternate futures are easier, perhaps.  Am I destined to always be a refugee in my own alternate futures, in exile from my own alternate pasts?

Hidden behind this mention, but evident in it, is the fact that, during that short time (about 6 months?  Maybe almost a year), Tyler was essentially my best friend.  We worked together on an almost daily basis.  We had connected at a visceral level, with our curmudgeonly personalities.  And he was more than a little bit of a mentor to me, in things technical, while I know he was fascinated with my never-ending tales in the vein of "…at that time, I was working as a … "  Which is to say, my dilettantism.  Really, he influenced me a great deal.

The other mention was in August of 2007, right before I left for Korea.  I was "catching up" with the abandoned coworkers of past jobs, and we had lunch at the Inka Grill in Costa Mesa, a place which I shall always associate with "lunch with Tyler."  Especially now.

I made several efforts to get back in touch with him since coming to Korea.  Not really concerted efforts, though.  And now, I've learned, he died at some point last year, so perhaps my efforts were already "too late."  I knew he'd had some health issues, and he was definitely quite a bit older than I am… he was a Vietnam vet, after all.  Still…

I will remember him as a good teacher, at least, of technical things.  A man of extraordinary insight into human character, if somewhat impatient and cynical, himself.  Generous to a fault with those whom he respected, and downright ornery with those whom he didn't.  Not a talented manager, but highly organized and capable of lots of innovative thoughts.  From personal experience, an indispensable person to have on your side during a difficult business meeting, and a great person to have on your team when trying to meet an impossible deadline.   Thanks, Tyler.  I miss you.

Caveat: Those Evil Epenthetics

I become more and more convinced that it is not necessarily an advantage, for Korean learners of English, that the Korean language (South Korean, anyway) has been so welcoming of English vocabulary over the last half-century.  In fact, it creates some serious problems.  Here's why.

Korean phonology allows far fewer consonant clusters than English does, and in general, vowel and consonant inventories are radically different between the two languages, too.  Therefore, when Korean borrows an English word, it messes with its native phonology substantially to make it "fit," or nativize it.   The main thing that happens is that "epenthetic" vowels are inserted between consonants that aren't allowed to follow each other in Korean, or at the end of English words that end in consonants where Korean doesn't allow such a consonant ending.

A notorious example:  printer -> 프린트 (REV peurinteo IPA [pɯrintʌ]).  The main Korean epenthetic vowel used is 으 [ɯ], which is basically the Korean functional equivalent of the English schwa [ə].   Because of this, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that Korean speakers develop the mistaken belief that [ɯ] is a common English sound, when, in fact, it not only doesn't exist in English but is a freaky, difficult, weird-sounding vowel for English speakers.

The problem is that Koreans then internalize a false rule, which is that this sort of vowel epenthesis is the "right" way to pronounce English words.  I've had kids literally argue with me, passionately, in class that "hadeu" (IPA [had
ɯ]) was the "right" pronunciation of the word "hard," for example.   The reasoning is basically that, if these thousands of borrowings from English into Korean are English words, after all, how could Koreans be saying them all wrong?  It's naive "folk" linguistics, but it becomes a huge battle in the classroom.

Worse… in some kids, whose parents or former teachers thought they were doing them a favor by transcribing their English lessons into hangeul (Korean alphabet), the problem becomes insanely worse, so that they will utter whole sentences, verily, entire speeches, in "hangeulized" English.  I had two students do this today.  I wanted to cry.  How can I help them, when they argue that "del ijeu noting rongeu wideu ma-i peurononshieishon" (there is nothing wrong with my pronunciation)? 


Caveat: Bleeding on Stage…

Yesterday, I worked, and went into the city with Basil and bought some books after that.  I was in a kind of antisocial mood, though.  I'm not sure I'm very good at being friends with people, sometimes.  Today… I did very little.  Reading.   A novel.  A novella.  Two different manga series.  Plus Russell's History of Western Philosophy, which kept me in touch with my dislike of Plato.

I made some fried rice, added onion, kimchi, laver (Korean garnish seaweed) and tons of red pepper in a smidgen of sesame oil.   It was very simple and delicious.  I thought about snow, and listened to Cat Stevens and then Cold (they're an alternative rock group, their "Thirteen Ways to Bleed on Stage" is one of my favorite albums of all time — all the tracks on it are in my favorites list).  And now, The Cure.

I have less than 5 months left on my contract.   I'm currently feeling like I need to go back to the U.S. after this.  That I have an obligation to.  That I should.  Why?  My taxes being a mess, for one.  My disconnect with my family, for another.  But part of me doesn't want to.

What I'm listening to right now.

Cold, "Just Got Wicked."  [youtube embed added 2011 as part of background noise.]

Caveat: Alligator teacher

Again, I’m reminded that many Koreans find my age more disconcerting or unexpected than just my foreignness, per se. Age means so much, here, and such different things than in the West. Not all good, not all bad.  Just very different. I struggle with how best to present it, even to my students, when they exhibit so much interest in it.  Morbid-seeming interest, from an American cultural perspective.
I’m not that old, really, but my excessively grey hair makes faking it impossible, as I’ve mentioned before in this blog. A self-respecting Korean with my “problem” would be dying his hair, 100% guaranteed.
pictureFriday evening. Two girls, maybe 4th grade, walking arm-in-arm in the 3rd floor lounge. I’m sitting on the sofa, on a break between classes, and avoiding the staff-room downstairs, as I sometimes do between classes, functioning instead as a sort of unofficial hall-monitor.  I don’t know the girls, which means they’re probably lower- or intermediate-level (since I have, almost exclusively, the most advanced classes). I’m known by many of the students at LBridge as the “alligator teacher,” because of my use of toy alligators as in-class diversions and props (see Sydney’s picture, for example).

Shy Girl, exaggerated whisper:  “…alligator teacher!”
They stop and stand in front of me.
Brave Girl:  “What is your name?”
Jared:  “Jared.  What’s your name?”
Brave Girl:  “I’m Emily. … How old are you?”
Jared:  “I’m 793.”
Pause.  Rolled eyes.
Emily:  “Not possible.”  [This is pretty good language processing, for the level of students I suspect these two are.]
Jared:  “OK.  I’m 43.”
Emily:  “Ohhh.  You have young face.”
Jared:  “Thank you.”
Shy Girl: “Old hair.”  She reaches out and touches, and then they run away.
Emily, calling out:  “Bye, teacher.”


Caveat: Too much of a good thing?

"Back in the early stages of the financial crisis, wags joked that our trade with China had turned out to be fair and balanced after all: They sold us poison toys and tainted seafood; we sold them fraudulent securities."  So says Paul Krugman, in an editorial in the New York Times, April 2, 2009.  And he goes on, very interestingly.  Imagine having so much of some thing that you effectively can't sell it — because to do so would drive down the price and turn your remaining holdings of that thing into a net loss.  That sums up China's relationship with the U.S. dollar, in particular, that form of the dollar known as U.S. Treasuries.

So all the doom and gloom about China taking over the world economy is much exaggerated, but that doesn't mean the U.S. (or Japanese or European) position is any safer.  It's ALL messed up, everywhere.  I had a negative income last year, at least on paper.  I have arranged my life in such a way that that is not a tragedy for me — it hardly affects my decisions or lifestyle at all.  Nevertheless, it's annoying and painful in an abstract sort of way.

Caveat: Parlamento de niños y niñas

Estos últimos días me ha interesado ver varios videos y artículos sobre el '7º Parlamento de las Niñas y los Niños de México,' que es un concurso de escolares del quinto grado de primaria en que actúan como legisladores, debatiendo varios temas de interés social y político.  Estos jovenes son de la misma edad de los a quienes enseño 'Debate' en inglés, acá en Corea.  Entonces se trata de tanto temática como actuantes muy parecidos.   Vea…

Hay algo sumamente emocionante ver estos alumnos emitiendo una retórica de estilo de los grandes políticos mexicanos.

Caveat: 이명밥

pictureHahaha. Anna sent this cartoon to me. She said in class today, “I think maybe you don’t like our president Lee Myeong-bak very much.” I answered, “He’s Korea’s George Bush.” From there, each listener or reader may draw his or her own conclusions.
The last syllable in the cartoon has been changed from his name (-bak) to (-bap) which is how Koreans write Spongebob’s last syllable, too. Not only that, but -bap means “rice,” as in my latest favorite dish, 해신볶음밥 (haeshinbokkeumbap = spicy seafood fried rice).

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