Caveat: Looking for ghosts, finding spicy chicken stew

Last night I went out to dinner with my friend Mr Kim, the engineer from the power plant who I like to go hiking with, although lately I haven't done much hiking, mostly due to the neverending flu thing I have.  We also invited Haewon, my bilingual coteacher from work, who Mr Kim calls Ms An – she teaches an evening class at the power plant, and it was through her that I originally met him.

Because he doesn't get off work until after 6, I went home first and waited.  He called at around 715 and picked me up at my apartment.  It was extremely foggy.  Driving was strange – the regular Korean highway chaos, but in slow motion.  We went to this "middle of nowhere" restaurant (near the turn-off to Bulgapsa along highway 23, a few km south of town) and had a very spicy chicken stew. 

It was a night that would make a good setting for a ghost story.  When trying to find the turn-off to the restaurant, we ended up at some dead-end on someone's farm, with barking dogs and decrepit, broken, ceramic toilet fixtures and a mossy tile roof.  There were trees hovering off the ground through the dismbodying headlamps of the car.  The restaurant had this weird electric rainbow neon flashing outline going, and in the fog it looked like we'd stepped into a zombie video game setting. 

Talking with Mr Kim is different when someone like Haewon is around to provide translation.  It's more communicative, but less direct.  Of course.  It's good to have a reminder – for both of us, I'm sure – that we are not blithering idiots, which is what our respective language skills might lead each of us to believe about the other.

Caveat: Race in America in 2010

Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic is talking about the bizarrely numerous people who still celebrate the Confederacy in the contemporary South. He writes, “I think we need to be absolutely clear that 150 years after the defeat of one of the Confederacy, there are still creationists who seek to celebrate the treasonous attempt to raise an entire country based on the ownership of people.”  He quotes at length from the incriminating document the founders of the Confederacy used to found their secession.  My addendum: these “creationists” that Coates makes reference to are the same demographic who have allowed the Republican Party to conquer the South over the last several decades. Their most recent incarnation seems to be deeply entagled with the Tea Party movement and the Palinists (Paleoists?). This is the ultimate proof of the moral bankruptcy of the Republican Party.

Caveat: Passing Notes – 메롱x3

P1060003 Kids pass notes.  I’m fascinated to see the contents of such notes, when I occasionally run across discarded scraps of paper in my classroom.  Mostly, it’s because it can help me to learn snippets of colloquial Korean.  The note pictured at left helped me to do that – my student Wendy uses the phrase “뭔소리?” (mweon-so-ri = what noise = wtf?) at the bottom of the paper.  I successfully used this phrase to make my coteacher laugh only 30 minutes later.
But, as an English teacher, I was also amazingly gratified to find that the two third-graders in dialogue in this note were happily trading insults in English, too!  The words “me lung,” by the way, represent Mihoe’s effort to romanize “메롱” (me-rong = nyah nyah).

Caveat: 15) 내 이웃과 주위에있는 모든 인연들의 감사함을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다

This is #15 out of a series of [broken link! FIXME] 108 daily Buddhist affirmations that I am attempting to translate with my hands tied behind my back (well not really that, but I’m deliberately not seeking out translations on the internet, using only dictionary and grammar).

13. [broken link! FIXME] 입을 수있게 해 준 모든 인연 공덕을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
       “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting the public virtues of – and my ties to – all those things that I am able to wear.”
14. [broken link! FIXME] 이 세상이 곳에 머물 수있게 해 준 모든 인연들의 귀중함을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
       “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting the preciousness of all my ties to the things that allow me to stay here in this world.”

15. 내 이웃과 주위에있는 모든 인연들의 감사함을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this fifteenth affirmation as:  “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting my gratitude for all my ties to my neighborhood and surroundings.”
Wow – what a downer, coming so close after Thanksgiving day.  I’m not sure how I feel about being urged to forget gratitude.  It’s certainly a point of divergence in comparison to Christian thought, wherein gratitude is, at least for some, profoundly central to worldview.  The concept of grace, and the consequent gratitude, is an aspect of Christianity with which I have often felt some resonance, despite my extreme discomfort with some other aspects of Christian cosmology and even ethics.
There may be some irrationality to this sympathy for Christian notions of Thanksgiving – rooted in the oddly central role that the American Thanksgiving holiday played during my notably un-Christian childhood.  Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday, by far:  more so than Christmas, which seemed slightly alien to me, even as a fairly young child – not because of some rejection of gift-giving (I was all for that, like any child) – but because as soon as I realized the reason for Christmas, I sensed immediately that our own celebration of it was slightly ironic or even vaguely inappropriate.  I think I understood, the moment I realized there was no Santa (and, in fact, my parents made zero effort to perpetuate such a fantasy, being the rationalists that they were – so I was only maybe 4 years old), that we were “borrowing” some else’s holiday.
But, although Thanksgiving has some roots in Protestant (and specifically Puritan) ideas of grace and gratitude, it stands more elegantly – from a cosmological perspective – on its own as a secular holiday.  In fact, perhas the reason I’m comfortable with grace and gratitude is that they don’t, per se, require the existence of any higher power to “work.”  So it’s striking to me that another belief system (ie. Buddhism) that manages to (mostly) stay standing despite the elimination of a concept of a higher power, nevertheless seems to be setting itself in opposition to a concept of gratitude.
I have no idea where I’m trying to go with this.  Or even if it makes sense.  I’m just thinking “out loud.”  I feel inclined to read this affirmation as a sort of reminder to not to get attached to the sangha – despite the fact that sangha is one of the refuges.  ….which is hard to wrap my mind around.

Caveat: … the vast Libyan dessert

… or, catching the internet with its pants down. 

It's pretty hard to capture the ephemerality of hilarious spelling mistakes and typos on well-maintained websites.  But I did it.  And with only a little bit of guilt, I post the result here.  I mean no disrespect to Max Fisher of The Atlantic, where I found the error – in this age of automatic spell checking, errors of this sort are easily made and missed – I'm guilty of much worse ones, myself. But I do find a delicious irony in the specific error made, given that he used to be a food writer.

So having said that, the absolute best part of his article about last year's secret nuclear standoff between the US, Russia and Libya was the serendiptous typo that allowed him to write, "U.S. officials worried about the security of the casks. It would have been easy for anyone with a gun and a truck to drive up, overpower the guard, use the crane to load the casks onto the truck, and drive off into the vast Libyan dessert."

I so enjoyed the poetic image of a gang of terrorists driving truckloads of enriched uranium around a Candylandified Sahara.

Sadly, the error was very rapidly corrected.  In the time I took to write this post, the delightful dessert was Orwellianly transmogrified into a workaday desert.  But I had the amazing fortuity to have done the page "refresh" in a different window, and hadn't closed the original.  Consequently, I am able to present, with great pride, exceedingly rare "before and after" screenshots of the error in question, below.  [Click thru images to view original full size]


[broken link! FIXME] Beforeafter_html_4539d42


[broken link! FIXME] Beforeafter_html_2de050b8

Caveat: “Sorry, we can not accept your idea”

I opened a help-desk ticket with my blog host (TypePad) just now.  Normally, I wouldn't publicize it, but the specific problem is intriguingly humorous.  It's exactly the sort of computer error that an itinerant epistemologist such as myself deserves.  Here's the ticket as currently stands (slightly redacted).  I'll post updates on this blog post – I'm betting something vaguely Kafkaesque will unfold – but who knows?

On Nov 28, 2010 10:37 AM, you (caveatdumptruck) said:

A friend of mine tried to post a comment to my blog, and says he received the error message "Sorry, we can not accept your idea". This is a pretty weird error message. Is Typepad doing semantic analysis of comments to determine philosophical viability? I hope not.

I trust that my friend isn't making this up.

Can you please tell me if your code, somewhere, is programmed to output such an error message? If so, could you please explain what sort of context such an uninformative error message might be acceptable? Or alternately, recognize some kind of easter egg or deny the existence of such program code?

Thank you

Here is a copy, pasted after the "======", of my facebook conversation with my friend, in which he told me about the error. It also summarizes some steps I took to try to replicate the problem.

Tony – hi Jared, tried to post a response on your blog and received the message, "Sorry, we can not accept your idea". Sadly, I wasted a half hour on it 🙁

Jared Way –
Damn! I hate that kind of thing. I will try to investigate: my best guess – the blog host has some kind of length-limitation on comments, and doesn't have a very user-friendly response to overly long ones.

I will also post your comment to… my blog host's help forum. That's a very strange wording for an error message – did it really say "cannot accept your idea"? How does it know what your idea was? Definitely weird.

Tony – Yes, that was the message. Sorry to be the bringer of bad news

Jared Way –
Argh. Well, I think I ruled out the "length-limitation" idea – I posted a cut-n-paste of a 20 page article as a test comment and it went thru fine.

I tried making mistakes with the "captcha" and that didn't give that error, either.

I will see if my blog host has anything to say. Not optimistic, however.

Jared Way – One more error test: I pasted a vast document of nonsense and URLs (simulated spam) into a comment box. No complaint – with the correct catcha, it didn't error out. The blog host simply ignored the whole thing. Typical "black hole" database consistency error.


Caveat: The Glass Brain

I have adopted the term "glass brain" for the increasingly common phenomenon of living one's life quite publicly on the internet.  Perhaps this is parallel to the idea of living in a glass house, but without the house – just a brain that anyone can look into. See also, "el licenciado vidriera" – one of my favorite of Cervantes' short stories, which deals with a man who came to believe he was made of glass.

Actually, one can manage one's transparency fairly effectively, for the most part.  If one is careful, which I try to be.  Thus, a great deal of "me" is "out there" in the online world, but it's a pretty-carefully-managed "me" (seasoned with equal doses of sly circumspection and passive-aggressive snarkiness).  I can hide a great deal behind a façade of abstruse vocabulary and sheer volume of apparently random, pseudo-academic, semi-autobiographical blather.

Nevertheless, I've taken what feels like a big step further in the direction of this "managed transparency," recently:  I've submitted this blog to a list called the Korean Blog List.  Apparently the link "went live" sometime in the last 24 hours, because already I've noticed several incoming links.

…And so, behold, after blogging for 5 years (and intensively – daily – for 3 years), I've suddenly made a move which may render this blog much less of a "just for friends and family" than it has been, to date.  We'll see.

Regardless… To my friends and family:  I still view you as my primary audience.  If others are "listening in" that's great.  Perhaps they'll derive some entertainment or insight.  To those listening in:  this is not an effort at journalism.  It's only journaling.  I reserve the right to make stuff up and leave stuff out.  I exist at the center of my own subjectivity, fully aware of that limitation.

Caveat lector:  read at your own risk.   Remember the line at the top:  "재미없으면 보상해드립니다!" ("If it's not fun, we give a refund!") – this is clearly meant ironically, since there's no charge to read this.  Guaranteed refunds on free blogs consist solely in the readers' ability to deftly navigate away from said blogs.  If it's not fun, stop looking.

Caveat: 14) 이 세상이 곳에 머물 수있게 해 준 모든 인연들의 귀중함을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다

This is #14 out of a series of [broken link! FIXME] 108 daily Buddhist affirmations that I am attempting to translate with my hands tied behind my back (well not really that, but I’m deliberately not seeking out translations on the internet, using only dictionary and grammar).

12. [broken link! FIXME] 먹을 수있게 해 준 모든 인연들을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
       “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting my ties to all those things that I am able to eat.”
13. [broken link! FIXME] 입을 수있게 해 준 모든 인연 공덕을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
       “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting the public virtues of – and my ties to – all those things that I am able to wear.”

14. 이 세상이 곳에 머물 수있게 해 준 모든 인연들의 귀중함을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this fourteenth affirmation as:  “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting the preciousness of all my ties to the things that allow me to stay here in this world.”
This translation is a little less literal that some previous efforts.  The best I could make out, literally, of the first clause (which is more comfortably the second clause in the English), is something like:  “forgetting the preciousness of all ties that are able to stay here in this world.”  And that probably means: “forgetting the preciousness of all ties [such] that [I am] able to stay in this world.”  But using “…to the things that allow me…” seems to work better in English, if I’ve understood it correctly.
The roles attached to Korean verbs often seem quite oblique to me, not attaching to clear semantic notions of subject/object (is this the dreaded ergativity at work, maybe?).   Consequently, although the grammatical subject of the verb “머무르다” (“stay”) seems to me to be “모둔 인연들” (“all ties”), which is relativized by the suffix -ㄴon the periphrastic “-ㄹ 수있게 해 주다” (lit. something scarily like “BeAbleTo-ly do give” (and oh, I love those serialized verbs!) which is to say, “be able to”), I nevertheless suspect the semantic subject is the elided speaker “I,” and the “all ties” drops into an oblique role represented by “things that allow…”

Caveat: Black Friday

[broken link! FIXME] Booga_html_788b98cb Having been teaching some of my students about Thanksgiving over the last several days, today we inadvertently recreated black Friday.

We've been giving out "alligator bucks" – kind of a classroom currency based on an idea I'd piloted during my summer camps classes – as rewards to students for good behavior, etc.  And we've been opening an "English Store" every few weeks on Fridays to sell them things using the currency:  some candy, some stationery and school supplies. 

Up through the last time we opened the store, it wasn't that popular.  But a lot of alligator bucks have dropped into circulation, and the consequence was that today, during lunchtime recess, our English classroom was mobbed by students desiring to purchase things from our store.  It was exactly like pictures you see of Black Friday shoppers in the US mobbing stores with sales.  It was very funny.

Here are some pictures of the mob.  It was friendly but impatient.  There was a lot of good-natured pushing and shoving.  One small first grader, who had alligator bucks that had been given to him by his older sister, was allowed through unharmed.  I worked crowd control, feeling like a bouncer at a night club, so the tables with the merchandise wouldn't be overrun.

[broken link! FIXME] P1050964

[broken link! FIXME] P1050969

[broken link! FIXME] P1050971

And here's a picture a student took of me with my camera the other day when we were practicing a dialogue memorization for a test.

[broken link! FIXME] P1050956

Caveat: Apocalypsis

When I emerged from my apartment yesterday morning, the sky was heavy and dark with clouds, what is described as black, but in reality they seemed a grayish-bronze color, but fractally textured, with highlights of silver and pink, and even flashes of blue and gold. The clouds seemed to possess infinite mass. It was the sort of sky that in Minnesota or Kansas seems to promise tornado warning sirens and airborne mobile homes. But Korea doesn't seem to get many tornadoes. Looking at the sky was like looking at a passage from the Book of Revelation, and, with the war hovering off the northern horizon in the back of my brain, I found myself imagining I could smell a hint of gunpowder in the air.

Caveat: 13) 입을 수있게 해 준 모든 인연 공덕을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다

This is #13 out of a series of [broken link! FIXME] 108 daily Buddhist affirmations that I am attempting to translate with my hands tied behind my back (well not really that, but I’m deliberately not seeking out translations on the internet, using only dictionary and grammar).

11. [broken link! FIXME] 배울 수있게 해 준 세상의 모든 인연들을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
       “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting any of all the origins of the world that can be learned.”
12. [broken link! FIXME] 먹을 수있게 해 준 모든 인연들을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
       “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting my ties to all those things that I am able to eat.”

13. 입을 수있게 해 준 모든 인연 공덕을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this thirteenth affirmation as:  “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting the public virtues of – and my ties to – all those things that I am able to wear.”
Humility.  Humility.

Caveat: Closet Koreanophile

I think one reason I don't always enjoy hanging out with "fellow foreigners," in my current life, is because of the unshakable feeling that I'm "in the closet."  In the closet about what?  In the closet about really liking Korea.  Most of the time, in my experience, groups of foreigners hanging out in Korea devolve into complainfests, during which nothing more is uttered than unending condemnations of some abstract Korean "way of doing things" and gross negative cultural stereotyping.

For me, it's all-too-easy to fall in with this style of talking and thinking, too.  Of course there are things that are frustrating or annoying about my life here.  But my perspective is that American ways of doing things, or Mexican ways of doing things (to name the two cultures which are most familiar to me, outside of the Korean one), are just as annoying or frustrating, and in some instances more so, in their own divergent ways. 

My problem is that as a sort of social chameleon, I just go along with it.  All the complaining is compelling.  But then I regret having done so later.  Negativity is kind of like alcoholism or something – you know it's bad, but social pressure drives you to drink, anyway, and then you regret it later.

When I try to buck this complaining-about-Korea trend – when I try to say something that focuses on the positive or points out the shortcomings of other cultures vis-a-vis the standards they're failing to enunciate – I end up feeling like a gay person in crowd of polite homophobes, or an agnostic at a Florida church meeting:  there's no open vitriol, but there's a sort of "uh oh, what's wrong with this guy?" with lots shaking of heads and snarky asides, as the other foreigners I'm hanging out with come to the realization they're in the company of a closet Koreanophile.

Hanging out with Koreans has drawbacks too – not least is that I tend to miss the ability to have deep, intellectual converstations, due to the generally lacking language proficiency.  But the negativity trap (and I'm openly admitting that I fall far too easily into this trap myself – it's not like I'm trying to blame others for my problem) is a dangerous one, for me.  I need to stay out of it.

Caveat: up to page 9 – empirical syntax?

Twice before, I've referenced my efforts to read a recently-acquired book entitled Understanding Minimalism (Hornstein, et al.).  In my [broken link! FIXME] last entry about it, I'd made it up to page 5, and I was making some initial complaints. 

Hornsteinetal Now I've progressed to page 9, and I'm regaining some positivity about why it is I decided to try to undertake reading this book.  I have long felt that the "traditional" Chomskyan approach to syntax theory is epistemologically naive.  It relies far too much on a sort of ideologically blinkered introspection with respect to the "syntactic evidence," and thus disregards the real linguistic production that's out there in the "real world" – with all its strange, un-sentence-like constructions, incompletions, ellipses, mispronunciations (or typos, in text-based communication), etc., ad nauseum.

All these things are fully understandable, and "typical," unsophisticated native-speakers rarely are able to enunciate, much less elucidate, judgments of "grammaticality" such as abound in most linguists' efforts at syntactic theory (as I discover, almost daily, when trying to get Koreans to help me understand their language, in my own efforts to acquire it).

So this "minimalist project" is appealing to me because it promises a return to empiricism.  Here is a quote from page 9, spanning the end of one paragraph and the beginning of another, that expresses something I've wished I could do myself, before (if I was actually a linguist and not just a dilettante):

…one minimalist project would be to show that all levels other than LF [Logical Form = representation of meaning in the brain] and PF [Phonological/Phonetic Form = actual spoken language passing through the air] can be dispensed with, without empirical prejudice.  More concretely, in the context of a GB [Government and Binding]-style theory, for example, this would amount to showing that D-Structure (DS) and S-Structure (SS) [DS and SS are components of "traditional" Chomskyan syntax, e.g. Government and Binding and antecedent theories] are in principle eliminable without any empirical loss.

I remain suspicious about what level of empiricism will be achieved – there still is a reliance on "introspective judgments of grammaticality" which I always have disliked.  And worse, there is the mere fact of labeling the "internal representation" end of any linguistic faculty as a "Logical Form."  The problem with this conception is that it flies in the face of most of what we understand from neurology or empirical psychology:  human brains don't do much logic, on the inside.  "Logic" such as is used in LF engines in syntactic theory is artificial, external, mathematicized, philosophical.  It's precious Montague semantics and beloved lambda calculus.  Such things may have some "real" correlates in neuronal/synaptic architecture, but I don't think we're going to make much progress with the "brain as logic engine" model – if we were going to make such progress, we'd also be making progress with artificial intelligence (which is simply the inversion:  "logic engine as brain") – which we're most definitely not.

I would prefer a more neutral conception of the "internal representation," that doesn't betray such preconceptions – as the term "Logical Form" does – about how it might actually work.  Semantics strikes me as by far the shakiest of the foundations of contemporary linguistic theory – we really don't seem to know a lot about how semantics work.

What is meaning?  In passing, I will return to pointing at Taylor's important work, Linguistic Categorization – which addresses the important intersection between semantics and what one might call meta-syntax – what do we really know (as unreflective speakers, not as epistemologically well-grounded linguists) about the grammaticality of what we are saying?

Caveat: The War Goes On

The Korean War entered a new, slightly more volatile phase earlier today.  Yes, the Korean War never ended.  Did you know that?

It was only ever a cease-fire.  So… to those who are worried about me:  I'm fine.  Life in this prosperous and amazingly peaceful nation-at-war goes on as normal.  It happens like this, sometimes.  It's just the way things go.  ^_^

Caveat: Why I’m Not Vegan

I should be vegan. But I'm not vegan.

At core, I am entirely sympathetic with both the ethical and health-based arguments in favor of a vegan diet.

RE Ethics:
I'm not even thinking in terms of the animal-cruelty / infliction-of-suffering issues. Those are concerning, but for me, they don't really offer a compelling case in and of themselves, because I suspect that, in the broader scheme of things, suffering on the part of individuals is inevitable – it's a part of existence. Do animals raised for food suffer more than animals in the wild? Yes, certainly, many times – especially in factory farming that is so common nowadays.  But animals suffer more in nature, too, sometimes. If we pursue this ethic to it's logical end point, we end up banning carnivorism from nature, and throwing tigers or eagles in prison.   Silly.

No, for me, the ethical argument is about sustainability, carbon-footprint, environmental impact. I'm one of those who believes the eliminating meat from the human diet would probably have more impact on global CO2 emissions than eliminating the automobile. Seriously – this is very likely true. If we want to have an environmentally sustainable future, we must, as a species, move toward a sustainable diet, and such a diet really can't include meat for 6~7 billion plus humans.

RE Health:
When I was losing my 60+ pounds (25 kilos) in 2006~2007, I did so, mostly, while consuming a vegan diet. I felt healthier, and it was much easier to keep within the calorie rules I'd set for myself. But several things favored that approach, at that time, including leading an almost entirely solitary lifestyle (not going out with friends, not having an out-of-home job e.g. I was working from home, etc) and living across the street from a very well-stocked and progressive grocery store (the Lunds in Minnapolis's Uptown).

The fact is, however, when it comes to actually practicing veganism, there are two contravening factors: my laziness and my character.

RE Laziness:
I am stunningly lazy. And being vegan in Korea (where everything you eat, when eating out, in infused with animal product; and where meat-eating is fetishized to an even greater degree than in the US – really!). Also, my laziness affects my ability to resist cravings and habit, too. I have a craving for, and a habit for, things like dairy products, especially. I just simply like them, and not eating them is hard. Kind of like jogging every day is hard. And so, because of my laziness, I don't do it. I buy cheese, and eat it. I keep butter, because I like it. I have tuna, because it's easier than making sure I've complemented my grains and legumes properly in every meal so as to get the right dosage of protein. Laziness.

RE Character:
I am socially a chameleon. I'm timid, in a way. I don't like to "make waves" when socializing with people, and socializing with people is often done over food. I prefer seek out moderation, and seek out the path of least resistance in social situations. And especially in Korea, declaring one can't eat or drink anything (anything!) leads to a lot of difficult excuses, white lies and justifications, for Koreans take near-personal offense if one doesn't eat or drink something on offer. Some in younger generations or who have lived abroad will keep their mouths shut about this, but the offense and confusion, even in those cases, is still there. Trust me.

It's very difficult for Koreans to understand NOT eating something.  Perhaps it's the fact that only 2 generations ago, starvation was common, even in South Korea. Starving people rarely make judgments about the suitability of different types of food. And I feel uncomfortable coming across like I'm judging other people, which any declaration of dietary rule-following tends to come across as – it's not my place. Character.

So I'm an opportunitarian. I never buy meat for at home, because I don't actually like meat, so not eating meat is easy for me. But I am unable to kick the dairy-products habit, and I keep eggs and fish, sometimes, too. And when I'm out, I'll eat whatever is given to me:  strange Korean things… raw flesh of animals and sea monsters, blood sausages, barely dead creatures, etc. I'm just trying to be polite. It creates a lot of goodwill in my hosts. That goodwill is important.

Caveat: 12) 먹을 수있게 해 준 모든 인연들을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다

This is #12 out of a series of [broken link! FIXME] 108 daily Buddhist affirmations that I am attempting to translate with my hands tied behind my back (well not really that, but I’m deliberately not seeking out translations on the internet, using only dictionary and grammar).

10. [broken link! FIXME] 일가 친척들의 공덕을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting any of the pious acts of my kin.”
11. [broken link! FIXME] 배울 수있게 해 준 세상의 모든 인연들을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
       “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting any of all the origins of the world that can be learned.”

12. 먹을 수있게 해 준 모든 인연들을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this twelfth affirmation as:  “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting my ties to all those things that I am able to eat.”
This is not a call to fast, nor a commitment to disregard starvation.  It’s a call to renounce one’s ties to food – not to renounce food.  It’s a hard distinction.   Perhaps easier to understand at a philosphical level than at a pragmatic one.  And since my personal interest in Buddhism lies more at the pragmatics than in any type of abstraction, this is an important puzzle to solve.

Caveat: Fever

Sick and tired of being sick and tired. 

You know… not necessarily anyone's interest, to hear the utter banality of how I feel.  But, so… just a general update of where I'm at.  Ever since the food poisoning, I haven't felt healthy, and this weekend it's transformed into a full-blown, very unpleasant but highly conventional flu.  At least it's not food poisoning, right?

I've done a lot of reading, anyway.

Caveat: this kind of devaluation

"You don't get prosperity through this kind of devaluation" – some talking head (not sure who) overheard on NPR, commenting on the Fed's recent further loosening of money supply, vis-a-vis the perpetually undervalued RMB (Chinese Yuan), etc., etc.

Well… from where I sit, I beg to differ.  South Korea has successfully ridden an undervalued currency right through this recent "Great Recession" as if there were only a minor blip on the economic radar.   More broadly, over the longer term, South Korea has leveraged an undervalued currency (among other macroeconomic wizardry) into a seat on the G20.  As long as people want to buy your stuff (and people want to buy South Korean stuff, from cell phones to cars to cargo ships to nuclear power plants to engineering services for building the world's tallest buildings), you can keep selling. 

And so… the US not only should be content to let Bernanke manipulate the dollar lower… I would argue that it really has no choice, in the current global economic context.  And it won't necessarily be a bad thing – for the US.  It will alleviate federal debt, it will help close the trade deficit.

The bad part will be that it will antagonize countries like South Korea or China that have relied, for so long, on an over-valued US dollar.  Could the US (re-)achieve prosperity through "this kind of devaluation"?  It depends a great deal on how intelligently (or unintelligently) other countries react.  The Chinese and South Korean economies have other strengths that could see them through the inevitable crisis a dollar devaluation could provoke – not least their infrastructure spending and booming domestic consumer markets – but things could still get ugly. 

I'm curious how this will play out.  Check back at this blog, in 20 years – I'll provide an update.

Somewhat relatedly, from Derek Decloet at the Globe and Mail:

[1] WE, THE LEADERS OF THE G20, are united in our conviction that by working together we can secure a more prosperous future for the citizens of all countries.

[2] However, empty platitudes aside, if presented with an opportunity to make the citizens of our own country more prosperous at the expense of someone else’s country, 20 out of 20 of us will take it, most of the time.

Caveat: 두려움과 배움은 함께 춤출 수 없다

Fear and learning cannot dance together.
Today at work, I got a ride home with my coworker Mr Lee.  He’s like the vice-vice principal.  I think he’s a nice guy, and I can tell he’s really smart, but I mostly appreciate him to the extent he runs interference with the nefarious vice principal.  He has a difficult job.
I used to interact more with him, when I was carpooling with Mr Choi last spring.  But Mr Choi transfered to another school, and Mr Lee was too recalcitrant, for whatever reason, to offer carpooling – mostly, I suspect, because he has very little English, and feels badly about that.
2943459s Anyway, I sat in the back seat of his Kia (there was another teacher in the passenger seat, the new social studies teacher who replaced Mr Choi, whose name I haven’t figured out).  And there, on the seat, was a book.  Being the typical curious person that I am, I began deciphering the title, and with the social studies teacher’s help.  And I discovered it was something I’d heard of:  the Albany Free School (q.v. at wikipedia). The English title of Mercogliano’s book is Making It Up As We Go Along, but the Korean title is 두려움과 배움은 함께 춤출 수 없다 [fear and learning cannot dance together], which, frankly, I like a lot better (Korean edition cover at left).
It’s interesting to me, sometimes, to realize there are a lot of “new ideas” circulating in education circles, in Korea – even in a backwater like Yeonggwang County, where the evidence of progressive pedagogy on the ground is almost zero.   Given my own background in “alternative education” (both my grandparents’ “Pacific Ackworth” experiment (1940’s-60’s), and my own time at Arcata’s “Centering School” and my teaching at “Moorestown Friends” in 97~98… all these things have exposed me to a lot of alternative pedagogical thought and left me convinced that convention, in education, is way overrated.
And there, on the back seat of a vice-vice principal’s car in Yeonggwang County, Korea, there was another little piece.
[this is a back-post, added 2010-11-20]

Caveat: “I love me”

Who said "I love me"?

I had my last "genius class" of the term, this evening.  "Genius class" is a Konglishism for something that would be described in the US as a gifted program, maybe.  The classes aren't held at my school, Hongnong, but rather at the county office of education in scenic and happenin' downtown Yeonggwang.  Working for this office is the closest I have ever come, in my life, to existing inside a Kafka novel.  It's almost pure non-communication.

For example, I found out that I had to give a final test, tonight, because someone at the office sent a text message last week – not to me, but to someone who used to work at that office but that happened work at Hongnong Elementary.  That's the only communication ever received by me about the fact that I had to give a final exam.  That's just one example.

Anyway, I made a final exam, and gave it this evening.  Despite the unadulterated bureaucratic horrors of working for the office, and the fact that the kids don't really seem all that gifted to me, I found myself thinking that I'll miss the kids.  I always end up getting nostalgic, for the kids.

One of the kids is a girl named Ye-jin.  She wrote a really terrible test.  Her English seems almost non-existent.  But she drew a picture on the back.  Here it is.

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The picture made a big impression on me.  The thing that was striking to me about it was that it portrays me as seeming so overconfident, almost arrogant.  I know I come off that way, to others.  It conceals deep insecurities, of course.  My student attributed to me thoughts such as "I love me!" (twice) and "Peoples are love me!" 

Actually, I think it's not just OK, but probably important to convey a very strong sense of self confidence when teaching kids – and as this picture reveals, apparently, I do exactly that.  But it's all a front, of course.  I'm a deeply insecure person. 

Nevertheless:  "I like monkey."

Caveat: SurveyMonkey

I've been playing around with a tool called SurveyMonkey.  I want to make a survey that English teachers working in Korea can take, as a sort of way to rate and collect data about how English teachers feel about the schools they're working in.  I'm just playing around with it, at this point.   Partly, my interest in this is lies in the fact that I fully intend to renew somewhere in Korea, but can't decide where – I just know that, as things stand currently, I'm not likely to want to renew at Hongnong, specifically.

But I've actually been thinking about this for a long time.  There is such a dearth of good, structured information about how English teachers feel about their teaching / working environments.  I hate websites like DavesESL, because the tone there tends to be profoundly unprofessional, and frankly, I don't trust the things people write about schools or hagwon on sites like that, because of that.

So I've created a "first draft" of a survey that asks questions about teaching / working experience.  It's not meant to be exhaustive – it's just focused on my specific areas of interest, and my specific anxieties, at the moment.  Maybe over time, I'll expand it into something "real."  We'll see.  Here's the survey:

Caveat: Chomsky

I am drawn to Chomsky, intellectually.  Yet I find actually attempting to consume his intellectual production, in either linguistics or in ideology (politics), extremely annoying.  He's an annoying, self-righteous narcissist.  But an undeniable genius. 

There's a very interesting interview with him, recently published at Tablet.  It focuses on his specifically Jewish identity raised as a "cultural Zionist." 

In conclusion, though… he's not a moral relativist:  "You can’t get out of your skin. But when we get down to the moral issue, it’s independent of one’s personal background."  

Caveat: 11) 배울 수있게 해 준 세상의 모든 인연들을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.

This is #11 out of a series of [broken link! FIXME] 108 daily Buddhist affirmations that I am attempting to translate with my hands tied behind my back (well not really that, but I’m deliberately not seeking out translations on the internet, using only dictionary and grammar).

9. [broken link! FIXME] 부모님께 감사하는 마음을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
     “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting my heart full of thanks to my ancestors.”
10. [broken link! FIXME] 일가 친척들의 공덕을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting any of the pious acts of my kin.”

11. 배울 수있게 해 준 세상의 모든 인연들을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this eleventh affirmation as:  “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting any of all the origins of the world that can be learned.”
This seems like one of the aspects of Buddhism that I find least attractive:  a sort of epistemic nihilism, an abrogation of curiosity in the nature of reality.  “We know the ‘real’ reality, so all this reality we see around us doesn’t really interest us.”  Then again, that seems to be a feature of any kind of religious certainty, perhaps.  Including faith-based atheism?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the “purity narratives” (which all of these affirmations reference, via the concept of repentance), too.  They bother me.  I’m not interested in purity, and I don’t view defilement (i.e. lack of purity) as a valid concept in a philosophically materialist (anti-transcendent) worldview.  But even such as statement as “not a valid concept” is actually a sort of purity narrative, isn’t it?  “Material reality is being polluted by concepts of purity!  Oh no!”  … stuck in a paradox of dialectical thought…

Caveat: Really, It Was the Crowds

Any Westerner who has spent time in Korea knows about the "subway ajumma" – the experience of being shoved or trampled by what one would initially expect to be benign tribes of elderly women.  In general terms, Koreans have very few of the qualms or social constraints on pushing, shoving, cutting in line, etc., that are so important in typical Western culture.  For the most part, in the subway, I've gotten used to this and it doesn't bother me in the least.

Yesterday, however, I had decided to go up to Seoul and go hiking with my friend Mr Kim at Bukhansan National Park.  There was something a little bit crazy in driving up to Seoul on Saturday night for what seemed the sole purpose of hiking and Sunday, and then heading back south again Sunday night.  That appealed to me.  Really, I think Mr Kim had some kind of important errand to run, and he decided this would give an excuse for the trip.

He has a small apartment in an excellent location in Seoul.  I think it's a sort of "investment apartment" – he uses is a few days every other month, or so, as a kind of dedicated hotel room up in the capital.  I understand the investment angle – I'm sure, based on its location, that it's worth a mint.  It's a few blocks from city hall, within the boundary of the now non-existent ancient city walls, near the "media district" (where the newspaper headquarters buildings are strung out between city hall and Seoul Station) and several universities that climb the hills west of downtown toward Dong-nim-mun.

We got there sometime after midnight, Saturday night.  We woke up pretty early, but he went to run his errand (to the building manager's office, he said), and we ate ramen for breakfast.  We started hiking from the east side of the Bukhansan (in northeast Seoul) at around 9:30. 

The crowds were stunning.  It was like hiking in the midst of a migration of goats.  I really wasn't feeling that healthy, it turned out, either.  Cold-like symptoms, and still not as energetic as I was feeling before my food poinoning, two weeks ago.  After several hours, we ended up skipping the peak.  Mr Kim was gamely pushing and shoving his way toward the top, but one elbow too many on a precarious-seeming ledge caused me to finally put my foot down and say, simply, "I can't do this."  I think he understood why I was unhappy.  We got away from the worst of the crowds on an alternate path down. 

For future reference – be careful when opting to go hiking in a major national park located within walking distance of the Seoul subway system on a stunningly beautiful (if somewhat chilly), sunny November Sunday.

Here are some pictures.

Leaving my apartment, around sunset on Saturday night.  The view southwest from in front of my gas station (which is in front of my building).

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Several views from the top of the building where Mr Kim's apartment is.

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Some things that I saw on the mountain, despite the crowds.

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Looking toward my old home, Ilsan.

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The crowds.  Let's all go climb a mountain!  Is this fun?

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An iconic image that I think well captures contemporary Korea's spot between past and future.

[broken link! FIXME] P1050912

Caveat: 재미없는 등산한데 아주 피곤해졌어요

I’ve had better hiking trips.  Definitely:  a) I wasn’t as healthy as I was hoping – still a bit run over by the food virus thing I had; b) Bukhansan was very very very very very crowded – it was like hiking among rocks and sheer cliffs, but in the Seoul Subway during rush hour.
There were some positive aspects.  I still get along with Mr Kim – he tolerated me when I lost my cool over the crowds in the park.  I think his English is improving.  Do I get to take some credit for that?
I’ll give more detailed review and pictures later.  I’m too tired now.

Caveat: Seoul? OK.

I'm sitting, reading, and listening to Genki Sudo.

My friend Mr Kim called me.  He said, "I'm driving Seoul.  You come Yeonggwang Sunday night.  I think?  We stay my house in Seoul.  We hike tomorrow.  We meet Gwangju, 7 8 hour.  Are you OK?"

He was inviting me.  He has a house in Seoul?  Interesting.  I'm off to catch a bus into Gwangju.  Good to be open to spontaneous adventure, at least sometimes.  See you later.

[And by the way, I'm not in any way mocking his English – I'm sure my Korean sounds just as terrible.  He and I do an amazing job communicating with one another, given how bad our skill is in each other's languages.]

Caveat: I Dreamt I Was a Cow

Really.  Not even a real cow.  I woke up, this morning, from a dream in which I was pretending to be a cow on stage, in a silly cow costume. 

Perhaps this is how my subconscious deals with the anxieties around performance and managing children, in the context of yesterdays huge open-house and bigwig inspection, at work?  I'm not averse to being silly – I've donned many a mask or goofy hat or wig during teaching time.  But dreaming about it, in an otherwise amorphous setting, is a bit unexpected.

I may meet my friend Mr Kim later today, but at the moment, I'm feeling unmotivated.  I will just relax this morning, I guess.

Yesterday went OK.  I met one of the important people from the power plant, which provides so much of the supplementary funding that makes this otherwise poor rural school amazingly wealthy.   He had bad teeth and bad English.  I shook his hand and said "만나서 반갑습니다."

There was a funny moment when I was meeting some of the kids' moms.  Ms Ryu introduced several of them to me, as they sat around a table eating green-tea cookies and chatting about who-knows-what.  She said, "This is Ha-jin's mom, and this is Gyu-tae's mom."

"Oh, Gyu-tae," I cried out.  "Oh, my, god," I added, reflexively – because Gyu-tae is a behaviorial challenge of the first order.  The woman seemed to understand that reaction, though, because everyone just started laughing, including Ms Ryu.  Gyu-tae is a great kid:  smart and big-hearted.  But he's never, ever, under any condition… still or focused.  When I have him in my afterschool class, I probably say things like, "Gyu-tae, sit down, please," or "규태야, 그렇지 마세요" [Gyu-tae, don't do that] once every several minutes.

Caveat: The Meanwhile Knob

Overheard on NPR, this morning (well, yesterday afternoon, in NPRland):  Lynda Barry (cartoonist, author and one-time romantic interest of Matt Groening) is talking about someone else's innovation on the time-machine concept, with the introduction of a "meanwhile knob."  Not much detail is provided as to how the "meanwhile knob" works, but I'm deeply intrigued.  I've long thought that a good time-machine should include more than just a simple "front-back" control.  I've long enjoyed the Heinleinian conception of a multidimensional "alternate-universes" control, where you can go back or forward not just to "your" past or future, but, by missing the correct calibration, end up in infinitely variant alternatives as well. 

But the idea of a "meanwhile knob" is even more interesting.  I think for Barry, based on the context of her comments, it's intended to capture the fact that "inside time" – how we perceive time and carry it around with us – things are in fact rather non-linear.  You can have multiple narratives going:  the immediate outside-your-body surroundings, the recent memorable event being reviewed, the historical novel in front of you, the upcoming meeting which you're planning out in your head.   So a time machine with a meanwhile knob suddenly becomes as much a device for altering consciousness as one that somehow alters physical reality.  Which, of course, given the physics of time travel, may, in fact, be the more plausible way to take on time travel.

Meanwhile, I'm going to get another cup of coffee.  I have an intense day coming up, at work.  More bigwigs will be visiting our English classroom – there's going to be an "opening ceremony" along with a demonstration class that I and my coteachers will have to do.  Someone (read:  the nuclear power plant people) has put a huge amount of money into this poorly-designed, high-tech language classroom, and now they want to see how it worked out – it's up to us to make it look good. 

Caveat: 10) 일가 친척들의 공덕을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.

This is #10 out of a series of [broken link! FIXME] 108 daily Buddhist affirmations that I am attempting to translate with my hands tied behind my back (well not really that, but I’m deliberately not seeking out translations on the internet, using only dictionary and grammar).

8. [broken link! FIXME] 조상님의 은혜를 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
     “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting the favors of our ancestors.”
9. [broken link! FIXME] 부모님께 감사하는 마음을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
     “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting my heart full of thanks to my ancestors.”

10. 일가 친척들의 공덕을 잊고 살아 온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this tenth affirmation as:  “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived, forgetting any of the pious acts of my kin.”
Weird, thunderstorm this afternoon.  Barely above freezing, howling wind.  And thunderstorm.
The students gave me pepero sticks.  Today was 1111 = “pepero day.”  A sort of crass, Korean, commercial, Valentine’s-type day.  But the kids all got crunk on sugar.   So it was cute, in a hyperactive way.
I had a third grader say something rather surprising, if not exactly “happy”:  I asked him, “How are you?” and he answered, “I’m depressed.”  This is not typical Korean third-grader vocabulary, though I know his English is pretty good.  So I said, “Why?” and he said, shocking me, “I’m ugly.”
I wasn’t sure what to say.  I said, “I don’t really think so.”  He’s kind of a dead-pan kid.  I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not.  I felt kind of sad about it – even if it was just a strange joke.

Caveat: Speculative Affirmation

I came across an intriguing challenge:  can you summarize your life philosophy in two words?  I came up with "speculative affirmation," which is borrowed from French philosopher Gilles Deleuze's slightly impenetrable statement:  "ethical joy is the correlate of speculative affirmation."  I've cited this quote in this blog [broken link! FIXME] three [broken link! FIXME] times [broken link! FIXME] before.   That's much more than I've returned to any other quote, I think.  I guess it's the closest you could get to my favorite quote.

And in other news about gnomic utterances:  I've made a resolution to post only one-word "statuses" in facebookland.  I'm curious about how much I might be able to communicate, posting only one word at a time.  Think of it as an effort at lazy, minimalist poetry, or if you prefer, as just a typical manifestation of my obtuse nonsequiturism.

I had a grumpy day at work.  I wasn't coping well with the lack of communication thing, although I should know better than to hope for it.  The classes themselves went fine, for the most part, but the in-between times, with my fellow teachers, less so.  I kept wanting to say, "why is this happening?"  But I knew I'd get nothing logical or meaningful in response.  Would it be different if I could be more competent in the language?  I suspect not.

Um, so that aforementioned grumpiness doesn't represent speculative affirmation, does it?  It's not always easy, even if it is an effort to make a life philosophy.

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