Caveat: no pasa nada

I saw this video yesterday.   The pathos is so strong, for me, I almost cried.  It's from a kindergarten classroom teacher in a neighborhood south of Monterrey, Mexico.

It's kind of hard to tell what's going on in the video.  Apparently during the whole whole time, there is a major gun battle raging outside the window of the classroom, between rival gangs.  The teacher is having the children lie on the floor and keeping them calm, using long-practiced safety drills.  She's running her video camera the whole time, as she talks to them and even tries to lead the kids in a song, and uses the plot of the song to keep them lying flat on the floor (to catch the chocolate drops raining down).  She keeps saying "no pasa nada" [nothing is happening], to reassure them.

Caveat: Remember OK Soda?

Not much going on.  The weather is turning summery – which I don't like.  I'm not really into summer, although I like it OK when it's raining, which it does a lot during the summer in Korea.

[broken link! FIXME] Images Monday is my hardest day, but yesterday because it was "end-of-month" the schedule was rearranged so they could give achievement tests to the middle schoolers.  I still had a lot to do, but fewer classes.  I spent my free periods preparing for my debate class – I want to do a good job on this, as it's the only class I have that's "mine" in the sense that I'm being allowed to innovate my own curriculum.  More of that will come with time – I knew there would be a lot of settling in, first.   I have to see where things are before I can go somewhere else.

My apartment is a mess ever since I got my stuff.  I unpacked everything but  Idon't have a lot of storage.  So… piles.  Need to sort and organize.  I always procrastinate on that.

OK.  Nothing important to say.  Remember OK Soda?  That's how I feel.

Caveat: Fish & Furniture

I've been pretty stationary since starting my new job.  I realized I haven't even ridden a bus or subway in several weeks.  Ilsan is so walkable, so I just walk places. 

I decided I needed to go somewhere, and my friend Mr Choi invited me to Suwon, so I took the subway/bus combo down there yesterday.  He met me with some of his friends and we drove to some middle-of-the-nowhere place on the west side of Suwon where we went to a restaurant-combined-with-furniture-shop.  These hippy-ish Koreans making hand-crafted furniture and delicious food.

After it was over, I helped Mr Choi with proofreading the English of some materials that are part of his latest business scheme (he's always got a business scheme or three going).  One has to be non-perfectionist with these things – try to catch the worst of it, and let a lot of the less horrible errors go past.  Otherwise it makes the correction proof a red blur of ink.  People seem to have this misconception that the output of Google translate is good English, which it most certainly isn't, most of the time.

Here are a few pictures.

Me in the restaurant with the delicious food.

[broken link! FIXME] Suwonday 005

[broken link! FIXME] Suwonday 007

Some hand-crafted furniture.

[broken link! FIXME] Suwonday 002

A functional reproduction of an 18th-century Korean crane thingy of the sort used in the construction of the famous Suwon fortress.

[broken link! FIXME] Suwonday 011


[broken link! FIXME] Suwonday 009

Caveat: 55) 병든 사람에 대한 자비심의 부족함을 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of any insufficiency [in showing] mercy toward sick people.”
This is #55 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).

53. [broken link! FIXME] 이 세상을 좋고 나쁨으로 분별하며 살아온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived and discerning this world good or bad.”
54. [broken link! FIXME] 이 세상을 옳고 그름으로 분별하며 살아온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived and discerning this world right or wrong.”
55. 병든 사람에 대한 자비심의 부족함을 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this fifty-fifth affirmation as:  “I bow in repentance of any insufficiency [in showing] mercy toward sick people.”

Caveat: Saint (?) Hubert

Yesterday was Hubert Humphrey's 100th birthday.  In some ways, I think, he was the person who was most singularly resposnible for the creation of the modern Democratic Party – the party that was able to make Barack Obama president.  Humphrey accomplished this with his stunning success in inserting the "civil rights plank" into the Party platform at the 1948 Philadelphia Convention.

Humphrey was an amazing public speaker.  At Philadelphia, challenging Truman, the then mayor from Minneapolis most famously said:  "To those who say, my friends, to those who say, that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years (too) late! To those who say, this civil rights program is an infringement on states' rights, I say this: the time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states' rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights!"

The 20-year trajectory from Philadelphia in 1948, when he challenged the status quo and the establishment, to Chicago in 1968, when he represented the failures of a status quo he helped create as Johnson's Vice President, was one of the most remarkable in modern American politics.  [broken link! FIXME] 250px-CarterandHumphrey He could have – should have – been president.  But his acquiescence to the Kennedy/Johnson adventure in Vietnam destroyed him and nearly destroyed the Democratic Party.  I would venture that the only thing that subsequently saved the party was Nixon's self-immolation a few years later.

All the Democratic presidents that have followed:  Carter, Clinton, and now Obama, are ideological inheritors of Humphrey's legacy.  The picture (borrowed from wikipedia, where I know there are no copyright issues in reproduction) shows Humphrey with Carter and, on the right, Jerry Brown.

Caveat: What On Earth

This short animated movie made a huge impression on me when I saw it, as a child, on the big screen, at the Minor Theater in Arcata.  I'm guessing it was 1972 or 73, maybe.  I never forgot it, although I forgot (or never knew) its title.  And the other day, surfing the internet, I found it.  It's still awesome.

[broken link! FIXME] Arcataminor I remember we used to go to movies at the Minor and then go to a restaurant called the Epicurean afterward, where I was strangely addicted to these peculiar vaguely counter-cultural sandwiches that included chopped lettuce, cream cheese, and olives. 

Caveat: Feeling Appreciated

[broken link! FIXME] Seoyeon A month after leaving Hongnong Elementary, I am still receiving text messages (and picture-messages) from various former students almost daily.  Sometimes I don't even recognize the name – that's frustrating, to imagine having had such an impact on students I don't know that well.   My heart is touched.

[broken link! FIXME] Seoyeonssister At left and right, some cute pictures from a pair of sisters who were evidently messing with their cellphone.  Below, a little message that appeared on my phone last night, from one of the fabulous 4th graders.   A cultural note:  Koreans use the phrase "I love you" quite freely – both in their own language and in English.  I was told repeatedly by my group of semi-anti-social 8th-graders, last night, "I love you."  There were elements of both irony and sincerity in these declarations.  Nothing is quite so suprising as having a guy who looks like a junior-varsity football player with a page-boy haircut making a "hand heart" and saying "Teacher, I love you." 

I'm still working on that project to scan some of the "goodbye letters" that the Hongnong kids made for me.


hi? im kim ji min .*"""*..*"""*.
* L O ♡ V E *
"* Y O U *"
."*. ♥ .*".

hi? im kim ji min .*"""*..*"""*.
* L O ♡ V E *
"* Y O U *"
."*. ♥ .*".

Caveat: 54) 이 세상을 옳고 그름으로 분별하며 살아온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived and discerning this world right or wrong.”
This is #54 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).

52. [broken link! FIXME] 이 세상을 높고 낮음으로 분별하며 살아온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived and discerning this world high or low.”
53. [broken link! FIXME] 이 세상을 좋고 나쁨으로 분별하며 살아온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived and discerning this world good or bad.”
54. 이 세상을 옳고 그름으로 분별하며 살아온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this fifty-fourth affirmation as:  “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived and discerning this world right or wrong.”
Right: making kids laugh happily in class.
Wrong: making a kid cry because I was trying to be “fair” and wanted him to finish his homework.
Teaching seems like a constant effort to walk a path you can’t see in front of you.

Caveat: Truly Monday

Yesterday was truly Monday.  Under my new work schedule, which has now started, I had seven classes, with a single one-period break, in the stretch from 3:30 to 10 pm.  I told Curt that it felt like I had finally had my "first day of work" initiation.  He laughed, and asked, "and how was it?" 

Not too bad.  One small class of 8th graders were just as I remember my most recalcitrant and obnoxious previous experiences with 8th graders.  It's like trying to teach a room full of lazy comedians suffering from severe sleep deprivation.  Wait… that may be close to accurate.  Other than that group – which I suspect I may be discussing further in the future – it wasn't bad.  Mostly I stuck to my lesson plans and stayed happy and calm.

The staff room was rearranged on Saturday after I left.  I knew it would be – they had to accommodate the other new teacher.  It's a pretty cramped space, but I was surprised to find my desk placed at the end of the double row of desks.  I was very surprised. 

Korean "office arrangements" are very interesting, and often deeply reflect positions within the explicit hierarchies.  I'd been given what any Korean would identify as a "second-in-command" position.  I felt awkward about this.   Was it a deliberate attempt to joke about or flout those conventions?  I sat down self-consciously and played at arranging things on my desk, and the office manager guy came in and asked if I would be happier if my desk were turned sideways (which would break the hierarchical feng sui).  I said, yes, maybe.  Then I joked, no, it's ok, this way I can be 팀장 [tim-jang = team leader].  All the other teachers laughed at this.  I still feel a little bit strange about it.  

Caveat: Another Day Above Ground

"Any day above ground is gonna be a good day." – unattributed quote seen at a blog by someone named alice on My Modern Metropolis – an arts and design blog that I've been spending a lot of time at recently.

I wish I could find the gumption to try to do more drawing and painting like I used to.  I looked all over my apartment, though, and there wasn't any gumption.  Maybe later.

Caveat: 53) 이 세상을 좋고 나쁨으로 분별하며 살아온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived and discerning this world good or bad.”
This is #53 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).

51. [broken link! FIXME] 이 세상을 많고 적음으로 분별하며 살아온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
       “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived and discerning this world, more or less.”
52. [broken link! FIXME] 이 세상을 높고 낮음으로 분별하며 살아온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived and discerning this world high or low.”
53. 이 세상을 좋고 나쁨으로 분별하며 살아온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this fifty-third affirmation as:  “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived and discerning this world good or bad.”
Maybe it should be “through good or bad.”   I felt tired, last night, just looking at my new schedule.  I have a lot of preparing to do in order to be able to approach all my classes confidently.   I’m especially hopeful to do a good job with the single high-level debate class Curt asked me to put together – since it’s the one spot in the schedule where he’s decided to use me as an innovator as opposed to someone just going along with what’s already in place.  I really liked the LBridge debate program, so I suppose that forms the basis of what I want to do, but I will have to make it “my own.”
Unrelatedly, another miscellany:  my student Yewon misses me.  I miss her too – she was one of the most awesome fourth-graders ever.   Here’s her email.

to. jared teacher
Hello, teacher!! my name is jeeny (yewon)
Im very miss you ㅠㅠ
teacher how are you? im so,so+.+
teacher good bye~~
from. jeeny (yewon)
내 친구 은총이 이름으로 보내요!!

Hanand_html_m6101971d Lastly… maybe unrelatedly, again… here is a candid picture of Han and Chewbacca, at right, discerning the world through good or bad – legostyle.

Caveat: The Work Schedule

My “real” schedule has finally been created.  It will make me busier.  For anyone who’s curious.  The start time is 3 pm, although I may come in earlier some days, if I have a lot of preparing to do.  And one reason I like the idea of working for Curt as that for the most part, he will be OK if I decide to leave early if I’m done teaching, so Tuesdays and Fridays I may be able to get out early sometimes.

2011년 6월 (JUNE) – | – T e a c h i n g S c h e d u l e
Class Time Time
Morning… Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri
Period 1. 15:30 Boost-B / Phonics Boost-B / Phonics Boost-B / Phonics 14:10 PN1a+b-T / CC
Period 2. 16:20 ER1a-M / CC EP2-T / Listening 15:00 TP2-T / Debate
Period 2. 17:10 EP1-M / Listening PN1b-T / Listening EP1-M / Listening PN1b-T / Listening 15:50 PN2-T / Listening
Period 5. 18:00 PN1-M / Listening PN1a-T / Listening PN2-M / Listening PN1a-T / Listening ER1a-M / Listening 16:40
Period 6. 18:50 PN2-M / Listening TP2-T / Debate PN1-M / Listening TP2-T / Debate 17:30
Period 7. 19:10 RN1b-M / Listening 18:20
Period 8. 20:28 RN1a-M / Listening 19:10
Period 9. 21:15 RN1b-M / Listening RN1a-M / Listening PN2-T / Listening

Caveat: Angels Advertising Something-or-Other

I don't have much to say that could pass for interesting or deep or philosphical.  So here's a video I saw recently that I liked, a little bit.  I think it's an ad for some product or service.  But clever in the field of pubic, interactive, conceptual art, I guess. 

It's feeling humid and summery. So far, my new job has been stunningly un-stressful. I almost feel guilty. I get along with everybody – there are none of the complicated work personality tensions that I associate with my last two Korean jobs, at LBridge and Hongnong Chodeung. But further, my boss has been unable, to far, to give me a full schedule – so I have had a very light class schedule, so far, too. I suppose if there's been any downside, it's only that, just as I was expecting, I'm struggling to be a "good teacher" for the middle-schoolers – they're a whole different set of requirements compared to elementary kids, and I'm not sure I'm very good at connecting with them. Perhaps, deep inside, I'm too much of a stunted, fragile, perpetual middle-schooler, myself?

Caveat: Intents and Purposes

"We all die. The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will." — author Chuck Palahniuk.

I think this is a good philosophy.  I hope I can eventually have a more interesting legacy than a few lines of meta-code in some business's data warehousing toolset, which is the closest thing I have to having created something that might outlast me. 

Caveat: 52) 이 세상을 높고 낮음으로 분별하며 살아온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived and discerning this world high or low.”
This is #52 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).

50. [broken link! FIXME] 나만을 생각하여 꽃과 나무를 함부로 자르는 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of all the stupidity which comes alive to cut trees and flowers randomly [by] thinking of only myself.”
51. [broken link! FIXME] 이 세상을 많고 적음으로 분별하며 살아온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.
       “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived and discerning this world, more or less.”
52. 이 세상을 높고 낮음으로 분별하며 살아온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this fifty-second affirmation as:  “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived and discerning this world high or low.”
This gave me a little bit of insight to the previous one, too – I made a small adjustment to the translation of that one (just in word order, to capture the developing parllelism).  It doesn’t work perfectly – I still can’t quite see what the implied subject is for “more or less” and “high or low.”

Caveat: Remain In Light

[broken link! FIXME] 220px-TalkingHeadsRemaininLight I've been messing with my 6000-odd mess of mp3 tracks, trying to organize things, and ended up listening to Remain In Light by the Talking Heads, all the way through.  It's from a time when album meant something more than "collection."  It's a coherent work of art, and though I have many individual songs that are favoriter, I can't say there is any album I feel more strongly about – even after all these years.

It makes me think of Duluth, and Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and being down-and-out on the streets of Ottawa, and living in my car in Boston.

Remain.  In.  Light.

Caveat: Why is it dark?

I think I've managed to acquire that "new school flu."  I slept very restlessly, last night, and woke up wondering why it was dark, thinking it should be morning, at one point.

I spent the day yesterday unpacking and trying to sort through some of my "stuff" – I have a lot of books, but no book case yet.  Need to look into that.  I have all these papers I saved – lesson plans, kids' work – I'm sentimental, I guess.  I will look into paring this down to essential.  I want to get around to scanning and posting some of the "goodbye letters" that my students at Hongnong made for me – they're very cute and often touching.

Anyway.  More later.

Caveat: Consumption and Environmental Impact

Last week I posted [broken link! FIXME] a blog entry in which I mentioned my belief that a high-density urban lifestyle is more "sustainable" and has lower environmental impact.  This was in the context of a cartoon which I posted there, which included the words:  "Do you use roads?  Do you live in civilization?  You are responsible for cruelty to animals."

An old-new acquaintance of mine, Jeannine (really, my absolute oldest friend – she was my best friend sometime around second grade), commented on facebook as follows: 

I think that whether high-density urban living vs. country living is "more impact" depends on how one lives one's life in either environment. And well, then, there is "do you use roads?" So it's probably a draw.

Now, the thing is, I respect her opinion highly, on this matter, because I happen to know that she is a professional ecologist of some kind.  I'm not one of them types o' people.  The best I can say is that I completed a minor in botany in college (which I failed to declare because I already had two other minors and the paperwork was annoying, but trust me, I did the course work, and it was fun).  Oh… and I was once a card-carrying member of the Green Party. 

But I have thought long and hard about this stuff, and all during the past week, I tried thinking through just how strongly I believe this.  Here's a modified (somewhat caveat'ed) version of my statement:

All things being equal, a high-density urban lifestyle has lower environmental impact than a rural one.

The key phrase is "all things being equal" – I mean by this, that "to the extent we can make the same lifestyle choices in different environments."  Lifestyle, obviously – in the broadest interpretation – is where the greatest environmental impact comes into play.  And lifestyle includes a great deal more than the binary choice of urban vs. rural

Here's my thought experiment, at its most simple.

It's related to the Econ 101 idea conveyed by the phrase "economies of scale."  If you live in a giant apartment building, with your workplace near by and/or easily accessible by good public transportation, your day-to-day existance will have less impact on the environment, overall, than if you tried to live a basically equivalent lifestyle in a single-dwelling house in the suburbs or out in the country.  That's because, for example, in an apartment building, you use less energy to heat your apartment, since you share resources with your neighbor.  And you drive less to get the same results in terms of commuting for work and leisure.

But it's key to remember that I'm assuming equivalent lifestyle – to the greatest extent possible.

Obviously, one can make choices about how one lives, in either context, that increase or decrease one's environmental impact.  Some of those choices are easier in the country, and some are easier in the city.  My personal choice of recent years, not to own a car is much easier in the city, now, than it was living in the country, last year.  Someone else's choice, say, to consume only locally grown, organic produce would maybe be much, much easier in the country. 

The thing about country life that perhaps makes it seem like it has lower environmental impact is that you're not surrounded by millions of others also having an impact on their environment.  The other thing about the rural life that must be noted is that, unlike the urban lifestyle, it can be "unplugged" completely – which obviously is a very, very low impact lifestyle.  But just because such a choice is possible in a rural environment doesn't mean many people actually bother to make such a choice, and the fact of the matter is that in developed countries, country people and city people mostly make very similar lifestyle choices, which means their overall impact is quite comparable.

Ultimately, in my thinking at least, it comes down to the issue of per capita environmental impact.  And that's crucial.  I think the inhabitants of Seoul City have devastating overall environmental impact in comparison with, say, the residents of Molokai (which I choose since Jeannine lives there, and which happens to be almost exactly the same size, in square kilometers, as the area enclosed by the Seoul City limits).

But, if you look at per capita impact, I bet Seoul, with its 10 million, has Molokai, with its 7,000, beat.  Hands down.  I mean, I can't guarantee that, obviously – I don't know enough about all the components of what environmental impact really even means.  But how likely is it that a individual Seoul resident, on average, has more impact on his or her environment than an individual Molokai resident?

One thing I do when I think about this, is that I try to find some intellectually comfortable, more simple proxy for the concept of overall environmental impact.  I think one good proxy is the much touted (recently touted, anyway) concept of carbon footprint.  Again, Seoul's carbon footprint is greater than Molokai's – but on a per capita basis, and accounting for inflows and outflows (meaning imports and exports of goods made by / consumed by inhabitants), I would bet that Seoul's is lower than Molokai's. 

This is really just a thought experiment.  One thing that I think about, a lot, is that for most of us, figuring out our overall environmental impact is stunningly difficult.  There's carbon, of course, but there's also all the other chemicals we put out, directly or by virtue of what we buy.  There are disrupted ecologies, due to infrastructure ranging from farms to factories to highways to human-oriented "parks." 

I remember reading somewhere that, perhaps coincidentally and perhaps by causation, our rate of overall consumption, in dollar terms (or in terms of whatever currency we're using), is an almost perfect proxy for our carbon footprint.  Which is to say, if someone consumes at a rate of $40000 per year, their carbon footprint for everything they do (travel, food, etc.) will be double a person's who consumes at $20000 per year and half of a person's who consumes at $80000.  It's just a more or less perfect statistical correlation, obviously grounded in the way our human ecology (which we call economy) happens to match up with our natural ecology (which includes our carbon footprint).  Of course this is hardly an accident – just as it's not an accident that both "ecology" and "economy" start with "eco-."

I therefore imagine that there might, in fact, be a strong correlation between our rate of economic consumption and our overall environmental impact, too.  This makes it much easier for amateurs in ecology to think about, and evaluate, their environmental impact.  It boils down to a simple question, with easy ways to make changes and adjustments in behaviors. 

We can ask ourselves:  how much am I consuming, in dollar terms?  And, in most societies for most people, this isn't that different a number than what we're earning – very few of us are socking our income away at high rates and spending low proportions of it.

The end of this metaphor or analogy is that we can simply look at our tax return and decide what our environmental impact is.  I mean… very roughly speaking.

Some time back, once I decided this analogy or way of thinking made sense to me, I made a very conscious decision, starting in about 2006, that I was going to lower my environmental impact by simply attempting to reduce my rate of consumption.  I set for myself a somewhat conscious goal of lowering my income.  That sounds horribly un-American.  But it's not hard to do – you have to admit that.  I changed careers from something lucrative (computer programming) to something unlucrative (teaching – and overseas, at that!).  I gave up driving – except for road trips.  I happily live in a smaller apartment than an average American would consider acceptable.  I limit meat consumption (as I've described here many times before, I basically only eat meat when in the company of others, in the context of them deciding what to order).  I buy mostly locally grown produce (easy to do in Korea since they grow everything here in hothouses and discourage food imports through massive tarriffs – those Chilean grapes in the store ain't cheap like in the US). Etc.

I don't mean to come off sounding "high and mighty" or superior.  I am certainly not blind to the irony of the fact that my previous post was about consumption, and about my "stuff" and how happy I was to have some "stuff."  My only point is that trying to understand and control our overall environmental impact is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, without degrees in economics or ecology.  But if we just think in terms of consumption, then we have a ton of options in front of us, and anyone can make lifestyle changes that lower consumption, and thus, almost inevitably, also lower environmental impact and/or increase sustainability.  And to return to the urban vs. rural dilemma, I can say that urban lifestyles are more easily adaptable to patterns of lowered consumption in the context of maintaining certain minimum "privileges," vis-a-vis the Western, modern lifestyle, and thus they're more sustainable.

Caveat: Stuff!

My stuff arrived, today.  Rather than going and fetching it, I paid to have some 택배 (delivery) people to bring it to me from lovely Hongnong Town.  It was easy to arrange with my friend Mun-chan mediating the interaction.  Here is a picture of my stuff, in my apartment. 

[broken link! FIXME] Kll 001

Now, with all this stuff, my apartment isn't so bare. 

I have a sofa, too.  I bought a used sofa.  It is comfortable.  Does this symbolize my commitment to staying in Korea for the long term?  Maybe.

[broken link! FIXME] Kll2 002

That's a quilt that my mother made, that she sent back with me from my visit to her in January, from Australia.  My mother makes nice quilts.  It's thrown over the back of the sofa.  My apartment will become very homey, I think.

Caveat: 51) 이 세상을 많고 적음으로 분별하며 살아온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived and discerning, more or less, this world.”
This is #51 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).

49. [broken link! FIXME] 나만을 생각하여 산과 바다를 더럽히며 살아 온 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of all the stupidity which comes alive to dirty the mountains and the sea [by] thinking of only myself.”
50. [broken link! FIXME] 나만을 생각하여 꽃과 나무를 함부로 자르는 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of all the stupidity which comes alive to cut trees and flowers randomly [by] thinking of only myself.”
51. 이 세상을 많고 적음으로 분별하며 살아온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this fifty-first affirmation as:  “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds lived and discerning, more or less, this world.”
I’m not really comfortable with this translation.  I may think of a revision, but it’s the best I can come up with, for now.  I’m not liking the “more or less” (which is “많고 적음으로”) – literally, it might be “by means of being more and being less.”  What (or who) is being more and less?  The implied subject (I)?  The discernment?  The object (this world)?  The living of the following clause?  Well, anyway.
More or less.

Caveat: What If Testing Didn’t Matter At All?

A few days back, I ran across a review in a Forbes magazine blog that discussed Finland's educational system, which apparently foregoes most standardized testing and yet produces some of the best results of any educational system in the world.  I have my own skepticisms about the usefulness of standardized testing, but in my curiosity, I found a chart on another website ( that I reproduce via screenshot, here.

[broken link! FIXME] Edu_html_6972ff3a

A little fact in the above chart leaped out at me, and blew my mind.

Yes, Finland is near the top of this little chart.  But look what country is right above it, in position #1.  Korea (which one has to assume means South Korea, and not the charming utopia a little bit to the north of here).  And you see, this blew my mind because South Korea's educational system is far from free of standardized testing – rather, the Koreans' obsession with testing of all kinds is unparalleled and downright obnoxious. 

And so I had an insight – a moment when everything became clear.  The two top countries on the chart achieve their stunning world rankings in education with widely divergent approaches to standardized testing.  What if standardized testing actually didn't have any impact, either way, on education?  What if not only was standardized testing useless but also relatively harmless?  That would explain a lot.

My personal opinion, or gut feeling, about what we see on the chart, is that what drives countries like Finland and South Korea to the top of charts like this has very little to do with education policy and a great deal to do with cultural valuations of education – which is to say, what the government does about education (or fails to do) is much less meaningful to outcomes than what individuals and families feel about education. 

By the by, this doesn't bode well for the sorry state of American education.  Because if it's a cultural problem, and not a policy failure, the solution is much more difficult.

Caveat: More Random Linguistics

I like to pick up those free community newspapers when I see them lying around, like in the lobby of my apartment building. I will scan through, looking for examples of Korean that I might actually understand.

Opening at random, I found an advertorial alongside an ad for an English hagwon that was actually quite intriguing – a discussion of that question that utterly fascinates Koreans: “why is English so freaking difficult?”

The answer, according to this particular hagwon owner, is that it’s all about grammar and sentence structure. This is a commonplace, and hardly controversial, although it’s a rather one-dimensional argument. English and Korean essentially have maximally divergent sentence structure, on the spectrum of all the world’s languages. In syntactical terms, one might generalize that Korean mostly builds its (chomskyan) parse trees right-to-left, while English builds its parse trees left-to-right, or maybe center-out (English is more complicated in that it has trees growing in either direction, in this matter, but it shares this trait with all of its Indo-European siblings).

What intrigued me were a pair of graphics, which showed mappings of Korean phrases to various other languages. The first graphic shows how all the phrases had to shift position in the movement from Korean to English, but how those phrases and grammatical elements essentially “stay in position” in the mappings between various European languages. The second graphic shows how the phrases and grammatical elements “stay in position” between Korean and Japanese. The take-away is that, for Korean speakers, European languages, including English, are therefore more difficult, while Japanese is easy. This is an observable phenomenon, but I’m genuinely impressed with how clearly these simple graphics illustrate what is a difficult concept to explain.

Here is a picture I took of the article – you can click it to see a larger image and hopefully make out the two graphics I’m talking about.


I mean, if you’re interested. I’m kind of weird.

And since I was unloading my camera, here’s a random picture of some springtime blooming trees in a parklike area not far from here.



Caveat: Híŋhaŋni wašté!

The phrase "Híŋhaŋni wašté!" means "good morning!" in the Dakota language, one of the Siouan dialects spoken historically by the Native American people who live in western and southern Minnesota.

Back in 1992~93, I studied the Dakota Language.  There's an actual community of speakers in Minneapolis (a city that has a Native "name" that's different from it's modern name:  Bdeota – a term etymologically connected with the name "Minnesota," believe it or not).

The University of Minnesota had (still has?) a department of Native American Languages that teaches not just Dakota but also Ojibwe as living foreign languages.  As a habitual language geek, how could I resist?  So I took Dakota as a night class, for a semester.  Dakota is a rich and complex and, in my opinion, beautiful language, and I have often thought that someday I would like to return to studying it.

Yesterday, I spent part of Buddha's Birthday online, researching Dakota pronunciation – as I sat on a rainy holiday Tuesday in my apartment in South Korea.  Why was I doing this?  The story is a bit complicated.

My best friend, Brother Bob, is a music teacher and choral conductor in Wisconsin.  Sometimes, he sends me these "Ask A Linguist" styled emails, where he tries to get my insights on things that will relate to a piece of music he's working with.  Over the weekend, he sent me an email about a choral music piece that included some bits in the Dakota Language.

The unfortunate thing about Dakota is that is part of a broad spectrum of Siouan dialects, which are very different among themselves.  Further, much extant Dakota and Sioux literature was written down by non-experts.  The consequence of these two factors is that spelling is quite non-standard, if not downright obscure (somewhat like English spelling, right?). 

So Bob was asking me about how to pronounce the snippet of Dakota he had.  Here's the original text he sent me.  It includes a close translation by the transcriptist.

Sioux Ghost Dance Song, transcribed by Louis Ballard


When Ballard gives the translation, he omits the diacriticals and prints the text in lower case. “Vocables” refer to non-sense syllables that are common in Native American songs.

ah-teh (father) hey-eh-oo-you (vocables) mah-koh-che-wu- (the earth) w’sh’te (good) che’ch’oo (p) be-cha (which I gave you) yah-neh beekt’eh oo-you (you’re going to live again) an-teh (father) hey-eh-oo-you (vocables).

Bob followed up with a different version/spelling of the same song, yesterday morning.  Here's what he sent me.  I've "activated" his link.

I found a reference to a recording of a song that may be the one used by Louis Ballard:  
Now I'm trying to find the actual recording. Chances are it's available online somewhere, or at a library near me, but I haven't located it yet. Anyway, on p. 11 of these lp liner notes (which is what's available from online), the song is transcribed thus:
Ate heyelo, Ate heyelo
Makoce wan waste ni cu
pi ca yamipika
Father said, Father said,
A Country that is good is given to you
So that you will live.
Let me know if this jogs your memory of Dakota phonetics further!

So the question is, how are these things pronounced?  Neither of the above matched my recollections of canonical contemporary Dakota orthography such as it was taught to me during my study of the language at the University of Minnesota.  So I wasn't very helpful.  I remembered, vaguely, some things about difficult consonant clusters and de-voiced (whispery) vowels.

Bob finally sent me the phrase "Híŋhaŋni wašté!" which means "good morning," along with the link to its pronunciation that he'd found.   I remember this phrase from my Dakota class, vividly.  You can hear the de-voiced vowels clearly, at that link – it sounds like Japanese, a little bit, which makes sense, since that's another language with prominent de-voiced vowels (think of the final -/u/ in a phrase like 元気です [genki desu = "I'm fine"]).

I sent him some of my observations, which I've repeated above.  I wish I was in Wisconsin – I want to hear how this piece sounds when he performs it.

That's the story up to this point.  And this is the strange way I spend some of my free time.   Habitual language geek, indeed. 

Thanks, Bob.  Love ya.  Good luck with that piece of music. 

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