Caveat: a little south-east of Nome

"You couldn't find your /æs/ with both hands and a vowel chart" – linguist insults.

Unrelatedly, what I'm listening to right now. I don't know why I'm listening to it right now.

Johnny Horton, "North to Alaska." It's not very geographically accurate – I think the Yukon gold rush was not in the neighborhood of Nome. It was a tie-in to a John Wayne movie which I'd never heard of.


Way up north, (North To Alaska.)
Way up north, (North To Alaska.)
North to Alaska,
They're goin' North, the rush is on.
North to Alaska,
They're goin' North, the rush is on.

Big Sam left Seattle in the year of '92,
With George Pratt, his partner, and brother, Billy, too.
They crossed the Yukon River and found the bonanza gold.
Below that old white mountain just a little south-east of Nome.

Sam crossed the majestic mountains to the valleys far below.
He talked to his team of huskies as he mushed on through the snow.
With the northern lights a-running wild in the land of the midnight sun,
Yes, Sam McCord was a mighty man in the year of nineteen-one.

Where the river is winding,
Big nuggets they're finding.
North to Alaska,
They're goin' North, the rush is on.

Way up north, (North To Alaska.)
Way up north, (North To Alaska.)
North to Alaska,
They're goin' North, the rush is on.
North to Alaska,
They're goin' North, the rush is on.

George turned to Sam with his gold in his hand,
Said: "Sam you're a-lookin'at a lonely, lonely man.
"I'd trade all the gold that's buried in this land,
"For one small band of gold to place on sweet little Ginnie's hand.

"'Cos a man needs a woman to love him all the time.
"Remember, Sam, a true love is so hard to find.
"I'd build for my Ginnie, a honeymoon home.
"Below that old white mountain just a little south-east of Nome."

Where the river is winding,
Big nuggets they're finding.
North to Alaska,
They're goin' North, the rush is on.
North to Alaska,
They're goin' North, the rush is on.

Way up north, (North To Alaska.)
Way up north, (North To Alaska.)
Way up north, (North To Alaska.)

[daily log: strolling, 1.5km]

Caveat: Captain Bligh and the Cladistics

I had this weird dream that I was attending some university, and went to class to find that Captain Bligh was giving a lecture on cladistics.

Actually, this wasn't so surprising – in the past several days, I have consulted wikipedia articles on both topics: Captain Bligh and cladistics.

Here's what's weird, though: the reason I had consulted those wikipedia articles was because they had appeared separately in dreams, previously. So there's this strange conversation going on between wikipedia and my subconscious. I want in on it. I hate that feeling of being on the outside of a conversation where I have a clear interest, unable to break in or really understand what's going on. (Wait… that describes every single day, at work.)

About three days ago, I awoke (as I inevitably do, these days, several times a night, because this medication I'm taking seems to have shrunk my bladder) at around 3 am. I had been having a strange dream where some rioting Koreans were complaining about cladistics. Holding up signs with the word "cladistics" in red circles with red prohibition lines through them. I knew I had once known this word, but I couldn't quite recall what it was. So I grabbed my phone wikipediaed it, right then and there (isn't the 21st century interesting?). I (re-)learned all about cladistics, as I finally drifted back to sleep. I guess I must have studied it, at some point in the past, probably while fulfilling my botany minor as an undergraduate. I do find it interesting.

Then two nights ago, I had some dream fragment where I was with some of my students and we had to fight pirates. This isn't that implausible – pirates are fixtures of kids stories and cartoons everywhere, in today's global culture – and thus they come up now and then in class conversations and jokes and creative endeavors. I had forgotten the dream, until yesterday, sitting bored at work because no one had showed up for one of my classes (not that uncommon in the immediate post-test-prep period), I remembered the dream, and recalled that one of the pirates had been "Captain Bligh." Of course, this is ignorance. In googling Bligh, I (re-)learned that he was not a pirate, nor were his antagonists, the mutineers led by Fletcher Christian. Anyway, as before, I find it an interesting story. I find the person of Peter Heywood to be the story's most intriguing: going "native" in Tahiti, returned to Britain, condemned to death for mutiny, but pardoned and a career navel officer. It made me think, tangentially, that I need to get back to my recent aborted attempt to re-read Melville's Billy Budd.

That was all rather digressive, in an expository way. The point being, that last night, these two things came together again in the dream. The dream was borrowing from recent waking life – which is common enough. What is uncommon is that the recent waking life had been borrowing from dreams, in turn. Perhaps if I had been taking better notes, I would find earlier pointers from those previous dreams to waking life, again. Perhaps I could spiral, helix-like, back through dream and consciousness into my own remote past? Perhaps this could be the plot of a hard-to-understand novel that no one would read. Perhaps, Borges-like, just proposing the novel does most of the creative heavy lifting involved, and I can now rest satisfied.

I do need to rest, anyway. I woke up far too early, this morning, and have insomniated myself right through the overcast dawn. But I must go to work – it's Saturmorning and my "naesin semi-vacation" is over.

"Captain Bligh and the Cladistics" should be the name of a nerdcore hip-hop collective from somewhere in Polynesia, or perhaps Long Beach.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: 노답

There is a bit of slang making the rounds with my students, that was interesting. 노답 [no-dap] means “no answer” – i.e. it’s used to express a kind of ironic or semi-ironic “no comment” or “I don’t want to dignify that with a response.”
But like a lot of Korean slang lately, it mixes English and Korean. The first syllable is English “no” while the second, 답, is Korean to mean “answer.”
I don’t really have much to say about this – just wanted to record the cultural observation, given its potential ephemerality. Also, I don’t have anything else to say today – the test-prep time has ended, and I’ve returned to my normal busier teaching schedule.
[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Why Should I?

Yesterday during my Davinci2B cohort, we have been practicing singing a few different pop songs for the May talent show event. These boys seem to enjoy singing – unlike a lot of kids who are too shy or inhibited by the prospect of trying to sing in English. They ask to do it, and seem very at ease with it, even if a few of them don't have the lyrics down perfectly. I particularly like when Paul, in response to the lyric "Take me into your loving arms," ad libs "Why should I?" Anyway, they chose the song themselves, from the catalogue of various English Language pop songs they have been exposed to.

Here they are singing.



Here are the lyrics they're singing.


"Thinking Out Loud"


When your legs don't work like they used to before

And I can't sweep you off of your feet

Will your mouth still remember the taste of my love?

Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks?


And, darling, I will be loving you 'til we're 70

And, baby, my heart could still fall as hard at 23

And I'm thinking 'bout how people fall in love in mysterious ways

Maybe just the touch of a hand

Well, me—I fall in love with you every single day

And I just wanna tell you I am


So, honey, now

Take me into your loving arms

Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars

Place your head on my beating heart

I'm thinking out loud

Maybe we found love right where we are


Here's the original song.


[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: the ‘gator lost his mind

What I'm listening to right now.

Jimmy Driftwood, "The Battle of New Orleans." Driftwood was a history teacher who made this song in 1959 to get his students interested in history. I remember hearing the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band version in the mid 70's, and I admit, it got me interested in history. I'm not sure about the over all accuracy – especially the issue of how the American soldiers used the alligators. But anyway it's actually a pretty funny song, and from the start I was fascinated by the unusual language in it, as well – perhaps it also got me interested in dialectology.

Lyrics – I found them online, but the sung lyrics differed somewhat, so I have made some alterations based on what I hear, to match the actual non-standard language being used, e.g. the published lyrics have "they begun a running" but the singer clearly says "they beginned a-running."

Well, in 18 and 14, we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Missisip
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we met the bloody British in the town of New Orleans


We fired our guns and the British kept a comin'
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they beginned a-runnin'
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Well, I seed Mars Jackson a-walkin' down the street
And a-talkin' to a pirate by the name of Jean Lafitte;
He gave Jean a drink that he brung from Tennessee,
And the pirate said he'd help us drive the British in the sea.

Well the French told Andrew, "You had better run
For Packenham's a-comin' with a bullet in his gun."
Old Hickory said he didn't give a damn
He's a-gonna whip the britches off of Colonel Packenham.


Well, we looked down the river and we seed the British come
And there must have been a hundred of them beating on the drum
They stepped so high and they made their bugles ring
While we stood behind our cotton bales and didn't say a thing

Old Hick'ry said we could take em by surprise
If we didn't fire a musket till we looked em in the eyes
We held our fire till we seed their face well
Then we opened up our squirrel guns and really gave 'em hell.


Well they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go
They ran so fast the hounds couldn't catch 'em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Well we fired our cannons till the barrels melted down
So we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round
We filled his head with minie balls and powdered his behind
And when we touched the powder off, the 'gator lost his mind

They lost their pants and their pretty shiny coats
And their tails was all a-showin' like a bunch of billy goats.
They ran down the river with their tongues a-hangin' out
And they said they got a lickin', which there wasn't any doubt.


Well we marched back to town in our dirty ragged pants
And we danced all night with the pretty girls from France;
We couldn't understand 'em, but they had the sweetest charms
And we understood 'em better when we got 'em in our arms.


Well, the guide who brung the British from the sea
Come a-limpin' into camp just as sick as he could be,
He said the dying words of Colonel Packenham
Was, "You better quit your foolin' with your cousin Uncle Sam."


Well, we'll march back home, but we'll never be content
Till we make Old Hick'ry the people's president.
And every time we think about the bacon and the beans
We'll think about the fun we had way down in New Orleans.


[daily log: walking, 7.5km]

Caveat: 雷逢電別

I learned this four-character idiom from my elevator last night.

“Thunder meets, lightening splits”

I found this definition of the verbalized form of the idiom (i.e. 뇌봉전별하다):
(비유적으로) 잠깐 만났다가 곧 헤어지다. 천둥같이 만났다가 번개같이 헤어진다는 뜻에서 나온 말이다.
I tried to makes sense of this definition, but I’m not very happy with my effort.:
“(Figuratively) Although a moment is met, it soon divides. The saying comes out meaning that although thunder meets, lightning divides up.”
I guess this would refer to the philosophical conundrum of the ephemerality of the “present.”
“Time is not composed of indivisible nows any more than any other magnitude is composed of indivisibles.” – Aristotle. Physics VI
[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: a luminous spring morning visit to the purifying land of the condemned and dying

…at the hospital for a check-up… update later.

2016-04-25 09.51.50.jpg

Update, a few hours later: In fact, I'm not sure that the luminosity is consequent to or despite the patina of yellow dust in the sky. Anyway, the news is not so bad. The doctor lauded my epithelials – high praise from an oral oncologist. Things are finally growing back, I guess, and perhaps we can attribute this to the medication regime. So we renewed the prescription, and will tackle some of the less pressing problems in the dental regime, next visit.

Here is another picture from my walk to the hospital. There were little pink lanterns hung from the trees – decorations for the upcoming Buddhamas.

2016-04-25 09.51.50.jpg

[daily log: walking, 11km]

Caveat: The Moonlight Done Long Run Out

Not much doing, on a Sunday.

What I'm listening to, right now.

Randy Houser, "Runnin' Outta Moonlight."


Don't you worry 'bout gettin' fixed up
When you wake up, you're pretty enough
Look out your window at the cloud of dust
That's my headlights, that's my truck

Come on baby, don't you keep me waitin'
I gotta go, I've got a reservation
Tailgate for two underneath the stars
Kiss on your lips when you're in my arms

Girl, every now and then you get a night like this
This is one that we don't wanna miss, no

Come on baby let me take you on a night ride
Windows down, sittin' on my side
Tick tock now we're knocking on midnight
Me and you girl runnin' outta moonlight
I wanna hold you till the break of dawn
Hear the crickets sing a riverside love song
Hey baby, all we got is all night
Come on now we're runnin' outta moonlight

Girl I bet you thought I lost my mind
Outta the blue pulling into your drive
Wonder why I got you way out here
Have you ever seen a sky this clear

Girl, you never look better than you do right now
Oh heaven, let your light shine down

Come on baby let me take you on a night ride
Windows down, sittin' on my side
Tick tock now we're knocking on midnight
Me and you girl runnin' outta moonlight
I wanna hold you till the break of dawn
Hear the crickets sing a riverside love song
Hey baby, all we got is all night
Come on now we're runnin' outta moonlight

Girl, every now and then you get a night like this
This is one that we don't wanna miss, no

Come on baby let me take you on a night ride
Windows down, sittin' on my side
Tick tock now we're knocking on midnight
Me and you girl runnin' outta moonlight
I wanna hold you till the break of dawn
Hear the crickets sing a riverside love song
Hey baby, all we got is all night
Come on now we're runnin' outta moonlight

Hey baby don't it feel so right
Come on now we're runnin' outta moonlight
All I wanna do is hold you tight
Come on, come on, come on we're runnin' outta moonlight

Yea we're runnin' outta moonlight


[daily log: walking, 1km]

Caveat: We out

Prince_love_symbolI guess Prince (Prince Rogers Nelson) died this morning. In fact, I was not a huge fan of his music, but he is of my generation, and of my adopted city (Minneapolis), and his music and cultural impact were both ubiquitous in my college years. Certainly I think he was quite talented, an original artist and thinker, and entirely deserving of his fame and fans. I can conjure several of his songs into my mind without prompts, including "1999" and "Purple Rain," and and I saw the movie of the same title as the latter, "Purple Rain," many times. Probably the thing Prince did that I found most interesting, as a linguist, was when he changed his name to an unpronounciable symbol (at right), and for a number of years was therefore known as "The Artist formerly known as Prince." This appealed to my interest in absurdist and Borgesian linguistic follies.

I would have preferred to put a Prince song, below, but… well, he was also quite assiduous in his control of his creative output, including his long-standing dispute with his music label, and his famous quote that working for his label was like slavery. Because of that, quality youtube videos of his music are quite hard to find. I would have posted a less well-known song, perhaps something with political content, like his 1981 "Ronnie, Talk To Russia." I suggest you go find it somewhere, if you're interested. 

Meanwhile, since that's not available, here's something utterly unrelated and of a different genre and epoch. 

What I'm listening to right now.

Nothing But Thieves, "Excuse Me."


His space crowds out your space, your space
Your space crowds out hers
Coffee breath and headphone hiss
But no one says a word

Eyes upon the paper headline
Refuge in your phone
Bumping shoulders
Cough and sniff
But no one says hello

Excuse me while I run, I really gotta get out of here
Excuse me while I run, I really gotta get out of here

My heart beats like yours does, hers does,
Her heart keeps good time
And everyday I mind the gap between you and me
Here comes someone else to share the air we breathe

Excuse me while I run, I really gotta get out of here
Reach out for anyone, and they will tell you get out of here
I'm asking everyone, you've gotta help me get out of here
Excuse me while I run, I really gotta get out of here

Under the gun
Hey everyone
Our work here is done
We out
You gonna come?
Hey everyone
Our work here is done

Excuse me while I run, I really gotta get out of here
Reach out for anyone and they will tell you get out of here
I'm asking everyone, you've gotta help me get out of here
Excuse me while I run, I really gotta get out of here

[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: Except for me

In my Honors cohort, in the debate book, the proposition was something like, "Girls should not wear make-up until age 15." Perhaps unsurprisingly, elementary students actually have some opinions about this topic, and it feels more accessible than many debate topics. But in Korea, a land of still very traditional gender roles, it is also essentially accessible only to half the students: i.e., the boys don't really care, and don't see it as relevant, even if they have opinions. Anyway, one of the "further thinking" questions, in response to the text we read in the book, was something to the effect of, "Do you think kids are maturing faster these days?"

A slightly diminutive fifth-grader named Soyeon, who had expressed that she had tried to wear make-up and her mom had gotten mad at her, immediately raised her hand. "Oh definitely," she averred.

Then, quickly and cleverly, she added, "Except for me." This was pretty funny.

[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: The Dust in the Machine

My computer stopped working, this morning. It produced a short-lived, sort of high pitched moan, and then just stopped. I had been noticing some weird sounds from the cooling fan, so I decided to take a look.

I found a lot of dust clogging up the cooling fan. Hm. Yes, there is a lot of dust in Korea, and in my apartment. I guess the computer internalized this. So to speak.


I cleaned out the dust, and started my computer.

It's so quiet now.

Plus, now I have a large dust bunny. It doesn't do very much, though. It just sits there.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: 산토끼를 잡으려다가 집토끼를 놓친다

I learned this aphorism from my friend’s blog.

산토끼를 잡으려다가 집토끼를 놓친다 noh.chin.da
wild-hare-OBJ catch-PURPOSIVE/TRANSFERATIVE tame-rabbit-OBJ miss-PRES

This means, “Losing rabbits at home while running after hares in the mountains.” My friend Peter points to Korea Times senior editorialist Choi Sung-jin having used the expression in translation, commenting on the opposition party’s strategy – prior to the election. Thus the translation is due to that editorialist. The phrase could also apply to other misguided business strategies, I think. I need to remember it for the next time I feel annoyed in a work-meeting.
In retrospect, I think this was not the right sort of aphorism to quote, given the opposition’s surprising electoral upset. It turned out the wild hare made a better meal.
[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: zam arr arh bagbagh bang bang manz

In the deepest depths of the world of conlang geekery, someone (or several someones) has invented a language for fictional zombies called Zamgrh. It has an actual grammar and is not just a cypher for English, as some naive conlangs tend to be. A linguistics website called EvoLang mentioned it, which is how I found out about it. What I found most entertaining was that some fans of this invented language have been translating texts into the zombie language. For example, you can read the first chapter of Beowulf in the Zamgrh.

It begins:

Rh!zzan :
Gaa haz arr rh!zzan ah zah Znag raz harmanz Raz harmanz
ahn zah arr rahnah an haah
zam arr arh bagbagh bang bang manz.
Zh!rgman, zah zan ah Zhahman,
grab mannah an bar harmanz azzbag,
zzzzargh mannah hra bang bang man,
ahgr h b hng an rzg babah,
H barg nabah na ann zah zg!
ng!r harmanz abarannah
rh!zzanb hhan h gab,
H b hra nabah raz harman !

The original Old English:

HWÆT, WE GAR-DEna in geardagum,
þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!
oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas, syððanærest wearð
feasceaft funden; he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum weorðmyndum þah,
oð þæt him æghwylc ymbsittendra
ofer hronrade hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan; þæt wæs god cyning!

This can only be surpassed by that guy supposedly translating the Bible into Klingon.

[daily log: walking, 6km]


Caveat: The Wrath of Kant

I spent a major portion of my morning reading most of the entire series of comics posted at the site I don't know who the author is or much about why this comic exists. But I found it all quite entertaining, and I laughed many times. This kind of humor is not accessible to everyone, I know.

The title for this blog post comes from a comic about the philosopher David Hume, serving as captain of the Starship Enterprise. He meets his nemesis, Kant. This doesn't go well, as we can predict from the original story.


[daily log: walking, 1.5km]

Caveat: the conclusion to all her stories

Parents' Evening

We feel she may be cheating
at reading and spelling.
She has failed to grasp the planets
and the laws of science,
has proven violent in games
and fakes asthma for attention.
She is showing promise with the Odyssey,
has learned to darn starfish
and knitted a patch for the scarecrow.
She seems to enjoy measuring rain,
pretending her father is a Beatle
and insists upon your death
as the conclusion to all her stories.

– Rhian Edwards (Welsh poet, contemporary, birthdate ungooglable)

This poem made me think of my students.

[daily log: walking, 1km]

Caveat: A few more thoughts on Korean psephology

One realization I had in looking at the election coverage yesterday (both on my TV and on the internet), was that my long-standing characterization of Ilsan (and Goyang) as fairly conservative is simply wrong. I don't really know what the basis was for that impression, but I've probably mentioned it more than once in this blog. Yet in looking at the election data, I can see that northwest suburban Seoul (indeed, most of suburban Seoul) definitely leans leftward.

What really made me notice this was the breakthrough realization that the electoral district just to the east of where I live (called 고양갑 Goyang-gap) is the home district of the just re-elected left-most member of the National Assembly, Sim Sang-jung (심상정). I had this realization in studying the electoral map, where the yellow stands out (because it represents only two districts nationally). The yellow represents the Justice Party (정의당), which is a left-leaning party – the color choices are based on party "brand" colors, but seem to be somewhat coordinated for contrast between the groups (whether by some government agency such the elections commission, I'm not sure). The map below is reproduced from wikipedia.

2016-04-13 polling place

Anyway, I after making this realization, I took the time to look back at previous electoral maps, and indeed, this leftward slant on Goyang is not recent. So I have no idea where I got the idea that Goyang was conservative – the electoral evidence belies it. So consider my earlier characterizations retracted. 

[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: 2016총선

Korea voted for parliamentary representatives yesterday (this is called 총선, “general election”). The atmosphere as I walked to work was quite strange – a “real” holiday. The schools were closed and workers are given time off (half days or complete off days depending on their work type and schedule, but the hagwon business, such as where I work, is exempt from this and so we worked as normal). There were lots of senior citizens going in and out of polling places, and parents were out in playgrounds playing with their kids. It was nice, and the feeling was vaguely festive.
My friend Peter has been blogging in a very detailed and interesting manner about election-related issues. I have enjoyed reading his thoughts. I haven’t, myself, been following these elections as closely as in the past – I have been feeling a kind of bitter resignation about the phenomenal lock on power held by the conservatives in Korea, and this election appeared to be only a further entrenchment of this “neo-Parkism,” embodied by the presidency of the dictator’s daughter, with a fragmented opposition that seemed destined to do badly.
In fact, the opposition didn’t do so badly, on preliminary results – I have been looking at Naver News’ summary coverage (in Korean). The president’s 새누리당 (Saenuri Party) lost its parliamentary majority, Ahn Cheol-soo’s new third party, 국민의당 (People’s Party) did remarkably well, and even the 더문주당 (Minjoo Party) surprised at least me by turning Gyeonggi blue on the electoral map, despite losing their main stronghold in the southwest to the upstarts. Turnout was higher than in the last several elections.
I walked past 4 different polling places on the way to work (all schools). Below is the Ilsan Service Industry Workers Vocational High School (called, optimistically, the “International Convention High School”, but really a dumping ground for Ilsan’s least ambitious students), with a polling place banner across the entrance gate.
2016-04-13 polling place
[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: the windy sky cries out a literate despair

A Postcard From The Volcano

Children picking up our bones
Will never know that these were once
As quick as foxes on the hill;

And that in autumn, when the grapes
Made sharp air sharper by their smell
These had a being, breathing frost;

And least will guess that with our bones
We left much more, left what still is
The look of things, left what we felt

At what we saw. The spring clouds blow
Above the shuttered mansion house,
Beyond our gate and the windy sky

Cries out a literate despair.
We knew for long the mansion's look
And what we said of it became

A part of what it is … Children,
Still weaving budded aureoles,
Will speak our speech and never know,

Will say of the mansion that it seems
As if he that lived there left behind
A spirit storming in blank walls,

A dirty house in a gutted world,
A tatter of shadows peaked to white,
Smeared with the gold of the opulent sun.

– Wallace Stevens (American poet, 1879-1955)

[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: This is my style

In my Davinci2 cohort yesterday, my 5th grade student who goes by the name Paul was reading a short paragraph from the book for us. His pronunciation was utterly incoherent, which was not commensurate with his normal ability, I thought – he's not great, but he's not quite so bad as to be impossible to understand. He was sounding like a drunk robot.

"What's going on, Paul?" I asked. "Why are you talking like that?"

Without pause, and now quite clearly, he said, "This is my style." He sat up straight, grinning with pride. 

I had to laugh at that. "Well, uh… go ahead, then." 

[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: Never been seen

I guess it was a pretty lousy weekend. I have some kind of mild flu. 

What I'm listening to right now.

Indicator Indicator, "Your Cocoon." The group is from my favorite Canadian city: Winnipeg.


You've never missed a step
You haven't taken one yet
Cinched to an inch it's time you knew
You're still stuck in your cocoon

Feels it was always meant to be
You fill it up so perfectly
But know you'll never grow up anytime soon
While you're stuck in your cocoon

You're armoured but it's welded shut
So green that it's obscene
You think your wings are these splendid things
But baby they've never been seen
Never been seen

Oh, you're the first to laugh
And, oh, we love you for that
But it's time to cut the cord and spit out that spoon
Let's get you out of your cocoon

[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: Svekolny for Christmas Dinner with the Presidents

I haven't been sleeping well, lately. I attribute the issue to some of the side-effects of this medication, but there may be other things going on too – it's spring, and that means a lot more allergens in the air, as well as many smoggy days in Korea.

I awoke last night at around 3 am, from a very vivid and complex, novelistic dream. The main outline of it was that I invited Vladimir Putin to Christmas dinner – not once, but twice. The first time, it was somehow in response to some kind of weird contest – he was visiting Korea and so there was some kind of contest and next thing you know, Putin was visiting me for Christmas dinner. Of course, I didn't know what to do. I tried to make some svekolny (a kind of Russian beet and garlic salad), but there were also some strange Mexican dishes, as well as sides of things like kimchi. It was all kind of ad hoc, and Putin, with an entourage, showed up and was polite. But when he went to try the svekolny, he made a terrible face and accused me of trying to poison him. This caused the to-be-expected media conflaguration: "American in Korea tries to poison the Russian president!"

Somehow, I convinced the Korean authorities that it was all a mistake, and the case was dropped. And then there was a "fast-forward" in the dream (novelistically), and it was the next Christmas. I sent Putin an email message to his personal email (which I somehow had access to because of the previous year's events). I told him that this year, I would do better, if he came to Christmas dinner.

This time, instead of at my apartment, I borrowed one of my coworker's larger apartments, and coworkers from Karma helped me prepare. I made more Russian dishes, including svekolny, and I also made a turkey and some traditional American food.

I didn't hear from Putin until Christmas Eve, when, unexpectedly, he sent me a message accepting my invitation. This time, the Korean politicians tried to get in on the publicity, and President Park showed up (she was wearing a Korean hanbok – traditional Korean clothing). In the dream, she was being very polite to me, like I was some kind of celebrity, but one of her police protection agents pulled me aside, and told me in a frighteningly cold tone that if I screwed this up, I would be expelled from Korea forever. In the dream, I wasn't worried.

Some of my coworkers were there, and I also invited some of my favorite students – about 20 of them. But when the Russian FSB agents showed up prior to Putin's arrival (to clear the area's security, I guess), they said that the children were too dangerous, and would not be allowed to see the Russian president. 

President Park was put off by this, and she said she would go with the children into the other room. But the children said they didn't want her there, so dejectedly she returned to the dining room just as Putin showed up. 

He sat down and leaned close, almost whispering. "You are very brave," he said. He was speaking Russian, but somehow, I understood him (which maybe makes sense – I did, after all, study Russian for two years in college). 

"Why am I brave?" I asked. He was so close I could smell his breath.

"To invite me back. Because of this, I respect you." 

I felt like I was talking to some kind of Mafia boss. He asked me what I thought about the Panama Papers (here we see the "current events" issue that perhaps brought about the dream?). 

I told him that I thought that the world was showing a double standard – everyone is all for online privacy, but if you're rich and powerful, you're not allowed privacy, in the name of "transparency." This argument is actually one that has occurred to me, but I'm not sure I fully endorse it. In the dream, I suppose I was trying to ingratiate myself with the Russian president, so as not to antagonize him. After all, my stay in Korea now was contingent on success.

I offered him my svekolny. He tasted it, and made the same disgusted, horrified face as he had last time. My heart fell, and I saw the Korean secret service agent glaring at me. 

Putin looked around, and appeared to notice President Park for the first time. "Try some," he said, like a serpent. "It's delicious." 

"I only eat Korean food," she averred, shaking her head.

Putin took several more bites, struggling to eat it. I wondered what I had done wrong – it tasted OK to me. But then again, my sense of taste is pretty deficient, these days.

He did not complain, however. He persevered through the rest of the meal quite politely. He asked me what I thought of Trump. I told him my sincere opinion. He made another face, but he said nothing. President Park was looking annoyed, because he wasn't talking to her at all. He was talking to Curt and Helen, from work. They seemed smitten by him, but I was only impressed with his tact – that he was clearly putting up with this for some ulterior reason of his own.

He left, with his security detail, without further incident. Park and the other Koreans left too. I went in the other room to check on my students. They were very curious to hear how it went. As I told the rapt kids about the experience, I fingered a very short "thank you" email to Putin on my smart phone. I asked him why he had tolerated my terrible cooking.

Almost instantly, I got an answer. "You showed great strength of character, asking me back, and so out of respect I had to eat it. It was truly terrible." His email included a smiley emoticon in the Korean style: ^_^. 

That was a very strange dream

[daily log: walking, 1km]

Caveat: 閑雲野鶴

This is a four-character idiom I learned from my building’s elevator the other day.


The meaning in the Korean-English dictionary is given as only, “wandering clouds and wild cranes,” but the example use of the expression gives a clue: 한운 야학 야학을 벗삼다 lead a leisurely life/lead a life free from worldly care in the bosom of nature. I found the following definition in Korean, online, which I laboriously translated.

한가로운 구름 아래 노니는 들의 학. 벼슬과 어지러운 세상을 버리고 강호에 묻혀 사는 사람.
Cranes wandering fields under peaceful skies. People who abandon official posts and chaotic society to take refuge in nature.

So I guess it means people who “escape” society in some way, but it is not clear to me if this viewed positively or negatively by the expression. Sometimes it seems I might do that. Or it seems I might already have tried that – but unsuccessfully.

What I’m listening to right now.

The Cure, “Splintered In Her Head.” I’m not sure this is related to the idiom.
[daily log: walking, 1km]

Caveat: Neo-know-nothingism

The following is an incomplete thought.

There is the confusion of character and luck. I've been struck by this, for example, in the thinking of my students… but I can't quite figure out if it is more closely related to their being Korean or to their being children. I suspect both factors may be involved, at some level. There is something childish about thinking this way, but there is also a strong cultural trope in the Buddhasphere, related to notions of karma, which tell us that one's luck is tied to one's moral character, which is a result, in turn, of the idea of accumulating merit (and/or demerit) across multiple lives.

Recently, this thought crystallized for me, though, in relation to some writing about Trump. Trump appears to espouse this conflation of luck and character, and in general, it seems to be a way of thinking that is on the increase in American culture. Hence, Trump's condemnation of McCain as a loser, for example, since McCain had the bad luck to be captured by the North Vietnamese.

An economics and political blogger named Chris Dillow labels this type of thinking "feudalist," and although that is true, I'd simply say it is "pre-modern," since it underlies all kinds of caste-based systems, from untouchables in India to know-nothingism and the eugenics movement in America.

Speaking of which, I'd like to label Trump's new movement "neo-know-nothingism" – it has a nice, hard-to-pronounce euphony.

[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: the dog’s problem

Thought for the day.

"When a man's best friend is his dog, that dog has a problem." – Edward Abbey

Yesterday, I noticed that spring has sprung.


[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: The inside of my brain

Yesterday at work I was in a meeting where I was quite unclear what was going on. Someone from outside of Karma was discussing some issues with some online pedagogic software we use with some of our students, called Cappytown

Anyway, I was at a loss – I understood some of the details, because I was familiar with some aspects of the software. However, I had no idea why I had been called into the meeting or what it was for, in broader outline. Even now, I'm somewhat confused.

During the meeting, I drew a picture on my notes.

20160406 doodle


[daily log: walking, 6km]


Caveat: viejo dios todos los días


                                    A Jesús Arellano

Viejo sangre de toro
viejo marino anciano de las nieves
viejo de guerras de enfermerías
de heridas

Viejo con piel de flor
viejo santo de tanto amor
viejo de juventud niño de canas
viejo amadasantamente loco de amor siempre
viejo perro soldado
anciano de los trópicos
viejo hasta lo eterno
joven hasta el espacio azul de muerte
Viejo viejo cazador
matador amador
amante amante amante amante
Puntual exactamente amante
lento y certero
marino viejo tempestad y bochorno
sudor de manos

Viejo dios todos los días
de Dios escribir amar beber maldecir
beber tu propia sangre
viejo sangre de res
bendita seas maldita sangre tuya
cuando el disparo
seco bestial rotundo como un templo mancillado
degolló la marea la selva la cumbre las heridas
el amor total el infortunio la dicha la embriaguez
y un rostro dio fulgores amarillos a la muerte
y un ataúd de pólvora un ataúd un ataúd
y dos palabras
Ernest Hemingway

– Efraín Huerta (poeta mexicano, 1914-1982)

El poema refiere a la novela hemingwayana, El viejo y el mar (The Old Man and the Sea) y al suicidio del autor. Hemingway es uno de los escritores norteamericanos más respetados en el ámbito literario hispanoamericano. Como he notado antes, aunque Huerta no es mi poeta favorito, tengo para con él un sentimiento especial, a causa de que fue el primer poeta que leía en español – en la misma sala de conferencia en la Casa de los Amigos a que hice referencia en el blog anterior. En leer este poema, también veo que claramente me influyó en mis propios esfuerzos poéticos subsiguientes.
picture[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: How I didn’t become a Quaker in Mexico City 30 years ago

I started writing about this several weeks ago, but dropped the ball.

200707_MexicoDF_CasaAC08030 years ago, in March, 1986, I started my job at the Casa de los Amigos in Mexico City. This was a transformative experience for me, in several ways.

The Casa de los Amigos is a kind of hybrid between a Quaker meetinghouse, a social services organization, and a hostel for travelers. It's all of those things. It has been all of those things for 70 or 80 years now – my uncle (my father's older brother) worked with projects affiliated with the Casa in the 1950s. I worked there in the 1980s. And the Casa still exists and is quite active. The "Amigos" of the name refers to the "Friends" i.e. Quakers AKA Society of Friends. The Mexico City meeting also maintains a tight connection with the Orange Grove Friends Meeeting of Pasadena, California, which was the community my grandparents were members of when my father was born, and of which, in a kind of biographical full circle, my father is now once again an active member, 76 years later.

That period was the time in my life when I came closest to adopting the Quakerism that was my "birthright." Ultimately, my year of working for the Quakers in Mexico City was a positive experience, but it also mostly convinced me that I could never be a "true" Quaker, because I was forced for the first time to face my fundamental atheism, and for me to have become a "social" Quaker (as is true of so many Quakers, who are active but who are not religious or spiritual) struck me as hypocritical. It would take more than a decade more before my reluctant acceptance of my own atheism gelled into a kind of "faith," but I suppose that year of attending Sunday meeting and interacting with Quakers was the beginning. My more recent flirtation with Buddhism is likely also ultimately enabled by that experience, too – it differs from my early attempt at Quakerism only in that Buddhism, unlike even the most unconventianal forms of Christianity such as Quakerism, neither presumes nor requires any doctrinal belief, and thus remains available to atheists such as myself.

Another seed that was planted in Mexico City was that that was my first experience as a teacher, and it was as an EFL teacher, at that. Which is my current career. 

That was also where I learned (truly learned) Spanish, which facilitated my later studies in linguistics and literature, and which enriched my "life of the mind" substantially. Even today, after 8 years resident in Korea, I still speak or read or write something in Spanish every day, if only a fragment here or there.

For all these reasons, my year at the Casa de los Amigos was formative, and transformative, and 30 years later, I remember my time there vividly and proudly. 

At right, above, is a picture I took of the front of the Casa when I visited there in 2007. Below is a view out the back window of the conference room, toward the hulking form of the Monumento de la Revolución a few blocks south, also taken in 2007.


[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Ihcuac tlahtolli ye miqui

This is a poem composed in the Nahuatl language (indigenous to Mexico).

Ihcuac tlahtolli ye miqui
mochi in teoyotl,
cicitlaltin, tonatiuh ihuan metztli;
mochi in tlacayotl,
neyolnonotzaliztli ihuan huelicamatiliztli,
ayocmo neci
inon tezcapan.
Ihcuac tlahtolli ye miqui,
mochi tlamantli in cemanahuac,
teoatl, atoyatl,
yolcame, cuauhtin ihuan xihuitl
ayocmo nemililoh, ayocmo tenehualoh,
tlachializtica ihuan caquiliztica
ayocmo nemih.
Inhuac tlahtolli ye miqui,
cemihcac motzacuah
nohuian altepepan
in tlanexillotl, in quixohuayan.
In ye tlamahuizolo
in mochi mani ihuan yoli in tlalticpac.
Ihcuac tlahtolli ye miqui,
imehualizeltemiliztli ihuan tetlazotlaliztli,
ahzo huehueh cuicatl,
ahnozo tlahtolli, tlatlauhtiliztli,
amaca, in yuh ocatcah,
hueliz occepa quintenquixtiz.
Ihcuac tlahtolli ye miqui,
occequintin ye omiqueh
ihuan miec huel miquizqueh.
Tezcatl maniz puztecqui,
netzatzililiztli icehuallo
cemihcac necahualoh:
totlacayo motolinia.
– Miguel León Portilla (Mexican poet, b 1926)

Below is a soundtrack of someone reading … something similar. I don't think it's exactly the same text, since it doesn't seem to match up to the written form. It may be that the person talking is doing more of a riff on the theme as opposed to reading the actual poem. Notable, especially, are the frequent Spanish-origin loanwords in the woman's reading, which are not present in the poem's text, above.

Cuando Muere una Lengua / When a tongue dies from Combo on Vimeo.

If you want to hear the actual reading, by the original poet, you can hear it here (not embeddable) – he starts reading in Nahuatl at about halfway through the video at that site.

[daily log: walking, 1km]


Caveat: like God’s own Mentos and Diet Coke

A blogger who blogs under the pseudonym Patrick Non-White recently channeled William S. Burroughs pretending to be Donald Trump. He writes as if Trump had hit upon the idea of running for president while doing bong hits with his friends. This alternate-universe Trump meditates on his plan, thinking of himself, of course, in the third person:

"There is nothing so crazed as a politician in rut, screeching whatever thoughts burst into his coke-addled brain like a radioactive weasel before thousands of ignorant nimrods, on total auto-pilot, completely in the now, popping off like God's own Mentos and Diet Coke."

This fine picture appeared in another spot online. You may wish to connect it, at your own mental risk, to the above.


[daily log: walking, 6]

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