Caveat: Unarmed

A few days ago, my oldest surviving Minneapolitan Rainbow Monkey underwent a traumatic experience. Two kids were fighting over the monkey. He fell on the floor. I stepped in (literally), by placing my foot on the monkey, and told them, stop fighting over the monkey. The kids were adamant, however. One boy, Jack, tugged on one of the monkey's arms. I pressed harder with my foot. A diminutive girl named Amy tugged on another of the monkey's arms.

Suddenly, the arm ripped off. She staggered back, and held up the arm, looking stunned. I think she thought I would be angry. I was a bit annoyed, but this seemed like an inevitable consequence the monkey had long managed to avoid through sheer luck.

"Oh my god," I said, in surprise. "My monkey! You broke my monkey."

"I didn't do it," she protested, with a disarming grin.

"You both did it," I asserted. "I helped, too, I guess," I added, stooping to retrieve the remainder of the monkey from under my shoe.

I took the arm, and used an alligator clip (a "binder clip") to attach the arm, ad hoc, to the monkey's shoulder area. I held him up for the class. "Look! Still smiling! What a crazy monkey."


The kids laughed, probably relieved that I wasn't angry.

When I told the teachers in the staff room, later, they were angry. "How can you let kids behave like that?"

"They're just kids," I said. "The monkey seems to be OK."

At right: a picture of my monkey, awaiting surgery (aka needle and thread). He's almost 5 years old – I think he's held up pretty well.

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: and, but no

This made me laugh, quite a bit.

First they came for the verbs, and I said nothing, because verbing weirds language
Then they arrival for the nouns, and I speech nothing, because no verbs
Then they for the descriptive, and I silent because verbless and nounless
Then they for me, and, but no

This very humorous bit of linguistics-based humor has been circulating on the internets. Attribution is vague – the best I could find with google is an attribution of the first two lines to Peter Ellis (whoever that is). I first ran across it mentioned the All Things Linguistic blog, and that links to another tumblr page (tumblr is a kind of social media "lite" blogging host – in fact, the All Things Linguistic blog is in that medium, but I guess its settings are more blog-like and less social-media-like). Finding attribution on tumblr is like jumping down a rabbit hole, and without an active tumblr account mostly I get bombarded with requests to sign up, and I'm not interested in going there. So if whoever actually made this up finds this here without attribution, please don't get upset – I did my best.

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Random Poem #2

(Poem #303 on new numbering scheme)

The man's moped was his cathedral,
where he could sit, watch people,
make deliveries,
or just smoke.
He had three smartphones -
a kind of makeshift dashboard -
attached at the front with bungee cords.

– this poem is completely random.

Caveat: A Normal Person

Justin, a seventh-grader, made a rather random, unmotivated announcement today in class. He raised his hand.

Justin: I'm a normal person.

Teacher: Really?

Justin: Yes, I am.

Teacher: Why do you say that?

Justin: I have ten fingers, two hands, two feet, one head. 

Teacher: That's good.

Justin just grinned.

Annie, sitting in the front of the class, looked back at Justin, and back at me, and shook her head, rolling her eyes – but she refrained from commenting. I had no idea why he felt the need for this conversation, but you take what you can get, right?

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Random Poem #1

(Poem #302 on new numbering scheme)

The fading sun made aimless grasps against
the window such that glass became purple
illumination without shape.
I bent over my book with my neck tensed
because the tiny lamp's lighted circle
denied me its narrow landscape.

This is not a quatrain. I don’t know what it is – I guess it’s a sestet, and it’s got some kind of metrical thing going on. But I think I’m not going to weld myself to a specific form, for now. I thus will just call them poems, and we’ll see what happens if I make one every day. I had been intending to change over to some continuing series of poems that were thematically (as opposed to structurally) unified, when I got to around 100 quatrains, but I didn’t. So now I am dropping the quatrains, but I still don’t have a theme worked out. So I’ll just post whatever, I guess, for now. Or forever.

Caveat: Oklo-Boom!

I'd always wondered about this idea, which I recently ran across: a natural nuclear reactor.

Of course, if you understand the principle for how uranium fission works, you know that if enough uranium gets together in one spot, you get what's called 'critical mass' and you will get a fission reaction. So there's no reason, in principle, why it couldn't happen entirely by accident, in the natural world – some uranium deposit getting too dense, by natural geological forces, and, bingo, fission! I just assumed, based on my quite limited understanding, that the odds were too low for it ever actually happen. Yet apparently, it has, and it has been scientifically confirmed. I found some links that led me to this article, at an architecture-related blog I read sometimes. It all seems quite remarkable.

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Quatrain #115

(Poem #301 on new numbering scheme)

Some leaves with flashing silver eyes
begin to spin as wind
attempts to steal from them their trust
and leaving them chagrinned.

– a quatrain in ballad meter.
[daily log: walking, 1km]

Caveat: Glorious Days of the Internet, Episode 235,654,534

The scene and the problem:

We are doing last-minute prep for our talent show. Grace is doing some stage practicing with a group of her students, and she tells me, "I really need a fart sound for this play."

The play she's doing, the "Farting Lady," is a Korean classic tale adapted to grade-school EF, with songs, too. I may have mentioned it before on this blog – it's a perennial favorite of Korean students, because they know the story already, and because elementary children have fundamentally scatalogical senses of humor.

I can't use my laptop, because it's been repurposed as the main computer for all the projections, sound and powerpoint slides for the show. 

The solution:

So I take my little USB memory stick and I go to one of the computers in the computer lab. I go to google, and I type in "free download fart sounds." I have a plethora of choices. First choice, try out some sounds, and download a half dozen.

I save them onto my USB, and return to the seminar room where Grace is practicing. I hand her the USB. "The internet is a great thing," I say.

"It is," she agrees, as she tries out the files, to the entertained giggles of 15 or so elementary kids.

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids

Today is our big day, the annual Karma English Academy talent show. As is typical, I feel utterly unprepared. But thus it goes – that's life in the Karmic Korean Kingdom of Chaotic Quasi-Confucian Contingency.

Meanwhile, what I'm listening to right now.

Elton John, "Rocket Man." The video is brand new, but has been declared "official." I found the video, by Iranian refugee Majid Adin, quite stunningly beautiful and sad, and it manages to take a melancholic, classic song almost half a century old, now, like John's "Rocket Man," and imbue it with intense new meaning vis-a-vis the contemporary, never-ending global refugee crisis.


She packed my bags last night pre-flight
Zero hour nine AM
And I'm gonna be high as a kite by then
I miss the earth so much I miss my wife
It's lonely out in space
On such a timeless flight

And I think it's gonna be a long long time
'Till touch down brings me round again to find
I'm not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no no I'm a rocket man
Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone

And I think it's gonna be a long long time
'Till touch down brings me round again to find
I'm not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no no I'm a rocket man
Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone

Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids
In fact it's cold as hell
And there's no one there to raise them if you did
And all this science I don't understand
It's just my job five days a week
A rocket man, a rocket man

And I think it's gonna be a long long time
'Till touch down brings me round again to find
I'm not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no no I'm a rocket man
Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone

And I think it's gonna be a long long time
'Till touch down brings me round again to find
I'm not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no no I'm a rocket man
Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone

And I think it's gonna be a long long time
And I think it's gonna be a long long time
And I think it's gonna be a long long time
And I think it's gonna be a long long time
And I think it's gonna be a long long time
And I think it's gonna be a long long time
And I think it's gonna be a long long time
And I think it's gonna be a long long time

[daily log: walking, 7.5km]

Caveat: Where to go from here?

"Self-driving cars" are all the rage in certain Silicon Valley circles as an up-and-coming technology.

A conceptual artist explores the shortcomings of relying on not-so-smart robot-minds to try to drive a car. He has actually engineered his own self-driving car, using bits and pieces of existing technology. Then he proceeded to "trap" the car by exploiting its reliance on highway markings to decide where it is OK to drive.


[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Quatrains #109-111

(Poem #297 on new numbering scheme)

Three simple songs were sung among
the faces going by.
I knew these songs in passing, then,
though all the years did fly.
A song of patient worrying
came first, a princess true.
The second song had deep kindness,
but understandings, few.
The third song had the boldest heart,
but passions rather wild.
These songs departed. But today,
a song returned... and smiled.

– three quatrains in ballad meter. This poem is not just a hallucination or metaphor, unlike as is the normal case with most of my poetry. Rather, it has a fairly important and specific subtext, which will make the meaning quite clear.

Caveat: nervously loquacious at the edge of an abyss

"…there is no place for purely human boasts of grandeur, or for forgetting that men build their cultures by huddling together, nervously loquacious, at the edge of an abyss.‎" – Kenneth Burke.

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: The Karma Professor Explains the Mpemba Effect

I had a class last night with my highest-level students, the TOEFL 8th graders, that was close to an ideal type of class, in my opinion.

Nominally, we were working on the TOEFL speaking questions. But before class, one of the students, Sumin, had asked me if I knew anything about the "Mpemba Effect" (see wikipedia – I'll not try to replicate the explanation found there). She had to make a speech about it, in Korean, for her Korean-language class. In researching it online, she'd found more materials in English than Korean, and, being an ambitious and motivated English student, she decided these were legitimate sources for putting together her speech. She was checking with me mostly to make sure she understood some of the technical aspects and the fairly specialized vocabulary of chemistry and physics involved. 

So we carried on our conversation about it into the start of class. The other students overheard and were curious, and so I started explaining. And then I said, "Actually, this is exactly the kind of topic that they put into a Type 6 TOEFL speaking question." You listen to some complicated lecture on a difficult topic, and then you have to summarize.

Somewhat jokingly, I asked them if they wanted to do a speaking question practice on the Mpemba Effect. To my surprise, they were enthusiastic about this idea. So I pulled up the wikipedia article, scanned through it to make sure I understood it, and then proceeded to give a 10 minute lecture, more or less, on the Mpemba Effect. This included digressions to explain concepts such as convection, insulation, dissolved gases, crystallization and "seeding" crystals (i.e. catalysts), and several other things that occurred to me. Then their job was to give a one minute summary, in the TOEFL style, of my lecture.

In his summary, David even included the expression, "The Karma professor explains…," a joking reference to my sometimes being identified by both students and coworkers as a "professor." It's a moniker that seems to follow me regardless of career. 

The class was ideal. We covered what we needed to cover – which is to say, we did TOEFL speaking practice on a particular instance of what are always essentially random topics. Yet the students themselves selected the topic, out of interest, and they more or less led the class in terms of what was expected of them. I was just a kind of resource, an on-call "professor" that they could hit "play" on for various aspects of the topic in question.

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: wasting something

Sometimes I think about economics and philosophy, but I don't make much progress.

I have some thoughts about what you might term a "marxian analysis" of the modern post-manufacturing economy, and about what, exactly, the tech behemoths like google, facebook, etc., are doing, in the "modes of production" sense. These companies seem to traffic in the commodification not of products but rather the commodification of wants and needs for other commodities. This is a kind of "meta-commodification," where instead of exploiting consumer desires in order to generate surpluses, instead they operate entirely within the streams of surpluses, manufacturing consumer desires which they can sell to others to exploit. It's really a logical step in the succession of the economic modes of production, when viewed this way, just as credit is a logical extension of money, which is in turn a logical extension of exchange. But it seems to be something genuinely different from what came before, and certainly it is not classically marxian.

Having said all that, these thoughts seem to be merely a kind of epiphanic brainstorm, and thus I have nothing of substance to report.

So then I just have to post some song or something, instead, which likely is only related to the preceding if you're really good at apophenia.

What I'm listening to right now.

Cassadee Pope, "Wasting All These Tears."


I tried to find you at the bottom of a bottle
Laying down on the bathroom floor
My loneliness was a rattle in the windows
You said you don't want me anymore

And you left me
Standing on a corner crying,
Feeling like a fool for trying
I don't even remember
Why I'm wasting all these tears on you
I wish I could erase our memory
Cause you didn't give a damn about me
Oh, finally I'm through
Wasting all these tears on you
These tears on you

You ain't worth another sleepless night
And I'll do everything I gotta do to get you off my mind
Cause what you wanted I couldn't get
What you did, boy I'll never forget

And you left me
Standing on a corner crying
Feeling like a fool for trying
I don't even remember
Why I'm wasting all these tears on you
I wish I could erase our memory
Cause you didn't give a damn about me
Oh, finally I'm through
Wasting all these tears on you
These tears on you

And you left me
Standing on a corner crying
Feeling like a fool for trying
I don't even remember
Why I'm wasting all these tears on you
I wish I could erase our memory
Cause you didn't give a damn about me
Oh finally I'm through
Wasting all these tears on you
Oh these tears on you

I tried to find you at the bottom of a bottle
Laying down on the bathroom floor

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: oh, the nerves I’ve lost

These days, I can sometimes go for several days almost forgetting my massive cancer trauma. Yesterday was not such a day, however. I had two reminders of the changes that that experience wrought on my body.

At work, with my youngest cohort (1st – 3rd grade elementary), we were crafting robot heads with cardboard and colored paper, and thus I was wrangling cardboard with scissors. As some of you might know, I have some missing sensory nerves in my right hand – when they took out the pieces of my wrist and forearm to use for my tongue reconstruction, that included the loss of some nerves. I have full motor functionality – the motor nerves weren't touched – but I have numb spots running down my right arm to the tip of the outside of my thumb: zero sensation.

I managed to stab myself with the scissors on one of those numb areas on the back of my thumb, and simply didn't notice. One of the students noticed, when I dripped blood on her project. It was quite alarming, at least for the kids, for a moment, until I got some tissues and a band-aid.

It wasn't really a terrible gash, but it was a bit disconcerting. There was no sensation of pain at all – it's like the area is under permanent local anaesthetic. This is one of the fairly minor risks or side effects of the nerve loss, and I think, except for some small nicks while shaving (from the similar numb area on the left side of my face), it's the first time I've had that issue. Then I had it again.

Last night when I came home, I was eating and I managed to bite the inside of my mouth (also entirely numb in some parts on the left side), and drew blood, but only noticed when I tasted the salt. I suppose it's good that of all the tastes I've lost from my tongue, salt is the one I retained.

So it was a day when I deeply missed the nerves I've lost.

Which isn't to say I lost my nerve.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Cause for Optimism

I ran across this quote. I suppose it summarizes my own reasoning as to why I am optimistic about the whole concept of development – in the sense that peoples and nations have no predestination in matters of whether their society develops or not, and to what degree, because policy decisions actually matter. You can't be pessimistic about improving the lives of people in the world, when there is proof that it is more than just random chance, and that decisions taken in a society, by individuals, can lead to substantial differences in outcomes.

"I’m not convinced with these arguments about some nations being predetermined in their development and alien to the concept of democracy and the rule of law.

"The reason I’m quite comfortable with this denial . . . We can move from theory to practice. While we can talk about history and certain influence of historical events to modernity, we can look at the places like Korean Peninsula. The same nation, not even cousins but brothers and sisters, divided in 1950, so that’s, by historical standards, yesterday." – Garry Kasparov, in interview with economist Tyler Cowen.

I guess Kasparov is responding to the idea that Russia is somehow predestined to be authoritarian. Clearly he is rejecting that notion. And I agree. I live within the most stunning example of this line of reasoning. Indeed, it is probably one of the reasons I choose to live here – it imbues me with optimism about human character and destiny. 

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Quatrains #100-103

(Poem #291 on new numbering scheme)

One time, we drove to Winnipeg.
We argued about things.
The sun set over frozen fields;
a bird spun on its wings.
Michelle said she preferred Plato
She forcefully declared:
The essence that precedes language...
no category's spared.
I liked more Aristotle's views
a fluid take on stuff:
I felt thus that all meaning shifts,
Essences aren't enough.
We never did agree that day
our anger simmered slow
We stayed together three more years,
Before I had to go.

– four quatrains in ballad meter

Caveat: 靑出於藍

My friend Seungbae taught me this four-character aphorism over the weekend.

“the blue from the side is bluer”(?)

This seems to be a reference to some dying or pigmenting process involving the color blue, wherein the blue accumulated on the side (of a container?) is a deeper blue than the blue drawn from the main reservoir. The idiomatic meaning, however, refers to the student exceeding the teacher.
“The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner. Now, I am the master.” – Darth Vader, to Obi-Wan Kenobi.
[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: You are not Catullus

Be Angry At The Sun

That public men publish falsehoods
Is nothing new. That America must accept
Like the historical republics corruption and empire
Has been known for years.

Be angry at the sun for setting
If these things anger you. Watch the wheel slope and turn,
They are all bound on the wheel, these people, those warriors.
This republic, Europe, Asia.

Observe them gesticulating,
Observe them going down. The gang serves lies, the passionate
Man plays his part; the cold passion for truth
Hunts in no pack.

You are not Catullus, you know,
To lampoon these crude sketches of Caesar. You are far
From Dante's feet, but even farther from his dirty
Political hatreds.

Let boys want pleasure, and men
Struggle for power, and women perhaps for fame,
And the servile to serve a Leader and the dupes to be duped.
Yours is not theirs.

– Robinson Jeffers (American poet, 1887-1962)

This poem seems stunningly topical, given it was written 75 years ago.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Swinging Through Dreams

I have been sleeping badly, in recent days. 

On Sunday, I woke up too early but then took a mid-morning nap. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. When it works, I often have very strange dreams.

I was on an amusement park ride, a kind of swinging thing, where you swing in parabolic patterns, I guess. Moments of freefall at the ends of the swing arcs. And it was indoors, and I was on the ride alone – no one else was there. But there was no sense that I was trapped, exactly. It's just what I was doing. And somebody was reading some bit of philosophy-type text, over a low-quality loudspeaker. I was having a hard time understanding it, as I swung down… up, to the top of an arc, feeling the pit of my stomach drop… and down… whoosh, and up again. Like that.

Not much of a plot – but that was the dream. Quite vivid, anyway.

Work is really feeling demanding, lately. We have our annual hagwon talent show coming up, which involves extra prep. 

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Subway Odysseys, Subway Ajeossis

I took a very long subway journey, on Saturday.

I left work, at about one pm, and walked to Ilsan Station, which I rarely visit although it's close by, and took the Gyeongui Line (the old commuter line, upgraded to subway system) into Seoul. I have vivid memories of this same "Ilsan Station" when it was just a wooden shack selling tickets next to a pair of railroad tracks, in 1991. I think I waited there for one of the old style commuter trains (diesel locomotives with wooden passenger cars) several times, when on a day leave from my Army installation a few kilometers north at Camp Edwards.

I took this picture of the new station against the slate gray sky. The political banner in the lower right is a "Thank you note" from the winning candidate in the recent presidential election. Do US politicians put out thank you notes? I don't remember. It seems like a very Korean thing.


I had promised to meet my friend Seungbae, who currently lives in San Diego, California (for his work), but who is back in Seoul for one of his periodic visits home, when he gets to see his wife (who doesn't travel with him, because she has her own job).  His apartment in Seoul is on the eastern edge of the metropolis, beyond the last, easternmost station on the subway's Line 5 (Sangildong). I live in the far northwest of the metropolis, not far from the westernmost station on Line 3. The Gyeongui line (un-numbered) stretches even farther northwest, basically right to the DMZ and the North Korean border. 

Since I was going to meet Seungbae at 5 pm, I transferred to Line 5 but got off downtown, at Gwanghwamun, to stop at the bookstore, because I only needed about 2 hours for the subway journey, so I had an extra 2 hours. I took this picture of Admiral Yi's statue and Bukhansan, the mountains that lurk just north of downtown Seoul. The slate gray sky had turned darker, and just after I took this picture it began pouring rain with an almost monsoonal quality – it's too early for the monsoon, so this was a bit unseasonal.


After my time at the bookstore, I got back on line 5 and went the rest of the way to Sangildong, and met my friend. We took a walk in a rain-soaked park with a small hill in it, very similar in atmosphere to Jeongbalsan, near my home. His neighborhood there is under extensive redevelopment. We went into a mall food court for dinner, and I took a picture of the cluster of cranes visible beyond. Cranes and construction were everywhere, but since this is not greenfield development, the maze-like network of old city streets persist amid the construction. It's disorienting walking around his neighborhood. 


We saw his new apartment and his old one, which is slated to be torn down soon for the redevelopment. We talked some more, and then he drove some extra distance to drop me off on the easternmost station on Line 3 (Ogeum Station). We met his wife there (she was coming from some work meeting, I think), so I got to see her too. My trip home was thus a "straight shot" on Line 3 – its full length minus only the two last stations on the western end. So I passed through 42 of 44 stations, and since the total length of Line 3 is 57 kilometers, I must have traversed about 54 km. Sitting on the same train for 2 hours, I watched the many people getting on and off. There were many ajeossis (a term basically meaning middle-aged man), getting off work (since Saturday is most typically a work day for Koreans).

It was a subway odyssey with subway ajeossis. It was a very long day.

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Back to Top