23 December 2008

From Les Miserables, Ch. XIII

Monseigneur Bienvenu had formerly been, if the stories anent his youth, and even in regard to his manhood, were to be believed, a passionate, and, possibly, a violent man. His universal suavity was less an instinct of nature than the result of a grand conviction which had filtered into his heart through the medium of life, and had trickled there slowly, thought by thought; for, in a character, as in a rock, there may exist apertures made by drops of water. These hollows are uneffaceable; these formations are indestructible.

In 1815, as we think we have already said, he reached his seventy-fifth birthday, but he did not appear to be more than sixty. He was not tall; he was rather plump; and, in order to combat this tendency, he was fond of taking long strolls on foot; his step was firm, and his form was but slightly bent, a detail from which we do not pretend to draw any conclusion. Gregory XVI., at the age of eighty, held himself erect and smiling, which did not prevent him from being a bad bishop. Monseigneur Welcome had what the people term a "fine head," but so amiable was he that they forgot that it was fine.

When he conversed with that infantile gayety which was one of his charms, and of which we have already spoken, people felt at their ease with him, and joy seemed to radiate from his whole person. His fresh and ruddy complexion, his very white teeth, all of which he had preserved, and which were displayed by his smile, gave him that open and easy air which cause the remark to be made of a man, "He's a good fellow"; and of an old man, "He is a fine man." That, it will be recalled, was the effect which he produced upon Napoleon. On the first encounter, and to one who saw him for the first time, he was nothing, in fact, but a fine man. But if one remained near him for a few hours, and beheld him in the least degree pensive, the fine man became gradually transfigured, and took on some imposing quality, I know not what; his broad and serious brow, rendered august by his white locks, became august also by virtue of meditation; majesty radiated from his goodness, though his goodness ceased not to be radiant; one experienced something of the emotion which one would feel on beholding a smiling angel slowly unfold his wings, without ceasing to smile. Respect, an unutterable respect, penetrated you by degrees and mounted to your heart, and one felt that one had before him one of those strong, thoroughly tried, and indulgent souls where thought is so grand that it can no longer be anything but gentle.

As we have seen, prayer, the celebration of the offices of religion, alms-giving, the consolation of the afflicted, the cultivation of a bit of land, fraternity, frugality, hospitality, renunciation, confidence, study, work, filled every day of his life. Filled is exactly the word; certainly the Bishop's day was quite full to the brim, of good words and good deeds. Nevertheless, it was not complete if cold or rainy weather prevented his passing an hour or two in his garden before going to bed, and after the two women had retired. It seemed to be a sort of rite with him, to prepare himself for slumber by meditation in the presence of the grand spectacles of the nocturnal heavens. Sometimes, if the two old women were not asleep, they heard him pacing slowly along the walks at a very advanced hour of the night. He was there alone, communing with himself, peaceful, adoring, comparing the serenity of his heart with the serenity of the ether, moved amid the darkness by the visible splendor of the constellations and the invisible splendor of God, opening his heart to the thoughts which fall from the Unknown. At such moments, while he offered his heart at the hour when nocturnal flowers offer their perfume, illuminated like a lamp amid the starry night, as he poured himself out in ecstasy in the midst of the universal radiance of creation, he could not have told himself, probably, what was passing in his spirit; he felt something take its flight from him, and something descend into him. Mysterious exchange of the abysses of the soul with the abysses of the universe!

He thought of the grandeur and presence of God; of the future eternity, that strange mystery; of the eternity past, a mystery still more strange; of all the infinities, which pierced their way into all his senses, beneath his eyes; and, without seeking to comprehend the incomprehensible, he gazed upon it. He did not study God; he was dazzled by him. He considered those magnificent conjunctions of atoms, which communicate aspects to matter, reveal forces by verifying them, create individualities in unity, proportions in extent, the innumerable in the infinite, and, through light, produce beauty. These conjunctions are formed and dissolved incessantly; hence life and death.

He seated himself on a wooden bench, with his back against a decrepit vine; he gazed at the stars, past the puny and stunted silhouettes of his fruit-trees. This quarter of an acre, so poorly planted, so encumbered with mean buildings and sheds, was dear to him, and satisfied his wants.

What more was needed by this old man, who divided the leisure of his life, where there was so little leisure, between gardening in the daytime and contemplation at night? Was not this narrow enclosure, with the heavens for a ceiling, sufficient to enable him to adore God in his most divine works, in turn? Does not this comprehend all, in fact? and what is there left to desire beyond it? A little garden in which to walk, and immensity in which to dream. At one's feet that which can be cultivated and plucked; over head that which one can study and meditate upon: some flowers on earth, and all the stars in the sky.

09 December 2008

Joe the Farce

Joe the Plumber's book is out. The Times did not spare the venom:
Joe, a k a Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, was no good as a citizen, having failed to pay his full share of taxes, no good as a plumber, not being fully credentialed, and not even any good as a faux American icon. Who could forget poor John McCain at his most befuddled, calling out for his working-class surrogate on a day when Joe stiffed him.

With a résumé full of failure, he now thinks he can join the profession of Mark Twain, George Orwell and Joan Didion.
But in a recent Glenn Beck interview, Joe did have a bit of good news: he will not be inflicting himself on the nation in a political campaign. At least not yet:
GLENN: Very quick, last question. Are you going to run for office?

JOE THE PLUMBER: I'm going to do my national watchdog group. Hopefully I have more of an impact in that process than congress. Congress would be one voice amongst many and that's going into the snake's den, so to speak. That would be real hard, Glenn. I'm not real sure about that.
What a hero.

Sinusitis

I am pretty sick, but the doctors here gave me pretty good medicine, I believe. I tried to get the David Treatment, but they were out of virgins.
1 Now King David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat.

2 Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat.

3 So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag a Shunammite, and brought her to the king.

4 And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not.

28 November 2008

The only way I can explain it.

What I say.  What they hear.

"Oh, an orange.  No thanks, we just had lunch, I'm pretty full."
"Oh, I love oranges.  Yes, I would like it."

"No, really.  Thanks anyway, but I am not hungry."
"I insist you give me that orange.  I am very hungry."

"Well, okay, thank you.  I'll eat it later."
"I want to eat it right now in front of you.  Please beg me to do so."

"Uh, yeah, all right.  I'll eat some of it now, then."
"I was almost dead from hunger, but you have saved me.  I demand another orange."

"Oh, wow.  No, come on!"
"Thank you for caring for this lost American who desperately needs oranges."

24 November 2008

Anthropic

Dinesh D'Souza, partisan pundit, has written a recent column at townhall.com that got me sufficiently irritated as to demand a response. Called "When Science Points to God," it is a case study of fallacious theist reasoning.
Contemporary atheism marches behind the banner of science. It is perhaps no surprise that several leading atheists—from biologist Richard Dawkins to cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker to physicist Victor Stenger—are also leading scientists. The central argument of these scientific atheists is that modern science has refuted traditional religious conceptions of a divine creator.

But of late atheism seems to be losing its scientific confidence. One sign of this is the public advertisements that are appearing in billboards from London to Washington DC. Dawkins helped pay for a London campaign to put signs on city buses saying, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
Starting off with his narrative, D'Souza appears to be pushing the notion that the increasing visibility of atheism means that it is somehow losing traction. Following this, he attacks some recent atheism advertising campaigns by smugly noting that their slogans do not mention scientific evidence against the existence of God or anything similar. The notion that a slogan should be catchy rather than a solid rational argument appears to escape D'Souza. It's odd for a Republican to miss the point of bumper stickers - five-word phrases on bumper stickers are the basis for so many of their policies, after all. Haha, snark!

As an aside, one can be a perfectly reasonable scientist and still be a theist; the two are not mutually exclusive, for all Richard Dawkins' priggish insistence otherwise. And this is not to subscribe to Gould's non-overlapping magisteria theory, but rather a simple admission that religion is based in faith, a non-rational foundation and accordingly not one that can be addressed with reason.
If you want to know why atheists seem to have given up the scientific card, the current issue of Discover magazine provides part of the answer. The magazine has an interesting story by Tim Folger which is titled “Science’s Alternative to an Intelligent Creator.” The article begins by noting “an extraordinary fact about the universe: its basic properties are uncannily suited for life.” As physicist Andrei Linde puts it, “We have a lot of really, really strange coincidences, and all of these coincidences are such that they make life possible.”
My goodness! That old chestnut, the anthropic principle... from Discover?

Checking out the article he referenced reveals that D'Souza wasn't fibbing. Alas for Discover, it does not go much into the philosophy of the matter. I suppose it's not really their purview (nor should this particular bit of sensationalism be, ideally).

It's true that if any one of a billion little universal laws were changed, the universe would be incredibly hostile to life as we know it. This notion of "fine-tuning" is very old, and some people still argue that it implies that the universe must therefore have been made for us. This is not so much a real argument as it is a devastating lack of imagination.

Consider the icicle on a hanging roof. If the density of water were slightly different, or the temperature not exact, or many other things were any different, the icicle would not exist. It would be melted and gone. But was the universe created for that icicle? Of course not. For the icicle to feel that the universe had been crafted just to meet its needs would be absurd: the icicle came to be, but it could just as easily not have come to be. And if it had not, then it could not wonder about the matter in the first place.

In the same way, it's a farce to claim that our fit into our niche is so perfect that it means the niche must have been made for us, when the much simpler and more obvious solution is that we fit the niche, not the other way around! If anything had been different, then we couldn't be asking the question at all. Instead, some other form of life would be asking it - or no life at all. Just because a coin lands on heads doesn't mean that it only has one side.
No wonder atheists are sporting billboards asking us to “imagine…no religion.” When science, far from disproving God, seems to be pointing with ever-greater precision toward transcendence, imagination and wishful thinking seem all that is left for the atheists to count on.
Yeah... it's atheists with the "wishful thinking" in this article. Sure.

23 November 2008

"And death shall have no dominion", Dylan Thomas

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

Blitzed

It has been a weekend filled with serendipity.

Friday was the 2008 English Teacher's Meeting, a conference for all of the native speaker teachers in Jeolla-nam (my province here). It was held in the capital, Gwangju, which is about a two-hour distance from Yeosu. It fulfills the "orientation" bit of my contract, amusingly enough: after almost fully half of my teaching is finished (the term ends soon), I am finally getting oriented in what I am supposed to be doing.

Originally, there was supposed to be a bus of some kind to take the Yeosu elementary teachers to the conference that morning, but as it turns out the person in charge forgot to requisition the bus or some other such nonsense. So I had to haul myself up at six that morning and schlep my butt to the express bus station, to catch one of the ones to Gwangju. They're very cheap (10,000 won or about $6.00), but it was an enormous hassle. My feet already hurt, since I experimented with walking to my Thursday school this past week (the first and only time I will attempt such.)

The conference itself was not too bad; it lasted until shortly after noon, with three lectures and a distributed little bag of Korean "pizza-toast." I actually received some pretty useful information that reminded me that I had absolutely no formal training; these education majors blew me away in their use of applied theory. It made me reflect that teaching here wasn't the same for me as it is for a lot of people: it's something I'm doing, not what I do. Next year at this time, I'll have moved on.

After the conference, I was just going to catch the bus back home. There's not really a whole lot I wanted to see in the city, and I just wasn't feeling it at the moment. But instead, I met up with a fellow teacher named Mark with whom I was acquainted, and he offered me a lift home in his car later that day. I was pleased to accept, kicking in a bit for gas. Mark is a big guy with three years residence in Yeosu and an amiable temperament.

Mark had two other people also carpooling, one of whom I had recently met, Robyn, and another who was new to me, Fazil. All three of them are extremely pleasant and happen to be gamers/roleplayers, and so as we wandered around town going to markets, we had a very good time. In the evening, we had sushi for dinner, and then went on home. I was pretty tired, so I puttered around playing a new game, Dead Space.

To digress for a moment, Dead Space is one of the best games I've played in years. It's your basic horror survival game, set on an abandoned industrial spaceship. One of the most immediate things that jumps out is the combat system: almost all enemies must be dismembered in order to kill them, a feat achieved with saws, laser cutters, and the like. It necessitates a lot of blood, of course.

What really makes the game stand out, though, is the immersion of it all. The graphics, sounds, and the interface make it very easy to get sucked into the tension of it all without becoming tedious. Unlike Silent Hill, which was also frightening but tended to grind on interminably in my experience, Dead Space keeps a much better progression of rising tension and conflict.  This is aided by the sci-fi setting, which allows the game to justify shortcut mechanisms to eliminate tedium.

On Saturday, I was supposed to take Lizzie to go see one of the big Yeosu attractions, Odongdo.  She's only been in town a month, and had never seen this staple of the city: an island park, Odongdo has a lighthouse and a "dancing water show" of a music-and-light-accompanied fountain display.  The idea of the trip was relatively simple: I meet her at her place, and then we take the bus to Odongdo.  Ah, the hubris of planning.

Lizzie and I actually ended up at the end of the wrong bus line at a famous local temple called Heunguksa instead.  Fortunately, the place turned out to be damned beautiful, with immense golden Buddhas and elaborate carvings preserved from the ages for our view.  And even more fortunately, when we left a few hours later, the same wrong bus took us straight to Odongdo.  And yet more fortunately, we were just in time for one of the water shows.  Blasts of water, lit in a dozen shifting colors, lifted and fell to strains of Tchaikovsky.  After dinner, we went back to her place and watched Labyrinth.  Bowie becomes more awesome with every viewing.

So, pleasantly wearied, I settle down tonight to work on some lesson plans for the upcoming week, and consider the beneficience of some surprises in life.

Oh, and Lizzie found four buttons while I was with her on Saturday.  Damndest thing.

20 November 2008

Beach volleyball

I could really see myself becoming a dedicated fan.



19 November 2008

Danticat's "Ghosts"

Edwidge Danticat has written a short story for the New Yorker that is rather like one of her books in miniature: her focus - the regime changes and subsequent chaos in Haiti - is related through the usual peripheral figures. Like much of her short work, it uses this technique to examine a single concept: in this case, uncertainty. Notice how the pigeons within the story come to represent security in one's place as their presented form varies. Check it out, and if you like it then grab The Farming of Bones (or the more accessible Krik? Krak! if you don't want to work too hard.)

Pascal’s parents had moved to Bel Air at a time when the neighborhood was inhabited mostly by peasants, living there temporarily so that their children could finish primary school. But as the trees in the provinces vanished into charcoal and the mountains gave way, washing the country’s topsoil into the sea, they, like the others, stayed and raised their two sons and at least a thousand pigeons, which, over the years, they sold both alive and dead.
If you're interested in Danticat herself, she wrote a short bio sketch for the same publication.

Adam Smith needs him a bayonet

Somewhere in the Congo, there's a libertarian wondering why the free market hasn't sorted everything out by now.

Buttons

I had drinks with a girl last night. I'm not sure if it was a date or not - to be honest, my whole instincts with that sort of thing kind of went to rust some time ago. But I figured it was time I dust myself off from rejection and quit torturing myself imagining things on another continent, and move on at least a little.  It sure as hell helps that Lizzie is pretty damn amazing.  There was one particularly notable thing:

Lizzie's an atheist and empiricist, she says. But she also says she keeps finding buttons, and it's making her question the world.

She doesn't know why it happens, but all the time she finds lost buttons. She used to live in Prague, and over the course of a year and a half she found hundreds of buttons. Lizzie's been here a month, and she's already found twenty-one. No explanation.

I'll be damned if I can explain it, either. Assuredly confirmation bias doesn't cover it because of sheer volume. All I can figure is that she tends to consistently look for them throughout the day because of her past history, and maybe she has unusually sharp eyes. It bears more consideration, but... very weird, and not something I can explain yet.

18 November 2008

SecState

So Clinton will be Secretary of State. Considering how she was so fiery and hawkish during the debates and campaign, this may continue his good-cop-bad-cop strategy that he has used so effectively. Of course, she still agrees with him on most of the issues - which was actually why she had to be so hawkish, to set herself apart from him. People make a lot of fuss about Bill Clinton, especially the right, but I think that he will only have a slightly higher soapbox than other peripheral figures in the administration. If anything, he will be an asset; another gun to deploy when clout is needed, but one that will be sure of his place.

Overall, I am somewhat dubious but tending towards liking this move. And it certainly will put Hillary solidly in the administration's corner - she will have every reason to use all the Clinton resources to make sure the Obama terms succeed.

16 November 2008

Everything must GO!

That's right, folks, everything must go, go, GO! We've got pristine national landmarks - yes that one right there on Utah's stamps - and they are going to FLY off the shelves! We've got untouched land next to national parks, acres and acres of them, clean and ready for the thrust of your drilling platform! We've got redrock acres, large plateaus, forested areas... and they all MUST GO! We're changing locations here at Crazy Uncle Dubya's House of National Resources and everything has to be sold!

15 November 2008

Joe the Capitalist

First I was just a guy who called myself Joe, and who worked as a plumber without a license. But now... holy shit! My little conversation with Obama made national news... and now McCain has mentioned me three times in that debate! People are calling me up for interviews and banging on my door, and Palin is talking about me in her stump speeches! This is awesome!

Quick, I better write a book. No one will think my co-author actually wrote the whole thing, even though it's going to already hit the presses by the first of December. Totally realistic. Plus, what if people forget about me?

And quick, let me launch a subscription website. People will pay to read "Joe the Blog" and access "Joe the Forum," certainly!

Get a scrap of celebrity and fight to milk it for every ounce it's worth: truly the American dream.

Softer

I'm pretty much addicted to A Softer World now. Check it out.

13 November 2008

Lemon Tree

Everyone at Ssangbong is obsessed with this video. Not just the song, but specifically this video. They watch it all the time between classes, so it's always playing at the beginning and end of class. It's stuck in my head and I hear it all the time and I'm starting to really like it and why won't it stop stop stopstopstopstopstpstpstppss~!/sdhgahrdig..............................................................................

12 November 2008

And the hits keeping coming...

Obama has just laid out the ethics rules for his transition team, a pretty important step.  He's made the whole transition a pretty big deal, trying to avoid the nasty missteps of Clinton (who notoriously waited until a few days before inauguration to fill some important posts). Obama's ethics rules are the most strict there have ever been - and that's nothing like hyperbole.
Obama Ethics Rules
* Federal lobbyists cannot contribute financially to the transition.
* Federal lobbyists are prohibited from any lobbying during their work with the transition.
* If someone has lobbied in the last 12 months, they are prohibited from working in the fields of policy on which they lobbied.
* If someone becomes a lobbyist after working on the Transition, they are prohibited from lobbying the Administration for 12 months on matters on which they worked.
* A gift ban that is aggressive in reducing the influence of special interests.
I'm still cynical, but I'll be damned if he isn't hitting the ground running.

11 November 2008

Oblie

Keith Olbermann's usually full of crap (he recently said his job as a journalist was to "help the administration") but he really hits one out of the park with this comment on California's Prop. 8, the ballot measure that made gay marriage illegal again in California.  He says, in part:
[U]ncountable in our history are the number of men and women, forced by society into marrying the opposite sex, in sham marriages, or marriages of convenience, or just marriages of not knowing -- centuries of men and women who have lived their lives in shame and unhappiness, and who have, through a lie to themselves or others, broken countless other lives, of spouses and children... All because we said a man couldn't marry another man, or a woman couldn't marry another woman. The sanctity of marriage. How many marriages like that have there been and how on earth do they increase the "sanctity" of marriage rather than render the term, meaningless?

What is this, to you? Nobody is asking you to embrace their expression of love. But don't you, as human beings, have to embrace... that love? The world is barren enough.
I'm sure few readers of this page will be surprised or disagree with such sentiments, so I won't preach to the choir.  The solution remains, as I have always maintained: eliminate marriage from government altogether.  It's a religious ceremony and doesn't belong being granted by the government at all.  Instead, everyone should just receive civil unions, and let whatever church pleases perform its own ceremonies of marriage.

Faith

I'm not much for "faith" when used as a substitute for reason.  When I use the word, I mean it more in the sense of "trust."  But it's a poetic word.  And sometimes, apt, as in the case of Obama.

I was expecting major disappointments from Obama, simply because he promised so much.  Virtually every President who has promised the things that Obama has promised has failed to deliver on much of them.  There have been few exceptions, and we can't expect a Lincoln every term.

So it was with pleasant surprise and a surge of emotion that I read that Obama was planning to close Gitmo as soon as possible and bring the detainees out from the extra-legal and insane position to which they had been condemned.  And it was with pragmatic wonder (if such a thing can be) that I read about how he has called for Lieberman not to be cast out of the Democrats, even though Lieberman just spent the entire campaign casting aspersions on the now-President-elect and working hard to get his rival in office.  Lieberman's garbage, but he's just been doing his job the best he can and in the way he thinks it should be done, and ultimately I am hard-pressed to give in to the vengeful feelings so many Democrats have been encouraging in their leaders.  To be honest, I don't really care very much about punishing him if keeping him around will help get more done.

I may have to get ready to have my expectations met by Obama.

10 November 2008

09 November 2008

Dear Mr. Bok:

You recently published a cartoon wherein a young black man announces to his parents that he has decided that aspiring to the NBA is unrealistic. His parents appear happy, but then their faces fall when he informs them that he is instead aspiring to be President. Presumably they are unhappy he is still being unrealistic.

My question to you is fairly simple: do you really think it would be a bad thing for the young people of America to aspire to be Presidents of the United States? Obviously they won't all succeed, but in what sense are scholastic excellence, military service, community leadership, and the other traits for which we search in our Presidents ever going to be a bad thing for our youth?

I suspect you haven't really thought this through.

Sincerely,
Alexander of Tampa, Florida

I'm only putting one of these up, and this is it.


08 November 2008

Summary of "Who's Nailin' Paylin?" from Hustler Video

Subtitled: "Adventures of a Hockey MILF."  I am not kidding in any part of what follows.

As the movie, set in Alaska begins, we see the protagonist, Governor Serra Paylin, standing proudly in a pantsuit that is more risque than most.  One foot is planted on the head of a dead polar bear.

The doorbell rings.  She answers it, discovering two Russian soldiers in Soviet-era uniforms.  They are cold, complaining that their ride broke down.  The governor peers outside to see an ancient tank cracked up and broken, having run aground on what appears to be a very leaky natural gas pipeline.

Paylin is only too happy to allow them to use her phone to call the Kremlin, in what she calls the "spirit of foreign relations."  She even offers them a drink, which they politely decline, explaining that they are "already very drunk."  In return, they offer her a pick-up line.  It's the standard "rearrange the alphabet" line, which I have to confess shows a poorly-edited script, since Russian uses Cyrillic.

A few more jokes follow, until the Russians hit on the perfect line.
"Knock-knock."
"Who's there?"
"Sherwood."
"Sherwood who?"
"Sherwood like you to come over here and suck our c----."
"You betcha!"
Sex follows, to my complete lack of surprise.

Afterwards, they fade out, then back in to reveal a newspaper headline:  "PAYLIN ENDORSES RUSSIAN PENETRATION."  I am sure there is some sort of joke there.  I just can't figure it out.

From there, the movie moves straight to an oddly familiar-looking news set called "The Orally Factor," where the host decries the liberal media for being "hypocritical" and wanting to have it both ways.
"First they criticize Governor Paylin for not having enough foreign policy experience.  And then they slam her because she's trying to show those godless vodka-swilling neighbors a little down-home hospitality.  They make it sound like full lips, great t---, piercing brown eyes, and an ass that won't quit are a bad thing.  Well, excuse me, but if they're a bad thing, then cut off my d--- and express-mail it to the nearest gay parade."
Hard-hitting political commentary, indeed.

Paylin isn't taking these attacks lying down, though. In the next scene, she is sitting with an aide, "learning new words to express [her]self."
"Repeat after me: absolutely."
"You betcha!"
"No, listen carefully: ab-so-lute-ly."
"You betcha!"
Bless her soul, though, Paylin doesn't stop trying. She listens patiently to the aide tell her about a guy named "Lincoln," and has the keen insight to point out that "Alaska doesn't have slavery." Eventually, though, she tires and heads home to her husband, who she is sure is waiting for her.

Immediately after Paylin leaves, her husband emerges from behind a screen in the room. He has sex with the aide after they spend some time discussing how stupid his wife is, and after the aide promises that no matter what happens in the future administration, she'll stay "extremely flexible, even if she has to resort to backdoor politics." Bob Paylin promises to "make a large contribution to her fund." They have sex.

Back in her hotel room, Paylin is lying in bed. She's naked in bed except for a tiara and a sash reading "Ms. Alaska," fantasizing about the past. We see a long dream sequence in which she is buying a snow-mobile from her future husband (who looks like a completely different person at this time, oddly enough). The salesman is reluctant until she strips and tells him to "Drill, baby, drill!"

"Come on, you tree-hugging hippie," she says. "What are you waiting for? Congressional approval?"

Her dreams continue, back to when she was in college at the "University of I-da-ho." She's in a lecture hall with a history professor. The board displays a surprisingly accurate summation of the Jurassic period, which is in sharp contrast with the professor's dialog with the young Paylin. When he asks how old the Earth is, the other students foolishly guess "Four millions years." Only Paylin is intelligent enough to proclaim proudly, "Ten thousand years." She even answers in the form of a question.

Paylin is right in tune with the professor, in fact. When he moves on to discussing dinosaurs, she is the only one clever enough to reply correctly that "they never existed, and the fossils were placed here on Earth by Satan to trick mankind." Absolutely correct, and the end of the lesson.

Serra gets her reward, in which she is taught a "ritual to protect against witchcraft." I'll give you a hint: it involves "speaking in tongues" to Paylin's poonani.

Back in the modern day, though, she is giving a rousing speech.  She promises to create jobs to boost the economy, by boosting the economy (which, as she explains, will create jobs).  She gives the speech very well, considering how under the podium a blonde woman named Hillary is ministrating to her.

"I'm so tired of bi-partisanship," says Hillary.  "Why can't we just be bi?"

They go backstage.  But as they begin to get knocking on the couch behind the curtain, a curvaceous black woman bursts in on them.

"Condi!" stammers Paylin.  "I didn't even see you there."

"Shit, there goes 2012," groans Hillary.

But all is not lost.  Condi wants to make a trade.

"As soon as Bush is out of office, there's going to be a video of someone who looks a lot like me doing some things to some guys who look a lot like Cheney, Rove, Wolfowitz, and Chuck Norris.  So I would appreciate if you would tell the press to look the other way."

They seal the deal with some fun, and agree at the end to leave by separate doors.  Hillary insists on leaving first.

The end.  God bless America.

07 November 2008

Stepping Up

So what lesson can really be taken from the Obama campaign?  Really, it can be summed up in five words:

You have to step up.

At every junction there were troubles.  Obama was lucky to even be in the race: black, relatively inexperienced, with a Muslim father and name, a product of Chicago politics... all of these things were serious impediments, and some of them justly so.  And yet he's now going to be the President of the United States, after a series of events and a campaign so far-fetched that it would have been laughed out of a scriptwriter's office.

It's equal parts inspirational and terrifying.  He rose from obscurity in the blink of an eye on the basis of equal parts sheer political talent and incredible luck.  Obama seized his Senate seat through a remarkable confluence of events.  First there was the (justified) disqualification of all other Democrats in the primary.  Then his Republican opponent had to drop out because of incredibly dirty secrets coming out of his divorce papers.  And then his new opponent was Alan Keyes, the straw-man of the Republicans practically built to be hated.  These events were all lucky, but it was Obama's immense skill and leadership ability that allowed him to capitalize on them with astonishing dividends.

From there, Obama climbed the direct ladder to power, impressing just a few of the right people with his consistent political ability and public speaking skills.  That got him on stage at the DNC in 2004.  And after that, everyone was offering a helping hand to get him on the campaign trail.

Still, everything was arrayed against him.  So much of what made Obama an amazing candidate also made him seem an impossible one.  A seemingly genuine man, he disliked the press, treating them coldly and keeping them at bay.  He didn't think or speak in sound bytes, making his views complex but almost impossible to disseminate in the infamous and necessary ten-word-statement.  He was rather left of center, and elections are always won straight down the middle (because that's where the people are).  And he had many "flaws" when it came to identity politics (black, identified as a Muslim, etc.)  In short, he had all the makings of an amazing leader but an abysmal campaigner.

So how did he do it?  He knew that he had to step up.

When the Rezko scandal broke earlier in his career, Obama took some nasty hits in the Chicago press.  He had been associated and had a deal with a criminal money-man, and while it was all on the up-and-up, it was the kind of stink that never left some men.  What did Obama do?  He called a meeting with the Chicago press, sat down with them, and told them he would answer every question they could think of about Rezko and the deal.

And he did.  As the Tribune recounts, he sat there and hit every pitch that came sailing in.  He walked out of the room with the issue defeated: he'd taken every hard question and answered them consistently.  A lot of it comes back to his skill and luck: he'd been savvy enough not to actually do anything dirty, and lucky enough that there wasn't much linking him to Rezko.  But the gap between what was provided by fortune and what he needed to move beyond: that was grade-A, high-test grit.

Another example might be the Reverend Wright scandal.  It was the worse kind of calamity: Obama was a black candidate, and here he was linked to everything the middle-class white people feared about such a candidate.  He risked becoming the other, something he could not afford to be.

Obama stepped up.  Rather than trying to spin it or change the subject, he spent three days writing a speech, and then he went to Philadelphia and spoke entirely about race.  That speech, A More Perfect Union, was one of his best.  It knocked the ball out of the park, by completely changing the dialogue away from what people feared about "blackness" into what people loved about America.

We're going to see how Obama does.  I think he'll be a pretty good President.  But we can certainly take away the lesson of his campaign: luck and ability aren't enough.  You have to be ready to step up.

05 November 2008

Yes, we can.

President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama in Chicago:
The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who wont agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government cant solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way its been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek - it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, its that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers - in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House - a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, We are not enemies, but friends...though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world - our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down - we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security - we support you. And to all those who have wondered if Americas beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

04 November 2008

Welp

I sent in my absentee ballot a couple of weeks ago, a process way more annoying than I would have thought.  I voted for that Hussein Obama guy, even though he's a Muslim who pals around with terrorists.  It doesn't really matter to me that he's not an American citizen and that he supports killing babies, because the most important thing to me is that he implements his socialism and gives in to all of Iran's demands.  I'm informed enough to know my priorities.

01 November 2008

Prop 8 in CA

If Proposition 8 doesn't pass in California, then schools will have to teach their students that gay marriage may result in children, defying all we know of anatomy! Our good and hard-working teachers will be forced by the city liberals to try to make kids understand homosexuality! If Proposition 8 doesn't pass, then the gays will abuse their children and tell them that marriage as an institution is meaningless!

They're just trying to intimidate people who are devout and religious!

Even the children are spontaneously singing songs to support Proposition 8! (This is the best one.)

Of course, supporters of Proposition 8 aren't saying that gays can't love each other, nor are they saying that gay unions are any less meaningful than straight unions. They just want a special privileged and government-sanctioned label for straight unions that singles them out for employer benefits and for tax purposes. What is so hard to understand about that, people?!

DRUDGE

The Drudge Report is one of the most-updated and wide-reaching news pages, but I am going to have to stop reading it. Matt Drudge's bias has been long-obvious; he posts any conceivable new "evidence against global warming" story that pops up on BreitBart, he ignores huge swaths of news that he dislikes (like almost anything about Gitmo), and various other libertarian-conservative trends. But of late he has gotten so bad that it's just become unconscionable; he can't be trusted anymore if he is going to try to personally change the news to make it what he wants.


I wish I'd gotten a capture of it, but yesterday one of the infamous Drudge "Flashes" came up as the headline, asserting from an unnamed source that the Obama campaign ejected three news organizations from his plane for the last week in retaliation for them endorsing McCain. Half a day later, this story is gone. All trace of it has vanished. There is no admission by the site that the story was actually false, as we must now assume.

It's a shame; the site is a great resource. But I will set up Google News instead to suit my needs. I damn sure don't need Matt Drudge trying to decide what news he wants me to see. Here's Nate Silver on why the current headline (screencapped above) is such absurd cherry-picking.

29 October 2008

Sonnets from the Aragonese

Thomas Friedman, how do I hate thee?  Let me count the ways.
I hate thee to the depth and breadth and height,
Your column does reach, when read in sight
For the end of what your brand-sponsor says.
I hate thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet irritation, by book and light.

And so on.  I'm not sure he's ever offered more than an ounce of insight, the lousy crumbum.  Harrumph.

27 October 2008

My Address, again (slightly refined for ease of postage)

Alexander Davis
Ssangbong Elementary School
Hakdong-gil 238
Yeosu City, Jeollanam-do 555-809
Republic of Korea

22 October 2008

Media

I happened to see this show called "여사부일체" on television recently. It's about three "schoolgirls" (in the Melrose Place near-thirty sense) who solve mysteries.  Or maybe they just fight crime.  Well, to be honest I cannot understand a goddamn word, but it is the funniest thing there has ever been. I wish I could find it subbed online somewhere, but alas. I guess I have to wait for it to be over.

I also picked up a few albums by some new artists recommended to me:
  • Rodriguez - Amazing and good.
  • Joss Stone - Useless pop.
  • Guns and Roses - Classic for good reason.
  • Frank Sinatra - Not as good as I imagined.
  • Dominic Frasca - Plays a six-stringed guitar with a custom-made drum insert-thing, and produces an absolutely unique but brilliant sound. Liked this one so much I bought it.
  • Jacqueline Stem - A very light sound, good to have in the background.
My reading has slowed down, since I have been knee-deep in a History of the Korean People, a very laborious and thick textbook that covers 3000 B.C. all the way to 1991 A.D.  It is not a light read, but it's truly fascinating.

I'm trying to keep distracted and busy.

20 October 2008

A Narrow Place

Written by an anonymous thirteenth-century poet in the Korean traditional style of shijo. Translation by Andrew Nahm.
I go to the Turkish shop, buy a bun.
An old Turk grasps me by the hand.
If this story is spread abroad,
You alone are to blame, little doll on the shelf.
I will go, yes, to his bower;
A narrow place, sultry and dark.

I go to the Samjang Temple, light the lantern.
A chief priest grasps me by the hand.
If this story is spread abaord,
You alone are to blame, little altar boy;
I will go, yes, to his bower;
A narrow place, sultry and dark.

I go to the tavern, buy the wine.
An innkeeper grasps me by the hand.
If this story is spread abroad,
You alone are to blame, O wine jug.
I will go, yes, to his bower;
A narrow place, sultry and dark.

16 October 2008

Not Over Yet

Okay, so Obama won the independent sector of all three debates, and Biden won the independent sector of his debate.  It's not over yet!

Okay, so Obama is in double-digit leads in the popular vote in a dozen different polls.  It's not over yet!

Okay, so a bipartisan committee's investigator found that Palin acted unethically, somewhat undermining her image as an reformer.  It's not over yet!

Okay, so RCP and 538 have Obama with a projected landslide in electoral votes.  It's not over yet!

Okay, so McCain is running 100% negative ads.  It's not over yet!

Okay, so McCain has only a couple of weeks left in which to dramatically change the entire political landscape to a degree that has never been accomplished, not even when Reagan swept into power.  It's not over yet!

Even as dedicated a politics junkie as I am can be grateful that very soon, it will be over.

14 October 2008

Mascot

The unofficial mascot for my lessons has become the fishcake.

Orginally, I was teaching food names to the third grade.  We had learned chicken and pizza and hamburger and so on, as well as fish and cake.  Generally speaking, I like to keep things interesting, so halfway through the lesson I took the cherry from on top of the cake and drew it on the previous fish I already had up there.  So now this fish-with-a-cherry is known as a fishcake.  It proved wildly popular, with the kids bursting into hysterics at the very idea.

The next class, someone shouted out fishcake while I was drawing the items on the board, so I put it up there too.  Now in almost every class, someone urges me to draw the fishcake.  The teachers have come to me asking what it means, and I was unable to explain it to them.  So I just told them it was a fish in a cake.  They are puzzled about American cuisine at the moment.

Columbus Was Stupid

That is all.

12 October 2008

Brave New India

If you are even a little interested in India and her politics, there's a great piece on ZNet by Arundhati Roy. She's written a lot about other cultural influences on her country, and her discussion of the current situation is saddening but spot-on (at least as far as I can see.)
There was recently a man called Bant Singh, who is a Sikh Dalit. Even in India people would jump at the idea of there being such a thing as a Sikh Dalit. But, actually, 30 percent of Sikhs are Dalits and about 90 percent of them are landless. Because they are landless, obviously they work as labor on other people's farms. Their women are very vulnerable. Upper castes all over India think that they have the right to pick up a Dalit woman and have sex with her or rape her. Bant Singh's young daughter was raped by the upper-caste people in his village. Bant Singh was a member of the CPI (ML), which is the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), known as Naxalites, and he filed a case in court. They warned him. They said, "If you don't drop the case, we will kill you." He didn't drop the case, so they caught him and they cut off his arms and his legs.

He was in the hospital in Delhi. I went to see him there. It was a lesson to me about how being a political person saved him. He said, "Do you think I don't have arms and legs? I do. Because all my comrades are my arms and legs." He's a singer, so he sang a song about a young girl's father getting her dowry ready for her just before her marriage, her trousseau. And she says to him, "I don't want this sari and these jewels. What will I do with them? Just give me a gun." Unfortunately, more and more, because of, I think, what happened with the Narmada movement and the fact that that nonviolent movement, where people fought for fifteen years and were just flicked aside like chaff, that has resulted in a lot of people saying, "I don't want the bangles, I don't want Gandhi. Just give me a gun."
Check it out.

11 October 2008

From Les Mis

All held their peace, and Enjolras bowed his head. Silence always produces somewhat the effect of acquiescence, of the enemy being driven to the wall. Marius continued with increased enthusiasm, and almost without pausing for breath:—

"Let us be just, my friends! What a splendid destiny for a nation to be the Empire of such an Emperor, when that nation is France and when it adds its own genius to the genius of that man! To appear and to reign, to march and to triumph, to have for halting-places all capitals, to take his grenadiers and to make kings of them, to decree the falls of dynasties, and to transfigure Europe at the pace of a charge; to make you feel that when you threaten you lay your hand on the hilt of the sword of God; to follow in a single man, Hannibal, Caesar, Charlemagne; to be the people of some one who mingles with your dawns the startling announcement of a battle won, to have the cannon of the Invalides to rouse you in the morning, to hurl into abysses of light prodigious words which flame forever, Marengo, Arcola, Austerlitz, Jena, Wagram! To cause constellations of victories to flash forth at each instant from the zenith of the centuries, to make the French Empire a pendant to the Roman Empire, to be the great nation and to give birth to the grand army, to make its legions fly forth over all the earth, as a mountain sends out its eagles on all sides to conquer, to dominate, to strike with lightning, to be in Europe a sort of nation gilded through glory, to sound athwart the centuries a trumpet-blast of Titans, to conquer the world twice, by conquest and by dazzling, that is sublime; and what greater thing is there?"

"To be free," said Combeferre.

Palin found to have abused power

Ouch. My speculation some weeks ago that McCain must know the future outcome of the investigation into Palin proved to be way too optimistic. Today the report came out from the Alaska legislature, and it has concluded that Palin "unlawfully abused her authority."

The McCain campaign has made several statements and is flying a team back up to Alaska to challenge the report and spin it locally. The Obama campaign has sent out a single email with no text in it, and only the subject line, "Palin 'unlawfully abused her authority.'"

If McCain's choice of VP and their handling of it doesn't call his judgment into question, what does?

09 October 2008

State of Mind

I am fairly sure that my co-teacher at 상암 is chronically unhappy. And it is damn sad to see.

She picks me up before work and drops me off after work in her car, a service for which the school pays her a small amount. She gets here in the morning an hour or half hour early as a matter of course, and I always find her sitting in the car.  The car is turned off, her hands are in her lap, and she is staring ahead in the silence, gazing at nothing with a blank expression.

During the ride and sometime during the day, she often asks what I plan on doing that evening. Regardless of what I answer (lately, variations on "moping"), when I ask her the same thing she smiles painfully and replies that she will clean, cook and finally sleep. She gives the all-too-familiar Korean cover-up laugh, the small chuckle and frozen grin supplied during discomfort, and then changes the subject. When she speaks of her family, she says wistfully that her marriage was an arranged one. But any criticism of her husband is immediately and conscientiously followed by a shallow compliment.

She never wants to go home.

It is very sad, and I wish I could do something for her.

Republicans

In case you're unaware, comedian Al Franken is running for the Senate in Minnesota. And thank God he is... he's never been funny. I agree with him on almost every political issue and hate Ann Coulter too, but he's just never been a lick of funny.

He's running against Norm Coleman, and this video provides a great example of why Franken is currently pulling ahead. This is Coleman's spokesperson "responding" to questions about allegations that Coleman accepted an improper gift of expensive suits.

08 October 2008

Still the Man in Black

Johnny Cash does "Hurt."

Adapted from Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling

"And God tempted Abraham and said unto him, Take Isaac, Mine only son, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon the mountain which I will show thee."

It was early in the morning, Abraham arose betimes, he had the asses saddled, left his tent, and Isaac with him, but Sarah looked out of the window after them until they had passed down the valley and she could see them no more. They rode in silence for three days. On the morning of the fourth day Abraham said never a word, but he lifted up his eyes and saw Mount Moriah afar off. He left the young men behind and went on alone with Isaac beside him up to the mountain. But Abraham said to himself, "I will not conceal from Isaac whither this course leads him."

He stood still, he laid his hand upon the head of Isaac in benediction, and Isaac bowed to receive the blessing. And Abraham’s face was fatherliness, his look was mild, his speech encouraging. But Isaac was unable to understand him, his soul could not be exalted; he embraced Abraham’s knees, he fell at his feet imploringly, he begged for his young life, for the fair hope of his future, he called to mind the joy in Abraham’s house, he called to mind the sorrow and loneliness. Then Abraham lifted up the boy, he walked with him by his side, and his talk was full of comfort and exhortation. But Isaac could not understand him. He climbed Mount Moriah, but Isaac understood him not. Then for an instant he turned away from him, and when Isaac again saw Abraham’s face it was changed, his glance was wild, his form was horror. He seized Isaac by the throat, threw him to the ground, and said, "Stupid boy, dost thou then suppose that I am thy father? I am an idolater. Dost thou suppose that this is God’s bidding? No, it is my desire." Then Isaac trembled and cried out in his terror, "O God in heaven, have compassion upon me. God of Abraham, have compassion upon me. If I have no father upon earth, be Thou my father!" But Abraham in a low voice said to himself, "O Lord in heaven, I thank Thee. After all it is better for him to believe that I am a monster, rather than that he should lose faith in Thee."

No, rather...

It was early in the morning, Abraham arose betimes, he embraced Sarah, the bride of his old age, and Sarah kissed Isaac, who had taken away her reproach, who was her pride, her hope for all time. So they rode on in silence along the way, and Abraham’s glance was fixed upon the ground until the fourth day when he lifted up his eyes and saw afar off Mount Moriah, but his glance turned again to the ground. Silently he laid the wood in order, he bound Isaac, in silence he drew the knife -- then he saw the ram which God had prepared. Then he offered that and returned home. . . . From that time on Abraham became old, he could not forget that God had required this of him. Isaac throve as before, but Abraham’s eyes were darkened, and he knew joy no more.

No, rather...

It was early in the morning, Abraham arose betimes, he kissed Sarah, the young mother, and Sarah kissed Isaac, her delight, her joy at all times. And Abraham rode pensively along the way, he thought of Hagar and of the son whom he drove out into the wilderness, he climbed Mount Moriah, he drew the knife.

It was a quiet evening when Abraham rode out alone, and he rode to Mount Moriah; he threw himself upon his face, he prayed God to forgive him his sin, that he had been willing to offer Isaac, that the father had forgotten his duty toward the son. Often he rode his lonely way, but he found no rest. He could not comprehend that it was a sin to be willing to offer to God the best thing he possessed, that for which he would many times have given his life; and if it was a sin, if he had not loved Isaac as he did, then he could not understand that it might be forgiven. For what sin could be more dreadful?

No, rather...

It was early in the morning, everything was prepared for the journey in Abraham’s house. He bade Sarah farewell, and Eleazar, the faithful servant, followed him along the way, until he turned back. They rode together in harmony, Abraham and Isaac, until they came to Mount Moriah. But Abraham prepared everything for the sacrifice, calmly and quietly; but when he turned and drew the knife, Isaac saw that his left hand was clenched in despair, that a tremor passed through his body -- but Abraham drew the knife.

Then they returned again home, and Sarah hastened to meet them, but Isaac had lost his faith. No word of this had ever been spoken in the world, and Isaac never talked to anyone about what he had seen, and Abraham did not suspect that anyone had seen it.

07 October 2008

Thaneless, excerpted from Beowulf

In Old English:
Þā wæs gesȳne, þæt se sīð ne þāh
þām þe unrihte inne gehȳdde
wrǣte under wealle. Ƿeard ǣr ofslōh
fēara sumne; þā sīo fǣhð gewearð
gewrecen wrāðlīce. Ƿundur hwār, þonne
eorl ellen‐rōf ende gefēre
līf‐gesceafta, þonne leng ne mæg
mon mid his māgum medu‐seld būan.
Swā wæs Bīowulfe, þā hē biorges weard
sōhte, searo‐nīðas: seolfa ne cūðe,
þurh hwæt his worulde gedāl weorðan sceolde;
swā hit oð dōmes dæg dīope benemdon
þēodnas mǣre, þā þæt þǣr dydon,
þæt se secg wǣre synnum scildig,
hergum geheaðerod, hell‐bendum fæst,
wommum gewītnad, sē þone wong strāde.
Næs hē gold‐hwæt: gearwor hæfde
āgendes ēst ǣr gescēawod.
Ƿīglāf maðelode, Ƿīhstānes sunu:
"Oft sceall eorl monig ānes willan
wrǣc ādrēogan, swā ūs geworden is.
Ne meahton wē gelǣran lēofne þēoden,
rīces hyrde rǣd ǣnigne,
þæt hē ne grētte gold‐weard þone,
lēte hyne licgean, þǣr hē longe wæs,
wīcum wunian oð woruld‐ende.
Gummere trans.:
A perilous path, it proved, he trod who heinously hid,
that hall within, wealth under wall!
Its watcher had killed one of a few,
and the feud was avenged in woful fashion. 
Wondrous seems it,
what manner a man of might and valor oft ends his life,
when the earl no longer in mead-hall
may live with loving friends.
So Beowulf, when that barrow’s warden he sought,
and the struggle; himself knew not
in what wise he should wend from the world at last.
For princes potent, who placed the gold,
with a curse to doomsday covered it deep,
so that marked with sin the man should be,
hedged with horrors, in hell-bonds fast,
racked with plagues, who should rob their hoard.
Yet no greed for gold, but the grace of heaven,
ever the king had kept in view.
Wiglaf spake, the son of Weohstan:
“At the mandate of one,
oft warriors many sorrow must suffer;
and so must we.
The people’s-shepherd showed not
aught of care for our counsel, king beloved!
That guardian of gold he should grapple not,
urged we, but let him lie
where he long had been in his earth-hall
waiting the end of the world,
the hest of heaven.

06 October 2008

So

I was a bit distracted lately, but I finally got around to watching the VP debate.  Palin performed as expected.

Really caustic but interesting Rolling Stone article about "McCain, the Make-Believe Maverick" here.

That is all for now.

03 October 2008

Not a Great Weekend, I Suspect

So this is not shaping up to be the best of weekends.

Ruri broke up with me. We had been on a break kind of thing while I am here - still in a relationship, but not wholly committed. And for various private reasons, now we're not in any kind of relationship. It was wholly and completely surprising and not a little upsetting, considering how I was calling her to say that I wanted to wholly commit and get out of the "break" thing. The way the conversation went was a little jarring, to put it mildly.

I am very much irritated with being reasonable. I wanted to yell at her at the top of my lungs or something similarly irrational and hurtful. This whole "rational approach" to life doesn't seem to be working too well, so I'm going to try something different for a while. I don't know what, since nothing else seems to make any sense.

Oh, and look at this swell deal with my elbow.  The entire thing is black and bruised badly from slipping an falling on it the other day; the joint popped right out of place.  I can't move it to either extreme or pick up anything heavier than a book.

So things are just peachy.

I guess I couldn't expect anything from Ruri, really. She has every right to move on if she thinks she can be happier that way. I'm not even mad. I want to be mad. I feel like I should be mad. But I just want her to be happy.  Just thinking about the whole situation makes me nauseous.

Bad things come in threes, say the superstitious.  But what the fuck else can happen?

30 September 2008

A Typical Day

This may be a little boring to some - a recounting of a typical day at work.  I'm writing it just because some of my relatives have requested such a thing several times.  Move along.

7:30 a.m. - Wake up and get ready for work.  It's Tuesday, so a teacher will pick me up to go to 븍.  If it were Monday, Wednesday, or Friday I would just meander on over to 쌍봉 on my own a half hour later.  Thursdays is the other branch school, 쌍암.

8:30 a.m. - Arrive at work after a short drive.  I pull my slippers out of my bag and put my outside shoes up on the rack at the front door.  Most people have cubbyholes, but I don't want to buy a pair of slippers for each school so I bring them with me.  Then I sit down to do whatever I want in the teacher's lounge.  I generally read, study Korean, or fool around on the net.

10:00 a.m. - Class with the third-graders.  At the branch schools, I follow their textbooks, so less preparation is required.  At 쌍봉, I write my own lesson plans based around one-sentence guiding suggestions for the curriculum (that I generally ignore).  Third grade and below do not learn to write, but they do learn English names for things by listening, and sometimes they learn to sight-recognize words.  For example, they will learn to recognize "mother," even if they can't spell it or piece out the letters.  Class lasts forty minutes, and then I have a half-hour break.

11:10 a.m. - Class with the fourth-graders.  These classes out at 븍 and 쌍암 have me teach the entire school each time I am there.  Fourth grade has only seven students, though, so it's no big chore.  They're all farmer's kids, but they are actually more advanced than at my bigger main school of 쌍봉 because of the tiny class size.  They get much more individual attention and breeze through lessons in half the time of a forty-student class.

Noon - Class with the fifth-graders.  They learn more complex things, such as subject-verb agreement and sentence composition.  Really, the level to which they are held is remarkable considering their youth and that it's a very difficult second language.  Of course, the dedication to the program helps a lot: they bring in people like me, for example, and start teaching the language in first grade.

12:40 p.m. - Lunchtime in the cafeteria.  I sit with the other teachers and eat the surprisingly great cafeteria food.  We chat and they teach me bits of Korean; my Tuesdays always net me a bulk of my new words each week, since they are so enthusiastic about helping me.  I have taken to carrying a pen and notepad with me everywhere I go these days, which gets filled with scribblings in Korean and translation notes.

1:50 p.m. - Class with the sixth-graders.  They are starting to get too old to be silly or get too involved with the singing games we do, so I generally am less goofy with them and instead play Cool Foreigner Guy.  It works pretty well usually, and they are pretty dedicated - if a bit less fun.

2:40 p.m. - Class with first and second grade.  This alternates between being very boring and being very fun, depending on what we are doing.  I have to drill them more than the older kids to keep them on task, with lots of repetitions.  Going down a list of words on the board and repeating each one ten times gets very boring, but it gets them used to saying the English pronunciations.  On the other hand, the activities I design tend to be very fun, because otherwise I wouldn't want to do them.  I get to do whatever I want with these grades, since there's no text, so I arrange for guessing games and identification games and whatever else I please.  I talk in goofy voices and dance and make faces and generally cut loose at this point, at the end of the day.

3:20 p.m. - My day is over, so I just do whatever I want until five.  Often my coteacher and I will eat fruit and just chat until it's time to leave.  She's a pretty young newlywed, and is the most adorable damn thing.  She has an infant child, and she picks me up every morning with the most glowingly proud grin which she inevitably explains as a result of her child doing something amazing (like eat a grape).  Today I showed her Facebook and all the people on it.  When she Ruri's photo as x-23, she said with a gasp, "She is asian!  You date!?  So sexy!"

And so that's pretty much it.  It's less busy on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but otherwise it's rather similar.  At least I am able to get a lot of scholarly reading done at work, as I muddle through it, and have a computer and desk and whatnot to fill with paraphenalia.  Good times.

29 September 2008

Reading a Paper, or Why I Am Dumb

Whenever I read through a whole volume of a journal, I am always struck by precisely how enormously uneducated I actually am.  I have barely dipped a toe into the pool of knowledge, and gazing into the depths is almost too wet for my abilities.

Take, for example, "Black Sounds: Hemingway and Duende," by Kristine Wilson at Purdue.  You can even read it for yourself here if you have access to Project MUSE.  It's an immensely fascinating article, exploring Hemingway's Spanish writings through the lens of an esoteric Spanish concept known as duende, which appears to be a unique descriptor for the sense of the arts when they involve moments of the highest passions mixed with the deepest sadness.  It's one of those "impossible to translate" words like the Japanese wabisabi or the English serendipity.

Reading through the paper involves a true flurry of secondary efforts, just to try to bring myself up to speed on the very basic concepts involved.  It is frustrating.  My thought process with this paper ends up going all over the place.

I start on the paper.  Who is Wilson, and what has she done?  I need perspective since I don't recognize the name.  I check out her Purdue page and JSTOR for other referenced works.  Her CV is not up to date, but in combination with JSTOR I locate that she concentrates on feminist critiques but has a very broad range of cross-cultural work, very fitting for a professor of library science.

Now I can read the actual paper once, making checks next to things that need further examination.  I have to print these damn things out in hard copy because of it, and it's the cause of my absurdly full binder of papers in storage right now (pleasebeokaynoroachesnoroaches). 

Right off the bat, she references a pivotal speech given by a major Spanish poet whose name is not in the least familiar - Federico Lorca.  Swell.  So I find the speech by this Lorca in translation, and read through it.  Oh, hey, he lists as a bunch of examples a number of his contemporaries.  What do I know about early-century Spanish authors and artists?  Damn near nothing.  I recognize and understand his Dali references, and I know roughly who the "Generation of '27" are in Spanish history thanks to a marvelous couple of examinations of the Spanish Civil War I read, but I don't know their works anywhere near well enough to get the references by Lorca.  So I log onto ARTstor, a marvelous compilation of extremely high-rez images of paintings and drawings from museums around the world.  Thank goodness I still have login privileges at UT.

So after referencing a bunch of paintings and an hour of examination of the speech, I understand the entire concept of duende.  However, Wilson references a number of Nietzschean concepts.  I've read my Nietzsche, and found it very difficult, but I haven't even brushed past the one she is speaking of - The Birth of Tragedy.  So what is that?  I find it, and read some synopses.  I make a note to read the whole thing soon.  The concepts involved are very familiar ones, since I read some analyses of Greek tragedians when researching background on Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (a book which has attracted an Ayn Rand-like following, albeit somewhat more Buddhist in nature).  So "Dionysian" and "Apollonian" are old hat to me, but it seems as though Nietzsche's approach was interesting.

Then Wilson is hitting the hard points about the involvement of duende with the literature.  She moves into bullfighting.  I am such a dilettante when it comes to bullfighting that I can recount only what I have learned from Hemingway study (the picadors, the kill, the toreo, and so on).  But I can scramble through an understanding of her discussion of it, given her excellent treatment of the subject.  And hey, I even know and understand the Paganini and Cezanne references!

Now, of course, she has to get back to making me feel uneducated.  A famous essay by Freud.  Okay, I get the concept, but wouldn't it be expressed more aptly by the later work of Emile Durkheim, in his "On Suicide" look at the notion of "anomie?"  No, I am wrong, it would seem.  Rather different concepts, as I find out once I have tracked down and consumed the Freud essay with associated research into a German text referenced by Freud.

And so on, and so on.  The whole process is far too long to recount here.  But suffice to say I am in continual awe of those pillars of academia who can read through something like this and not spend five hours achieving understanding.

27 September 2008

To the Reft, to the Reft

"How long should I cook this chicken for?"

That was the simple call from my neighbor Shauna, a great girl who lives upstairs and can only cook spaghetti.  She was cooking a chicken for some reason, and had no idea what to do.

I had been planning a quiet Saturday, since all week was pretty hectic at work.  I had gotten up early to watch the debate, but now I was going to hang out and read and listen to music.  Then maybe Sunday I would go for a hike, since the weather has become simply beautiful here.  A cold front came in late in the week, and the air was crisp and cool, lifting the veils of fog on the mountains away like the touch of the groom at a wedding.

But hey, I know how to cook a chicken.  So I pulled on pants, much to my displeasure, and walked upstairs.

Shauna was fussing around in the kitchen with a very pretty Korean girl who was introduced to me as Becky.  Stepping carefully around the enormous jigsaw puzzle that Shauna and I had been assembling over the past three weeks, I greeted Becky and asked what was the deal with the chicken.

As it turns out, they were trying to throw a birthday party for their pal 미나.  They wanted two chickens and mashed potatoes and vegetables and a cake and balloons.  But it was 4:30 and the party was supposed to start at 7:00.  I didn't know exactly when Shauna went completely insane, but apparently it was in full bloom.  She had a tiny stovetop oven that could barely fit one of the chickens, and didn't know where to start.  Becky was not much more help, since she didn't seem to have any notion of how to cook Western-style food like this.

Well, we got into action.  I showed them how to rub down a chicken with some spices, rather than just shoving it in the oven, told them how long to cook it, and got it ready.  Then we got to work on balloons while Shauna started chopping vegetables.  I washed potatoes, then returned so they could be chopped and taped up the balloons around the apartment.  Wendy had tried to tape up some of the balloons, but one of them had popped and she was too afraid to really do any more.

Many preparations later, the place was looking ship-shape and a big meal was done - on time!  A few other people had arrived, some of whom I knew, and I was invited to stay for the party.  I think they felt a little guilty at the prospect of me helping get everything ready and then not attend.  I agreed, since it seemed like it would be fun and the birthday girl, 미나, was reportedly very laid-back and didn't seem like she would mind a new person at the party.

As it turns out, it was a lot of fun.  미나 was good to know, and everyone ate and drank and enjoyed themselves.  Oddly, there seem to be relatively few Americans around Yeosu; there was only one other a party with six foreigners.  Canadians and South Africans, instead.

Afterwards, we went out to a bar called 엘러이, a pretty fun place I have been to a few times already.  It's one of two popular "foreigner bars," so the regulars are either wayguk or else people who want to hang out with wayguk.  We hung out there and drank, and mingled with some people whom I am steadily getting to know.  Really, it's a small city.

When that started to get old, there was some discussion, then a few of us piled into a car and drove twenty minutes north to 슨첸, a slightly larger city inland.  슨첸, you see, has the virtue of superior nightclubs.  And a Korean nightclub was something I wanted to see.

As it turns out, they're pretty awesome.  Well, I thought so anyway.  There are rows and rows of tables, without a bar really, which was unusual.  Harried waiters in glitter-covered suitjackets, lit up by glowsticks in their pockets, ushered people around and served beer and fruit to the tables.  The stage was huge, with big light-works along the back that flashed on and off in patterns or strobed in time to the music.  The music itself changed every two minutes, as the DJ (playing on a turntable lowered from the ceiling) cut into each song to try to seamlessly segue into the next.  They would alternate with a couple of fast dance sessions - everyone out on the dance floor, shuffling and jiving - and then they would do one slow dance.  The slow dances generally had only one or two couples out there, and most people seemed to view them as just changes to rest.

Every half hour or so, they had a floor show on the stage with dancers.  We were there for just under an hour and a half, so I got to see three of them, and they were all different.  The first was just a trio of dancers on the stage, dancing along with perfect synchronicity to the music that was playing.  It was pretty impressive, but they had some amateur rivals in the audience with a group of teenaged "b-boy" dancers who clearly spent way too much time practicing.  The second show was one of the female dancers in a string bikini, dancing to a slower song under a big shower-contraption that they wheeled out onto the stage.  It was pretty damn hot, and a little funny when she put on a frumpy flowered housecoat after the song was over and scurried off the stage, naked butt bobbing.  The third show was a full band of eight people that alternated between either playing songs or pretending to play songs, and they were just okay.

At some point, I just burst out into laughter when I thought about where I was a year ago.  Could I ever have fathomed myself watching a girl shower on stage in a Korean nightclub?  Seems a little far-fetched.  Even now, although I just saw it yesterday.

26 September 2008

Postgame

Now all the "who won?" crap. I truly wish this nonsense didn't occur... you can't really "win" these things. They're not a football game. They disagree only on a few matters of substance, and both candidates were guilty of stretching the truth or outright lying on multiple occasions (although McCain was rather worse there). What it really comes down to is whose version of reality you buy... which narrative you think is true.

Ah, well, at least I get to watch my mancrush Anderson Cooper in the post-debate analysis.

UPDATE: Well, people seem to be in agreement that Obama "won." So there's that. As usual, partisans all went their own way overwhelmingly, so it's the independents that make the call.

Debate Live Blogging

Counting up the lies or unacceptable exaggerations of each candidate. Sources: WaPo Factchecker, U.S. Budget Access, 538, and me.


Obama
12
----
Quotes
"You said there was no history of violence between Shia and Sunni."
"[Mullen] did not say that. It's not true."
"Your own advisor, Dr. Kissinger has agreed with me."
"...at one point, while you were focused on Iraq, you said, well, we can muddle through Afghanistan."

McCain
27
----
Quotes
"...raise taxes on everyone..."
"...earmarks have tripled in the last five years..."
"Look, we're sending $700 billion a year overseas to countries that don't like us very much."
"...most liberal Senator..."
"This strategy has succeeded and we are winning in Iraq."
"The surge has worked."
"...voted to cut off the funds for the troops."
"...wants to stage military strikes within Pakistan, our ally...


I'm watching this on CNN International, a channel I do not get in my free basic cable package... so Obama is blue.  The sound is perfect, but the video feed is in the negative.

The results so far are not too surprising.  Neither of these guys are very skilled at debating; McCain is not the best speaker to begin with, and Obama tends to express himself in florid sentences that don't make good soundbites.  They are both hitting their talking points, although Obama has been doing better so far thanks to having had more time to prepare (since he didn't put on a circus and fake-suspend his campaign for a day).

McCain is pushing every button he can find, and has been jamming his thumb down on the "Israel" one from the start.  He's counting on the single-issue voters, and getting his message out to them.  For years the Republicans have managed to convince people to vote against their own interests on the basis of emotional single issues - abortion, Israel, gay marriage.  McCain is looking like a typewriter as he tries to portray himself as the wiser superior statesman while hitting every button he can reach. This his continual "Senator Obama still doesn't understand" and "Ahmadinejad has called Israel a 'stinking corpse.'" Buttons, buttons, buttons.

A lot of the pageantry of this bugs me.  I mean, things like the memorial bracelet crap don't contribute to dialogue at all.  They're just gimmicks that tug on the heartstrings of the soccer mom independent (unbelievably enough, a major demographic).

25 September 2008

Disappearing Act

It's been a ballsy week for the McCain/Palin ticket.

As everyone knows by now, America is in the middle of a major financial crisis.  Actually, it seems more appropriate to say crises, since they are arriving on the heels of each fresh disaster.  Huge lending firms like AIG are going out of business, and the administration is pushing a $700 billion bailout for them.  The public is not too happy about this, by and large.  They are inclined, for some strange reason, to blame things on the party that has dominated the whole of government for eight years.  They're just irrational that way.

So naturally, the Dems numbers started going up very quickly.  This is bolstered by the ugly fact that McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, is still an officer with a lobbying firm that is being paid $15,000 a month by Freddie Mac - one of those financial giants in such trouble.  And it is further bolstered by McCain's irrational reaction to the crisis, wherein he initially attempted to deny the real severity of the problem by repeatedly declaring that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong," before moving on to loud criticizing of deregulation later in the week.    This last move was a bit awkward, since McCain has actually been a vocal proponent of the very deregulation that led to this crisis.  Even Katie "Softball" Couric was motivated enough to press this one in the face of such a lie!  When Couric seems tough, you know it's pretty weak sauce.

So McCain is attempting a hugely ballsy move, again in this campaign.  The last one was picking Palin, which has turned out pretty badly for him.  Now he's making another play of similar magnitude: he wants recess.  He has announced he is "suspending his campaign," and has declared he is going to go back to Washington.  McCain has also said he wants to cancel the first debate on Friday in favor of delaying it.

Talk about savvy: this is damn smart.  Obama is put into a tough spot, with either choice he makes being ripe for GOP spin.

If Obama agrees, then he has just made McCain the bipartisan leader willing to rise above politics.  Every headline would read "Obama Follows McCain's Lead" or similar, and it would give enormous credibility to this move.

On the other hand, if Obama declines to agree, then McCain can suggest that Obama is putting politics ahead of the people, and try to put himself up on the cross.

However, it sure doesn't seem like it's working.  Things were going too badly for McCain, and he didn't have this kind of political capital with the people on the economy.  With the upcoming debate, it looks instead like he is just running away from his own mistakes and errors.  Obama has rejected the gamble and answered it with a very effective charge, saying that a debate is needed now "more than ever."  Columbia Journalism Review has a great piece about the reporting on this "McGambit," saying:
This move is so transparently political that covering it as a transparent act of politics is pretty much the only approach.
McCain even canceled on his upcoming Letterman appearance, prompting the comedian to joke:
"What are you going to do if you're elected and things get tough? Suspend being president? We've got a guy like that now!"
No one's buying this one, Mac. Sorry.

23 September 2008

538

I've been following this site for a while, but it doesn't seem very well-known outside of a certain set.  So I thought I'd share the site.  I know Lilith at the least will be interested in it.

Fivethirtyeight.com is run by a dude named Nate.  It's named after the number of electors in the electoral college.  And he is some kind of insane statistics wizard.  Since the site's inception, it's been pretty darn accurate with its own unique method of tracking and predicting votes.

They start off with assigning each new poll a weighting.  This means that Zogby Interactive weighs about as much as a feather, while a respected pollster like Rasmussen has a lot more oomph.  Right off the bat, this takes out a lot of the crap we see from "polls of polls," which assign Zogby and Ras the same weight.  Considering how Zogby generally has about as much to do with actual results as reading tea leaves, 538's way makes a bit more sense.

The site also does some kind of regression thing with the data, to account for days without data and trends in neighboring states.  I admit to not understanding exactly how they do this, since their methodology is absurdly complex for an English major, but I'll be damned if the results don't work pretty well.

Then, each day, they run ten thousand simulations.  I'm not kidding... 10,000 simulations of the race, according to their current data.  This gives them a pretty impressively tested dataset each day, with which to guess at future electoral votes.

So if you're interested to know where the race stands, please pay little attention to the national polls, which don't account for the fact that the office is won by virtue of electoral votes on a state-to-state basis.  Check out 538.