Saturday, April 4, 2009

death on the brain

I think it's fair to say that we are all stunned by the latest massacre to hit our shores, this time courtesy a disgruntled Vietnamese immigrant who had just lost his job. April 4 also marks the 41st anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination, an event that still echoes strongly in the American consciousness because of what King preached and represented. In him, the messenger and the message were one.

King was a powerful speaker and an eloquent writer; his "I Have a Dream" speech can still bring tears to one's eyes; it enunciates a dream that resonates not only with the native downtrodden but also with the immigrants who come to America in search of a better existence: for people to be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I'd like to think that racism didn't play a role in whatever set Jiverly Voong (or Wong) off, though even if racism fueled his crime, he remains fully culpable for choosing to do what he did. I hope that we, as a country, will nurture the idea that character, effort, and merit count for more than color, and learn to put color-- race, ethnicity, local culture-- in its rightful place, for the sake of our children and for the Jiverly Voongs among us.

So we've got death on the brain this Saturday. I don't know what your thoughts on the afterlife are, but personally, I'm not counting on there being one, nor do I think there'll be some final judgment. But whether you subscribe to those ideas or not, I think we can all agree that every instant is precious because it's unique, which makes it imperative that we live each moment deeply and fully, because it'll never come again.

There used to be a minister at Geumho Presbyterian Church in downtown Seoul-- a small church that some of my relatives attend. The minister passed away years ago, but I heard many of his sermons in the 90s, probably understanding only a tenth of what he was saying. There was, however, one phrase that was repeated over and over, and I think it's a good phrase no matter where you fall on the spectrum of religious belief/nonbelief: yeollin maeum-euro, gippeun maeum-euro, sarang-haneun maeum euro...

With an open heart...
With a joyful heart...
With a loving heart...

Something to remember as we contemplate death as a nation and a world. As a mantra for how to live, it's hard to beat.

UPDATE: Charles has written a post that offers some potentially related insights about the good that people can accomplish together.


American anglophilia in prose: "er" versus "uh"

[NB: This post was inspired by this article.]

I used to love British spelling when I was a kid-- "humour" versus "humor," "metre" versus "meter." I'm still a linguaphile, still in love with words and language in general, and I admit I'm occasionally a sucker for UK spellings versus US spellings-- as in "travelled" versus "traveled" (the latter participle, which is more common in the US, still somehow looks wrong to me). I also find myself, even today, attracted to (but generally not using) spellings like "faeces" and "foetal" and "Judaeo-Christian." But in the main, I've tended to avoid Britishisms as an adult because I figured out I wasn't British. I have American friends who still include Britishisms in their prose, perhaps out of a sense of cultural inferiority: the Brits do it better! Or if I interpret their behavior more charitably, maybe they're like me, simply fascinated on a linguistic level by alternative spellings that seem somehow more pleasing to the eye for reasons that have nothing to do with culture. I suspect, though, that most people don't fall under the latter category. They're attracted to Britishisms specifically because of their Britishness.

The problem with being a Yank who sprinkles British orthography in his writing is that most Americans who do this lack consistency. I have no problem with UK spelling; I hope it's not condescending to say that I consider it perfectly proper, perfectly legitimate English. My point, though, is that if an American is engaging in this practice because of a latent linguistic anglophilia, he may as well go whole hog and spell everything he writes in a consistently UK fashion. Having done that, he should go further and adopt a truly British tone and rhythm, availing himself of the treasure trove of idioms and colorful turns of phrase found on the isles. Even a simple locution like "Aren't we going, then?" sounds more British than the American "So we're not going?" Why not write (and speak!) that way? Be consistent!

And herein lies the problem for the Brit-wannabe: for an American to alter his prose to something consistently British would require a herculean effort. He would, for example, have to make himself aware that, in UK English, company names are generally treated as grammatically plural ("Microsoft are struggling"),* and that periods go outside quotation marks,** as when I finish this sentence "thus". (--as opposed to writing "thus." the way a red-blooded American should.) Those examples, and thousands of other little variations, are what distinguish UK English from US English.

The anglophile's lack of consistency can therefore be traced to laziness, which interferes with the anglophilia. I might have more respect for the American anglophile who goes balls-out and writes in a convincingly British manner (and I'd trust only Brits to be the judge of how convincing the language was), simply because such an effort would reveal the depth and sincerity of the anglophilia. But the burden is on the rest of the inconsistent populace to explain why they feel the need to adopt only parts of the UK style and not the whole thing. (I exclude Canadians in this discussion, because they've somehow succeeded in having it both ways-- speaking with American accents while writing "colour" and "metre.")

Which brings me to "er" versus "uh." Can you guess which of these locutions is more British, and which is more American? Hint: both spellings represent the same sound. Try saying "er" with an English accent, and you'll see right away that it sounds pretty much like the American "uh," because the British final "r" is generally not rhotic (though this will, of course, depend on where in the isles you are). But for an American to write "er" as if it were American prose is silly: pronounced the American way, "er" rhymes with "fur," and no one actually says "urr" in spoken American English.

Or do they? Do you challenge my claim? Fine. Don't just make an assertion or give me an anecdote-- this is for science! Send me sound files of surreptitious recordings as evidence, or point me to a YouTube clip where a rhotic "urr" can be plainly, unambiguously heard multiple times. Hell, if you hear a Brit actually say "urr," send me a sound file of that, too! And don't tell me the burden of proof is on me: I feel I'm stating the obvious.

I should note that I'm not a linguistic prescriptivist. It's obvious that languages evolve, because that's the nature of phenomena. Mistakes in a certain language community can multiply due to incestuous amplification, and what started out as a mistake can become "received" English, i.e., the generally accepted form or style. But this isn't to say that there's no such thing as distinctly UK English or distinctly US English; obviously, there is, or we'd be unable to identify our places of origin (and social class, etc.) as easily as we so often do.

On both sides of the Atlantic, English teachers try to instill a notion of proper English-- correct grammar, correct spelling, correct punctuation, etc.-- and there's nothing wrong with that. You have to have standards. If a kid ends up thinking that the word "car" can be spelled "qaarre" or "PPPLPXEP," the teacher hasn't exactly aided the cause of mutual comprehensibility. The American kid who inserts "humour" into his prose but still writes "meter" and "license," while not as vile a specimen as the "qaarre" kid, is nevertheless somewhat... confused. And probably a bit lazy in his commitment to whatever anglophilia he harbors in his heart. That laziness is what results in an aesthetically displeasing English-- displeasing because inconsistent.

My advice? Either be consistently US or UK in style, no matter where you're from, or learn and employ the received linguistic forms taught in your own country. Life's simpler that way.

Righto. Bob's your uncle, then.

*There is some controversy on this point (see here, for example), but the use of the plural is British. You can satisfy your curiosity by performing a Google search on the exact phrase "Microsoft are," or "Ford are," etc.

**This is proper and logical in UK English, but is a mistake in US English-- alas, one now made with alarming frequency by people who never bothered to learn proper American punctuation. I see a lot of this in American online prose. If the writer is a UK transplant, I can understand how there might be an identity crisis at the root of the inconsistency, but most of the writers who make this mistake are American-born. What's their excuse?


"the road to happiness" redux

Why is this blog receiving so many hits from Koreans using the Naver search engine and searching for the string "road to happiness"? Is this the title of a Korean book or drama or something? Is it the original English title of a foreign work that was translated into Korean? Inquiring minds want to know.

I wrote a post some time ago titled "the road to happiness," which is where these Naver searches are landing. But the question is... why are people searching for this phrase?


Friday, April 3, 2009

the Mexico-South Korea connection

Who knew? South Korean explosives have been recovered in Mexico. Instapundit, hammering away at what's being called "the Mexican gun canard," quotes from this article:

So, if not from the U.S., where do they come from? There are a variety of sources:

– The Black Market. Mexico is a virtual arms bazaar, with fragmentation grenades from South Korea, AK-47s from China, and shoulder-fired rocket launchers from Spain, Israel and former Soviet bloc manufacturers.

– Russian crime organizations. Interpol says Russian Mafia groups such as Poldolskaya and Moscow-based Solntsevskaya are actively trafficking drugs and arms in Mexico.

- South America. During the late 1990s, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) established a clandestine arms smuggling and drug trafficking partnership with the Tijuana cartel, according to the Federal Research Division report from the Library of Congress.

– Asia. According to a 2006 Amnesty International Report, China has provided arms to countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Chinese assault weapons and Korean explosives have been recovered in Mexico.

– The Mexican Army. More than 150,000 soldiers deserted in the last six years, according to Mexican Congressman Robert Badillo. Many took their weapons with them, including the standard issue M-16 assault rifle made in Belgium.

– Guatemala. U.S. intelligence agencies say traffickers move immigrants, stolen cars, guns and drugs, including most of America’s cocaine, along the porous Mexican-Guatemalan border. On March 27, La Hora, a Guatemalan newspaper, reported that police seized 500 grenades and a load of AK-47s on the border. Police say the cache was transported by a Mexican drug cartel operating out of Ixcan, a border town.

(Mexicoreano connection in italics)


spring is in the air

I spent my early waking hours sneezing up a storm today, which must mean that spring is here. I still have pills from the beginning of my walk last year, so I've been taking those to quell the sneezing. In general, just one dose after waking will do me for the whole day.

So how's your nose doing?

Have you ever pondered writing a love story that begins with a wet sneeze? A man accidentally sneezes on a woman, and the rope of snot that connects them, nostril to hairdo, becomes a metaphor for things to come. Romantic, no?


Thursday, April 2, 2009

the "ER" finale

I saw only the final hour of the "ER" finale (curiosity got the better of me), but it was enough to shock me into the realization that the American cast had been substantially replaced by people with British accents. American TV has been succumbing to the Brit/Down Under invasion for a while, often with good results, but it does make one wonder whether the US has a stable of competent actors.

Many of the old, familiar cast members were in the finale: I saw Dr. Carter, who had way more than a cameo during that last hour. He seemed to have used his riches to open up a new hospital wing or care center, and was also showing Mark Greene's daughter-- now a budding med student-- around the ER, even coaching her on a procedure. Kerry Weaver (Dr. House's grouchy, gimpy prototype?) was in attendance, as was Dr. Carter's old mentor, Dr. Benton, and Dr. Benton's former squeeze, Dr. Corday. On-again, off-again Dr. Lewis also popped up. Some of the other familiar faces I saw included desk clerk Jerry, the nurses Chuny (who appears not to have aged at all) and... and... that other nurse who's been there since Season 1.

The series pilot began in medias res, and that's how they chose to end it-- with everyone hustling. Dr. Carter was the newbie back in 1994, barely able to stick a needle in a vein, so perhaps it's appropriate that he be on site as a "bookend" character. Not having watched the series in years, I have no idea whether Carter has been part of the cast the entire time, or was brought back for the finale. The answer is a Wikipedia search away, I'm sure.

As I mentioned before, "ER" has always been marked by its esprit de corps, and that's the uplifting note on which the finale ends: with the entire ER staff standing outside in the cold, waiting for the arrival of numerous casualties from a plant explosion. When people are in need, "ER's" characters drop everything and respond; they're there for you. While I couldn't really make heads or tails of the finale, I was glad to see the series end with that positive message.

UPDATE (April 4): Television Without Pity has an April 3 article that makes many points similar to what I said above.


interreligious dialogue at the doorstep

While waiting for the refrigerator repairman to drop by today, I was alerted to the arrival of a pair of Mormons when Sean's chihuahua, Maqz, started barking, hackles raised on his tiny charcoal body. I opened the door, and the following conversation ensued amid much barking and growling.

ME: Hi. Sorry about the dog.

MORMON DUDE: No problem. Hey, we're just passing through the neighborhood, talking to people about life. Could we step inside?

ME (smiling tightly): Thanks, but no, thanks.

MORMON DUDE: Are you sure?

ME: Yeah. But thanks, anyway.


They left, and that was that.

Not that long ago, I'd have been pissed off by this violation of privacy. It takes a special kind of nerve to invite yourself into someone's home to try and convert the homeowner to your point of view. But you see, here's the thing: after a few years immersed in religious studies, I've come to the conclusion that there's nothing surprising about people who act according to their beliefs. I no longer view these Mormon elders as arrogant or particularly pushy; they're simply doing what Mormons have been doing since Joseph Smith first established this most American of religions. I might think they're deluded or misguided, but they didn't try to force their way into my home, and in a free country, there's nothing to stop random people from knocking at my door. Once the problem is framed in this way, the notions of pressure and resentment go out the window: it might be rude for the pair to try and invite themselves into my house, but I'm in control of the situation-- I can say no, and there's no need for hard feelings, no need for me to view these guys as pushy or arrogant.

And that's what I told Dad when he showed up thirty minutes later: I didn't resent the Mormons the way I would have years ago. It's enough to greet them politely and send them on their way.

It occurs to me that I missed a golden opportunity to sit with these guys and find out what makes them tick. To that extent, I regret brushing them off. But as far as I was concerned, our fridge came first: I had to wait for the repairman (who was late and showed up after Dad had already come back home from his errands), and didn't want to be dealing with two sets of visitors at once.


most couscousic

Yesterday's meal was a redo of a meal we'd had a while back-- basically chicken and couscous, but spiced up. I don't have a recipe for you, but you can probably figure one out from the following description:

We minced some fresh parsley and green onion, and tossed that in a bowl with salt, pepper, dried basil, dried thyme, red pepper flakes, chopped dates, raisins, olive oil, and powdered garlic. Into the mix we added chunkily chopped chicken breast, then stirred the whole mess together, as if we were making a marinade. In the meantime, we boiled beef stock on the side. This was poured into a pot containing a mess of couscous, on which I had already drizzled some olive oil and added a large pat of butter. The couscous sat with the pot closed until we were ready to use it.

We also chopped some Italian tomatoes into chunks, and had a large pack of crumbled feta at the ready. The tomatoes were put into their own bowl.

The chicken mixture was cooked down until it had browned a bit (it was very liquidy at first). The couscous was fluffed with a fork and then layered into separate bowls. Chopped tomatoes were poured atop the couscous servings, covering half the surface area. The remaining area was covered with the chicken mixture, and feta cheese was sprinkled, to taste, on top of everything.

The result kicked ass. Mom pronounced the dish "sweet" thanks to the dates and raisins, but she cleaned her bowl. The only thing missing, in my opinion, was eggplant, which I'll be sure to add next time. All the same, the contrasts in taste (sweet, savory, spicy), texture (firm chicken mixture versus soft couscous), and temperature (hot chicken and couscous versus cold cheese and tomatoes) made for a very edible dish.

It was also simple and easy to prepare. The most time-consuming aspect of it was the chopping-- parsley, green onions, tomatoes, and those all-important chicken breasticles. The frying (we stuck a bit of olive oil and butter in the pan) took only a few minutes as we waited for the liquid to reduce and for the meat to brown a tad.

Give it a whirl. If you have fresh basil and thyme on hand, all the better. This is one of those dishes that's pretty hard to mess up if you have some sense of proportion regarding spices.


possible delay

The Korean office for which I've been working has given me plenty of proofreading to do, but they've also been dragging their feet regarding pay. This is a serious problem, as the expected paycheck is for a significant amount, and I absolutely need to have it in the bank before I can lock down my travel dates, do some last-minute shopping, etc. I should have received payment about a week ago, but I heard only this evening that payment will be sent tomorrow (Seoul time), and is expected to take 3-10 business days to arrive. In my experience, wire transfers usually take only 2-3 business days, at most, between Korea and the US, so I have no idea why the bank staffers told my boss that it could take up to 10 days.

The net effect of the wire transfer delay will be a further delay in my start date, which I had projected for Easter weekend in order to clear April 6, my parents' anniversary. So-- to my readers in Irrigon, Umatilla, and Walla Walla: I may be later than I'd thought, and I apologize.

Looking more realistically at the terrain I'll be traveling through, I've also concluded that working off my laptop will be nearly impossible for long stretches of my walk, especially in the upcoming states (Idaho, Utah, and especially Wyoming). I'm probably going to ask my Korean bosses to accept my temporary resignation-- or should I call this a "furlough"?

While this is frustrating, it may also be a good thing, as it gives me a bit more prep time.


printer up and running

Just a housekeeping note:

I'll be printing out a 40-some-page map of my route to Salt Lake City. This will be a lot better than carrying around the huge (and heavy) maps I'd bought along the trip. I'll be scanning images from a road atlas as well, to give me a big-picture view of the situation.

Keeping the map dry is going to be an issue. At this point, I think the cheapest solution is simply a binder with transparent insert pages, plus two layers of resealable bagging (Ziploc or Glad).

Another housekeeping task is checking up on the permissibility/legality of freeway walking in the states I'll be passing through after Idaho. I know that Idaho won't present a problem in terms of freeway walking; I checked. I still need to call the departments of transportation in Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska. Beyond Nebraska, I seriously doubt I'll have access to the freeways: as my buddy Mike pointed out, the laws become more up-tight on that score the farther east one goes. (Then again, the state of Washington didn't allow me on its freeways, so some western states have their issues, too.) I know for a fact that my own state, Virginia,* won't allow me on its freeways, so the final walk home will have to follow smaller roads. With narrower shoulders. Ick.

That's been the most unpleasant aspect of the walk thus far: all those narrow shoulders. I don't like dodging traffic, and would like to see walking paths-- sidewalks or biking/jogging trails-- built alongside all roads (and bridges!) in the US. Sure, such a move would take up a bit more space, but I think it would cut down on the number of vehicle/pedestrian accidents and possibly even provide incentives for long-distance walkers who simply want to connect the dots between cities more safely than they currently can.

*Technically, Virginia is called a commonwealth, but we still say we have 50 states (see here).


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

the death of another series

I used to be a huge fan of "ER" back in the George Clooney/Anthony Edwards era, but I lost interest in the show once most of the principals had left ("ER" guest star Omar Epps is now a regular on the doctor dramedy "House"). "ER" was a great combination of simple and gritty-- "a soap opera with a brain," as one of my friends described it. As with any long-running series, part of its charm lay in its formula, which always involved random emergencies to spice things up.

In its earlier days, the NBC series also benefitted from positive comparisons with the clunky CBS drama "Chicago Hope," which I couldn't stand, despite a very likable cast that included actors I really enjoy, such as Christine Lahti, Adam Arkin, and Hector Elizondo. I don't blame the actors for "Chicago Hope's" hopelessness; I blame the executive decision to make the show focus so much on boardroom goings-on and other petty squabbles. It was a standard joke, in the late 90s, that a patient who went to "ER's" ER would be saved within minutes, whereas the same patient, if brought into "Chicago Hope's" hospital, would die in the waiting room while the staff bickered endlessly. That, ultimately, is what saved "ER" for so long: the notion that hospital staffers, like soldiers, are in the trenches together, and personal differences are secondary to saving lives. This esprit de corps was always part of the "ER" formula, and was hard to beat as an uplifting message to the viewership. The series has featured plenty of power struggles and personality conflicts, but the moment the paramedics would burst through that door and that suspenseful music started chugging away, everyone would drop everything and get to work. I think "ER" also benefitted from the influence of its creator, the late Michael Crichton, whereas "Chicago Hope" was the brainchild of screenwriting overachiever David E. Kelley, who should have stuck to his many legal dramas and comedies.

I probably won't be watching "ER's" finale tomorrow, mainly because I'm years behind and don't know (or care about) the current cast. But I thoroughly enjoyed "ER" back during the days when I was a regular viewer, and I'm sad to hear that it's finishing up. Did you ever see "ER's" pilot episode? It's held up well over time, and is one of the best pilots I've seen.* I hope "ER" goes out as bravely as it came in.

*"Star Trek: The Next Generation's" pilot was, by contrast, awful. Not because of Q, who was a great antagonist (I can't call John Delancie's character an outright villain), but because of the sappy way that first episode ended, with jellyfish lovingly clasping tentacles, and a dewy-eyed Counselor Troi narrating the event. Ick. I did, however, think that ST:TNG ended well: the series finale featured Q again, but dared to dive into the realm of truly imaginative science fiction by creating a drama around the notion of "anti-time," a temporal analogue to antimatter. That episode, for me, got better over time.


the UN and religion

Get Religion has a good article about the recent approval, by the UN Human Rights Council, of a resolution "that calls on nation states to limit criticism of religions in general and Islam in particular." Phooey, I say. Malcolm, opining on the same turn of events, called the resolution "a craven act of appeasement." Jeff Hodges, commenting on Malcolm's site, wrote, "Islam should not be safeguarded from criticism, ridicule, or disdain. Nor should any other religion. Can’t take the heat? Get out of the kitchen."

The good news is that UN resolutions are almost universally ignored-- not just by Western powers, but by those inimical to Western values like freedom of speech (we're about to see several UN resolutions ignored by North Korea, and no one will lift a finger to stop it). In other words, the approval of this resolution means, in a practical sense, next to nothing.

The bad news is that pressure continues to mount in favor of political correctness. That's a shame: religion is often a great source of humor, both intended and unintended, and I see nothing wrong with mining religion's comic potential. Besides, the proper religious response to perceived insults should be humility, a value that is nearly universally preached, but so rarely practiced. Muslims and Christians (and, judging by some of the folks who inhabit the Beliefnet message boards, Western Buddhists) with oversensitivity issues need to unpucker their sphincters.

I've written elsewhere about my appreciation for the work of French cartoonist Claude Serre. Back in the 1980s, which is when I first became aware of him, Serre was routinely mocking European Christianity in his hilarious cartoons. Some of my favorite Serre works involve portrayals of Jesus: Jesus winning a swimming contest by running across the surface of the pool, or Jesus accidentally jamming his hands through the stigmata-holes in his feet while attempting a high dive. I can see how such pictures might be offensive to the more straitlaced among us, but that very straitlaced-ness is indicative of a deeper problem: idolatry.

I'm using the term "idolatry" in its Western Zen sense. It's a cousin of the Buddhist notion of "attachment" (upadana), which refers to the human tendency to cling to things-- ideas, people, habits, institutions, etc.-- as if they were permanent instead of being the flowing, ever-changing processes they actually are. Turning Jesus into a fetish-- a fixed concept and not a living, dynamic reality-- is an example of this sort of idolatry, and it's what ultimately leads people to become uptight and easily offended. When Jesus becomes "my Jesus," with the "my" implying a sense of ownership, we kill him. The same is true for ideas in other religious traditions as well.

There are many things I'd like to change about religion. Chief among them is adherents' overall lack of a sense of humor when it comes to the most cherished religious beliefs, customs, and images. Living in a pluralistic world means conceding the need for freedom of speech. This need isn't served by restrictive resolutions, and no religion qualifies as a special case.

Let me finish by reposting something I'd written back in Easter of 2006:


Alan Watts, well-known Zennist and LSD-lover (according to one biography, he even did acid while staying at some Japanese temples-- I'm not sure how well-received such behavior was by the local monks), wrote a great little essay that appears in an old collection, The Gospel According to Zen. The essay is called "Wash Out Your Mouth," and I was happy to see that someone has placed the piece in its entirety online.

I've reprinted the essay below. Don't commit the genetic fallacy against Watts: the man himself wasn't a shining example of Zen-style living, but his words are still sound dharma.


Christian piety makes a strange image of the object of its devotion, "Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." The bearded moralist with the stern, kind, and vaguely hurt look in the eyes. The man with the lantern, knocking at the heart's door. "Come along now, boys! Enough of this horsing around! It's time you and I had a very serious talk." Christ Jesus our Lord. Jeez-us. Jeez-you. The Zen Buddhists say, "Wash out your mouth every time you say "Buddha!" The new life for Christianity begins just as soon as someone can get up in church and say, "Wash out your mouth every time you say 'Jesus!'"

For we are spiritually paralyzed by the fetish of Jesus. Even to atheists he is the supremely good man, the exemplar and moral authority with whom no one may disagree. Whatever our opinions, we must perforce wrangle the words of Jesus to agree with them. Poor Jesus! If he had known how great an authority was to be projected upon him, he would never have said a word. His literary image in the Gospels has, through centuries of homage, become far more of an idol than anything graven in wood or stone, so that today the most genuinely reverent act of worship is to destroy that image. In his own words, "It is expedient for you that I go away, for if I go not away, the Paraclete [the Holy Spirit] cannot come unto you." Or, as the angel said to the disciples who came looking for the body of Jesus in the tomb, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen and has gone before you...." But Christian piety does not let him go away, and continues to seek the living Christ in the dead letter of the historical record. As he said to the Jews, "You search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life."

The Crucifixion gives eternal life because it is the giving up of God as an object to be possessed, known, and held to for one's own safety: "For he that would save his soul shall lose it." To cling to Jesus is therefore to worship a Christ uncrucified, an idol instead of the living God.

Today is Holy Saturday. According to tradition, our sins are being expurgated as Jesus burns in hell for our sake. The Lord is off the cross and buried, out of sight. But is the idea of "Lord" out of mind, as it should be?

Not every one that saith unto Me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father who is in Heaven.
(Mt. 7:21, 21st cent. KJV)

Just live your life, and your life will be sermon enough. Leave piety-- especially public piety-- for the self-righteous.


the dawg is back

My brother Sean is off to a couple music gigs in Prague for a week, and he's left his chihuahua Maqz with us. The dog is as bouncy as ever, leaping repeatedly against Mom's leg when she's prepping food (Maqz has no sense of boundaries, a state of affairs that Mom encourages). I once again find myself imagining Maqz in a variety of stews.

I missed this, but when Sean brought Maqz over yesterday morning, Maqz apparently charged out into our back yard, found a lump of dog poop (presumably his own, from a previous visit), and excitedly rubbed his face in it. Although I've long known that dogs practice coprophagia, I'd never heard of them giving themselves dung facials, and I began to wonder whether Maqz was representative of his kind, or whether his fellow canines would consider him a special case. Mom did her best to wipe the dog's muzzle clean when he proudly came back inside, but for me, the damage was done: I'll always think of Maqz as shit-faced.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

philosophy of mind

More evidence of tight linkage between mind and brain. If technology continues to advance along these lines, predicated as it is on the notion that the mind is what the brain does, then substance dualism just ends up looking sillier and sillier.


Monday, March 30, 2009

random "24" thoughts

Tonight's episode of "24" gives us an infected Jack Bauer. He gets a shirtless scene in front of Agent Renée Walker, possibly turning her on with all those scars of his (Jack's been infected with an engineered pathogen that apparently isn't contagious, so Walker can, conveniently, remain in the same room with him). Agent Walker gets to weep quietly at the thought of Jack in pain and possibly dying; she also gets a few moments alone with Agent Larry Moss that, yet again, strongly hint at their romantic involvement. This hasn't been confirmed by a kiss or even a simple touch, but the looks they trade and the tones they adopt toward each other seem to imply some sort of outside-the-office relationship. It's all very reminiscent of a Korean drama, where kissing is still a mushy, icky thing to show on TV.

Walker seems, at this point, firmly in Bauer's thrall, whatever her feelings for the hapless Moss may have been (Moss looks as though he'll be dead by the end of the next episode; if he doesn't get shot next week, I'm still counting on him dying sometime this season). Walker's character has been portrayed as tough but extremely empathetic, the empathy being the unfortunate cause of her many internal conflicts. Whatever connection she's established with Bauer is probably primal: she can be tough as nails when she has to be, and she's as pragmatic and ruthlessly logical as Bauer is, which makes them two of a kind, intellectually and professionally. Her empathy, though, is what makes her both Jack's feminine complement and his foil: in a weird sense, she seems to be acting as Jack's conscience. Would I be wrong to surmise that Walker's attitude toward Bauer includes a healthy dose of sexual attraction? Larry Moss, poor sap, is a drooling, feckless idiot in comparison.

And what guy wouldn't want to be Jack Bauer in such a situation-- alone in a room with the likes of Agent Walker? Pardon me, ladies, but Annie Wersching, the actress who plays Agent Walker, is both gorgeous and possessed of a smokin' bod. The costume design people played to her strengths by dressing her in those tight jeans, a strategy reminiscent of what the costume designers on all the Star Trek series would do: shamelessly exploit the hottest women in the cast by wrapping them in the most revealing outfits possible (Troi, Seven of Nine, T'Pol, etc.). True-- Walker's ensemble (which includes a leather jacket) isn't about cleavage, but her outfit manages the feat of being tasteful while leaving nothing to the male imagination.

I truly wish I had something more intelligent to say about "24," which is my other favorite show after BSG. But "24" has never touched much of a religious or philosophical nerve with me; the series is scripted like a Dan Brown novel, where each chapter is a cheap cliffhanger whose sole purpose is to move you to the next chapter, and the overall tone of "24" has always been retro-- it's a lot like watching an 80s-era action movie, but with more torture and collateral damage. The overall effect, then, is brain candy. Were I more of a political junkie, I'd be all over "24" for what it says about international relations and domestic policy. A long time ago, I was fascinated by the way the show constantly presented its characters with painful ethical dilemmas, but those dilemmas have all become familiar now, and at this point we viewers know how Jack will face them.

Maybe that's part of my attraction to the Agent Walker character-- she's about the only really new thing to appear in this, the seventh season of "24." She is, in many ways, the FBI's answer to Jack, but she's also a newbie to Jack's dark world, which allows us to see Jack-- and his hellish 24 hours-- through fresh eyes. And who knows? By the end of the day, she may be Jack's salvation in matters of the heart.



From CNN:

After almost 3,000 miles of rowing, bouts of seasickness, equipment failure and salt sores, Paul Ridley is back on land.

On day 88, Ridley, 25, completed his solo rowing trip across the Atlantic Ocean, becoming the youngest American ever to do so.

"I'm exhausted. Overwhelmed with all the excitement from my arrival," Ridley told CNN.

"Physically feeling good but will be feeling a lot better when the soreness starts to heal and once that happens I will be back to fundraising because cancer research is still in need of funding, so we still have a lot of work to do."

For nearly three months, Ridley has been rowing up to twelve hours a day on the 2,950-mile journey to raise cancer awareness and hopefully raise money for cancer research. His organization "Row for Hope" was inspired by the death of his mother from skin cancer in 2001.

He set out from the Canary Islands off the north African coast in his 19-foot boat on January 1; he landed on the Caribbean island of Antigua at 2:30 p.m. on March 29.

"It was incredible," he said."The whole Island of Antigua came out to greet me. The harbor was swarming with boats. A big crowd on dry land. It's really been an amazing reception."

Only 85 people have attempted the nearly 3,000 miles east-to-west crossing, according to the Ocean Rowing Society International, but most failed.

"I'm definitely suffering from exposure to the elements and I've lost 20 pounds. This is definitely different from my life at home." Ridley told CNN this week before hitting land.

Read on. The story of how he prepped is particularly impressive.


IR website

Brother Luke sent me a message through Facebook alerting me to the existence of, the online branch of The Journal of Interreligious Dialogue. The website is accepting article submissions that must arrive on or before May 31, if anyone in my tiny group of readers is interested in writing something semi-scholarly. According to the website, JOID's purpose is to be

...a forum for academic, social, and timely issues affecting religious communities around the world. It is designed to increase the quality and frequency of interchanges between religious groups and their leaders. The Journal seeks to build an inter-religious community of scholars, in which people of different traditions learn from one another and work together for the common good.


depressing realities

It's not looking likely that the US will do anything when North Korea launches its long-range missile. I'm hoping Japan will have the cojones to pull the trigger, since we obviously won't, but there's doubt on that score, too: Japan knows that any move that even hints at its own remilitarization will galvanize a wave of historical anger against it from China, the Koreas, and any other Asian nation with a grievance dating back to World War II and before. Despite its robustness, Japan is in an economically and diplomatically precarious position; I'm sure the country is aware of the immediate consequences of a missile interception. This doesn't leave me much hope that Japan will do anything, and with both the US and Japan likely backing down, the situation is a lot like letting the class bully terrorize the students, despite there being several bigger, stronger teachers in the room.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

piggy nirvana

It's a gross injustice to the word "nirvana" when we proles misuse it as a synonym for "heaven," but nirvana does refer to the blissful extinguishing of self, a glimpse of which can be found in my buddy Mike's post about his recent quest for the most awesome ham in the universe. (Don't bother reading if you're a vegetarian.)


if you're on Facebook

An old Georgetown buddy of mine, Paul, has added interesting comments to my BSG "note" on Facebook (a reprint of the big essay I'd written on the BSG deity's probable insanity) in which he favors a thoroughly Mormon interpretation of events in Ron Moore's version of BSG. Personally, I'm not convinced, but Paul makes a strong case, and there's no denying the Mormon subtext of Glenn A. Larson's 1978 original. If you're on Facebook, feel free to visit that note and leave your own comments.

(Full disclosure: Paul isn't Mormon, so his interpretation isn't based on a worldview filtered through a Mormon lens. Last I checked, he was more or less Catholic, but moving away from his home state of Nebraska may have exposed him to all manner of cultural impurities, including the Mormon memeplex. Heh.)




Joe Biden's daughter: coke fiend?

The right-leaning Drudge Report isn't normally that active over the weekend, but Drudge has slapped up two links to sensational articles about possible cocaine use by Vice President Joe Biden's daughter, Ashley Biden.

Innocent until proven guilty, I say. If Ms. Biden releases a statement confessing her guilt, I might-- might-- spare a moment to wag a self-righteous finger. In general, though, I think newspapers are at their best when they stay away from speculation and simply report confirmed facts. If the guy hawking the video of Ms. Biden's supposed cocaine use turns out to be a fraud, I hope he's nailed to the wall.



I've never known the sensation of fish trying to chew off my nipples.

But my buddy Charles knows:

Before long, scores of tiny little fishes swam over and started nibbling away at us. It doesn’t hurt, but it tickles like crazy. I think it would be a pretty effective torture method, actually. After about ten minutes I got somewhat used to the nibbling and decided to submerge myself up to my neck. It wasn’t too bad, but for some reason they kept trying to nibble on my nipples, and I’m just not really into fish nibbling on my nipples. I eventually worked out a mummy-like pose that allowed me to cover the sensitive areas but still let the fish nibble away at the other parts of my body.

Of the many sensory experiences I hope to have before I die... this isn't one of them.