Saturday, October 18, 2008

get your dose of Cook!

Alan Cook, my Walk manager and self-appointed Constant Critic, has written three reactions (visit his blog and keep on scrolling) to Part I of my irreligious religiosity post. Great food for thought there, though if I get time to sit down and do a bit of my own on- and offline bookworming, I might riposte with some critiques of both Rudolf Otto and William James, both of whom are well-intended but perhaps misguided fellows when it comes to discussions of the sacred. Otto and James (mainly Otto; James appears in a blockquote of John Durham) figure in Alan's posts. Not to say that I don't admire these two writers; Otto in particular was part of my Problem of God course at Georgetown in 1987, and I think he popped up again during a Science, Myth and Religion course taught at GU by John Haught.

I'm glad Alan was able to confirm that I wasn't bullshitting in laying out part of Eliade's position (I didn't go into the Omphalos and axis mundi concepts, nor did I cover the concept of the eternal return). My copy of The Sacred and the Profane is in French (Le sacré et le profane) and heavily underlined thanks to all the technical French in its pages; I may remember the content simply because I had to wrestle with it in 1990. Eliade was Romanian, but if I'm not mistaken, most of his scholarly writing was in French. Somewhere in my pile of books are two other works of his, also acquired during my year in Fribourg, Switzerland: Traité d'histoire des religions and Le mythe de l'éternel retour. The Treatise is a long work; I had to read the first section of it for my coursework and never really delved into the rest of the book; The Myth of the Eternal Return is, like The Sacred and the Profane, a short but influential work. I read it through, but need to reread it. Hell, I need to reread my entire library! I'll be doing that once I'm back in Korea.

A tribute to Eliade, which very briefly touches on the controversy over his work, can be found here.


people are stupid

A husband brutally murdered his wife after learning she had changed her Facebook marital status to "single" following their separation. To make matters worse, the couple has a daughter. Good God.

(NB: The article doesn't show any disturbing pictures, but the account of the murder is rather frank. Little is left to the imagination, so read at your own risk. I really feel for this poor woman. The guy deserves whatever's coming to him in prison.)


changes in plan, but still busy

Lots to do today. Mr. Jeong, the lead contractor for the parents' renovation project, has decided that the kitchen and the downstairs are, all of a sudden, the most urgent priority, so the massive clearing-out of the downstairs-- not the attic-- has commenced. I've already spent some time in the laundry room prepping a space in which we will be cramming the ceiling-high piles of boxes that are currently in my childhood bedroom, or "the Dungeon," as I came to call it. Most of what's in the Dungeon right now breaks down rather neatly into (1) Dad's stuff, and (2) my stuff. My possessions, mostly books, form an oddly shaped island that takes up the room's interior; Dad's sundries line the room's edges. It's hard to say who has more stuff, but I have a feeling that, with five-sixths of my books in those boxes (the rest are in Korea-- thanks, Joe and Sperwer), I win in terms of sheer weight.

After we clear out the Dungeon, we have to clear out the rest of the basement, which means moving all the furniture and knickknacks out of it. I suspect we won't really be done with this until sometime tomorrow night; Sean's concert is tomorrow, so we'll spend a few hours away from the dust to watch that, after which we'll continue heaving and ho-ing until Mr. Jeong has enough space to work his magic on the drywall, and on whatever else he needs to do on Monday.

Right now, it's break time. A bowl of spiced-up sujaebi, some pilfered Halloween chocolates, a can of Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi, and then it's back to the grind.


Friday, October 17, 2008

sad news for Alexandrians

I should have mentioned this yesterday when I first walked by the store, but Olsson's Books and Records, a chain store, has closed its well-known branch in Old Town Alexandria. The closing must have just happened: all the shelves were still stocked with books when I peeked through the locked front door.

I visited that bookstore often in my younger days with my longtime buddy Dr. Steve. It's sad to see it go, but all things end.


lots of movement

I've cancelled my meet-up with Dr. Jones today; now that I have a French student, I need to spend time shopping for teaching materials, designing a curriculum, and prepping the first few lessons.

I also want to stay home and be more help to the parents; starting today and all through Saturday, we're moving literally a ton of stuff around to help the renovators access various points in the living room and attic. Dad has created another area in the back yard on which to store boxed items and furniture and the like; once the Fairfax County inspector leaves, we'll be ferrying a lot of stuff out to those skids and blue tarps.

So: meaningful posts about sacredness/holiness, "deep planning," and other issues will have to wait until... well, later.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

quick announcements

The computer has been unplugged until further notice due to the demands of the ongoing renovation project, so blog posts will likely be shorter, for the most part.

Here's a brief slice of today, in list form:

1. Of the two other people who had contacted me about tutoring, one never replied to the two emails I had sent him. He had initally written that French was "a must" for his job, and that he had "terms" to discuss with me; I said OK to this in my reply and asked whether he wanted to meet on Thursday (i.e., today; the exchange was a few days ago). No reply. Yesterday, I sent a second email attempting to confirm a meeting date/time... no reply to that, either. I guess this has fallen through.

2. I did, however, meet the other person today, a very nice Korean lady. We arranged an inital schedule, and she very kindly paid me for a few lessons.

3. I looked over the many comments to which I need to reply, and am thinking I might make video responses to them. As for the question re: "If everything is holy, does the word 'holy' mean anything?", I might reply with a question: "If everything boils down to energy (in various forms and states), does the word 'energy' mean anything?" What physical phenomenon isn't energy? I feel an unpleasant trip down Postmodernism Lane coming on, but it may become necessary to throw in some much-maligned Derrida to help us see what's going on when we deal with claims like "Everything is X."

4. I'm hating the current heat and humidity. They had record cold out in Chuck's part of the world (NE Oregon) a few days ago; that's what I want here, dammit!

Right-- More later.


who wins?

We couldn't celebrate Sean's birthday since he wasn't able to make it home, but my brother David came over, and the parents came back from their renovation-related errand with a few hefty bags of Popeye's chicken, rice, mashed potatoes, biscuits, and those nasty-good apple pies.

We watched John McCain's last attempt at sounding presidential during a debate, and while I've been pleased with both candidates, who in the end aren't as dirty or as noble as they're made out to be, I thought Obama came off as the one who more clearly and simply expressed his ideas. McCain struck me as having almost Bush-like moments of inarticulateness, and while I'm sure McCain has more ideas (and brain cells) than the current president, he didn't lay those ideas out very well. In fact, he sounded almost Palin-like with his occasionally pretzled grammar and his tendency to force discussion back to a very limited set of talking points, many of which seemed to come down to punchlines like "he's [Obama's] gonna spread the wealth around" or "he's gonna raise taxes on you."

There were moments in the debate where I was reminded of the famous exchange between Ross Perot and Al Gore, when Gore calmly pointed out a major inconsistency between Perot's previous business dealings and his current rhetoric about NAFTA. Perot was caught completely off guard, a fact that became apparent to us all when those famous ears of his went beet-red. And that was pretty much the end of Ross Perot, whose own temper was a major factor in his self-destruction.

But despite the resemblance between Obama's sang froid and Gore's bland calm, McCain didn't go over the edge tonight. He, like Sarah Palin, tended to blink too much, and he was visibly agitated at moments, but all in all, he remained relatively calm under fire, and retained enough poise to be, in fact, the more aggressive of the two, at least in terms of tone.

Neither candidate struck me as particularly revolutionary on issues like education and health care, which made me worry that we were in for another boring debate (good God, all those "Joe the Plumber" references!), but I was intrigued by moderator Bob Schieffer's inclusion of a question regarding the civility of the respective campaigns. This segment was the tensest of the whole debate, with neither candidate apologizing for what has been said and done in the drive to win.

But as this part of the debate dragged on, it dawned on me that Schieffer had initially said that the final debate was supposed to be devoted to domestic policy. Once I'd latched on to that thought, the entire segment began to seem annoyingly irrelevant, especially given the pressing issues that should have gotten more air time.

So in the end, I came away feeling that Obama had scored more points in terms of tone, content, and the ability to lay out his arguments in a clear and logical manner. The famously temperamental Nicolas Sarkozy, during a debate with socialist rival Ségolène Royal, chided his interlocutor for showing anger; a president should have a calm demeanor, he told her. Obama's got that down pat. I don't think he came off as arrogant or aloof at all; he was, on the debating floor, a steadier rifleman than John McCain, and at this point I fully expect him to win the election.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Happy Birfday, Sean!

My brother Sean, ten years my junior, turns 29 today. It's a weird age-- a prime number, and right on the cusp of 30. An Age of Anticipation. According to tradition, the Buddha left home at 29. Why the storytellers couldn't have rounded that up to 30 is beyond me.

Sean has already warned us that he'd probably be too busy to celebrate today. Such is the life of a professional musician. Sean's putting on a concert this Sunday at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, VA. He and his chamber group will be performing; check out the information on that church's front page: Concert with a Cause (scroll down to see the entry).

I wish you could see Sean's Facebook profile; he's got some interesting photos of himself up there. One depicts Sean as a blunt-smokin' gangsta (there's a website where you can create images reminiscent of a rap album cover); another is titled "Me before the sex change." Use your imagination.

A surreal haiku for Sean on his birthday:

autumn leaves cackle
grow fangs, leap off trees, and dine
on Madonna's brain

(Long live Bjørk!)

Happy 29th, Sean! Here's a cute picture of a chihuahua for you:


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

the visit

I visited my mentor, Dr. Charles B. Jones, today. The drive to Catholic U. was as stressful as always, but I made it in time for the 2PM lecture, parking by the Columbus School of Law, where I dumped enough coins into the four-hour parking meter to make it gag.

Before I entered the building, I checked by BlackBerry for messages, and saw one from Dr. Jones: "NO LECTURE TODAY" was the subject line. I opened the email, and saw:

Sorry, Kevin, the lecture is on Friday, not today. I seem to have left that part out.

I smiled. Such a mistake is not typical of Dr. Jones; it made him human.

So I walked uphill to the main campus, passing unfamiliar structures-- buildings and benches and sidewalks that weren't there back in 2002. It occurred to me that, despite having been back home several times during my 2002-2008 stint in Korea, I had never, in all those years, taken the time to stroll through CUA's campus. One building in particular, the new University Center, looks spanking new.

I made my way to the Caldwell Building, where the School of Religion and Religious Studies is housed. Dr. Jones's office used to be on the third floor, but that's been taken up by the School of Canon Law (which didn't use to be a school unto itself). I asked the admin assistant in the Canon Law office where Dr. Jones would be, and she pointed me back down to the first floor. I found him tucked into a quiet corner office there, a calligraphy saying "cha-do" (literally, "tea-way") over his head on the back wall.

It was great to catch up with him. He still chafes at the fact that CUA's Asian Studies program is almost nothing, and that more isn't being done in terms of interreligious dialogue (he took a moment to praise the Georgetown program, about which I know little). We kicked around a few topics in religious diversity (Dr. Jones is probably more sympathetic to Heim than I am), talked about Asian culture, the new crop of undergrad and grad students (I envy the new group their opportunity to do an 800-level seminar on Zen with Dr. Jones), changes in the school's structure, family matters, and renovations inside the Caldwell Building.

And so the conversation drew to a close. Dr. Jones rose and walked me partway down the first-floor hallway, then turned left into the men's room while I continued down to Caldwell's exit. I had to grin: before we'd left Dr. Jones's office, I asked him whether it'd be all right to snap his picture for the blog. He joked that maybe we should get a pic of him lying in a ditch somewhere, covered in vomit, with empty bottles of booze around him. "Ah, so this is what's become of him!" the people would say. Yeah, Dr. Jones is like that. I told him that, if I didn't think it would affect his career, I'd seriously make arrangements to photograph that scenario. We both laughed.

The informal plan is for us to meet again this coming Friday, and I'll be bringing along my digital voice recorder so we can talk shop about issues in dialogue, pluralism, and the like. Ought to be fruitful.


my mentor, Dr. Charles B. Jones, in his office (Catholic U.)

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calm weather, weird schedule

I have two more possible prospects for French tutoring, which is good because the first lead fell through, as I found out this morning.* I'll be following up those leads as well as plunking my resume onto to see what I can find in terms of "normal" work. Office jobs are what will save me, I suspect; the work is steady and not subject to sudden schedule changes. If, however, I am able to gather enough tutorees, I might not have to take this route.

I'm also thinking of doing a Craigslist ad offering my services as an actor (I put an ad up last night for graphic design). It might not pay all that well, but I don't have to worry about rent or food, so I can pretty much save whatever I earn.

In other news, I wrote my old prof, the fabled Dr. Jones, about on-campus work; he didn't know of any leads, but did say there was a 2PM lecture today by a visiting Fulbright scholar named Ghassan Manasra, who will be talking about his life as a Muslim cleric in Israel (Nazareth). While at GU yesterday, I saw a poster for a keynote lecture happening tomorrow re: the future of political theologies, which also sounds quite interesting. One of the speakers will be Dr. Mark Lilla, who wrote this NYT article (thanks, Steve) on political theologies. The event continues on Thursday, but I might not be able to make the panel discussions that day.

All of which is to say that the schedule is full. As always, keep them fingers and tentacles crossed.

*Those folks strike me as very friendly, though, and because they're Jewish, I've asked whether they'd be interested in meeting so we can talk about interreligious issues. I think I've missed hundreds of opportunities, during this walk, to limp up to a synagogue and knock on its door. Walla Walla has at least one synagogue; I walked past Beth Israel about fifty times during my month in that town. Ah, regret. When I go back to Walla Walla next spring, that synagogue will be among the first places I visit.


Monday, October 13, 2008

a trip down Memory Lane

I was on Georgetown University's campus for about 90 minutes today, doing some preliminary eye-shopping (Konglish for window shopping) for French textbooks; I had proposed a meeting with my potential tutorees for this coming Wednesday the 15th (my brother Sean's birthday), but haven't heard back from them as to whether the meeting is actually happening. Still, I need to prep a bit, and I thought that GU, language learning powerhouse that it is, would have plenty of French teaching resources. This turned out not to be true, but I enjoyed my time on campus none the less.

Georgetown campus seems much the same, with some amusing differences. Paying three dollars for a bottle of apple/raspberry juice (there's a "p" in "raspberry," Stafford!) was novel, though consistent with my memory of campus prices in general. Another novelty was the presence of an antibacterial rub dispenser at the left-side entrance of the White-Gravenor building.* Are students supposed to have clean hands because they're always in contact with those keyboards?

The Leavey Center, a multipurpose complex whose construction caused a lot of controversy back when I was an undergrad, looks a lot more lived-in now; students were slouched over small round tables and sturdy couches like jaguars draped lazily over tree branches. The bookstore-- and this was my first real foray in it since the 90s-- was completely different, sleek and corporatized. I noted with disappointment that it was nowhere near as well-stocked as the UCLA bookstore I'd visited a few years back, though it might be unfair to compare the two: GU's undergrad population is a small fraction of UCLA's. I saw that the GU store had acquired a second floor, something it hadn't had back in the day.

Unable to resist temptation, I ended up buying a small collection of Pali Canon scriptures after a trip to the THEO section.** Despite my current poverty, books are like a drug to me, and ever since I started this walk I've been jonesing, desperate for good reading material, or even the chance to reread many of my old religion-related books from undergrad and grad school.

Students look about the same, though the demographics seem to have shifted East Asian-ward, if today was any indication. Lots of Koreans strolling across the grounds (at a guess, they didn't make it into the Ivy League school their parents had been pushing them to attend... boo-hoo). And quite a few Spanish-speakers, too. I'm glad; GU has long been trying to live down a somewhat-deserved, somewhat-undeserved reputation as a school unfriendly to ethnic diversity (ask my black coworkers from my old job in DC; they won't have many kind words about Georgetown unless we're talking about the basketball team).

After taking photos of textbooks and their price tags with my BlackBerry, I sat under a tree on Copley Lawn (a.k.a. Copley Beach in the summertime), read a bit from the Buddhism book, and drank my tiny, three-dollar bottle of juice. Tasty, but certainly not worth the price. After that, it was time to drive home. Luckily for me, the route to and from the university hasn't changed a bit. Like Bilbo, I was safely there and back again.

*Damn, it just occurred to me that I should have gone up to that upstairs men's room to see whether my old graffito is still there. Years ago, I'd drawn a cartoon of my trademark Alien (see an Alien sample from my online store here), who stared out at the reader with his big Cookie Monster eyes and bellowed, "The way you humans poop just turns... me... on!" Weeks after I'd made the graffito, someone else had written alongside my drawing, "This is the funniest thing I've ever seen." Needless to say, I was perversely proud in that sixteen-month-old "Mama! I made a poopie!" sense.

**Since my time as an undergrad, I've had trouble separating the terms "theology" and "religion" because most religion-related courses were taught through the Theology Department. My undergrad minor was, properly speaking, religious studies, but it's listed for all eternity as "theology" on my transcript. Religious studies is what I ended up getting my MA in at Catholic U., across town.


one reason why I feel at home on Georgetown's campus

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send your questions in!

Making uploadable videos while I have access to the parents' computer is fairly easy, and it might add something to the blog to engage in a dialogue that's watchable at least in part (i.e., you'd have video of me, but no video of the person sending in the question).

So send in some questions or topics for me to discuss, preferably ones related to issues in religious diversity, and I'll see about making some short vids that deal with them. I won't be able to deal with your questions in great depth, especially if they're of the "what is the meaning of life?" sort, but I'm sure I can offer you some bang for your buck in five to ten minutes.

Oh, yeah: requests for impressions are fine. Perhaps you've already seen Arnold Schwarzenegger.

UPDATE: Speaking of the meaning of life, you might enjoy this post by philosopher Bill Vallicella.


Sunday, October 12, 2008


Here's an idea: let's move world finance over to the Islamic paradigm!

Muslims should take advantage of the global financial crisis to build an economic system compatible with Islamic principles, influential Sunni cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi said on Sunday.

"The collapse of the capitalist system based on usury and paper and not on goods traded on the market is proof that it is in crisis and shows that Islamic economic philosophy is holding up," said the Egyptian-born, Qatar-based cleric.

"The Western system has collapsed and we have a complete economic philosophy as well as spiritual strength," he said at Sunday's opening of a conference on Jerusalem.

"All riches are ours... the Islamic nation has all or nearly all the oil and we have an economic philosophy that no one else has," Qaradawi said.

This explains why all the citizens of Islamic theocracies live in such luxury and harbor no resentment toward those who are faring better, economically speaking.

Really, when it comes down to it, it's not the possession of a "complete economic philosophy" or "spiritual strength"-- it's just the oil, guys. Whenever we Westerners get off our fat, lazy asses and seriously explore pathways to energy independence, such statements are going to sound more hollow than they already do.

UPDATE: This cleric should worry. The economic crisis obviously isn't that severe for everybody.