Saturday, December 13, 2008

where to go when you're not reading this blog

Hell, this humble blog is probably just an afterthought for most of you, but if you're looking for something to chew on while you wait for me to vomit up my post on multiple universes, here are two links for your perusal:

1. A wittily sarcastic review of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" by Roger Ebert.

2. The first part of Addofio's critique of Malcolm Gladwell's article, cited in a previous post of mine. Addofio has written a thoughtful, excellent post; be sure to read it, and here's hoping that Part II arrives soon.



I've washed my first set of dishes in our new kitchen. YES!

Cue Ewok orgy. Rippling fur hiding passionate muscles; thick, gooey ropes of olive oil flying everywhere; a tantalizing glimpse of Princess Leia gettin' it on with Han Solo in the crotch of an ancient tree.

We all know what "Yubb-nubb" really refers to.



"Survivorman" is coming to an end, which leaves us with... Bear Grylls.


how we know Kevin's home

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Murphy's Law is alive and well

Today, I have to dismantle at least two major tarp structures and bring their contents inside. I also have to work on my emcee agenda (tomorrow's the Christmas party), which promises to take a bit of time. And just as I suspected, a large editing job* arrived in my BlackBerry while I was outside in my tent last night; it has to be done by noon on Sunday, Seoul time, which is 10PM on Saturday, Washington, DC time. That means tonight, y'all.

Reality expresses itself in clumps, so it should be no surprise that in one's life there are periods with nothing to do, and sudden moments where disparate events come crashing together. Today is, as they say, one of those days.

*I have two jobs: one that I secured with the kind help of my buddy Charles, another I found through the online classifieds thanks to my friend Lara, who's also based in Seoul, and who pointed me to the ad that led to my employment with a company I'll call BK (not Burger King, dammit). Both are proofing/editing jobs; today's assignment, a six-pager from BK, promises to take many hours.


reminder about comments

Please read my comments policy before commenting (see sidebar for link)! Over the past week, I've had to reject two comments because they were anonymous, and as my policy says, I don't accept anonymous comments. Even if you provide a screen name that reveals nothing about who you really are, that's better than commenting anonymously. At the very least, a screen name establishes a consistent presence and allow me to become familiar with a person's comments and general style of commenting.

The two comments I deleted were both civil and informative-- in other words, they were perfectly good comments, except that they were anonymous. My apologies to those commenters for not having displayed their insights; I hope they'll re-post "nymously" this time around! No hard feelings, I hope.


morning in my tent

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Friday, December 12, 2008

much accomplished

It takes a lot of time to shuffle furniture around on a hardwood floor, especially when you're short-handed. Luckily, my brother Sean showed up to collect his dog Maqz, and he consented (Sean, that is, not Maqz) to help us move some major pieces of furniture-- two dressers-- out of the new dining room and back into one of the bedrooms, then slap felt protectors on the dressers' feet and push those behemoths into place. With the major pieces out of the way, Dad and I were able to wrestle a box spring from the dining room to the downstairs, and I cleared out most of the living room. The dining room currently stands empty; the living room is empty except for a large, extremely heavy TV.

The second half of today's labor involved emptying out the kitchen tent outside, bringing in all the cooking-related items and placing them in the kitchen for Mom to sort out. That took several hours. Mom hasn't gone through any of the boxes yet, but she will in the morning, when the renovation crew makes its appearance.

That's right: the renovation crew will be back tomorrow; Dad will be working with them on finishing up the deck, and the crew will be installing more bedroom lights. We also hope they'll be connecting the plumbing to the kitchen units, i.e., the sink/garbage disposal, the sink's soap dispenser, the dishwasher, and the fridge, which has both a water dispenser and icemaking unit. That would effectively reactivate the kitchen. It still needs its backsplash tile, but otherwise, it's done, and I have to admit it's quite a sight, especially at night.

Unfortunately, all is not bliss. The dishwasher presents us with an interesting conundrum, one not of our making. The Mongolian guys who brought in our new countertops did a superb job of measuring, cutting, and fitting, but they seem to have forgotten that the dishwasher's controls are located on the very top of its door, where they stare straight up at the ceiling. The new countertop for the island hangs over juuust enough to cover those controls, making them both invisible and inaccessible to questing fingers. I'm a bit pissed off about this because the crew had a chance to look at the dishwasher when they made their measurements; they should have cut away enough stone to allow our eyes and fingers clear access to the dishwasher's controls.

We're contemplating several ways to get around this, none of which should involve our paying anything. The way I see it, the countertop team is at fault and should correct their mistake. One possibility: drag the dishwasher forward to allow the controls to peek out from under the countertop. The problem, though, is that we can only go forward about an inch before the dishwasher's corner blocks a set of drawers to its left. If the dishwasher is pulled out too far, the drawers won't open.

Second possibility: cut an indentation that's approximately the width of the dishwasher into the countertop. Done sleekly enough, it might not present much of an aesthetic problem, though I can imagine Mom not being happy with that solution. Looks aside, the indentation would provide us the access we require.

Third possibility: cut the same indentation, but on a bias so that we create what will be, in effect, a recess. The surface area of the countertop won't be affected, but we'll have the requisite eye and finger room. The controls won't be visible if one is staring straight down at them, but if one takes a step back, they ought to be visible from a 45-degree angle.

Dad plans to put the problem to Mr. Jeong tomorrow to see if our resourceful Korean renovator can come up with a simpler, more elegant countertop solution than any of the alternatives we've dreamed up.

Tomorrow, I continue the deconstruction of Tarp City. I've also got a finalized Christmas party program, so I can set about writing up my emcee script in the evening. The Korean women's society president is hoping I'll be speaking a good bit of Korean. I'll try, for her sake, but I'll also be spending most of my time in my safe zone, speaking English. I'm not sure the crowd will appreciate too much broken Korean.


full Friday ahead

Tomorrow's list of things to do:

1. wake up (always a victory when it happens)
2. start bringing in boxes and furniture from under the blue tarps (yes: the collapse of Tarp City begins!)
3. move major furniture back into the appropriate rooms
4. write up script for Sunday's event (I haven't received the finalized agenda yet, but have to have an outline written out; I can make any needed changes very quickly and print out the final script right before I leave for the event; no stress)

Mom seems to have insisted on buying me a new suit for the occasion, after we had agreed on my using one of my brother Sean's old suits; Mom's chosen a cool, gangsterish pinstripe affair. Alas, the jacket she bought was a bit too large; she'll have to exchange it. Shopping for suits is always a pain for me because I have a huge torso and short arms. This anatomical fact earned me the uncharitable nickname "T. Rex" from my brother David; he also calls me "Bird" for the way my hair resembles a bird's nest when I wake up.

What all this means for you, Reader, is that the metaphysical stuff might have to wait until Monday or beyond, when I can better concentrate on what I'm doing. As Alex, Your Humble Narrator, would say: Apple polly loggies.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

a warm-up post

One version of the many-worlds hypothesis says that, every time a sentient being makes one of several possible choices, a new universe is generated in which that choice is lived out. The other "unchosen" possibilities, meanwhile, are instantiated in different universes. Being itself is therefore a froth of worlds.

Either today or tomorrow, I hope to write that promised post about the metaphysics of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials realm, in which worlds are constantly appearing. In the meantime, I'd love to read your comments on the above version of the many-worlds hypothesis, or on the general question of whether other, parallel universes exist.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

well, shaazbaat

A college buddy of mine told me that he and a group of friends would be hitting a showing of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (Keanu Reeves again in bland messiah mode and Jennifer Connelly reprising her "Hulk" role as second fiddle to freakish protag), and asked whether I'd be interested coming along. I said yes, of course, but have just realized that the movie debuts this weekend-- the same weekend I'll be emceeing.

Might have to take a rain check, folks. Besides, now that I've seen the trailer for "Earth," I think I'd rather watch "Gran Torino."


Camille Paglia's take on gay marriage

Camille Paglia's perspective on gay marriage is somewhat different from mine:

I may be an atheist, but I respect religion and certainly find it far more philosophically expansive and culturally sustaining than the me-me-me sense of foot-stamping entitlement projected by too many gay activists in the unlamented past. My position has always been (as in "No Law in the Arena" in my 1994 book, "Vamps & Tramps") that government should get out of the marriage business. Marriage is a religious concept that should be defined and administered only by churches. The government, a secular entity, must institute and guarantee civil unions, open to both straight and gay couples and conferring full legal rights and benefits. Liberal heterosexuals who profess support for gay rights should be urged to publicly shun marriage and join gays in the civil union movement.

Those unfamiliar with Paglia and her writing would do well to note that she's not heterosexual. This might or might not change how you read the above paragraph.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

why be a good teacher?

Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material. That difference amounts to a year’s worth of learning in a single year. Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a “bad” school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher. Teacher effects are also much stronger than class-size effects. You’d have to cut the average class almost in half to get the same boost that you’d get if you switched from an average teacher to a teacher in the eighty-fifth percentile. And remember that a good teacher costs as much as an average one, whereas halving class size would require that you build twice as many classrooms and hire twice as many teachers.

by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker (with thanks to Justin Yoshida)

I admit the above paragraph gives me pause. My own experience, as a fresh-faced high school French teacher in 1992-era northern Virginia, was that I didn't seem to have much effect on students one way or the other: unmotivated students never stopped drooling and grumbling "This is stupid!" throughout the school year; meanwhile, the energetic overachievers remained as perky and driven at the end as they had been at the beginning. I didn't feel I'd accomplished much, and ultimately left high school teaching because I'd come to realize I was wrong for that age group. I don't have the requisite patience for adolescent bullshit.

Teaching students of college age and above in Korea was a radically different experience. I had never been thanked so often for the simple act of teaching, even when, in 1994, I was doing a mediocre job of it. Now, several years on, I think I've learned from my many mistakes and have picked up a few tricks of the trade, and while I hope that my teaching has inspired some students, I still feel that what I do is an uphill battle. What sort of effect have I had on people's lives?

The above article is a reminder that those of us engaged in pedagogical endeavors carry enormous responsibility, and we'd do well to leave the profession if we're not committed to it. Teaching isn't a good activity in which to be mentally or spiritually elsewhere; of all the professions, it's arguably the one requiring the most presence.

Justin Yoshida's blog post title is "What makes a good teacher?" I don't have a comprehensive answer to that question, but I think the foundation for good teaching-- and good teachering-- can be written as a one-word imperative:



do you Get Religion?

Get Religion, to which I've linked on several occasions, is a metablog: it's about writing about religion. GR covers religious journalism and offers its own commentary about how the media handle religious issues and events. Sometimes, it seems to serve not merely as an observer but also as an ombudsman, holding journalists' feet to the fire when the writers at GR see them as remiss. This GR post is a good case in point: it takes on no less than Newsweek Magazine's recent cover article in favor of gay marriage.

Full disclosure: I support gay marriage, and would even go so far as to say that the right of any two consenting adults to marry should be explicitly enshrined in the Constitution. Barring that, a federalist solution-- where the legality of such marriage is determined state by state via legislatures and not courts-- will do just fine. I do not, however, believe that religious institutions can or should be forced to marry homosexuals. I appreciate those institutions that do allow such marriages to take place, but harbor no resentment toward those that don't. An enterprising gay couple will have little trouble, in this day and age, finding a place that will marry them (if they insist on a religious ceremony, that is).

I see the marriage issue as divided into at least two distinct fields: legal/civil and religious. This follows from the separation of church and state: a state might determine that it is legal for homosexuals to marry within its borders, but certain churches in that state would be within their rights not to permit a gay wedding on their grounds. It is important to keep this division in mind in order not to confuse the many issues that arise when gay marriage is discussed.

Arguments for and against the legalization of gay marriage abound; I won't rehash them here (though you're free to leave comments, of course). Whether the Newsweek article has gone off the deep end, as the GR post writer seems to think, is something I'll have to determine on my own. And so will you. Happy reading.


the whole truth

There's been an interesting discussion about the "What is truth?" question over at the other post, and a school of thought has appeared in the comment threads that deserves to be addressed: is truth simply binary, not admitting of degrees? Commentor Bob Koepp puts it this way:

"2+2=4" is true. "2+2=4 and 2+3=5" is also true, but not more true, or true to a greater degree than the former. There's an important difference between 'more truths' and 'more true.'

BTW, I think that people preparing to testify in court should agree to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth -- leaving the whole truth to the gods.

Later, he writes:

..."partial truths" are not "partly true"; they're "wholly true", but not the "whole truth".

Malcolm adds, riffing off my "light as wave/particle/wavicle" example:

"Light acts as a particle" is true. "Light acts as a wave" is also true. "Light acts as a wavicle" might pick out some finer-grained properties of light, and be a more informative description, but it isn't "truer".

So let's once again set out the three propositions:

P1: Light acts like a wave.
P2: Light acts like a particle.
P3: Light acts like a wavicle.

If we define "truth" degreelessly, i.e., as a binary of yes/no or true/not-true, it becomes impossible to distinguish which of the above three propositions comes closest to describing what light actually is. The only conclusion we can draw is that all three claims about light are equally true. This problem crops up in other areas as well. A person who testifies in court might make nothing but true statements in response to a lawyer's questions, but still manage to avoid telling the whole truth (or, if not the whole truth, at least as much truth as is relevant to the case). It does us no good to think of the deceitful witness as 100% truthful (which, according to the simple binary way of thinking, he is); without some notion of degree, we are unable tell liars from the sincere.

So while I can understand how




might be called "equally true" according to a certain view of truth, I think that truth, if we take it to be the relationship between propositions about reality and reality itself, has to admit of degrees.

If I insist on defining truth this way, however, one uncomfortable implication may be that the above equations shouldn't necessarily be thought of as "true," per se, except as descriptors of something tangibly real. As long as the equations aren't referring to anything in the real world, they aren't true: they're correct. Think about the difference between valid and sound arguments in syllogistic logic:

All borogoves are mome raths.
Mimsy the Tentacled Hamster is a borogove.
Therefore, Mimsy is a mome rath.

The above syllogism points to nothing real; it can be called "valid" or "correct"... but is it true?

The equation 2+2=4, then, isn't true except as a descriptor for something real, such as when we add apples together. Truth must be relentlessly linked back to reality, or we aren't talking about truth.

Addofio added something interesting to the discussion. In my first draft of the original "truth" post, I'd actually mentioned something similar to what she wrote about, then I deleted what I'd written. Later on, Addofio apparently read my mind:

Truth as simply a property of language? Or even of ideas and concepts, which aren't always entirely captured by language? Somehow, that always seems to lack a level of profundity that "truth" ought, at least, to have. At the very least, it leaves out "Truth is Beauty, and Beauty Truth"; beauty is definitely not always a matter of language.

The passage I had written and deleted dealt with the idea of "nondiscursive propositions" such as, say, a work of art. There's a sense in which art "speaks" to us and says something about reality. What the message is might not be discursively available, and yet we feel its resonance, as when a poet describes a "black whiteness" or a "round square." These are ideas that might be logically incoherent, yet might nevertheless orient our sensibilities toward something valuable, something about reality that can't be captured in words. I would hate to think that all reality can be rendered as text; this would strike me as too much of a concession to the paleo-Derridean school of differential postmodernism.

Anyway, for the moment at least, I remain unconvinced that it's useful to speak of truth as a simple binary. It's not enough to point out whether there is or isn't a correspondence to reality; it's also important to realize that greater and lesser degrees of correspondence are possible. Not to do the latter is to have an unnuanced view of truth, and that, in turn, opens the door to needless relativism.


da bruvvaz

The church apparently needs a pic of the three brothers, but getting us all together is like herding cats. A rare harmonic convergence in schedules allowed both David and Sean to join us at Pentagon City. Dad snapped the following pic:


we are here but a moment

Jeff writes movingly of his father-in-law's recent passing.


Monday, December 8, 2008


Maqz, the chihuahua who resembles a black hole in dog form, remains with us despite Sean's return from New York (my mistake: it wasn't a gig, as I'd said earlier-- he was attending another friend's wedding). I admit I'm ambivalent about the dog, who is, as Sean affirmed this evening, an "attention whore." The subject arose when I complained to Sean that Maqz had chewed up one of the brush pens I had bought. "Oh, he does that when he thinks he's not getting enough attention," Sean said.

Mom and Dad positively shower Maqz with attention, and I'm convinced the dog is spoiled. I'm no dog beater, but I do think I'm a better and more consistent disciplinarian than the parents have been. To be fair, the dog belongs to Sean, so it isn't really the parents' job to make the rules, but at the same time, if Maqz is going to be spending significant amounts of time at the parents' place, they probably ought to be setting some boundaries, especially in the area of food. I set such boundaries when I'm prepping food: Maqz knows not to come anywhere near my work station while I'm there.

Maqz seems to be obsessed with anything that smells like me. If I toss my coat on the floor (thanks, Mike, for giving it to me; it has served me well), Maqz trots onto it, turns a few circles, then settles down. My shoes have become his playthings, too: he'll deliberately carry one away. If I've been sitting on one of the couches for a while and then get up, Maqz moves into my spot. What Sean said about Maqz makes sense: the dog craves attention.

But if you ask Maqz to come over to you, he trots off in the other direction. He's more cat than dog, in my opinion, arrogant and self-regarding, wanting you to come to him and not vice versa. His only doglike trait isn't a positive one: he begs. When it's dinnertime and we're sitting at our low, makeshift table in front of the TV downstairs, Maqz is there, head poking out from under Mom's armpit, staring fixedly at the food in front of her.

The dog is a thief, too, but that's not uniquely a canine problem. Cats can be just as bad on this score, if you let your guard down. Sean says Maqz steals things, then allows himself to be caught stealing, because he's trying to engage you in a fun chase. This is probably the correct interpretation of Maqz's behavior, but the thievery can become annoying, especially if the end result is Maqz running away instead of sitting in your lap or flopping onto your chest when you're lying on your back.

It's easy to anthropomorphize Maqz, to see him as a pen-gnawing nebbish of small stature who whines a lot, is too smart for his own good, is selfish, is disrespectful of boundaries, and has no sense of loyalty that isn't food-based. He's not a particularly affectionate dog, not in the sense I'm accustomed to. And he definitely needs a stint in obedience school. When it comes to dogs, I suppose I prefer ones that aren't so sophisticated in how they deal with people. Come to think of it, that's how I prefer people to be, too: they can be as sophisticated as they want in their everyday dealings, but when it comes to friendships, those based on simple-hearted loyalty and warmth are more fulfilling than "friendships" based on mind games, selfishness, and subtlety for subtlety's sake.



Transnational progressivism once again rears its ugly head. The article talks about the EU as a possible template for a world government, but I think the EU model is as toothless as the UN is. You can't have such a government unless it's also provided with the means to enforce its dictates, and like it or not, that's going to mean military power, not just economic power. The problem, then, is persuading the more powerful national entities to submit to such authority.

We can already see how seriously people take the UN: its resolutions are routinely ignored or flouted by both powerful and weak nations. The EU isn't much different from the UN on this score: France and Germany have already demonstrated their willingness to defy conventions set forth in EU economic policy, which throws the legitimacy of such policy into question.

Perhaps something like a world government might be possible in the far future, but for the moment, I don't think the planet's ready for it, and I wonder whether a world government is even desirable. Some folks on the left, accustomed to top-down thinking, might see such government as a boon; personally, I'm more with the libertarians on this one.


I would like to make pizza

My own take on home-baked pizza looks a bit like this:


large pita (I've never tried making my own crust)


no sauce, but tomatoes are sliced paper-thin, almost as if we were making foccaccia

Cheese mixture:

crumbled feta
crumbled parmesan
olive oil (binding agent)
garlic powder
salt and pepper (optional; if you include salty meats like pepperoni, you can probably do without the salt)


Whatever you like. Today, I'm hankering for shrimp, green peppers, mushrooms, and maybe some olives.


1. On your countertop: flop crust on some sort of oven-friendly tray-- a pizza tin, a cake pan, or a cookie sheet. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Prep tomatoes. Paper-thin, remember. They're your sauce surrogate.

3. Prep other toppings.

4. Make cheese mixture in giant bowl. Vary proportions to taste. Feta and parm are strong, fragrant cheeses; mozzarella keeps the mixture sane. Use only enough olive oil to bind it all together, like the One Ring.

5. Paint a thin layer of olive oil onto the pita.

6. Stack! Place tomatoes on first, then the toppings, then the cheese (if you're a cheese-then-toppings type, knock yourself out).

7. Bake somewhere in the 10- to 15-minute range.

8. Eat while hot.


Don't try to make a Hawaiian pizza with the cheese mixture described above. You won't enjoy it.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

what is truth?

[Inspired by Addofio's comment-- it all depends on what one means by "true"-- at Malcolm's post.]

I'm partial to the notion that "truth" represents the nature of the relationship between a proposition and brute reality. Truth might be thought of as a property, the way "blue" doesn't exist in itself but is found always associated with (or inhering in) something else: blue paper, blue light as one of the forms of light radiating out of a prism, etc. You never find "blue" all by itself, and the same goes for truth.

"Nicolas Sarkozy is the king of France" is not true (i.e., does not possess the property of truth): the statement doesn't match reality. Truth might also occur in degrees: "A horse is an animal" is true, but that doesn't tell us much about horses; "A horse is a mammalian quadruped" is truer than the previous statement. The greater the correspondence with reality, the greater the truth. Of course, whether one can ever reach a "complete truth" is debatable. Can an individual horse be described completely in terms of its molecular structure, the path it takes through space-time, and whatever inner life it possesses? Perhaps we'll never have fully true descriptions of horses.

We have to distinguish this form of the word "truth" from the different, arguably nonphilosophical ways in which "truth" can be used, such as when a carpenter looks at the verticality of a wall and determines it to be true (i.e., perfectly straight/vertical). When someone asks, "What is truth?", it's the term's philosophical valence that concerns them.

Many things we call true might not, by this philosophical reckoning, be true at all. We talk about "human truths," for example -- patterns of behavior that seem consistent both synchronically and diachronically... but if we find there are many exceptions to the patterns we think we've discovered, those patterns are at best only partly true.

I'd say that some truths, such as the truth about horses, can never be fully expressed because the statements we make about such phenomena can never fully reflect their dynamic reality. When dealing with things that change, things that can be approached from an infinity of different angles, one cannot hope to speak totally truly of them. In that sense, most truths are necessarily inexpressible truths, if by "truth" we mean complete truth.

Your thoughts on truth?



Ah, yes-- before I leave: Happy Pearl Harbor Day.


hats off to Justin

Justin Yoshida always manages to find the coolest videos online. I saw this post and thought, "During my trek, I hope I can walk by an event like that when it's in full swing."


off to a meeting in the early afternoon

I'm emceeing the Washington Korean Women's Society Christmas party this year; this'll be my third or fourth time doing it. It's always been a fun event, so when the call came asking me to emcee, I happily said yes. For me, the event isn't stressful because I don't have to emcee the most difficult part of the evening: the dance! The ladies always hire a DJ to do that segment, and he leads everyone through dance steps, runs the dance itself, and involves people in various party games. Me, I don't have a partying bone in my body. I'm the guy who sits off to the side, alcohol-free punch in hand, bobbing his head vaguely to the music.

The party is a chance for me to connect, however briefly, with the DC-Metro Korean and Korean-American community. I don't envy the organizers the job of putting it all together, but I'm honored to be working with them.

Today, that work will involve attending a planning session, from which I will probably receive the mostly-finalized party agenda. As is normal for any big event, there may be minor adjustments in the days just before it all happens, but those won't be a problem. As long as I walk away with a clear idea of the general proceedings, I'll be able to write up my own emcee script, and it'll be smooth sailing.

The party's next Sunday, at 6PM on the 14th.



Alfred North Whitehead claimed that beauty is the harmony of contrasts.

Discuss. Do you get annoyed when people try to put beauty into words? If that's true, do you think words themselves lack beauty?

One of my old profs from undergrad, John Haught, quotes Whitehead here. If you're into process philosophy and process theism, you might enjoy my prof's book, The Cosmic Adventure. When I was a drooling, willfully clueless undergrad picking my nose in Haught's Science, Myth, and Religion class, I often mentally omitted the "s" from the book's title.