Saturday, January 24, 2009

a clear yard is a happy yard

With Dad's help, I bundled up the nine tarps that had been flapping wildly around the back yard like big blue drunken wraiths. I also collected the last of the large pieces of wood and the remaining brick fragments that had been strewn all over the yard. For all intents and purposes, the back yard is back to normal. Next up are two unenviable tasks: (1) making multiple trips to the garbage dump next week to throw out all the wood and other garbage, and (2) crawling under the deck to pluck out all the fallen screws, nails, shims, and cigarette butts that had accumulated during deck construction. I'd love to crawl around with some sort of powerful magnet, but I don't know whether such a device exists for under-the-deck cleaning. (Even if the under-the-deck cleaning magnet did exist, it probably wouldn't help with the cigarette butts.)

The deck itself still needs its handrails put in; that's Dad's job. We also need to clean off the deck's surface, which is covered with synthetic sawdust from the renovation crew's final paroxysm of drilling into the deck's synthetic planks. Inside the house, there remains plenty to occupy us for weeks... or even months. Me, I'm going to be searching for the stash of DVDs! Meanwhile, the parents have to think about calling the county for that final inspection, after which we can take those permits down from our living room's bay window.

On a personal note: my optical drive is on its way, and I need to figure out how to tap into Dad's FIOS connection wirelessly, so that I can move my laptop downstairs and finally stop hogging poor Dad's computer. I also have to buy a small but durable laptop case, something that will both protect the computer from the elements and fit inside my backpack. Which reminds me: I need to look into some sort of rig that will allow me to tow the backpack behind me when my knees start to feel the strain of walking. I might be able to get by without such a rig, but given how achy my knees still get after 11-mile walks, it might be a good investment.

None of the above worries me tonight, however. Tomorrow, God willing. Tomorrow.


"House" and religion

"House" is, in general, a frustrating show for me-- fascinating and compelling, but not among my tip-top favorites. This is for several reasons. First, House's consistently acerbic demeanor makes every episode predictable on some level. Second, any given verbal sparring match with House ends with House left speechless, unable to reply after a zinger from his interlocutor (usually female). Third, the plot of every episode (except, notably, the one under discussion) unfolds almost exactly the same way. Fourth, those aforementioned zingers-- usually psychoanalytical in nature-- can be annoying because they often sound like what they are: the work of writers desperately reaching for something new and profound to say this week. It's not often that I want my TV writing to be as stilted and self-conscious as the writing one expects to find in stage plays, or even in some movies. "House" would be just as interesting if it didn't try to bring us one Deep Human Truth per week, but some episodes occasionally do invite an exploration of deeper matters.

I wish I had recorded and re-watched a rather uncharacteristic episode of "House" that aired as a repeat on the USA Network last night ("One Day, One Room"-- see here). A young woman is brought in, and it soon becomes apparent that she's a rape victim. She insists that only House should be her caregiver-- not the psychiatrist, and not a different medical doctor. House is perplexed: he knows how unlikable he can be, and reasons that the woman deserves to be treated by someone more socially adept. Eventually, though, House finds himself stuck in a treatment room with the woman, and they eventually begin to talk. House asks the woman about her background, and she says she majored in comparative religion.

The ensuing dialogue was interesting, but I couldn't help feeling that the woman didn't sound like a student of comparative religion. Of course, students in that field come in all shapes and sizes, from atheistic to hard-core fundamentalistic. Nevertheless, the conversation rang false with me; the woman would have, at the very least, brought out tidbits from a variety of religions instead of relying on very generic and oversimplified God-language. She also wouldn't have rejected House's attempt at injecting philosophy into the discussion: no self-respecting student of comparative religion would fail to see the relevance of philosophy to religious discourse. She invites philosophical rebuttal every time she makes general metaphysical statements.

The episode ends with House and the woman on cordial terms: it turns out that she insisted on House because she saw him as something of a kindred spirit, someone who had also suffered a deep hurt, and it was this perception that fed her desire for connection. House tells her about the physical abuse he suffered as a child, which allows the woman to open up and tell House about her rape, and to terminate the pregnancy caused by the rape. The episode, while different from the usual "House" fare, was nonetheless frustrating because it did attempt to make time for some sort of religious and philosophical debate, then cheated us by not giving us a fully fleshed-out comparative religion student. The show included a subplot about a dying old man; had they dropped that subplot, there would have been more time for House and the woman to have had a meaningful (not to mention more realistic-sounding) discussion.


BSG musings: the calm after the storm

Tonight's newest episode of BSG was something of a letdown after last week's intense Season 4.5 opener. We now know that Lt. Gaeta is willing to help Tom Zarek resist any alliance between the fleet and the rebel Cylons (Adama is considering the adoption of Cylon technology to update the fleet's FTL drive capability; the rebel Cylons want full membership in the fleet and all rights appertaining thereto).

We also learn that Tyrol's baby was never his: the real father is Viper pilot Brendan "Hot Dog" Costanza (played by Bodie Olmos, Edward's son). This pisses Tyrol off.

We see Gaeta confront Kara Thrace; he harbors a huge grudge against her, since she had almost airlocked him early on in Season 3, and was also partly to blame for Gaeta's losing his leg.

We have no idea what Kara might have confessed to Lee Adama, if she confessed anything: Lee seems more or less normal, so it's possible that Kara never said, "Hey-- I might just be a Cylon, too!" Wild thought: the Starbuck who burned in the Viper was human, but the current 2.0 version is some sort of "Blade Runner"-style replicant. Nah, probably not. I'm still curious to know what sort of technology reproduced both Kara and her Viper; the whole thing reminds me of that classic Star Trek episode, "Shore Leave," in which McCoy is killed but brought back.

Baltar is shown preaching what appears to be a new theology: one that counts humanity as blameless and, Job-like, demands that God appear and account for his/her/its actions.

Adama and Roslin finally get it on, as we knew they should, and Adama himself is seen popping pills and grimacing... is he being set up to die at or near the end of the series?

BSG, like "24," has never been shy about wasting main characters. I've long assumed that Roslin was destined for death; the 2003 miniseries is where we see her get the cancer diagnosis, and her infusion with Cylon blood later on turned out to be only a temporary reprieve. Roslin's arc is a tragic one. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Adama was also headed for an early death. He has too many enemies, has undergone too much stress. He is also, along with Roslin, one of the "parents" of the fleet. A major theme running through BSG is the idea that parents have to die for their children truly to fulfill themselves, and it could well be that, whatever promised land awaits the fleet, Adama and Roslin might not be there to see it.

Previews for next week's show reveal that things are going to get ugly as Zarek begins his mutiny. Gaeta is shown attempting to relieve Adama of his command. The whole situation is a mess, and likely to get messier.

On the whole, though, I thought tonight's episode was a step backward: it felt exactly like those Season 1 and 2 episodes where we saw a variety of power struggles and intra-fleet squabbling. Baltar, one of the most interesting characters on the show, seems to have run his course, having settled into his irrelevant holy-man role. I hope that all these tangled plotlines are actually going somewhere, because tonight's installment felt almost as if it didn't need to be written. It answered none of the series' major questions:

1. What's so reverence-worthy about the Final Five Cylons?
2. What is Kara?
3. What is the ontological status of head-Six?
4. Why is Roslin seemingly telepathically tied to Athena and the Six aboard Galactica? (Theory: the Cylon blood in her veins has something to do with this and with her headache in the nebula at the end of Season 3.)
5. What's the importance of Hera, the half-Cylon child of Karl "Helo" Agathon and Sharon "Athena" Valeri (does Grace Park look like a "Valeri" to you?)?
6. What exactly was the Cylon plan-- the one we were told they had back in Seasons 1 and 2? The phrase "...and they have a plan" was part of the opening title sequence for a while.
7. The Six aboard Galactica appears to be preggers with Tigh's child. How will this play out in the remaining eight episodes?

...and all the other questions I've posed in previous entries.

The Season 4.5 opener, which was filmed during the writer's strike, was apparently written in such a way that it could have served as the series finale, if need be. This might explain the contrast between it and tonight's almost meandering episode. I hope the upcoming chapters are more tightly focused. There's no time to waste.


the deep blue field

Who knew that the supposedly simple act of un-crumpling nine blue tarps, kicking away the ice that kept them clenched closed, mooring their corners with bricks and other heavy objects, then brooming off whatever surface ice remained would take so long?

I was supposed to spread out the tarps, let them dry, then flip them over to let their other sides dry. The day's temperatures crept upward to something approaching warmth, but however warm today was, it wasn't warm enough to melt away the remaining surface water on the tarps. The tarps sat out all day and even now remain spread upon the ground, covering almost half the back yard. They aren't ready to be flipped.

Luckily, I did make progress on other fronts. My tent has been taken down (see previous photo), for one thing. All the piles of "spare" wood, leftovers from deck construction, have been shunted to the forward corner of the back yard. I imagine we'll be making some special trash runs to get rid of that mess. The cargo pallets have also been piled together by the fence; they'll be loaded into the van, a few at a time, and taken... somewhere. The remains of the kitchen tent setup, tossed back into the back yard by the renovators so they could finish up with the deck, are back on the deck and ready to be put into storage.

I've just gobbled a bunch of aspirin to counteract the ache in my shoulders and neck. It's been a few weeks since the last time I engaged in any heavy lifting, so I think my muscles were a bit surprised to find themselves once again called to duty. I ought to be fine in the next hour or so. Just in time for sleep.

Tomorrow: tarp-flipping. The weather forecast calls for wind in the DC-Metro area. This ought to be fun. I've got one other major project: there's a huge cargo pallet still out back. It needs to be moved to where the other pallets are (at the head of our driveway, where they can be easily loaded into Dad's van), but that particular pallet is very hard to move: it's the size and weight of four normal pallets. I'm strong enough to carry two pallets at a time, but the only way I'm getting this super-pallet across the yard is by either (1) a combination of end-over-end flipping and dragging, or (2) chopping that sucker into smaller pallets with an axe. I'd rather not ruin the yard any further by dragging this thing; it'd make some nasty-deep furrows.

Actually, there is a third possibility: my brother David might be coming over Saturday afternoon, so he and I might be able to move the superpallet together. I might just wait for David to show up. Then again... in order to throw the pallet away, it's going to have to be chopped up, anyway, ja?

So! Calling Mr. Axe...


Friday, January 23, 2009

guess what's missing

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funny news quote of the day

Read this with a filthy mind:

“How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives?” Boehner asked. “How does that stimulate the economy?”

Boehner said congressional Republicans are also concerned about the size of the package.

“Government can’t solve this problem,” he said.

Isn't there a doctor drama called "Boner" on TV these days? Oh, wait-- that's "Bones."

(Yes, I know Boehner's name isn't pronounced that way.)


the end of an epoch

Hard on the heels of a historic presidential nomination, an event of almost equal magnitude occurred yesterday: our renovators trundled down our driveway and waved goodbye for the last official time. They might come back if needed, but as of last night, it was mutually agreed that they had fulfilled their contract.

Mr. Jeong and his intrepid crew had been coming six days a week since mid-September. The frequency of their visits fell off around mid-December, then suddenly sped up this week, perhaps because the crew was eager to get this project over with. They dealt with a major wiring issue, caulked up some of the gaps that had naturally formed at the joinings of the trim, bolted down our new but excitable dishwasher (it was shaking under the counter because it hadn't been properly fastened), did some final touchups of the paint job, repaired the hairline crack in the new bathtub, slapped on and grouted the kitchen backsplash tiles, installed the last few electrical outlets, finished 99% of the deck (the rest is up to Dad, they say), and made a few final tweaks.

It's been painful, it's been inconvenient, but the result is a totally transformed house. Mom is ecstatic, even though she's trying not to show it. While I still harbor some disagreements about the kitchen design, there's no denying that the kitchen is light years away from what it used to be in terms of looks, lighting, and accoutrements. The living room looks good with its new hardwood floor, but it's essentially a big, sad void right now-- more dance studio than relaxation area-- which is why the parents are out for yet another day of furniture shopping. The upstairs bathroom is much nicer-looking (a gigantic wall mirror replaces the old medicine cabinet-sized one), and the deck looks, at long last, like a deck.

Today finds me in an empty house: the parents are off furniture shopping, and I've been assigned the sacred task of clearing out the back yard-- something that should have been done a while ago, but was left by the wayside as the madness of Christmas and New Year's came upon us.

Now here we are, at the end an epoch: the renovation is done. What's left is the woozy aftermath as we stagger to our feet like hung-over partygoers, rising blearily from our half-dried pools of vomit, blinking and rubbing the mucusy crust out of our eyes, wondering what the hell happened and who the hell all these other people are.

The renovation is over... but the redecorating of the house has just begun!

UPDATE: For some bizarre reason, the store from which the parents plan to purchase their living room furniture has said the furniture will be delivered "in 3 to 5 months." I have a hard time imagining that sort of backlog for a damn couch set.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

quick note to self


If you ever need to reinstall the Olympus Digital Wave Player so that you can access your sound files (and therefore write your transcripts!), visit this URL.



my blog on my notebook

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the Asus and my hand

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out with the old, in with the bold

The ratty laptop I had bought from a pawn shop in Walla Walla seems, to borrow a spam phrase, well and truly fcuked. After careful consideration, I've decided to drop the idea of data extraction, which would just mean more money down the drain. Most of the data I'm losing isn't irretrievable, anyway: my interviews are still stored in my digital voice recorder, and I still have the CDs for the programs I'd installed on the laptop-- MS Office, Photoshop Elements, etc. The one major loss is that I had typed up several pages of the transcript of my Metanoia Peace House conversation, and that's going to have to be redone from scratch.

I've just ordered an optical drive--a tiny little USB 2.0 8X DVD/24X CD-ROM drive. Once I get the drive, I'll be filling my Asus's brain with all sorts of nonsense, and hooking the notebook up to my parents' Verizon network so I can download crucial programs like Google Earth-- an absolute must as I continue the eastward march.

The Asus seems to work fine-- no bugs thus far. Let's hope it stays that way for a long time. I think of this computer as a sort of stopgap, something to tide me over until the end of the walk. What I really want to purchase, before I head back to Seoul, is a Mac Mini to replace my old workhorse of a G4, currently in storage at Sperwer's palatial abode. When I was working in Korea, I often hung out at the office because the office computer, despite being four years old, was so much faster than the G4, which had been purchased in 1999. Watching video or memory-intensive animations on the old Mac was well-nigh impossible. At the very least, I'd like to be able to watch YouTube while at home! So, being a Mac fan, I'm shooting for a Mac Mini. Better to buy it here than in Seoul, where it'll be about 40% more expensive (even Korean products are more expensive in Korea!).

So I suppose I'm going to chuck the nasty Dell laptop. Tonight, I'm also going to try hooking my Asus up to my father's computer to see if we can't get some data-suckage going. I might even be able to coax MS Office onto my notebook via this indirect route. We'll see.


Justin's cool video link

Justin Yoshida links to an interesting comedic experiment performed in Osaka: if you accost a stranger on the street and playfully pretend to shoot them or to cut them in half with an imaginary blow from a katana, will they play along?

Go visit Justin's excellent blog and watch the video.


interfaith inaugural addresses?

Check this out over at Get Religion.


"Let's build a new America"

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

first-day fallout

Good Lord, people! Obama just got here! Let the man get through his first day in relative peace before you punditize him! The next journalist who complains that press access to Obama is too limited is going to get a visit from me and my baseball bat. The fact that the man might be testy about the thousands of repeated questions and the constant probing simply means he's normal-- i.e., not an exhibitionist! Give him a hundred days.


Charles on translation

My buddy Charles is a fluent speaker of Korean, and has done more than his share of professional translation work-- not the piddling stuff, either, but work for entities like the South Korean government. When Charles writes on translation, it's always an education for someone like me, and his latest post on the subject is no exception. Charles ends his post by asking:

To what extent is it even possible to convey the original sentiment of the language?

I began the following essay as an emailed reply to Charles, then decided it was the sort of thing that should appear on the blog, since it's pertinent to the question of dialogue, one of my pet subjects. Many of the dialogical principles underlying this discussion can be applied more widely to fields like religious studies and history, and to human sciences like psychology, sociology, and anthropology.

To what extent is it even possible to convey the original sentiment of the language?

We know the PoMo answer to the question: it's ultimately impossible. With no transcendental signified, the world of discourse is a free-floating, vibratory, radically subjective and context-dependent realm! It's hard enough to communicate one's meaning to one's own speech community; translating someone's thoughts into another language, such that the communicator's original intentions are perfectly preserved, is exponentially more difficult.

(Of course, many English-language PoMo works have been translated from languages like French, despite their abstruseness...)

The above was a somewhat flippant response (sorry, but I can't help tweaking PoMo sensibilities), so allow me to offer a more serious one: I agree that there's no easy answer to this question, given all the variables inherent in human communication. History and culture play roles in how people both see the world and form symbols to relate to it: what "bread" means in one culture might not resonate the same way in another, even if "bread" is translated from language to language in a way that is-- how should I say this?-- lexically correct. In that sense, the PoMo'ers do have a point, trivially true though it be: we all approach texts from our own distinct perspectives, and this can pose a translational problem.

But this isn't to say that the project is totally hopeless, because human beings are capable of empathy and imagination: I'm moved to tears by some of the poetry of Langston Hughes (I have a collection of his stuff lying in a box somewhere), despite my not having experienced the pain he must have gone through. I'm pretty sure I have a good emotional and intellectual grasp of Gibran's "The Prophet," despite its being a fictional work by a non-American about a situation I've never experienced (standing in a crowd by the waters, listening to a wise prophet's parting words). Conveyance of emotion and meaning-- of perspective and experience-- is not a mere possibility: it's a reality.

We have to trust, on some level, that human beings experience the world in ways that largely overlap, whatever their differences in culture, language, and personal/corporate experience. I tried to make this point in the "philosophy of mind" chapter in my book: there's a reason why the makers of Coca Cola have been successful at selling a drink whose formula varies very little from country to country-- they assume, rightly, that we're all wired in similar ways. Humans can say "I know how you feel" for a reason. We're capable of empathy, of reaching beyond our own skulls, by virtue of our mental and physical similarities. I reject the idea that we're merely "islands of radical subjectivity," as one of my profs mockingly put it. And if it's true that we experience the world in largely overlapping ways, we can probably trust that, even if a translation doesn't convey every ounce of the creator's original intent, the core thoughts and feelings will nevertheless come across, at least in most cases.

So how strict a standard are we following when we talk about "conveying the original sentiment" of a work? As an American, I obviously can't understand a poem about the Korean War in quite the same way that my mother can, so perhaps at some deep, cellular level, conveying the original sentiment is impossible. But is this really the standard to which translators should hold themselves? I suspect that there's a wide middle ground between "absolutely faithful" translations (whatever that might mean) and "absolutely loose" translations (not slipshod, per se, but taking dangerous liberties-- as I saw when I bought a Christian rendition of the Tao Te Ching).

So I'm optimistic about how much meaning can cross the linguistic divide. Here's what I'd consider a clear-cut case of successful communication through a sort of translation. Let's say I'm learning Hungarian, and I get to the stage where I've learned the phrase "Please sit down." Obviously, I'm not at a point where I'm thinking in Hungarian; what I'm doing is mentally translating locutions, like a monk in a scriptorium-- it's a slow, deliberate rendering. I go to Hungary and someone says "Please sit down" to me, so I manage a "Thank you" in Hungarian and sit. In such a situation, I'm not inclined to worry that something subtle has been missed, or that something has been lost in translation. For all practical purposes, what occurred was clear communication. Other practical examples might be "Give me that cup" or "Close the window; I'm cold." It would be hard to misunderstand these utterances, and most sane people, in such moments, won't spend hours pondering their deeper meaning. So perfect conveyance of sentiment between speakers of different languages is possible.

Going a bit further now: let's say I'm someone who speaks fluent French but can't claim to know French inside and out-- many of the language's puns, proverbs, and recurrent metaphors aren't part of my active vocabulary. One day I find myself in rapid conversation with an older Frenchman about some stinky topic, and he says, "Plus on remue la merde, plus elle pue." ("The more you stir the shit, the more it stinks.") Despite my not having heard this expression before, I know, thanks to my general fluency, (1) exactly what the expression means in its literal sense, and (2) the expression's metaphorical relevance to the present conversation. As a result, I laugh heartily or smile grimly, as the conversation warrants.

While not as neat an example of clear translation* as the Hungarian example was, I'd say that this, too, shows that the speaker's original sentiments can be clearly and quickly transferred to the interlocutor, despite the fact that the two conversants are native speakers of different languages.

All of which is to say that there is, in my opinion, plenty of room for perfectly satisfactory sentiment-conveyance in translation. It can never be absolutely perfect (I'd have to have telepathic access to my interlocutor's mind for that!), but in many-- or even most-- cases, it's entirely feasible.

To be clear, I'm not implying that all original sentiments are so easily conveyed across language barriers. There are concepts that are difficult or even impossible to translate, given their culture-boundedness; kimchi is a good Korean example here, as is another of my favorite Korean concepts: nunchi. Poetry and humor are also devilishly hard to translate; much can be lost in the move from one language to another. Scholars tell us, for example, that Jesus did have a sense of humor; he apparently used plenty of sly puns in Aramaic that sound awkward in biblical Greek, but would have made sense to first-century Galileans), so yes, one can never expect absolutely perfect sentiment-transmission in all cases. Many words and concepts can only be grasped through experience, just as mastering the proper flow of English or Korean or French can only come from immersion** and practice.

So in answer to the "to what extent?" question that motivated this essay: I can't provide a specific measure, but I feel comfortable saying:

To a great extent in most cases, and to the point of perfect communication in many other, simpler dialogical situations. But perfect transmission of sentiment in all cases? No. That sort of perfection is only attainable through perfectly intimate knowledge of the culture in which the relevant language is spoken.***

UPDATE: For an example of a semantic morass, read this article about the hokey-pokey song and dance. I had no idea the song could provoke such visceral reactions. (Many thanks to Richardson for the link.)

*You could argue that a fluent speaker isn't translating at all, so please know that I use the word "translation" with caution here. There are good arguments to be made about whether a non-native but fluent speaker of a language is in truth translating rapidly, or is so immersed in the target language's thought-world that s/he is simply producing utterances naturally. This question becomes murkier the more fluent a person is.

All the same, I think my French example is relevant because of the inherent inseparability of language and culture. I think something translational is happening when a native speaker of one language speaks with a native speaker of another, even if the latter is perfectly fluent in the former's language. I say this because speakers of two languages often find themselves in multicultural situations where it's necessary, on some level, to perform something like translation (e.g., a fluent Hebrew speaker inviting a goy friend to a Jewish party).

**In this instance, "immersion" doesn't necessarily mean that a language learner must live a long time in a country or culture that speaks the target language, but it does mean that, because learning a foreign language inevitably involves learning a foreign culture, the best learning comes from some sort of sustained empathetic immersion in that culture's thought-world. I've met Koreans who speak nearly perfect English without having set foot on anglophone soil, so I know this sort of immersion is possible-- rare, but possible.

*** I subscribe to the notion that one can be a true native speaker of two or more languages.


interesting spam

A trip through my daily pile of spam netted me something other than the usual emails related to penis enlargement, finding a "fcuk"-friend, helping out Nigerian government officials, earning $80 an hour NOW, learning English over the phone (Korean spam), or losing 60 pounds in a week:

Find your Russian soul-mate!

I have to admit I have a soft spot for women who speak English with a Russian accent, and if my soul-mate happens to be such a woman, well... gravy!

Damn... I should have kept that email. Who knows what I've denied myself?


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

new toy!

My new notebook computer, an Asus Eee 1000HA, arrived a few minutes ago. I wasn't sure that it would come today, given the inauguration, but here we are.

Damn-- the thing is tiny! It's about the same size as my book, but maybe a little thicker.

We'll be putting it through its paces soon; right now, I'm checking it for damage and finishing up my proofing for the day.

Maybe I'll have pictures of it later.


15 miles to the love shack

My folks live in Alexandria, Virginia, which puts us about fifteen miles from the site where, in less than three hours, Barack Obama will become the 44 Magnum-- the 44th president of these United States. The skies are somewhat cloudy, the air is a crisp 21 degrees, and Mother Nature herself seems to be crouched and waiting. Fifteen miles down the road from me, millions of people have come from all over the country-- and the world-- to assemble in a great mass before the steps of the US Capitol in order to witness a signal moment in American history: the elevation of America's first black president. One gets the impression that the world-- most of it, anyway-- celebrates with us.

Meanwhile, the Seoul office of BK has sent me more proofing assignments (11 pages' worth today), so I'd better get cracking. In Seoul, it's business as usual... though to judge by the tenor of the business documents I've been proofreading, things are looking mighty gloomy on the peninsula. Maybe we'll see a rise in stocks during Obama's first one hundred days. That could be good news for Korea, at least until Hillary starts up again about renegotiating the KORUS FTA (due to be ratified by US and Korean legislatures in February).

How many Koreans will be up at 2AM to watch Obama's inauguration? The old ajeoshis at my former campus dorm/studio are normally sound asleep around midnight, but the foreigners in the dorm might be up.

They're talking about a "sea of humanity" out on the Washington Mall right now. I can only imagine. Millions of people, just fifteen miles away. Incredible. If I were into crowds, I might be among them, but truth be told, I'm happy to be at home today. At noon, I'll take a break from work and watch The Big Moment. We're supposed to be recording the festivities on the cable box downstairs, but the box is already 70% full thanks to all the HD-quality episodes of "24" and BSG that I've recorded. The DVR started recording at 9AM; I wonder whether there's enough memory in there to record 4-plus hours of inaugurationalia.

Well... congratulations to us, I think. I didn't vote for Obama (didn't vote for McCain, either), but I like the man, and I wish him well. He's got an impossible job ahead of him, so he has my sympathy. Making yourself responsible for the welfare of over 300 million people isn't a task for just anybody. By getting this far, this fast, I think Obama has shown he's not just anybody, so as Morgan Freeman intoned at the end of "The Shawshank Redemption":

I hope.

UPDATE: I liked Obama's inaugural speech. As I suspected, the DVR ran out of memory before the speech even began. I deleted the extraneous data, rewound the broadcast to just before Obama took the oath of office, and tried to record... but no dice. As soon as I hit the red button, the DVR began recording what was currently broadcasting. My brother Sean says not to worry: the whole thing is likely to be rebroadcast. We'll record it on the upstairs DVR.


Obama haiku

Barack Obama
leaps upon the bucking steed
charges into dawn

crossing the threshold
will Obama lead us to
some sweet Promised Land?

now, a different race--
not as white as some would like...
but more like the world

if, on BSG,
admirals can be Latin...
(do you catch my drift?)

but remember this:
in the end, he's just a man
--fallible. Prepare.


Monday, January 19, 2009

talk about bad timing

Tonight's episode of "24," airing the night before an historic inauguration, gave us scenes of black folks being beaten, threatened with death, and thrown in cages. Yikes. I'm not accusing the show of racism because I understand the narrative's logic, but American history and culture condition us Yanks to be extra-sensitive to certain visual associations. When Morpheus breaks free of his handcuffs in "The Matrix," for example, it's obvious what such an image conveys (especially since all the Agents in the Matrix are white).

So while the makers of "24" couldn't possibly have known, a year ago, that the broadcast schedule would plop this episode in front of the public on the very eve of the inauguration, the result is no less awkward for the scheduling snafu.


annoying American gestures

Every five years or so, American culture invents a gesture I find annoying. One example from the 90s would be the half-done fist pump that accompanies the victorious interjection "Yes!" I say "half-done" because the motion isn't a complete pump: the fist starts in an "up" or "forward" position, then is yanked toward the body, almost like a fist returning to its default position in taekwondo. The resultant motion feels incomplete, which is one reason I've never liked it. The much cooler-- and much older-- version of that gesture is a full movement in which the gesturer punches the air. The fist goes out and comes back naturally. That's how you express victory.

These days, though, the gesture that's really beginning to chap my ass is this forked-finger movement that signifies "Look at me!" or "I'm watching you!" The gesture involves making a prong of your index and middle fingers, then jabbing them toward your own eyes as if you're trying to poke them out. The gesturer might also jab toward his interlocutor's eyes to reinforce the self-other connection. While some form of this gesture has been around for a long time, its use was restricted to a very specific context: getting a child to look at you. Now, however, the gesture is ubiquitous-- at the store, on TV, everywhere. There's no escaping it.

I'm hoping the eye-fork enjoys a short vogue and dies a quick death, much like the surfer expression "Yar, dude," which blighted the east coast for about a year-- the 1988-89 academic year, in fact, when I was a sophomore in college. This expression was sometimes accompanied by its own gesture, too: the thumb and pinky were extended while the three middle fingers were curled tightly; the back of the hand was shown to the recipient of the gesture, along with a cheerful, gaping smile. This looked almost exactly like the gesture seen on those old, 1980s-era A&W Root Beer commercials, where the thumb and pinky represented the handle of a beer mug and were used to grasp the A&W can. That association may be one reason why the gesture died out so quickly on the east coast. (Do they still do it in Hawaii?)

As we stand upon the threshold of a new era, let's stop with the wussified gesturing, leave gang signs to gangstaz, and use our limbs for something cooler, whatever that might mean.


Obama meets Nixon's ghost

Happy MLK Day! Go on over to my buddy Mike's place and read the amusing story of Barack Obama's first night in the White House. If you like it, and if you're a blogger with some pull, link to it! It's a story that I feel should be widely read.


conscious change

Having let myself go in terms of exercise and sleep habits, I'm now making a conscious effort to ready myself for my departure in late March/early April. I asked Dad to wake me up at 7AM, and he did so. I've got a ton of proofing work to do today, but I probably won't work beyond 5PM, which will be a nice change.

[NB: Scratch that. I just got a private proofing request from a Sookmyung connection. Any money I get from that source is going into my Korean account. I can't immediately access my Korean account, but that cash will be waiting for me when I get back to Korea.]

Once my laptop arrives in the next few days, I'm going to begin long walks into Old Town Alexandria, which is about a 10-mile walk away if I go by my usual bike trail route. My hope is to walk into town, work there a few hours, then walk back home. There's a coffee shop called Misha's that might allow me to sit at their premises for several hours. If not, I'll have to find some other place to work. Wish me luck.


stellar existentialism

Matthew Fox on celebrity activism:

Up to this point I’ve made a conscious choice not to do that. To be quite honest with you, I’m a little reticent to step into that whole thing. This isn't knocking anybody. If they make a positive change, then that's great. I'm just not sure that I feel that I have... the right to...

I'm an actor. I try to play a character in a really cool story, the very best I can. And somehow or other that does make people very interested in what I have to say. ... I don’t think that's my place. Sometimes people look to others for answers they can find within themselves. I don't really want the responsibility of being the guy they look to.

Italics mine.

If you're using some star's life as an ethical blueprint for your own, you've got problems.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

the BSG discussion continues

My friend Andy R. writes:

Re: BSG. I just watched the new episode. Wow!

Full disclosure: I gave up on BSG early on. I mean, Humans were battling an opponent that was Human-But-Better. The Cylons had human bodies, could reproduce, and their only difference was an advantage, so I gave up on the whole thing. I sensed a "Lost"-like series with no plot progress - but lots of "personal interaction" - and I had no interest.

If I wanted to watch people in impossible circumstances, under extreme stress and yelling at each other, I'd go back to a Korean hagwon.

As a special-effects friend of mine pointed out: shows that don't resolve major conflicts within a season or two are just boring. And for that reason I loved "Nowhere Man". Drama, tension to beat the "X-Files" like a red-headed step-child, and they wrapped it all up in 2 seasons.

[ Full disclosure: The fact that they filmed the entire show (set in many different US cities) all in my hometown helped. ]

But the latest BSG episode was great. The Adama showdown with Tigh was spectacular. Apparently Edward James [Olmos] himself added key lines to the dialog, including the "main vein" comment and the lines about "I could smell her."

The girl's suicide caught me off-guard but seemed to rank up there with a Shakesperean drama. Even Lee's show-down with the Cylons (via telephone) while Tigh was in the air-lock would have made a good drama in and of itself. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the 9 remaining episodes are even half as good.

Re: Starbuck and the Cylon count. I sure hope they unravel this plot point well. The now-great drama Doctor Who deals with plot-points like this from time to time, and they get kind of a pass.... but I'm VERY curious how the 2-Starbuck situation can be resolved without a waving of the sci-fi B.S. wand.

Do you remember Star Trek: The Next Generation and their use of Tasha Yar's daughter via magical sci-fi goodness? That type of hocus-pocus would work in almost any other show involving spaceships ("Farscape" comes to mind), but not BSG.

As you said, I, too, hope they continue in a dark tone. The best shows have always had a dark, adult tone in their beginning (AirWolf, Knight Rider, and Robocop come to mind). Watching BSG go out it in a sissy fashion would be too bad.

Andy makes a good point about Cylon superiority. While heroic narratives often establish that the heroes fight against impossible odds, it's possible for a storyteller to construct an enemy that is simply too overwhelming. According to BSG lore, the Cylons who attacked the colonies had about forty years to establish their own "homeworld" somewhere, then use that world as a staging area to prepare their vengeance. During that time, Cylon morphology went from clunky droid exoskeleton with rudimentary sentience to humaniform entities that, as Andy points out, are human-but-better. They have superior recall, superior strength, superior reflexes, and perhaps most important, superior mental discipline (Cylon "projection" is a form of mental visualization that allows them to endure hardship or entertain themselves). Cylons must also have enormous resources: we have no clue how many base ships and resurrection ships they have, but the material to construct those ships must have come from somewhere.

The Cylons do suffer from some of the same baffling anachronisms that plague the colonials. Why do Cylon warcraft still rely on missiles and bullets? What about particle beams that can lance across thousands of kilometers in a fraction of a second? The obvious answer is that BSG's writers have to "handicap" the villains somehow, but this simply raises other questions. For instance, how is it that a race could experience exponential self-improvement in the span of forty years, then suddenly stop improving? The series itself provides a partial answer: Cylons of advanced sentience apparently want to appear human, primarily for religious reasons. It doesn't hurt that looking human (and being programmable) makes one a good sleeper agent. Nevertheless, there seems to be no reason why other forms of Cylon couldn't continue to upgrade themselves and to multiply-- the fighters, the heavy raiders, the base ships themselves. Humanity's destruction seems assured.

The series probably won't break in this direction, but the most recent episode ("Sometimes a Great Notion") clues us in to the fact that Cylons, because they are created beings, are a case of parallel evolution-- invented or reinvented in various places, then evolving separately but in similar ways. If enough different Cylons proliferate throughout the galaxy (and the galaxy's a big place, so this could take eons), they might end up keeping each other in check.

Humanity's only chance is for the Cylons to use their powers of reason to conclude they should relent-- i.e., for the series to conclude on a positive note, something like the denouement of "The Matrix Revolutions" has to occur, where the great machine intelligence suddenly stops attacking. Anything less than that sort of scenario equates to triumph for the Cylons. As scientific thinker George Dyson wrote, "In the game of life and evolution there are three players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side of the machines."

Whether humanity deserves to exist is one of the major philosophical questions on which BSG meditates. Series developer Ronald D. Moore, if he follows the dark path, may be saying that we don't.

UPDATE: ZenKimchi has an interesting take on "Sometimes a Great Notion."