Saturday, February 28, 2009


I should write about BSG all the time! The post I wrote earlier has nearly doubled my traffic because so many people are doing Google searches on "Dreilide Thrace," Kara Thrace's father. (We see Dreilide Thrace's face in profile on the cover of the album that Helo gives to Kara; does it resemble the face of the nameless musician Kara talks to?)

Let's assume Kara is some sort of Cylon. It's possible that she had a mother and a father (her mother was the subject of an episode in Season 3-- the same episode in which Kara "dies," if I'm not mistaken), if Kara is a Cylon similar to the Final Five, who appear to have achieved biological reproduction.

But Kara's memories of her mother may include false elements, because those memories all pertain to life on the Twelve Colonies. If Kara is a Final Five-type Cylon, she's not really from the Colonies: she's a plant, with implanted memories. Unless her military mother and pianist father-- both also presumably Cylon, and possibly unaware of their own natures-- were actually born or sent to the Colonies, it's unlikely that Kara is herself a true-born Colonial.

With only three episodes to go, we've got an interesting ride ahead of us.


guesses, guesses

What we know (or think we know) as of tonight's BSG episode:

1. The Galactica is on its way out. Even the Cylon goop isn't helping. No deus ex machina solution here.

2. Boomer is bad news, but she seems to love Tyrol. Or maybe she was just using him. Remember how Boomer seemed to be the Cylon most in command at the very end of the 2003 miniseries? There's a case to be made that she's more evil than Cavil, quite unlike her good sibling Athena, the Abel in this feminine Abel/Cain pairing.

3. Boomer may or may not have gotten away with Hera when she attempted the jump in her damaged Raptor. Whether Hera was actually in the small cargo container is debatable, but Roslin's fainting spell, just as the Raptor jumps away, leads us once again to believe there's a connection between Roslin and Hera (through Hera's Cylon blood?), and that that connection might have been weakened or severed by the jump (which I assume was toward Cavil's fleet).

4. Hera drew a star pattern that turned out to be a series of musical notes that clued Kara in to a piano tune she remembered from childhood, supposedly taught by her father, Dreilide Thrace (Helo gives Kara a copy of her father's album, "Live at the [Helice?] Opera House"-- aha, the Opera House!).

5. That tune seems to be the same one that activated four of the Final Five back in the nebula. It's unclear whether Ellen Tigh recognized the tune.

6. Kirk and Spock might not have been able to engage in a mind meld when separated by a thin layer of glass, but Tyrol was able to receive Boomer's Cylon projection, which seems to be a form of inter-Cylon radiotelepathy.

7. At one point, the nameless pianist plays a tune that comes from the old BSG series. I laughed because I recognized it at once. The ways in which the new series sometimes refers to the old one are often amusing.


1. Boomer made it safely in her jump (I need to watch the episode again to see if this is possible, or if the Raptor was destroyed during the jump), which puts Hera in Cavil's hands. Cavil is likely to use Hera to figure out the problem of reliable Cylon reproduction.

2. Kara says her dad taught her the tune she picks out on the piano. Might this mean that her father is the lost, artsy-fartsy Daniel, making Kara a second-generation Cylon?

3. Saul and Ellen Tigh talk over whether a higher power is manipulating events, which once again puts the theism question to the fore. The BSG writers have, in my opinion, done a great job of postponing the answer to the question of whether the BSG universe is theistic. It occurs to me, though, that there's a third way, one suggested by Intelligent Design Theory: the power or powers manipulating events (if they exist) might have godlike attributes, but not be gods (just as Intelligent Design Theory* doesn't imply the existence of a Judeo-Christian God).

4. We seem to have resolved a nagging question: has the fleet jumped away from Earth? Last I had heard, Adama had ordered people to look for viable planets, but many episodes after he had given that order, we viewers were left with no sense of whether the fleet was still in Earth's solar system. (This being a universe with an alternate Earth, why not have a terraformed Mars nearby?)

5. It'd be nice if the Galactica went out in a blaze of glory, fighting Cavil's (presumably massive) fleet, but there's no guarantee of this. The Galactica's fate could be more whimper than bang. The poor ship's been through a lot, after all, so a simple implosion is as likely a death as any other alternative.

6. One site offers the theory that Dreilide Thrace is a projection, like Head Six. I find this plausible. How do others react to the man's presence, if at all?

UPDATE: Upon second viewing, I'd say the mysterious pianist is almost certainly a projection. He vanishes the moment Tigh grabs Kara's shoulder to ask her where/how she learned to play that piece (the funkified version of "All Along the Watchtower" that ended Season 3).

7. I remember that old BSG tune well (the one Kara says was actually composed by some dude named Nomian-- Third Sonata, Second Movement), but can't remember what character(s) it announced. Count Iblis, the satanic figure from the old BSG, comes to mind. This might be in keeping with Thrace being the "harbinger of death," who will "lead the human race to its end." Sinister stuff.

*I don't subscribe to Intelligent Design Theory.


Friday, February 27, 2009

cause for a Snoopy dance

Skyrockets in flight!
"Galactica" tonight!
Oh-ho, "Galactica" tonight!


one step away from nothing

Reusable toilet wipes, anyone? Might as well use your bare hand, as they do in some countries (often the same countries in which one eats with one's hands). By the way, aren't there studies showing that disposable diapers are, ultimately, greener than cloth diapers? Wouldn't the same logic apply here?

In Seoul, toilet paper is a major issue. Many public restrooms have signs declaring that all toilet paper should be tossed in the wastebasket next to the toilet instead of inside the toilet itself, a practice that most Westerners find filthy, but which does make a certain amount of sense in a city of 12 million. Not all restrooms make this demand, though: Korea University comes immediately to mind. Their restrooms have stickers encouraging people to throw the paper into the toilet, claiming that the paper will "melt in water" (...mul-ae nogeuni byeon-gi-ae beoryeo-jushipshi-o).

I keep wondering when people will invent a massive grinder that churns all waste into some sort of powder. Such powder would be easy to store, and might even be useful as fuel for an energy plant that could be built to run on the stuff, whatever the powder's composition. With a minimum of sorting to prevent soil-harming chemicals from being included in the powder, you could end up with fertilizer, or with landfills that actually biodegrade faster than current ones do (current landfills apparently don't degrade much at all).

Perhaps the best solution would be something along the lines of that "Mr. Fusion" device from "Back to the Future," a power plant that eats just about anything and converts it all to energy through nuclear fusion. Oh, that would be sweet. A tiny Mr. Fusion in your bathroom to gobble used toilet paper would be a godsend: power your house through your butt! If that device were linked to others throughout the property-- in the kitchen and the bedrooms, and out in the back yard, for instance-- you'd be generating quite a bit of energy.

Of course, the culture would change radically, especially for criminals (and politicians), who would finally have an Orwellian "memory hole" in which to dump all incriminating evidence forever. Future students would be able to get away with some version of "the dog ate my homework," blaming their Mr. Fusion-powered artificial sandworm for consuming their 50,000-word pinhead nano-etching. Book-burnings would be a snap. Still, despite such potential pitfalls, I'd say a Mr. Fusion is the way to go.

And I'd still rather wipe my bum with toilet paper than with a reusable cloth.


Thursday, February 26, 2009


We may have five different ways to respond to a North Korean missile launch, but I'm betting we won't respond at all, except with the usual hot air. Neither the GOP nor the Dems have taken any real initiative regarding the Korean situation. Many of us have been ranting for years about the need to do so.

If Obama does order our military to shoot the NK missile down, I'll call up some friends, get drunk, and allow my friends to film me while I'm plastered.* I'm that confident that Obama won't pull the trigger. Instead, we'll see a lot of post-launch finger-wagging and hear that the US administration is "very disappointed" at the turn US-NK relations have taken.

*For those who don't know: I don't drink, though I have been known to add wine to certain sauces, and don't mind eating several slices of rum cake. I've never been drunk in my life.


measuring up

For no particular reason, I just revisited a site called and looked at reviews for a couple of my college prof friends. It was uplifting to see that the student comments were mostly positive, and quite positive, at that; only a small fraction of students used the format to make stupid comments, and those students' poor grasp of grammar and punctuation made it evident that their comments weren't worth much. The nightmare for us teachers is receiving a negative review from students whose opinions we respect.

Student flak is just part of the job. I imagine this is what celebrities endure, though on a far greater scale as every aspect of their lives is picked apart by the paparazzi and the tabloids. Teachers might not be stars, but they're only human, and they can be stressed by student evals. One colleague of mine at Sookmyung Women's University referred to the Rate My Professors site, years ago, as the Teacher Suicide Generator. She must have seen a lot of vicious reviews. I've seen a few nasty comments on the site, too, but the students who wrote such comments displayed their own worth in doing so.

My own experience with student ratings at Sookmyung was quite positive, but I also felt the ratings sheets were poorly designed, often conflating the teacher with the course (sometimes, course structure is partially or completely mandated by the department, not the prof; one infamous semester involving a twisted form of Content-based Instruction comes to mind). In some cases, the student comments for other teachers (some of us were open about sharing student reviews with each other; others of us were too nervous and insecure to reveal our ratings) were so far off the mark-- one very nice, very competent teacher was referred to as "scary" by some students-- that I wondered whether those students had been huffing glue in class.

I get the same impression while reading the Rate My Professors site. The ratings are divided into four categories: easiness, helpfulness, clarity, and rater interest. I have problems with the first and fourth criteria. What does a low "rater interest" score mean? If I give a low rating, does this imply that I don't have a dog in this fight? If so, then why bother rating the prof if he's not worth the bother to rate? The problem with "easiness" is that the rating can be interpreted in completely opposite ways. If a prof is "easy," is this a good thing or a bad thing? If I get an "A" in an easy prof's class, did I earn the "A"? It's not obvious what "easy" means or implies.

Helpfulness and clarity are good criteria, but here, too, there is room for ambiguity: a student might rate a teacher as "not very helpful," but for this rating to mean anything, it's important to know whether a student actually attended class consistently and bothered to take advantage of the prof's offers of help by visiting during office hours, writing emails, etc. At Sookmyung, one of the rating criteria was "teacher acts for the benefit of student understanding," a criterion that might be similar to-- and just as vague as-- "helpfulness." My rating in this area was always in the high 90s (written comments every semester almost always included notes about my detailed explanations), but the students who gave me lower ratings made me wonder whether they had (1) actually listened in class, or (2) sought help from me while I was at the office (which was all the time; I practically lived there).

As I told one person, I'm planning to write a book for Korean students of English that discusses how students should evaluate their teachers. For cultural and personal reasons, many Korean students fail to look for the essential qualities of a good teacher, rating them primarily on whether class was fun-- not on whether they felt challenged or had learned much during the semester. College students in particular need to shed their childish mental criteria and view teachers through the lens of mental and emotional maturity. Based on what I've seen at Rate My Professors, the same may be true for a small slice of American undergrads as well.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

be careful out there

Eminent Sinologist Victor Mair, whom I know mainly through his excellent rendition of the Tao Te Ching (for him, it's the Te Tao Ching), wrote an essay long ago that debunks the supposedly Chinese notion that "crisis = danger + opportunity."

In a time of economic crisis, when people will be tempted to rely on this maxim, it might be a good idea to go back to Mair's essay and reread it thoroughly. As Mair notes:

Any would-be guru who advocates opportunism in the face of crisis should be run out of town on a rail, for his/her advice will only compound the danger of the crisis.

Maybe the Koreans took the original Chinese and ran with it, but based on a hanja search of the Yahoo! Korean dictionary, the two Chinese characters that form the Sino-Korean word for "crisis" (wi-gi) are indeed the characters found in the expressions for danger (wi-heom) and opportunity (gi-hwae).

Is Mair's school of thought fairly prominent? I don't know, but his argument hinges on this:

It is absolutely crucial to observe that jī possesses these secondary meanings only in the multisyllabic terms into which it enters. To be specific in the matter under investigation, jī added to huì ("occasion") creates the Mandarin word for "opportunity" (jīhuì), but by itself jī does not mean "opportunity."

If I understand Mair correctly, he's saying that, just because a Chinese character has a given semantic field, this doesn't mean that that character can mean a specific thing outside a specific context. In other words, Mair might respond to me by noting that the gi in gi-hwae might indeed mean "opportunity," but the character has that valence only in that disyllabic context. In wi-gi, the character gi no longer refers to "opportunity."

So if you're in a crisis, don't get too optimistic. Treat the crisis with respect.


paradigm shifts

The walk, when it starts again in a few weeks, will be undergoing some changes. Some of these will seem obvious to sideline commentators; some might be unexpected.

1. The primary goal is now to get the walk done, preferably on or before my 40th birthday (August 31 this year). This will mean moving rapidly, lingering only a minimal amount of time in each place I visit, and sacrificing the chance to sweep through large population centers, which had never been a primary goal, anyway. Had I wanted to sweep through the largest possible range of religions, I would have continued down the west coast, ending my journey somewhere in the cauldron of southern California. That would have been a worthwhile trip, but it would have netted me insights exclusively from the west coast, and wouldn't have felt like much of a cross-section of the country (sorry: that's my east coast prejudice talking).

2. Inspired by BJ Hill's example, I'm going to invite people to come to me, to meet me as I'm walking. Hill did this to excellent effect; it allowed him to maintain a steady pace. The immediate corollary is that, in order to attract people to me wherever I am, I'll be needing signage (something that many commenters had recommended before, during the walk's prep stages). I'm working on that.

3. I'm opening myself to the prospect of speaking for pay. This feels dirty, but if I take the hated Facebook and make it work for me by using its event-organizing features, I can create events at which I request donations. If someone on site is willing to aid me as a volunteer event organizer-- locking down the event's location and gathering people for the event-- I'll happily give 50% of the donations to that person. Such events might also be an opportunity to hawk my book on the road-- something I haven't done up to now, mainly because I have no head for business and suck at marketing. (I'm one of those people who felt filthy while writing college admission essays about myself. I've always hated the notion of selling myself, which seems as nasty as it sounds.)

Speaking for pay may, on occasion, include open-mike nights at local bars, if people can stand a combination of raunchiness and irreverent religious humor.

4. I'm also planning to follow readers' advice to slap audio up on the blog. With a laptop at my side, this ought to be much easier to do. Be aware, though, that some people might balk at being heard. If I interview such people, I'll have little choice but to transcribe the conversation instead of offering you the audio.

5. During the first three months of my walk, I was at great pains to avoid trouble with the law. This often meant that I avoided actions performed by other trans-America walkers, such as sleeping illegally in parks, camping on someone's private property without their knowledge, camping beside the freeway (OK, I did do this once, but it was more like a 90-minute nap than an attempt at camping), and so on. The result was predictable: my walk became very expensive. When I did camp, it was almost always at a paying campground-- a state or national park. That ran me anywhere from $8 to $16 per night. If I didn't have any CouchSurfing dates, I dropped into a motel, and occasionally into a bona fide hotel. These are major cash drains, even when the stay is a comparatively cheap $45 per night.

I'm going to spend the next (and, we hope, final) part of the walk avoiding hotels and motels as assiduously as possible. This may mean doing something illegal, like sleeping by the roadside or in woods that belong to somebody. I don't really want to do this, but don't seem to have much choice.

Digression: thinking about my own walk prompts me to think about long-distance walking in general. It seems to be something of a fad at the moment, or it might be an incipient trend. Whether it's a fad or a trend, long-distance walking isn't particularly safe. I've walked along roads with almost no shoulder, forcing me to do a deadly dance with traffic while (1) being fat, and (2) carrying a heavy backpack-- two factors not conducive to nimbleness. Ironically, traffic-heavy I-84, on the south side of the Columbia River, has been safer than many smaller roads because of its wide shoulders. Then again, I-84's shoulders have shrunk to nearly nothing when crossing bridges or rounding cliffs, sometimes forcing me to chug along at a slow jog to minimize my time on the dangerous patches. Even the freeways have their problems.

One conviction that has grown in me since my walk began is that America needs to become a far more walker-friendly country than it is. Establishing safe walking routes that lead across the country should become a priority. I'm not saying such routes should be nationally funded, but this might be something for state governments and private concerns to think about. The conviction has reached almost write-your-congressman levels in me, and it's a cause I might pursue once the walk is done. The need for walking routes along the lines of Swiss Wanderwege is paramount... though I suppose we won't see any action on this if there's no general interest.

Anyway, the above are a few paradigm shifts. I had thought about turning this walk toward more of a "religion and humor" vein, but have decided that that might be a subject for a different walk... if I survive this experience with both knees still functional.


me, too

I have trouble with the easily offended.


the shortest walk

The shortest walk from Whitman College in Walla Walla to my parents' house in northern Virginia is, according to Google Maps, 2524 miles, which Google laughably renders as 33 days, 17 hours-- a pace I can maintain as long as I don't eat, sleep, or otherwise stop for any reason (it's about 75 miles per day).

The route passes through Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. It crosses-- impossibly-- Lake Michigan, leads through Michigan to Ohio, and continues through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and then Virginia.

I'm not planning on ending the walk at my parents' home, mainly for privacy's sake. I'm planning to end it by the water in New York City (with thanks to Malcolm for his kind invitation), which effectively puts me on the coast, and therefore at the Atlantic. It's going to take me considerably longer than 33 days to do this, and my actual route probably won't hang too far north, as I'm hoping to encounter more people (then again, who knew that I'd find such worthwhile folks while walking the high desert?).

I'll be talking later about some of the paradigm shifts that will be affecting the second-- and much longer-- phase of the walk. Much cogitating done, and yet to be done. As so many gyopos like to say: Laters.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

lift up your shirts!

In the spirit of Mardi Gras, which is today, I tried without success to find a Latin version of "Lift up your shirts!", my twisting of the Latin sursum corda ("Lift up your hearts!"), a liturgical exhortation familiar to Catholics and to a wide swath of Protestants (it's sometimes part of the Presbyterian liturgy). I have my buddy Mike to thank for reminding me that the Lenten period begins this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. For those of you planning to celebrate Mardi Gras, the final bacchanal before the discipline of Lent, Happy Mardi Gras!

And if you're a lady, I've got beads to throw you.


yet another reason to hate Facebook

Are social networking sites literally warping the minds of the young?

...while the sites are popular - and extremely profitable - a growing number of psychologists and neuroscientists believe they may be doing more harm than good.

Baroness Greenfield, an Oxford University neuroscientist and director of the Royal Institution, believes repeated exposure could effectively 'rewire' the brain.

Computer games and fast-paced TV shows were also a factor, she said.

'We know how small babies need constant reassurance that they exist,' she told the Mail yesterday.

'My fear is that these technologies are infantilising the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment.'

Her comments echoed those she made during a House of Lords debate earlier this month. Then she argued that exposure to computer games, instant messaging, chat rooms and social networking sites could leave a generation with poor attention spans.

I don't think children are the only ones in danger. I feel it in myself: prolonged mental focus has become a lot more difficult, and it's largely because, in recent years, I've logged more man-hours on the computer than with my nose in a book. Grad school might have been its own form of brainwashing in some ways, but it did have the virtue of disciplining my mind, forcing me to absorb large volumes of information in slow, deliberate, protracted doses: to grasp the subject matter, there was simply no substitute for reading.

This has always been the danger posed by cyberspace: it's a universe governed by few rules and open to the whims of all who visit it. If cyberspace has one advantage over TV, it's that TV demands almost total passivity (a fact cleverly satirized in the recent spate of commercials starring Alec Baldwin and Elisha Dushku), whereas cyberspace requires some proactivity on the user's part. But this doesn't absolve cyberspace: the user navigates it from roughly the same "market" perspective as the channel surfer: if you don't like where you are, navigate away and find something more entertaining.

Reading a novel requires more than passivity; it requires the reader's imagination to fill in the visual details, to generate empathy for the characters (a book has no musical score to manipulate your emotions), and even to speculate on how the plot will unfold based on what one already knows. It also requires patience and focus, virtues that have little bearing in cyberspace, which is increasingly becoming a visual medium, like TV.

At the same time, inculcation in the cyberspatial way of thinking does grant a user certain advantages, including the ability to think on one's feet, to adapt to new situations and resolve problems with puzzle-solving swiftness, and to search quickly for data at need. But this comes at a cost. As the above-linked article notes:

Psychologists have also argued that digital technology is changing the way we think. They point out that students no longer need to plan essays before starting to write - thanks to word processors they can edit as they go along. Satellite navigation systems have negated the need to decipher maps.

I fully sympathize with this sentiment, even as I participate in the downward spiral. My own map-reading skills could use a kickstart, and because I've spent a large chunk of my life interacting with some sort of word processor, I'm guilty of editing on the fly instead of planning as deliberately as I should. But according to the article, it's worse for kids:

A study by the Broadcaster Audience Research Board found teenagers now spend seven-and-a-half hours a day in front of a screen.

Educational psychologist Jane Healy believes children should be kept away from computer games until they are seven. Most games only trigger the 'flight or fight' region of the brain, rather than the vital areas responsible for reasoning.

Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, said: 'We are seeing children's brain development damaged because they don't engage in the activity they have engaged in for millennia.

'I'm not against technology and computers. But before they start social networking, they need to learn to make real relationships with people.'

I agree: computers and cyberspace pose dangers on several fronts, including the areas of social skills and intellectual development. Parents will have to be watchful of their children (and adults will have to become more self-aware as well). But despite a need for circumspection, we also need to face the fact that cyberspace is here to stay, and is not merely the sum of its disadvantages.


alarming the neighborhood

I had the brilliant idea of cooking sam-gyeop-sal downstairs this evening; Mom had bought some high-grade pork for the occasion, so we prepped a Korean-style meal with pan-chan and ssam ingredients, and took the whole mess downstairs so we could eat and watch the news, as has become our ritual since the renovation began to wind down (we have no dining room furniture; all the old stuff is gone).

I fired up the gas stove and we got to cooking... but barely a few minutes into our repast the new fire alarm went off. All I can say this thank God it's not wired to dial 911 automatically; that would have been embarrassing. I should have realized that grilling pork would produce a lot of smoke, and sure enough, it tripped the alarm. The problem is that the downstairs alarm is connected to all the other alarms in the house (we now have one in every major room, bringing our house up to county code), so they all went off, too. What started out as a very tasty dinner quickly degenerated into piercing madness. My brother's dog Maqz is still in residence; I can only imagine how horrible this experience was to his enormous, sensitive ears.

Eventually, Dad and I ventilated the downstairs, clicked off the circuit breaker that feeds the alarms (they also have their own batteries, so we're not completely sure that this move actually worked), and pressed the "hush mode" button on the alarm to quiet things down. But for about 20 minutes or so, we must have been quite entertaining to the neighbors.

Nerves settling back down, we continued our meal in a more low-key manner, with Mom frying up the pork, mushrooms, and onions in the kitchen, where we have access to an over-the-range fan, then bringing the whole thing downstairs. I apologized to the parents for having suggested such a dinner; they promised not to behead me.



Monday, February 23, 2009


Tonight's "24" revealed that there were two moles in that FBI office: squirrelly agent Sean Hillinger (we learned he was a mole last week) and his office squeeze Erika, the blonde with whom he's been cheating on his wife. Well, Sean killed Erika and then got caught, which goes to show that crime doesn't pay! I anticipate a scene in which Jack gets to work Sean over, but it might be more satisfying to watch Sean's wife work him over, once she finds out he's been cheating on her.

"24" is often simplistic in its morality, but it also shows good people doing bad things because of the enemy they're fighting. This takes an emotional toll on some characters, and in tonight's episode, Agent Walker has the breakdown that we know has been coming. It occurs not long after the death of Marika, an innocent who had been dating the bad guy, Iké Dubaku, without knowing who he was. Marika is, sadly, another in a long line of sacrificial lambs on "24," and Agent Walker has had her fill of killing and ruthlessness. When she confronts Jack with this, demanding to know whether Jack feels the same pain she does, Jack coldly tells her, "Then quit." He then warns her that, if she ever draws her gun on him again (she did so earlier, when Jack tried to stop Walker from rescuing Marika from the burning SUV), she had better be prepared to use it. Agent Walker responds that she was prepared to shoot Jack, but the tear rolling down her face after Jack leaves belies her expressed conviction.

It's enough to make one wonder whether Jack is eventually going to kill Agent Walker, depriving beleaguered Larry Moss of his lady love. I somehow doubt this will occur, but it's at least possible at this point. Were I a betting man, I'd say that Agent Moss's name is on the dead pool.

Next week's "24" features a storming of the White House by African commandos. It's enough to make me think that the White House is now the surrogate CTU-- just as mole-ridden and just as accessible to all the baddies. It's a vision of our nation's capital that's a far cry from that of "The West Wing."


who can tell the dancer from the dance?

I note with amusement that the number of "Followers" for this blog goes up and down like a tide, varying somewhere in the 12-18 range. How fickle some Followers can be.*

It does make me wonder what prompts a person to Follow this blog, and what prompts some to un-Follow it after a time. If I were to ask someone who had recently un-Followed this blog their reasons for doing so, I can immediately imagine two responses: (1) they had begun following the blog because they were intrigued by its content, and have become disappointed because the content no longer seems to be there; and (2) they began following this blog because of a kindred interest in religion and/or travel (etc.), but have soured on me personally, given my love of off-color humor (or whatever unsavory personal traits they think they see).

The above division separates people into two camps: those who follow the blog for its content, and those who feel/felt some connection with me personally. The people who latch on to the content will inevitably be less loyal that those who take more of an interest in me personally. Imagine that you're a fan of a particular sports commentator, and one day that person suddenly refuses to talk sports and instead talks about movies or the weather. You'd probably drop that person quickly, because you were never there to hear about movies or the weather; you were there to hear about sports. Now imagine the same situation, but change it so that you're a fan of the commentator, whose engaging, affable manner is what keeps you coming back. If this commentator suddenly jumps the track, you won't mind so much because you're already hooked: you'll be interested in this person's career trajectory, wherever it might lead.

With a blog like mine, the reader's perception and worldview count. This blog is primarily about me and my personal project-- a walk across America to learn something about American religious diversity. But what does that entail in terms of content?

Because I've taken a break since last September, I obviously haven't been blogging anything about walking, though I have written quite a few posts related to religion, philosophy, etc. during my down time. Because I've spent many months busy either with my family renovation project or my two current jobs as proofreader for two Korean establishments, I haven't slapped up as much overtly religion-related content as some might expect, especially if they were expecting daily doses of it.

But as one of the members of the Red Cedar Zen Center pointed out while he and I were talking about mundane matters, how is it not religious to speak of mundane things? That's why I say the reader's worldview matters: if, in your mind, you've created an unscalable wall that separates "religion" from everything else, then of course you'll think this blog has wandered from its primary purpose. What this blog is depends on how you view it, especially if your focus is on a narrow notion of what sort of content should appear here.

The other school, the folks who hang here less for content-related reasons than for personal reasons, won't have this sort of trouble, which is why they stick around. Their loyalty is assured, and they won't drop away unless I start doing something truly ugly online (I'll leave the meaning of "ugly" to your imagination).

None of which is to say that I resent the stupid bastards who un-Follow this blog. Verily I say: they have their reward.

*The "Follow this blog" function is a Blogger gadget, which is why I've capitalized "Follower" in this context, to distinguish such people from regular readers who follow the blog simply by reading it more or less routinely, without e-subscribing to it.


"la vedette du petit écran"

Over at the Marmot's Hole, Koreablogging deity Robert Koehler notes that Korean TV star Ida Daussy-- a Frenchwoman who became a naturalized Korean-- is getting divorced. Knowing nothing about Mme. Daussy apart from her divorce, I looked her up on YouTube and found this very interesting French-language interview between her and two very metro French dudes. If you speak French, you might enjoy it. If you want a summary (or even a translation), please tell me in the comments. If you'd like to be the one to do the summary or translation, feel free to go ahead and do so in the comments.

(Pronounce her name "Ee-dah Doh-see.")


Sunday, February 22, 2009

with thanks

I'm back from a fun weekend with my buddy Mike and his son, whom Mike calls "the Wee Villain" over his fine blog. I had a brief chance to see the ladies (Mike's wife and two daughters, one of whom is my goddaughter) when they returned from their weekend outing earlier today.

As Mike noted, the weekend could have been spent chopping wood, but we opted to just hang, which turned out to be the perfect thing to do. Mike's family has a Wii, which I was able to try for the first time ever: I've been a Wii virgin* since the console came out. The Wee Villain, all of four years old, beat my ass at several games... but I knocked him out at boxing in the very first round, which made me feel like a child batterer when the fight was over. Luckily, the Wee Villain was having a blast the entire time, so he was a good sport about his loss. Along with the Wii, we played a few video games on the family's Xbox 360; here, too, the Wee Villain beat me at a few different games, though I did manage to win one racing game against him, mainly because he was more interested in driving his car in drunken arcs than in actually following the course.

Much of Saturday was also spent thumb-wrestling and tickle-fighting; the Wee Villain was a bit nauseous this morning, and I guiltily wondered whether the tickling might have had something to do with the boy's matinal distress. One form of tickling, prevalent in my own home when I and my brothers were young, involves having the victim lie on his back while you place your foot on their stomach and vibrate it violently enough to shake any blood clots loose. I passed this tradition on to the Wee Villain yesterday, and am thankful I didn't cause any poop or snot to shoot out (of him, I mean).

Mike and I hung out in the downstairs family room when his son was put to bed. We caught the most recent BSG episode (Mike wondered aloud whether BSG has jumped the shark), watched that dude on "Man Versus Food" eat the hottest curry in America, and cast aspersions on the movie "Forrest Gump" while watching the last half of it on cable.

Mike's family has a beautiful dog named Maia, whom I adore. Maia is half whippet and half black Labrador, which turns out to be a gorgeous combination for a dog. Alas, I'm slightly allergic to pet dander, so I spent some of my time sneezing or blowing my nose or rubbing dried muck out of my eyes. When I got home this evening and helped Mom prepare a chicken-and-couscous dinner, I ended up sneezing yet again because Mom had been transferring ground black pepper from one bottle to another. I'm very sneeze-prone, and I just know that, one day, I'm going to sneeze hard enough to expel one or both brain lobes.

But not yet. I survived my trip-- and tonight's dinner back at home-- with my brain more or less inside my skull. A good time was had by all. Thanks, Mike and Family, for the books, the Kierkegaard mug, and the always-appreciated Nutella. I'll be walking over to your place at some point before I head back west.

*Good Lord, that sounds bad when you say it out loud.