The list is at Yuletyde.wordpress.com
I have made an updated List of All Posts, including short descriptions and some other commentary interspersed.
The list is at Yuletyde.wordpress.com
To look at it, the plain-looking building above would appear, to the reasonable person's eye, to be a house, probably an old one. The reasonable person would be exactly half right (if counting by the letter).
It is actually a lighthouse. Believe it or not... Jones Point Lighthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. It is the southernmost point of the original District of Columbia.
I was there on December 11th, 2015, on my way to Mount Vernon by bicycle. The weather reached 70 F (21 C) and I had just finished an exam the previous day.
Here's the kind of thing I like to find. Hidden or forgotten knowledge, waiting to be found. Libraries are great for this. (Though, in fact, I found what is below in a quiet, dusty little corner of the Internet.)
The Saturday Review magazine's January 28th, 1928 issue has the following advertisement (p.559):
A lot of this advertisement puzzled me.
(1) Who is Aubrey Beardsley?
(2) What is a "pierrot"? What is a "harlequin"?
(3) What is meant, exactly, by "clown"? Is this actually a biography of a circus clown?
(4) What is meant by "Oscar Wilde's downfall"? Again, was a circus clown actually involved in it? This seems unlikely.
(5) Who has ever heard of the names "Aubrey" (for a boy) or "Haldane"? How might you pronounce "Haldane"?
(6) Was $6.00 expensive for a book in 1928?
This word "pierrot". I recognized it to be -- this is true -- a Korean word. I had struggled remembering the Korean word 피에로. The Korean-English dictionary said the word translates in English as "pierrot; clown." I'd never heard of an English word "pierrot." It seems French. How did Korean get a French loanword for "clown"? Does the word really exist in English? If so, why had I never heard it before? Seeing it in English for the first time, in a periodical published six decades before my birth was a pleasant surprise...
Late July 2015: Upon recognizing the Singapore flag in Seoul in a place it had never been before (just south of Gwanghwamun Plaza), I discovered that a temporary Singapore exhibition had been set up.
Donald Kirk is a veteran U.S. journalist who has reported on Asia for nearly fifty years.
I attended a talk and luncheon by him in Washington, D.C. on December 7th, 2015. It was hosted by a university's Korea Studies program. The crowd was fewer than twenty people, most of whom were Asian foreigners. I couldn't tell their countries of origin and didn't have a chance to talk to them. Most were graduate students. (Everyone had sandwiches and cookies but of all the attendees I was the only one to take a can of regular coca cola. Several had diet coke. What to make of that?).
If I recall correctly, Kirk said that he first entered Korea in 1972, previously having reported from Vietnam and elsewhere. He ended up, over his career, reporting on Korea a lot (though by no means exclusively), and is still going strong on that topic in the 2010s. I had previously run across the name Donald Kirk in the Korea Times, one of the English-language newspapers. It still runs his column. I occasionally bought the Korea Times and have written about this newspaper elsewhere on this site.
I must say that I was greatly impressed with Donald Kirk. He struck me as a quality investigative journalist of the classic variety. He was also energetic and vigorous. He looked younger in person than in the photo above (attached to his Korea Times columns). Seeing him in person, had someone told me he was in his 50s, I'd have certainly believed it. (He is in his 70s.)
Kirk's talk was about Jeju (of Korea) and Okinawa (of Japan) and their many parallels. The new parallel is of military base controversies on both.
I took notes during the talk. Here are some of his remarks I found most interesting:
This appeared in a Korean language textbook (with my English translation):
A puzzling question with no apparent correct answer.
The textbook insists that there is a correct answer. The back of the book even explains "why" it is allegedly the correct answer, precluding the possibility of a misprint/typo.
Can you guess the answer?
Who likes an angry, recalcitrant ideologue? Nobody. That's who.
Ideology can blind good judgement, for one thing. This is the case with a list of "best to worst presidents" put out by a prominent libertarian, Dr. Ivan Eland. The worst four presidents according to him:
The very worst: James Polk
The 2nd worst: William McKinley
The 3rd worst: Harry Truman
The 4th worst: Woodrow Wilson
The author is a "Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute." He is prominent enough to be often invited on U.S. television news debate shows.
I disagree with his analysis and I have to wonder if he is even arguing in good faith from these bizarre choices.
His methodology severely penalizes involvement in war of any sort, as we see in his full explanation:
The malcontents were out in force on June 12th, 2015 at Gwanghwamun Plaza [광화문광장] in Seoul. This was the height of the MERS Panic of 2015. The MERS virus cleared the customers out of the department stores, but alas was not strong enough to clear out Gwanghwamun's protesters. A few of the protesters wore surgical masks. I didn't.
Gwanghwamun was once the core of downtown Seoul. That was a long time back, when Seoul had a single, identifiable downtown -- until around the mid-20th century. Today, Gwanghwamun is home to plenty of office space, a few government agencies, and has been molded into a tourist center. You'll find museums, monuments, and the main former royal palace (Gwanghwamun is the name of south gate of the main palace). The U.S. embassy is there. The huge Kyobo bookstore is there.
The most interesting thing about Gwanghwamun, to me, though, is that by today it is a central place for South Korean malcontents to gather and hold their signs, shout their slogans, and annoy passersby. My impression is that the malcontentry has increased in the 2010s over what I recall in my first times there in 2009. The "malcontents" are of all sorts, most often in the guise of Christian religious extremists and far-left political protesters.
I got some good pictures of two particular protesters that day and can "profile" them a little:
(1) "U.S. Military, Get Out!"
A pleasant, sunny Saturday in May 2015. We took a few wrong turns and ended up here:
We were four -- Myself, two Canadians from Ontario (R. and H.) and an American from Massachusetts (S.C.). The wrong turns were taken near Gyeyang Mountain in Incheon, South Korea.
These others were all new to Korea, such that I was leading them around. I translated the sign:
I have some amount of Danish ancestry via my father. The important (by European tradition) "father's father father's..." (patrilineal) line for me comes from Denmark (see post-223), but that line entered the USA a long time ago now. I have never been to Denmark. I have met personally and had interaction with only two Danes in my life.
Let me write a few words about these two Danes.
I was fortunate enough to have the chance to visit Taiwan. There I met several friends, as well as family of a Taiwanese friends in the USA. I spent almost five days in Taiwan, May 29 to June 3.
Here are some impressions I recall now, a week after my return to Korea.
I am going to Taiwan. It will be my first time there.
A picture of the Taipei skyline (featuring "Taipei 101", the world's tallest building from 2004-2010):
I know a Taiwanese family in the USA who have graciously connected me with friends and family there, so I expect the trip will be good. I leave Friday afternoon May 29th, and will return to Korea the following Wednesday.
The study of a language is never an "island unto itself" but rather comes as part of a package involving an entire culture and worldview which has evolved with over centuries and milennia. The worldview must be, and inevitably is, learned in parallel with a language. It is possible to learn the culture without the language, but it is more profound when learning the language. Plus you can communicate with natives on their own terms.
One benefit of studying Korean more-or-less full time over the past year has been the clarifying and/or opening up of such a new perspective to me, beyond what I understood about Korea, and East Asia generally, before. (see, e.g., post #261 "But Which Twin is the Elder?").
Here is a possible example of this. A Chinese native speaker in my Korean class sent me a set of paired images delineating differences between West and East and asked for comment. Simple pictures, simple headings, but not all have clear meanings. I think it's well done and thought provoking. The important thing is that this was produced by East Asians in East Asia, probably Chinese. It was found on a Chinese website.
Blue is Westerners. Red is Easterners:
인간 관계, Connections Between People: I am not sure exactly how to interpret this. Asians have a wider network of acquaintances whom they can rely on for favors? Westerners have fewer people they can rely on?
나(자신), Myself: Westerners have higher self esteem (maybe excessive). Asians tend to be internally nervous and self-conscious.
문제 대처방식, Coping with Problems: Like one of those ink blot tests, many things are possible to see here, too. Asians avoid problems rather than dealing with them as they should? Or is it that Asians smartly go around problems while we foolhardedly and obliviously plow on into them?
Late April 2009
Me (freshly arrived in Korea for the first time): "Can I drink the tap water?"
He (American, several years in Korea): [Calmly] "Never drink the tap water."
That was that. I didn't question it. Why would I? He was the expert; I was a complete outsider.
A very predictable thing has happened in Baltimore. It was so predictable, in fact, that even I predicted it, on these pages, some weeks ago. In reaction to the anti-police political climate (following the race riots and the charging of six officers with "murder"), police are stepping back. The number of arrests being made in Baltimore has gone way down (May 2015 has had fewer than half as many as normal), and murders have gone way up (May 2015 is Baltimore's deadliest month since the 1990s). It's reasonable to presume that one follows the other.
" Mad Max: Fury Road" turned out to be great. I didn't expect this. In truth, one of the best such movies I've seen.
Here is a question. If today's elaborate, gentle, safe-seeming society and institutions -- liberal democracy, let's say -- collapsed due to some enormous shock or irreversible crisis, what kind of political institutions and cultures would human survivors rally around; what kind of stable systems would rise up? In other words, what would post-apocalyptic cultures look like? Mad Max lives in one.
How hard would it be for a vast, well-organized Luddite conspiracy to cripple the Internet?
As it exists today, "the Internet" seems like a kind of magic (e.g., people now talk about storage of data "in the Cloud"), but the Internet really is and remains just a network of physical boxes (servers) and physical wires.
Say a number of Luddite commando teams are raised. Armed with plain old-fashioned hammers, they are dispatched to smash up the world's limited number of servers and dynamite major fiber-optic cable chokepoints. Couldn't doing so "destroy" the Internet?
In brief. Four things I've seen on the Seoul metropolitan rail network ("subway") recently.
Scene I. Backwards Cap Boy
Legs dangling off the seat, baseball cap in hand, a preschool-age boy is seated next to his mother (early 30s). Time to get off. The mother takes the boy's cap and puts it snugly on him...backwards. He promptly changes it to "forwardside forward" (as a cap is meant to be worn to keep out the Sun). She promptly reverses it again. The mother is dressed very casually but seems to be well-off. She is wearing a baseball cap of her own, though hers is forwarside forwards. This time the small boy doesn't resist his mother's will and lets it stay backwards. The doors open and they walk off.
A news story today:
Burundi coup bid: Groups seek Bujumbura control
Organized political violence in Burundi (average annual income, $900).
Few of us care at all what happens in some place called Burundi, which might as well be on the moon. But if it is another skirmish in Eastern Africa's Nilotic vs. Bantu conflict that has been so important in East Africa for so many years, it's worth some attention, maybe.
Surprisingly to myself, given my total lack of connection to the region, I developed an interest in East African affairs in one sense. When I was in university I became fascinated by the little-understood ethnocultural fault line there, and studied it a little bit. It seems to determine so much of the politics of the region and is a kind of long-running "clash of civilizations," we might call it, between Nilotics and Bantus. All the countries in the region are affected. Burundi is just a flashpoint.
Post-305: Annoyed by "Avengers II" (Leading to an Inquiry on the Nature of Quality and Group Thought)
Incoherent story. What's going on? What's the point? Who are these characters? Why should I care? Who's bad and who's good? Even that's not clear. Too fast, as if in fast forward mode. Too many unexplained, confusing, and seemingly pointless fight scenes. Frivolous.
These are some thoughts I had while watching "Avengers II: Age of Ultron". I didn't like it. I saw it in the movie theater after coming upon a free ticket via a friend.
Free or not, I wish I hadn't watched it. I could've used those two hours better. I realize this is a harsh judgement. I'd heard others speak highly of the movie, and it seems it got many more good reviews than bad ones. How is this possible? The movie really was lousy on its own merits.
The UK's general election of 2015 has come and gone. The Conservative Party won. They had been governing in coalition with the Liberal Democrats since 2010, but now have enough seats to govern alone, in the majority.
Every pre-election predicted a "hung parliament" (no party having a majority), with Labour probably able to govern in coalition. One poll even put the odds of a hung parliament at "100%". All wrong. The Conservative Party won an outright majority of seats.
The other big story is the "sweep" of Scotland by the left-wing Scottish National Party, which calls for Scottish independence. This is the first election in which they have done so well. The result must be a carry-over of political energy from the failed independence referendum of 2014 (see posts #228, #229, and #233). Anyway, the polls got the Scottish result right. It was predicted they'd win nearly every seat in Scotland and they did.
What explains the rise in support for the Conservative Party in England?
Even the simplest of Korean sentences can be said in, say, ten different ways, not in terms of rephrasing (as in any language) but using the exact same words. They slightly shift things (especially sentence endings) around to adjust desired levels of politeness, formality, and intimacy. These shifts are explicit in Korean and are a big part of the Korean language, important in day-to-day use. This is one reason why Korean is ranked by the U.S. State Department as "Category 5" (the hardest languages for Americans to learn).
When a Korean is speaking to me, he or she will often shift to a certain form of polite speech. Words shifted to a polite register sound different from the basic forms of the words I know, so in the heat of the moment it causes confusion. Each split second of slight confusion can easily add up to losing track of the point. They're trying to make me feel good (being polite), but it actually makes me feel...bad. I wish they'd stop being so polite!
This reminds me of something in New York City. In visits there I saw lots of signs that said things like this: "Accumulation of Refuse on the Premises is Prohibited". Why not just say "No Trash"!? In this case, this over-formal language is just not a good idea because many people will frankly not understand it.
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