Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Stub with interesting link.

I've been thinking a lot lately about soft power and moral authority, and how it applies in a few different instances. I'll expand on this when I have time, but for now, read this article from SALON.COM, and think about the importance of moral authority when one claims to be fighting a war for freedom.

by the way: I changed the format for how you leave comments on my blog;
is there a technical problem with it (comments not getting published), or are people just not commenting?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Probably the defining issue of my generation:

Yes, it's a rehashing of Pascal's wager. . . but it's worth watching, folks. (and he has some follow-up videos that answer that argument and any of your other objections -- look up wonderingmind42 on youtube to see the others) he has some valuable things to say, and he's a high school teacher, so he's good at taking scientific stuff and making it understandable to the lay-person.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I know, why don't you write about why you love to write/why you write, and what you like about literature? Your own philosophy of your art.

Just hit play and start reading. Soundtrack!

I said in the comments of my books post that the person who found my intentional error got to pick my next topic,

Mel won the contest, finding the intentional error and being kind enough not to mention the numerous typos. That’s right: Hamlet was written by William Shakespeare, not Victor Hugo.

Mel’s question was “Why do you write?”

Why SOME people write:

For legacy. Nobody remembers England’s top swordsman in the year 1603, but everybody remembers Billy Shakespeare was writin’ him some plays. Some pretty good ones, too.

It’s validating, even gratifying to see one’s name in print – if you go to the TWU Library, you can look up and read my honours thesis: something I wrote is in a library! That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? It proves that I exist, in a way.

But here’s my real answer: why do I write?

In my second year of university, I bought a bunch of pocket-sized notebooks, and began carrying a notebook and two pens everywhere I went. Still now, nine years later, I always carry pens and pocketbook. The book catches phone numbers and appointments and, more importantly, little things that I notice around me.

You see, if waking up early helps a person feel (and thus BE) more productive, and having regular quiet time helps a person feel (and so become) more spiritually centered, and keeping a dream journal helps a person remember more of their dreams, then journaling helps me feel like I’m paying more attention to the details of life, and inevitably, I DO notice more, simply from the habit of writing down what I see.

It’s not for posterity, that’s for sure: having all those notebooks cluttering my shelf was never the goal -- and going over old journals has rarely borne fruit in the idea department – maybe two grains of wheat in a pile of chaff. In fact, during my second year in Korea, I lost the journal of my entire first year in Korea, in a food court. It was gone forever, but I wasn’t really upset:

The greatest benefit of keeping a journal, I realized then, is simply being the kind of person who is in the habit of noticing, and who respects his own thoughts and observations enough to write them down. The habit of noticing may lead to realizations, and even self-knowledge; it may not lead anywhere except to wonder, and that’s OK, too, but by conditioning myself to be receptive, I become more of the person I want to be – one who sees the world like a child, as a place spilling out wonder from hundreds of tiny cracks that nobody notices, or that everybody else also notices, but promptly forgets (I don’t actually think I’m that special – I just think I entertain thoughts and observations that other people dismiss – my filter’s on different settings, is all).

The little details? They can fill a life up, I’m convinced, with wonder and texture, differentiating one day from the next, or, if unnoticed, their absence can leave a life blank and indistinguishable from day to day. I love my day-to-day existence. Ask anybody who sees me every day.

In summary: I write because it makes me into. . . I won’t say a better person, but it makes me more and more of a person I’d like to be around.

Then, once it’s enriched my own life, why do I write about it and share it? Well, if you see a beautiful rainbow, you point it out to your friends, don’t you? I hope to publish. . . maybe this would be like sending a picture of a really great rainbow to a photography magazine, or putting it on your wall, so even more people can go “well goldurn, that’s a purty rainbow.”

I have another conviction: that every human has a deep desire to know and be known. We yearn for connection. Whether it’s because we long for the closeness we had with God in the Garden of Eden, or because our transcendent soul reaches through dharma to pull us back toward harmony with the true nature of things, or because we’ve been genetically imprinted to be social creatures by aeons of natural selection favouring the humans that work better as a unit, the fact remains that communion with others is a fundamental desire for almost everyone.

Writing is a way to know and be known.

I can know myself by writing – the directions stories take reveal something about myself, and the important things in my life. It’s a common phenomenon for people to discover that the simple act of talking, or writing a problem out often gets them over the hump of solving, or coming to terms with it. In my own life it has certainly been true that the communications I have with friends near and far have helped shape my self-knowledge. I can also share, and connect, and maybe we won’t feel so lonely, if we know that we were both deeply touched by a John Keats poem, or a Salinger novel.

Next question: why stories, then, Roboseyo, Rob, Roboseyo? Wanting to tell a story has little to do with noticing life’s details and trying to be as awake and aware and mindful as possible. Wouldn’t poetry do nicely for that?

Ah, that’s true. Poetry does nicely for little details and textures in life, and poetry was an important outlet for me all through my schooling. But. . .

Arthur Lee and Love: Alone Again Or -- again, hit play and read on.

First of all, I love stories. Love, love, love, LOVE stories. It’s my conviction that stories are the most powerful way to learn something – that’s why cultural values are transmitted through folk tales, myths, fables and morality tales (if you don’t believe me, read a book of Korean folk tales notice how the different values praised in Korean vs. Western folk tales exactly parallel many significant cultural differences.) People understand nihilism better after reading “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” than after reading a hundred pages of Nietzche. Holy texts use stories: every place you go searching for meanings, you find stories, for better and for worse.

The same way humans crave connection, I believe humans crave narrative – narrative gives MEANING, a purpose to the connections. A quotation from the Jewish Theological Seminary says, “A human life is like a single letter in the alphabet. It can be meaningless. Or it can be part of a great meaning.” We all want our lives to be part of a greater meaning. We want the random events of our lives to be part of a greater meaning, too. The story of us can be part of a great metanarrative like

“The Victory of Reason over Superstition”
“Humanity Careens Toward Ecological Disaster”
“Preparing for the Second Coming”
“Rising From The Ashes Of The Korean War”;

we also fit our lives into smaller narratives like
“The Courtship of Deb and Brad,”
“The Rude Guy at Work”,
"How I Learned to Stop Grieving and Love My Life"

and we even remember and define events and relationships with micronarratives like
“That Crazy Night Piper Tricked Me Into Drinking Bacardi 151,” or
“My Failed Attempt to Become a Tea Expert"
“The Rise and Fall of My Friendship With X”.

Scientists say the universe is made of atoms. My old Professor Szabo once said the world is made of stories, and I say the universe is made of meanings. Sometimes the meaning is as simple as "It is what it is", but reaching for meanings is our greatness. We're the only onese who could imagine ourselves improving our lot (another kind of narrative) rather than resigning ourselves to a life of hunting and being hunted.

So, Roboseyo, what are you trying to accomplish when you write?

I’m fascinated by stories, and by people, and the choices people make. Choices don’t appear in a poem, nor do characters (a poem is too focussed to ever catch more than a single gesture, a single facet) – you need a story for more than that. And if I can add some of the wonder of life’s little details and the poignancy of a person making an important choice, and the honesty of a character who seems to really breathe . . . well, that sounds like the makings of a pretty good story, doesn’t it?

I also believe that writing is an act of hope: hope that it IS possible to connect with another person, to write and be understood, to read and understand, to find a way for two minds to (partially) be one. It is an act of faith in humanity, that we CAN reach each other, and maybe even improve each other’s lives. Sometimes it takes a bit of courage to believe that, but I think writers must.

Of poetry, John Keats said once that “I feel assured I should write from the mere yearning and fondness I have for the beautiful, even if my night’s labours should be burnt every morning and no eye ever shine upon them” – John Keats, letter to Richard Woodhouse, 17/10/1818

He didn’t write to have people pat him on the back and say, “You’re a great writer” – he was given over to the beauty of the world he saw, and the best way he could express it was to write, regardless of who read it later.

Those moments of beauty and insight, those moments of choice and truth, are the ones we live for.

Sometimes, I think the job of a writer at its purest, is to get the hell out of the way – characters and images and stories come, and a humble writer, committed to serving the story, will interfere as little as possible as the story takes its most perfect form. This requires a self-critical eye, or, I prefer saying, the ability to listen to one’s own writing, and encourage it (like a parent to a child) to become its best self. If I try to control it too much (like a protective parent), the story will never be bigger than my own limited abilities, but if I can get lost in the wonders of the moments and characters I want to create, maybe I’ll move out of the way enough that they can take the step from my mind and/or senses, onto the page, without getting cluttered by my own ego.

(For a great example of a humble storyteller, watch Million Dollar Baby or Unforgiven – Clint Eastwood is a very humble filmmaker, willing to step out of the way and let a story tell itself; exactly the opposite of Martin Scorsese, whose films are great, but always seem to be saying “Hey, look at this guy! He sure is a great filmmaker!”)

Here’s a long quote from Flannery O’Connor, the subject of my University Honours Thesis, and one of the most influential writers in my life:

”People are always complaining that the modern novelist has no hope and that the picture he paints of the world is unbearable. The only answer to this is that people without hope do not write novels. Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I'm always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it's very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won't survive the ordeal.

"People without hope not only don't write novels, but what is more to the point, they don't read them. They don't take long looks at anything, because they lack the courage. The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience, and the novel, of course, is a way to have experience. The lady who only read books that improved her mind was taking a safe course--and a hopeless one. She'll never know whether her mind is improved or not, but should she ever, by some mistake, read a great novel, she'll know mighty well that something is happening to her.

Any questions?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I see a dance craze coming on!

This song is called Twiggy Twiggy by the Pizzicato Five (think I spelled that right).

I think bossa nova (that's what this is, right?) is my favourite rhythm for a song -- a fast bossa nova is the one that makes me want to dance EVERY time.

Other songs that make me want to dance every time I hear them:

Hey Ya

Home For A Rest

Soul Bossa Nova (surprise!)

anyway, Mel won the game of "Spot the Intentional Error" on my last post, so she got to choose the topic of my next post. She wants me to write about "why you love to write/why you write, and what you like about literature? Your own philosophy of your art."

that'll take a little time to stew before I'm ready to post it, so until then. . .


It's a bit hard to spot, but this, about an hour climb up the mountainside, was a little stand where somebody was selling instrumental cassette tapes. HALFWAY UP THE MOUNTAIN!

Blew my mind, made me laugh. A lot of older gentlemen like to hike with a tape player around their necks, so maybe this is where you can recharge, in case youve already been through your first tape once or twice, and need new accompaniment on your way down the mountain.

This is on Surak Mountain, a mountain near my old home in Nowon (second year in Korea).

It's a pretty impressive mountain, but Matt and I slammed it on Saturday morning, going all the way up and down in just under three hours. Two years ago, this mountain would have taken me four hours, maybe four and a half. Improving one's time by a third doesn't sound that impressive, until you consider that the bulk of that's steep up and downhill, and that causes heartrates to climb and out-of-breathness to occur. Fact is, it was a flippin cold day; we HAD to move fast or we'd freeze in the rock-face winds.
We climbed this. It IS as steep as it looks.
And this was the payoff.
Leaves are changing; that's why EVERYONE's heading for the mountains these days.

As I said before, persimmons are ripe. Girlfriendoseyo and I wandered into the tea garden, and saw trees just sagging with ripe persimmons. It was a beautiful contrast of colour, dark sky against vivid orange fruit. The pictures are small. . . I think the cameraphone automatically decreased the photo size to compensate for the low light. . . if that makes any sense.

It's finally gone over the edge: this picture is a bit blurry, but it's an ad for soju. The soju girls are probably the most photoshopped models in Korea (other than the LaNeige models). . .

this one looks so touched up, I wonder if they even had to pay the original model anymore? Looking at this one, I thought they might have just generated her digitally, rather than even bothering with a model.

Did I post these pictures already?

Anyway . . .

This is all that remains of the old bubble street shop, which gave me so much joy. . . before it got demolished.

I also saw a little prince cafe once.


She looks lonely. This is in the high fashion district.

next: the aesthetic of Roboseyo

Friday, October 19, 2007

Books that become old friends, some shameless begging, and a game of "spot the intentional error"

Sometimes you come across a book that will become an old friend -- one that you buy in hardcover, because you know you will read it often enough to justify having a well-bound copy.

Because I change apartments frequently, it is important to try and keep my book collection small: books take up a lot of space and weight, especially if you ever move between Canada and Korea.

Here is my list, in no particular order (other than the order in which they came to mind, which says something in itself).

The Little Prince - Antoine de St.Exupery
Haroun and the Sea of Stories - Salman Rushdie
Ahead of All Parting - The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke - trans. by Stephen Mitchell
New American Standard Bible - breast pocket edition
The Annie Dillard Reader
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzerald
The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
Franny and Zooey - JD Salinger
Waiting for Godot - Samuel Beckett
Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
Speaker For The Dead - Orson Scott Card
Mirrored Minds: A Thousand Years of Korean Verse - trans. by Kevin O'Rourke
Tao Te Ching - Lao Tsu (my translation is by Sam Hamill, and highly recommended.
The Art of Happiness - Dalai Lama and another guy.
Several of John Keats' best poems.
(with pride:)
Coraline - Neil Gaiman
Batman: the Dark Knight Returns - Frank Miller
Batman: the Dark Knight Strikes Again - Frank Miller

Others that nearly made the list, or are somewhere in an anthology on my shelf, etc:
The Collected Short Fiction of Flannery O'Connor
Hamlet - Victor Hugo
E.E. Cummings - Selected Poems
Oedipus Rex - Sophocles (I once tried to write an essay on this one, and after reading it, was so impressed I didn't want to write about it: I just wanted to read it to people instead.)
amazingly enough
The Iliad - Homer (translated by Robert Fagles - thought it would be dusty and dry, but this translation is vivid, visceral, and quite stirring!)
The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
Where the Sidewalk Ends - Shel Silverstein

painfully absent:
Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

if my apartment building burnt down, I'd grieve the loss of some irreplaceable things, particularly some photos, old drafts of old poems, and the painting my best friend Melissa made for me, but those are the books I'd buy again.

For a guy who loves reading and storytelling as much as me, that list is pretty darn short!

But the reason I'm writing about this is because I just reread Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
(Ender's Game, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, The Catcher in the Rye, Rilke, The Little Prince, Mirrored Minds, and the Tao Te Ching are the books end up off the shelf and in my hands most often)

My friend Tamie wrote on her blog that Seymour, from JD Salinger's works, is the fictional character she'd most like to meet.

I'm gonna add to that list, the Little Prince, and Ender Wiggin, the protagonist of Ender's Game and Speaker For The Dead.

Here's why:

Ender's story touches me deeply, because I really feel like he is the most human, most representative everyman I've ever read. He contains the genius, the potential, and the sorrow, the compassion and the viciousness, the insight and the need for redemption, that made the human condition so baffling, and all these features are displayed believably and compassionately in a character that is so human, I feel like I know him. I don't want to give away any plot points if you haven't read the books, but Ender's flawed, confused greatness is the most touchingly human portrayal I've ever seen of a protagonist in a book.

I highly, highly, highly recommend you read Ender's Game, and Speaker For The Dead: they will teach you something about compassion and healing, in a more profound way than you'd ever think, given that it's a pair of science fiction books. I think maybe there are some things that we can only learn from stories. The Talmudic Tradition, and Jesus, were onto something there.

(My other favourite everymen (everyhumans) are Holden Caulfield (Catcher In The Rye), and, though he's a little too perfect, is Jean Valjean. I love him, but I don't feel like I know him, the way I do with Ender.)

If you want to know why I love Catcher in the Rye, and especially Holden Caulfield, so much, ask.

PS: It's my birthday on Monday. I feel kind of bad doing this, but here's a low-grade, and low-class call out:

(shameless begging for my friends in Canada to send me something that can't be found in Korea. . . more shameless begging for my friends in Canada to send me something that can't be found in Korea. . .more shameless begging for my friends in Canada to send me something that can't be found in Korea. . .)

. . . please? If you really want, I'll send you some compensation.

(just in case this wasn't shameless enough already. . . )

This begging can be used as wallpaper, too.

so, uh, enough of that.

what books are YOUR best friends?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Grasping and veering: the moment

The moment

so here's the thing.

In the effort of giving one's all, of being actually In The Moment, appreciating The Here And Now, there are pitfalls.

I've recently had trouble with the old cliche that you ought to live each day as if it were your last, because that's a non-viable lifestyle. If I woke up this morning and Gabrielle the messenger angel visited me in the shower and told me that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I'd be dead by midnight that day, I'd make a certain set of choices:

What would you do?

I'd find a way to be with as many of the ones I love as possible; I'd eat the best food I knew; I'd write a letter or phone the people I could not have around me; if I were in Korea, I might try to cheat time by flying to Vancouver, crossing the international date line, and stealing an extra sixteen or seventeen hours. I'd do my damndest to die happy, whatever that means.

The thing is, I can't live each day as if it were my last. That's a pretty manic kind of day, jettisoning all responsibilities, etc.. I'd get fired after two days of living each day as if it were my last. You see the problem.

That silly old adage, I suppose, is actually intended to encourage people to live without fear, and maybe also, to live with an integrity such that, if one DID die suddenly, one could stand before God and say one has no regrets, if nothing else.

One part of that, I think, is living in the moment: being mindful of the world around, of the wonders visible all around creation, to be fully Present for the experience of being alive. That requires its own kind of courage -- to know, and then live according to, one's priorities, rather than other's perceptions, measurements, or expectations, is important to actually finding joy.

I think there are many ways we get trapped out of really Being Present, but recently I've been thinking about two in particular: veering and grasping.

I said to Girlfriendoseyo once, "There are some things that can't be fully experienced if you hesitate." This is especially true of relationships, I think. If my default approach is caution, if I'm hedging my bets before I know anything, I might shut myself off from something real, because I wanted to stay safe. My old roommate Anthony taught me the word velleity -- it means "the lowest level of motivation" -- that vague hankering one never gets around to acting upon. "I should work out more." "It was a long time ago, but I ought to apologize, really." Often the old objection, "sounds too much like work" prevents us from really investing and getting passionate about something. Sometimes, we're just afraid of what it might demand of us if we really pour ourselves into something.

A sports writer I like (Bill Simmons) discussed this in a column once as it applies to sports: some athletes DON'T prepare the best they can for their sport, so that they have an excuse ready if they fail -- if Quarterback A loses the big game, he thinks "I'll work out this off-season, instead of just drinking beer and driving my motorcycle" -- his excuse is ready-made because of his own lack of effort. He let himself down, but he can boast that "I could have won the game if I wanted". If Quarterback B loses the big game, he has nothing to fall back on -- "I trained and prepared, brought myself to the absolute peak of my ability physically and mentally. . . and I STILL failed." That's a much lonelier failure, because there's nowhere to hide. Some people do the same with relationships -- "I've been hurt before, so I'll hold back on this new one, so that I'm limiting how much she could hurt me, if it doesn't work out" -- but holding onto that old baggage might keep me from reaching the peak of the mountain! Maybe the loss hurts more if one's fully invested, but I'd much rather have a "gave it my best and it didn't work out" in my past than a "woulda coulda shoulda" -- I think the regret of woulda coulda shoulda's linger longer.

On the other hand, I realized another way people shut themselves out of truly experiencing a moment last Saturday: Girlfriendoseyo and I walked out to the middle of Mapo bridge on the Han River in Seoul, because over by 63 Building (the tallest building in Korea), there was a fireworks festival. I opened my eyes wide and watched, taking in as much as I could, from the delay between flash and boom, because of the distance, to the jostling of crowds, to the whistling of traffic conductors keeping people off the lanes still open to traffic. A large (huge) number of others, instead of watching the fireworks, held their cameras up in the air, pointed them at the fireworks, clicked, and checked in the display screen for what they had. Instead of enjoying the moment, they removed themselves a step from the actual experience, by filtering it through a camera. Taking a picture of something as ephemeral as fireworks strikes me as completely defeating the purpose of going to a fireworks show, unless you're a pyrotechnician yourself, collecting data on your rivals.

They may as well have stayed home and watched them on TV, or downloaded clips of fireworks displays from the internet! Why go in person if you're not going to BE there? (Yes, that's Be with a capital B.) Some moments are like water -- they're meant to run through your fingers and be gone, and if you catch water in a bowl, it loses a lot of the beauty it had when it was in motion, jumping over rocks and scattering light in every direction.

Camera culture is strange to me -- cameras only catch one of the five senses, and give no sense of story, and to me, if it's not a story, it's not a memory. My best memories from Malaysia are tastes, running jokes, textures of food or sand, sounds and voices. Ditto for my trips to Japan. You can't take a picture of washing all that sand down the shower drain after spending a day at the beach; you could, but it wouldn't show that little bit of sand that ALWAYS goes in the wrong direction. Even the dancers I saw in Osaka, if I took a picture of them, would have lost the excitement and motion that imprinted them on my memory. Cameras can't catch any of that, so I always feel that pictures are terribly inadequate keepsakes of a place, unless they bring about the memory of a story.

The main thing is just this: a camera removes me from the Here And Now by one step -- I'm now seeing the world through a viewfinder instead of through my eyes -- and looking at the picture is poorer again than the viewfinder display. Even more, the taking of a picture is an attempt to make permanent moments that are often best appreciated for their very fleeting nature, and stepping back from those times of spontaneous fun often kills the spirit of fun anyway.

I feel like I cheat myself out of truly experiencing life if I hesitate and guard myself, and I also limit myself by trying to keep moments that are meant to pass by. (Veering away, or grasping too tight.) Some rare pictures catch something more than just the images -- an expression, a sense of love between two people, or a sense of fun, and some people are really good at catching that (I'm thinking of my brother-in-law's pictures from my father's wedding), but for me, I'd rather open my eyes as wide as possible, turn on my senses, and experience things, as fully as I can.

And later, I can write about it.

One nice thing about cameras, and their attempt to catch things (though it removes me a little from my Here And Now) is that, though it doesn't bring back the smells and sounds for me, it DOES allow me to share my life with people who couldn't be there with me.

(Irony alert)

Here are some pictures I took from a Eulalia festival in Seoul, in Sky Park near World Cup Stadium in Seoul, where I went with Girlfriendoseyo, complained about people who hide from reality behind cameras, and then took about a dozen pictures, hypocrite that I am.

But I did it for YOU, my wonderful readers. I hope you like them.

They look like wheat, but they're about six feet tall.

The reason there's a whole park full of them is because when the sun is low in the sky, they blaze with pure white, catching the sunlight like a spider-web.

In full blossom, from close up.

I have no idea of the purpose of these plants, but they're sure pretty.

In the low sun:

They looked much nicer in person (back to that old "why bother to capture it" thing)

The one drawback: you can never quite pretend you're in the countryside when there are so many people,

when there are mounted lights (for the open-air concert to start later, and to light up the plants in the evening)

And when speakers ALL through the park are playing the Korean pop-song equivalent to Roy Orbison.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I'm about halfway through this, but. . .

Holy cow you gotta read this book! I don't care what your upbringing or background is, everybody on the planet can learn from the Dalai Lama.

I finished it now . . .

his teaching is rooted in ancient traditions, yet profoundly practical, and immediately applicable to real life. Reading this guy was like having a light switched on -- he teaches such deep wisdom, so simply, in ways that translate directly into my own situations. He explains a twenty-five century old principle, and than shows me how I can apply it to the guy who drives through the crosswalk right in front of me. (And yes, I HAVE been using his techniques at crosswalks. . . and they've helped. He probably added a month to my life just like that, by nipping that tension in the bud.) Give this dude a try. Right now, he's on the shortlist with Rainer Maria Rilke, J.D. Salinger, and Jesus as the greatest teachers I've ever read.

Rare air up there!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Roboseyo's global warming idea, and seventh generation sustainability

These will never happen, but. . .

1. L.A. should be shamed into getting a better public transit system, by all the countries and cities in the world.

2. Bill Gates should offer a 1 000 000 000 dollar reward to the scientist/engineer who invents a solar panel that is cheap and efficient enough to make oil obselete.

3. The downtown core of EVERY CITY larger than one million people in the world should have cars permanently banned, and improve public transit enough that the downtown cores can be traversed efficiently by bus and subway. Those buses and subways should be hydrogen cell or electric or hybrid-run.

4. The big-ass car tax. No excuse. Just no excuse for those big-ass cars, unless it's full of carpoolers. (The big-ass car tax has a subclause called the carpooler tax break, along with the hybrid driver tax break, which makes it economically more viable to buy a hybrid, considering the gas AND tax savings.)

5. The big-ass gas tax (Vancouver does this: 9cents a liter of gas goes toward improving public transit). Along with this one goes the public transit tax break. Your primary ID card has a microchip in it and doubles as your magnetic subway/bus access charge card; a record is kept of how frequently you use public transit, and you can claim tax breaks for reaching certain levels.

6. Within a certain distance of the city center (because public transit has improved so much), private car ownership is illegal, or practically illegal because of ownership taxes. Instead, cars are owned only by companies that require travel by car for their business, and company cars are distributed as needed. For weekend trips, etc., hybrid and fuel efficient cars are readily and reasonably available for rental.

7. (This will never happen, more than any of the others, but while I'm playing around in my fantasy world . . . ) -- Any company that deals in oil must put 15% of its gross oil income into alternative energy and conservation technology. Oil companies, accustomed to being energy suppliers, ought to be looking for the next solution: THEIR product is largely responsible for this mess.

Read the book Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. It's preachy, but important.

Also, from the last chapter of "Consilience" by Edward O Wilson -- a book I tried to read after having it recommended to me by Maggie, back in third year university (anybody remember her?). I got bored of it (and I no longer finish books that fail to grip my attention: I've even ceased to feel guilty about this), and skipped to the last chapter, which was much more interesting than the chapters trying to explain the biological/genetic bases that necessitated the development of language and art.

He writes:
To summarize the future of resources and climate, the wall toward which humanity is evidently rushing is a shortage not of minerals and energy, but of food and water. The time of arrival at the wall is being shortened by a a physical climate growing less congenial [through global warming]. Humankind is like a household living giddily off vanishing capital. Exemptionalists are risking a lot when they advise us, in effect, that "Life is good and getting better, because look around you, we are still expanding and spending faster. Don't worry about next year. We're such a smart bunch something will turn up It always has."
They, and most of the rest of us, have yet to learn the arithmetical riddle of the lily pond. A lily pad is placed in a pond. Each day thereafter the pad and then all of its descendants double. On the thirtieth day the pond is covered completely by lily pads, which can grow no more. On which day was the pond half full and half empty? The twenty-ninth day.

[My words in brackets: Are these environmental warnings alarmist? It is better, down the line, to assume the worst, and prepare for it, than to hope for the best, and continue living beyond our ecological means, assuming 'we'll find our way out of the woods'] In ecology, as in medicine, a false positive diagnosis is an inconvenience, but a false negative diagnosis can be catastrophic. This is why ecologists and doctors don't like to gamble at all, and if they must, it is always on the side of caution. It is a mistake to dismiss a worried ecologist or a worried doctor as an alarmist."
(Page 313-314)


The single greatest intellectual obstacle to environmental realism, as opposed to practical difficulty, is the myopia of most professional economists. . .
. . . the weakness of economics is most worrisome, however, in its general failure to incorporate the environment. After the Earth Summit, and after veritable encyclopedias of data compiled . . . have shown clearly the dangerous trends of population size and planetary health, the most influential economists still make recommendations as though there is no environment.

(Page 318)

And that's the problem -- people follow their pocketbooks to the voting booth, so until there's a financial incentive (taxwise) to conserve, people won't think about their kids and grandkids; they'll only think about next quarter's raise and the cost of living, right until humanity careens into that huge wall called "Earth's Carrying Capacity"

(Carrying Capacity means the maximum number of life forms any ecosystem can sustain.)

My friend Tamie and a group of her friends formed an integration pact, where they try to live in relationship with the earth, rather than just living ON the earth : environmental responsibility is part of their pact to live with more awareness and responsibility.

It's human nature to think about money first -- I remember one day, when I was in high school, saying to a member of the baby-boomer generation how recycling was important, and he answered, "Well, you know, the recycling program costs the government a lot of money -- I don't know if it's worth it." If you're thinking about the next quarter, maybe; there's an old Iroquois law that every decision must be considered for its impact on the seventh generation to follow, and a movement is beginning in environmental circles to pressure corporations and leaders to implement seventh generation sustainability principles in their decision making, rather than just thinking of next quarter's profits, or next year's re-election push.

It's frustrating how, in the face of the overwhelming evidence Al Gore presented in "An Inconvenient Truth", corporations and their media lackeys have gone ad hominem on him, and attacked first Al Gore for using a private jet, and then the nine scientific errors/conjectures in his documentary, enabling them to ignore the hundred other facts that are true and verifiable, and try to discredit him. It's frustrating how I can see this stuff happen, yet I still like my hot shower in the morning.

But something's gotta be done. Sooner rather than later. Population growth, overfishing, conservation, alternative energies. Humans are a pretty complex creature, and it's hard to say how much our biology could bend before poisoned air and water are the end of us, before food shortages cause regional tensions to blow up into full-scale war. Remember what happened to the Jews after they were blamed for the great depression? A lot of countries were happy to hand their Jews over to the Nazis because they thought they were responsible for the depression. Who will be the scapegoat next time?

It's good to see people are finally talking about the environment as a legitimate concern -- in the early '90s environment was still some scary thing far in the future, while now people are taking it seriously. I just hope we're ready to make the changes necessary, in time, or it will be too little, too late.

And global warming is just the beginning -- overpopulation will occur long before coastal cities get flooded with water from the molten ice caps. This article argues that the tragedy in Darfur was caused first by an overtaxed environment, that the displaced people started fighting because they had no food or water, and needed to co-opt arable land. This kind of catastrophe will become more commonplace as water supplies dry up, species go extinct, land loses its arability, and entire populations must move to areas where there is no space for them. Just wait till the water table in the American midwest is finally tapped out, and see what happens then.

Blogger action day

*** This is important.***
Tomorrow (the 15th) is blog action day. A group is trying to get every blogger around the world to write, on the 15th, about the environment, one of the most pressing issues for my generation. If you have a blog, click the link and join in! I'm kind of jumping the gun talking about it here, but this is important, and as time goes by, I feel more and more strongly about this.


Radiohead has a new album out online.

So far, after listening to it about five times, I'm quite disappointed -- it's the first Radiohead album where I really feel like they're not covering any territory they haven't covered better before. The reduces the list to Pixar as the only creative team that I know a lot about, and still haven't repeated themselves/released anything below top-notch. (I haven't seen enough Miyazaki to say for sure about his work.)

The list:
what movie/album did you expect to love the most, only to be disappointed?
Personal nominees: Radiohead: In Rainbows; Shaft (with Samuel L. Jackson); X-Men 3 (should have seen that coming), The Constant Gardener, Braveheart, Harry Potter 6 and 7,

Pleasant Surprises:
What movie/album did you have full intention to hate, only to discover it was actually much more enjoyable than it needed to be?
Personal Nominees: Legally Blonde, High School Musical, Nelly Furtado (Whoa Nelly), Green Day (American Idiot), Sahara (action movie with Matthew McConaughey), Transformers, the Movie


Anyone here read The Alchemist?
One of you -- one of the people in my circle -- recommended it to me, but I can't remember which of you did.

Well, I read it. I've discovered the formula to sell a million copies of a book.

1. Short -- should be readable in a single afternoon, maximum two sittings.
2. Male hero -- young, idealistic, big dreams
3. Maximum 6th grade reading level (if it has a lower level than that, it will appeal to second language learners, which is also a plus: you'd be amazed how many times I've seen a Korean reading "Tuesdays With Morrie" on the subway)
4. A thinly veiled moral/didactic lesson/inspiration about how to live your life and realize your dreams.
5. A tone like a fable -- story moves quickly, and does not dig too deeply into the concrete details of setting and place and character description -- characters and settings are portrayed in broad strokes, so as not to distract from The Message.

I've read at least a half dozen of these books now, ranging from sublime (The Little Prince) to abysmal (Tuesdays With Morrie -- sorry if any of you liked it, but I didn't.) I've heard I REALLY, MUST read The Secret next. I'm kind of dreading it.

In order of awesomeness, here is the Roboseyo (sometimes)overbearingly-inspirational reading list.
1. The Little Prince: I think I'd trade 20 years of my life to write a book as simple and wise as this one. Die young + write The Little Prince: I could deal with that. The least didactic of the books on this list. It almost doesn't qualify for the genre, because it's too good.
2. Siddhartha - Herman Hesse -- engaging story. Not too didactic, though it IS about a young idealist's spiritual journey.
3. The first half of Jonathan Livingston Seagull -- chase down excellence and perfection with passion, even if it isolates you. Nice.
4. The Alchemist -- I liked it. It's true. It dropped in some biblical references that were a bit cloying, but not too bad. I wasn't quite bowled over, but I liked it.
5. The Greatest Salesman In The World -- (the least known of the ones I've read) by Og Mandino-- the most didactic, but enjoyable reading, for a bald self-motivation tract with a tacked-on story and an overbearing religious subtext that didn't quite fit the story, and even detracted from it. The meditations were good, though.
6. The last half of Jonathan Livingston Seagull -- it got a little weird, and too mystical/symbolic to me, and didn't live up to the simple excellence of the first half. Starts going downhill when JLS meets The Great Seagull.
7. Tuesdays With Morrie -- instead of evoking our feelings through excellent writing, Mr. Albom tells us how we ought to feel, and made ME feel manipulated. A meditation on death and moving on that left me totally unmoved.

Didn't qualify, despite being very talky/preachy:
Ishmael - Daniel Quinn (not inspirational)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (too long, actually had a story for the first 2/3)

Which other inspiration-disguised-as-story bestsellers did I miss?

In a later post:
the books I should read once a year until I die --everybody should have a handful of books that basically function like lifelong friends.

Having a blog finally justifies my using a cellphone-camera.

One of the little kids is pinching the buddha's nipple, and I had to get in on the action. I'm not sure of the story behind this statue, whether Buddha had a "Suffer the little children" moment, but I sure hope the nipple-pinch is part of the original story.

There were about a hundred steps (after about an hour mountain climb) to reach this temple where Korea's kings of old would go and visit for spiritual consultation and meditation. I ran up the steps, just for fun, and then at the top, there were eight people meditating, and I felt like a right dummy sitting there, with my legs folded, panting like a rabid duck.

I have to say, though, for a place so remote you have to climb a mountain for about an hour to access it, it just blows my mind how ornate and spectacular these temples (and especially the monuments) are.

The street below is shiny.

Today I bought a white wristband from a group who were raising funds to help extreme poverty. The wristband was wrapped in an unnecessary plastic bag. I called them out, and dolt them, "You help the poor, but this hurts the earth."

I really tire of overpackaging -- it's rife here in Korea, along with overconsumption. One common practice in Korea is to throw away perfectly good furniture (for example, when one moves) in order to get new furniture. Rather than bring things to new places, some Koreans just throw them away. The outward display of wealth is a really dismal human habit, and I wish people (worldwide) started finding more wholistic criteria for measuring those around them. At least something better than the measurement of one's TV screen + number of visible luxury brand lables one is wearing at any given time + price of one's car + prestige level of one's neighbourhood. This whole consumption thing is odd -- I was reading a book that pointed out how economists speak of growth and consumption as if infinite increase were possible, as if earth's resources were unlimited, and through growth, eventually all problems could be solved, when in reality, earth is already at or above its sustainable carrying capacity for humans. Yet politicians still almost exclusively talk about money, growth, and economy, because people follow their pocketbooks into the voting booth, and will vote for the guy who helps them keep their job over the one who tries to spend taxpayer money on making sure there's still something left on our dear old planet for the grandkids.

I'm turning into a crotchety old liberal.

I decided to chill out on the crosswalks (see previous post).

Remember this place:
Now it looks like this.

(sigh. my rainy days just got a little sadder)

Fun thing about living in the city: it may be hard to tell, but there was a camera crew in the midst of all these gawkers, filming a scene for a TV series or a movie.

I don't know from Korean celebrities, but it was fun watching all the people with their cameras out.

Also seen on that same street, later in the day.

These figures are usually carved out of dead trees. They're totems to protect a village from unhappy spirits. These ones were outside Jogyesa, one of the most important temples in Korea.

Persimmons are in season now. Mmm they're good.

More later.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

something i learned today, and some pictures from Namsan

I learned something this morning.

I have a pet peeve: those cars that drive through the crosswalk even after the light has changed, and people are on the crosswalk (though maybe not where THEY are yet) really bug me. I know a kid who was killed in a vehicle/pedestrian accident, so every time I see a car disregarding pedestrian-related traffic laws, somewhere inside me I think "Killer!"

Sometimes, when the light changes green, I head out into the crossing zone as fast as I can, just to block those jerks from running the crosswalk -- it's my own personal, petty vendetta. . . but I'm RIGHT, dammit! They DESERVE me jumping in front of their car and glaring accusingly if they're going to disregard traffic laws and endanger pedestrians! I always wanted to give one of those cars a smack, just to make some noise and say "Don't be a jerk!" to the drivers (it never really occurred to me that the only thing I'd REALLY communicate to the driver might be "I'M a jerk". . . but that's beside the point.)

Well, today, I had my chance. I bolted out into the crosswalk, and some jackass in a black car took a run at the crossing zone. I was close enough that I planted a big, noisy handprint on the back of the car, and I felt a tingle of satisfaction (and a bit of disbelieving "I can't believe I actually did that) slide up my spine and massage my scalp.

But here's the thing: now that I've gotten my ya-ya's out, and expressed myself noisily and rudely on this guy's trunk (do bear in mind that this is the big city, where contact is common. You get bumped on the subway, toes get stepped on, people don't say excuse me -- me slapping a car here is not as egregious a break in protocol as it would be in a small town in Southern Ontario, for example, where Joe Crosswalk might climb out of his car and jersey me if I slapped his jackass SUV, but it's STILL more, um, communication with strangers than is common here), I realized, walking away from the intersection, that carrying this self-righteous vendetta around in me, and the spike of annoyance I allow myself to have when I see some jerk (even bus drivers will do it) disrespect a pedestrian zone. . . it doesn't hurt the twit driving the car at all. The only person it hurts is me, and my peace of mind. The fact I was in the right (at least partly) doesn't justify my answering his jerkousity with a bit of my own; in fact, by allowing HIS crassness to change MY behaviour (or even my attitude), I'm giving that driver power over me! Why on EARTH would I want to do that? Last time I heard my dad preach, he said, "Harboring bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die." (does anyone have a source for that quote?), and I realized that I was basically doing the same thing by letting these yahoos get to me.

So I may still barrel into crosswalks, but I'm not going to let these dumb drivers under my skin anymore.

Today I climbed Namsan (Nam Mountain) in the dead center of Seoul, with Girlfriendoseyo, the wonderful woman I've been dating. We had a really nice time, and a great talk. At the top of the mountain, at a lookout point, we saw this:

The whole chain-link fence was laced through with padlocks, with writing on them. I don't know the exact meaning, or where this tradition/superstition/fad came from, but it was sure neat -- from what I can tell by looking at them, couples have been writing their names on the padlocks and then looping them through the fence, probably as some kind of a "staying together" sort of charm. It was neat seeing them all. Maybe next time we climb Namsan together, we'll bring up a padlock, too.
Can any of my readers tell me what that says? Any Korean-speakers out there?

Also up on the mountain, we came across a VERY brave chipmunk:

Girlfriendoseyo got right in close, and the little stinker didn't flinch a bit.

My camera was about a foot and a half away from the little nut-muncher in this picture.

I've been climbing all the mountains I can get my feet on lately, and taking stairs instead of elevators. It really makes me feel good. I'm happy. . . and having fun. And Girlfriendoseyo's great.

Hope you're all well too.

Happy Canadian thanksgiving.


Konglish and wild coincidences.

so today in my business english class we started talking about brand names, and how they're such an easy yet crass way of measuring the people around us, and I suddenly had to halt the conversation and change the topic, because if we talked about brands and mob mentality and artificality and lookism and consumption for the sake of consumption or the appearance of wealth any longer, I'd have gotten upset.

it was a strange sensation. i didn't realize just how visceral my reaction really was to that topic.

This story made me happy.
Korea has an embarrassingly poor track record on conservation issues -- a marsh that hosts a nearly extinct butterfly is scheduled to be bulldozed for an apartment block in a suburb of Seoul. Asking ships to reroute for the sake of a whale makes me proud to be a Canadian.

What makes me sad to be a Canadian is the fact I missed turkey dinner this year. There was gonna be a turkey dinner in Seoul for Canadian expatriates, but it was cancelled due to lack of interest, leaving me jonesing for turkey and such, but unable to get my fix.

I got some new shirts, and so had to retire my two least-frequently-worn shirts.

This one's a Konglish shirt -- the words on there aren't Korean, but they aren't English either. I don't know what to make of them, except that it must be either really easy, or really hard, to get SO close to making sense that everybody frowns and shakes their heads, yet still not making any sense at all.

I want to open a T-shirt shop in Canada where I import shirts like this

In Korean they are an earnest attempt to cash in on "english characters look cool"; in Canada, captions like this:
would be ironic and hilarious, don't you think?

Any theories as to what this means are welcome!

Short story:

1984, my family moved to Woodstock Ontario, where we became family friends of the NameChangedForPrivacy's. They moved away about in 1989 or 1990, and we saw them once or twice again after that -- not much.

Then, out of the blue, I got an e-mail from their youngest daughter, Kelly (whom I remembered as a five-year-old with way too much energy). She'd graduated university and wanted advice on getting a job in Korea. I gave her tips and we've written the odd message back and forth.

Well on Saturday, I ventured out to a drum festival in Han River Park (cool) and near the end, I stumbled into a group of Canadians (plus one brit). We chatted, and I noticed something odd about one of the girls, that I wasn't sure enough to comment upon. Something in the shape of her eyes, her body language, and especially her pronounciation and intonation of certain words and phrases seemed. . . familiar.

I heard one of her friends address her as Kelly, and I thought I'd try it out.

"You're Kelly NameChangedForPrivacy, aren't you?"

"You're Rob."

It was pretty wild. A weird mix of familiarity (her brother was my best friend for a year or two, and, after all, we'd hung out back when we were four and nine), and whatever word's the opposite of familiarity -- after all, we hadn't seen each other since probably about 1992. Maybe like your first time meeting the cousin whose picture's been on your fridge all your life. Really interesting. But totally cool. She seemed happy to meet me -- she even mentioned one of the rants on this blog, so I know she'll read this. Hi Kelly! Tell the other NameChangedForPrivacy's I send my greetings.

Cool to see her.

Monday, October 08, 2007

A paragraph from Garrison Keillor

he just made his way into my good books, for 1. calling George W. Bush "the current occupant" and refusing him the respect of using his name (speaking of people who are never named, I've been thinking of starting to refer to George W. Bush as Voldemort).

2. Writing this.

"I gave up watching television 25 years ago because I liked it so much even though I couldn't remember what I had watched the day before and could see that if I went on as a viewer my life would become a blank. And now I refuse the iPod because it is an audio bubble that shuts you off from the world, which is where good ideas come from."

in revising a play I wrote, I came up with this line -- i don't know if it will fit into the script, but it made me happy when I turned this phrase in summarizing a scene to my (wonderful) girlfriend.

"If what you have isn't making you happy, having more of it probably won't, either."

If you're a youtube junkie like me, search "Flight of the Conchords" -- Tamie started me on these guys.

Sometimes, you round a corner in a market in Seoul, and stumble across something like this.

I love this city.

One more.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I've tried and tried. . .

These guys are an independedent Canadian rock band. I've tried, but I seriously haven't managed to find a hint of irony yet in this video. In the song, as well, I've listened a bunch of times, and I haven't found any irony in there, either -- just a song about being joyful (the song's titled "Be Joyful")

If it's true, well, I can't think of a time I've seen a video match a song more perfectly.

And it makes me happy. It's like they were actually listening to the song when they planned the video, and made a list of all the cool stuff that makes people happy and put it in a video together. With puppets!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

New Principle for Cultural Exchange:

Visitors (particularly monolingual North-American visitors) to a culture are only qualified to complain about their host culture as much as they are able to do so in the host language.

If you haven't even bothered to learn any Korean, I don't want to hear you bitching about Korea, buddy!

No more of that judgment from a distance junk. . . unless you're extremely well-informed and, say, a student of or expert in international relations, international environmental/gender/multicultural/etc. issues.

I'll also make allowances for people who have lived extensively in other cultures than their native one, and I'll even say the ratio of right to complain:command of the native language increases proportionally for each additional language said complainer speaks -- that is, if you are fluent in three languages, you're allowed to complain three times more than if you only speak one, because to master three languages, one must have a lot of experiences with how different cultures work, even if one doesn't speak the specific language of the host country.

[update: April 2008: we need to add "time spent in country about which one complains," because living in other countries is good; so is spending time seeing the actual country one is criticizing.]

So our formula is:


where R = one's right to complain about one's host country,
C = one's command of the host country's language,
multiplied by
L = the number of languages one speaks fluently,
multiplied by
0.2Y = the number of years spent living in cultures other than one's native culture, divided by 5 (I'd say five years living in a place is about equivalent to learning the language, as far as absorbing a culture goes, wouldn't you?),
multiplied by
T = Time in host country.

We need to add the +1 to the 0.2Y or else the whole equation divides by zero if one has never lived outside one's native culture.

Try THAT on for size, you culture-shocking, knee-jerk judging, otherness non-coping whiner!

(how's my formula, Tamie? My math's rusty, but I think that looks sensible. Feel free to poke holes in it as practice for your GRE)

Impressions are allowed, but if you aren't even willing to properly engage the host culture, don't judge it, and if you can't cope, well, nobody's keeping you here!

Why North Americans especially?

Because an entire ocean separates North Americans from truly distinct, other cultures with whom they could interact on an equal footing. I'd consider adding other island countries to the list (that means you, England). Mexico is roundly regarded as an inferior/less rich/less powerful little brother, and mostly ignored by Americans, while it's too far away for Canadians to consider, and Canada and USA speak the same language (other than French Canada). Belgians have entire COUNTRIES of otherness bordering them, while the closest Canadians and Americans come to that kind of otherness are little pockets of immigrants that (usually/often) are trying to assimilate, or at least feel a little like they should, and have kids who probably do. This means that a lot of North Americans are never REALLY required to think too far outside the box of their own cultural assumptions, and going too long in that groove leads people into the trap of assuming anything different from what one's accustomed to is automatically inferior.

Agree? Disagree?