Monday, October 27, 2008


North Korea

The good news in all this is that they've threatened similar things before.

Still can't help but make your heart rate go a bit faster.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


I'm Sorry that My Wife is Difficult

My wife’s pregnancy has created many new challenges for us. There’s the task of preparing for the future, usually meaning a change in plans from what is most enjoyable to what would be the most reliable financially. Then, there’s a change in shopping habits; for example, going from purchasing CDs which feature four guitar chords and a catchphrase chorus to classical selections designed to make the baby smarter, or at least less reliant on catchphrase choruses.

With the challenges also come the learning opportunities; and one of the first things we’ve learned is a definition of “morning sickness” that no encyclopedia, on or offline could provide. This knowledge comes quickly, too; one day my wife and I were newlyweds with no one but our futures to plan for, then one day she had a positive pregnancy test and the next morning I awoke to find her lying on the kitchen floor in pain.

“I’m very difficult this morning,” she said, in what is a direct translation from a grammatically correct Korean sentence. Of course, it got better (her condition, I mean, not her English fluency) in the days that followed; lately she has been able to at least make it to couch before collapsing.

I have since come to understand why the phrase “morning sickness” is tossed about and how it got its name; not because its symptoms are exclusive to the morning hours, but because that’s the one time when they're pretty much guaranteed to occur. This is apparently because it’s the longest period of time for her to have gone without eating, but otherwise there are no constraints as to when it will occur.

She sometimes calls me in the middle of the day when both of us are at work to tell me how difficult she is. When I come home at night I find her on the couch, ready to tell me about the degree of difficulty she experienced throughout the day. When we both have days off, it’s not uncommon for her to spend most of it on the couch, her difficulty preventing her from using her leisure hours more actively.

“I’m sorry,” I frequently tell her, both because I am largely responsible for her predicament, and because I can’t think of anything else that’s appropriate to say. Many other things come to mind, but they all date back to a pre-fatherhood mindset, thus making them inadvisable.

“Does this mean you won’t pack me a lunch?” I sometimes want to ask in the mornings.

“I’m guessing this means you’re not in the mood,” I sometimes consider saying in the evenings.

“It would be more correct to say, ‘This is very difficult for me,’” I think of saying in the middle of the day, when my language skills are sharpest. Due to my male instincts, such things will probably always be on my mind; I guess it’s a sign of maturity that I now know when it’s better not to say them out loud.

Being unfamiliar with how to respond to morning sickness, I need help. Fortunately, in our globally-connected world advice is only a desperate plea on Facebook away from receiving an answer. Parents, older sisters and other veterans of child expectancy are quick to chime in with remedies sent over the internet, or sometimes with just condolences, because there’s no guarantee the remedy will work.

“Tell her to suck on some Skittles,” some say, unaware that such products haven’t been widely available in Korea since the Clinton administration.

“Tell her to try some Zofran,” others say, unaware that prices for such drugs in this country might leave us with no money to pay for the actual baby.

“Tell her it gets better in the second trimester,” some say, and this actually feels like helpful information. At some point, maybe a couple of months from now, I’ll get my wife back, even if she will be coming in slightly rounder form, and we’ll be able to start planning for the greater difficulties ahead, such as actual childbirth.

My wife has already prepared a list of her language’s naughty words (some of which I have accidentally used while trying to express more benign concepts like “18” and “niece” through faulty Korean pronunciation) to use on me when she goes through labor. This seems especially likely if it’s a boy, and especially if he takes after me.

“How much did you weigh when you were born?” she asks now and then. I’m not sure why I have to keep telling her, but I think that it’s because in her metric system-using culture the words “10 pounds” have no meaning. When I convert it to a measurement she can understand, like 4.5 kilograms, I think that maybe she blocks it out sometime after the color drains from her face.

“I’m sorry,” I tell her, knowing the difficulty I’ve caused for her has only begun.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Another View on Prop 8

I don't know whether to laugh or cringe.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Prop 8: A Sign of the Times

I expected my views on Proposition 8 to get attention, and in that respect I was not disappointed. I was, however, let down in the respect that so many members of my own church, a people who view themselves as “set apart,” are echoing the tired arguments of the Religious Right and the platform of the Republican National Committee.

1) They say we must oppose gay marriage because of our moral values.

2) They say we must oppose it because it’s a Slippery Slope.

3) Then, they gripe about the “times,” meaning a culture that’s even discussing such views.

Now, one could rebut such arguments in a logical fashion. For example:

1) Not all “morals” make good laws, and that’s why it is only a crime to break two of the 10 Commandments (three if you count the ninth, which is only criminal in certain situations, like a court of law). You can be a person if any faith or no faith to believe that murder, theft and perjury damage society, but when you start legislating the specific beliefs of specific religions you open the door for all kinds of persecution. When has the linking of religion and government ever been good for either one?
2) The Slippery Slope argument works both ways, and more logically in the way opposite of what the social conservatives believe. Recognizing gay marriage is a wide chasm’s leap away from legalizing bestiality, pederasty or even polygamy. The first two do not, unlike gay marriage, involve mutually consenting adults. The last cannot credibly say that they were born with an inclination towards more than one spouse. However, if we base the law on our religious values, we will give precedent to people of faith (but probably not SDA faith) to alienate those who don’t believe the same way.
3) Yes, gay marriage is a sign of today’s culture. The signs of the culture that most gay marriage opponents want to return to is one of segregation, widespread barbiturate use among housewives, back alley abortions and the dishonorable discharge of homosexuals from the military for no reason related to their performance as soldiers. I’ve grown up in a society which has given its members much more freedom of choice, without denying churches the freedom to oppose those choices.

I’m not writing this post in the hopes of persuading those who’ve already decried my position on this topic; I’ve given up on them. I’m sure the case I’ve made is not the most logical one possible, but even if it were, some simply cannot accept it. I'm willing to accept their view as a differing perspective, but they've made it clear that they see mine as a litmus test. They see the world through outdated lenses which deplore homosexuality above other sins because they find it icky. I’m happy to live in the current day and age because I’m not hindered by such an outlook, but there’s another one I’d rather live in.

It’s the one coming in a couple of decades, in which citizens of other states look at the fruits of gay marriage in places like Massachusetts and (hopefully) California, and realize that it has not undermined heterosexual marriage, but has reduced the number of hate crimes and the spread of STDs. In that time frame, gays and lesbians will be able to join our church without hiding their inclinations, and will fully understand what it is they have to give up.

So, to those who oppose gay marriage bans, I urge patience: Even if Proposition 8 passes, the tide is turning against the movement that supports it. To those who favor a ban on it, I only hope you’ll be around to see why you were wrong.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


The End of Libertarianism

What did libertarians do to deserve this? It's not like we were ever in a position of power. It's the foreign interventionism and corporate socialism that neoliberals like Weisberg support that created this mess.


On Proposition 8

In response to my link to the Adventists Against Proposition 8 site on this blog, I received a message inviting me to check out the other side of the argument taking place within the membership of the SDA church. I appreciate the person who sent it, both for providing me with a link to the other perspective, and for do so civilly. It is so easy for debates on political topics, especially “moral” issues, to turn hostile in this era of polarization.

Fortunately, there are good Christians (and therefore good Adventists) on both sides of the debate. On the Adventists for Prop 8 site, I even recognize at least one professor from Southern Adventist University, my alma mater. Likewise, there is one I recognize on the anti-Prop 8 site, both of whom taught in the SAU School of Religion while I attended. I didn’t know either man especially well, but both seemed to have the respect of their students and I never had any indication that either was less than a man of good faith.

Now, about the pro-Prop 8 site: Since gay marriage became a major issue in American politics in 2004 (funny how it always does that in even-numbered years) anti-gay marriage advocates have been hesitant to emphasize what they oppose. They are rarely “anti-gay” or even “anti-gay marriage,” but “pro-family” or “pro-traditional marriage.” The Adventist site employs this method, prominently displaying a Photogenic Heterosexual Couple with One Girl and One Boy. I’ve never met these people, but I take it that by opposing Prop 8 I’ll somehow be opposing them.

That is what one would have to believe if one buys into this line of reasoning. By limiting the legal rights of gay/lesbian couples, somehow I’m aiding million more Photogenic Heterosexual Couples who might never meet and then conceive their One Girl and One Boy should there be any homosexual couples marrying in their vicinity. If denied a legal homosexual marriage, are gays and lesbians automatically going to turn to the traditional form by default? Will they then automatically forget the impulses they have felt all their lives, and suddenly start producing Photogenic Couplings of their own?

Some sincere Christians will attempt to argue for tolerance and acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle within the church. I will not: The Bible is clear as to its position on both gay and lesbian relationships. Following the literal word of God, the Adventists for Prop 8 are in the right in terms of whether their faith supports such behavior.

The problem is that the United States government serves all faiths, as well as those who have none. Telling gays and lesbians that they are not legally allowed to marry because of what we believe will not impress them as to the sincerity of our beliefs: It will drive them into the arms of the open door churches that support their lifestyle, or away from church altogether. Forcing gays and lesbians to hide their inclinations from the public may cause them to enter into more heterosexual unions, but it will result in more and more of them pursuing double lives in secret communities, spreading dissatisfaction and probably disease.

A society in which gays and lesbians are allowed to open with their sexual orientation, and where we are allowed to address their lifestyle choices as a church is a society where they can be more effectively witnessed to. This is the society our church should pursue; instead, the Seventh-day Adventist Church State Council has chosen to link arms with the evangelical Protestants and conservative Catholics who seek to legislate their moral views. When those same evangelicals and Catholics return with a government-sponsored agenda that alienates those of us who worship on the seventh day, the Church State Council will have enabled them.

The failure of Prop 8, it is said, may embolden a different group, a cult of political correctness that will seek to marginalize those who feel the gay lifestyle is immoral and harmful. Given the evangelical Right’s influence over recent U.S. elections, which side does it appear more dangerous to enable? Which power is more likely to endorse a national Sunday law?

If the PC-ers do attempt to infringe upon our beliefs one day, it will be our duty to oppose them. That is then, and this is now, however: Now our duty is to oppose Proposition 8.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


14 Signs You'll Live Longer

My personal list doesn't start out great, but I close strong.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Two Reviews in One

Click here for my review of Nicholson Baker's "Human Smoke" and Pat Buchanan's "Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War."


I've Been Trying Every Night

One should always start a speech with something memorable, and with that in mind, my student Lee began his final class project with a question: “What is your goal in life?”

All of my students in this particular class were assigned to speak on the subject of “What is the most serious problem in Korea?” Lee intended to use the inquiry as a lead-in to the main body of his speech, which was about the unemployment rate in Korea. No one responded to his rhetorical question, but he succeeded in prompting dialogue when he provided an answer of his own: “My goal in life was always to get married,” he said.

Lee had done so sometime before that, no small accomplishment for a Korean guy in his mid-20s who is not yet employed (you’d also think that the fact that he looked not a day over 16 would also hurt his chances). Before he could continue, a follow-up query came out of the audience: “What about being a father?”

Having not expected a response, he paused momentarily, but not much longer than that. “Yes, of course,” he said. “I try every night!”

Lee got a pretty good grade on his speech, but as an aside I told him that there were certain things I, and his classmates, really didn’t need to know.

His remark does gel with the impression I’ve gotten of Korean people, however, in that they really like the idea of having a family of their own. This contrasts greatly with the American men of Lee’s age that I know, most of whom regard every day that they remain unmarried as one more potential day of carefree partying that will more than make up for the cereal and burnt toast they have to eat every morning.

A lot of Korean guys, however, can’t wait for marriage, and generally try to do so by the time they’re 28 or, like me, 29. One of their biggest obstacles toward doing so is the Korean job market, which is saturated with young jobseekers, all of whom have been studying English, Chinese characters, HTML and Linux for years, and many of whom can play the clarinet.

The other major obstacle is Korean women, who have recently started making headway into the job market of this deeply-traditional country and many of whom are in no hurry to jeopardize their career trajectories just so a Korean guy can spend his evenings trying to become a father.

Upon my arrival in Korea more than three years ago, I found a lot I could relate to in the average local male. Like them, I hadn’t done as much dating in my 20s as the average American guy, preferring to spend many of my evenings and some of my weekends working late or reading. It’s not for everybody, but I personally found it very rewarding: I may not have had as many girlfriends as some of my peers, but unlike them, I know the definition of the word “euphonious.”

Like many Korean men, I looked forward to marriage, betting that the loss of short-term carefree partying opportunities would be offset by the benefits of living with someone who could toast bread without blackening it, and who could recognize mildew. What I couldn’t relate to nearly as well as the tendency of most Korean men to have children right away after getting married. I wondered if they had some aversion to having money to keep in their savings account.

Furthermore, pretty much everyone says that once you’ve succeeded in becoming a father you’re going to spend a lot less time (ahem) trying to become one in the future.

This year, just before my 29th birthday, I was excited to have finally acquired a wife of my own from among the local populace. I was somewhat less thrilled by some of the things she said, such as, in response to a question of how many children she wanted to have: “As many as possible!” Other statements used to put me at ease had mixed results, such as “My mother can help us raise it.”

That’s great, I thought, but I have a really good chance of paying off my school loans soon. Furthermore, that plan of yours would entail spending more time with your mother. And less time trying.

You can then probably imagine my surprise when my wife’s pregnancy test recently came back positive. I was startled at how rapidly I seem to be growing up this year, at how fertile my wife and I seem to be, and most bizarrely, how okay with it I am. Unlike many other couples currently striving, I have brought new life into the world without really planning to. My child will almost certainly grow up multi-lingual and experience a lot more of the world than I was able to at a young age.

It may not have been my goal in life, but some of the greatest accomplishments in life are achieved without trying.

Monday, October 13, 2008


When You Are Engulfed in Flames

Click here for my review of David Sedaris' When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


Coke Addiction: My (Not Much of a) Success Story

One would think a taekwondo instructor would set a better example.

However, it was while sitting across from Master Hong, fifth-degree black belt, trained bodyguard and operator of his own martial arts institute that the fall from my non-caffeinated state of grace began.

An hour before he was to give me my private lesson, and two hours before I was to assist him as he taught taekwondo to his young students in English, we waited in a pizza restaurant, sitting parallel to a refrigerator with a clear glass door filled with all manner of carbonated beverages.

I almost immediately began eyeing the prominently displayed Coke products on the top shelf, as opposed to the obscure Sprite-esque products sitting one row below. It had been a little more than three months since I, to the delight of my non-soda drinking wife, had last consumed some of the dark demon cola. It had probably been only a matter of days since my last Sprite-imitation, because unlike colas, Sprite-esque products are not caffeinated, and thus drinking one will not prompt me polish off a six-pack’s worth by the end of the day.

My streak might very well have continued had not Master Hong looked across our short, two-person table and said, “What do you want to drink? Coke?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I would like that very much.”

Soon, there were two beverage containers on our table: only a can for him, which his taekwondo-trained metabolism can probably burn off just by raising it to his lips, and a more American-sized bottle for me.

It was a warm, sunny mid-September afternoon, and like all addictive products, the first was wonderful. Just like the Sprite-imitations, its taste was sweeter and therefore better than water. Unlike them, it was caffeinated, and thus made me feel good all over. The dozens more that will likely follow will probably be consumed on colder days when I am much more tired, and thus drinking Coke not to feel good, but simply to keep going.

When one or two fails to maintain my energy levels at work, I will continue throughout the day, probably until my throat grows sore, which will lead to whole rash of cold symptoms which – for an American living in a foreign country that’s not-quite-home yet and has harsher weather – will devolve into flu symptoms hampering my work performance more severely than the lack of any cola ingredient.

My wife, who grew up in a home where soft drinks were never offered, cannot stand the their taste, is wary of their health effects and celebrates whenever I wean myself off of them, albeit temporarily. She’ll never understand the pull of caffeine, so all I can tell her is to be glad they’re not drugs. I certainly am.

I remember the 1990s, when the most prominent feature of that era’s famous musicians – aside from their disinterest in shampoo, designer clothing or competent singing – were the songs they wrote, which, even when they weren’t actually about the use of needles, were clearly aided by them.

I argued with my parents about whether the popular alt rock songs of the day were about such topics, because a) I didn’t want them to confiscate my record collection, just as I was starting to figure what my peers were interested in and b) having not been in the habit of needle use, I couldn’t actually spot references to the practice even when it was obvious. If a singer was clearly saying something about a needle and spoon, I assumed that he was singing a song about eating ice cream while knitting. I assumed that it was this practice that had made the singer very unpopular, which would have gone a long way in explaining why his songs sounded so depressing.

The true meanings of these songs should have been evident given that these alt rock stars were going in and out of jail and/or rehab centers. Every time I go for a stretch of two or three months without caffeine, only to start again, I think about the musicians I once venerated, cleaning up just long enough to release a new album, getting hooked again on the ensuing tour and having their bandmates threaten to fire them.

The way my personality seems to respond to addictive substances, I’d probably be just like them, only unable to afford expensive rehab.

However, if it were illegal drugs, or at least cigarettes, there might be more of a support system in place. Unlike smoking, which is banned in many indoor facilities and sometimes even outdoors, Coke is prominently displayed in restaurants, convenience stores and vending machines everywhere, tempting so many of us down the path of corroded teeth and higher body fat percentages.

If only government action were taken on this issue, banning the sale of caffeinated products in stores and the drinking of them in most public buildings. I could be saved from their ill effects, and then the government could move on to protecting me from other evils, like the eating of doughnuts and the reading of newspapers.

Until then, if I want to kick the Coke habit for good so that my kids won’t ever know their addictive properties, I’ll have to do it by myself.

Avoiding lunch with taekwondo instructors might help.

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