Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hats off to Burger King!

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Or any other franchise that could fire the minds of De La Soul like BK did, famously, in "Bitties in the BK Lounge"!

And here's a whimsical, deadpan "adaptation" of "Bitties":

Of course no saunter down De La Soul memory lane (as far as De La Soul Is Dead goes!) would be complete without "A Rollerskating Jam Named Saturdays":

Use your headphones for maximal jam.

The good ol' Gödel proof...

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I stumbled upon this webpage from Jeffrey Kegler, a mathematician and novelist. In it, Kegler discusses the most prominent "legend" about Kurt Gödel (1906-1978), who was one of the greatest logicians of all time, and discoverer of the Incompleteness Theorems, about which I have written before (usually in a Jakian vein). Kegler explains:

The story of Gödel's citizenship hearing has been much repeated over the years. What is known was that on 5 December 1947, Kurt Gödel went to his citizenship hearing in Trenton, New Jersey. The examiner was Judge Philip Forman. As his witnesses, Gödel brought his two closest friends, Oskar Morgenstern and Albert Einstein. Gödel was granted citizenship, and took his oath on 2 April 1948.

Afterwards, Morgenstern told many people that he and Einstein had had their hands full preventing Gödel from derailing his citizenship chances. Gödel, in his usual manner, had read extensively in preparing for the hearing and had discovered a contradiction in the U.S. Constitution, one which would allow the U.S. to be turned into a dictatorship. Gödel, in fact, claimed a proof of this and despite his friend's warnings brought this up at the hearing. Fortunately, Judge Forman knew Einstein -- when Einstein became a citizen, Forman had administered the oath. Forman cut Gödel off and forced the hearing to a normal conclusion.

I read the short, and actually quite colorful memo which Morgenstern later composed about the event (available in PDF), and you might like to do so as well. I also visited Kegler's blog and discovered his 2007 novel, The God Proof, is available at for free download. On his homepage Kegler explains that "Gödel ... discovered a new proof of God's existence. A sketch of Gödel's 'Ontological Proof', as it is usually called, is in his Collected Works (Vol. III, p. 403-404), but two of Gödel's notebooks [containing more about the proof] have disappeared." He goes on:

I've never heard of anyone being persuaded by a proof of God's existence, whether by Kurt Gödel or anyone else. A proof that can change someone's mind is called "coercive". There are lots of coercive proofs out there. For example, if you doubt the facts of arithmetic, there are convincing arguments, backed up by the fact that you'd be wise to accept their force if you want correct change. Similarly for a lot of the basic facts of geometry.

Could a coercive proof be made for God's existence? A reasonable person can certainly have her doubts. But you'd also be forced to admit that if any mathematician could come up with an unexpected results, it would be Gödel, who made a career out of them.

Fascinating stuff. I'd love to read The God Proof when I find some time. For now, though, I'm trying to get through James Hannam's God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations for Modern Science as quckly as I can so I can publish a review of it at the inFORM website. Also fascinating stuff!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Engrish for the Day!

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"He eats his teeth every morning."

"She brushes her breakfast every morning."

"I can eat three bowls of Tokyo every day."

It's funny because it's true.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Middle, bottom, top, middle...

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[HT to the last verse of this Roots jam for this post's title.]

I live in central Taiwan. Have for nearly the last seven years. Last weekend I went to Kenting, which is in the far south of Taiwan and this weekend (yesterday only, in fact) I went to Taipei, the capital, in northern Taiwan. I'll be in Taipei again this Tuesday for some teacher training and then again, God willing, two weekends from now for a little meeting and maybe some free Japanese tutoring. Even aside from these social and semi-social excursions south and north, I'm a bit of a pinball these days, as I teach at three schools in both Taichung and Changhua (about 15km south of Taichung). As I wrote last week, my visit to Kenting was wonderful, even though, perhaps as a result of the trip, I had a hoarse voice and nagging fatigue last week. My visit to Taipei was just as invigorating, albeit in different ways, and I seem to be mostly over my hoarse throat and am feeling more energy again.

I tutor on Saturday mornings, so I can only make it to Taipei in the late afternoon or early evening, and then I'd have to also pay for a room Saturday night. I find it better, by and large, just to take the high-speed rail (HSR) early on Sunday (the 6:30AM train is 35% off!), go to Mass at Holy Family in Guting, then see whom I need to see and ride a late HSR back and (the worst part of all) drive my scooter all the way back to Beitun from Wuri. It's definitely a "full" day, believe me, but I'm a busy guy and I figure covering so much distance (social and geographical!) in one day is worth the effort sometimes.

So, yesterday morning I took the 6:30 HSR and got to the Main Station at 7:30, whereupon I took the MRT (ahh, how I love the MRT!) to Guting and had a nice fifteen-minute walk to Holy Family. It was much cooler and windier in Taipei than in Taichung and it turns out yesterday morning was the national postal service recruitment exam, so dozens of people were cramming, poring over obscure sheets of data and multiple-choice questions on the HSR and MRT. Vendors were selling snacks, pens, rulers, pencils, etc. outside NTNU (National Taiwan Normal University), and I assume there were other testing areas throughout Taipei. Despite the wind, trash seemed to be frozen in place, like leftover props from the previous night, or as if the trash hadn't yet woken up. A sandstorm clogged much of the air yesterday, another meteorological gift from northern China. I went to confession at Holy Family--with an 81-year-old very jocular and pastoral priest from mainland China--and the Mass was "dead on" as far as my soul and the readings went. I prayed the Rosary, finishing just as the next Mass began. I then made my way by foot to the Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station and rode a couple stops to Andong St., whereupon I walked to Bade Rd. in search of Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodles. I was scheduled to meet good ol' Mr. Liu, "my Taipei friend," whom I hadn't seen for many months. Indeed, I had not been in Taipei since August 23 last year, just shy of my first brother's birthday. Fateful day? Methinks aye.

Since I got to Lin Dong Fang much earlier than I had expected, I had an hour to kill while Mr. Liu made his way there for lunch, so I strolled to a Dante Coffee shop to do some lesson planning and maybe even reading. I ordered a blueberry-apple vinegar drink and a small tuna burger. Seated next to me was an older, business-man-looking man reading a Japanese magazine. We kept sort of glancing towards each other, he curious about my English books, I curious about his Japanese articles. As I mentioned, I have begun learning Japanese and I had finished lesson 15 of Pimsleur's Essential Japanese I on the way from Holy Family to Ba De Rd. The man noticed I watched certain stories on the news more intently than others, so he asked me in Mandarin, "Do you understand?" I answered, "Yes. Do you speak Japanese?" He said he did and then we had a nice conversation. He was from Taipei but, until about 15 months ago, had not been in Taiwan for over twenty years. Sometime after college he went to Arizona for graduate school and then lived and worked in Silicon Valley as a software engineer for over twenty years. He had also been doing business in Japan every few weeks for the past five or six years. His girlfriend is Japanese, and a teacher of nearly seven years at Global Village in Taipei. He taught me some Japanese, mostly tweaking my pronunciation on small points, and warning me that Japanese always has "new phrases," even after years and years of study. Certainly not a little depressing, but he congratulated me both for having an ear sensitive to pitch and accent and for being able to read and write hiragana and katakana. We exchanged "biodata" and are looking to meet again in a couple weeks. (That's where--when I meet him and his girlfriend--the possible free Japanese lesson comes in!)

Enough time had passed so I made my way back to Lin Dong Fang, bought some flash cards on the way, and waited for Mr. Liu outside a Lin Dong Fang that did not open that day. So Mr. Liu rode me on his scooter in search of other grub. Finally we settled on Han Ji Noodles, a new place that had replaced a Lao Dong Beef Noodle shop he recalled was there before. (Suffice to say that I and Lao Dong have a long and humorously frustrating history...!) We enjoyed some clear broth beef noodles and caught up after nearly a year apart. The usual: Taiwan, China, history, occasional politics, cultural developments, etc. Then he drove me to the Xinyi area and we chatted more. We swapped English and Chinese notes and caught up yet more on other fronts. I was supposed to see a movie with some friends later at the Xinyi Vieshow theater, so we had a couple hours to kill. We walked--or leaned, against some gusts of wind--to Taipei 101 and I went to the Page One bookstore, an old haunt I hadn't visited in probably two years. I found some very appealing Japanese materials, about the fate of which I shall say nothing, and then we headed back to Vieshow. He walked on to drive home and I did yet more waiting--reading and doing some light gong fu, this time, amidst the shopping clatter--until my friends arrived. We had some snacks and made small talk and then got into the theater. The film was Nodame Cantabile, the penultimate "episode" in a popular Japanese mange-made-TV-series. I fell in love with Nodame Cantabile, despite myself, two or three years ago when a dear friend introduced it to me. Nodame Cantabile is about idiosyncratic music students and teachers in Japan. The main plot arc is actually about the tortuous growth of love between the tender, quirky Megumi Noda, or "Nodame," and the brilliant, fiery Shinichi Chiaki. (Secret confession: I tend to associate very strongly with Shinichi. Someone else I once knew reminds me all too much of Nodame haha.) The show is appealing on many levels: it is weird and humane and deceptively touching, peppered with arch slapstick comedy, and bursting with great music. The movie did not disappoint (even though I watched it in Japanese with Chinese subtitles, which wasn't so bad, I guess, since that's how I had watched the TV series!), and, truth be told, it moved me powerfully, even to tears. Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and personal memories (from childhood, from Taiwan, etc.) will do that to a sentimental wolverine like me. Grin, shurg.

After the movie, I took the MRT back to the Main Station and caught the 10:30PM HSR to Wuri. The ride home, all the way up Huanzhong Rd., felt annoyingly and bizarrely long and was actually pretty chilly by the time I reached home. But home I did reach. And I slept, in my nicely cleaned room (thanks to a cleaning frenzy the day before). Thanks for reading this far. Stay tuned for more actio-adventures!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Desperate impenitence...

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Despair is the flipside of impenitence. In both cases, the agent insists God's grace is not applicable to him.

Thermostat, thermometer...

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ERNIUS: It seems like you have been making yourself vulnerable for a long time now.
BERTUS: I hear you.
ERNIUS: Synesthete?
BERTUS: I eat your words.
BERTUS: Love is the thermostat for suffering; suffering is the thermometer for love. Or so I seem to see and believe
ERNIUS: Well, I don't think that would make a nice Hallmark card.
BERTUS: No, but I might open a brand of Scaldmark Cards.
ERNIUS: You're on fire today.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Still fresh…

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These brothers are still fresh after decades. And the best part of this video is 3:10–3:25 when Trugoy is naturally right on beat even when he's just talking.

It's true…

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…and great harmony.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Aware of the risks...

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I am fully aware of the risk of being charged with sanctimonious hypocrisy (along the lines of the Pharisee in Luke 18), but I still want to go ahead and thank God that I am, as far as I know, not someone whom people--especially strangers--want to punch within five minutes of being around. The guy in the restaurant just now, however, was someone I wanted to punch about three minutes after he walked in. Why? I would like to think the mouth is best used for eating when in a restaurant, not for blabbing on and on about seemingly every possible inane topic that springs to his springy mind. "Hey, last time I was here I had dadada, do you still have it? Oh, there it is, on the menu! ... What kind of wallet lasts for ten years? Look at my wallet! I test wallets by smelling them, that leather smell, before I buy them. Look at this wallet. ... Hey, why are you cooking the curry like that? Isn't it a bit weird to add onions to curry rice? Why do I think it's weird? ... Hey, I remember, I think I remember, last time I ordered this, you guys put a big piece of meat in it, but where is that big piece of meat now? Gosh, I still think it's weird to put onions in curry, or is that just me? ... Hey, this soup looks good, what is it? Oh, riiiight, egg drop soup-- I see the label now!" One of those time I wish I didn't understand Chinese. Meanwhile, of course, the guy is getting up and sitting down every thirty or forty seconds, flipping through a magazine, digging in his pockets. Crack head? Or just way too "chipper" a fellow? Sadly, there are zipperheads and motormouths in every language.

Great weekend-- and salty dog!

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Terri, an old friend from my first-fourth years in Taiwan, is visiting from Beijing for a couple weeks and this past weekend she and a couple other friends drove down to Kenting, which I like to call Taiwan's Daytona Beach. On the way down, Josh, Katie Jo, and I had some good laughs, not the least because we heard that someone, whose identity shall remain secret, had not long found a mushroom in his bathroom. Not just a patch of fungus on a tile or at the base of the toilet. No. A proud, three-inch tall mushroom. On a towel! This led me to research (via Josh's wireless 3G Internet connection in the car!) toxic mushrooms. And, man O man, are they scary! Poor Nicholas Evans, et al.!

The next day or so we were treated to a disquisition by Katie Jo on why the banana is the greatest fruit in the world. This is of course, the same Katie Jo who asked me how I slept... before any of us had gone to sleep. (In fairness, she blames her linguistic foibles on a deep dive she had done years ago with Terri in the Philippines.) On the way back, I denounced, once more, the bed as an arrogant, decadent piece of furniture, likening it--not for the first time--to the cinnamon of the furniture world. This was met with a mixture of great laughter and greater scorn at once. Such were just some of the delights of conversing with the strange people I tend to make my friends.

For me, it was a great escape from the city and the ocean water was very invigorating. I have always loved water (EXHIBIT A). And I learned to swim at a pretty early age (part of our lessons included being dropped in the water on a tricycle and pedaling as we sank). We saw some neat fish (my favorite were the schools of tiny fish). I got some sun and some exercise, but also seem to have gotten a slight cold last Friday that has carried over to now, but I am sure the ocean water and activity did me a lot of good.

One highlight was Josh's dog, Carmen. In the past, Josh has dragged Carmen into the water and she always struggles to escape. This time, however, she was vigorously attacking and biting the waves as they rolled in. She ingested so much salt water, in fact, that about twenty minutes later she threw up a heap of frothy goo and then another twenty minutes or so later emitted a volcanic stream of yellow water from her hindquarters as we walked back. A riot! How do you clean that doodoo up!?!/profile.php?v=photos&ref=profile&id=687351206

I spent a lot of the weekend perusing Katie Jo's Chinese textbook (from Dong Hai), enjoying seeing how many things I still had to learn, and then making a couple dozen new note cards when we got back last night. Now that I'm learning Japanese--I've put Spanish on hold for now, though it is still close to my heart and an occasionally useful language in my devotional and reading life--, I feel real confidence about Chinese. After about seven years in Taiwan, I've fully accepted that Chinese will always be a part of my life. When I first got into Japanese seriously, about 2-3 weeks ago, I feared it would cripple, deform, or displace my Chinese, especially since I am in all likelihood going to visit Japan next spring (or so?). But partially because I have obtained some fine Japanese materials in Chinese, and partially because I realize learning Japanese will be a totally different "thing" for me than learning Chinese. I learned Chinese almost without realizing it, so to speak. My ability in it has snuck up on me over the years, and occasionally surprises me ("How in the world can I actually read and write this language?!"). I learned Chinese like an immigrant might learn a new language: by using it, idiosyncratically, compulsively. What I find I must do now is "retread" my Chinese by going back through standard textbooks and "filling in" gaps I either forgot from my basic learning or simply skipped by leaping into more "advanced" Chinese for personal interest over the years. For example, while going through Katie Jo's book I only became conscious of knowing how to say and write "light bulb [deng1pao4]," "[shirt] collar [ling3zi]," and "Learning from one's mistakes [Shang4 yi4 ci4 dang4, xue2 yi4 ci4 guai]," to name just a few cases. Likewise, I am going back through NTNU's ubiquitous Audio-Visual Chinese textbooks (2, 3, 4, and 5), culling useful or forgotten vocabularies, sentence patterns, and idioms to make new note cards.

Learning Japanese, by contrast, is going to be "by the numbers" pretty much all the way, if I have any say about it (heheh). I'm starting from pretty much nothing and working up from the phonetic system, to "beginner's essential vocabulary" and sentence patterns (with lots of written workbook drills!), repetitive audio training (via Pimsleur and the CDs that came with some of mz books). My one advantage as a Chinese-to-Japanese learner is that I can grasp at least the gist of numerous Japanese kanji ("characters"), as they were borrowed from Chinese centuries ago. Granted, I still must "relearn" how to say the kanji in Japanese instead of reflexively reading them in Mandarin, and I must learn which kanji have been truly transformed in Japanese. For example, while "place" (tokoro, or the Chinese suo3) has retained its shape and meaning from Chinese, "study" (bengkyo) actually looks like "compel/force" in Chinese. My desire to go to Japan has crept up on me over the years: my training in judo, my love for samurai lore (e.g., Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog), my taste for Japanese cuisine, my (ahem) admiration for their beer, my affection for Nodame Cantabile, my love for snowy winters, etc. I have also realized that learning Japanese will "lock in" certain large swaths of my learning. First, Japanese kanji will teach me at least some more "simplified" Chinese characters (viz., many kanji do look like China's simplified characters, and even may have been adopted from Japanese linguists), and I really need to get a leg up on them if (since!) I'm serious about Chinese as a lifelong learner. Second, knowing more about Japanese culture will actually help me know more about Taiwan, since Japan colonized Taiwan from 1895-1945. Third, learning Japanese will also, from what I have read, open up Korean and Shanghainese down the road, if I feel the urge or need to learn those languages. Fourth, teaching in a new culture will expand and deepen my ability as a teacher.

I may write a larger post about this, but let me just say now that learning--truly being a pupil of--a foreign language (not to mention three or four of them!) is very humbling, and indeed a kind of self-mortification.

In any case, I am still in my "home away from home," Taiwan, enjoying the days as God permits them to blossom around me. Going to Kenting was a real blessing, a privilege, in fact, and I feel recharged for a new stretch of seeking holiness, feeble as I may be. (Oh, also, this morning I discovered a large raspberry tree is blossoming right outside my office window! Hooray for "living off the land"!)

I would also like to mention that Fr. Leon, longtime head pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Jacksonville, FL, passed away this weekend as well. As my father put it, "If we all gave half as much of our lives as he did, we'd be a lot better off." I will miss him too and I cherish his prayers and counsel from a year and a half ago. Be sure to pray for his soul and all the departed.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

When shrooms attack!

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Gyromitrin: Stomach acids convert gyromitrin to monomethylhydrazine (MMH), a compound employed in rocket fuel. It affects multiple body systems. It blocks the important neurotransmitter GABA, leading to stupor, delirium, muscle cramps, loss of coordination, tremors, and/or seizures. It causes severe gastrointestinal irritation, leading to vomiting and diarrhea. In some cases, liver failure has been reported. It can also cause red blood cells to break down, leading to jaundice, kidney failure, and signs of anemia. It is found in mushrooms of the genus Gyromitra.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Stab at a cultural parallel...

3 comment(s)
Japanese is the Spanish of Taiwan. Relative to the USA, I mean. Japanese here functions like Spanish in many parts of the USA. A lot of people know a little bit of the languages. Their cultures form a large part of the respective culinary customs. Many people feel an inchoate interest or sense of urgency to learn more of them or to visit a native country of that language. Both languages are seen as (somehow) "important these days." Even those who do want to learn them are intimidated by the difficulty of the grammar (compared to their mother tongue).

Oh, and I'm learning both of them with a serious interest to move to Japan.