bookmark_borderPost-143: Punish the Homicidal (Syrian) Maniac! War! War!

“Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.”   Orwell
The U.S. Must Act Against Assad by Eugene Robinson

President Obama has to punish Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s homicidal regime with a military strike.

PictureEugene Robinson

The editorial by this man Robinson (“Punish the homicidal maniac!” ) is just the same as one reproduced this week by the Korea Herald, written by none other than Tony Blair. The latter seems to call for an Iraq-style invasion/occupation of Syria. The editorial was titled “It is time to take action in the Middle East“. 

This really is, face it, “warmongering”, strictly. 


Both men assure the reader that toppling Syria’s government would be an act of self-defense. In so doing, they nestle themselves snugly into Orwell’s mold of the hypothetical pushers of “every war”, of course.

Blair’s final sentences:

They have to be defeated. We should defeat them, however long it takes, because otherwise they will not disappear. They will grow stronger, until we will reach another crossroads; at that point, there will be no choice.

This all makes me a bit dizzy. Blair seems to be talking about Radical Muslims, but isn’t the Syrian government sort of an Arab Fascist government? I mean, if “fascist” were not a pure pejorative (Orwell wrote an essay on the uselessness of the word “fascist” by the 1940s in English since English already has the word “bad”, I think is what he wrote). Syria’s government is not Radical-Islamic, and is actually trying to kill Radical Muslims on a daily basis, in this war.

bookmark_borderPost-142: Royce

I gave a student the “English name” of Royce on Wednesday.

The boy’s real name is Kim J.H. He was born in September 2000. This is his very first week at the institute, according to the the online system. He is in seventh grade and lives in the Sang-Dong neighborhood of Bucheon. His attitude is optimistically-boyish, as it has neither been pressured-downward by adolescence yet nor, frankly (as he is new), has it yet been soured by this institute’s weekly grind (lots of homework and endless and pointless memorization of English words, both under threat of “detention” if not completed, and with no significant breaks in the year).

Kim J.H. said he had no English name. A friend from school his was also in the class, sitting next to him in fact, and declared, “He needs an English name!”  A wave of excitement washed over several students in the room.

Why English Names?
In fact, I’ve always felt a “vicarious guilt” (I’ve never done it myself but others here have) about the idea of imposing English names. My feeling is, who is an English-speaking foreigner to just cruise into a place and bestow an “English name” on somebody? They already have names, after all.

Incidentally, at my Ilsan job English names were never used. At this Bucheon job, English names are used for about 90% of students, with the rest insisting on retaining their Korean names. These are usually the angriest and most sullen students. This, at least, fits with the Koreans’ idea that English names are “fun”. There is (in my experience) a strong correlation: Those having the least fun learning English are most likely to reject English names. I don’t think use or non-use of English names has anything to do with causation of that unhappiness, though.

An Ad-Hoc Naming Plan
The issue was in the air. English name! English name! Okay, I thought, I can use this as an opportunity to try to make the students laugh by doing something unexpected. (My best strategy in that particular undertaking is to amuse myself. It usually succeeds in amusing them, too.) I asked a random student to “choose any number between 1 and 26”. She was confused but took it in good humor. She chose 18. I counted it out: “R” is the 18th letter. I said to Kim J.H., “Okay, your English name will start with ‘R’. Let’s see…” and I started listing, on the board, all the names beginning with “R” I could think of. Ronald, Roger, Rex, Roland, Ricky, Roy, Robert, Ralph, Randy…..

My idea at this point was to put the names on the board and leave it to the Darwinian nature of the open classroom. Some names would be ridiculed by the class while others would be thought “cool” and one of the “cool” ones would win (a kind of mini, on-the-fly social experiment). Some discussion of that kind did follow. This was very much an ad-hoc plan, as it must have been since I didn’t know this “English name” issue would come up at all.

The boy, Kim J.H., hitherto English-name-less, was hesitating.

Anything But “Kevin”!
Around this time, J.H.’s friend Jack suggested “Kevin”. Argh. Not Kevin! A search of the online database yields 66 “Kevins” enrolled as middle school students at the institute since 2007. It is a very popular name. By comparison, there’ve been only 53 “Johns” and 41 “Jameses”.

My old British coworker, E.R., believed that certain English names augur trouble (in terms of behavior problems from the student), and “Kevin” was the first one she cited. I tend to agree. I wonder why problem-students end up choosing and/or being given “Kevin” so much in Korea.

I rejected “Kevin” outright. I’d have felt like I failed if he ended up merely another “Kevin”, one of dozens. He’s already saddled with “Kim”. Give the boy a unique identity!

Choosing “Royce
We spent three or four minutes discussing this English-name issue. It was the first day, so my goal was to make the class more fun-oriented. Still thinking about the “Kevin is too common” concern, I circled and gently suggested the name “Royce” on the board, another of the “R’s”. I guessed it may have never been used in the history of this institute, of all its thousands of students since 2007. (It turns out this was right. There have been four “Roys”, but no “Royces”.)

Kim J.H. remained indecisive. Probably too shy, I thought. My vague guilt feelings persisted about “forcing an ‘English name’ on an East-Asian”, so I gave him the attendance sheet and told him to write whichever name he chose next to his Korean name. He took a minute. To my surprise, he wrote “Royce”, the name I’d circled on the board. I realize now he’d wanted the decision made for him by an authority figure, in the typical East-Asian fashion, and I’d done it.

And thus was “Royce” christened. I was so proud of this naming that I went onto the staff website that very night and input this as the student’s “영어이름” (English name).

My First “English Name”
This may be the very first time I have given an “English name” to a student. Others have discussed “changing” theirs with me, but never before had I had a student who claimed to have never received an English name yet in life.

I think this is a happy side effect of my being moved down to the lowest-level classes for my last three weeks, my last partial semester here. Only in a low-level class would a student show up in that condition, i.e. without already possessing an “English name”. (The class was actually “MI”, about mid-range in skill level.)

Postscript: How Common is the Name “Royce”?
You can check the popularity of baby names by year of birth in the USA here. It turns out “Royce” was one of the top-500 boy-names from the 1910s through the 1960s, and then became less popular. It even fell off the top-1,000 list by the early 2000s. Curiously, it recovered to rank #493 in 2012.

Popularity Rank of “Royce” as a Boy’s Name in the USA, By Year
2012 : 493rd [i.e., 492 other boy-names were more commonly given to babies born in 2012]
2011 : 529th
2010 : 743rd
2009 : 941st

493rd is the highest ranking that “Royce” has had since 1963. I wonder why the sudden popularity jump.

bookmark_borderPost-141: Writing Cartoons With Students

This is the last week of the semester for elementary students, and I decided to do a fun activity. It ended up being very successful with a class that has been difficult this semester, to my pleasant surprise.

Here is part of the activity:


“Writing Cartoons” End-of-Semester Lesson, August 2013. [Click to Enlarge]

I stole the two strips you see from here and here.

As you might guess, the activity was first reading and discussing the comics, then asking them (in pairs) to think of possible new dialogue for the pictures. I pretended these two strips were connected. On another page, they were supposed to continue with nine more boxes, all totally empty. They were to draw, write the dialogue, and caption each box. Groups that were most advanced I had finally write the comic as a narrative (“One day, a boss had a meeting with a worker…”). At the end were half-hearted, giggly presentations and candy prizes. Most groups had fun.

My apologies to Scott Adams for using his Dilbert comic without permission, but on the positive side for him, this activity exposed two dozen students to Dilbert. None of them had ever seen it. One or two said it looked like the “Wimpy Kid” series they use in class.

[Warning: Negativity Below]
The success of this activity, which I came up with in only fifteen minutes, and the success of an MI class at the end of the day in which all the kids were enthusiastic, contrasted sharply with my rising anger toward Management, whose hostility increases by the day. I mentioned in post-140 the issue of back pay for about 50 essays I did months ago. I was accused of “lying” about doing them. Argh….Really. Well, I took the time this afternoon to carefully take screenshot evidence proving beyond any sensible person’s doubt that I did, in fact, complete those essays and submitted them into the system. The parents paid this institute, but the pay never got to me. I presented really knockout evidence. I gave Stringbean the paper with the evidence. An hour later, the paper appears back on my desk marked up with ways she still “thinks” I am “lying”. If one untangles the logic of the implied continuing-accusation that I am “lying” despite evidence from the online system (which I screenshotted and explained exactly how she can check directly, herself), then the implication from Manager Stringbean is that I have hacked into that website and manipulated evidence, a theory so wildly implausible as to be laughable…..if it weren’t happening to me.

See post-138 for an artist’s rendition of Manager Stringbean’s appearance.

bookmark_borderPost-140: WashPost Commenters Angry About Syria

More bad news keeps coming from work. The dark clouds are gathering. The latest, they refuse to pay me for several dozen essays I did months ago. Pathetic.

Speaking of dark clouds, tonight I browsed the comments to a Washington Post article on the (seemingly) impending war against Syria. John Kerry 2013 sounds a lot like Donald Rumsfeld 2003: “There must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people. Nothing today is more serious […] This international norm cannot be violated without consequences,” said Rumsfeld, err, Kerry.

This led to what somebody, or some algorithm, selected as the top reader comment:

The reader comments were amazing. They were overwhelmingly against the war, a bit to my surprise. There were almost no non-ad-hominem-based pro-war comments (see the end of this post for the one I found). I will post some representative comments below:
The above makes most sense to me, to be honest.
Of all the dozens of substantive comments I saw, only one was pro-war, although others were (partisanly) “anti-anti-war”, attacking “Tea Party” members and attacking Republicans, the relevance of which I cannot determine.

This is the single “pro-war comment” which was not based in ad-hominem:

bookmark_borderPost-139: Syria Intervention and Atrocity Propaganda

U.S. intervention in Syria may be imminent. That makes me sad.

Behold the magic wand of atrocity propaganda:

August 25th:

There is very little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians…

Talk of Strike on Syria Moves From ‘Will It Happen?’ to ‘When’

In 1990, a Kuwaiti woman testified before Congress that she “had seen” Iraqi troops kill babies in Kuwaiti hospitals. Her allegation was later proven to be totally false. She just lied; plain-old made it up. The truth only came out after the Rubicon was crossed and the war was waged. They say this single liar’s performance before Congress, then-believed, so outraged Americans that it helped push the USA to go to war against Iraq. She said:

I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die. [Crying] It was horrifying.

It turned out this “eyewitness” was actually the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the USA. She had been coached to tell this lie. What a disgrace, although she should’ve gotten an award for theatrics, anyway.

In 2003, I was in high school, and one teacher had us watch live as Colin Powell told lies about Iraq’s fantasy-WMDs. I disbelieved in what he was saying at the time and I was conscious of being a clear minority in that. I discussed this a lot with my friend Paras in early 2003. He said he was against the war, but he believed there may have been WMD. I was insistent there were no WMD. I don’t know why I was so sure. What the heck did I know? But I was right.

One of the most flagrant and shamefaced examples of phony atrocity propaganda that I know of was in WWI. German soldiers were said to have been “bayoneting Belgian babies” by the thousands. Nothing like that ever happened, but it was used to whip-up war frenzy. See this poster:

Atrocity Propaganda in WWI — “The Hun Murders Belgian Babies”

On Syria again, if we look closely at this, the story (as presented) is very suspicious, as summarized neatly here:

Comment from Nornoel Vincent [August 26th, 2013]
Assad would have nothing to gain and everything to lose by using chemical weapons in a war he is already winning by ‘conventional’ means; but (2) the Syrian Government’s opposition (inter alia), who are presently losing, not only have the ability to make and deploy these chemical weapons, but would gain by enlisting European and American support with claims that Assad’s government has done this. Finally, (3) the U.N. Inspectors are saying that it may be “difficult” or impossible to pinpoint the culpable party. On the basis of these points alone, any intervention seems premature and foolhardy, at best.

bookmark_borderPost-138: Earth’s Longest Insect and Starcraft

I was surprised to learn that the world’s longest insect lives in neither Africa nor the Amazon, but in Malaysia (Borneo). It is called “Chan’s Megastick“. With its legs fully stretched out, it can reach two feet in length. Picture below:

World’s Longest Insect. [Image from here]

A two-foot-long insect is really reminiscent of a “zergling” of the Starcraft computer game. That game is a common point of reference for all males born after 1980 or so in South Korea. Really, it is. They all know it, in and out.

I wonder why Starcraft became so popular in South Korea. There may be some social significance that I can’t see.


Zerglings attacking a Protoss enemy [Starcraft]. Found online.

I played the game in the late 1990s and early 2000s a bit. I often tell boys here that when my friends and I played on the server back then, we informally resolved to avoid playing against Koreans because they beat us so easily and so quickly that it was just depressing and no fun. (We also half saw them as “cheaters” for some complicated reasons, but I don’t mention that to the kids.)

bookmark_borderPost-137: Five Months; New Banner

Five months is not a short time. Post-1 was five months ago.

In honor of the occasion of this blog’s five-month anniversary (or, “fifth monthiversary”), I will retire what has hitherto been its (clumsily-made) banner.

Instead, I clumsily made a new banner:


New top-banner, created August 26th, 2013

Ah. These have been a hard five months, in some ways, due to my work situation. The inclusion of the Dilbert comic is an “homage” to that. The train track pushes on, and disappears off into a brighter future.

I first posted the Dilbert comic in post-19. I took the picture of the railroad tracks during my hike from Lynchburg to Roanoke in Fall 2010, when I visited my friend Jonathan S. The symbolism in this banner was unintentional, but works for me.

bookmark_borderPost-136: Low Point, High Point

Something happened at 10:05 PM on Thursday that marks what must be the lowest point of my working life during the past two years. Then, as if life were a movie drama, just seven hours later on Friday early morning, something amazing began to happen, totally unconnected to the previous night’s disgrace except that both relate to my job. The Friday thing probably ranks as one of the highest points of my three working years in Korea.

I don’t really know if I should write about either one. If I wrote about the former, I’d not be able to avoid negativity and bitterness. It would turn into an “anti-Av****” diatribe. And who likes diatribes? If I wrote about the former, it may look like shameless boasting or self-promotion.
The implications of the “low point” thing frighten and depress me (I’m led to believe that management [such that it is] may be about to thrust the proverbial knife in my back, as my foot is out the door).
I drank an unhealthy amount of coffee during my two nights of two to three hours’ sleep (see post-131 and post-132). So many essays submitted late. I did them all. This weekend, I completed thirteen final “straggler” essays which students submitted on Friday, the last day. I won’t be correcting another single essay the rest of 2013.

bookmark_borderPost-135: Civil Defense Drill (Part II)

I think the Civil Defense drill yesterday was nationwide. It happened in Ilsan, too, I’m told.

Here is a picture  the intersection in front of my workplace which was closed-off for the drill:


An intersection [left] in Jung-Dong Neighborhood, Bucheon, South Korea.
Background: E-Mart [left] and Hyundai Department Store [right]. July 2013.

This is about the view I had of the drill.

To conceptualize the scene as I saw it, you’d have to first image the steady wail of a siren. I have no recollection ever hearing one in the USA. The closest thing was the “fire drill” in school. This was a society-wide fire drill, I suppose.

So, right, the siren. Imagine, further, that all traffic, including foot traffic, is stopped cold. No exceptions. Picture two policemen blowing whistles at anyone who flinches, and four to six retired-age volunteers in a bright uniform that resembles a jersey. The volunteers are holding flags that say “Civil Defense” in Korean.

Fifteen minutes float away thusly. Everyone is frozen in place. A captivating nothingness.

Well, actually, it was not all nothingness. There were was the whistling whenever someone broke ranks and tried to cross. And, the highlight of the nothingness: A few minutes in, a little convoy rolled through: an army jeep, a fire truck, an ambulance, and two or three other such vehicles. They drove fast and on the left (the wrong way in Korea). As all normal traffic was stopped, the path forward — on the left or right as needed — was clear. That must be the purpose of the drill, to practice allowing military and other vehicles to travel at high speeds unimpeded.

bookmark_borderPost-134: Civil Defense Serenity

The word “민방위” was on flags all over this week, on flags on lamposts. That words means “Civil Defense”.
I realized why yesterday. At 2:00 PM, the sirens blared. The old volunteers of the Civil Defense Corps appeared. All traffic was stopped. No one was allowed even to cross the street. Serenity was imposed.

I’ve seen several of these by now. Even this time, I was spellbound, although not as shocked as I was the first time. I was in a classroom correcting essays at the time. I opened the window. I stared. I stared some more. There it was, one of the busiest intersections in Bucheon’s  Jung-Dong neighborhood, still. Twelve traffic lanes. Many buses, both local and to Seoul and to Incheon. Subway station. Two department stores. Restaurants, coffee shops. And always lots of people, either milling around or racing somewhere.

The only thing happening at this intersection from 2:00-2:15 PM yesterday, though, was a bunch of nothing, punctuated by an occasional angry whistle-blow beration (from a policeman) at somebody bold enough to try to cross the street. Crossing the street was forbidden. Stillness was mandatory, except for the siren.

My coworker, C.R., has to cross this busy street to get to work. He sometimes arrives slightly after 2:00 PM. I wondered, as I stared at the scene of Civil Defense serenity below, if he was stuck on the wrong side. My view was blocked by a tree. I peeked in, and he was in the teachers’ room (a place I dread being in these days). Lucky him. He’s already been threatened for being “late” once. (These are people who generally can’t even produce a class schedule on time until the very day a semester starts. Generally we don’t know what we’ll be teaching till “the day of”).

Update: A follow-up post is here: Civil Defense Drill, Part II

Actually, I happened to see the Bupyeong headquarters(?) of the Civil Defense Corps yesterday, hours before the unexpected (by me) drill. The training center is very close to the small Bupyeong History Museum, my morning destination (a small and sleepy place with free admission).

Bupyeong District Civil Defense Training Center

The sign above says “민방위교육청”, or “Civil Defense Educational Office”. I presume this means it’s a training center.

Bupyeong History Museum

I enjoyed looking at the old maps, in the museum, of the area between Incheon and Seoul (i.e., Bupyeong and current Bucheon). In a very detailed U.S. Army map published in 1959, only a few dozen small structures are drawn in what is now Bucheon. The rest was all empty. Farmland. Population today: near 900,000.