[the palaverist]

Friday, December 29, 2006

[the neighbors]

Across the street from the South Korean Mission to the United Nations is a construction site where the new United States Mission to the United Nations is going up to replace the old United States Mission to the United Nations (picture of the entrance showing the seriously dated old architecture).

The new structure is designed by Gwathmey Siegel and Associates Architects, the same folks who brought us the architecturally muddled but kind of cool Astor Place Sculpture for Living, that grand symbol of the death of bohemian East Village. (Sorry, kids: the ongoing eastward migration of hipness has crossed the river, passed through Billyburg and settled on Bushwick — for the moment. If trends continue, hipsters will be living in Middle Village, Queens, by about 2050.)

Emporis has details, the most intresting being that the new structure will be 22 stories, with no windows on the first six floors to make it harder to blow the place up. Friendly. They've also got construction pics, including a nice shot showing the temporarily exposed flank of the Ugandan Mission and the Korean Mission across the street, behind the crane. From this photo, you can probably work out that we can peer down into the construction site from our windows.

Of course, there are other ways to get a look. Cryptome, a rather cryptic and moderately creepy website, has an Austrian-domain-hosted page full of pictures of North Korean diplomats and their Mission, towards the bottom of which are a couple of shots of the US Mission construction site, one of which is labeled "The New US Mission to the UN Under Construction at East 45th Street and 1st Avenue, Photographed Through a Vacant, Unlocked Guard Hut." Nice.

Oh, and on a local note, the cement for the project is being provided by the Gowanus Canal's own Quadrozzi, in whose trucks I am tempted to try hitching a ride to work.

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Monday, December 25, 2006


James Brown (May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006)

So the Mothership has come to collect. On Christmas no less. Even his death has a kind of rhythm.

James Brown is dead, but James Brown will never die. As long as human beings still listen to the popular music of the latter 20th and early 21st centuries, they'll be hearing James Brown. He's everywhere, especially now that hip-hop has become a global music with a reach even greater than rock and roll.

I'd say rest in peace, but that was never JB's style. The funk goes on, and wherever James is now, they're all gonna have a funky good time.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006


I need to learn other Englishes. This thought occurred to me as I read the word "dinkum" in a New York Review article by Clive James about Robert Hughes.

I know American English in great detail, including its slang, its clichés, its style and usage. With British English I am less richly familiar, but I have a good sense of it. And I have had at least some exposure to Indian English. But what about Australian English? New Zealand, South African, Jamaican English?

I have found my exposure to other Englishes — including the broken Englishes of non-native speakers — to be rewarding. I should make an effort to pursue the literatures of other Englishes.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006


I've just updated the speeches section of Palaverist, including a link to Secretary-General-Designate Ban Ki-moon's acceptance statement from back in September, when he was first appointed.

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[holiday greetings]

Silent Night | The Baby Jesus | Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer | Noël | Little Drummer Boy | Jingle Bells | White Christmas | Santa Claus Is Coming to Town | Love Is | The Three Wise Men by 슬기둥 (Sulgidoong) (캐롤집 [Carol House]) (Via Music from Korea)

Happy Yule! The actual solstice will take place at 7:22 pm this evening.

Happy Chanukah! Tonight we will light seven candles, and tomorrow night will be the full eight (in both cases not counting the shamash, which is used to light and stand guard over the other candles).

And a few days early, a Merry Christmas! We'll be spending ours with Jenny's niece Emily, some aunts we don't know, and a pot roast. We do not expect the pot roast to survive.

Today's musical selection is an unusual twist on the old (and not-so-old) Christmas carols. Seulgidoong is, according to the only information I could find, "a leading modern chamber ensemble devoted to popularization of traditional music by modernizing it. Its 9 members have given distinguished performances of their unique music. They combine traditional music and new world of music in a unique way to create an original repertoire." Sure. I'm not convinced it's genius or anything, but hey, how many times have you heard "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" played on gayageum and geomungo?

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I Would Never Wanna Be Young Again | Not a Crime | 60 Revolutions (YouTube Videos) by Gogol Bordello (Gypsy Punk World Strike)

When I was younger, rock concerts were major events in my life. I would find out about a show through a listing in BAM or the Guardian, buy my tickets early and let the anticipation build over weeks or even months. Against the backdrop of tedious mediocrity that was high school, an upcoming concert was a glowing beacon, a reminder that there was a grander, funkier, freakier world out there and that I could access it if I wanted to. Going to these concerts, I knew I was a part of something larger than myself. And back in high school afterwards, I would be sustained by the secret knowledge I'd gained at the Stone or the Omni or the Phoenix Theatre, seeing Primus or Soundgarden or Fungo Mungo: I am not like the rest of you. This is not my whole world.

Once I had a car, concerts became less of a big deal to get to, and consequently less of a big deal. What had once been a breakthrough to an ecstatic new world was now a mostly enjoyable but fairly regular amusement. Once I moved to New York in '93, concerts became even less meaningful. Try as I might, I failed to find any scene in New York that could stand up to the multi-ethnic, genre-muddling loopiness of the Bay Area. Where bands back home wore wild costumes and leaped around like lunatics, the East Coast scene seemed to require that bands dress badly and stand around looking bored.

Concerts still involved painful noise, crowds, cigarette smoke, long lines, overpriced tickets, late nights, sweat, bad drinks and horrendous opening acts, but the payoff was less. I no longer needed rock concerts to help me locate myself in the world or feel cool.

I've been to plenty of concerts in the years since then by artists I really like, but it's rare that I've felt that old sense of anticipation. Today, though, it's back. Tonight, I'm going to see Gogol Bordello at Irving Plaza, and I feel the giddy thrill of adventure in store. Check out the live clips and you'll see why.

Bonus: Not a Crime (Video)

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

[good grades]

I am happy to report that my brother got his grades back from his first semester at Arizona State University, and he has a 3.93 GPA. Well done!


[when do we plan?]

A curious difference between English and Korean is the way we refer to future intentions.

In English, we say the phrase "I plan to" in present tense to indicate something we intend to do in the future: I plan to go home.

Like English, Korean has several different structures to indicate different levels of intentionality. In English, we construct these forms out of various words that color the meaning: I'm thinking of going; I mean to go; I plan to go. In Korean, it's done with verb endings that don't have independent meaning.

For the strongest level of intentionality short of I will — translated by my textbook as plan to — Korean uses the form ~기로 하다 (~giro hada). And what strikes me as interesting is that the past tense — ~기로 했어요 (~giro haesseoyo) — is used where we use the present.

Here's an example:
Korean: 오늘 저는 집에 가기로 했어요. (Oneul jeoneun jip-e gagiro haesseoyo.)

Translation: I plan to go home today.

Literal translation: I planned to go home today.
I think the Korean formulation is more accurate in a certain sense. By the time something is set as your intention, you're done with the planning. Of course, the Korean grammar form doesn't quite literally mean to plan, so it's hard to say. Still, the idea is that you set your intention in the past, and now that intention carries on separate from your ongoing creation of it. In English, by contrast, if you say I planned to go home today, the implication is that you now have a different intent; only by maintaining the plan in the present tense — by continuing to plan — do you demonstrate that your will remains firm.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

[un oddities]

Gothamist reports on mysterious white powder at the UN, which it turns out was just flour.

They also link to the New York Post's Page Six jab at "Hated Annan," whose farewell party will, they say, be underattended. Keep in mind that the Post is ridiculously right-wing and provides no evidence for this supposed hatred beyond the annoyance of the staff union — and how often does the Post take the side of a union over someone who wants to cut jobs and reduce goldbricking — and the fact that lame-duck John Bolton won't be attending (he also skipped Ban's swearing-in and reception), but that could have more to do with how much Bolton is hated.

Don't believe all the bullshit about Kofi Annan. He is not the saint some have tried to portray him as, but neither is he the corrupt and venal monster of the right wing (whose religious arm, let us recall, are huge fans of a series of novels in which the UN Secretary-General turns out to be the Anti-Christ). I have not read it, but I hear that James Traub's new book takes a more nuanced view, arguing that Annan was a man of good intentions who was thwarted in many of them by the failings of the institution he heads. And remember, it's the Member States, not the Secretary-General, that set the direction and mandates and provide (or don't) the funds and resources to achieve them.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

[the handshake]

Ban Ki-moon is between jobs. He gave up his post as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea some weeks ago, and though he took the oath of office yesterday, Kofi Annan gets to keep his job until the end of the year.

But this is not the sort of hiatus during which one gets to relax, sleep in and maybe hit a few museums. In celebration of the swearing-in, the South Korean Mission to the UN threw a party for Ban, and his job was to stand in one place, next to his wife in her fancy hanbok and to Ambassador Choi, shaking hands and smiling pleasantly while the rest of us gorged ourselves on hors d'oeuvres.

There had been fears prior to the event that it would turn into a mad crush, but the crowd was smaller than predicted 7mdash; maybe five or six hundred over the course of the evening — and by relegating the snacks to corner tables rather than center buffets and opening up the second floor, the Mission staff managed to keep things circulating fairly well.

Early on, in fact, we had the second floor pretty much to ourselves, completed with our own bar, so we wolfed down sushi and cheese puffs and chicken on skewers and sipped our Stolis and Johnny Walker Blacks while we had the chance. Young and I hung out by the balcony that overlooked the receiving line, trying and mostly failing to spot celebrities. (Guests included numerous UN and diplomatic bigwigs, but do you know what Jean-Marie Guéhenno looks like? Me neither.)

I made a few forays down onto the crowded first floor, weaving through the dense crowd to see what I could see. The average age was older than at most of our receptions, which I took to mean that this was a higher-level group than usual. I fell into a couple of odd conversations, including one with a woman in a shiny sweater and a big fat diamond ring who went on about how influential her husband the plastics magnate was, how many important people he'd met, how many universities he funds, and how fine a school their daughter was attending to earn her Ph.D.

Back upstairs, I found myself telling my Korea story — how we ended up there, what we did, where we lived — to a Korean gentleman who informed me that he worked for the Foreign Ministry in Seoul. When I got the chance to ask him what exactly he did there, he said that he had just finished a term as vice minister. "Vice minister of what?" I asked, confusing the title with deputy minister, which usually comes with a specific purview.

"Of the Ministry!" he said. He went on to explain that there were two vice ministers and that they took on Minister Ban's official responsibilities when he was traveling. So here I was, talking to the ex-number-three man in the Foreign Ministry about my little language institute in Anyang. I quickly replayed our conversation in my head and was relieved to note that I hadn't said anything embarrassing or controversial.

At another point, I found myself cornered by a reporter for Boomberg News who began pressing me for information on who really writes the speeches, and I was careful to say that the role of the speechwriters is to polish and render into better English the content provided by the diplomats, whom I described as knowledgeable and highly educated.

As the party began to wind down and the receiving line dwindled, Mr. Ahn, Chief of Operations for the Mission and the man who wields the fancy digital camera at these sorts of events, waved at me to go shake hands with Mr. Ban. "Are you sure it's okay?" I asked, and Mr. Ahn made one of his inimitable faces, this one seeming to say, Yes, it's okay, why not, and you shouldn't miss this chance, and don't be a wuss. And so I went and shook hands, feeling awkward and grinning stupidly. "축하합니다 (Congratulations)," I told him. Ambassador Choi told him in Korean that I was part of the mission staff, and Ban turned his grandfatherly smile on me, with those friendly eyes behind the ever-present glasses. Ban may not be the most telegenic man in the world, but in person he gives off considerable personal warmth. (Click here, here and here for the full-sized pictures.)

And then it was over. I moved quickly out of the way, ignoring Mrs. Ban completely, which may or may not have been a faux pas. In a little while Mr. Ban and his retinue left, and there was a giddiness among the Mission staff still standing around. After weeks of increasingly panicked preparation, they had survived. The night had gone off without a hitch, and this was the last big event they had to plan for Ban, who will soon be off our hands.

As the secretaries who had been working the door descended on plates of leftover hors d'oeuvres, someone produced a birthday cake for Mr. Lee, a long-serving staffer whose combover is a deep black that cannot possibly still be natural. We all stood there watching the candles burn down as we waited for Mr. Lee to appear from wherever he was, and he made it just in time to blow out the stumpy remainders. Then we were handed bottles of white wine that had been opened but not used, and we made our way out into the night.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

[immaculate reception?]

Secretary-General-Designate Ban Ki-moon had his swearing-in ceremony (RealMedia) today before the United Nations General Assembly — on my way to lunch, I passed the president of the General Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, still in her frilly swearing-in blouse — and tonight, the South Korean Mission is throwing a bit of a party.

We initially invited a mere 1200 people to attend, and only 800 RSVPed right away. This may not sound like that many people, but keep in mind that we don't have anything like a ballroom. Most of our receptions that draw more than a hundred people feel crowded. To cope with the throngs expected tonight, they'll open up the second floor, which has some elegant conference rooms but a smaller total footprint than the first floor because of the soaring spaces below. There is also a party tent out in front, which unfortunately has the effect of blocking off a good chunk of the frontage space where people might otherwise have stood around.

Security is another concern. I have no idea what the plan is, or whether there's even a plan. There were some NYPD barriers stacked up out front, so it looks like local taxpayers will be helping to keep the evening orderly.

I will definitely be attending tonight — I wouldn't miss it — so watch this space for news on whether a grotesque fiasco is averted, who shows up for the crush, and whether the crowd is so dense that I can't get to the hors d'oeuvre table.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

[wedding photos]

When Jenny and I got married, we realized that few things are more important to a marriage than the prompt development and distribution of wedding photos. That's why now, a mere three years, seven months and nine days later, the pics are up on the web.

Of course, these are just the rough versions. For those of you who have been hoping for high-quality prints, you should know that the originals are now in the hands of a professional, who will crop, retouch and color-correct for maximum nicefulness.

In the meantime, please enjoy these uncropped, unretouched, un-color-corrected online photos. We would've done it sooner, but Photobucket hadn't been invented yet.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

[a do-gooder's dilemma]

Decisions, decisions! Every now and then, I surf Idealist.org in search of interesting volunteer opportunities. A couple weeks back, I ran across two organizations that looked like they had opportunities worth pursuing.

The first was the Taproot Foundation, which provides nonprofits with pro bono consultants from the business world. I went to their volunteer orientation session last week and was impressed by their approach. Using methodologies similar to those Jenny applies in her business-consulting work, Taproot runs clearly defined projects to help nonprofits operate more effectively. They work primarily with local organizations that directly affect the community, providing everything from rebranding and marketing to information technology and improved human resource management.

I have no particular passion for ladling soup, handing out fliers or painting walls, but I do love to write. With Taproot, I would be doing copywriting and editing of various kinds. Taproot is also very much looking for web designers, graphic designers, photographers and other talented creatives, and I highly encourage certain regular readers like DKNY and Robert to take a look at their volunteer roles.

But then today I interviewed with the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, or WANGO (rhymes with bongo, not mango) to see if I would be a good fit to help them with their marketing and outreach materials — everything from their newsletter and brochures to promotional materials for their major conferences and other activities.

Founded in 2000 by 15 NGOs that wanted to pool their resources and best practices, and initially led by a former Assistant Secretary-General, WANGO now seeks to be a global network for NGOs, providing assistance with best practices on fudraising, sharing resources and operating effectively. One of their more interesting efforts was hashing out a Code of Ethics and Conduct for NGOs to help them navigate the difficult questions that inevitably arise when you operate in highly compromised places like war zones and dictatorships.

So which one should I choose?



I ran across an Overheard in the Office today that reminded me of one of the more memorable moments of awfulness during the thirty years I worked at STV. I had taken a half-day off for my Great Aunt Sylvia's funeral, and I put this time down on my time sheet as "Bereavement."

About a month later, I got a call from headquarters. Someone in HR felt it necessary to ask me exactly who had died. Knowing that technically bereavement leave was for close relatives only, and that STV was grotesquely inflexible on technicalities, I said it was my aunt, leaving out the "great" part. That seemed like a satisfactory answer, and then the HR woman closed by saying, "Next time, make sure you put down your relationship to the person."

Next time?

It's memories like that one that make me so very happy to work where I do now.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

[hermit kingdoms]

In a New Yorker article on Burma, John Lanchester notes that "Burma ... has long been preoccupied with isolation, and the desire to be cut off from the world recurs in its history."

But Burma is not alone in one sense: it is hardly the only nation in the world that has sought to isolate itself from all outside intrusion. Korea was long known as the Hermit Kingdom, and North Korea maintains that tradition to this day. Bhutan is less militantly cloistered, but it strictly limits its contacts with the rest of the world. For many centuries, Tibet and Nepal held themselves aloof, as did a number of the kingdoms of Central Asia, and not only from Europeans, though from Europeans more intently than with close neighbors.

Indeed, dotted across Asia, from Japan and Korea to the landlocked mountain fastnesses of Afghanistan, were forbidden kingdoms. I have studied Asian history more closely than some other regions, but I wonder whether Asia is uniquely rich in hermit states. Certainly the territories of Persia and Rome, whatever the ruling state may have been at the time, have not lent themselves to such isolation. Nor has the easily traversed European peninsula, with its superabundant coastline and its many rivers flowing to every sea. About other parts of the world, I'm less certain. But I do wonder whether there is anything in common among the hermit states beyond geographical potential.

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[the rain in my apartment falls mainly in the bathroom]

At 6 a.m. on Saturday, I awoke to the sound of spattering water. At first I thought maybe the expected thunderstorms had arrived and were blowing in through an open window, but when I got up to investigate, it was clear the sound was coming from the bathroom. I switched on the lights and discovered that water was streaming from them, and from the ceiling itself, and rapidly covering the bathroom floor. (Jenny took one look, declared, "There's nothing we can do about it," and collapsed back into bed, where she slept through the rest of the incident. I thought about waking her, but there wasn't much point, so I let her get her rest.)

I quickly called my landlady, who fortunately answered the phone and said she'd be right over. Then I set to dashing back and forth with towels and every large pot and garbage can I could find, pausing in between to take various paintings down off our dapening walls. Eventually I realized that I ought to go upstairs and wake the Ooghes. When we had a similar problem a few months ago, it was a leak behind their toilet that did it, and when I got upstairs, I could hear the rush of water inside their apartment.

A groggy Robert emerged, went into his bathroom and managed to turn off the flow of water to his toilet, whose tank had somehow cracked during the night. (Our guess is that the earlier repairs to the hose leading to the tank had stressed the porcelain.)

By this time, the water had begun to spread beyond our bathroom, running along dampening seams across our living room. A steady flow ran down the wall and over the circuit-breaker panel, while more water had begun to run from one of the recessed lights in the living room. A steady drip fell from in front of our front door, while the frame of the bathroom door was now a flowing cascade.

Meanwhile, our landlady arrived with her mother and their usual fix-it guy, a Chinese fellow whose only other language is Spanish. They were admirably calm, though I was a bit startled to see our landlady's aging Chinese mother immediately plunge to the floor and begin mopping the hardwood floor with the heap of towels I'd built up. She was right, though: keeping the floor dry was crucial unless we wanted to face the expense and hassle of replacing wavy floorboards.

As the crisis was brought under control, I made coffee for Robert, Lydia and myself, and we enjoyed some pleasant conversation in the drier section of my living room. (It was lucky I had water in my Brita in the fridge, because the fix-it man had shut off all water to the building.) Once operations moved to the Ooghe's apartment, we followed the repairman up there and continued our chat, now joined by Lydia's hamster, who did not have much to say.

After a while, our landlady, her mother and the repairman headed out, declaring, "We'll be back," and they returned soon enough with a brand new toilet. Installation took a few hours, and then everything was mostly back to normal. Our apartment dried gradually, with towels taking turns on the radiators. A chunk of paint still hangs limply from our bathroom ceiling, and the bathroom door frame is still too swollen for us to shut the door properly. But we all agreed that it could have been much worse, and it was a good thing we were all home.


Monday, December 04, 2006

[ten odd things about me]

It seems almost unfair to limit it to ten, but here we go (meme from T):

1. I have a sort of sub-Tourette neurological tickiness that lodges words in my head and creates an uncomfortable, distracting pressure to blurt them (which I sometimes do within a nonsense sentence, to make it seem less weird). Those who've known me a long time can probably recite a list of the most frequently recurring words. This is worse when I'm tense, as during my last couple of months at STV, when a little ditty with the lyric "So hard to give a shit / So hard to give a shit" (in an Eastern European accent) ran constantly through my head all day at work.

2. When I was younger, it surprised me to learn that not everyone wanted to be a writer and make books.

3. I'm obsessed with Central Asia.

4. I don't own any Legos because I'm afraid if I did, I'd never do anything else.

5. I get my hair cut by people with stripper names.

6. When I was a kid, I always wore out the left knees on all my pants; later, I had surgery on that knee for a torn meniscus. Coincidence? Who knows?

7. I harbor a fantasy that my maternal grandmother is decended from Romanian Gypsies.

8. Sweet mixed drinks make me queasy, but I'm fine if I have a glass of juice and shot of liquor separately.

9. When I eat cold cheese, especially cream cheese, on something warm and bready, my face feels flushed and sweaty, but it doesn't change appearance.

10. Though I grew up in Marin, I've never been to Alcatraz or walked the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Previous Posts

[things i'd like to write about but haven't]
[drop the red lantern]
[how not to apply for a job]
[pop is the new alternative]
[what does it all mean?]
[national fears]
[lies, damn lies, and sound effects]
[our pakistan moment?]
[how to fail like an olympian]
[cold winters]


July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
May 2007
June 2007
July 2007
August 2007
September 2007
October 2007
November 2007
December 2007
January 2008
February 2008
March 2008
April 2008
May 2008
July 2008
August 2008
September 2008
November 2008
December 2008
January 2009
February 2009
March 2009
July 2009
August 2009
September 2009
November 2009
December 2009
January 2010
February 2010
April 2010
January 2011
February 2011
July 2011


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