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Archive for July, 2010

Skimming Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist today, I found some information on R Scott Bakker’s next book, The White-Luck Warrior, which I eagerly await. Said information was in a post on the author’s own WordPress blog, Three Pound Brain (beloved of zombies everywhere). His post concludes with a list of principles he regards as self-evident, and which resonate strongly with my own opinions. Bakker’s ‘No-Dogma Dogma‘ is:

1) Not all claims are equal.

2) The world is ambiguous because it is supercomplex.

3) Humans are cognitive egoists. We are hardwired to unconsciously game ambiguities to our own advantage – to make scripture out of habit and self-interest.

4) Humans are theoretical morons. We are hardwired for groundless belief in invisible things.

5) The feeling of certainty is a bloody pathological liar.

6) Science is a social cognitive prosthetic, an institution that, when functioning properly, lets us see past our manifold cognitive shortcomings, and produce theoretical knowledge.

7) Contemporary culture, by and large, is bent on concealing the fact of 2, 3, 4, and 5.

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“Creativity is mistakes” is the motto of ceramicist Grayson Perry. These words feature in the artist’s recent programme on Radio 4, Grayson Perry on Creativity and Imagination. It’s interesting stuff (if also somewhat blindingly obvious) and features interviews with a range of creative types, including Terry Pratchett. The piece begins with a list of myths, misconceptions about creativity:

Myth number one: The Eureka moment.

Myth number two: Anyone can do it.

Myth number three: Drugs are good for you.

Myth number four: Creative people are a bit mad.

Myth number five: Britain’s got talent.

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Last weekend, Habiba and Jessica and I went on a trip to the eastern coast of Korea. We got on a coach at 11:30 on Friday night along with a bunch of other foreigners and were driven through the night across the country. When we arrived at three or four in the morning, the guy organising the trip didn’t let us know we’d arrived, so there was a bit of confusion. We were in a car park at the base of some mountains in Mureung Valley: the first part of the trip was to be a hike up said mountains.

It was pitch black and by the time the three of us were ready the organiser had already left with everybody else. We were escorted by a Korean woman who seemed to be assisting on the trip into the beginning of the trail near some waterfalls. Dawn light slowly illuminated the trail.

We met the organiser, who then said he’d accompany a group of us up to one of the peaks. He took us the wrong way then disappeared while we backtracked. Idiot.

Anyway, the hike was pretty tough. Habiba wanted to rest a lot, so we got separated from the group we’d been with. Soon there were just four of us – the three of us and another weekend tripper called Rosalia. As we neared the head of the valley the girls decided to turn back. I continued by myself. I was surprised to pass some of the others on my way up – I thought we’d been left way behind. Once at the top I rested for a bit with some more people on the trip and then I headed left to the highest peak – Cheongoksan. Wikipedia says,

Cheongoksan is a mountain in the province of Gangwon-do, South Korea. Its area extends across the cites of Donghae and Samcheok. Cheongoksan has an elevation of 1,403.7 m (4,605 ft).

It was a disappointment – the peak, while open to the sky, was completely enclosed by trees and bushes, so it wasn’t possible to look out over the surrounding country. I asked some Koreans in my faltering Korean what was the quickest way down and tagged along behind – until I overtook them. By the end, I was feeling a little sick from exhaustion and dehydration. I’m a bit out of hiking practice and I think last weekend was a tough one.

Once I’d returned to my party and we’d had some lunch, we were ferried to Mangsang Beach near the city of Donghae. Habiba and Jess got some swimming in; I rested. In the evening, there were cheeseburgers for dinner. Afterwards, our little group went to a fun fair (‘carnival’ in Americanese, apparently) a short walk along the coast road. It was closed, but there was no perimeter fence closing it off, so you could easily go and sit on the carousel horses or what have you. The girls got sparklers and we took photos of each other waving them around.

The first thing on the itinerary for the next day was a penis park. Haesindang Park is full of phallic sculptures. Some resemble African art, some are totem pole-like structures. The prospect didn’t excite me much, but Habiba seemed very up for it (so to speak). This led to a little conflict between us, so I left Habiba and Jess for a while and went round by myself for a bit, taking photos in the pouring rain (it’s rainy season in Korea). I would guess that there’s some tradition of phallic art here that leads to the existence of a place like Haesindang Park, but there was no evidence of information about that (there was a fishing museum, but we barely went in there – not enough time). Without the context of knowledge of such a tradition, it seemed like nothing more than an excuse for puerile photo opportunities.

Once done with all that, we were taken to another scenic mountain valley, this one the site of several caves, including Hwanseongul, which Wikipedia describes thus:

Hwanseon Cave (환선굴) is a cave located in Gangwon province, South Korea. It is one of the largest limestone caves in Asia, and the biggest in Korea, with 6.2 km of known passages and a total suspected length of 8 km, 1.6 km of which are visited by over 1 million people per year. In 1966 the South Korea government designated this cave and a neighboring cave not open to the public, Gwaneum cave (관음굴), National Monument 178. Hwanseongul was opened to the public in 1997.

It was a bit of a hike up the mountain, but once inside it was definitely worth it. The cave is massive, cathedral-like, with as much to explore as a large mall like COEX. The inside is lined with functional metal walkways – many of which are lit up with coloured lights (very Korean). The place was pretty busy – there were probably several hundred people in there. It was dark, of course, but many of the features were spot lit.

Some of the highlights were a massive slick column of brown and white flowstone that looked lik partially melted coffee and vanilla ice cream; there was a little structure from the roof of the cave that looked like a big, protruding anus, with a constant stream of water squirting out; there was a short waterfall coming out of a fissure in a wall and emptying into a wide pool; there were a couple of flexible bridge than jounced most amusingly when we walked on them. The operators had sexed everything up with silly names for each section of the cave: things like The Valley of Love or The Bridge of Confessions.

Then it was time to head home. We stopped at a service station on the way, where we saw a fantastic rainbow. It had one very bright arc, then another fainter one a little further out; the bright arc even showed signs of being a double arc itself. We ate potatoes. Then we got back on the bus for the crawl back to Seoul through the late weekend traffic.

Photos of the trip are here.

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I’d read one Kundera novel before I tackled this one – The Unbearable Lightness of Being and enjoyed it quite a bit. It was different from my usual fantasy fare – intimate, understated, delicate, intelligent (not that fantasy novels can’t be any of those things, especially the latter) – and that was probably a large part of why I liked it.

I also liked Immortality – for the same qualities. Where The Unbearable Lightness of Being is set in Prague, the author’s native home, this novel is set in Paris, the author’s adoptive home. It deals primarily with relationships – the relationships of the somewhat unhappy Agnes, and also of her husband and sister; and also those of Goethe and his supposed love, Bettina. It also deals with the author himself, who is a character in his own novel – although it might be more accurate to say that the characters are people in his own life. And it deals with a gesture.

The book begins with the author noticing a gesture – a carefree, backward-looking wave of a young woman performed by an old woman. This leads him to muse on the relative uniqueness and longevity of gestures and people. People, he thinks, are the vessels of gestures. This carefree wave comes to be on a par with the characters in the novel – transmitted from one to another, and living on because of this.

The characters find their genesis in the early morning drowsy thoughts of the author. In one chapter, the author imagines a woman, lying in bed like himself, savouring the absence of her husband; he tries to think what motivates her. In the next chapter, she has become, without further elucidation, the novel’s protagonist. Although the author never comes face to face with Agnes, he meets her husband and sister; he spends time with his friend, Professor Avenarius, who is also a friend of theirs. He asks the professor about them, hoping to understand what they have done and why.

At one point, Avenarius asks what he is planning to call the novel he is working on (the novel you’re reading); the author says he wants to call it The Unbearable Lightness of Being, to which the professor replies, I think someone already wrote that! and the author responds that it was him.

The novel describes and discusses Goethe and his relationship with a young devotee, Bettina. Goethe – according to what is written here – didn’t care for her much and saw her as a danger to his reputation and legacy. She seems to have been obsessed with Goethe and wrote him letters about love, planning to publish them after his death – along with various self-serving emendations. Goethe is also shown having conversations with Hemingway in the afterlife.

The whole novel is a gentle but mesmerising musing on the nature of the desire for immortality, the desire to control one’s reputation, and how the dead are remembered. I feel that the book doesn’t offer any particular thesis, but just tries to offer a subtly fantastical, psychologically realistic, multi-faceted picture of various intimately or tenuously interconnected lives. Despite the fact that it jumps between the present day narrative and its pseudo-biography of Goethe and even jumps back and forth within the foreground story, despite the fact that it doesn’t so much blur as consider irrelevant the boundaries between fact and fiction, it is beautifully readable from start to finish.

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Listened to Monday’s edition of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue yesterday, along with one from 1984. I was surprised at how much funnier it is these days. There were several laughs to be had in the older programme, but it was very low key, had a much smaller audience and seemed much more like what it purports to be – four old comedians making funny remarks. Today’s ISIHAC is much more professional – you can tell a lot, if not, all of it is scripted – the result being half an hour of brilliantly funny radio. The audience is much bigger these days, too. The applause at the beginning and the roar of approval and recognition that goes up when a favourite round is introduced or a running gag set up is one of my favourite aspects of the show.

Anyway, here for your delectation is a transcript of one round from this week’s edition (notable for a reference to one of my other favourite things in the world ever – Newsnight Review):

Jack Dee: OK, we kick off today with a round called Uxbridge English Dictionary. As English developed from various older languages, it has many different terms which appear to be interchangeable, but this isn’t always true. For example, there are people who don’t know the difference between the words oilskin and tarpaulin. Well, oilskin refers to a type of strong, flexible, water-resistant material, often canvas, protected by a skin of oil, usually linseed oil. Whereas tarpaulin is that miserable Irish bloke on Newsnight Review.

However, meanings are constantly changing, teams, so let’s hear any new definitions you may have spotted recently. Tim, you can start.

Tim Brooke-Taylor: Flabbergasted: appalled at how much weight you’ve put on.

Jack: Graeme.

Graeme Garden: Ambulate: a hearse.

Jack: Barry.

Barry Cryer: Monkey: bit like a monk.

Jack: And Sandi.

Sandi Toksvig: Camper van: van with more sequins than the last one.

Tim: Wince: a setting on Jonathan Ross’s washing machine.

Barry: Monogamy: celebrating New Year in Scotland by yourself.

Graeme: [in pirate voice] Radar: an attack by pirates.

Sandi: Algorithm: former Vice President on drums.

Graeme: [in pirate voice] Doodah: a cool pirate.

Sandi: Dependent: Italian indication of a hole made with a biro.

Graeme: [in pirate voice] Bazaar: Barry the pirate.

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Source: FailBlog.org.

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Habiba was 31 yesterday (the 12th of July). Happy birthday to her!

I finished work early and came home to start preparing dinner. Dinner was to consist of salmon grilled with a seasoning of finely chopped garlic stem, ginger, hot pepper, lemon juice and a bit of olive oil. I also put together a stewy kind of thing made of red onion, more garlic stem, tofu, asparagus, zucchini and mushroom. Plus there was a salad – which Habiba helped with when she got home – of various types of lettuce, celery, cucumber, carrot, avocado, almonds, olives and jalapeño peppers. Basically, lots of the food I didn’t grow up eating, but which Habiba has weaned me on to.

Also joining us for dinner were our friends and her colleagues JP and Zach. Everyone seemed to enjoy the meal. I wasn’t entirely happy with the stewy thing – it wasn’t quite what I’d envisioned – the tofu didn’t hold up too well in the jumble of ingredients. But it tasted pretty good. For dessert we had tiramisu (purchased, along with the other ingredients, at our local massive supermarket, E-Mart). When I bought picked up from the bakery area at E-Mart I also got four candles to go with it (and in it), three big ones for each decade and one smaller one for the odd year.

After that it was time for presents – from me, anyway: Habiba had already received goodies the previous week at work. First was a Korean cookery book (in English – and Korean) that I’d wrapped in some of Habiba’s fancy paper and decorated with hearts and stars and a crescent moon. Zach helpfully pointed out that it would be impossible for a star to show in the middle of the curve of the moon, as I’d placed one. I countered that hearts floating in a night sky was also unlikely.

The second gift was a nice pepper grinder that I’d bought from Lotte Department Store in Seoul city centre. It was a little expensive, but probably cheaper than a similar one in a similarly posh shop in the west. This pressie was wrapped in red wrapping paper (previously used – we’re environmentally friendly) and tied with the golden twist ties that fasten the ends of packs of vegetables and mushrooms from E-Mart. The package’s shape and size were, shall we say, suggestive. In retrospect, it would have been better to give this gift before dinner – that way, we could have used it. Habiba has been pining for a good pepper grinder for a while, so it was a good gift, I think.

Habiba also had phone calls from her family and friends wishing her a happy birthday. The highlight of which was this morning when she spoke to her father. He’s in rehab now and apparently off his ventilator – huge steps forward from his condition while we were over in America. I’m sure that was the best present she could have wished for.

The next stage of the celebrations come at the weekend – a night out and some sort of daytime activity are planned.

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