Friday, September 30, 2005

And In This Corner. . .

So I'm finally getting around to talking specifically about SYEC. I consider Intelligent Design to be a seperate issue.

First, I want to re-iterate something I said back here. In our culture, the statement that a particular idea is "unscientific" is fully equated with "untrue." Part of the reason I insist on a distinction between MethN and MetaN is to show that this belief is not necassarily true.

There are two reasons that the phrases unscientific and anti-science cannot fully equate with untrue. First, science can only ever tell us about the mechanistic physical world. It is silent on all other questions; if there are factors that upset the mechanistic workings of nature, then MethN will be incapable of drawing correct conclusions. Secondly, if there are such upsetting factors, MethN will always be incapable of even detecting these factors.

This is my argument for this post is three fold. First, that Scientific Young Earth Creationism (SYEC) is an oxy-moron. SYEC insists that MethN is hopelessly inadequate in telling us about our universes past. SYEC is not scientific; it must deny in principle every possible epistemic standard of MethN. SYEC posits statements about our universe that are non-falsifiable, and attacks the very possibility of falsifiable statements about geology, biology, paleontology, astronomy and archeology.

Secondly, SYEC is not only unscientific, it is also anti-science. It blurs and ultimately destroys the distinction between the undeniable necassity of MethN and an outside metaphysical framework.

Finally, while SYEC is unscientific and anti-science, it may still be true. This leads to the issue that I really want to address with all this blogging: does SYEC deserve a place in science curriculums? My answer is no. Whether or not SYEC is an accurate description of our universe is irrelavent; science classes are for teaching MethN and the current crop of conclusions resulting from MethN.

1) SYEC is unscientific. The discussion of this point must necassarily take place in rigorous scientific language, and I am ill-equipped for the task. I am comparitively ignorant in the various fields this topic touches on; however, there are a few points that seem decisively convincing.

First, the starlight issue. Any layman can understand redshift; light becomes more red or more blue depending on the distance of the source. it is not a complex scientific issue to understand just how far away stars are. It is also not a complex scientific issue to understand the speed of light. And obviously, it is not a complex issue to put these two facts together and to understand that since we can see stars hundreds of thousands of lightyears away, then that light had some serious time to travel.

This is a simple, unavoidable fact. Either light had enough time to travel, or the universe was supernaturally created in its present state. I know most of my readers will be quite happy accepting option #2, and I can't say that you are wrong. I can say this, however: if this is a a young universe, then astronomy is an utterly useless pursuit and we might as well drop it. And since the same epistemic principles underlying astromy underlie the rest of the sciences... we might as well start dismissing them, too. The claim that this is a young universe is both unscientific and anti-science. It has no place in an astronomy classroom.

I know there are SYEC attempts to justify this in a MethN framework. Here is one at Answers in Genesis. And here is a very readable response written by a group of Christians: they dismiss it as bunk.

The second issue is the fossil record. Again, I know most of my readers (if I have any, heh) will jump up and shout "missing links!" Fine, whatever. I don't know. I don't know enough about paleontology to argue the point.

Here is what I do know: there is irrefutible physical evidence of now-extinct Hominini on our planet. These are bipedal, non-ape, non-human, non-monkey genuses that indisputably existed at one point in Earth's history.

If Earth is 6000 years old, then you must believe that there were multiple genuses (or geni... I don't know) that were not-quite human walking around at least up until Noah's day. Remember, these were not humans and they were not dumb apes. Many were also shorter than even ancient homo sapiens - so they weren't the "giants" mentioned in Genesis.

Why don't these other not-quite human peoples show up in the historical record, biblical or otherwise? Because they were long extinct.

I remember back in my second year archeology course. As much as I hated that course, it did provide me with an epiphany. At the time, I was still having a hard time accepting the idea of Evolution. Once I personally handled the skull of a Australopithecus afarensis, I knew it was the stake through the heart of SYEC. Whatever doubts I (even now) have about a MetaN interpretation of this evidence, I know there is no way an SYEC framework can account for these skulls. You, dear reader, can literally stick your fingers in the holes and see for yourself.

Let me state what I have just argued, and what I have not argued. I have argued that MethN tells us that this universe, in terms of its appearence, is far too old for an SYEC framework. I have also argued that the fossil record indicates patterns of life on Earth that are incompatible with a SYEC framework. I have argued that SYEC is unscientific and anti-science, and has no place in a science classroom. I have not argued that SYEC is inevitablyfalse upon these grounds.

Again, this post was terribly unclear. Sorry. I don't have the patience for proper proof-reading; I have to admit that my primary concern is merely getting this stuff down on paper. I might end up polishing some of this stuff for academic matters, maybe not.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Why Trust An Airplane?

This is part three of my origins debate series. Part one, part two.

With definitions of MethN and MetaN in hand, I'm going to argue that only MethN can be rightly called science. MethN is both the foundation and limits of a systematic study of the natural world.

MethN is a particular view of epistemology - a theory of knowledge. Now, I don't think MethN can form an epistemology all by itself. It is too limited; if one uses MethN has the basis of all knowledge, it quickly becomes either MetaN or a half-assed reaction against MetaN.

In the strictest sense, as I said in this post, we have no undoubtably firm foundation for knowledge. MethN, however, does not require such a starting point. Generations ago, David Hume questioned any possibility of science when he said we have no grounds to believe in uniformity. That is, Hume pointed out that we cannot make the unquestionable and dogmatic statement that even though X has always led to Y, it will not necassarily do so again in the future. For example, we cannot be without doubt that the sun will rise tommorow.

That might sound unecassarily silly or anal or trivial, but it's been a serious poin of contention. To my knowledge, Karl Popper - writing in the 1940s - offered the best rejoinder to Hume. Popper offered the standard of falsifiability. That is to say, in order for a statement to be considered as science, it must be falsifiable.

That is bound up in the scientific method itself. Offer a hypothesis, test the hypothesis. Here is the kicker, and the limit of MethN: in the strictest sense, following Hume and Popper, science does not prove anything. Science is incapable of proving that X is true - it can only ever prove that X is untrue.

When we say X is "scientifically true," what we are really saying is that X has been systematically tested, and has not been falsified. A scientific law is is a concept that has been repeatedly and thoroughly tested, and has never been falsified - gravity, for instance. This is also why we trust our technology to work as expected; we get on an airplane, because we know that the principles at work have been tested millions of times over, and never falsified (mechanical failures are a different issue).

Falsifiability is the epistemological core of MethN. It is the line that is crossed when one enters into MetaN or any other metaphysical framework. When one attempts science without this guideline, any possibility of explaining the success of science falls away. We return to a Humian skepticism, and all scientific research will become deaf, dumb and blind. This effect provides a definition for the talismanic phrase "anti-science." To be anti-science is to leave behind MethN, and yet to insist that you are within the bounds of science. To be anti-science is to throw a monkey wrench into the scientific method; it is to be a hypocrite in our technological world, and it is to have a worldview that cannot incorporate centuries of scientific research.

How does this relate to the origins debate? I think many on both sides constantly leave behind MethN, while insisting they have remained within the bounds of science. I believe the MetaNer who does not acknowledge the distinction between MetaN and MethN is anti-science, and I believe the SYECer is anti-science in a similar way.

An example from both sides. Carl Sagan was a committed metaphysical naturalist. He took a dim view of all supernatural concepts; for example, he wrote a book called The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. I haven't read that, but I have read his Cosmos and Broca's Brain. Sagan was probably the greatest popularizer of science of all time; he was charismatic and an excellent educator. He had a tv show, and appeared on The Tonight Show countless times.

He was a scientist of some professional reputation, as well. This means he had a fine grasp on MethN, and used it to all of our benefit.

However, I do not believe he drew a sufficient line between his MethN-guided work, and his MetaN-based beliefs. In practice, Sagan was an excellent scientist. In his philosophy, I believe his lack of interest - or ability to - draw a line between MethN and MetaN resulted in an anti-science contradiction.

It is not that his MetaN beliefs were ungrounded or unjustified. The problem is that Sagan often expressed MetaN views while speaking as a scientist. When one speaks as a scientist, they must limit themselves to what is uncovered by MethN - or engage in a contradiction that threatens the foundation of science.

I repeated myself a few times there; that's because I don't think i was entirely clear. Hopefully quantity will clarify what quality has obscured. I'll talk about SYECers next time.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Bush Family's Spirit Guide?

This article speaks for itself. "Gov. Bush & His Mystical Buddy."

fter more than an hour of solemn ceremony naming Rep. Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, as the 2007-08 House speaker, Gov. Jeb Bush stepped to the podium in the House chamber last week and told a short story about "unleashing Chang," his "mystical warrior" friend.

Here are Bush's words, spoken before hundreds of lawmakers and politicians:
''Chang is a mystical warrior. Chang is somebody who believes in conservative principles, believes in entrepreneurial capitalism, believes in moral values that underpin a free society.

''I rely on Chang with great regularity in my public life. He has been by my side and sometimes I let him down. But Chang, this mystical warrior, has never let me down.''

Bush then unsheathed a golden sword and gave it to Rubio as a gift.

''I'm going to bestow to you the sword of a great conservative warrior,'' he said, as the crowd roared.

And a little later on:

In a 1989 Washington Post article on the politics of tennis, former President George Bush was quoted as threatening to ''unleash Chang'' as a means of intimidating other players.

Let's assume the facts of this story are basically true. Both George H. Bush and his son, Jeb, claim to have a mystical spirit guide. The first question, unanswerable at this point, is whether or not GWB also makes use of Chang. Maybe we'll find out, maybe we won't. But if both his father and his brother are involved in this, I wouldn't bet money against the idea.

There are going to be three reactions to this story.

First, a lot of people will use this to call the Bush family nuts. Imaginary friends and all that. Just more grist for the mill.

Some people will dismiss this as a non-story; some politicians claim to be guided by Jesus, others by Chinese mystical beings. It's all the same, and basically harmless.

But the third response - and I think this will be the most interesting one - will come from Evangelical Christians, especially those that have supported GWB to this point.

How can an Evangelical Christian interpret "Chang" as anything other than a demonic influence? Assuming the facts of the above story are true, hasn't the Bush family just been implicated in what can only be interpreted as old-school golden calf idolotry? If not something worse, witchcraft or satanism?

If so, how can a Christian continue to support Bush?

Ah, a little bit of search turns up the same report on the Miami Herald's site. So this story is more than likely true.

The governor presented Rubio with a sword that he said came from a mystical Chinese warrior named Chang, whom the governor said helped him stay true to conservative values and warned Republicans not to be complacent in the face of stiff competition from Democrats.

So what say you?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Methodological and Metaphysical Naturalism

More discussion of the creation/evolution debate. Here is part one.

Once again, I'm going to resist the urge to go into massive detail. This is as brief an overview of the subject as I think is possible. For brevity, I'm going to refer to the whole debate as the "origins debate."

The origins debate (at least, the version we are all familiar with) has been a heated and contentious issue in North America for nearly a century. As with most issues, I think the two sides are just talking past each other; unable to properly understand the concerns and issues on either side. And some of the time, people don't even understand their own side. So I'm going to explain both sides as best I can.

A bit part of the problem is our culture's obsession with science. "Science," whatever the hell that means, is held up as an ultimate arbiter of truth. "That is unscientific!" is one of the worst slanders you can bring against an idea. This is just the attack both opponents and proponents of Evolution bring against their foes. All this is often done without any thought as to what science actually is.

So what is science? By even asking the question, I'm starting to wade out of my depth. But from what little reading I have done, I will offer this definition. Science is the systematic study of the natural world.

Two things must be clarified here: one, science is not a body of knowledge. It is not a group of facts or ideas. It is a method. This method, depending on various factors, will lead to constant changes and revisions in the resultant body of knowledge.

The second point is mostly for emphasis: science studies the natural world. Only the natural world - the mechanistic interactions of matter and energy. This leads to another distinction which must be made: methdological naturalism vs. metaphysical naturalism.

I have already described methodological naturalism (MethN) - the systematic study of the mechanistic interactions of matter and energy. This is the root of science; it is what allows us to make a hundred tons of steel fly in the air, and it allows us to fight disease, and it allows us to build a body of knowledge about our planet's natural history. MethN, by definition, can only ever describe matter and energy. It is necessarily silent on all other topics.

Metaphysical naturalism (MetaN) is something else. This is the view that interactions of matter and energy make up the whole of reality (I left out the word "mechanistic," because I am unsure if that characterization would be correct). Only that which can be percieved by the senses exists. This point of view stands opposed to any possibility of the supernatural. I would define "supernatural" as an aspect of reality not based in matter or energy.

Much of the hot air in the origins debate flows from the confusion between MetaN and MethN. What little I have read of Richard Dawkins, for example, suggests to me that he is a commited metaphysical naturalist - and that he confuses this with MethN. On the other side, the folks at Answers in Genesis (AiG) reject the very idea of MethN. They inists that all "true science" will support the supernatural claims of the Bible, especially Genesis.

AiG is an organization of Scientific Young Earth Creationists (SYEC). SYECers are a specific sub-branch of Young Earth Creationists (YEC), who believe that the Earth is roughly 6000 - 10 000 (sometimes 35 000) years old. All of physical reality was created in 6 days, as literally described in Genesis. SYECers ardently believe this can be reconciled with scientific observation. SYECers are a young group, finding their original in the 20th century; as I said in part one, most geologists in the 19th century were Christians ministers, and they were all old Earthers. SYEC only sprang up when Evolution left American acadamia and hit high schools.

Remember what I said about our culture's obsession with science? Both the views of Dawkins and the SYECers are examples of this. Because "science" is seen as being our most powerful tool for describing reality, it is assumed that science is capable of describing all of reality. Science, for Dawkins and other MetaNers, is capable of ruling out the existence of the supernatural. SYECers believe exactly the same thing - that science is capable of commenting on the nature of the supernatural. Only from the other side of the coin.

This confusion is part of the reason YECers reject Evolution so adamantly. Because they share the MetaN's belief that science can adequately engage with all aspects of reality, they see Evolution as a threat to their own metaphysics. Which it is. MetaNers can build a well rounded metaphysics with an ontology, an epistemology, and an ethics. All of which are obviously not Christian.

This is the usefulness of distinguishing between MethN and MetaN. MethN is not divorced from metaphysics - it must have certain epistemological assumptions - but it is indebted to no ideology, no ethics, not even a particular ontology. MethN can - and does so with an unassailable degree of certainty - tell us about our past and our present. But it can not tell us what the good life is, and it can never comment on whether the supernatural exists or does not exist. It can not tell me who I am, and it can not tell you who you are. MethN shows us how to translate the world into one of our many number systems, but some things will always be lost in translation.

A supernatural metaphysics has nothing to fear from methodological naturalism. None of this, of course, explains why MethN is important or why we should attempt to preserve it. That'll be next time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I have a page of photos up and running, over here.

The Boogeyman of Postmodernism

There's a term that's tossed about a great deal these days - postmodernism. I have a bit of a rant on the subject, one that has been building for some time but finally prompted by this post.

My own thinking on the subject is that the term isn't very useful at all. I'd rather discuss specific authors and their ideas, rather than some vague, ill-defined movement.

There are writers that are lumped together under the term "postmodern," but because of all the (unnecassary) scary, nihilistic, all-text-is-vanity associations that go along with the term, I just prefer to say "continental philosophers."

But, postmodernism is still the popular way to identify these writers. And there is a popular perception that goes along with the term: everything is "relative." There are no correct or incorrect statements.

This perception leads to a common criticism: if nothing is wrong, than nothing can be right. Why bother to express ideas? You can never criticize anything. There is no point in thought, because no conclusion you reach could ever be better than another conclusion.

Yes, thank you. This is obvious. It would be a brilliant and decisive critique of postmodernism - if any postmoderns had actually said anything like this.

Granted, my experience with postmodernism is fairly limited. A handful of books and essays from a handful of writers, stretched from the 19th century to the 21st century. There is a wide variety of ideas and pursuits and questions rising out of these readings, but there is one thing I have never encountered - this boogeyman of "postmodern relativism."

So why do so many people believe postmodernism is about "destroying" "absolute truth," then? It's not just Christians, of course; it seems like a lot of our culture thinks this way. One of the books I skimmed at a friend's house is thankfully online at Have a look at the provided excerpt; this is exactly what I'm talking about.

The classic example of postmodern thinking is Jacques Derrida, the philosopher that died just last year. It was his practice of "deconstruction" that raised the most hackles; I've been questioned as to why anyone would ever bother reading Derrida, or why Derrida would ever write anything - because it is deconstructable. Apparently, some think Derrida said there is no meaning to anything - say anything you want, and you won't be wrong.

Which leaves me wandering how many people have actually read Derrida. Probably not this blogger, or this hysterical fellow who claims that "deconstructionists" are communists. And I doubt the authors of this above mentioned book have read Derrida either; their description of deconstruction (unavailable on the net) was little more than a practice in ignorance. A simple google search would have brought up any number of accurate discussions.

And of course, a google search brought me to this article, and it explains Derrida the same way he was taught to me. Read it if you are interested. If you aren't interested in reading something even that short, why would you feel equipped to dismiss a huge body of work?

Here is my point. Don't run on common perceptions of postmodernism. It is best not to operate on any preconceptions at all; pick up an author that looks interesting, and read what he has to say. Don't rely on someone else to read for you. Then talk about it with others.

If you can't be bothered to read something for yourself, then you should take Wiggenstein's always elegant advice: "that which we may not speak of, we must pass over in silence." Or, don't take his word for it; read Jude 1:10. Try to understand something before you speak abusively of it.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Dinner and a Field Trip

It's Saturday night here. I just got back from a field trip.

WThursday night, one of the student's mother invited all of the teachers out for dinner. This was my first time at an upscale Korean restaurant. We took our shoes off at the entrance, and walked into a private room. Most of the food was already spread out on the table; we sat on the floor and waited for the rest to come out.

There were a few kinds of sushi - like shrimp on sticky rice. There was a kind of coleslaw, and apples in an unfamiliar sauce. We were also given seaweed soup and rice. The main part of the meal was beef; there were actually bbqs built into the tables. The server put a strip of meat onto the cooker, and came back to turn it. When it was cooked, the server used a large pair of scissors to cut it up into small pieces, and we ate directly from the cooker. They kept bringing meat until we stopped eating; I was good and stuffed. At the end of the meal, they brought out glasses of plum juice.

After an hour of sitting on the floor, your knees start to ache something awful. Interestingly, it didn't bother the Koreans at all; I suppose you can train your legs to sit crossed for long periods of time.

One of the foreign teachers has a digital camera, so I had him take pictures of the meal. Once he sends them to me, I'll pass them on.

We took the kindergarteners to the Folk Village today. The kids went nuts in the half-size bus I took - total chaos. The Village itself was interesting; buildings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. We saw two fascinating performances. One was a horse show; the riders did tricks like hang off the side of the galloping horse, their heads inches from the ground. One rider did some archery work.

The second performance we saw was a marching band; they did a dance that seemed to come out of the martial arts. You've probably seen something like it in a kung fu movie; they jump, their torso goes parallel to the ground, and their legs kick through the air. And they had streamers attached to their hats; their kept their heads moving and the streamers moved in various patterns. It was just short of spectacular.

The kids' parents packed lunches for both them and the teachers. It was interesting; we made a picnic out of it. All Korean meals are very communal; everything just sits in the middle of the table (or in this case, a blanket) and you pick at it with chopsticks. Seaweed sushi wraps, cherry tomatos, chestnuts, small sandwiches, pineapple, grapes, and yams in some kind of sweet coating. It was a really good meal.

School is going well; I finally know all the kindergarteners' names, but I'm still working on the elementary students. The older kids are noticing I don' know all their names yet, and are starting to get annoyed. :)

The traffic here is really something else. There don't seem to be "traffic laws," so much as "traffic suggestions." It's standard to be cut off every few minutes; people fight viciously for their place in a lane. Motorbikes even drive on the sidewalks a lot.

The police occasionally do patrols in groups of ten; they just march down the street. I think it has something to do with North Korea/cold war mentality.

So yes, pictures forthcoming.

Untangling The Intelligent Design Mess.

Ever since GWB mentioned Intelligent Design, I've been meaning to write about it. So here it goes, a handful of posts about the topic. Hopefully no more than two or three.

The briefest of brief histories*: In the 19th century, American universities were small and mostly religious. Professors were multi-disciplinary; it was not uncommon for the same prof to teach New Testament theology and geology (then known as "natural history.") There is an important fact here: the decisive majority of these geologists were Christians. They also happened to believe in an old earth. These Christians - ministers and professors - considered it an obvious truth that the Earth was simply ancient. Young Earth Creationism (YEC) was, then and now, found only in non-specialists. When I say "YEC," I mean the belief in a literal Genesis, six days of creation, roughly 6000 years ago. So the idea of an ancient (ie, billions of years old) universe was firmly entrenched long before Darwin ever came along.

As the American population grew, so did universities. Professors had to begin to specialize; with this specialization, came a loyalty to one's field rather than one's institution. The revered and authoritative institutions of Europe were cutting edge at the time, and so American universities were heavily influenced by them. This influence included Darwin's work.

The same Christian professors and academics who accepted an old Earth also accepted Darwin's work - in part. They simply rejected a naturalistic metaphysics, and became what we would call Theistic Evolutionists. Remember that term, it is important.

For the next few decades, Evolution was entirely an ivory tower matter. The average American could live his life without coming into signifigant contact with the subject. In the first quarter of the 20th century, public schools started popping up everywhere. The curriculums were guided by universities; suddenly, every little straw-hat, denim over-all wearing kid in rural America was coming home to tell mommy and daddy that they were all descended from monkeys.

An old universe and Evolution were firmly planted in acadamia long before these ideas entered the public realm in any sigifigant way. But once children started being taught these subjects, the battle was joined.

The fight occured on two levels. First, the scientific level. "Scientific" YECers began to multiply. Anyone reading my blog is probably already aware of their arguments, so I won't go into detail. Suffice to say, all through the 20th and into the 21st centuries, there have been louded and insistant voices for scientific YEC.

The second and more important level, at least in my opinion, was in the legislatures and the school boards. In the early 1920s, various states began to ban the teaching of Evolution. You've all heard of the Scopes trial, but there have been several more, right up to 1987.

In the 1990s, something called "Intelligent Design" (ID) cropped up. Briefly, it is the idea that certain living organisms are irreducibly complex - that no known natural force could possibly have produced certain organs. Its chief proponants are Michael Behe and William Dembski. ID has added more grist for the mill; it is no longer Scientific YEC that opponents of Evolution want taught in school, it is ID. Because it is "scientific."

So that's the brief history. I wrote a paper on this in my last year of undergrad; it ran about 30 pages. Be glad you read the condensation. But hey, if you want more detail, just ask.

I'll give my opinions on this whole topic in the next post in this little series.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Incheon, I'm Sorry (For The Telling Of Lies)

I was wrong about Incheon being totally industrial. I decided to walk towards the closest looking hill; it was only a 20 minute walk. Much to my delight, there was a hiking trail, so I started up. The trail branched into two paths - one wide and gentle, the other narrow and steep. I walked up the narrow path, getting a real workout in the process. It was maybe 25 minutes before I reached the top; there was a clearing, and you could look out in every direction. The city surrounds this hill, and stretches on and on in every direction. I could see the massive international Incheon harbour, and multiple other clearings on hills - trails connect them all.

Next weekend, I'll make a day of it - see how many hills I can walk.

And yes, photos of these views will be forthcoming.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

First Saturday

It's Saturday, September 3rd here in Korea. 4:46 pm.

Thursday was a full day of teaching, and it was about as chaotic as anything I've ever seen. The kindergarteners, especially. Very difficult to control them. The elementary students were better; a bit quieter, a bit more attentive.

The big problem I've encountered - the prepared curriculum only stretches to fill half the time. If the class is 40 minutes, I run out of material about 20 or 25 minutes in. That was pretty hard to cope with; I had a hard time coming up with ways to fill the time. I'm going to need to add to the curriculum myself; that is going to take a lot of work. Can't say I'm too pleased with that.

The second day of teaching was better. I remember to bring the stickers and the alphabet bingo game. Those two things made the kindergarteners putty in my hands; those kids would jump off a cliff for a sticker. So those classes went fine.

I still ran out of material for the older kids, though. One class wanted to play the bingo game, but that can only be a one time thing; they are too old for it. They did it once because it was more fun than work, but they will be bored and contemptuous if I pull it out again. I'll have to find other games for them. There is going to be a lot of prep work involved, at least for a little while.

The smallest Korean bill is 1000 Won - which is about one Canadian dollar, give or take ten cents. There are a lot of Canadians teaching here, so we just refer to 1000 won as a dollar. So 10 000 won translates into $10, at least in our minds.

And about that - there are a lot of Canadians here. I met a pile last night; my roommates and I went to a pub called the Goose Goose. The Goose is a standard hang out for foreigners. Lots of English teachers, and US military types. The teachers I've met are mostly Canadians, Irish, and Austrailians.

The food I've been eating at the school is pretty good. It's obviously a lot healthier than most Canadian fare; it is mostly vegatable based. I'm getting the hang of chopsticks pretty quickly.

The neighbourhood the Goose is in is filled with neon. Signs and lights everywhere; remember Lost in Translation? Like that. Paper fliers everywhere on the ground; you could walk down the street jumped from piece of piece to piece of paper. Almost a carnival type atmosphere. Once I get a camera - I'll buy one in Seoul - I'll post pictures of it.

There are a handful of street vendors in the Goose neighborhood, and my roommates introduced me to a type of bbq chicken on a stick. It costs 1000 won - roughly $1. It's incredibly delicious; we downed a good five each. I have to find out what type of sauce they use; you could easily sell these things for $2 in Canada.

So things are going well right now. I'm over jetlag and settling into my apartment nicely. I'll write more later.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

First Impressions

I arrive in Incheon on Wednesday, Korea time. Tuesday, for you folks left behind in the Eastern time zone.

Over the last few days, my first impressions of the city itself have not been great. It's actually similar to the situation I had when I left Wawa for London. Wawa was a small northern Ontario town, surrounded by deep green forests and dark blue water. A walk along a thickly pine scented trail or a swim in a fresh, clean lake was only ever minutes away. London was a downgrade, in this area; only natural for a city. London is better than most, of course; it comes by the moniker Forest City honestly enough. There are parks scattered through the city, and you can almost pretend to be in a forest on occasion. So I adjusted. I went from having a huge Canadian Shield forest in my backyard to having a Shopper's Drugmart, but I adjusted.

Incheon... Incheon is a whole different story. Granted, I haven't seen much of the city yet. But it seems as cold and industrial as any human dwelling could possibly be. The buildings are large, rectangular, and have a dirty grey colour. The smog is so dense, visibility can't be more than a kilometre or two. The smog apparently comes from China; doesn't make it any less stifling.

Why does this matter to me? I suppose this is where my vaguely theoretical enviromentalist streak appears. I think a clean, spacious, natural enviroment is one of the most fundamental human pleasures. Those are the circumstances that the vast majority of humanity has spent it's history in, and with every new apartment block, we move further and further from this.

This is not a matter of suggesting that life was better 200 years ago; I think that on a historical scale, the quality of human life across the globe only changes incrementally, I believe. Sure, we have better health care, more egalitarian governments, and have a achieved a terrible mastery over nature, but many of us still escape into narcotics or alcohol. Human life is human life, either for a Buddist monk living serenely in a mountain temple or a 21st century city dweller.

With this qualification in mind, I wish nations like China and Korea were not in such a rush to become world powers. China's forced abortion population limits is one aspect of this, but I also sigh for the loss of the Three Gorges. The Chinese government, in building The Three Gorges Dam, is destroying ancient archeological sites, the ancestrial homes of thousands of people, and a handful of species will be devasted because of the resultant flooding. It is terrible - and it is irreversable.

I wonder if it is possible to slow urban sprawl. I wonder if a future U.S. President will open up national parklands to oil drilling. I wonder if meaningful atmospheric regulations will ever be implemented. If humanity continues down this path, our descendants - however many generations from now - will be spitting on our grave.

Is it all irreversable or inevitable? I don't know.

So I look around me, and I see people living in oversized filing cabinets. The economy makes its demands, and we bow to it. I suppose it is the same everywhere. However, after a few days in Incheon, I'll be making a beeline for the greenest city available. London has never looked better.