A Good Shutdown

The other day, President Trump tweeted:

" ... Our country needs a good "shutdown" in September to fix mess!" the other day.

But I'd like to ask the President a question. What is a "good" shutdown besides being one that helps your administration, but hurts millions of citizens and visitors?

It's an interesting word, good. It immediately reminded me of Teddy Roosevelt calling the Spanish-American War "splendid." Teddy's quote goes on the explain what he meant; it was good for America, which is certainly debatable.

Trump means the same thing, except that it would be good for his administration. He would use the opportunity to blame the opposition party. Trump always needs a foil, so this will give him the opportunity to look like the good guy to the Democrats' bad guy.

Just one problem, though. Trump got the order mixed up and started blaming Democrats for his "good" shutdown too early. There are not one, or two, but three tweets accusing his opposition of wanting to shut down the government before he labeled it so creatively--splendid is a better word choice. Oops. Not so "good" after all, is it?

You can't blame others for the shutdown and then show that you agree with it. Well, maybe you can. But will it work?

Ending up with War

Nothing is more dangerous or in greater need of avoidance than nuclear war. And this avoidance absolutely must be a top priority for any world leader, especially the leader of a country that has nuclear capabilities. So it worried me the other day when I heard President Trump say the following in such a glib manner:

“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea,” he said. “Absolutely.”

One one level his comments are innocuous, mostly because of the word could. On another level, they're dangerous. Have you ever heard a woman say she "ended up" pregnant, for example? What's going on here? Well, the problem is Trump's use of end up.

End up is the term people use when the result of a process is unexpected, and usually in situation that is less severe than annihilation.

"I wanted a beer, but I ended up drinking a margarita."

"We wanted to go to Hawaii on vacation but ended up staying home."

"I studied medicine but ended up a writer."

There is, however, nothing unexpected or glib about a war with North Korea. Trump's policies could be moving us toward one. After all, he also recently said:

“This is a real threat to the world, whether we want to talk about it or not. North Korea is a big world problem and it's a problem that we have to finally solve. People put blindfolds on for decades and now it's time to solve the problem."

I can honestly imagine him one day tweeting, "I tried to solve the North Korea problem, but ended up with nuclear annihilation. Sad." (Of course this would mean that Twitter and Trump survived the holocaust. Metaphor crushed.)

Back to his quote. The phrasal verb end up is being used less to designate a surprise and more as a passive, being that it is so weak and without agency, the type of agency a president ought to have when maneuvering the world away from a Third World War. It actually reminds me of George W. Bush--and other politicians--saying "Mistakes were made." These are ways to signal that one has eschewed responsibility and agency. In a linguistic construction like "Mistakes were made"--the passive voice--the subject and object switch positions in the sentence relative to the verb. Then the subject is put into what is called an oblique, which in English is a prepositional phrase. But guess what? Prepositional phrases are not obligatory, and so the subject--and instigator of the verb--is gone. Poof. End up is sort of the lexical version of the passive construction. Sort of. It has the same effect, nonetheless, that of a powerful man taking taking the sum of all fears with an oh-well! attitude.

These linguistic trivialities that Trump produces are insight into his thinking. I would rather have heard, "Unfortunately there is a chance of war with North Korea." But he seems to think it's finally due and he's a little too glib about it for my taste. And if you think I'm being picky, remember the shit Obama took for using the world folks? I do.

TL;DR Trump is too glib in his rhetoric towards nuclear war with North Korea, and this glibness appears as a lack of agency or responsibility.

The "Science" of Journaling

In the early 20th century Soviet--actually, Belorussian--psychologist Lev Vygotsky proposed something that became known as the Zone of Proximal Development, or ZPD. Wikipedia does a more succinct job at describing it than I can, so here's their description:

The zone of proximal development is an area of learning that occurs when a person is assisted by a teacher or peer with a skill set higher than that of the subject. The person learning the skill set cannot complete it without the assistance of the teacher or peer. The teacher then helps the student attain the skill the student is trying to master, in hopes that the teacher will no longer be needed for that task.

What this means is that there is a mysterious learning area that occurs between what is known and what is hoped to be known. Think about it for a second: You may not understand, for example, how an internal combustion engine works, but you have some information and experience about car engines that can be used to bridge the gap between your current ignorance and your hoped for expertise. A teacher--as Vygotsky originally proposed--would be there to scaffold or assist the student in filling in the missing information by discussing the concept with he student until the aid is no longer needed, which is the goal.

This idea--that learning is necessary for development, and not the opposite--is part of Cultural-historical psychology, that Vygotsky helped form. I buy it, and have some tips as to how you can assist yourself in learning, especially learning about yourself.

Write a journal.

I've journaled off-and-on since 1996, when I was 19 and going through the sort of self-exploration that most young people go through. In earnest, my self-exploration started at puberty, but I didn't learn of the benefits of journaling, alas, until later, and didn't journal routinely until even more years had passed. Journaling has helped me navigate my confusion of life, school, American culture. sexuality, unemployment, death, hobbies, friendship, more death, politics, and on and on. It is indispensable to me, and Vygotsy may be able to explain why. Journaling, you see, provides that zone that Vygotsky observed. My journal entries almost always include some concept or thought that I am struggling to understand more fully. That is why I journal, after all, to understand myself and this world more deeply.

But Vygotsky has shown that already available is a built-in teacher to help bridge the gap between what is known and unknown, and that teacher is yourself, your linguistic abilities. Let me explain:

When you engage in talking to yourself, or private speech as Vygotsky and Piaget labeled it, you have the ability to place the thoughts that are trapped deep inside, and often imcompletely formed, in the ZPD, where they can be observed and studied as though they're no longer personal feelings. This is powerful. This is why we talk to ourselves when we are busy or stressed out. Probably, anyhow. Vygotsky died before completing the theory.

When thoughts are incompletely rendered inside the mind because they are latent or still misunderstood, they cannot be manipulated as easily as they can when they are fully formed outside the mind. And language, which exports thoughts outside the mind, requires some semblance of forming, after all. When concepts are exposed to language, they are much more moldeable.

Journaling, or writing in general, helps take the mysterious or the hidden and shines a powerful light upon it. Talking does too, which is why discussing problems helps us understand them better. Humans, it appears, are better at solving problems when those problems are beyond the conceptual and instead linguistic.

This isn't silliness I am talking about here. We are creatures who thrive in language. We don't require it to think, but we seem to require it to think clearly. At least I do and journaling helps.

TL;DR: When we force incomplete concepts through the language, we can analyze those concepts through our use of language. Journaling--being a type of language, written-- can help.

Fox News and the Celebration of 'Merica over Them

I saw this video from Fox News the other day and got to thinking about how dangerous and disgusting it is, and keep in mind that this is the attention-grabbing introduction to the show--the final hour at least. Please watch it before reading on, and listen carefully for joy in the voices of the hosts.

First off, I will preface my words with the following: The members and sympathizers of ISIS get no sympathy from me. None. I will lose no sleep and import little sadness over their deaths. They have dedicated their lives to bringing death and suffering to anyone who does not accept their views of Islam. Not to mention, they actually want to die as soldiers of their god and invite the opportunity to meet him, as they would likely put it. So good riddance.

While I will not be sad, neither will I celebrate death or the might of American firepower as Fox is want to do.

I find Fox dangerously beating the drums of war and this type of celebratory ode to death, brought to you by the dulcet tones of a Mr Toby Keith, is the type of nationalism that leads people to hate and to dehumanize the enemy. With a hated and a sufficiently dehumanized enemy, the government can use emotion to manipulate and control the citizenry and even pass dangerous laws with their tacit approval.

America did this before. During WW2 the Japanese were dehumanized in the media, and subsequently, laws were passed that today we find embarrasing, gross, and unrepresentative of what makes America America.

While the dons at Fox News may be absolutely giddy about the prospect of killing the enemy, I am not. I'm in fact a bit sad that ISIS appeals to any human, and would rather work to ensure ISIS and other Islamic death cults have their hatred fall on deaf ears.

ISIS fighters now need to die, but there was a time when they didn't, when they could've been steered toward helping humanity and not destroying it. Dropping bombs on people is not an opportunity for celebration, it's on opportunity to reflect on how a vile ideology like those held by members of ISIS takes root instead of peace and love.

Let's remember this as Fox news attempts to woo us with the siren song of powerful weaponry and hatred toward the enemy. Be aware as the calls for war mount. Hear the drum beat of war, even when it arrives with rythmic guitars and a soothing twang alongside giddy FOX faces.

Samsung Product Names

Samsung is not a company I am a fan of. They have been sued by everyone for patent infringement, have colluded with the disgraced and recently impeached South Korean President, and that isn’t even to mention that their products are dangerous, and I’m not just talking about their phones.

But one of the weirdest things about the massive Korean Corporation is its naming scheme. Specifically how they name global products that are unable to be correctly pronounced by Koreans.

The first odd one is the exploding “Galaxy” line of phones. In English, this word is pronounced as /'gæl-ək-si/. However, "see" /si/ is not phonologically correct in Korean. All instances of /si/ are rendered as /ʃi/, making it the Samsung Galak-she.

Why select a name that is unable to be pronounced correctly by the very people who work at the company and use the device? Surely there is another name as cool as Galakshe Galaxy but more universal?

But recently Samsung did it again with their new voice assistant, Bixby /'bɪks-bi/. There is no "cap i" /ɪ/ in Korean. This is the "short i" sound which differentiates "hit" from "heat" in English. But there's more. The "ks" consonant cluster is also disallowed by Korean. A /ɯ/ vowel is inserted between them. This renders Bixby as Beeks-uh-bee to the English ear.

Samsung has created "beaks-uh-be" to be used on the Galak-she pone. (There is no label-dental fricative in Korean either, so a voiceless bilabial stop is used.) Why? There are plenty of sounds that many languages share, especially those in the countries where smartphones are sold. Apple's "Siri" is much closer to being universally pronounced, despite the North-American r /ɹ/, which is often made into a tap, so ending something like "seedy" to English speakers.

If I had been in the Samsung boardroom, I'd have suggested "Mimi" for the virtual assistant. It's a human name and it's about the most pronounceable word on Earth. Names are hard and "Galaxy" is a great name. But for such a universal product, shouldn't the name also be as close to universal as possible?

The Book Project is Alive (Believe it or not)

I have previously written that I plan to write a grammar book. That has not changed. The format, however, has.

I initially planned on reinventing the grammar textbook as we know it. That was a huge undertaking and one that I am not sure I can do without the resources (read: income) to dedicate all my time to it.

The book was going to be a layered text wherein the student would go over each section or chapter three times, with the material becoming more complex each time. For example, beginning students are often told that a noun is a person, place or thing. That's somewhat true, but not exact enough for more advanced students. What's a gerund, afterall? Not quite a think. Not quite an action.

The layer technique was going to help ease students into the material as deeply as needed and no more. Then as they mastered the material, it would be sufficiently more complex. I figued three levels or times reading it would suffice.

As you can imagine writing this book would be a challenge and one that requires hundreds of examples and perhaps even a workbook. Taking on the Betty Azar empire isn't easy and not worth my time at this moment. Perhaps later.

But that all brings me to the new book. This book will not be written for ESL students, though I am sure most advanced students will find value in it. No, this book is written for the native speaker. native speakers are just assumed to have learned the rules of our language and thus often feel embarrased to ask questions about their mistakes. We see their mistakes everywhere, though.

This book will be a fun and engaging look into the grammatical rules of English. The examples will be numerous and fun, but will assume that one is already an advanced speaker of the language.

Here's the outline and chapter list so far:


Wish me luck. One day, I'll finish it.  

An Essay about Mom

An Essay about Mom

I blame you for nothing, but forgive you for everything. I heard these words spoken by the singer, Mary J Blige. She was talking about her mother, whom she had had a difficult relationship with her entire life. That word echoed through my head for the better part of a month: forgiveness. What a humbling and mature phenomenon forgiveness is. Like Mary J, I too had had a difficult relationship with my mother. Like her, I too learned to not blame, but just forgive. My lesson, however, was not easily learned. Nor will it be easily forgotten.

Read More

An Update

The Journey Here

Meri and I left San Jose at about 7:30 on Friday night. The first night, we drove all the way through the night without stopping until about 10:30 Saturday night. In order to make it this far, we took turns sleeping as the other drove. I slept first, Meri second, and so on. We did this until we reached Cheyene, Wyoming. So to recap, we drove from San Jose, CA to Cheyene, Wyoming with stops only for gas, food, and to relieve ourselves and the dog. Ouch. Needless to say, I wasn't terrible impressive cognitively: I was a damn zombie when we finally hit the sack.

The second day we drove again without detours until we reached South Bend, Indiana, just a couple of blocks away from Notre Dame Univeristy. We were nearly as exhausted this second night, though I must say in hindsight the drive to Wyoming the previous night was horrible and easily rendered me the most tired I have been since I traveled from India to Raleigh in 2008, and when that trip ended, I had no idea what day it was.

We left South Bend early Monday morning and did not stop until our destination: an AirB&B we had booked in Philadelphia. Again, we were wiped, and excited to be in our new home, but also happy to no longer have to drive the U-haul with the trailer behind it.

Driving the U-Haul was easier than either of us had guessed it would be, although I cannot back a trailer into a parking spot. Pulling in is so much easier. Watching professional truckers do it amazes me now, especially when they are pulling doubles. Seriously. It aint easy.


I went to my first day at my new job 14 hours after arriving in town. I was stressed out, tired, excited, and nervous simultaneously. The first day, I taught 6 classes, the last of which was a combined class, twice as big as a normal class. Needless to say, I walked out of my first day absolutely spent. Teaching over nine hours straight after driving a trailer across the country tends to do that a guy. I think. I actually don't know if anyone has ever done something like this with such a time crunch.

Eventually I got to understand my new job and responsibilities, which are vast. I am charged with making the staff and curriculum as best I can; and I have extremely high standards for my work and my expectations. In short, I have a really good staff of teachers that are passionate and capable, and a solid curriculum that needs ironing out. It's a lot of work, and I don't have a lot of time due to our accreditation timeline. But, I'm stoked to have the opportunity to do such a thing. And I'm excited about the challenge.


First off, I haven't seen much of the city so far; I have to be honest. When Meri left, I told myself and her that I would not see the city alone. I wanted to save it for a special occasion, which is time with her.

Secondly, the drivers here are atrocious. In California, the drivers are oblivious. In Philadelphia, the drivers are aggressive and unsafe. There's no doubt why my auto insurance went up. I now understand completely. Seriously. I'm worried about riding my bike here. I've ridden my bike in downtown San Francisco during rush-hour traffic, and felt safer than I do here on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The drivers here are that aggressive and unforgiving.

For example, let me tell you a story. And this has happened to me four times now: I pull up to an intersection, and wait my turn for the light to turn green. Waiting, I notice a car along the right side, in the bike lane/ bus lane, creeping up to the line. When the light turns green, though, the car doesn't turn right. Instead, the driver floors it, and passes me in the intersection, where I am cautiously proceeding so as not to hit on coming traffic. Have I mentioned that in Philadelphia, drivers do not get dedicated left turn lanes at intersections? They have to either cut in front of oncoming traffic, or wait their turn. Which do you think they do? Exactly. It sucks and is dangerous.

It was easy to complain about the poor driving in California, but here it is much much worse; and it was awful in California. People will die here, and it is because of the driving culture and the infrastructure that supports it.

Mt Airy

My little neighborhood in Philadelphia is pretty damn cool. We have cobblestone roads and trolley tracks down the main avenue, which is called Germantown Avenue. We have bars and good eateries nearby. And everything I need is within walking distance. Also, the people here are extremely friendly here. Have I mentioned how beautiful the architecture is?

General Observations

I've only been in Philadelphia for a couple weeks, but I do have some observations. First off, the drivers are terrible. Just terrible. Secondly, the pizza is phenomenal. If you've never had pizza on the East Coast, you really don't know what's up. Third, the people are really friendly. I never expected them to be so friendly. The African-Americans especially are friendly. Everyone who walks by smiles and says, "Hello, how are you?" It is unbelievable. Californians would never do this. Never.

The people in my neighborhood are among my favorite things so far. I also have to say that my job is going well, and being charged with so much responsibility is a very refreshing change. It's a tough task, but I'm definitely up to it.

Another favorite is the geography. The hills here roll, and the foliage is resplendent.

One other difference is the makeup of the student body at my school. I am accustomed, due to being on the West Coast, to Asian and Latino students. Here, the majority are Ukrainian and Russian, with some others peppered in. And culture, especially when teaching adults, can be a formidable barrier to language acquisition. I could continue about these differences, but I'm afraid I'd be toiling with generalities that may be found bothersome to some. They are generalities for a reason, however.

All in all, everything is new. But I was brought up a Navy brat, a person who moved from town to town and country to country as a matter of course. I can and will do this. I look forward to the challenge. Without a challenge, life gets boring, right?

Be well. Soldier on. Email me.

A Summary:

The driving is scary. The people are pleasant. The pizza is awesome. The foliage is gorgeous. The accent is fascinating. The Judaism is ubiquitous. The black Muslims are confounding. The hospitality is sincere. The beer is solid. The architecture is charming. The infrastructure is baffling.

Grammar Books

When I began teaching ESL in Korea in the late summer of 2007, I was new to teaching and unable to properly evaluate the quality of a textbook, especially a grammar textbook. I, like most new teachers, I imagine, figured the books were perfect and the material and methods were sound. With experience, I have discovered that in fact most grammar textbooks are terrible.

Often grammar texts are confusing, and make grave errors about learning, such as assuming that a particular skill is mastered because it has been taught in previous chapters. The book that [I currently use] is only just okay because it falls into this very trap.

Typical grammar texts also focus on the identification of a particular feature and less on the usage of that feature. For example, many books ask students to underline a verb, and note how it is used. Then they provide a sentence with a blank line in it for students to add the appropriate form. This is called a [cloze test] and it dates back to the early 50s, or what I like to refer to as the dark ages of ESL. Rarely, however, does a textbook focus on the pragmatic application of the form.

For ESL students to truly absorb to material, they must not only be able to identify the form in question, but they must also use that form correctly within a context. Isolation, like that in a cloze test, hurts students. For years, I have seen students master a grammar test, then turn around and make an error of that very type in an essay or paragraph. It happens with nearly every student, academically talented or not. Why?

Isolation kills. Context is everything. And most grammar texts remove context completely. I aim to fix this.

I am writing a grammar textbook.

In my grammar textbook, things will be different. First off, the students will receive information about not only how to make a particular construction, or what construction is correct, but why it is correct. This contextual information will help the student conceptualize the reasons for such forms. That is really not the innovation I am most proud of, though. The innovation I am most proud of is the very format of the book.

My grammar textbook will be layered according to skill level. The first layer of the book will hold fundamental information that will allow the student to build basic skills without being expected to master anything. The second layer of the book will cover the same topics in the same order, but at a deeper level, which the now-experienced student can better comprehend. And finally, the third level will provide the most depth for the student, again with the same skills and order.

This format has many advantages. First off, the students will not be expected to learn all the verb types in one chapter, for example. In the basic level, the simple past, present, and future will be covered. Later, as the student advances, they can build on the simple, with progressive and perfect aspects being added. This format means the students will not be inundated with massive verbs charts, nor will the student be confused comparing aspects, since comparison can be confusing to lower level students.

In addition to embracing the idea of [u-shaped learning]--the idea that students make mistakes and stumble before mastery has occurred--the problems, as they are called, will be less about finding the correct form, and more about writing a sentence which utilizes the form, or application.

This means that the book must have simple, targeted explanations of the form in question, and then activities that foster the creation of natural language with said targets. Currently, textbooks look like this and this.

Overwhelming and intimidating to students.
Not good. We can do better than this, and that is my goal. Wish me luck.

What's a Past Participle?

We English speakers use past participles in many ways:

•Building a perfect verb: I have eaten breakfast already.
•Building a perfect continuous verb: I have been eating for two minutes.
•To describe something: The locked door
•To make a passive construction: The pizza was eaten by my dog!

And perhaps there are even some other uses [^1]. But seeing these uses often just confuses stuents more. So what the heck is a past participle? And why does English have them?

To understand what a Past Participle (PP) is, it is important to understand a phenomenon about English, and also about the brain. That is, that specific categories of words that we know, are not always so, or that concepts cannot always fit perfectly into just one category. For example, let's look at nouns and verbs on a continuum:

Nouns -------------------------------------Verbs

Students often think that nouns and verbs are very different, but they're not. Take these two sentences for example:

1) Swimming is fun.
2) Sally is swimming quickly.

In the first sentence swimming is a noun. How do we know that? Well, it is in the subject position, does not change ( Compare with the incorrect "Swimmings are fun."), and must agree with the verb. This is enough evidence to suggest that swimming is not a verb, but a noun in that sentence. Now take a look at the second sentence. Swimming is a verb here. How do we know? Well, for the opposite reasons as the the noun.

But conceptually, when you think of swimming, is there a difference between the noun and the verb? Not really. This idea is somewhat between the two categories, which is why a gerund (noun) is used. But often gerunds get confused for infinitives (verbs), and now you know why.

So what I'm suggesting is that nouns and verbs are really the same things in your mind, but just show up differently in the grammar, or that they are different versions of the same thought. The same is true for Verbs and Adjectives. The participle is halfway between an action and a description, the way a gerund or infinitive is halfway between a noun and a verb. This makes sense. After all, can't we describe something by its movement? For example:

a) Which guy is your brother?
b) The running guy. (Or, the guy who is running.)
a) Oh, I see him.

So the participle allows English speakers to use another method of description, the verbiness--or action--to describe something. It gives us a deeper language with more dimensions.

But don't forget that English has two participles, the past and the the present participle, which is marked by the ing suffix. Compare: 3) The boring professor 4) The bored professor

English allows for an active (present participle) and passive (past participle) descriptions. In other words, the description can be for causing or receiving the description.

Cool, right?

[^1]: Email me if I missed something.

My Final Phonology Term Paper

Read it here and send me an email if you have questions or comments. But please cite me if you reference my paper. Plagiarism is not cool.

And a special thanks needs to go out to two of my students who helped me on this paper: Joshua Jo and Tae-hee Lim. Without your help, I would still be writing this thing. Thank you sir and ma'am.

2015 Bianchi Intenso with Campagnolo components

A graduation gift, this new beautiful bike will soon be found betwixt my legs.


Here's the spec sheet for those of you who like to geek out about the technical stuff. The frame is full carbon with some kevlar in the forks to help dampen the road vibrations according to Bianchi. Also, since the Euro is falling, the price has dropped on all Bianchi bikes with Campagnolo components, which resulted in a $300 savings. Sweet!

Follow me on Strava to see how many miles I put on her.


On May 23rd, I offically graduated with my M.A. in Linguistics. I also received a graduate TOEFL certificate.


Me and my Dad