This is what President Obama should do about Texas

To clear any doubt about the Federal Government invading Texas, President Obama should order the Department of Defense to immediately and completely vacate all of the soldiers and equipment from Fort Hood and Fort Bliss and send them to Army posts in other states. As well, the Army Hospital at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio (“Fort Sam,” as the soldiers call it) should be shut down and all the surgeons, nurses, and medics moved to military hospitals in other states. Also, starting now, training exercises should no longer be conducted in Texas by any branch of the military. Finally, all Federal funding of Texas Army and Air National Guard units should stop today, and any Reserve units of the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines stationed in Texas should be moved to other states. These steps should remove any doubt in the minds of those Texans or anybody else accusing President Obama of wanting to invade Texas that he doesn’t want to do that and isn’t going to do it.

Now, this is totally ridiculous, I know, but not nearly as ridiculous as that idiotic notion that President Obama wants to invade Texas.

Reading, the Key to Mastering English

An earlier version of this story appeared in THE KOREA TIMES on Thursday, April 16, 2015. 

When students start university in Korea, even those who grasp English the least have spent years studying the language, such that they have a working knowledge of it. Despite their sometimes less-than-perfect pronunciation, or the occasional awkward grammatical construction that punctuates their speech, a native speaker of English can have a decent conversation – in English – with any of them.

In spite of the difficulties that Korean students struggle through in making sense of essays and stories written in English, they understand most of the reading. And though they have yet to master the craft of writing informative eloquent essays and term papers – and even at the top colleges and universities in America, how many students can do that? – they write readable English.

So when they come to our classrooms, they’re not blank slates. They still have a long way to go in their mastery of English, but they meet us more than halfway.

The expensive commercial textbooks that Oxford, Cambridge, Pearson, and other publishers sell all over the world, might work for immigrants to the United States who aren’t fully literate in their native languages (mostly Spanish). And maybe young children could learn some of the basics of English with these textbooks (though there are much better materials on the internet). But for university students – and even those in middle school in Korea – these textbooks are no good. The lessons in them don’t relate to the world with any sophistication and the exercises are little more than make-work drills that won’t help them learn English in valuable and lasting ways. Despite the expense, these books won’t hold the students’ interest beyond what they’re forced to endure just to make a grade.

The cliche, “Listening, Talking, Reading, Writing,” describes the most basic skills of fluency (but leaves out thinking in the language). Still, this worn-out and incomplete catchphrase dupes teachers and students into wasting valuable time mired in activities that don’t engage the students to read or inspire them to write. Yet if students work steadily at becoming good writers, it sharpens their reading, which enhances their listening, which helps them become good speakers. Besides, cultivating the craft of good writing strengthens clear thinking, and what could be more valuable than that?

The American writer Stephen King often expresses the point that reading is the key to becoming a good writer. “If you want to be a writer,” King says to audiences when asked what it takes to become a good writer, “then you must read,”

If you don’t have time to read,” he tells them, “then you can’t be a writer.”

We should inspire students to read habitually, and in Korea, newspapers such as the Korea Times play a big part in this, for not only can the students immerse themselves in English every day through reading the news stories and editorials in this and the other English dailies (which they can find on the web), they can learn about what is happening that is important to the nation, to the world, and to themselves. Even more, the pieces they read in the Korea Times are written in English by Koreans whose writing talents the students can emulate.

The Korea Times uses only 10,000 words in the articles it publishes, less than one percent of all English words. Yet these are the words that students must know if they are to make the best scores possible on the TOEIC and TOEFL exams. To make sure the newspaper is up-to-date, the editors constantly check the vocabulary found on the TOEIC and TOEFL so the reporters will know the current words on the exams and use them in their writing.

A student who can make a top TOEIC or TOEFL score may have difficulty reading an English daily, but students who habitually read the English dailies are continually preparing themselves for top scores on these exams. As well – since a strong command of English is a portal to the world – these students are mastering the English they will need so they can help make Korea in their lifetime the greatest country it can possibly be.

It’s the middle of winter, but is it really?

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Sunday, February 1, 2015, Seoul, Korea. It was 3 or 4 degrees C (about 35 degrees F) outside but the sun was shining and it felt good – “bracing,” describes what the weather was like, what with a steady but gentle breeze. I stayed outside about four hours today and was comfortable the whole time. Of course, I wore a jacket and insulated underwear, but most of the time I didn’t wear a hat or put on my gloves.

It was around 3PM when I took these pictures at the botanical gardens that are about five kilometers from when I live. Here it is, right in the middle of winter, yet it’s not really winter, or it doesn’t seem like it is. The sun is coming up earlier in the morning than it did a month ago, and there’s good light at 6PM. If you look closely at the ground and in the trees, you see all kinds of green shoots and buds that let you know that the Earth is getting itself ready for spring.

Ali is still the greatest


He was the greatest and he knew it and it didn’t bother him to tell the world he was the greatest, in fact, he liked telling them he was the greatest, and the stupid hated him for it, because even though he was a Black man, they could never be the greatest (not even close) and, stupid or not, they knew that just being white wasn’t enough to make them even half the man that Ali is.

Also, he refused to join the killing in Vietnam where three million Vietnamese and sixty-thousand Americans got whacked (many of them Black, most of them poor) just to keep all the white American fat cats – who profited off the war, and all the death, and maiming, and heartache that went with it – fat.

“He refused to defend his country,” the morons echoed from some hollow and rotten place deep inside America, but what was it that he was going to defend his country against? The Vietnamese weren’t threatening America, they just wanted to have their own country for themselves, which they have now because they kicked us out, despite all the brave American young men who went to Vietnam, exchanging their youth and blood and limbs and many of their lives for the gains of giant American corporations.

“I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong,” he said. “No Viet Cong ever called me a (you know the word, you’re saying to yourself right now).” He got that right too, and that’s why the boxing commission (also owned by corporate America) stripped him of the title. Even so, he was still the Heavyweight Champion of the World and they couldn’t strip him of that because there wasn’t anybody who could beat him, title or not.

Muhammed Ali. He’s still the greatest.

A reflection on the 36th President of the United States

Being a white Southerner from the Hill Country of central Texas (which is not much different than being from rural Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, or from the rest of the South we know and love) LBJ knew his people. LBJ’s forebears were Baptists who migrated to Texas from Georgia. Some were even Baptist preachers (err, ministers), so in describing these people, he knew what he was talking about (he was blood kin to many of them).

In marrying Claudia Alta Taylor – Lady Bird Johnson – he married up in class, and rather than keep going to the Baptist church, he chose to attend the Episcopal services with his wife. He probably would have left the Baptists anyway, for LBJ was not really a true Baptist, not in mind, outlook, or temperament. Nor could he have joined with the Presbyterians either, who generally are more cleaned-up and affluent than the Baptists, and in most instances hold better jobs, but are hardly any different in their religiousness and world view. The Episcopalians, such as those his wife associated with, were and still are largely well-educated members of the professional class, and with their more egalitarian and enlightened outlook, were more in line with LBJ’s thinking.

LBJ paid no mind to Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, and their ilk – except, of course, when they could get him votes. He wasn’t much interested in so-though-of do-gooders either. He said of Estes Kefauver and the hearings on the Mafia that Kefauver chaired, “Estes is spending a lot of foolishness going after a bunch of dice shooters.”

Still, he understood better than most the working class whites of the South with their broken teeth, rough and dirty hands from hard manual labor, their debilitating illiteracy that showed up in their speech, and he loved them in spite of themselves, realizing that their superstitions, anger, and hatred of the Blacks stemmed from the grotesque misery of their ignorance and poverty.

LBJ was out to take care of them and give all of them opportunities they never dreamed of – everybody, regardless of race – whether they liked him or not. Many of the whites hated him for signing the Civil Rights bill, and to this day, they and their descendants have never voted for a Democrat.

LBJ sacrificed the redneck vote for himself and for his party to do the right thing, and that took a lot of guts.

A thought after watching UNBROKEN (2014)

UNBROKEN (2014) came to Korea this week, and so far, I’ve watched it three times. It’s a good movie, but it didn’t strike me until I watched it for the third time that one of its major themes is torture at a prisoner-of-war camp. The suffering, cruelty, and outright evil embodied in any kind of torture for whatever purposes are clearly shown in UNBROKEN.

In this movie, it’s the commandant of the Japanese POW camp who directs and often dishes out the torture against the American soldiers he holds prisoners. Since Japan was America’s enemy in that war, it’s easy to hate them and think of them as less than human for the immoral acts that some of them conducted in POW camps, which surely the did.

It struck me, though, that the United States has carried out torture just as viciously in the last ten years in the so-called War on Terror (“Terra,” as George W. Bush pronounces it) as the torture the Japanese inflicted on our soldiers in WW2. Japanese soldiers who carried out the torture were tried as war criminals, and when convicted, executed. So far, no American has even been indicted for a war crime, despite the vast amount of evidence in existence.

America holds itself out to be a beacon of justice and decency in the world, so it strikes me that when members of our society – no matter how high in the government they are – breach that decency and justice, shouldn’t we put them on trail? And should they be convicted, shouldn’t they too receive just punishment for their acts? (Cheney admitted on MEET THE PRESS a couple of weeks ago that he didn’t regret the torture he authorized, “not one bit,” he said.)

Abraham Kim, HUFS graduate


Abraham Kim and me, Friday, January 9, 2015, Seoul, Korea, right outside the door of Cafe302, up the street from the back gate of HUFS. Abraham has finished all of his courses and will go through the graduation ceremony in February. In the couple of years he’s been at HUFS, he’s taken four classes with me, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know Abraham and working with him. Indeed, he’s become one of my favorites.

Abraham started college at Rutgers in New Jersey. (His mother is an American citizen – the same as Abraham is – she works as a Registered Nurse.) Abraham’s grandfather wanted him to come to Korea and go to school here, so he came to HUFS. He wants to stay in Korea and go to graduate school, and this makes me happy, for there are many good grad schools in Korea. Since Abraham’s an American and speaks, thinks, and dreams in the American English of the educated New Jersey sort (he doesn’t pronounce it “Joiezey” and doesn’t even call his home state “Jerzey” but gives it the full respect of “New Jersey”) he has no need of going to America to improve his English.

With the accelerated growth of knowledge and its attendant proliferation of technology in our lives, the students of Abraham’s generation will live in a world of increasing complexity and accelerating change, the likes of which even the most astute of us today can’t imagine, so it’s good when bright students realize that they know hardly anything – which means they know what’s important – and choose to continue their studies in grad school – it’s the smart thing to do. Not only will it benefit them, it will be good for humanity, and good for the planet too.

I’m proud of Abraham Kim and all the students at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. It’s a great joy for me to work with all of you.

Bill McAfee

I first met Bill McAfee when I was eighteen years old and had recently moved back to Memphis after having lived more than a decade in Indiana. Bill and I became acquainted at the debutante parties that winter where drinks flowed freely as we danced joyfully with the pretty young women who were in attendance too.

Later in the evening, an ample buffet was spread for the benefit of us revelers. Among other delicacies being served was the Memphis specialty prominent at such festivities, cheese grits. (Cheese grits put a solid floor under all the free bourbon we guzzled, dressed for the occasion as we were in our dinner jackets, guests of the debutantes.)

All of us young men cleaned up real nice and even looked like gentlemen, which is what we were supposed to be – and in spite of ourselves, probably even were. Thinking back on it now, being invited to those grand celebrations honoring the daughters of the prominent was how Bill McAfee and I became friends.

I distinctly remember that after one of the debutante balls that year, I went with Bill and a few others down to a bar on Madison named Jimmy Webb’s, which was a popular beer joint before Overton Square was even an idea, before the Trade Winds had become Huey’s. There we were that night at Jimmy Webb’s, obviously under the legal drinking age, made even more conspicuous dressed in our dinner jackets, and I don’t know why they didn’t shew us out the door, but they didn’t. So began my lifelong friendship with Bill, and later on, with other McAfees.

I haven’t lived in Memphis for several years and only recently reconnected with Bill on facebook – making that connection through his brothers, Chris, Bob, and Mark. When we were in our twenties, though, we spent many good times together, and I have wonderful memories of Bill from those days.

I would come to see that Bill McAfee embodied what it means to be a good human being. Bill treated everyone with a decency that came out of the deep respect he had for all people, no matter who they were – a human quality imbued in all the McAfees. Bill’s friends could also depend on him to be loyal, even at a sacrifice to himself. Bill is what people may still describe as “straight-up.”

We all must come to our ends, and for Bill, his end is nigh. During his life, Bill lived fully and well, with much grace and generosity, and I’m proud of my friend, Bill McAfee.




Even though it was cold and cloudy in Seoul yesterday, it wasn’t windy, so I put on my warm weather gear, which made being outside pleasant. I walked from where I live in Imundong to Dongdaemun, which took me three or four hours. (I didn’t keep track of the time.) I know people who can walk that distance in two hours or less, but I don’t walk fast. Also, on the way, I got a donut at the Krispy Kreme – I couldn’t resist – and I stopped and talked to people too.

I took the first picture of myself I’ve posted here at a small wooded park along the way. (Even though Seoul is one of the most densely populated cities on Earth, it still has many parks.) I took the second picture in front of one of the full-length mirrors in the Dongdaemun subway station right before I got on the train and rode back to Imundong. When I got off the train at Imundong, I walked the fifteen minutes it takes me to get to my apartment, took off my shoes and jacket, collapsed on the couch, and slept like a rock for four hours. (A good walk will do that for you.)

I take long walks in all seasons, even when it snows. When it’s icy, I have a pair of cramp-ons I put on my shoes, but I still have to be careful so I don’t slip and fall. I know a guy who broke his ankle a couple of weeks ago and now he’s on crutches for a couple of months and I’ll do whatever I can to avoid that – short of not walking.

I don’t walk to stay healthy but that’s a benefit of walking, for sure. I find it relaxing to walk and it’s always an adventure and I never know who I’ll run into or what I’ll see. The nice thing about living in Seoul is that no matter which direction I go or how far I walk, I can always catch a bus or take the subway to get back home.

Addy’s first Christmas

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Addison Graham McLallen Duncan – Addy – enjoying his first Christmas. He spent Christmas Day with his great-grandparents, Charlie and Peggy Perkins, at their house on Forrest Hill-Irene Road in Memphis. Addy is almost ten months old.

Except for my brother and his wife, Franklyn and Kathy, and two of their children – Frankling and Tom – many in my family have migrated from Memphis to Nashville, which kind of completes a circle, because one-hundred-and-ten years ago, my father’s mother (Sue DeGraffenreid was her name) moved from Nashville to Memphis with her family. It’s not unusual for people who live in these two Tennessee cities to make this trek. Generations of families who have moved from Nashville to Memphis in one generation, move from Memphis to Nashville a generation or two later, or vice versa.

I heard someone say one time that Memphis and Nashville are the same city connected by two-hundred miles of highway, and while this may have some truth to it, it’s not really so. Both cities are in Tennessee, but Nashville and Memphis are not at all alike, and geographical distance is the least of it. That’s a story for another time, though.

Meanwhile, here in Korea where I live, I’m enjoying looking at the pictures of my precious grandson, Addy, at his first Christmas, thanks to the internet, facebook, and his mother – my wonderful daughter, Peggy – who sends me pictures of her son.

All the best to you, Addy. May you live so that your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren too, can be proud of you.