Tuesday, January 28, 2020

second kilo lost

I've already written about how I'm doing a lot wrong in my current diet, but it seems I'm also doing something right: I weighed myself on Monday afternoon and saw I had dropped another 1.5 kilos. I'm now down from a shameful high of 128 kg to an ever-so-slightly-less-shameful 125.5 kg. MyFitnessPal has been key in allowing me to (1) keep track of my eating habits and (2) end each day with a caloric deficit. The keto might not be working (because I haven't allowed the process to happen thanks to a lack of willpower), but fasting for three days out of the week, distance walking six out of seven days per week, and doing intermittent fasting on the days I do eat all seem to be having an effect. It's just that the effect is taking a while to manifest. 2.5 kilos lost in about 3 weeks' time means a weekly loss of about 0.83 kg per week. That's not horrible... as long as I can keep this up.

Just 34.5 kilos to go.



a mom and her pups

Faith in humanity repaired, if not exactly restored: watch this heartwarming video of a man rescuing a mother dog's pups that were buried after a house had collapsed:






"Zombieland: Double Tap" and "Terminator: Dark Fate":
two-fer review

I recently watched two movies with post-apocalyptic themes—"Zombieland: Double Tap" and "Terminator: Dark Fate"—so I thought I'd review them both together. Both movies also share the themes of family, trust, and teamwork.

If you love something, you shoot it in the face so it doesn't become a flesh-eating monster.
—Wichita (Emma Stone), "Zombieland: Double Tap"

2019's "Zombieland: Double Tap" is the sequel to 2009's "Zombieland." As before, this outing is directed by Ruben Fleischer* and stars Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and Emma Stone as a group of scrappy survivors of a zombie apocalypse. Tallahassee (Harrelson), Columbus (Eisenberg), Wichita (Stone), and Little Rock (Breslin) have become something of a family in the years since we last saw them. Zombies still roam the land, and the survivors do what they can to deal with them. We learn that our group now classifies zombies in several categories: there are the stupid, bumbling Homers; the clever, tool-using Hawkings; and the silent, deadly Ninjas. A fourth type of zombie appears—first as a rumor, then as a confirmed sighting: the T-800: tougher, more agile, and far harder to take down. Our heroes wander over to DC and settle into the now-abandoned White House, but when Columbus expresses a desire to marry Wichita, and Tallahassee proves to be too much of an overbearing father-figure to Little Rock, the ladies leave, returning to their former life on the road. Little Rock, however, isn't looking to pair up with Wichita again: she's a teen, now, and she wants to strike out on her own, so she abandons Wichita, who goes back to the White House to enlist the boys' aid in finding Little Rock before she gets herself killed.

"Double Tap" could have been a simple retread of the 2009 film, but it adds some new characters to the mix. First up is Madison (Zoey Deutch), a stereotypically airheaded blonde who has somehow managed to survive the zombie apocalypse primarily through luck. Madison, lonely and horny, falls in with Columbus and jumps his bones shortly after Wichita's departure. Tallahassee finds romance in the form of Nevada (Rosario Dawson), a tough lady who keeps watch over a memorabilia-filled Graceland hotel (where Columbus discovers that his feet are a perfect fit for Elvis's shoes). Little Rock, having left the group, finds herself traveling with Berkeley (Avan Jogia), a "Namaste"-spouting hippie musician who takes credit for writing classic '60s songs. While in Graceland, our heroes encounter their seeming doppelgangers, Albuquerque and Flagstaff (Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch, respectively), who have exactly the same looks and mannerisms as Tallahassee and Columbus.

Aside from trying to find Little Rock and dealing with the new T-800 zombies, "Zombieland: Double Tap" doesn't offer much of a plot. Things finally gel when the group locates Little Rock in a hippie colony called Babylon, but a nighttime fireworks celebration inadvertently acts as a dinner bell that alerts thousands of local zombies to the presence of living humans. With the group's weapons having been confiscated and melted down as a condition of their entry into Babylon, our protagonists have to figure out some way to fight the approaching horde.

I didn't go into "Zombieland: Double Tap" with high expectations, and I was rewarded for my attitude. The comedy is generally funny, although not laugh-out-loud funny for me. The 2019 film's exploration of the four core members of the group from the 2009 film made for some interesting character development, but nothing about this movie was particularly deep—nor was it meant to be. "Double Tap" is just another opportunity to watch zombies get clobbered, shot at, mangled, and otherwise dispatched.** It's watchable, feel-good entertainment, guaranteed to put a smile on your face, but that's about as far as it goes. All the actors do a fine job in their roles, although I kept thinking that Abigail Breslin's voice, much more mature ten years later, reminded me of some other actress's voice; I simply couldn't figure out whose. Overall, "Double Tap" comes recommended. It's got some quotable lines (see above), a dash of self-aware humor (Tallahassee's old "Nut up for shut up" line is met with a snarky "That's so 2009" retort), plenty of gun- and tool-related violence, and two hilarious end-credits flashback scenes involving Bill Murray who, you'll recall, got killed in the 2009 film.

I'm reliable, a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.
—Carl the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), deadpanning, "Terminator: Dark Fate"

I didn't end up thinking that "Terminator: Dark Fate" was all that horrible a Terminator movie, but I have to agree that the movie's retconning of the past cheapens the events of 1991's "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." James Cameron is back and involved this time around, both as a co-writer of the script and as a co-producer, and the big news is that "Dark Fate" reunites Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton as the T-800 Terminator and Sarah Connor, respectively. We don't actually meet the T-800 until more than halfway through the movie, but when we do, the plot shifts into high gear.

"Dark Fate" begins with the intersecting stories of Grace and Dani. Grace (Mackenzie Davis) is a cybernetically enhanced human being sent back from the future to protect Daniella Ramos (Natalia Reyes) from a new type of Terminator called a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna). The reason for the change in designation from "T" models to "Rev" models is that Sarah Connor, in altering the future and defeating Skynet by giving birth to—and later training—her son John, has inadvertently facilitated the rise of a different malevolent AI called Legion, which has the same goal of eliminating all of humanity, partly by sending Terminators back in time to kill people who might grow up to become leaders of an anti-AI resistance. Grace does what she can to protect Dani from the Rev-9, which has a metal endoskeleton and a liquid-metal exterior that can detach itself and function independently, thus creating two opponents. Grace's cybernetic enhancements require her to consume far more energy than a normal human does; she was designed for bursts of activity, not for sustained combat, and she is in constant need of food, water, and meds to stay capable.

Grace and Dani are attacked by the Rev-9 on a freeway in Mexico, and they receive help from an unexpected source: 60-something Sarah Connor, now a bereaved mother who lost her son John twenty-two years earlier when a final T-800 was sent back in time to kill the boy. Sarah tells the pair that she receives texts from an unknown, encrypted source that alerts her every time a new Terminator appears in the current timeline, and she has devoted her life to killing Terminators, each kill being a blow on behalf of her dead son. The unknown source of the texts, the group discovers, is none other than a Terminator that now calls itself Carl (Schwarzenegger). Carl had completed his mission, and when the future was altered by Sarah and John Connor, Carl was no longer connected to Skynet, thus freeing him to follow his own desires. Carl developed a conscience when he settled with a family and began to understand what he had taken away from Sarah when he killed her son. As a way to assuage his guilt and to give Sarah a sense of purpose, Carl began texting Sarah the coordinates of arriving Terminators, using his special abilities to sense and pinpoint each Terminator's chrono-energy signature. The Rev-9, meanwhile, has proved to be extremely difficult to kill, and when it becomes clear that Dani is to be the new leader of the new resistance against Legion, the group does what it can to create a trap into which to lure the Rev-9 and defeat it.

Where "Dark Fate" goes wrong is in killing off John Connor at the very beginning of the movie. This happens in a scene with some impressive de-aging special effects: we see a young Sarah and a preteen John (played again by Edward Furlong, who must be in his forties by now) at the beach, when a Terminator (de-aged Arnold Schwarzenegger) walks up and coldly blasts the boy in the chest with a shotgun before simply walking off. The movie is unclear on whether this event did anything to alter the future; somehow, we end up with the Legion/Rev-9 timeline despite the killing of John Connor, who was supposed to grow up to lead the resistance. In the meantime, this event cheapens the conclusion of "Terminator 2," in which the Terminator kills the T-1000, helps destroy the microchip that will lead to the development of Skynet, and then destroys itself to prevent anyone from harvesting the chip inside its own head. All these sacrifices turn out to mean nothing.

Of course, this is a narrative problem inherent to all time-travel stories: once you establish that people can go back in time with ease, then any amount of damage can be undone again and again. The constant jumping backward in time also produces problems in story logic, usually of the "Why didn't they jump further back in time?" variety. Aside from that gaping plot-hole, though, "Dark Fate" is a watchable story. It's not particularly original, though, and it confirms most viewers' feelings that the Terminator franchise has basically played itself out. In this sixth film in the series, a deadly Terminator is sent back in time, and a protector is also sent back: there's nothing new about this scenario.

The cast does what it can with what it's been given. Mackenzie Davis, Linda Hamilton, and Natalia Reyes all play their roles with grit and feeling, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was born to play stoics with deadpan delivery, does a fine job as Carl. The cast is ill-served by the writing, though; I ended up feeling that there were some missed opportunities in terms of character interaction and development. For example, Sarah Connor can't get past her hatred of Carl, but Dani warms to the aging Terminator and empathizes with his efforts to become a caring human being. This would have been interesting to explore further. Also, the group must learn to put aside differences and function as a team, but the story doesn't move the contentious group dynamic in a clear direction. Alliances are formed because they're practical, but because they're infused with human feeling. Grace can't stand Sarah because she and Sarah are both vying for the role of Dani's protector; Sarah can't stand Carl because he murdered her son, and this emotional stalemate doesn't really budge for the rest of the film.

Carl adds some comic relief to the proceedings; he has been living the life of a drapery-service worker: someone who helps customers select drapes that he will install in their homes. He lives with his life-partner (or is she his wife?) Alicia and his stepson Mateo; when Sarah Connor asks him how Alicia hasn't realized he is a 400-pound machine, Carl deadpans that his relationship with her is not physical, and all she cares about is that he's turned out to be good at things like changing diapers and being a good listener. Carl also considers himself reliable and funny, and Schwarzenegger inhabits the role to a tee.

But despite these positives, "Dark Fate" doesn't really rise above the mediocre. As mentioned above, while the film deals with (or at least flirts with) the theme of family, it fails to explore the developing dynamic between and among the principals. Sarah Connor never really sheds her hatred for Carl (which may make sense, given that Carl is not the same Terminator as the friendly one from "Terminator 2"), and Dani's warmth for Carl isn't examined very closely or developed into something more. Another problem is that Tim Miller's direction of the action sequences in this movie is nothing like what he did when he helmed "Deadpool." That may have been one of the most shocking and disappointing aspects of this film: "Deadpool" was Miller's very first feature-length effort, and he knocked it out of the park with some super-competent direction. "Dark Fate," by contrast, is something of an editing nightmare, with action scenes using confusing cuts that convey impressions and emotions, but not actual information. I had to wonder whether this was the selfsame Tim Miller.

In the end, I agree with everyone who said that the Terminator franchise really ought to have ended with "Terminator 2." Since no one seems to have come up with a better story for each movie, and since time-travel stories inherently pose certain narrative difficulties, the filmmakers really ought to have left well enough alone, or they should have done the ballsy thing and attempted to craft a Terminator story that didn't involve any time travel. Instead, we've got a franchise that is little more than a heavy, tired endoskeleton dragging itself toward the cliff's edge of its own dark fate.

Both "Zombieland" and "Terminator" deal with themes of family, teamwork, and the post-apocalypse. "Zombieland" does a somewhat better job of juggling these notions, and it also provides more self-consistent world-building. "Terminator" suffers from a slew of time-travel-related problems, as well as from sub-par scripting and surprisingly sub-par direction by a man who can definitely do better. The latter film is watchable, but only barely. The former film has its heart in the right place and will provide you with a chuckle or two. Plus, it's got another hilarious dose of Bill Murray.



*The word Fleischer is German for "butcher"—an appropriate surname for a man directing a movie about flesh-eating zombies.

**The zombies in this movie don't seem to be undead: when a character shoots them or lops off body parts, there's a great deal of spurting blood, which implies a still-living circulatory system. So zombiism is just a viral infection?



Monday, January 27, 2020

ululate!

Basketball great Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers was just killed in a helicopter crash. He was only 41. Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who was with him in the helicopter, was also killed. A total of nine people died in the crash.

I honestly don't know much about Bryant because I never follow sports, but even I was aware of his prowess on the court. Many years ago, I saw a YouTube video of Bryant speaking in fluent Italian during an interview, which is how I learned that he had spent many years in Italy. Here's a link to one of several videos in which Bryant speaks Italian; this isn't the video I had originally seen, but it'll give you an idea of Bryant's high level of fluency: he looks and feels comfortable speaking the language. I suppose it shouldn't come as a shock to see a non-Italian speaking Italian, any more than it's a shock to see a white guy speaking perfect Korean, but I guess I have my prejudices when it comes to sports figures: I normally think of them as meatheads who know only one thing and do it well.

Kobe was accused of sexual assault in 2003; the victim apparently refused to testify in court, and the case ended with an out-of-court settlement, which didn't exactly look good for Bryant (or the victim, for that matter: she proved that she could be paid off). Bryant moved on with his life, retiring from a stellar career in basketball at around the age of 38. He had four daughters with wife Vanessa, and along with speaking Italian, Bryant also spoke Spanish. His philanthropic work included helping underprivileged inner-city kids as well as military veterans. RIP, Mr. Bryant.



joining the ranks of the deluded and the liars

Don Surber writes on the irrelevancy of The National Review, a conservative publication that used to be considered one of the bastions of rightie thinking. Ever since the NRO (National Review Online) went Never Trump, though, it lost its grip on reality and chose losing with honor over fighting to win. The NRO is emblematic of everything that is wrong with limp-wristed, pussified conservatism. Just as The Drudge Report took a turn into the morass of Never Trumpism, the NRO has decided to become a swamp of its own. What a shame.

My reaction to Against Trump was, "National Review Hoists White Flag, Defiantly Rows To Outcast Island." Ahoy!

I was correct. The National Review now serves no purpose other than as a platform for an occasional column by Conrad Black or Victor Davis Hanson.

How odd that the people who called for losing with dignity do not have the dignity to own up to their error, which has aided and abetted the critics and opponents of the most conservative president since Reagan.

I agree with parts of Surber's conclusion, but I'm not convinced Trump is conservative in the traditional sense—which is precisely why Never Trumpers hate and fear him. His stance against free trade and for protectionism harks back to his days as a liberal Democrat, for example, and he obviously wants nothing to do with the recent neocon agenda when it comes to the US's overseas military adventurism. I'm still a skeptic when it comes to Trump's trade policies, but I admit that his stance puts Democrats in the awkward position of denouncing Trump every time he talks about bringing jobs back to the States—a policy goal that Democrats lauded not so long ago. Trump's initiatives regarding the US border are consistent with the positions taken by 90s-era Bill Clinton and by Barack Obama, both of whom (1) advocated for stricter border controls and (2) saw the burgeoning presence of illegals as a strain on the economy and the legal system. So Trump has ushered in a new type of conservatism, one that is skeptical of globalism and, by extension, free trade among nations. Never Trumpers would be wise to put aside their animus and get with the program. Never Trumpers in Congress who insist on continuing to pout will likely end up being voted out. I won't lose any sleep when that happens.



Sunday, January 26, 2020

I was once this small

Hard to imagine, but yes: I was once a wee bairn. I visited my #3 Ajumma on Thursday night, and she gifted me with a fifty-year-old birth notice that my mother had written out and mailed to relatives, including to Ajumma and her family.

You can click on the following images to enlarge them:



Ajumma says she's also got notices for my brothers David (43) and Sean (40). Our respective birth weights got progressively heavier: I was 8 pounds on the nose at birth; David was 8 pounds, 10 ounces; Sean was 8 pounds, 10.5 ounces. Good thing Mom stopped at three; I shudder to imagine the birth weight of a fourth child.



Wisecrack commentary on "Joker" and "Parasite"

In my review of "Parasite," I argued that director Bong Joon-ho had crafted a Marxist tract, and that the film needs to be read through a Marxist lens to make sense. The following Wisecrack video basically agrees with me; the video takes the interesting step of comparing the messages of both "Parasite" and "The Joker," two movies that seem to be making claims about the power of society over the individual.






who's in the bubble, again?

One thing you can be sure of is that the left and the right will use exactly the same language when casting aspersions on each other: they'll accuse each other of bigotry, of some form of totalitarianism, of stupidity, and perhaps most of all, of detachment from reality.

Over at Long Time Gone, John Mac quotes a reply he got from a leftie commenter:

Liberals share news and views with the rest of planet [E]arth[,] and it all corroborates.* Conservatives hide in echo chambers where they can make up their own little world with its own little truths. The entire planet Earth agrees with Mr. Weir except for a small group of mostly older, male, white, religious, rural, poorly educated but [well-armed] Americans who believe they know better than everyone else.

This is where you reply “wait until the election and then you’ll see” because you have nothing else to stand on, no truth, no foundation, nothing, just another lame prediction of the future based on the usual, which is your own echo chamber on your own planet.

Enjoy your little planet[,] but Earth is leaving you behind, and you’re trying to hurt the rest of us because you know it’s true.

John wrote that it wouldn't be worthwhile to dignify such ignorance with a response, and he's right. Meanwhile, in another part of cyberspace, leftie Tim Pool says it's the left that's living inside its own reality-denying bubble:


You might want to do yourself a favor and watch this video's first 5 or so minutes so you can catch what Pool was originally talking about: the Democrats may have just scored an own-goal in their neverending attempts to take Trump down.



*The verb corroborate is transitive, i.e., it needs an object. It can't be used intransitively, the way it's being used above. You can corroborate someone else's testimony, but you can't say, "The testimony corroborates." Suggested rewrite: use a verb that can be intransitive, such as dovetail or fit together, instead.



Dr. Ken explains the coronavirus

Good informational video:






Saturday, January 25, 2020

lucky 13

Since bumping my shoes up to size 12 wasn't enough to prevent blackened toenails, I've ordered a pair of size 13 New Balance trail-walking shoes. They'll be arriving sometime in mid-February. Perhaps I'll test them out on another crazy walk out to Yangpyeong.



Happy Lunar New Year

The Year of the Pig is over, and the Year of the Rat has begun!


Peace, blessings, and prosperity to you and yours on the occasion of the new year! Many thanks to my five faithful readers for the periodic comments. The blog turns 17 this coming July 4, and I'm still here largely thanks to your readership. Much obliged.

Tout de bon pour le nouvel an.



darkness rises, and light to meet it

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has a possible rival in the form of Catalina Lauf, and now it appears that Ilhan Omar may have to contend with Republican firebrand—and Iraqi immigrant—Dalia Al-Aqidi. Al-Aqidi is fed up with Omar's lack of loyalty to her adoptive country: "I chose to run for Congress because I believe Ilhan Omar is doing irreparable harm to both Minnesota and America. Her consistent anti-Semitism and hateful rhetoric are toxic and serve only to gain attention for herself and position herself as a celebrity—she's not fighting for us; she is fighting for herself, even if that means fighting against us."

I wish this brave woman the best of luck. Take that treasonous, scum-sucking bitch down. And while you're at it, educate those asinine 5th-district voters—drooling morons with no clue what's good for them—who elevated Ilhan Omar to public office in the first place. Start by teaching them basic economics, then point out how leftists like Omar are only about identity politics, not about representing the people. Omar is fanatically focused on her own race, her ethnicity, and her religion. Like so many in similar positions (e.g., the other members of the Squad), she is unable to see past her demographic traits in order to serve the wider people. As Al-Aqidi says, Omar is indeed fighting for herself.

From the above-linked article:

"I was inspired to launch my campaign because I believe the residents of this district need someone fighting for them, not DC insiders and foreign influences. Our country needs leaders who actually love America."

Al-Aqidi said Omar needs to be replaced, accusing the incumbent of being a voice of opposition to President Donald Trump and fueling division while supporting America’s enemies.

"Omar has spent her entire time in Washington sowing seeds of division and actively supporting our enemies, while also doing everything she can to prop up her own celebrity status instead of fighting for her constituents," Al-Aqidi said.

"Even when President Trump has taken action to help her constituents, Omar condemns him simply out of personal hatred. Meanwhile, more scandal and corruption flood out of her office every week. Minnesota's 5th district deserves someone who is fighting for them, not the radical left in DC."



Friday, January 24, 2020

the revolution will be live


Big changes aren't just on the way: they're here.



the dream of man is to fly

Wren's enthusiasm is infectious in the following video:


I generally like watching Corridor Crew videos, but this one felt kind of special: Wren had the chance to realize a lifelong dream of his: to fly. Granted, Wren didn't do much more than hover for a few seconds, but he did a better job, with the jet pack, than all the other beginner-level flyers at the hangar that day. This video ended up putting a big smile on my face. Good for you, Wren! Great job. I'm kind of envious.



better late than never

So! I now have a definite date for the zeroing-out of my debt. I've already privately emailed one friend about it, but I may as well make this public: July 16, 2020 will be the day I send out my final payment to the Navient bloodsuckers* who took over the management of my debt from Sallie Mae. As I've mentioned several times, I plan to celebrate this. It might be a week-long party, and money will not be spent wisely. I can't party until my next payday, however, and that's not until August 16, very close to my fifty-first birthday, so maybe I'll save the partying for my birthday, which is on the 31st of that month. Later in the year, around October, I'm planning to fly to Qatar to meet a friend. Yeah, yeah—Qatar is a hotbed of terrorism. I'm well aware. But it's also a fabulously rich country that is part of the food-mecca renaissance happening in many places in the Middle East. And for a teetotaling monastic like yours truly, Muslim countries aren't as suffocating as they are for people who love to do nothing but drink and fuck. My only problem is my religious liberalism: I'll have to keep my mouth shut about one of my favorite topics of discussion. Shutting my mouth shouldn't be a problem: I'll be constantly shoveling food into it, so there'll be no time to talk God.

Will I be totally debt-free come July? Of course not. I've still got a bit of credit-card debt, but that's negligible by comparison, and it's easily paid down. Meanwhile, we've topped the rise of 2020, and the remaining debt-repayment appears to me as a long, downhill slope. At long last, I'll be coasting my way to financial freedom. This is happening a few months later than advertised, I grant; I had said I'd be done with my scholastic debt by sometime in the spring, and now, instead, I'll be done in midsummer. There have been many bumps in the road, which is one reason for the delay. But better late than never, eh?



*I'm just being dramatic. Navient's actually proved to be a decent steward of my debt: they have low interest rates, and their website is actually much easier to use than Sallie Mae's.



Thursday, January 23, 2020

got plans?

The Year of the Rat is now upon us. Officially, Lunar New Year's Day is this coming Saturday, January 25. My office is, happily, getting a five-day weekend, partly because we had to come in and work on January 1, i.e., the solar New Year's Day. Starting tomorrow (Friday), then, we're off through next Tuesday. I had thought about taking a long, ambitious walk out to Incheon or Yangpyeong, but I'm a bit sick right now, and I'm honestly not sure I want to put my feet through a super-long walk at this juncture. Maybe in February. You'll recall that I did my crazy 60-kilometer walk out to Yangpyeong last February. I might also want to get bigger shoes before I do any more serious distance walking.

I'll still be walking every day, of course, but the walks probably won't be longer than 30-some thousand steps. Most of them will likely be in the 15K-step range—just a way to keep burning calories. Aside from the walks, I'll be cooking up keto gumbo and keto pancakes to keep my big ass fed for the next two or three weeks. I made two kinds of sausage last night: American breakfast and andouille. The andouille is still raw; I wanted to freeze it first before cutting it into discs. The American breakfast sausage is cooked but also frozen. For the gumbo, I'll have to go on the hunt for some okra; the foreign-food mart in Itaewon has bags of frozen okra for sale, so that shouldn't be a problem. The rest of the ingredients can be found locally, and I have a lovely stock of filé powder and other spices and seasonings in my cabinets.

So vacation will be a real vacation, i.e., rest and relaxation, not frenetic sightseeing. I'll also be quietly working on my book project, and if I'm industrious, I can get a lot done over this break.

What plans, if any, do you have for the lunar new year?



Charles vs. Texas

Charles describes his recent trip to Texas to see his family. His parents and both brothers now all live within the vicinity of each other, and of Dallas.

I don’t get to see my family all that often, so it was nice to have everyone in relatively close proximity.

I see what you did, there, Charles.



lack of an Oxford comma can cost you $10 million

It should be obvious, from my ongoing series on commas, that I'm pro-Oxford when it comes to Oxford commas. I buy into the argument that the comma helps with potential ambiguity.

I'd like to thank my parents, God, and Satan.

With the comma in place, the above sentence indicates that the speaker/writer is thanking three distinct factions: his/her parents, God, and Satan. Without the comma, though, things become ambiguous:

I'd like to thank my parents, God and Satan.

Is the thanker now saying that God and Satan are his/her parents?

In any event, respected authorities and local grammar scolds like yours truly have kicked the Oxford question around, and for the moment at least, the overall sentiment seems to be that the Oxford comma is optional: leaving it out isn't a major sin. But—but—ambiguity! my side of the argument cries.

John Mac just emailed me a link to a very interesting 2017 article about a $10 million court case whose verdict hinged upon the absence of an Oxford comma. Read the article here.

I was thoroughly enjoying the article until I stumbled upon this sentence:

As a diehard Oxford comma loyalist, this ruling made my day.

Dangling modifier! And the writer had been doing so well up to that point. Here's a rewrite:

As a diehard Oxford-comma loyalist, I was delighted by this ruling.

I also corrected the un-hyphenated phrasal adjective.

Anyway, it was fascinating to read about this court case. The comments thread below the article is a bit of a train wreck, with surly scolds trying to argue that the Oxford comma doesn't eliminate all ambiguity. I actually agree that that's true because pretty much every human utterance is open to interpretation if you're clever enough, but it's undeniable that the Oxford comma alleviates ambiguity. A few idiots in that thread are arguing that "a comma marks a pause." Grrrr. By contrast, one astute commenter noted that the author's bio doesn't use the Oxford comma—and neither does the article's first paragraph. D'oh! So much for being a "diehard Oxford-comma loyalist"!



Chinese food!


Just in time for the lunar new year, we've got two videos with Chinese food as their theme. First up is a Sorted Food video in which the two resident chefs, Ben and James, go head-to-head to create a slew of Chinese dishes. Next up is Andong, with tips on how to ring in the lunar new year with jiaozi, or Chinese dumplings:







Wednesday, January 22, 2020

"keto"

I suck.

This is my third week of attempting the keto diet, and I've registered a weight loss of no more than a single kilo. I know what's going on, so let me take this time to engage in confession, self-flagellation, and expressions of remorse. There might even be a resolution to do better... if we're lucky.

One thing I've come to realize is that keto, done right, is pretty hardcore. It's not exactly correct to say that Atkins and keto are the same thing, even though the Atkins Diet begins with a two-week "induction" period whose sole purpose is to induce ketosis, i.e., the change from metabolizing carbs to metabolizing fat. The Atkins Diet stresses a low-carb regimen, true, but the keto diet ideally has you consuming 70-80% fat per day. With Atkins, there's a lot of stress on unprocessed meats, leafy-green and cruciferous vegetables, and the avoidance of anything even remotely carby, from rice, bread, and pasta to starchy vegetables to fruits and fruit drinks. With keto, there's the same stress, plus the insane emphasis on fat consumption.

I confess that, up to now, I haven't once met my daily fat-consumption goal. I also confess I've broken down two or three times, already, to enjoy something carb-rich, from a soda to M&Ms to a Costco hot dog. I also eat at night, very often after midnight (recall how I noted, in a previous post, that there's some debate over whether eating at night is actually a problem), after a full day of starvation. None of these behaviors is helping with weight loss.

On the bright side, thanks to the three days of fasting every week (the Dr. Jason Fung part of my regimen, which is only tangentially linked to keto) and my general attempt to adhere to a keto regimen, my random snacking is down to almost zero, and when I do fast, it is indeed for the full 24 hours, from midnight to midnight on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I'm also using the MyFitnessPal app to track not only my caloric intake but also my caloric expenditure through exercise. I try to end every day with a caloric deficit, and while on some days, that deficit is only a few hundred calories, on other days, it's over 1,500 calories.

The net result, though, is no real weight loss. Losing a single kilo is nothing; the loss can easily be attributed to water weight. I think my body is predisposed to stubbornly retaining whatever I ingest, which makes weight loss difficult.

So: what to do? I've been doing plenty of distance walking, having walked 15 of the past 17 days, usually with a step count of around 15,000 steps. This is all on flat ground, though, so while I walk briskly, I'm not getting the "burn" I'd get were I doing stairs. Intensity of activity is vitally important, especially for people trying to push past a weight-loss plateau. So I'll need to get more intense with the exercise, and I have to stop eating at night, no matter how hungry I might be. Oh, and I'll need to stop having lapses in willpower if I want to keep the daily carb count under 20 grams.

More news as it happens. Stay tuned.



that "pro-gun" rally in Richmond

Styx notes that, to the disappointment of lefties everywhere (and to the probable chagrin of blackface/Klan-hood-sporting Virginia governor Ralph Northam), the pro-2A rally in Richmond, Virginia, went smoothly, with no outbreaks of violence. Those who'd been expecting Charlottesville II: Let's Run Over Another Woman will now have to deal with the fact that gun owners tend to act responsibly.


See here, too. And apparently, an agent provocateur was caught before he could stir shit up.

Then there's this heartening interview:



Colion Noir tweets:
"The only anti-gun ppl you’ll see in Virginia on the 20th will be the government[,] and they’ll have guns. Think about that for a second."

As for the myth that the gun rally was a convention for white supremacists: see here, and be sure to watch the first video.



Tuesday, January 21, 2020

"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker": review

[WARNING: spoilers. But I just don't care.]


The capstone of what has been called the Skywalker saga, "Star Wars, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker," débuted in the United States on December 20, 2019. As of this writing, the film—which has a budget of $275 million—has already crossed the billion-dollar mark, so in terms of its worldwide earnings, "Skywalker" is a resounding success.

That may be the only metric by which the movie can be considered a success, though. For me, "Skywalker" is a resounding failure, the ignoble death rattle of a long-moribund trilogy of trilogies. The prequel trilogy (1999-2005) had its flaws, but as other critics have pointed out, those three movies at least had a coherent vision. The sequel trilogy, by contrast, has shown itself to be a stillborn monstrosity—a vernix-covered, five-legged horse carcass with fangs and maggoty eye sockets, a rotting chimera that is the result of a creative tug-of-war between two directors while a hapless Disney Studios stood by and let it happen.

One of those two directors, the director of this film, is JJ Abrams. Abrams gained a great deal of fame for his work on the TV series "Lost," and then he took over the Star Trek franchise to make the first two of three Trek reboot films, replacing the stodgy old Enterprise crew with a fresh, young cast, and forcing every cast member to move from place to place at a dead run. Abrams's directorial style takes its cue from the kinetic camera work of Steven Spielberg, who launched a whole generation of Spielberg clones, including Robert Zemeckis ("Back to the Future," a movie with a distinctly Spielbergian feel to it). Abrams, coming from the same artistic school of thought, successfully internalized the need for energetic movement, but he failed to understand that relentless action, when not interspersed with moments of quiet depth, is little more than fluff. When the audience isn't allowed to catch its breath and ponder what's just happened, the result of too much action can be, paradoxically, boredom and disengagement. It doesn't help matters that Abrams has proven not to be all that creative in his attempts to bring new luster to old material. His Star Trek films are energetic to the point of being frenetic, but they don't contain much depth or warmth. "The Force Awakens" is merely a retread of 1977's "Star Wars: A New Hope," and "The Rise of Skywalker" contains many of the beats and tropes found in 1983's "Return of the Jedi."

A very quick partial synopsis of "Skywalker" might go like this: Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), long thought dead after the events of "Return of the Jedi," has announced his return. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), having eliminated Supreme Leader Snoke in "The Last Jedi," is now the new Supreme Leader, and he sees Palpatine as a threat to his own power. Ren finds Palpatine on the ancient Sith planet of Exegol, and Palpatine—now little more than a zombie version of his old self—tempts Ren with the prospect of enormous power, for the old Sith master has an armada of Star Destroyers, each equipped with its own planet-destroying Death Star superlaser. Elsewhere in the galaxy, Rey (Daisy Ridley) continues her Jedi training under the guidance of Leia (Carrie Fisher). The Resistance learns, thanks to Poe and Finn (Oscar Isaac and John Boyega), that Palpatine is on Exegol, and much of the middle of the film is devoted to a series of adventures in which our heroes chase down special items that help them piece together the path to Exegol, which is an uncharted world. Kylo Ren ends up rejecting the dark side, and it turns out that he and Rey form a "Force dyad"—a single Force being in two separate bodies. When Ren and Rey confront Palpatine on Exegol, Palpatine drains them of their life force as a way to reconstitute himself. While Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams—82 years old!) brings a gigantic fleet of starships out of lightspeed to confront Palpatine's armada, Ren and Rey must face off against the Emperor, who claims to have been working behind the scenes this entire time, constructing that armada and even creating Snoke through cloning. Along the way, we get fan-service moments involving C-3PO, Luke Skywalker's ghost, and many other callbacks to previous Star Wars movies.

Director Abrams had crafted "The Force Awakens" in such a way as to keep the audience's interest by posing potentially interesting questions: what was Snoke's back story? Who were Rey's parents? How did Maz Kanata get hold of Luke's old, blue-bladed lightsaber? Then along came Rian Johnson and his "The Last Jedi," and it sure seemed as if Johnson devoted much of his energy to knocking over all of JJ Abrams's sand castles. Johnson killed Snoke, snuffing him out before we could learn his back story; he had Kylo Ren tell Rey that her parents were nobodies, i.e., she wasn't the noble progeny of a Force-strong lineage. In fact, Force-strong lineages turned out not to be that important: in Johnson's version of this universe, anyone had the potential to be a Force user. When Abrams was brought back in at the last minute to rescue the franchise from the mess Johnson had left, Abrams crafted the final movie as a series of severe course corrections. If this final trilogy could be likened to a sailboat, then the trilogy's trajectory would look like a sailboat helmed by an angry drunkard, tacking wildly left, then right, then left again.

You can't tug violently at a culturally iconic story like Star Wars without causing some serious rips in the narrative fabric. I've seen plenty of pundits blame Disney, and Disney's takeover of Lucasfilm, for the current mess, but my own impression is that Disney gave the two directors, Abrams and Johnson, far too much leeway to yank the narrative in opposite directions, and the result is a very lame story arc that has no idea what it wants to do, be, or say.

Why on earth did Abrams bring Palpatine back? Probably for the obvious reason that Kylo Ren was too whiny, emo, and inept to be the main villain of the final film of the Skywalker saga. As we discover, Snoke himself was one of many Snoke-clones created by Palpatine, and there may be an implication that Palpatine is also inhabiting a cloned body—a reference to an old graphic novel called Dark Empire, in which we learn that Palpatine's spirit can transmigrate to different cloned bodies when a given body of his is killed. This fails to explain why Palpatine's body, in "Skywalker," looks as damaged as it does: shouldn't a cloned body look young, fresh, vigorous, and unmarred? All the same, the lameness of Kylo Ren is no justification for bringing Palpatine back: the old Sith's return unmakes and cheapens the sacrifices made by Luke and Vader in "Return of the Jedi": Vader loses his life, and Luke loses his father, but now, none of that matters.

Do Force dynasties matter, or don't they? The final moment in "The Rise of Skywalker" shows Rey telling a random passerby that her name is "Rey Skywalker." Having learned that she is genetically a Palpatine, Rey rejects her Force-powerful lineage to align herself with Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa—the two figures who came closest to being like a father and mother for her (well, more Leia than Luke, really). What message is the trilogy giving us about the heritability of Force powers? Does it matter whether the Force runs strong in a given family? Some critics and fans have complained that Rey ought to call herself an Organa, given her emotional bond with Leia, or she should just own up to being a Palpatine and do what she can to rehabilitate that name. Personally, I'm not all that exercised about the surname issue: in terms of Force theology, Rey was half of a Force dyad, and when Kylo Ren—with his Skywalker lineage—transferred his remaining life force into her, she became a complete being, a Skywalker in all sooth. Overall, Abrams's vision seems to drag us back toward a less democratic, more dynastic way of viewing the Force and its transmission through generations of living beings. One wonders what Rian Johnson thinks of all this.

Retconning Leia to have been a vigorous Jedi-in-training under Luke is partially justified by the so-called Expanded Universe novels (now no longer canon according to Disney; the Mouse hath spoken), but even in the novels, Leia puts aside her training to work as an activist, organizer, diplomat and yes, occasionally, a military general. Handling Leia's presence in the final movie's story must have been a delicate issue, given that actress Carrie Fisher had passed away in 2016. Abrams apparently had leftover footage from his making of "The Force Awakens," and he repurposed much of it to bring Fisher to life for one last performance. In the movie, Leia dies during an act of Force projection similar to Luke's act in the previous film: she makes soul-to-soul contact with Kylo Ren while he's fighting with Rey, and this is what prompts Kylo to step back from the cliff's edge of the dark side and return to the light.


"Skywalker" is one long litany of lost potential, of chances unseized. Rey could have had a romantic storyline with either Poe or Finn, but she ends up with neither, receiving only a kiss from Kylo Ren as he dies after transferring his life force into Rey. We never learn the story behind Luke's lightsaber, and how it ended up in Maz Kanata's possession. Snoke's back story could have been fleshed out far more deeply. JJ Abrams could have wasted less time creating and promptly undermining seemingly tragic moments (like the apparent death of Chewbacca, or the temporary memory-wipe of C-3PO)—moments that could have resonated with emotion had Abrams actually made the tragedies stick. Abrams had also had the chance to give us a finale with no goddamn Death Star, but I guess he couldn't help himself, so instead of a single Death Star, we now get a thousand little Death Stars in the form of Palpatine's armada. Also: while Billy Dee Williams is a comforting, authoritative presence whenever he's on screen, his character is shamefully underused.

Much of the movie's plot and conclusion failed to make sense. I've already mentioned the cloning problem: why would either Palpatine or Snoke look so disfigured? Then there's the question of Palpatine's drainage of Rey and Ren's life force: why didn't this kill either of them? Why did Palpatine enjoin Kylo to kill Rey at the beginning of the movie, then tell Rey he wanted her to kill him so he could inhabit her body? Why not save himself the trouble of having Rey kill him when Kylo Ren already wanted to kill him? He could have simply possessed Kylo. Why did Palpatine announce his return to the entire galaxy instead of lying low and doing what he'd done best during the prequel trilogy, i.e., manipulating events from the shadows? Who were all the Sith beings in that auditorium during the final battle between Palpatine and Rey, and why was it fine for Rey to bring the temple down on them, murdering thousands of people? Wasn't it something of a gamble to rely on a Sith dagger whose carvings matched the contours of the second Death Star's wreckage? What if that wreckage had shifted in a significant way? What does it even mean to "bring balance" to the Force? How can a cosmic principle become unbalanced? Most important: how did Palpatine survive being cast down by Vader? Does this mean Vader had actually failed to bring balance?

As with many Abrams films, "Skywalker" doesn't really hold up under scrutiny. It moves along at an extremely brisk pace, offering us both fan service and some truly amazing visuals, but it's in need of a better story that is less of a course correction for Johnson's "The Last Jedi" and more of a conclusion worthy of this sprawling saga. If you read my novel-length review of "The Last Jedi," then you know that I did find some redeeming elements in that movie. But now, with the arrival of Abrams's film, I can't help but view the sequel trilogy as a whole with distaste. Two directors had the chance to produce a single, harmonious vision, just as George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, and Richard Marquand managed to do with the original trilogy. Instead, Rian Johnson and JJ Abrams each decided to insist on his own vision, and the awful result is laid out before us.

All of this is depressing enough that I have little desire to get into a nerdy exploration of the theology of the Force or of other, equally meaty aspects of the film. It could be that Abrams had little to work with, given Rian Johnson's decision to redirect Star Wars down a subversive narrative path. It could be that the pressure to create an awesome finale to the Skywalker saga was too much for Abrams & Co. It could be any number of things, but the end result just leaves me feeling sad and hollow. One critic noted that it may be necessary to wait twenty years to see how younger fans react to the nine movies. For them, the sequel trilogy might make more sense and won't produce the revulsion it's produced in my age group (we were in elementary school when 1977's "Star Wars" came out). I don't know; I'll likely be dead in twenty years. For the moment, all I can say is that "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" proved to be a crushing disappointment. Any hope for the franchise now lies in all the spinoff efforts currently under way, such as the Disney Plus series "The Mandalorian." All hail Baby Yoda.



seen at Gilleland's

Over at the erudite Michael Gilleland's blog, this Scots "proverb" is on display:

He snites his nose in his neighbour's dish to get the brose to himsell.

Is there a difference between "Scots" and "Scottish"? Online Webster purports to have the answer. By the way, I correctly figured out everything in the above "proverb" (which feels more like a stage direction in a play than an actual proverb), except for the word brose. Turns out it's a kind of oatmeal porridge. Snite was easy enough to figure out in context, keeping in mind the Scots sense of humor.



Monday, January 20, 2020

the ghost of Schumer past

Instapundit links to this New York Post article, which gives us a dose of 1999-era Chuck Schumer, who is currently one of the partisan Democrats leading the charge to impeach Donald Trump and, he hopes, remove Trump from office.

1999 Schumer in his own words:

...if the cycle of political recrimination and scandalizing continues, the American people will become more alienated and cynical and shaken by the political process[,] and they, too, will lose faith in the great instrument the Founding Fathers have given us.



gods willing...

I might take a stab at writing that "Rise of Skywalker" review tonight. You might have surmised that I've been in no hurry to write it, and you might have further surmised that there's a reason why I'm in no hurry to write it.



Sunday, January 19, 2020

"Parasite": review


[NB: spoilers for the film's first act, but not for the remaining two.]

If you dig back into your memories of high-school biology class, you'll recall that symbiosis is a relationship in which two distinct organisms coexist in what is usually—but not always—a mutually beneficial way. An example of this might be bees and flowers. Parasitism is a form of symbiosis in which the parasite is the sole beneficiary, usually harming its host. Think of a mosquito sucking human blood.

This quick trip back to biology class is enough to make me wonder whether Bong Joon-ho's 2019 movie "Parasite" (Korean-language title: "기생충" or "Gisaeng-chung") has been misnamed. While there's a definite sense in which the poor, struggling family shown in the movie is leeching off the rich family that is its host, the manner of the poor family's parasitism seems more like benign symbiosis: a mutual exchange of benefits. This isn't merely a terminological quibble: this is an important point that I'll return to later in this review.

"Parasite" is the story of a poor family, the Kims, headed by father Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and mother Park Chung-suk (Chang Hyae-jin).* They have two young-adult children who still live with them: gentle-hearted son Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and cynical, streetwise daughter Kim Ki-jeong (Park So-dam). Ki-woo has a friend named Min who has been tutoring Da-hye (Jeong Ji-so), the daughter of a very rich family: the Parks. Min is leaving Korea to study abroad, and he offers the high-paying tutoring gig to Ki-woo. Min, a twenty-something, has a romantic interest in Da-hye, who is only a high-school sophomore; Min says that he can feel secure knowing that Da-hye will be in good hands if she's with Ki-woo. Min also gifts the Kim family with a "scholar's rock," a natural rock that serves as an objet d'art and supposedly brings prosperity to its owner.

Ki-woo's sister Ki-jeong is artistically gifted, and she forges a document to make it look as if Ki-woo graduated from Yonsei University, one of South Korea's most prestigious schools. Document in hand, Ki-woo goes to the Park residence for his job interview. Min has warned him that the mother, Choi Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong), is nice but a bit "simple." It turns out that "simple" means "gullible," as Yeon-gyo barely looks at Ki-woo's forged Yonsei credentials and insists on watching him teach his first English lesson with Da-hye. The daughter immediately warms up to Ki-woo, especially after he gently clasps her wrist to feel her racing pulse. "The heart never lies," he tells the girl, ostensibly talking about the stress associated with taking tests, but in truth laying the groundwork for his own romantic attempt.

Yeon-gyo is impressed with Ki-woo's "teaching" technique, and she pays him his monthly sum right away, "plus a little extra for inflation." Ki-woo discovers that Da-hye has a younger brother: a wild, kinetic little boy named Da-song (Jeong Hyeon-jun). Yeon-gyo laments that she has tried to hire art tutors for Da-song, but they never last. Ki-woo seizes the opportunity to say that he knows of an in-demand art therapist named Jessica whose methods are unconventional, but who gets results with kids. Yeon-gyo is interested, so another interview is arranged. In this way, Ki-woo insinuates his sister Ki-jeong into the Park family—and it turns out that Ki-jeong, despite bullshitting her way through her art-therapy session with the boy, both captivates the kid and wins over the mom.

And so it goes: the Kim family members all eventually end up working for the rich Park family. Father Ki-taek becomes Mr. Park's (Lee Sun-kyun) personal driver after Ki-jeong plants her panties in Mr. Park's car to make it seem as if the current driver has been having sex in it; mother Chung-suk takes over the job of housekeeper after the Kims discover Moon-gwang (Lee Jeong-eun), the current housekeeper, is violently allergic to peaches, and they quietly sprinkle peach fuzz on her to make her seem as if she has tuberculosis.

Up to here, I've described only the first act of what is a three-act story. The tone of this act is comic, and the comedy does bleed into the second act, but the second act is more of a thriller, and the final act is characterized by horror and tragedy. Korean films can be tonally consistent, like "Oldboy," or they can shift radically in tone, like "YMCA Yagu Dan" (a film about baseball in Korea that also stars Song Kang-ho) or "Parasite," the film under discussion. In the case of "Parasite," the shifts in tone do no harm to the story being told; if anything, they provide us viewers with clues as to which phase of the story we're in.

So what is "Parasite" about? It's a multifaceted film that includes two of director Bong Joon-ho's favorite themes: politics and the environment (cf. his "Snowpiercer"). Climate change, resulting in torrential rain, plays an important role in both the plot and the aesthetics of "Parasite": the rain shows us just how different the lives of the rich and the poor can be. The Parks live in a ritzy hilltop neighborhood; when the rain falls, they suffer few consequences because the rainwater all drains downhill. The Kims, meanwhile, live just below street level in a ban-jiha, which literally means "half-underground," i.e., a semi-basement apartment. Their neighborhood has no proper drainage, so the rainwater from the storm that happens around the middle of the film comes sluicing downhill, right into their windows, flooding their home to shoulder height with foul runoff and sewage.

My own take on the about question, though, is that "Parasite" is fundamentally a Marxist tract and needs to be understood from that perspective. As with "Snowpiercer," an unsubtle movie about class warfare after Earth's climate has gone crazy, "Parasite" argues that the rich will always be rich, and the poor will always be poor. No matter how much you struggle, you cannot rise above your station. Marx argued much the same, and I think the argument is demonstrably false: Koreans themselves constantly and consistently prove that hard work, smarts, focus, and dedication can lead to social mobility—at least if they move to somewhere like the United States and put down roots there.** But whatever my opinion on the matter, Bong is arguing that the poor, if they want to escape their situation, have little choice but to cheat in whatever way they can.

And herein lies one of my major problems with the movie. I wrote, above, about parasitism and symbiosis. The Kim family (and, it turns out, another group of people) is supposedly parasitic upon the rich Parks... but are they, really? The movie makes it clear that each member of the Kim family is, in fact, quite smart and talented. They might be using their powers for evil, after a fashion—Ki-jeong forges documents, and everyone else is basically a poseur—but they are all, to some degree, legitimately skilled. Ki-woo (despite his slimy, disgusting romance with high-schooler Da-hye) proves to be a competent English tutor. Ki-jeong, despite not being a real art therapist, proves to be an actual positive influence on wild, unfocused little Da-song. Ki-taek is a bona fide smooth and professional driver who does indeed know all of Seoul's dark corners, and his wife Chung-suk is a ferociously talented cook and Jane-of-all-trades, which allows her to be perfect in her role as the new housekeeper. So the Kim family, far from simply mooching off the Parks, provides the Parks with the things they need to live their high-class lives. There's a trade-off, here, so this isn't true parasitism: it's more like biological mutualism. And the fact that the Kims are so talented leads to my second question: why the hell hadn't they been able to find decent work up to now? My third question, a side question, would be: why, if the Kims are so all-around competent, are they so bad at folding pizza boxes early in the story?

So something is missing from this tale—some sort of explanation for why the Kims have been unable to get and keep steady jobs. Bong, the Marxist, facilely assumes that it's because the system or society or capitalism is what's keeping them down. This is typically leftist thinking: it's never about personal responsibility and always about forces and networks and systems. Bong's film also falls in line with a particular tradition in Korean storytelling, in which a protagonist finds him- or herself in a losing struggle against larger cosmic powers, e.g., nature or fate. This isn't unique to Korean storytelling, of course: just look at post-World War II German cinema if you want to see some dark, depressing fatalism and disaffection.*** If I'd had a chance to rewrite the script for "Parasite," I'd have included something, some personality problem or tic or neurosis, that was keeping each member of the Kim family from succeeding. These flaws would have played a role in the Kim family's eventual troubles once they had all insinuated themselves in the Park family: maybe Kim Ki-taek, the father, would have ended up betraying a frightening personality quirk in front of Mr. Park (something does happen in the actual film, but it's only a momentary flash of anger that Mr. Park ends up dismissing). Maybe Ki-woo, despite falling in love with Da-hye, might have a secret porn addiction that ends up poisoning his relationship with the girl. The result of my rewrite would be a much different story, but the story would make a bit more sense.

Those are my major complaints about the film, so let's move on to the film's many virtues. Bong, whatever his political views, is an amazingly talented director. He's good with his actors, all of whom give stellar performances (special praise to Cho Yeo-jeong, a.k.a. Mr. Park's wife, for doing a hilarious job as the beautifully clueless, credulous, and perpetually harried spouse... although her English accent was so horrible that I initially thought she was still speaking in Korean during those moments when she was attempting to speak in English). Bong was also the creator of the film's story, and he has managed to weave a tale that is part comedy, part thriller, and all parable. I might not agree with the lesson his parable is trying to teach, but it's an inarguably fascinating and horrifying tale. "Parasite" is also well edited; the story moves along at a smooth pace, and it never flags in energy or loses our engagement with it. Bong has a Tarantino-level knack for building tension (the escape-from-the-living-room scene is the finest example of that) and for injecting random violence and death into the proceedings. Bong also chose well when he picked Hong Kyung-pyo as his cinematographer; together, Bong and Hong make the most of all available light and shadow, weaving these elements smoothly into the plot and using them deftly for their symbolic value.

And let it be said that symbolism is a huge part of this movie. Several times throughout the story, Ki-woo says, "Wow... sangjingjeok inae!" ("Wow... that's so symbolic!"****). The "scholar's rock," given as a gift by friend Min, has symbolic value (as well as a frightening utilitarian purpose revealed in the third act). The aforementioned rain has a symbolic valence. Ki-woo's father Ki-taek, meanwhile, likes talking about how he always has "a plan"... until, during a particularly low moment in the movie, he sadly admits that having no plan is probably the best plan because when there's no plan, nothing can go wrong. It's a bleak moment, but one that makes us realize that even plans can be a metaphor for vanity and futility. One YouTube reviewer astutely noted that the omnipresence of stairs in this movie also symbolizes social status; the same goes for the physical locations of the Kims' and Parks' respective homes: the Parks live way up high; the Kims live way down low. Korean viewers will recognize the rich/poor clash represented by the bizarre ramen dish that Chung-suk cooks for the Park family: she cubes up some high-quality beef (beef is very expensive in Korea) and adds it to some cheap, jjapaghetti-style ramen: the dish embodies the intertwined lives of the Kims and the Parks.

One of the richest neighborhoods in Seoul is in Pyeongchang-dong, a hilly district that, when you're up high, can actually afford you a view of the Blue House, Korea's answer to the US's White House, in the far distance. I could have sworn that "Parasite" had been filmed in Pyeongchang-dong, a neighborhood I'm familiar with only because a friend of mine, rest his soul, used to live there. Pyeongchang-dong is where the houses look more Western; it's where you can find actual walls, gates, yards, and gardens that belong only to one owner, as opposed to the communal plots you can find elsewhere in and around the big cities. Walking through that neighborhood (which is difficult for us fatties because the hills there are very steep) is a surreal experience. "Parasite" offers us common folk, the proletariat, a tantalizing glimpse of where the Parks live, but it's enough to let us know that we're now among the upper crust.

I'll end this review with one more bit of praise: although "Parasite" had one moment where events were predictable, the story arc, as a whole, was utterly unpredictable to me. My hat is off to Bong and his crew for such clever writing, and for creating an engaging tale populated with colorful characters who are so well crafted that they elicit certain emotions in us and make us care about their fates. This is like one of Spike Lee's better films: an issues movie that will prompt discussion and debate about its significance. "Parasite" has been nominated for several Oscars, and deservedly so. It's going up against some stiff competition at the Academy Awards, and South Korea will go absolutely nuts if "Parasite" wins Best Picture and Best Director, but it may be enough for the movie to have been nominated for these awards. Let me back up a bit and say that, while I've compared Bong Joon-ho to directors like Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee, Bong is definitely his own man, with his own style and his own agenda. He is certainly someone to respect for the focus and surety of his artistic vision. "Parasite" is a lovingly crafted movie that marries comedy and tragedy, hope and desolation. It paints a picture of complex, even garbled, morality: who are the bad guys, and who are the good guys? If, like me, you disagree with the movie's Marxist thrust, I would urge you nevertheless to appreciate the movie's depth, its artistry, and the earnestness of its intent.



*In Korean tradition, the wife doesn't take the husband's surname when she and he marry. So Mrs. Park is part of the Kim family, but she's still a Park.

**Certain downtrodden people in Korea refer to their country as "hell Joseon," using the old dynastic name for the region. Trapped in office jobs and the drudgery of modern city life, earning barely enough while swimming in debt, these sad souls see their futile daily struggles as a form of hell. College students graduate into a crowded, hopeless marketplace, and they despair of finding decent work. Whatever "the Korean dream" might be, these people fail to see it, which is one reason why there is a steady trickle of Koreans who leave Korea forever to seek their fortune in other countries. My own take is that hell is inside your head, and you are an active participant in the fashioning of your own fate. See the following footnote.

***Post-WW2 French existentialism is, arguably, a bright light in the midst of all the postwar European gloominess. True: the existentialism of Sartre and Camus preached that the universe is ultimately absurd, but this philosophy also strongly affirmed that we are the sum of our own choices, and it's up to us to carve meaning out of the absurd cosmos if meaning is what we crave. That's a positive message, in my opinion.

****The English subtitles translate this as "so metaphorical!" Sangjing means "symbol"; a metaphor is a biyu.



trying out the Headbanger's Kitchen keto microwave bread

Microwave bread, done in a mug, produces a soft, crustless result. That's good for me: the last two keto breads have had annoying crusts. Watch the Headbanger's Kitchen video below:


My one concern was that I'd be back to eating an eggy bread, given the small, mug-sized volume being produced. For what it's worth, here are my results:




As you can see, the bread did come out yellow, which indicates the extent to which the egg dominates the recipe. The baking powder probably didn't help much at all with the rising of the bread, which also smelled strongly of egg the moment it came out of the microwave. So we're back to eggy bread-that-isn't-bread. The almond flour does make the food a bit bready, but not by much. In terms of taste: very eggy. Somewhat disappointing.

The moral of the story is that I'm probably going to have to use a keto-bread recipe with yeast in it if I want something approaching real, true bread. Such recipes do call for a tiny spot of actual sugar (it's the only way to feed the yeast), but that sugar, once distributed over the entirety of the loaf/buns, is negligible for people who are counting carbs.

I may have shown this before, so pardon me if I'm repeating myself, but here's a recipe for keto bread that incorporates yeast and looks plausibly like actual bread:


Stand mixers—shown in the above video as an essential part of the bread-making process—cost a couple hundred bucks at the local Costco. Can I afford one of those? I might just have to commit myself to a life of breadlessness for the next little while. In the meantime, the above eggy bread isn't a total loss: I can make keto-friendly avocado sandwiches with them.



yes: I can find Iran on an unlabeled map

According to this article, only 28% of registered US voters can find Iran on an unlabeled map of that region of the world. Too bad the surveyors didn't consult me; I could have helped to bump that percentage up ever so slightly. Admittedly, my knowledge of Middle Eastern geography is generally terrible, but I can point out the locations of the major players.

Demographically speaking, men did better than women on the survey: 38% of men versus 20% of women being able to pinpoint Iran correctly. People in the age brackets of 55-and-up and 18-29 did the best, at 29%. Republicans did slightly better than Democrats (28% to 27%), but Independents did the best (31%). People with college degrees did significantly better than people without them (38% to 24%).

But however you break down the data, it's obvious that Americans remain poor at geography—something that's been true for ages. Taken as a whole, we're a provincial, navel-gazing folk with little interest in what happens outside our borders, and it may even be safe to say that Americans who do take an interest in foreign affairs still have little notion of world geography. I've always been horrible at geography; I learn about places by visiting them, which is why I'm good at Western European geography and a big zero when it comes to Eastern Europe, Central and South America, most of the African continent, and parts of Asia. Don't even talk to me about oceanic islands.

But I can find Iran on an unlabeled map.



Saturday, January 18, 2020

leaving the orifice now

I just spent four hours at the office, and now I'm leaving to take a walk out to the Jamshil Bridge and back to my place. All told, that ought to be nearly four hours' schlepping, and thanks to MyFitnessPal, I know that I'll end the day with about a 1200-calorie deficit.

We got word from on high that all of our computers will be reformatted and given spanking-new Windows 10 operating systems: Microsoft is apparently no longer supporting Windows 7, so we're getting Windows 10, which actually came out in 2015—five years ago. Whatever happened to Windows 8 and 9? What's up with the stupid and random numbering? Wasn't there a Windows XP a while back? Where on the number line is XP? The answers to all these questions are here. Now you know. And so do I.

Anyway, we were told to back up all of the files currently on our computers because, with the change in OS, everything on our computers would be wiped. I spent W32,900 on a 64-gigabyte thumb drive yesterday, and I successfully downloaded all my desktop data to the drive, but when I got greedy and also tried to copy over all the precious data in a Dropbox storage area that I used to use until a year ago, my computer started to go haywire. I'm guessing that, among the Dropbox files, we've got at least one corrupted file, and that's the cause of all the problems.

So, last night, I wasn't able to download anything from Dropbox, and I had effectively rendered my new thumb drive utterly useless. Nearly 33,000 won down the drain. The drive, every time I plugged it back into my office desktop, sent the desktop into conniptions and seizures. Ripping the USB out of its socket made the computer calm down at once. Go figure. I tried taking the thumb drive home to my MacBook Air and reformatting it to the standard "FAT" format used by most USB drives—my Mac can normally do such reformatting—but no dice: reformatting didn't work, and even simply trying to erase the data on the drive was impossible. So what else could I do? I threw the ruined drive out and resolved to buy a second thumb drive, this time with the intention of only downloading my desktop data. Dropbox is a minefield, so I'm happy to leave it alone.

At the same time, losing Dropbox is a significant thing: thanks to poor recordkeeping, my former boss and I no longer have the login and password information for the Dropbox I used to periodically access. Who owns and pays for the use of that Dropbox space is anyone's guess, and in a large company like mine, it's easy for paperwork to blow away in the breeze if you're not careful with it. Upshot: once I lose access to this particular Dropbox space, I'll never be able to get back into it. That thought is what had originally prompted me to try downloading Dropbox onto my thumb drive. That didn't work, thanks to corrupted files, so here we are. My ex-boss will be the only one with access to that Dropbox account (he'd better not log out—ever), and I'll lose all access. I sort of knew this day was coming; over the years, we had tried to find the relevant login/password information, but without success. I actually have a significant chunk of the Dropbox files in cloud storage on my Google Drive account (as a favor to my ex-boss, who needed to access the data while he was in Vietnam), so if my boss and I somehow lose all access to Dropbox, the loss won't be a total tragedy.

So I came into the office today to download my desktop files and catch up on a proofreading assignment that I'd been given. Four hours later, I'm good to go. So now, it's time for a dang walk. Stay sane, have a good Saturday, and use some armpit deodorant for once.



O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave...

So the Iranian government, in an attempt to insult the US and Israel, has been painting US and Israeli flags on the ground and on staircases in high-traffic areas as a way to get the Iranian people involved in stomping on those horrible satanic symbols. And the Iranian people have responded... by doing their best to avoid treading on other countries' national emblems. Here's an excerpt from the relevant article, which comes via Instapundit:

Probably the most overlooked aspect of the “flags on the sidewalk” phenomenon in Iran is that, as the regime paints those flags everywhere, hoping Iranians will step on them, it is basically symbolizing its – the regime’s – effective “occupation” by its obsession with the Great Satan and the Little Satan.

Not focusing on that point is as it should be, of course. The nobility and honor of Iranians who refuse to tread on the foreign flags are what is most important. Americans and Israelis are awed to see such courageous signs of goodwill and respect. I know I speak for many when I say we wish we had more direct ways to convey our reciprocal admiration and support to the Iranian people.

[...]

There was a time – call it two weeks ago – when no one would have imagined the Iranian regime painting its territory over with the flags of the United States and Israel. Step back for a moment from the regime’s intent, which is to induce people to trample on the painted flags. What the regime is actually doing is obsessively painting those flags everywhere – on its own territory.

Who is living rent-free in whose head? Who is “occupying” whom?

[...]

The mullahs can’t even play it cool. A choleric religious leader railed at Iranians in an address on the topic, proclaiming that students who refuse to walk on the foreign flags should be killed, as agents of the U.S. and Israel.

Scott Fisher, in his 2006 book Axis of Evil World Tour, wrote about how regular Iranians are genuinely confused when confronted with the idea that America is the enemy. Most of the "Death to America!" chanting is coming from theocrat-favoring partisans and rich, overprivileged elites. If we could design a bomb that would Thanos-dust just those sorry individuals, Iran's problems—its diplomatic/geopolitical ones, anyway—would be solved. In the meantime, it's important for us Yanks to remember that regular Iranians aren't the enemy, just as regular North Koreans shouldn't be mistaken for their vicious government.



Shoe takes on Elizabeth Warren

As Styx has repeatedly noted, Elizabeth Warren is little more than a liar who has cashed in on her supposed ethnicity, and who has pretended to run a grass-roots campaign despite having received tons of filthy lucre in the form of corporate sponsorships. Liberal YouTube personality Shoe0nHead (real name: June) now has a video up in which she excoriates Warren for her scurrilous attempts at taking down Bernie Sanders:






"When seconds count, the police are minutes away."


Funny how some on the left say we don't need firearms because "that's what the police are for." Then these same leftists turn around and chant, "Fuck da' poh-leese!" Great self-consistency, there, guys.



"but (as) for me": the Googlefight

When you place a Google search term inside quotation marks, you can search for that exact phrase. This isn't an ironclad guarantee that all your search results will, in fact, contain that exact phrase, but over 90% of your search results ought to contain it.

In an earlier post, I noted that "but for me" beat out the search results for "but as for me" by a large margin. While I was walking home tonight, it occurred to me that I might want to search for a more precise locution: "but for me, I," as opposed to "but as for me, I." (This is because the complaint against my diction seems to be that, if you use "but [as] for me," the ensuing clause should not begin with "I" because it's somehow redundant.) So, putting those two phrases in quotes, I did two searches, and here are the results:

but as for me, I: approx. 22,500,000 results
but for me, I: approx. 71,900,000 results

So I ask you: which locution gets more use? And the one that gets more use—that's the more awkward locution? I think not. You might respond, "Well, ain't isn't a proper locution, either. Millions of people use it, but that doesn't make it right." My response: that's a prescriptivist talking. Ain't is perfectly fine, perfectly legitimate, in informal speech; there's no need to correct someone who's speaking less than formally. I've argued the same thing about "but for me" versus "but as for me": the latter locution is more formal, not more correct. I've committed no grammatical sin by writing in a less-than-formal register. If you've read enough of my movie reviews, you know perfectly well that I don't normally write them in a formal, stilted, scholarly voice.

Once again, I find myself in the position of the pluralist who is simply saying that more than one perspective is possible. My interlocutor, as often seems to happen, is taking the closed-minded, nonpluralistic stance that no, only one perspective is the correct one. This happens a lot on this blog: a commenter tells me I'm wrong when I'm not wrong; the commenter offers his own perspective, and I acknowledge that his perspective has merit; the commenter fails to do me the same courtesy, insisting on his own way and not crediting me with the intelligence to know what I'm doing. I give respect; I get none in return. Yes, this happens a lot. Do I have "KICK ME" stenciled on my forehead?*

Anyway, the preponderance of the evidence is in my favor. There's little point in pursuing the matter further, but I'll leave off with some example sentences and fragments collected from the Google search results for "but for me, I...":

"But for me, I will wait on Jehovah..." (Micah 7:7)
"But for me, I am one with my God..." (inspired by Psalm 73:28)**
"But for me, I knew that if I had a baby, I would have to take care of that baby..." (Stevie Nicks)
"Today is Thanksgiving...but for me[,] I give thanks every single day..." (seen on Facebook)
"Great article, but for me[,] I must say I pride myself on being an SJW, my weapons being words and education." (Medium.com)
"But for me...I [don't] wanna go to no dance unless I can rub some tit...." (seen on Reddit)
"It's probably both, but for me, I follow a pretty non-political group of people..." (ycombinator.com)

Thousands, millions more examples along these lines. Prescriptivists say, "Rules win." Descriptivists, who are really crypto-prescriptivists, say, "Usage wins." All I'm arguing is that my own usage is possible and therefore correct. It's a defensive argument, not a counterattack in which I say my interlocutor is wrong. As I mentioned at the outset, his rephrasing of my text is not wrong. All I reject is that it's somehow a needed correction.

I'd like to go a whole month without having to defend myself from unnecessary "corrections."



*If I were so inclined, I suppose I could visit the blogs of writers whose literary prowess I respect and nitpick them for their errors, of which there are often many. But I don't do this. Why? Because I extend them the professional courtesy they really ought to extend to me, i.e., I recognize that most of what they write is damn near picture perfect, and if people of that caliber make a mistake, it's not worth mentioning. I can tell that others don't share this view, though, which is why they feel free to arrive at my foyer with "corrections."

**Different English versions of the actual biblical verse render this variously as "But as for me" and "But for me," so take your pick. See? I'm a pluralist.



Friday, January 17, 2020

the pros review "Dolittle"

Jeremy Jahns doesn't hold back:


And here's Chris Stuckmann's unvarnished opinion:


Ouch, baby. Very ouch.



keto burgers: qu'est-ce que c'est?

I left my keto burger buns in a Ziploc bag overnight, knowing that this would have the effect of softening the bread's impossibly hard crust. Sometime after midnight last night (so I guess, technically, very early this morning), I took the buns out and slathered them with mayo (bottom half of each bun) and homemade fromage à l'ail et aux fines herbes (top half of each bun). I layered pickles on the bottom halves of the buns, then microwaved two frozen, pre-cooked burger patties and two strips of thick-cut bacon until crispy. The result is below:


Visually, the assembled burgers didn't look that bad. Taste-wise, they weren't that bad, either, although I knew I was in violation of the "don't eat late at night" rule of thumb (there's apparently some disagreement as to whether eating just before sleeping is actually bad for you). The problem was the consistency of the bread, which proved to be way, way too heavy for hamburger buns. Conclusion: this bread recipe is fine for making dense loaves that you can slice thinly, the way Joe Duff does in his recipe video, but it's no good at all as a replacement for light, fluffy hamburger buns. Getting through those burgers last night was an actual chore, even for a big, high-stomach-capacity guy like me.

So the upshot is that I actually kind of like the fathead-dough recipe, but I now know that it was never meant for anything remotely like thick-breaded sandwiches. I could, in theory, use the bread to make crostinis and things like that (in fact, I'm already visualizing a lox-and-cream-cheese scenario), but as for hamburgers... never again. I need to find a light and fluffy keto-dough recipe, and I think I've already seen several that actually use yeast and involve proofing, which leads to a puffier texture. The problem is that this will mean buying yet more esoteric ingredients like chia seeds and so on. I already have psyllium-husk powder, which some of the recipes use. I could also continue to use this recipe, but I'd have to shape the bread into something substantially thinner. Another possibility is that I can experiment with the current recipe in an attempt to find a lighter, fluffier version of it, but I don't know how a recipe that's so cheese-heavy can be made less dense. Most likely, I'll switch recipes and go with a yeast-y alternative. More on this as it happens.