Monday, October 24, 2016

a ship with no captain

The boss is in the States for two weeks, so my coworker and I have the corner office to ourselves. We both have projects that will take us at least two weeks to complete, so there's no lack of work. Still, the office will be strangely empty without the boss, who has a larger-than-life personality. Before he left, he told me that I would become the liaison between our company and the book-designer we work with; I said that I hoped the designer would forgive my ability to understand only 30% of whatever he said to me.

Hopefully, nothing big will come up, and the boss has said he'll be checking in periodically via email and Kakao Talk audio chat. Meanwhile, we're on autopilot here, just winging our way through our assignments.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

my first animated GIF in a while!

From the day I updated Photoshop Elements to version 14 up until about two days ago, I hadn't done any animated-GIF comics, which is a shame, as I'm strangely proud of my twisted work. Elements 13 had a glitch that prevented me from animating anything; by the time I updated to 14, I had pretty much given up on—forgotten about—animation. Yesterday, however, I got it into my head to create an animated comic strip in the spirit of the strips I've done in the past (see above link), but since this strip is election-related, I won't be releasing it until around Election Day. Technically, I'll be breaking my promise not to post any election-related commentary until after November 8 (I've scheduled this post for the 7th), but my readers are a forgiving lot when they're not busy tearing into each other like animals.

So stay tuned! A new animated strip is on its way!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

good riddance

Legacy media continue to die.

back from the doc

I'm at the office, putting in some extra time before I head off to a late lunch. My boss is leaving for the States on Monday, and he'll be gone for two weeks. I'm working on one of his projects, and he'd like it mostly or wholly done before he gets back, which is why I'm putting in some more time right now.

Before coming to the office, I visited Doctor Ripfinger this morning for my now-monthly routine. The internal-medicine office is in a different part of the same building that I work in. The doc, less talkative today than usual, didn't think my numbers were bad; blood pressure is good, but blood sugar is a bit higher than last month. It's not enough to concern the doc. I once again left a urine sample in a paper cup, for which there was again no comment. I wonder whether the doc and his staff make popsicles out of the samples.

Next month is the big checkup; I've been told I'm to get an extra HbA1c test every three months; unlike the quickie blood-sugar test, this test is supposed to give a reading that is your average level of blood sugar for at least a month, which means this number offers a better big-picture view of what's going on, as opposed to the quickie test, whose numbers can fluctuate wildly over the course of a single day.

Off to lunch soon.

Friday, October 21, 2016


Two movie-preview trailers have caught my eye: "Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2" and "Logan." Both advertise sequels; "Guardians" picks up where the first movie left off; "Logan" is apparently the followup to "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and "The Wolverine."

"Guardians" looks good, although the trailer doesn't inspire anywhere near the level of laughter and curiosity that the first trailer inspired. These characters are known to us, now, so any novelty is gone, and it's a question of what new adventures they'll be going on. "Hooked on a Feeling" again serves as the background; we also get a glimpse of Baby Groot, sitting on Rocket Raccoon's shoulder (a reversal of how things were in the previous movie, as one online nerd pointed out). Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) are apparently on the outs; the trailer shows big, brawny Drax (Dave Bautista) trying to comfort Quill by telling him to find a woman who is just as pathetic as he is. The humor is more understated this time around, but I still liked the trailer for the glimpse it gives us of the Guardians (whose number will now include Yondu [Michael Rooker] and Gamora's "sister" Nebula [Karen Gillian]—strange bedfellows, indeed, at least in Nebula's case) and their interpersonal interactions.

When I saw that a trailer for "Logan" was out, I rolled my eyes. Marvel has obsessed over giving the character of Logan/Wolverine his own film; he's already had several devoted to him, none of which was outstanding. "Another goddamn Wolverine movie?" I thought. This newest movie, however, takes inspiration from the "Old Man Logan" storyline in the super-diverse X-Men comics timeline; in it, Logan (Hugh Jackman) seems to be losing his self-regeneration powers, and Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), the world's most powerful psychic, is apparently now suffering from Alzheimer's.

I felt a pang: this was a painful reminder that DC Comics has failed to make a similar film for Frank Miller's version of Batman, who appears as a 55-year-old in the 1980s-era The Dark Knight Returns. Christopher Nolan's dark and grim Batman movies borrowed scenes and tropes from Frank Miller's now-classic graphic novel; the recent megaturd "Batman v. Superman" (review) also borrowed from Miller—rather heavily, in fact. "Logan" acknowledges that the actors Jackman and Stewart are both much older now; age is obviously going to be a major theme, and from what I understand, this movie is to be Hugh Jackman's final outing as Logan/Wolverine. Based on the trailer, it appears that Logan will be paired up with a young girl—another inadvertent reminder of The Dark Knight Returns, in which Batman's new Robin is also a young girl. That said, the trailer looked a hell of a lot better than I thought it would, so now I'm pumped to see "Logan," which comes out early next year.

"Guardians" comes out next May. Marvel is also releasing two other films in 2017: "Spider-Man: Homecoming" in July (starring the very bouncy, irrepressible Tom Holland), and "Thor: Ragnarok" in November (starring the reliably charming Chris Hemsworth). I can't say I'm a fan of the Thor movies; although he's a likable character in the Avengers films, the Thor-centered films leave me unsatisfied, mainly because nothing about the Asgardian realm really makes sense. Even though the "magic" of Asgard is explained as a sort of alternate-universe "science," it still feels like magic to me. The second Thor movie, "Thor: The Dark World," featured archaic weaponry like swords and war hammers (Mjolnir) as well as energy rifles and spacecraft. Didn't make sense, especially with everyone dressed up in ridiculous capes and armor as if they were about to sing opera.

I'll be looking forward to "Guardians," "Logan," and "Spider-Man," at least.

Below is an exquisitely cute bit of fan art that I found. Some guy named "Flick," back in 2012, did this pencil-art rendering of Frank Miller's Batman and Robin—55-year-old Bruce Wayne, hoary and gruff, with little teen Carrie Kelley. The art reflects the sexual subtext that I saw when I read the original story: Carrie has known about the Batman for a while; she idolizes and adores him, and despite their wide age gap, it's plain that she, at least, may be in love with old Bruce. Nothing like this scene occurs in Frank Miller's story, but there is one moment when Carrie, upon seeing Bruce back on his feet after having been brutally beaten by the Mutant Leader, ecstatically throws herself at the older man—who is naked at the time—embracing him fervidly and unselfconsciously. The gesture is simultaneously childlike and brimming with seductive adult promise. Such a relationship would, of course, be impossible (not to mention pervy), but the swirling amorous subtext will not be ignored.

UPDATE: I found a snap of Frank Miller's "hug inside the cave" scene. How naughty the scene is probably depends on how naughty your own mind is, but artist Flick and I both read some sort of sexual subtext into Batman and Robin's relationship (something that many fans have half-jokingly speculated about back when Robin was male). Anyway, here's the pic:

Thursday, October 20, 2016

shall I walk out to the Han tonight?

And now for something completely different: a change in direction!

When I hit the Yangjae-cheon creekside trail from my office, I always break right in order to follow the trail toward Gwacheon. If I were to break left, I would hit another watercourse, the Tan-cheon, which leads to the Han River. Unlike my friend John McCrarey, I've never walked all the way to the Han before, so tonight might be the night I do something new.

UPDATE: my intestines are vetoing a long walk. Didn't poop all day, which isn't normal. I have to go back to my place and hover close to a terlit, I think.

postmortem of the third presidential debate

This will be my final election-related post because I'm just so goddamn sick of writing about fucking politics. You need to understand my history: I've always hated politics, but when we attacked Iraq in 2003, I found myself on one side of the debate over the war, with two of my best friends on the other side (they were pro; I was con, and I think I've been proven right). Our email exchanges—now lost to the mists of time, for me at least—ranged up and down many different aspects of history, politics, and culture. I'm thankful to have gone through that wringer: it helped me flesh out, in some measure, my own political views, and it made me realize that politics is an essential part of social reality. It can't be dismissed or denied, and however cynical I might become about politics, politicians, and notions of government, these issues won't simply disappear just because I'm ignoring them.

I like to think of myself as a moderate and a centrist. My friends and acquaintances to the left of me will scoff and reply that I'm an obvious rightie. My friends to the right of me, meanwhile, will think I'm more of a leftie than I'm letting on. In terms of social policy and cultural mores, I'd call myself a fairly open leftist (and as a religious pluralist, I'm way to the left, religiously speaking). Having acted as the officiant at my gay brother's marriage, I'm obviously fine with gay marriage, and my openness extends to a whole panoply of attitudes relating to sexual behavior and, yes, bathroom behavior. None of that offends me, and if more people out themselves as somehow ambisexual or omnisexual or whatever—if future nanotech and bioengineering allow us to create more sexes than our current two-ish—I'll be ready for that, and will welcome the variety being expressed. I agree with the left when it targets many perceived social problems and injustices: homelessness, racism, etc. These problems do still exist and shouldn't be ignored.

Where I part ways with the left, however, is in focusing on government as the vehicle for salvation. Conservatives are, I feel, correct when they view government as, at best, a blunt instrument that tends to ruin more than repair. Solutions to various ills really ought to arise locally, from the people who understand the problem best. Imposing top-down measures is often the worst way to go about changing society. The American Civil War is a classic example: the British managed to abolish slavery through the civilized (okay, sometimes heated) discussion of elected representatives after an anti-slavery movement that began from the ground up. In the States, a top-down attempt at abolishing slavery eventually proved successful, but only after a tragically bloody war. My point is: I lean very much to the right when it comes to my vision of government's role in citizens' lives. I'm also an economic conservative: high taxes generally stifle growth (the US has some of the worst corporate tax rates in the world), and governments should never spend beyond their means—the sort of common sense that abides in middle-income families who live on budgets, but seems to escape the US Congress, which is averse to holding itself to a strict budget.

It's taken years and a good bit of introspection to have arrived at the above positions. I admit that, as I get older, I'm may be trending further rightward in some ways, but as my recent Political Compass results seem to show, I'm still generally centrist.

Of course, nowadays, the game seems to have shifted. Thanks in part to blog commenters and my online reading, I've been made aware that a new distinction seems to be overtaking the old left/right paradigm: these days, it seems to be more about globalism versus nationalism.

In some ways, the new paradigm is a reflection of the old: globalism, for example, has more than a whiff of what some conservatives used to call transnational progressivism, an open-borders attitude that sees nation-states coalescing into huge entities governed by trans-national authorities. This is basically what the European Union is: an incarnation of transnational progressivism, where EU countries enjoy a diminished sovereignty and are governed by unelected representatives based in Brussels.

The recent Brexit is an example of nationalism: an attempt to reclaim one's full sovereignty while still nurturing international ties. Where globalism/nationalism fails to map onto the old left/right paradigm, at least from what I can see, is in the matter of international trade. US conservatives have traditionally been pro-trade, which is consistent with the right's generally pro-free-market spirit. Nationalism, by contrast, prioritizes one's own country and workers, and international trade is viewed as a means by which rich elites benefit, with little trickling down to the general masses. Trump's emphasis on a new protectionism, and the potential for trade wars as a result of his attitude, is a reflection of this new nationalism that is replacing modern conservatism.

My own opinion reflects the more classically conservative pro-trade view. I'm not sure how many jobs Trump thinks he can create with his focus on US workers, especially when you consider the rise of job-killing forces like automation, which is how some bosses are solving the problem of being forced to pay higher minimum wages: cut down on the number of employees and install unpaid robots. More and more work can be done by machines these days; an entirely automated manufacturing plant (or restaurant, etc.) is no longer inconceivable. Imagine an industrial sector with no foremen, no unions, no workers at all. White-collar jobs requiring cognitive ability and emotional intelligence will still be available for the educated and the psychologically stable; meanwhile, brute labor will become the province of machines. Some of this might begin to happen on President Trump's (or President Clinton's) watch, if it's not already happening now.

So that's a historical overview of my politics. I admit it's a mess; I don't doubt that some or many of my views, when teased out, might lead to self-contradiction. Like you, I'm merely a work in progress; keep that in mind before you flay me for not being left enough, right enough, nationalist enough, or globalist enough.

Now—on to the debate.

Once again, I refused to watch the actual follies, but indications are that this third debate, staged in Las Vegas and moderated by conservative Chris Wallace, was more whimper than bang. Rightie pundit Stephen Green seems to be calling the debate slightly in favor of Hillary:

I hesitate to draw any broad conclusions from this final debate until we see some viewership figures -- were enough people watching to make a difference, and did enough of them spot Trump the points he needed on those topics when you kinda knew what he meant to say, but never quite did say?

And just as importantly: Did Clinton manage to escape the Wikileaks/Veritas traps?

I'd say "Yes" to the latter and "We'll have to wait and see" to the former.

My suspicions appear to be confirmed: this debate, relatively bland as it was, probably won't move any needles. One of my liberal friends on Twitter agreed with my observation and crowed that this means a Clinton landslide is nigh, given the mainstream polling, almost all of which has favored Clinton for a long while. Your mileage will, of course, vary; I've already written about the wildly different doxastic practices in play this election cycle. You may read completely different signs and come to a completely different conclusion, but in the end, one worldview will be roundly proven right, and the other will be proven wrong.

The Drudge Report's snap poll shows, of course, a Trump victory, but it's surprisingly limp if we take into account how rightward-stacked the Drudge poll is: as of this writing, the poll shows 74-26 in favor of Trump, not the usual 97-3 or 90-10 spread. I conclude that the general feeling among poll-takers is as lackluster as was the debate itself.

Trump will, apparently, be crucified for at least two things he said: the phrase "bad hombres" to describe a subset of Mexican immigrants, and his apparent refusal to say that he would accept the election results. (This 1990-era PDF shows some of the options available to people who legally contest the results of an election. Keep in mind that the info is 2.6 decades old.) As for Trump and his racism, Scott Adams, in an old blog post, comments on how confirmation bias kicks in to justify entrenched notions. And in his most recent post, he writes:

And I’m here to tell you that if you are afraid that Donald Trump is a racist/sexist clown with a dangerous temperament, you have been brainwashed by the best group of brainwashers in the business right now: Team Clinton. They have cognitive psychologists such as Godzilla advising them. Allegedly.

Both of Adams's posts are worth reading.

The right-leaning Daily Caller has articles on how moderator Chris Wallace grilled Clinton on her foundation's pay-to-play scheme and on how Trump won the third debate, according to "the internet."

The Washington Post's screamer headline right now is, "Trump refuses to say whether he’ll accept election results." Another article says Trump started strongly, then made a "killer mistake." Given the leftward lean of most mainstream media, more articles similar to the Post's are undoubtedly being churned out right at this moment.

I will doubtless update this post several times as I keep on reading, but to reiterate my two takeaways: (1) this was a milquetoast debate, all in all; surprisingly little blood was spilled; (2) this debate shifted almost no one's opinions.

And that's all. This post is my final election-related piece. I won't write anything more about politics until after November 8, when three hundred million of us will all be in a post-coital stupor. As for how I'll be voting—I hope I've made it clear that I find neither candidate savory. Based on what I hear from both the righties and the lefties, one candidate is obviously better than the other, but since both sides are saying the same thing, I have little reason to trust either side. My solution to this is to abstain from voting this time around. I don't want to be part of a process that puts either of these two jokers into power. And I wrote, twelve years ago, in response to the accusation that not voting means you have no right to complain, which is arrant nonsense. I suppose I could take the time to write in my own candidates, but there's zero chance they'd be elected.

I'm just gonna go Taoist and ride this out.

UPDATE: the conservative National Review, no friend of Trump, has the following articles:

1. "Trump's Best Debate So Far... And His Worst"
2. "Tonight's Debate Perfectly Summed Up the State of the Race"
3. "No, Trump Didn't Get It Done Tonight"

The Huffington Post, meanwhile, is all but calling Donald Trump a traitor.
1. "Donald Trump Just Disqualified Himself from the Presidency"
2. "Unfit for Any Office in the United States"
3. "A Statement of Disloyalty Without Precedent"
etc., etc.

UPDATE 2: Styx calls the debate 60-40 for Trump; he found Trump to be more "measured" than he had been during his previous debates, albeit still "a little unhinged" in his speaking style. Trump "did what he had to do" in this third debate, although Styx thinks that Trump did miss several opportunities to unload on Hillary. Styx notes with approval that Hillary "didn't get softballed" during this debate, primarily because Fox is a rightie network, and moderator Chris Wallace is an acolyte of Fox.

UPDATE 3: Scott Adams scores the third debate very marginally for Clinton.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

final debate

Assuming Hillary Clinton has chosen not to follow Obama aide David Axelrod's advice to skip the third presidential debate,* the debate is still on and will air Wednesday evening, Nevada time. I'll catch the bloody, shredded-fetus aftermath Thursday morning, Korea time.

The third debate will take place in Las Vegas, and I can't imagine a more appropriately sleazy venue for a campaign with a record-breaking amount of sleaze sticking to it. This debate will also be moderated by Chris Wallace, a conservative Fox News commentator. Trump is, in a manner of speaking, on his home turf in Vegas, a city in which he has deep business roots (Trump International Hotel, etc.), but the debate won't be held among the casinos: it will take place at the slightly more staid University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Thomas & Mack Center.

With the election having reached a fever pitch, I find it highly doubtful that any needles will be moved by whatever happens during this final exchange between two unsavory candidates. Commitments have crystallized, and for the uncommitted: when it's kaiju versus kaiju, there's no one to root for.

Just a heads-up: talking about this election has been a massive headache for me. My post-debate commentary will probably be the last thing I write about Election 2016, after which I leave everything in the hands of the gods—as everything has always been, really.

My final thought for this post is to reiterate that we really do have two utterly different worldviews, two utterly different doxastic practices (to borrow a philo term that means, approximately, "how we form our beliefs") at work this election cycle. One worldview hews to the mainstream, relying on poll aggregators like Real Clear Politics; evolving-forecast sites like Nate Silver's 538; and various legacy-media outlets like CNN, MSNBC, ABC/NBC/CBS, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and so on. The other worldview subsists mostly online and has nothing whatsoever to do with print media. This is the demimonde of YouTube commentators like Styxhexenhammer666, computer-savvy folks like Wikileaks, undercover documentarians like James O'Keefe, and shadowy sources like Anonymous.** King Baeksu, on this blog, has called Trump "the internet candidate," so the question is the degree to which internet-based discourse has superseded more conventional/traditional forms of public discourse. Are the legacy media really dead? If the internet is indeed influencing people in ways that the mainstream is blind to, then surveys like this Arizona Freedom Alliance poll are not merely wishful thinking: they're truer reflections of reality than what's being produced by the mainstream. Or they're not. One worldview is going to be proven decisively wrong on November 8. Will it be egg on the face of the legacy media? Will Styx be shown to be a reality-denying Baghdad Bob? All will be revealed in just a few weeks.***

UPDATE: an excerpt from Scott Adams's latest:

I’m here to tell you that if you are afraid that Donald Trump is a racist/sexist clown with a dangerous temperament, you have been brainwashed by the best group of brainwashers in the business right now: Team Clinton.

Go read the rest to understand his argument before responding. Meanwhile, this gentleman says Trump "doesn't have a racist bone in his body."

UPDATE 2: as with Brexit, betting patterns seem to be skewing Trumpward.

UPDATE 3: in case you failed to click the link I left above to Malcolm's blog, here's an excerpt from Malcolm's leftie frenemy Peter, who goes by the moniker "The One-eyed Man" on Malcolm's comment threads:

James O’Keefe? You’re kidding me, right? Was Alex Jones unavailable?

Here in the reality-based community, we rely on “facts” and “evidence” to create reasoned argument. In the la-la land of the right wing bubble – where global warming stopped back in the 1990’s, the President is not an American, and non-existent Muslims celebrated 9/11 – facts and evidence are in short supply, so the work of convicted fraudsters like O’Keefe will have to do.

Trump’s claims of a rigged election are horseshit. The fact that an election which hasn’t occurred cannot possibly have been rigged, combined with his complete lack of evidence, does not deter the credulous Trumpen proletariat from insisting on absurdities which no thinking person would dare conceive.

Trump is groping for a solution to his dismal and disgusting campaign, and has gone full Breitbart with lurid tales of international conspiracies and heinous plots. Those who view O’Keefe, Daily Caller, and Drudge as credible sources of news will swallow this whole. Those who are capable of observation and ratiocination recognize it for what it is: the whiny excuses of a small man who knows he is heading for a crushing defeat.

To a girl, no less.

So as per usual, both sides are calling each other stupid.

Peter has more to say here.

UPDATE 4: Malcolm has written a heartfelt post here. He spends a few column-inches hammering away at notions of "diversity," "inclusiveness," and "multiculturalism." I think his concerns are valid, to some extent, but his extreme formulation of "diversity + proximity = war" seems to paper over the idea that some diversity is not only desirable but essential for a country to be strong. Lack of diversity leads to situations like that on the Korean peninsula, where the ethnic/racial echo chamber reigns.

My own attitude toward diversity is Buddhist in flavor: it's neither inherently good nor inherently bad. There can indeed be too much diversity, but it should be obvious that a certain measure of it, in any country's culture, is salubrious because it exposes people to other points of view that can then inform a larger view of the world. I have to wonder, in practical terms, just how far back Malcolm would care to roll America's diversity. Where does one stop? If we roll it back far enough, all we'll have left will be American Indians, and theoretically, we could roll back even further until there's no one at all.

Obviously, Malcolm isn't advocating anything as horrifying as ethnic cleansing, but I can't get a lock on what, exactly, Malcolm is advocating. How much diversity is enough? How much is too much? Are un-diverse countries (Korea, Scandinavia for the next little while) really a model to follow? As a resident of Korea, I see the pathologies of un-diversity up close.

*The idea was to skip the debate as a protest against the "depths" to which Trump has "sunk" in floating the prospect of drug-testing both him and Hillary Clinton before they take the debate stage, just so the public can know what chemicals are coursing through Hillary's veins. Trump's reasoning was, apparently, that what he and Hillary are doing is akin to what athletes do, and if athletes get drug-tested, then by parity of reasoning, presidential candidates ought to be drug-tested, too. I'd have found this argument more convincing had Trump made it before the first debate, but this is obviously an ad hoc, trash-talking tactic that's meant to rattle, or at least annoy, the Hillary camp.

**Strangely, we might also include Facebook in this list if this article holds any water: Facebook has apparently seen record levels of pro-Trump activity.

***Of course, whichever worldview turns out to be the loser will do what it can to save face through various justifications, which will likely revolve around election-rigging, which seems to be a rich topic of discussion right about now.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

pumped for new movies

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that "Dr. Strange," the Marvel Cinematic Universe's latest outing, is a late-October release, not a November movie. "Strange" hits Korean cinemas next week, on October 26. That same day, the Laika animated film "Kubo and the Two Strings" finally comes out in Korea, despite having been released months ago in the States. My worry is that "Kubo," being a Japanese tale, has been somehow reworked in the way that "Big Hero 6" was reworked for the Korean market. The long delay in the release date has made me wary.

Be that as it may, I look forward to hitting both movies sometime next week. The only other movies I'm looking forward to seeing this year are "Arrival," about which I'm hearing good advance word (11/11 release in the States), and "Rogue One" (12/16 US release), which is something of a goes-without-saying film for anyone who's any sort of Star Wars fan. I'm expecting more blasters than sabers in "Rogue One"; Donnie Yen apparently plays some sort of non-Jedi Jedi, and Darth Vader, who has been arguably over-teased in the preview trailers, is more of a tantalizing background presence than a main character.

Much to look forward to.

Monday, October 17, 2016


[NB: for an entertaining disquisition on the slang term "butthurt," go visit Charles's site. In this blog post, I'm talking specifically about my butt, which hurts.]

It's the end of the day, and my ass hurts. As I wrote earlier, I slipped and fell on my left hip and right hand this morning. There was no pain for a while, but over the course of the day, there's been enough of an ache to warrant some aspirin. It's still not major; the ache is more annoying than actually painful, and it's certainly not debilitating. That said, it doesn't seem that I'll be doing my creekside walk tonight, which is also annoying. I'll rest my ass this evening, then get walking, or staircasing, tomorrow.

start the day with a bang

Who's there?
Knock who?
낙법! Learn it!

On my way out of my building this morning, I slipped and fell. I was in the B1-level parking garage, trying to drop off a big bag of recyclables before hitting the subway, when my left foot hit a greasy patch—as invisible as black ice—and flew out from under me. I threw out my right arm; my left hip and right hand hit the concrete, but I ended up on my back all the same. The fall didn't hurt anything except my pride: several garbage collectors, as well as the parking-lot attendant in his booth, saw my fall.

But, hey—at least I was jolted awake. The garbage collectors asked if I was hurt; laughing in embarrassment, I said I was fine. It's been over an hour since the event, and I'm still not aching, so this was minor. It's one of the few times I can be thankful for being as fleshy as I am: landing on a hip can have disastrous consequences, and I've already written about my paranoia regarding Korean hospital care.

Hapkido is an integrated Korean martial art: its syllabus includes the percussive, punching/kicking aspects of taekwondo and the "internal," harmonizing/grappling aspects of Japanese aikido. Written with the same three Chinese characters as aikido* (hap + ki + do = 合 氣 道: harmony-energy-way), hapkido means, roughly, the way of harmonizing energy, of using your opponent's force against himself. Unlike taekwondo, hapkido places a great deal of stress on nak-beop (낙법; it sounds a bit like "knock bupp" and means, roughly, "the law of falling"), i.e., learning how to fall. Out of sympathy, my boss told me about an incident in which he slipped on the ice and his hapkido training took over, saving him from injury.

I'd actually like to learn hapkido, assuming I can gather up the courage and the will. I did taekwondo years ago (here's me kicking), but having had one day of hapkido training,** I came away convinced it's the better martial art. Hapkido—affectionately called HKD in the States—teaches you what to do when fights go to the ground, as they so often do; taekwondo teaches you to fight on your feet, with very little time devoted to learning holds, locks, flips, and escapes. Then, of course, there's the nak-beop aspect of hapkido, which could have helped me this morning. Ah, well.

*This is a reminder that, just because two phenomena are described by the same set of Chinese characters, this doesn't mean those two things are one and the same. For a Western analogue to this, think about the word "chip" as it applies to food in US and UK English. In US English, a "chip" is a thin slice of deep-fried potato. In UK English, a "chip" is what Americans call a "french fry." Same descriptor, two different realities.

How are aikido and hapkido different? AKD, traditionally conceived, is an almost entirely defensive martial art. Although it has diversified since the time of its founder, Ueshiba Morihei, the basic AKD syllabus is mostly devoted to redirection of the opponent's force. Many of the earlier training methods revolved around the idea of a swordless samurai who had to defend himself against an attacker still armed with a sword, but modern AKD has evolved to be more "street" in its approach. The AKD syllabus is heavy on defensive tactics, but does use atemi, i.e. quick strikes intended to keep the opponent off-balance and/or distracted while the exponent executes his main attack, which is usually a hold, lock, or flip. HKD, by contrast, has a larger striking syllabus (including some strange, esoteric kicks not found in TKD), but it incorporates almost as many "soft" techniques as AKD does.

**I was at some sort of Korean cultural event in northern Virginia. At one of the booths, there were fliers for a single session of hapkido training. Curious, I picked a flier up and went to a training session maybe a week later. Compared to taekwondo training, it was like night and day: TKD training is militarily rigid: students sit in straight rows; different phases of each class are clearly demarcated; moves are learned in unison, and in very specific sequences; sparring tends to be very controlled. HKD, on the other hand, is loose and relaxed in the way that I've heard Chinese wushu training often is: the master demonstrates a move, then he lets the students pair up and practice with each other at their own pace. I've heard this about the Chinese training philosophy: don't force things. There are exceptions, of course: if you've ever watched Master Pan Qingfu (about whom Mark Salzman wrote in his book Iron and Silk), then you know that some Chinese martial-arts training can be brutally rigid. I doubt Master Pan is the only Chinese sifu to act like a drill sergeant.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Three David O. Russell films: a review/survey

I didn't realize, until after having watched "The Fighter" last night, that I've seen several David O. Russell films: "Three Kings" (1999), "Silver Linings Playbook" (2012), "American Hustle" (2013) and "The Fighter" (2010). I haven't re-watched "Three Kings" anytime recently, so I won't be talking about that movie, although I should note that, stylistically speaking, it has very little in common with Russell's other dramedies, with their focus on dialogue-heavy tableaux involving messed-up teams and/or families. What follows will be three reviews of the other movies I mentioned. I'll be tackling these films in the order in which I saw them, not in the order in which they came out.

"Silver Linings Playbook"

"Silver Linings Playbook" stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro. This was the movie that netted Lawrence her Best Actress Oscar, and for good reason: her portrayal of Tiffany Maxwell, a recent widow who suffers from depression and other psychological problems, is a powerful one. On one level, the movie is about Bradley's Cooper's character, Pat Solitano, who is trying to get on his feet again after having spent time in a psychiatric ward for bipolar disorder. On another level, the film is a story about finding grace and new beginnings in the midst of human brokenness; in a comic vein, it's also about the healing power of watching football on TV.

Robert De Niro famously cried on Katie Couric's talk show as he hinted at his own real-life struggles with mental disorder; one of his children is autistic, and David O. Russell's son is bipolar. The personal investment of so many members of the cast and crew is visible in the production, which has a very good heart. Even though the movie treats mental illness with respect, I don't think "Playbook" is meant to be taken as a literal or factual examination of mental illness; to me, disease is more like a metaphor, and whatever message the story is conveying is on the metaphorical level—and is, incidentally, very uplifting. Of the three David O. Russell movies I'm reviewing here, this is the one I liked the best.

"American Hustle"

"American Hustle" is a fictional take on the ABSCAM events of the 1970s. It stars Jennifer Lawrence (a Russell regular), Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Michael Peña. Robert De Niro also makes an appearance as—you guessed it—a mafioso. This is, at heart, another movie about deeply flawed people who try to make things work out—a recurring theme in Russell's work. Christian Bale plays inveterate scammer Irving Rosenfeld; Amy Adams is Sydney Prosser, Rosenfeld's lover, co-conspirator, and arguable brains of the operation. Irving's wife, Rosalyn (Lawrence), proves to be a major complication, especially after the US government gets wise to Irving's scamming and recruits him in a larger operation that balloons into an attempt to take down a mayor and several congressmen. Somewhere in the midst of all this, a fake sheik (Peña) is involved. Like "Silver Linings Playbook," "American Hustle" has its funny moments, but I didn't find this film nearly as enjoyable as "Playbook." The characters in "Hustle" have little to recommend them; they're constantly undoing themselves through hubris or an inability to keep secrets. Lawrence's character, in particular, is far less likable than the feisty-but-damaged woman she had played in "Playbook." If I'm going to watch a film about assholes pointlessly trying to undermine each other, I'd rather it be something like the Coen Brothers' "Burn After Reading."

"The Fighter"

I just watched "The Fighter" last night, so it's still quite fresh in my memory, and I'll be writing more extensively about it as a result. This movie stars Christian Bale (notice the overlap of stars in Russell's movies? Russell attracts high-powered talent) and Mark Wahlberg as Dicky Eklund and Micky Ward, two half-brothers from the small town of Lowell, Massachusetts. Dicky's claim to fame is that, as a professional boxer, he once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard. Since that late-70s knockdown, though, Dicky has become a crack addict. An HBO film crew is in town to do a documentary about Dicky, who thinks the completed work will be about his "comeback" (Dicky is 40). In fact, the HBO crew is there to do an exposé on how crack ruins lives. Dicky is Micky's trainer, but he's an unreliable trainer at best, given his addiction. Micky and Dicky's mother Alice (Melissa Leo) is Micky's fight manager; Alice's henpecked husband (Jack McGee) is quietly encouraging of Micky's efforts to gain confidence and go pro. Micky meets Charlene (Amy Adams), who quickly understands that Micky's large, crazy family (Micky has six other siblings aside from Dicky) is holding him back. Battle lines are drawn as Micky must choose between blood ties or his own future.

"The Fighter" is based on the true story of Micky Ward, although many facts and events have been altered. Micky's trainer in the movie is portrayed by Ward's real-life trainer, Mickey O'Keeffe who, along with being a boxing trainer, was a policeman. Mark Walhberg, in prepping for the role, enlisted the aid of actual boxing champions like Manny Pacquiao. In the true-to-life vein, Christian Bale, as he did for his role in "The Machinist," once again lost insane amounts of weight to portray a twitchy crack addict. Bale also made a study of the real Micky Ward's speech patterns and body movements; the result of Bale's dedication was a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Wahlberg apparently insisted on brutal realism for the boxing; he sustained several facial injuries during filming. At the same time, because Ward's major fights were all on video, the fight choreography was designed to be a—forgive the pun—blow-by-blow re-creation of the original fights.

I have trouble classifying "The Fighter" as a boxing movie, per se. True: there's a final bout to end the movie, as is found in all boxing/fighting movies, but to me, it's more fundamentally a family drama that happens to include boxing as a trope. Micky's family is a loud, screechy horror show: his lone brother (well, half-brother) is Dicky, and he's got six sisters, all of whom are catty, uneducated, and varying degrees of ugly (expect for one sister). These sisters serve, at times, as a sort of retarded Greek chorus, dizzily pondering Micky's future or loudly bouncing around the idea that Micky's girlfriend Charlene is some sort of "MTV skank," even though they know next to nothing about her.

For me, "The Fighter" sits somewhere between "American Hustle" and "Silver Linings Playbook" in terms of likability. Micky's family is pretty damn horrible, but no one—not even crackhead Dicky—is out-and-out evil. There are no clear good guys and bad guys here; even Micky, despite his kindhearted nature, fails to step up at times when he should be courageous and principled. If you know Micky Ward's story—which I didn't until I read about it—you'll know that Ward drops Dicky Eklund as his trainer, then takes him back on (while keeping his other trainer, Mickey O'Keeffe), then goes on to win a series of professional bouts, cementing his status as the welterweight champion of the world. HBO did its documentary on Dicky, but in the end, Dicky cleaned up and got the last laugh.

I'm sorely tempted to compare "The Fighter" to "Warrior" (reviewed here), another movie about two brothers, troubled families, addiction, and combat sports. The two films share many of the same themes, but the stories' planning and execution is so utterly different that a true comparison is, I think, impossible. "Warrior" is intense and gripping; its moral perspective is clearer, maybe less subtle than the complicated picture we get in "The Fighter." "Warrior" also has a more explicit focus on fighting, whereas "The Fighter," despite its title, is more about what happens outside of the ring than inside of it. As a family drama that is mostly depressing but eventually encouraging, I think "The Fighter" works quite well; as a boxing movie, though, I think it's a bit flabby.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Arachnid Row

I met my buddy Tom today to celebrate his having received, at long last, a much-coveted F-5 (permanent resident) visa. We had incredible beef-brisket sandwiches at the Hard Rock Café in the Lotte World Mall in Jamshil. Afterward, we went our separate ways; Tom took the subway back to his place while I chose to take my 90-minute Jamshil-to-Daecheong walk back to my apartment.

Part of my walk is a mile-long stretch that parallels both the Tan-cheon, on one side, and the Yangjae Freeway on the other. The walk is surprisingly beautiful despite all the traffic off to the left. This time around, I noticed a huge web in the trees on the right, and when I looked closer, I saw a large spider hanging in the middle of it. Based purely on the geometrically perfect shape of the web, I'd say the spider was an orb-weaver. The term covers a variety of spiders; many orb-weavers are compact-looking, but some are elongated. The spiders I saw along the path—and there seemed to be about one per tree—became too numerous to count. They had all spun sturdy webs (web sturdiness is another orb-weaver trait; the webs are said to be able to survive hurricane-force winds), and in every case, each web's owner sat patiently in the exact center of its web, waiting for the telltale vibrations that signaled the arrival of dinner in the form of a trapped and struggling insect.

I tried to take pictures of every spider I saw, but I gave up for two reasons. First, there were simply too many; they all began to blur together. Second, my damn cell-phone camera kept auto-focusing on the distant background instead of on the enormous spider in the foreground. Maybe "enormous" is an exaggeration: these arachnids weren't anywhere near the size of the tarantulas I used to own. The orb-weavers' bodies weren't exactly small, however: they were about the length and thickness of my meaty thumb. Add the leg span to your consideration, and they were a good four or five inches in length. They looked capable of moving very fast, and also of inflicting a painful bite. Their brightly colored cephalothoraxes and abdomens hinted at poison. I kept a respectful distance.

So every picture I took was blurry. I apologize for what you're about to see. I also took several videos of the spiders, and I've provided links to those videos at the end of this blog post. Meanwhile, enjoy the tour.

First spider. Look for it in the center of the image. Its black-and-yellow banded legs ought to stand out somewhat. See it?

Below: in case you missed it, I darkened the background to isolate the spider.

I took around fifteen pictures, and the following image was the least blurry of the bunch. Note the spider's red-tipped abdomen, which looks ominous.

This next photo shows a spider in shadow. I thought about deleting this pic, but it's the only one I have that shows one of the spiders actually eating. You may have to use your imagination to figure out which end is the cephalothorax and which is the abdomen. It's not obvious in this image, but the prey had already been thoroughly wrapped in webbing. I suspect I took this pic while the spider was in the suck-your-dissolved-guts-out phase. Yum.

The next two images are of "Spide-zilla." Thanks to forced perspective, this spider looks as though it might be hanging off the enormous Lotte World Tower (yes, that's Jamshil in the distance).

In the final pic, the spider is facing upward:

Here are the links to my spider videos. Again, sorry for the blurriness.

First video.
Second video.
Third video.
Fourth video.
Fifth video.

In that last video, you get to hear me make a startled noise when the spider suddenly starts moving. I kept the camera on the spider, though, and I was smiling the entire time. So I'm sorry to disappoint, but there were no freak-outs with girlish screaming.

Happy Birthday, Sean!

My "little" brother Sean turns 37 today. Sean continues to work as a professional musician, playing in a couple major orchestras, doing all sorts of small-group and chamber-music gigs in the DC-Metro area, and of course, privately tutoring many young and eager students, quite a few of whom go on to win awards in various contests. As of the 17th of this month—two days from now—he'll have been married for a year. Sean says the wedding was fantastic, but it utterly drained the coffers, so he and Jeff will be celebrating their first anniversary rather modestly this year. Happy birthday (and anniversary), Sean! Love and hugs.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2009 Swedish version):
listicle review

Here are some scattered thoughts about the 2009 Swedish version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," directed by Niels Arden Oplev and starring Noomi Rapace as the asocial genius hacker Lisbeth Salander, with Michael Nyqvist as journalist Mikael Blomkvist.

1. The soundtrack for the Swedish version is ponderously orchestral and more earnest-sounding, if that makes any sense. The more jumbled, modernist soundtrack for the US-produced version of the film helped cultivate a more bitter, cynical ambiance. The Swedish version is downright sentimental by comparison.

2. Major story beats are similar between the two films, given that both films are adaptations of the same Swedish novel by the late Stieg Larsson.

3. If it's a Noomi-versus-Rooney contest, I think I like Rooney Mara's take on the Lisbeth Salander character better. Part of the reason isn't Mara herself: it's her costume design. With her irretrievably chaotic hair, facial piercings, and whitened eyebrows that disappear into her forehead, Mara looks more convincingly goth than Rapace does. Rapace's Lisbeth wears a spiked dog collar around her neck; to me, this seems like some out-of-touch costume designer's corny attempt to give the character a punkish look. But Rooney Mara also takes the cake in terms of acting: Rapace's Lisbeth lacks that hard, quasi-autistic edge—the consistently clipped and frosty tone of voice that Mara's Lisbeth uses even when she's talking with Mikael Blomkvist, her lover. Rapace takes the cake for a better dragon tattoo, though.

4. The Swedish version doesn't end with Lisbeth heartbroken after seeing Blomkvist back with Erika Berger. In the Swedish version, Berger barely registers as a presence. We know enough details to understand that Erika is intimate with Blomkvist, but there's no implication that she's cheating on her husband to be with him (or even that she's married). Meanwhile, by the end of the Swedish film, Lisbeth and Mikael are still friends and possibly still lovers, even though she's aware that Mikael is with Erika.

5. The other story problem I'd mentioned in my previous review—that Lisbeth jumps into bed with Blomkvist despite being the victim of a brutal rape—appears in the Swedish version as well. In reading about the movie, I saw that some people have classified Lisbeth Salander as a sort of "adolescent's fantasy": she's smarter and wiser than her years, and competent as hell, but she's still young, sexy, and sex-hungry. Mara and Rapace handle Lisbeth's sexuality rather differently, I think; Rapace's interpretation of the character makes for a more vulnerable Lisbeth, and the Swedish costume design allows Rapace's natural beauty to show through more easily. Mara's appearance in the US film, by contrast, is scruffier and far less appealing, which means we have to work harder to see Lisbeth's beauty beneath her surface appearance. The US film's approach is, I think, the better and more sensible of the two.

6. I didn't recognize any of the Swedish actors in the Swedish version aside from Rapace and Nyqvist (whom I knew from his role as Kurt Hendricks in "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol"). And it's a shame to watch a Swedish film without Max von Sydow in it.

7. The US version of "Tattoo," almost stereotypically, relies more on guns than did the Swedish version. This is especially true during Mikael's torture/revelation-in-the-basement scene (which occurs in both versions): in the US version, Lisbeth rescues Mikael, grabs a gun, and pursues the killer; in the Swedish version, Lisbeth allows the killer to run out, chases him on her bike until he crashes his SUV, then lets him slowly burn alive. In the US version, the killer's SUV explodes after the chase, making for a quicker death.

8. The sequence of events is slightly different. In the US version, Mikael and Lisbeth don't have sex until after Mikael gets grazed by a bullet. In the Swedish version, it's the other way around: the two have sex, and Mikael is grazed by a bullet later on while he's jogging.

9. Both movies employ flashbacks, albeit somewhat differently. In the US version, the flashbacks are longer and more languid; in the Swedish version, the flashbacks are more scattered, pastiched, and quickly paced. The Swedish version also relies more heavily on montage sequences to show Lisbeth and Mikael hard at work on their research.

10. Another significant difference is that, in the Swedish version, it's Lisbeth who clues Mikael in on the fact that the mysterious numbers in Harriet's diary are actually Bible verses. This is, in fact, how Lisbeth and Mikael come to meet: Lisbeth sends Mikael an email with her insights under her hacker pseudonym "Wasp," which Mikael eventually traces back to her. In the American version, Mikael puzzles out the numbers with the help of his daughter (who is going through a religious phase, and who is handy with a Bible), and he finds out about Lisbeth after talking with her employers, who had hired her to do a background check on Mikael before allowing him to meet with Henrik Vanger.

11. Both movies make clear that Lisbeth is bisexual: when Mikael tracks Lisbeth down at her apartment, she's in bed with her female lover.

12. When Mikael finds Harriet in the US version of the story, she's in England. In the Swedish version, Mikael has to travel all the way to Australia to find her.

13. Overall, I think I may like the US version of the story better than the Swedish one. I'm not even sure whether it's proper to term the US film a "remake," as it seems to be a direct adaptation of the novel, just as the Swedish version was. Some critics have said that the US version actually hews closer to the original novel than does the Swedish version, and reviews are mixed as to which film is better. The Swedish version isn't bad at all, but it feels a bit more straightforward and less murky than the American version, especially with that earnest orchestral score. As mentioned above, Rooney Mara's version of Lisbeth Salander feels edgier than Noomi Rapace's, although both versions of Lisbeth have something to recommend them.

14. By all means, watch both versions and decide for yourself. They're both good.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Political Compass results, 2016

I haven't done one of these political-compass surveys in a while, and with the presidential election coming up, I thought the time had come do another self-check to see whether I'm still a centrist dickhead, or whether I've slid further into right-wing hell.

Based on the results you see below, my rightward slide appears to have stopped, and I'd say I'm still mostly a centrist dickhead. This means that lefties look at me and are disappointed at how much of a rightie I am, while righties look at me and are disappointed at how much of a leftie I am. People like me can never win.

There's some metaphorical significance to the above graphic that may not be visible to you: when I upload pictures via Blogger, I get to choose the alignment: left, right, or center. I always choose the center.

My previous Political Compass results are here. For some reason, the uploaded graphics for those entries aren't coming up on my office desktop; they're not loading. I don't know whether that'll be true for you as well; I'm going to see what happens on my Mac laptop once I'm back at my place.

UPDATE: the pics that aren't loading are all hosted at my FTP site. I'm having trouble accessing Photobucket from this computer, so that's probably the issue.

Sam Harris takes on Trump

Read "Trump in Exile" over at Sam Harris's blog. If you're a Trumpista, you'll vehemently disagree, of course. One of the more amusing passages:

Hillary Clinton is a terribly flawed candidate for the presidency, and this has allowed millions of otherwise sane Americans to imagine that she is less fit for office than Donald Trump is. Much depends on a majority of the electorate seeing through this moral and political illusion in the weeks ahead.

To consider only one point of comparison: We have now witnessed Donald Trump bragging about his sexual predations in terms that not even Satan himself could spin to his advantage. He has admitted to repeatedly groping women, kissing them on the mouth without their consent, and invading the dressing rooms of teenage pageant contestants to see them naked. Every day, more women come forward confirming the truth of these confessions. Trump has even said that he would have sex with his own daughter, were she the offspring of another man. He talks about his libido as only a malignant narcissist can: as though it were a wonder of nature, a riddle no mortal can solve, and a blessing to humanity.

Such disclosures should have ended Trump’s presidential campaign. But as luck would have it, Hillary Clinton is married to a man who can probably match Trump indiscretion for indiscretion. Indeed, Donald Trump and Bill Clinton are both trailing serious accusations of rape. Whether or not the worst of these charges are true, these are not normal men. Each has lived for decades as a roving id flanked by a security detail. Each is the very avatar of entitlement. However, only one of these cads radiates contempt for nearly every other member of our species. Only one has made humiliating people—and women in particular—a central part of his brand. Only one has become a troubled adolescent’s fantasy of what a man should be, exposing a ruinous insecurity and moral emptiness every time he opens his mouth. Most important, only one of these men is running for president today. And, personal ethics aside, only one is dangerously unfit for the job.

While Trump’s attitude toward women should be disqualifying, it is among his least frightening traits when it comes to assuming the responsibilities of the presidency. His fondness for Vladimir Putin, the whimsy with which he has entertained the first use of nuclear weapons, his disregard for our NATO alliances, his promise to use federal regulators to harass his critics, his belief that climate change is a hoax, his recommendation that we kill the families of terrorists, his suggestion that America might want to default on its debt—any one of these sentiments should have ended Trump’s bid for public office at once. In fact, Donald Trump is so unfit for the presidency that he has done great harm to our society by merely campaigning for it. The harm he could do from the White House can scarcely be imagined.

I've seen the choice between candidates framed various ways, many of which revolve around the "devil you know" trope:

"Vote HRC! She's damaged goods, but who knows what horrors await us with Trump?"
"Vote Trump! We know what horrors HRC brings, but we don't know what Trump will do!"

In one case, the devil you know is a reassuring entity, far better than a weaponized wild card. In the other, the devil you know is the fiend you want to keep away from power. Sam Harris, however, seems to be arguing that, although we can't imagine the damage a Trump administration might do, we nevertheless already know everything we need to know about both candidates to make a judgment. We don't need to see Trump in office, according to Harris, to know how he's going to perform. Harris's view represents a very large school of thought: that of the already-decided pro-HRC voter.

At a guess, it's that all-is-known assumption that rankles Trump advocates. Naturally, they fire back. He's a raging egomaniac? Well, quite a few presidents have been that. He's a serial groper? This isn't news to people who understand that many—if not most—males in power tend to abuse that power, often in a sexual way. He's a crass, uncultured vulgarian? People think civility has only recently drained out of politics, but they forget that, centuries ago, politicians sometimes settled their differences by shooting at each other. Ask Alexander Hamilton. By that standard, today's mudslinging is an improvement over pistols at dawn. From the Trumpista's point of view, each of the major criticisms of Trump has a reply, and it's not obvious that Hillary Clinton is clearly the better choice. If anything, a Trumpista would say it's the reverse. Here's a sarcastic reply to an anti-Trumper comment on a Daily Caller thread:

Yes, because Trump:

- Has the entire media complex on his side
- Has a long, deep history of corruption
- Intentionally mishandled state secrets, thus placing them in danger
- Started a 'charity' so he could fund his political aspirations using foreign money
- Stole property from the White House when he vacated it
- Left the White House 'dead broke' only to be worth over a $100 million in less than a decade off of 'speaking fees' and foreign 'donations' to his foundation
- Created a homebrew server for the purpose of hiding corruption
- Destroyed evidence in a criminal investigation
- Destroyed public property after leaving office
- Lied under oath to Congress
- Lied to the FBI
- Abused his political power to avoid prosecution for charges that would have landed any of us in federal prison for 30+ years
- Lied to the American people repeatedly
- Gave his donors special treatment while he was in office
- Robbed from the Haitians after a massive earthquake devastated their country
- Publicly shamed and humiliated his spouse's sexual assault victims
- Enabled his spouse to be a serial sexual assaulter
- Has a documented history of being downright nasty to anyone he looks down upon
- Can't do anything in public unless it's 100 percent scripted to uphold the fake persona he tries to portray
- Made a fortune off of serving in government

And the list goes on, and on, and on, and on...

But it wasn't Trump that did any of those things, it was Hillary Clinton, and she did them while she was in our government. Regardless of what you think of Trump, nothing he's done as a private citizen has had any bearing whatsoever on our nation's government, laws, or policies, which means he bears no responsibility for the mess we're in. That's all on Hillary and her beloved Democrat Party.

Go ahead, vote for Hillary. All you'll be doing is voting for more of the exact same thing everyone wants to change now.

What a mess, eh? That said, I'm glad to have read Harris's article. It's a way of keeping myself balanced. I'm still not sure who might win the election, although my suspicion remains that Trump isn't pulling off any landslides anytime soon. I think that, if Trump wins, we're going to see massive riots in big cities, all fueled by leftist rage. If Hillary wins, I expect conservatives to sulk for a long while, then go about the business of trying to undermine her at every turn.

One of the more interesting pro-Trump arguments I've heard came from Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit. Several months ago, he said that, if Trump becomes president, the media will do its proper job and constantly take him to task, forcing his administration to be maximally* transparent. If Hillary Clinton were to become president, by contrast, the media would do nothing but cover for her, as they're doing now during the campaign. This humble argument, which Reynolds nonchalantly tossed out in one of his many short blog posts, strikes me as one of the most powerful arguments in favor of Trump. Granted, it's not powerful enough to persuade me that I should vote for the man (I'm very likely going to abstain this time around; I don't want to be blamed for helping to put either of these people into power), but it's certainly a factor to consider. When a Republican occupies the White House, the Fourth Estate can be counted on to hold him to high standards. Dissent becomes patriotic again.

Harris writes:

As many others have noted, there was a point in the second presidential debate when Trump’s campaign ceased to be a depressing farce and became the terrifying, national disgrace we now see before us. The crucial moment wasn’t when Trump threatened to imprison Clinton if he wins in November—it was the shriek of joy this threat produced in half the audience. That was the sound of our democracy unraveling. And there was Trump, the crazed man-child tearing at the threads.

I've mentioned before that the two contrasting worldviews at work in this election can see the very same evidence and interpret it in completely opposite ways. Was Trump's "Jail to the Chief" moment about the death of democracy or the triumph of justice? Whatever it was, I see both sides arguing that their candidate is going to win big. On November 8, one side is going to have a lot of explaining to do as it picks through the rubble of defeat.

*Note that I said maximally, not completely. No one is naive enough to believe the media can uncover every secret deal, plan, or operation of the US government. But the media will do their utmost to make a Trump administration as transparent as possible. They won't let him get away with a single stray remark, eyebrow waggle, or whiff of impropriety.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Scott Adams reverses himself

From Scott Adams's latest blog post:

If the latest groping/kissing allegations against Trump hold up – and I assume they will, based on quantity if not credibility – it won’t matter what Wikileaks says about Clinton. She will win easily.

If Clinton wins, you’ll wonder if this invalidates the Master Persuader Hypothesis. The short answer is no, because the concept doesn’t account for unknowns of this magnitude. If a meteor had struck Trump a day before election day, it wouldn’t say much about his skill as a persuader. The Master Persuasion Hypothesis worked splendidly until the double-whammy of the Access Hollywood tape and the “octopus” meteor.

Trump could still win, but only if some new and unexpected meteor strikes Clinton.

Surely Adams could have anticipated "unknowns of this magnitude": these were known unknowns, to use the language of Donald Rumsfeld and Catholic philosopher Bernard Lonergan. October in an election year is always the month for big, unpleasant surprises. With Trump's constant problems with women (remember his implication, during the primaries, that Carly Fiorina is ugly? "Look at that face!"), you'd think that some savvy person—savvier than me—would have anticipated women coming out of the woodwork in October. Put aside the cynical nature of these women's sudden appearance (and I'd agree with you that it's more about timing and strategy than it is about actual justice and women's rights), and the brute fact is that the ship of Donald has taken a hit below the waterline.

Will this be enough to sink his campaign? Depends. We're all experiencing a measure of scandal fatigue, I think. Adams makes the point that, for Trump at least, further WikiLeaks revelations aren't going to help his campaign:

2. Wikileaks has no meteors to offer. The Wikileaks misdeeds involve people who are not Clinton, and they involve issues that are boring and a bit complicated. The public will not be much influenced by them.

Unless there's hard evidence of Hillary having a Paula Deen moment, or advocating the utter destruction of the Kurds, or engaging in a bukkake ritual with a circle of superannuated congressmen, there's nothing to stop her momentum at the polls. Whether momentum at the polls translates into an electoral victory is a different story, but as long as people keep talking about polls, even if only to deny their significance, the polls will continue to matter.

Styxhexenhammer666, meanwhile, remains bullish on Trump. I remain unconvinced that Trump will win by a landslide, if he wins at all.

Final thought, from tweeter Dan McLaughlin:

Much as Trump deserves this, one must pause at the breathtaking chutzpah of Team Clinton's closing argument being sexual harassment.

In a just world, the Clintons would have been put away long, long ago.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2011 US version): review


Stieg Larsson's novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the first story in Larsson's Millennium trilogy. After Larsson's untimely death in 2004 at the age of 50, Tattoo was made into two movie adaptations, one Swedish and one American. Tonight, I watched the American version, directed by David Fincher ("Fight Club," "Se7en") and starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara (in a breakout performance), Stellan Skarsgård, and Christopher Plummer, among others. I noticed two faces from "Game of Thrones": Tony Way (Ser Dontos in GoT) and Donald Sumpter (Maester Luwin), as well as three other faces from different productions: Goran Višnjić (whom I remember from the later years of "ER"), Julian Sands (from any number of films and TV shows—the man's been everywhere), and Yorick van Wageningen (who played plump Jost in "The Way," with Martin Sheen).

The story is a murder mystery, a carefully crafted slow-burn thriller. Mikael Blomkvist (Craig), who co-owns and runs a magazine called Millennium, has lost a libel case against powerful magnate Hans-Erik Wennerström (Ulf Friberg). Humiliated and drained of his finances, Blomkvist receives the unusual offer to be paid twice his original salary if he helps another rich man, Henrik Vanger (Plummer), solve a four-decade-old murder involving Vanger's troubled grand-niece Harriet. Blomkvist consents, eventually recruiting the help of maladjusted "ward of the state" Lisbeth Salander (Mara), the eponymous girl with the dragon tattoo. Salander is a genius hacker with an eidetic memory; she moonlights as a detective while working various odd jobs. The suspense builds as Blomkvist and Salander plunge ever deeper into the eccentric and prickly Vanger family's dark secrets.

I think director Fincher did a fine job with pacing and atmospherics, and the actors all hit their marks. It was amusing to watch Daniel Craig clumsily scratching away at a mystery that would ultimately prove too convoluted and dangerous for him; James Bond would have known how to go about such an investigation with flinty competence. Mara, whom I don't know, but whose sister Kate I saw in the "The Martian" (reviewed here), somehow managed to imbue her weird and wild character with an alchemical brew of near-autistic levels of social gracelessness, forlornness, keen intellect, and a sort of slinky, skinny-girl sexiness despite her facial piercings and other poor stylistic choices.

I did, however, have two major complaints about the character of Lisbeth Salander and her relationship with Mikael Blomkvist—a relationship that rapidly turns sexual. First, Salander is shown being forced to perform oral sex on her state guardian (van Wageningen), who subsequently ties her up and brutally rapes her. These scenes were hard to watch; Fincher did great work at conveying the trauma of Salander's sexual violation. (Her revenge against her rapist is both terrible and satisfying.) But very soon after—implausibly soon, in my view—Salander tempts Blomkvist, whom she genuinely likes, into bed. Maybe I know nothing about female psychology, but I find it hard to believe a young woman just coming out of a brutal, nasty rape experience would be willing to turn around and jump in the sack with a man she knows only superficially.* Something is very wrong, here.

Second, at the end of the movie, with the mystery now solved and with Salander having told Blomkvist how much she enjoys working with him, she goes to a tailor and has a leather jacket made for Blomkvist. She then rides her motorcycle over to Blomkvist's residence, but before she can present her gift to him, she sees him walking outside his building with Erika Berger (Robin Wright), Blomkvist's co-owner, editor-in-chief, and lover (Berger is married—ahem). Saddened and angered, Salander tosses her gift in the garbage and drives off. This, too, struck me as implausible: Salander had actually run a hyper-detailed background check on Blomkvist before Blomkvist became involved with the cantankerous Vanger family; she knew his most intimate secrets, so how could she not have known about him and Erika? Did I miss something? This made no sense to me, and it came close to ruining the film.

To be clear, I like the character of Lisbeth Salander. She's a strung-out, female version of Matt Damon's Will Hunting from "Good Will Hunting"—a troubled-but-capable genius with a kind yet complicated heart, trying her best to stay sane and stay afloat. As characters go, she's fascinating, but with the two implausibilities mentioned above, I can like her only so much. The movie, meanwhile, was quite watchable; there were some truly suspenseful moments despite the long, long running time (158 minutes!). I only wish Lisbeth's character made more sense, and now I wonder whether Stieg Larsson made the same mistakes with her in his novels. I'd like to think that these flaws come from the screenwriters, not from Larsson.

*Come to think of it, this is, in fact, the same problem—again involving a character played by Daniel Craig—that occurred in "Skyfall," when Bond makes sweet love to Sévérine, who had spent years as a sexual plaything.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Happy Birthday, Emma!

The Korean bakery chain Emma has a branch inside the complex where I work, Mido Sangga. This branch is celebrating its 27th birthday today; as a gift to customers, the bakery is giving away free boxes of cookies to anyone who purchases bakery items worth W10,000 or more.

I generally like Emma. It's one of the few bakeries I know that can do French baguettes correctly. Emma recently rolled out (ha! a car/bread pun!) an olive ciabatta that, while too soft and undercooked on the outside, has a perfect ciabatta consistency on the inside. I want to use that bread to make a variant of the muffuletta, an Italian deli-meat sandwich normally made with a muffuletta loaf.

Emma has some hits, like the baguette and the ciabatta, but it also has some misses, like its cakes and macaroons. As with the cakes at other Korean bakeries, Emma's cakes tend to lack everything that makes a cake delicious: eggs, sugar, and butter. But Emma's macaroons are especially frightening; it's almost as if the bakers had deliberately set out to make them from a mixture of cardboard and that paste that elementary-school kids like to eat. I bought exactly one macaroon from Emma. Never again.

All in all, though, Emma makes good products. I duck down there more frequently than I should to buy sandwiches, apple turnovers, cookies, tofu chips (addictive), and baguettes. The ladies who staff the place are very friendly, including one who, at first, I had mistakenly thought of as an arrogant cow... until we actually started talking to each other. (I do feel bad about my initial misapprehension, but she really did seem to be giving off a cold, nasty vibe the first time I saw her haughty, high-cheekboned face. Just goes to show that first impressions can often be misleading. Turns out she's the nicest bakery lady in the world.)

I wish Emma a Happy 27th. Here's to 27 more years of good, fresh bread!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

the elevated nature of political dialogue

and I was one of them

I'm now in a job that pays better than any job I've had before, bar none. My recent raise has pushed me to new financial heights, and while no one will ever call me rich, I can now toy with the idea of calling myself almost financially secure. In a couple of years, I'll be debt-free, at which point I'll be able to save insane amounts of money and finally have the freedom to do the things I've been wanting to do. This is an entirely new state of affairs for me: it wasn't that long ago that I belonged to the "living from paycheck to paycheck" crowd.

That thought came back to me recently when I read an article claiming that 7 in 10 Americans have savings of less than $1000. According to this article, it's Americans' constant profligate consumption that keeps the citizens financially down; no one has developed the habit, or cultivated the will, to save money, delay gratification, and spend prudently. For me, years and years of penury have taught me how to save money, to put aside the desire to act on this or that impulse, to avoid making major purchases for no good reason.

Hewing to a budget is like following Sun Tsu's maxims: just as you never strike at the enemy unless you're assured of victory, you should never make a purchase unless you're sure you can absorb the financial blow with negligible damage to your accounts. Rule Number One, now and always, is Never spend beyond your means. Even now, with money coming in from at least two sources, I don't spend unnecessarily. Years ago, when I wasn't in a position to think this way, I had borrowed a good bit of money from friends and acquaintances; I have, however, made sure to pay them all back (if I haven't done so, readers, email me!) as a way of increasing trustworthiness and minimizing outstanding personal debts. I'm thankful for the help I received when times were tough, but I'm happy to say I now stand on my own.

...nearly all developed countries have a higher personal savings rate than the United States.

Being in debt is a cause of major stress. Having under $1000 in the bank means you barely have the money to help yourself should you get injured or suffer some other calamity—a theft, property damage, etc. Conversely, having money lightens one's burdens because, while money should never be a be-all-end-all, it nevertheless represents choice. When you have good finances, you have options. Want to take that trip to Europe? By all means, go—if you have the money for it and a healthy enough budget to absorb the expense.

Here's a shocker:

Furthermore, even though lower-income adults struggle with saving money more than middle- and upper-income folks, no income group did particularly well. Some 29% of adults earning more than $150,000 a year, and 44% making between $100,000 and $149,999, had less than $1,000 in savings. Comparatively, 73% of the lowest income adults (those [earning] $24,999 or less annually) had less than $1,000 in their savings account.

And the analysis:

This data is particularly worrisome since the recommendation is for Americans to have six months in expenses saved in case of an emergency, such as a large medical expense, car repair bill, or losing your job. Without this emergency fund to fall back on, millions of Americans could be risking financial disaster.

According to GoBankingRates' report, two factors are to blame for Americans' inability to save. First, some Americans are simply living beyond their means. With roughly 70% of U.S. GDP tied to consumption, and our society revolving around going out for entertainment, this isn't too surprising.

The other issue is that credit cards and alternative payment platforms, such as Apple Pay, have made it easier than ever to spend money. It's a lot easier to spend money when you're not dealing with tangible cash. This out of sight, out of mind mentality could leave Americans out of money when they need it.

Keep track of expenses! And do so honestly and accurately. You can try to fool yourself, but the numbers never lie. As a rule of thumb, you should always know how much cash is in your wallet at any given moment; by extension, you should always know how much cash is in your bank accounts at any given moment. When you become a patient in a hospital, you have to become your own patient advocate. When you deal with money, you have to become your own personal accountant. That would be my message to my fellow Yank spendthrifts. Staring at numbers is a boring task, but your money is a lot like your teeth: ignore it, and it'll go away.