Monday, July 06, 2015

Zeno would have been proud of these paradoxes

Consider:

A1. Most Greeks want to remain in the EU/Eurozone.
A2. 60% of Greeks just voted not to accept a Eurozone-mandated solution to Greek debt.


B1. Greece wishes to remain part of the EU/Eurozone.
B2. The EU/Eurozone is a transnational hive mind.
B3. Greece is expressing its individual wish to remain part of the hive.
B4. Yay, democracy!


I think the bumper sticker is going to have to be:

Fuck you, Europe! We wanna remain part of you!
—Greece

_

this explains much

Greece's debt problem has a long history; it goes back at least to the mid-1980s. Look at this graph that I snagged from Wikipedia:


As you see, Greece's debt is getting dangerously close to 200% of its GDP. For comparison, the US debt in 2012 had reached about 102% of GDP (see here for image and here for some uncharitable commentary).





_

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Mom's naturalization papers: an update

Because I need my mother's naturalization paperwork to obtain an F-4 visa here in Korea, I've turned in a huge application to USCIS, the branch of the US government that has taken over the duties and responsibilities of what used to be the US Immigration and Naturalization Service. USCIS is actually under the purview of Homeland Security. This is the course that had been recommended to me by the staffer at the US Embassy in Gwanghwamun: he had said I should make an FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request for Mom's naturalization documents via the USCIS website, but that I would need Mom's death certificate to do so.

Thus far, I've obtained Mom's death certificate in electronic form thanks to my brother David. That became part of my USCIS application packet, along with Form G-639, a copy of my birth certificate, a copy of my US passport, and a copy of my Virginia driver's license. Six days went by after I'd emailed those documents, so I wrote USCIS again to get an acknowledgment of receipt. An informal acknowledgment came immediately, and I was told to sit tight and wait for an official acknowledgment, which would include a case number that would allow me to track, online, my application's progress through the system.

I'm on pins and needles about this. My contract with Dongguk runs out at the end of August; the only Dongguk payment I'll receive in September will be my twaejik-geum, i.e., my retirement allowance. I'm not expecting much, given how damn stingy Dongguk has proven to be, but it's the timing of everything that bothers me more than the expected amount of my twaejik-geum. If I don't have my F-4 visa in hand by the end of August, I'll need to extend my studio-rental period in Goyang by yet another month, and I likely won't have the money to pay for rent unless I borrow heavily from my friendly coworker at the Golden Goose.

Originally, I had wanted everything to be done by the beginning of August. That way, the Golden Goose would have hired me; I'd have gotten 3 million won back from my studio-rental contract (the deposit I had made at the beginning); along with my final 2.4 million won from Dongguk and a payment from the Golden Goose that month, I'd have had almost $9,000 in the bank. But as Murphy's Law would have it, that's not going to happen. Oh, I still get the $9,000, but it's going to arrive in staggered chunks now, instead of in one awesome lump sum. And I absolutely need all that money to be in place because I still have to buy an expensive hanbok and a plane ticket—and have money for hotel reservations and meals—for my brother Sean's wedding in mid-October.

So things are tense and getting tenser. I hope USCIS gets a move on. I still haven't received the official acknowledgment that means the ball has started rolling. The phrase on tenterhooks is as good a descriptor as any for my current situation.


_

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Salmon BLT for the Fourth!

How I made my salmon BLT to fête the Fourth:

1. Start off with frozen salmon:


2. Assemble the glaze and boil. In this case, I made a sweet glaze/marinade of brown sugar, honey, soy sauce, and ginger. Veddy nice, veddy nice. Behold:


3. Introduce the salmon to the glaze:


4. Realize that there's a better way to get the salmon to marinate in the glaze:


5. Meanwhile, cook bacon until crisp:


6. I said CRISP:


7. Cook up the marinated/glazed salmon:


8. Enjoy the fruits of your labor:


Incredigood.


_

how to celebrate the Fourth?

I bought plenty of food for last week's murderously burgerous shindig. My fridge is still fairly full; although I'm out of ground beef, I've got a ton of salmon and bacon, so... salmon-and-bacon burgers! With wasabi mayo! I've got tomatoes and iceberg lettuce as well, so this ought to be good. I've also got enough bacon to make some succulent BLTs if I get bored. And I might do just that. Make BLTs, I mean—not get bored.

ADDENDUM: I just did something new and made myself a breakfast hot dog with oi-kimchi, mayo, and sriracha. Bizarrely good.


_

Happy Fourth

To my fellow Yanks: Happy July 4th.

image found here

Oh, to be large and unmovable.


_

Grexit vindication

So I wrote a post about my belief that Greece needs to leave the Eurozone and go back to the drachma. I wrote it as a non-economist with some cultural and historical intuitions as to why Greece—and Europe as a whole—is in this mess. One of the main things I noted was that the very concept of the Eurozone is a delusional papering-over of the fact that European countries, despite their admirable will to transcend their bloody history and integrate, are by no means ready to integrate monetarily because those countries still are what they are, i.e., products of their separate histories, cultures, and languages.

I now see that I'm not alone in this intuition:

The partial de-nationalization of the state and the partial limits on state sovereignty in the name of peace still lie at the foundation of the original European project, but they have since given way, especially since the end of the Cold War, to a European bureaucratic fantasy of what should constitute the “Union.” The idea of a common market has been knocked out from its central place by the vision of a pan-European quasi-state entity, whose workings few in Europe understand, and which, most importantly, has consistently failed to generate a new Europe-wide identity in place of national allegiances. This is not just a Greek problem; bureaucratic empire building has its limits, and we call those limits “citizens.” The stirrings across Europe, from the United Kingdom through Spain to Poland, show that the issues at hand are not purely economic, and that traditional national identity, citizen participation and sovereignty remain just as relevant to democracy today as they were in years past. [emphasis added]

So I don't think I was wrong to note that, beyond economics, there are cultural forces at work that make the Eurozone impracticable. I had also noted, in my own post, that the EU and the Eurozone are essentially attempts at top-down transnationalism, but that Europe hasn't grown beyond its parochial, national loyalties. I had further noted (and this is far from an original thought) that the notions of EU and Eurozone were meant, pragmatically, to create a counterbalance to US economic might. All of the italicized sentiments, in the block quote above, reflect and confirm what I had written in my earlier post. And Glenn Reynolds, in reacting to the above quote, adds this:

The Common Market was about free trade. The EU was about creating an economic – and, especially, political — counterweight to America. It was a venture that put politics ahead of economics, which explains its current problems.

So in one way, Reynolds and I see eye-to-eye: we're on the same page as regards the "counterbalance/counterweight" notion. But Reynolds strongly implies that, for a truer unity, economics needs to come first. I disagree. My point, in fact, was that trying to establish friendships through money would never result in true friendships. So, fortunately or unfortunately, this a deep philosophical disagreement that I have with Professor Reynolds. Although he and I are both free-market partisans, he seems to see international trust and amity as being based on market principles. I think the foundation for trust and amity needs to run deeper than the merely transactional.

Stepping back to a more abstract level: a similar point has been made by conservative anti-multiculturalists who follow the HBD (human biodiversity) line of thinking: you can't simply mash a bunch of different races and cultures together and just wish them to function smoothly. Cultures and races are prickly, spiky things; they don't always mix well, especially when forced to do so. According to this way of thinking, the EU/Eurozone can be viewed as one massive experiment in forced multiculturalism, and economically at least, but also culturally, we can see that it's failing.

I take to heart the HBD criticisms of forced integration, but I'm not entirely on board with the HBD project, which seems to be, ironically, pro-balkanization. This puts HBD in bed with leftist forces that view the world starkly, in terms of identity politics. My own take is very assimilationist: America, as a country, is at its best when its people are united by a central set of core ideas. If American citizens were to agree on what those ideas are, and how important they are, and if they realized that those ideas come first, taking precedence over parochial cultural loyalties and proclivities, there would be no "hyphenated Americans"—there would be only Americans.

This is the deeper realization that I referred to earlier when I talked about Europe: it's not mere money that will truly bind European countries to each other; the truest union can spring only from the realization that all Europeans share a certain distinct set of core values. Can this even happen in Europe, though? America, while diverse, is at least bound together—mostly—by a common language. This allows Americans to think in each other's terms more easily than Europeans can. We are also bound by a mostly common history; European countries are not, as their bloody history over the centuries will attest. Still, I wouldn't put it past the Europeans: I don't think true integration is merely a pipe dream. It can happen, just... not yet.

Happy Fourth of July, fellow Yanks.

ADDENDUM: the somewhat humorous and unwieldy portmanteau "Grexit" refers to the Greek exit from the Eurozone—an increasingly likely possibility that may become a reality as early as next week. I hope the Greek banks haven't thrown away their stockpiles of drachmas: they're gonna need 'em. Meanwhile, I wish Greece good luck as it tries to find its feet.


_

Friday, July 03, 2015

Thursday's moviefest

Here are some pictures from yesterday's "Terminator Genisys" premiere, featuring the big man himself, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, with his date(?) for the evening, the young and lovely Emilia Clarke, a.k.a. Daenerys Targaryen on HBO's "Game of Thrones." Hover your cursor over each image to read its caption. For the sixth image, please click on it to enlarge so you can appreciate the true vastness of the theater we were in.

The cinema is located next to the enormous—and trouble-plagued—Lotte World Tower, an ambitious edifice being built right across the street from Jamshil's venerable Lotte Hotel and Lotte Department Store. You can reach the mall/cinema entrance by popping out of Jamshil Station's Exit 11. The entrance to the mall was decked out with a short red carpet yesterday, as well as a blocky-looking threshold covered with "Terminator Genisys" ads and imagery.

I arrived at the entrance at 7:45PM; Tom greeted me and informed me that I had just missed Arnold and Emilia's stroll along the red carpet. Luckily, Arnold was just inside the complex, standing on a stage and saying some words to the crowd and the ubiquitous cell-phone cameras, his live image being projected onto a giant screen above and behind the stage. I met Tom's other guests for the evening—a British coworker of his named David, a Korean lawyer friend with a name that sounded like "Aesop," and the lawyer's son, Chris.

We wandered past the stage, and I managed to get a shot of Arnold from behind, as you'll see below (look for the picture in which the Governator has been circled). We wended our way up a couple floors; the lawyer and his kid hadn't eaten dinner, so we stopped at a donggaseu restaurant. Tom, "Aesop," and Chris went in for dinner while David and I stood guard outside and talked about HBO's "Game of Thrones" and its literary parent, George RR Martin's epic series A Song of Ice and Fire.

After dinner was over, we escalatored up to the mall's tenth floor. Tom, our organizer for the evening, had already given us our tickets. Some of us bought popcorn; some of us hit the restroom one final time before the show. I was a bit disappointed that all I'd seen of Arnold was his enormous, V-shaped back. Was that it? I wondered. Based on what Tom had told me, I'd thought that Arnold was going to appear in the movie theater itself to say a few words.

We filed into the theater, easily found our seats, sat down...and were rewarded a few minutes later with Arnold and Emilia themselves! I filmed almost the entire spiel, which lasted barely five minutes: a Korean announcer and an interpreter came to the front first; the announcer heralded Arnold's and Emilia's arrival; Arnold and Emilia took turns wishing us well, thanking us for our fan-loyalty (specifically, Arnold noted that he loved coming back to Korea because of the fans), and hoping that we would enjoy the show. Two kids came up and gave each actor a nice-looking bouquet; Emilia's beauty and talent were lauded by Arnold, who also spouted his corny and now-self-parodic "I'll be back" line a couple times. I stopped recording when the announcer said goodbye, and the two megastars left the stage only seconds after that. If you want to watch my rather shaky, hand-held recording of Arnold and Emilia's quick talk, click here. One last note: I was generally impressed by the interpreter, who was quite competent, although I don't think she managed to translate Arnold's compliments to the Korean audience regarding their fan loyalty. A small oversight, I suppose, all things considered.

And here are the photos. As I noted before, you can hover your cursor over each image to read its caption.






Click the image below to enlarge (but read the caption first):









_

"Terminator Genisys": review

While it was cool to see Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger up close at the big Thursday-night premiere (I videoed his entire appearance on stage), after he and Emilia Clarke left, we still had a movie to look forward to. As I suspected, "Terminator Genisys" (TG) was a messy serving of big, stupid summertime fun. The plot doesn't entirely make sense; the fight editing was sloppy in places, and it was often hard to keep track of why various characters were doing what they were doing, but I didn't leave the movie angry that I had wasted two hours of my life. No: TG was entertaining—and as top-heavy as Arnold himself.

Because we're talking about a franchise, here, there are certain things you expect to see: a vision of a hellish, machine-dominated future, for example; Arnold intoning "Get out" to a frightened driver; the infamous line "I'll be back"; creative ways to kill people; massive property damage; weird discussions about how the past, present, and future interrelate. Actually, this movie was far talkier than I'd anticipated; it's freighted with a bit too much expository dialogue. I was also frustrated because the dialogue often covered what I felt were the wrong topics: too much relationship banter, not enough time-travel metaphysics.

Basically, TG takes the criticism of its predecessors seriously. That criticism? "Hey, if the machines fail at sending one Terminator back, they can just keep sending more back." This is the fatal flaw of most time-travel-related cinematic science fiction, to wit: as long as there's a time machine, or at least the ability to build one, the problems are never really solved. TG says, "Hey—let's see what happens when several Terminators, good and bad, all end up back in the past!" The result is a glorious mess.

Throughout the movie, I noticed little hints and references to other artistic works: one character calls a Terminator a "skin job," for instance—a reference to "Blade Runner" and the rebooted "Battlestar Galactica" (which was itself referencing "Blade Runner"). At another point in the movie, a nanoswarm-based Terminator gets stymied by the magnetic field of an MRI—a nod to Michael Crichton's nanotech-thriller novel Prey, in which almost exactly the same thing happens. In another salute to other sci-fi productions, the incarnation of Skynet is portrayed by British actor Matt Smith, whom many fans (I'm not one) will immediately recognize as the Eleventh Doctor on "Doctor Who." This film also makes huge references to the very first movie in the series, James Cameron's 1984 "The Terminator"—right down to shot-for-shot recreations of some of the original scenes which then diverge, representing a divergent timeline, in this newest addition to the franchise. It was sad not to see Bill Paxton as the blue-haired punk who jokes that Arnold's "a couple cans short of a six-pack."

What little glimpse we do get of time-travel metaphysics in this film is a bit disappointing. We're told, for example, that history "has a momentum," something that many of us have long suspected but have been unable to prove. The idea, here, is that certain crucial historical events are bound to happen, one way or another. If someone travels back in time and plucks Jesus off the cross before he dies, then lightning will strike Jesus dead, or the Savior will have his skull drilled by a seemingly random meteor because Jesus simply has to die. That's what "momentum" refers to. The cosmic power that decides which events in history are important, and thus deserving of momentum, is left unnamed and undiscussed, a sort of deus absconditus. In a different TG exchange about alternate timelines and, obliquely, about the many-worlds hypothesis, we learn that a "nexus" can appear inside a time traveler's consciousness, allowing that person to experience alternate timelines simultaneously (and this put me in mind of Frank Herbert's Dune, with its notion of the Kwisatz Haderach, a being that stands at the nexus of all possibilities and is able to see along all worldlines). Again, it's the importance of the events that causes the nexus to appear, but we're never told what determines an event's importance.

The metaphysics of the movie might be sketchy and sloppy, but the social commentary is loud and clear. TG preaches that we're becoming too interconnected as a global human culture, and too dependent on the technology that facilitates that interconnection. The "Genisys" of the title refers to software that, at an appointed time, will automatically integrate pretty much the entire Internet of Things all around the planet, up to and including military hardware. How this happens and what this means isn't explained all that well, but the movie's message is clear: get out and do something independent for a change. Don't remain anchored to the hive mind. Of course, such technology-related moral exhortations often fall victim to their own irony, and there's irony aplenty here as well: TG might preach a mildly anti-tech gospel, but the movie itself is brought to you by amazing special-effects technology and has been marketed through the very social media that the story warns against. But perhaps such irony is integral to the message and can't be avoided. Who's to say?

"Terminator Genisys" isn't a very brainy movie, but it brings the brawn. We meet, I think, at least four different Terminators: the original T-800—a young Arnold, thanks to the miracle of CGI—the current, aged T-800 (nicknamed "Pops" by Emilia Clarke's Sarah Connor); a new T-1000 (Lee Byung-hun, who isn't in the movie for very long); and the aforementioned nanoswarm-Terminator (Jason Clarke). Each Terminator fits nicely into its part of the movie, so there's nothing to confuse the viewer. It really was a shame, though, to see the T-1000 taken out of the equation so early, and after such a brief run. Actor Lee Byung-hun does a very good job, during his short time on screen, of channeling Robert Patrick's feline/insectile T-1000 from the 1991 movie. Among us guys who watched the movie Thursday evening, we all agreed that Lee's T-1000 was far more menacing than Jason Clarke's nanoswarm-Terminator.

As 2015 action flicks go, there's just no way that "Terminator Genisys" could ever hold a candle to the magnificence that is "Mad Max: Fury Road." Lucky for me, I had dialed my expectations down very low, and TG proved entertaining enough by the low-IQ standards of big summertime Hollywood action flicks. It was cool to see Arnold back in the driver's seat, and to watch a bunch of non-Americans all speaking with perfect American accents (Jai Courtney, who plays Kyle Reese in this film, is an Aussie; Jason Clarke is also an Aussie; Emilia Clarke—no relation, I think—is English). I understand that TG is the first movie in a trilogy; I'll be morbidly curious to see what comes next.


_

Thursday, July 02, 2015

back in action

I came back from a bank errand and saw the Internet repair guy toiling away at the box on the first floor of our building. "You here for the Internet?" I asked, noting the obvious. "Yes," he replied simply. "Thank you," I said before lumbering down the hall to my studio.

So I'm blogging this from my laptop, which now has its normal (i.e., unblocked) Net connection restored. God is in His heaven and all is right with the world.

Off to Jamshil—and Arnold!—in a few minutes.


_

off to see Ahnold

I suppose I can let the cat out of the bag now.

At 8PM this evening, I'm meeting my buddy Tom in Jamshil to watch "Terminator: Genisys" on a screen in what is supposedly the largest movie theater in the world (for now). Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to be in town, so tonight's screening is a red-carpet event. I'm arriving too late to see the big man himself up close, but it's my understanding that he'll be saying a few choice Wörter to the crowd right before the movie starts. If we're permitted to do so, I'll see if I can take some grainy, digital-zoomed photos of Herr Governator before the lights go down and the wild sex begins.

As for the movie itself, I've seen only the previews and haven't read any reviews. I'm going to assume that this will either be awesome (mainly because it'll be playing on a screen large enough to dominate the sky from thirty miles away) or be a stinking pile of dudu. Maybe, after I publish this, I'll flip over to Metacritic and read some reviews there.

To prevent any poop urges during the movie, I'm avoiding food all day, so I'm going to be ravenous by the time I make my way home. Speaking of making my way home: it's a long, long subway ride to Jamshil from Goyang City. Tom was worried that I might not reach a subway in time to take me back, seeing as the movie lets out after 11PM. I told Tom not to worry; subway service will last until well after midnight, and I can reach Line 3's Garak Market stop with time to spare. The only real issue is whether I'll have to walk home from Madu Station in Goyang: by the time I reach Madu, it'll be around 1AM. I told Tom that that wasn't a big deal: I've walked the round trip to Madu and back several times since I moved here; it takes about 80 minutes one way, which is nothing for a walker like me.

Fingers crossed. Let's hope it's a good movie.

UPDATE: Oh, my.


_

crapoutage continues

Internet service is still crapped out here. I'm going to have to talk with my landlady about this. I can still see my blog via proxy server, so all is not lost, but posting reply comments in the comments thread is now possible only through my phone. And this is where we hit another annoying quirk: often, but not always, when I write and publish a comment through my phone, the comment appears twice or three times in the comment thread, which means I have to go back and delete the stuttered comments. Pain in the ass, that.

Computers were supposedly invented to make life easier, but I find that technology fails to operate in a linear manner most of the time.

More updates later.


_

Internet service has crapped out

My studio's building normally has very fast, very reliable Internet service, but for most of Wednesday, I've been unable to access the Net through my laptop, which slurps donkey balls. Instead, I've had to use my phone: out of necessity, I discovered the very easy procedure by which to turn my phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot, thereby allowing me to use my laptop again (I had been doing the opposite before: using my laptop as a Wi-Fi hotspot so as not to burden my phone's data usage). I have to do so sparingly, however: using the phone as a hotspot is going to burn up my meager available bandwidth (3 GB per month, which goes fast when you watch as much YouTube as I do) pretty quickly.

I tried everything to see what might be wrong with my Net connection. I unplugged and re-plugged the Ethernet cord leading into my laptop. No change. I did the same for the Ethernet cord where it went into the wall. Again, no change. I restarted the laptop dozens of times. Nothing. I clicked the "turn off/turn on Wi-Fi" icon at the top of my Mac's screen just as many times. No effect at all. I've done everything I can to establish that the problem is somehow on my end, and I can only conclude that the problem isn't me: it's something about the building's service. Perhaps there's a server, somewhere, that needs a good bit of percussive maintenance done with a steel-toed boot at the end of an angry leg.

In a strange twist to the above problems, I can hit "preview," while typing this blog post, and the preview window will show up, despite having the same "bighominid.blogspot.com" URL! What gives? It can't be the fact that the preview screen's URL begins with "https" instead of "http," because I tried truncating the preview URL so as to see my regular blog. Nada. So how on earth am I able to see my blog's preview? I regret not being a computer nerd.

A second twist: going to Elisson's blog, which is also a Blogspot blog, produces the following frustrating result:


Translation: next to the stylized "T," the Korean says cheongsonyeon yuhae chadan seobiseu, i.e., roughly, Youth-endangerment Protection Service. Below that, the text says basically that "The site you're trying to connect with contains dangerous or illegal material." Sure, yeah, I did recently post a picture of a friend's inadvertent sex toy, but as you see above, I can try to reach a Blogspot blog as innocent as Elisson's (OK, maybe Elisson's blog isn't that innocent, either, but he's got more class than to post photos of silicone fuckholes) and still not get through. So what gives?

I should explain the situation a bit further. I've had this "youth endangerment" notice appear on my cell phone before, too. Normally, it's a matter of waiting a few minutes and trying again for the block to disappear from my phone. That, or I log in (again on my phone) to Korean Naver, a portal site, through my Naver ID; I fiddle around with some settings, and the site is unblocked that way. (To be honest, I'm not sure what determines blockage or non-blockage.) I suspect that SK Telecom, my phone's service provider, is the entity behind the blockage. By using my SKT-powered phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot, I now permit SKT's ethics to invade my laptop and govern what I can and can't see. It's unsettling to know that these services have that much control over what you see, and also to know that these services can't distinguish my blog from a porn site. (It could be that some spiteful folks, sometime in the past, flagged my blog, which put it on several watch-lists. But if that's the case, why would Elisson's blog be flagged? What has he ever done to earn Korea's ire?)

I'm just hoping the crappy service will have returned to normal by tomorrow, so I can use my laptop normally and not waste my phone's bandwidth. I feel as if I were back in the days when the MIC (the ROK government's Ministry of Information and Communication) had blocked all Blogspot blogs to keep people from seeing the Kim Sun-il beheading video.

ADDENDUM: yet another twist: Steve Honeywell's movie-review blog, 1001 Plus, is reachable, despite being a Blogspot blog. Da fuck?




_

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

back to the drachma with you!

This promises to be a short post, given my lack of expertise in economics, but I'm writing not from the perspective of an economist but, rather, from the perspective of someone with a bit of common sense and a pronounced free-market capitalist bias.

First: about that bias. Suffice it to say that, if you're more into socialism, statism, and central planning, you and I will have nothing to talk about. Just look at what centralized economies have given us in such paradises as Cuba, North Korea, and the Soviet Unio—oh, wait. There IS no more Soviet Union, is there? People like to respond with counterexamples like western Europe, Scandinavia, and Canada, but (1) France's and England's economies aren't exactly healthy these days, (2) Scandinavia and Canada—a bit like China—have leavened their socialism with quite a lot of free-market capitalism, probably because they're not stupid. In the meantime, look at the tanking economies of all the Latin countries in South America that have embraced el socialismo. How have they been doing lately? Venezuela, anyone?

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk a bit about Greece. Greece is part of a cluster of nations that I uncharitably labeled, in a recent post, as "indolent Mediterranean sun-belt siesta cultures." Ouch.

I've never been to Greece, but I've lived in and traveled throughout western Europe, so I don't think my intuitions on this matter are far wrong. The closer you get to the sunny Mediterranean, the more likely you are to encounter cultures that emphasize siestas, sipping your wine while basking in the sun, and enjoying life instead of working yourself to death. In some ways, it's an enviable way to look at life, and it puts something like the maniacal Korean work ethic to shame if we think only in terms of in-the-moment satisfaction and contentment. The problem, though, is that such cultures breed—there's no way around this, so I'll just say it—laziness. Yes, laziness: a lack of any work ethic, a lack of any desire to see one's own country rise high in the economic ranks. How did an economic miracle like South Korea happen? It happened through hard work. People have said that North Korea used to have a stronger economy than the South, but remember that North Korea was originally backed by burlier powers like the Soviet Union and China. South Korea received help, too, but it essentially rose again primarily under its own power. The contrast between South Korea and Greece is telling. I'm reminded of Aesop's classic fable about the grasshopper and the ants.

Greece has, through corruption, a lack of a work ethic, and other factors, spent and borrowed itself into ridiculously deep debt. Its dead weight is now dragging down the Eurozone, and harder-working countries like Germany, with its robust economy, are grumbling that the time has come to excise the tumor. Personally, I think Greece needs to leave the Eurozone and go back to the drachma. In fact, I think it's high time for Europe to reconsider the folly that led to the Eurozone to begin with.

I can't come at this from a economist's perspective, but I know that some of the factors that conjured up the Eurozone were non-economic: they were historical and cultural. Europe's history is one of long and bloody strife, but over the past century Europe has shown both an awareness of this history and a desire to transcend it. To that extent, I find Europe's modern impulses to be laudable. Most large, successful countries these days have ugly pasts; America is no exception, and I can understand why Europe would want to put away the specter of war and move toward a peaceful, harmonious future. The notion of "transnational progressivism"—a term used more by American conservatives than by the people placed under that label—probably arises from this eros of the European spirit. As a result, we have the European Union (EU), which governs from Brussels under a rotating presidency. These forces also produced the EU's Constitution, a ridiculously Byzantine document the size of a dictionary that could easily hold several hundred copies of the pamphlet-sized United States Constitution. Today's Europeans want peace; many of them want to think of themselves as primarily European, not Hungarian or French or Irish. The EU, its Constitution, and the Eurozone are all children of this basic desire.

But the utopianism of the transnational vision has its pitfalls, and with Greece these days, we're witnessing one of those massive fissures as it spreads and reveals the underlying truth, which is that Europe is far from ready to be unified. To cover over massive differences in culture, language, history, and philosophy by saying "I'm European" is to blind oneself to the fact that Europeans can't simply wish their history away. The cultural forces that made each European country into what it is today are still operating, and something like the Eurozone merely papers over that fact. In my opinion, the Eurozone was folly to begin with because it was tying its progress to the lowest-performing member of the zone.

Imagine a classroom in the which the teacher tells the class: "In the spirit of equality, justice, and compassion, all students in this class will receive the same grade, but that grade will be based on the performance of the worst student in the class. I will calculate your grades the normal way at first, but once I have determined who has the worst grade, that student's grade will become the grade for every student in the class." Assuming the students actually accept this nightmarish rule without rioting or rebelling (and in the Eurozone's case, this is what various European countries have done), it's only a matter of time before feckless and low-performing Otto, cringing in the back of the class, becomes the object of every other student's hatred, and the class tries to eject him.

It was economic insanity for Europe to agree to tie its fate to that of its lowest-performing member. I have nothing but sympathy for Germany—the hard-working ant to Greece's indolent grasshopper—when it complains about sun-belt countries like Greece, Spain, and Portugal. Eject them all, I say, and while you're at it, dismantle the Eurozone and let every country breathe free again. Europe created the Eurozone in a spirit of harmonious accord. It was a gesture that said, "We share a common destiny, a common fate." Unfortunately, such gestures should normally be symbolic, but this one had actual, practical effects, and all of Europe—all of the world, really—is feeling the pain now as Greece implodes.

Allowing each European country to stand or fall on its own merits would be more consistent with my bias toward free-market capitalism. The Eurozone is an attempt at top-down control, and we see how well that's going. One thing I failed to mention above, in my recitation of the motives and forces involved in the inception of the Eurozone, was the pragmatic desire to establish a counterbalance to the USA's economy. Europe, as a bloc, would be a contender against the USA: a baguette-wielding Jaeger to Uncle Sam's taco-munching kaiju.* This type of thinking—that America is a juggernaut in need of a counterweight—stems from the febrile, wine-addled fantasies of Charles de Gaulle, who gave us the notion of le contrepoids—the counterweight—which later president Jacques Chirac would take to heart, and which Europe as a whole would take to heart as well. This is not how an ally is supposed to think. If my best friend is Iron man, I don't secretly think to myself that Iron Man needs to be counterbalanced by the Hulk. No: I just let Iron Man be Iron Man because he's my friend.

So my feeling is that, if Europe would truly save itself, it needs to let go of the fantasy that monetary unity somehow equals actual unity. Actual unity will eventually arise organically: the good will is already there, in abundance, emanating from the grassroots level. In the meantime, O Europe, dissolve the misguided Eurozone, let Greece go its own way (it'll find its way back, I'm sure), weather the turmoil that accompanies any major adjustment, and watch your countries rebound over the next ten to fifteen years. You'll find plenty of other ways to express your evolving sense of unity. Just remember that old proverb: friendship and motherhood end at the cash register. A true friendship won't express itself in monetary terms.

Ah, yes: before I forget, let me anticipate an easily foreseeable objection. Some readers will counter by saying, "What's so great about working yourself to the bone instead of enjoying life the way the Greeks, the Italians, and the French do? Sip your wine, take it easy, don't be so serious about life!" I'm somewhat sympathetic to this objection, but only somewhat. The problem is that such an outlook works fine on the personal level, but when it becomes more like a national philosophy, the long-term ramifications are dangerous, not to mention widespread. Look at how it goes with so many warm-weather siesta cultures: how powerful are their economies? How rich are their people? I'd submit that, if you value people's happiness, the surer route to happiness for the greatest number of people would be for everyone to work hard for the economic betterment of the nation. That's when it can truly be said that a rising tide lifts all boats.

"Well," you retort petulantly, "those supposedly indolent, supposedly lazy warm-weather people value deeper things than material comfort." Maybe. Maybe. And that might also be true in places like poverty-stricken India, where gurus and other enlightened folk do indeed seem to get along happily with less material clutter in their lives. I can't argue with that. But at the same time, be realistic: if you could choose between (1) a life that allows you to think deep, compassionate thoughts while you live in abject squalor, or (2) a life that allows you to think deep, compassionate thoughts while you live in relative comfort and cleanliness, which would you honestly prefer? We could almost do a reductio ad absurdum here: why bother being environmentalist and humanitarian, advocating a clean Earth and combating poverty? Why don't we all just roll around in garbage and dung? It's the enlightened thing to do, after all!

OK, so maybe this wasn't that short of a post.



*If you're unfamiliar with Jaeger/kaiju imagery, you need to see "Pacific Rim," reviewed here.


_

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

in case you didn't notice

Last week, I dropped SiteMeter from my sidebar. One paranoid commenter had done the same thing, and I guess his(?) paranoia finally rubbed off on me. I might slap SiteMeter back on in a few days, but I'm in no hurry. SiteMeter was originally a very reliable counter back in 2003, but over the years it's become less and less stable, crapping out at odd times, miscounting (as it did recently), and generally acting weird. I don't know what happened, but the counter went from great to shitty, and I'm no longer sure it's worth using. I may just stick to Blogger's built-in counter, even though it provides precious little vital information.


_

Monday, June 29, 2015

marriages

I just found out that a Korean cousine of mine is getting married this August. She's out in Texas, and while I'd love to attend the wedding, I'm already committed to a different wedding this coming October... because MY BROTHER SEAN IS GETTING MARRIED!

This is also the moment when I inform you, Dear Reader, that Sean is gay, and that he'll be marrying his beau Jeff, who came to Korea with Sean last August when they were on their whirlwind Asia tour (photos here). I don't feel awkward telling you any of this, but Sean himself has been circumspect, for a long while, about allowing me to make such an announcement on the blog. He worries—not without justification—that a public revelation of his sexuality might damage his music career, especially since a large proportion of his income is from Korean families in northern Virginia, and Korean attitudes toward homosexuals aren't exactly the most enlightened. On that note, I've been tasked with breaking the news about Sean to our Korean relatives here. I haven't had the chance to talk in depth with them yet, and this isn't something I'm going to do via text message. Still, I do wonder how the relatives are going to react once I've outed Sean to them. It's not going to be the most positive thing, I fear.

Anyway, Sean's upcoming wedding is happy news to me. The date has been set for October 17, two days after Sean's birthday on the 15th. My Golden Goose boss has already generously said I could have that whole week off (vacations will be at a premium for me once I become a corporate drone: no more four-months-a-year holidays for ol' Kevin!), and this is important because Sean and Jeff have asked me, perhaps in my capacity as church elder, to act as the officiant for the wedding.* Strangely enough, the wedding is to take place in West Virginia. At a guess, most of you are probably thinking the same thing: isn't West Virginia one of the most gay-unfriendly states in the Union? I don't blame you. That's what I thought, too. Turns out, though, that West Virginia has sanctioned gay marriage for years. So, yes: yours truly will be donning a hanbok and saying ritual words in front of a happy crowd as two families are united through Sean and Jeff's public commitment.

And now you understand why I've been so vocal a supporter of gay marriage: it's a very personal matter for me. I've hinted at my personal involvement in the past, noting that "someone close to me" or "someone I love" is gay. Now you know whom I've been talking about. I'm very protective of my brother; I don't want anything bad to happen to him, and I want him to be free to enjoy the rights and privileges that heterosexuals take for granted. This is why I take a dim view of the "let the states decide" crowd: they're advocating for the slower solution, and while the legality or illegality of gay marriage was working itself out in a patchwork manner, my brother would have to travel the United States knowing that he was legally married in some states and officially unmarried in others. That's a weird and stupid sort of limbo to experience, and not consistent with my wanting the best for my little brother. It makes far more sense for the right to marry to be bestowed upon all, everywhere, at the same time, so I applaud the Supreme Court's June 26 decision to legalize gay marriage. There will be much whining and moaning from social conservatives about this as they complain about perceived judicial tyranny, but the fact of the matter is that, no matter how gay marriage had come to be the law of the land, there would always have been such moaning and groaning—there would always have have been this or that reason for not allowing it, and for thinking that it somehow erodes the nation further. Utter nonsense.

So that's the big announcement: my other little brother is getting married this October, and I'm the officiant. I wish peace, joy, and happiness to my cousin Jihae, my brother Sean, and my soon-to-be brother-in-law Jeff. I hope they all lead great, fulfilling lives.



*In the Presbyterian Church, USA, there are two sorts of elders: ruling elders and teaching elders. Teaching elders are more commonly known as pastors or ministers. I'm an ordained ruling elder (which means I have voting power regarding internal church matters), so I don't have the authority, within the church context, to conduct weddings. West Virginia law, however, allows anyone to become an officiant of a wedding, but there is a good bit of paperwork involved. So while my elder status may have something to do with why Sean and Jeff have chosen me, it's ultimately West Virginia law that gives me the authority to step into this honored role. I do so proudly and happily.


_

Sunday, June 28, 2015

one last, loving look

This is the last bit of burger porn, I swear. I took these pics just today, after cooking one of my two remaining megaburgers. Hover your cursor over each image to see its caption.






_

Tom's food-porn shots

My buddy Tom is a man of many talents, and one of his passions is photography. Tom was so thrilled with the burger he got on Saturday evening that he said, "I don't usually do food porn, but in this case I'll make an exception." All four of the following beauty shots are from Tom, who reverently posed the plate of burger-ness on my bed, checked his lighting, and clicked away. I was tickled to have my food treated with such respect. Hover your cursor over the images to read the captions. Enjoy, and imagine the flavor.






_

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturday burgerfest

My buddy Tom was in Goyang to help out with a sort of English-learning activity at a minor-league baseball game, so I had invited him and our mutual friend Patrick over for burgers stuffed with Gorgonzola and bacon. Here are some food photos from today's festival of burgers. Hover your cursor over each image to see the related caption.







A few remarks about tonight's dinner.

1. Broiling meat is a gamble if you don't know your broiler, and I still don't know my own broiler well enough to use it properly. I think the burgers I did broil went a wee bit overcooked—not enough to be tragic, but just enough to be slightly noticeable. I'll know better what to do next time around, I think.

2. The patties cooked amazingly well: there was very little shrinkage or cheese leakage, and the burgers were huge and hefty. Tom had started off thinking he might be able to down two burgers, but as it turned out, he could handle only one before he was stuffed. I had only a single burger, too; the remaining two huge patties have been placed in the freezer for later.

3. I accidentally doused Tom's shoes with bacon grease, ensuring that they would be fragrant during his bus ride home. The grease was sitting in a bowl on a high shelf, atop some plates. I needed a plate but forgot that the bowl atop the plates was full of grease; when I forcefully yanked the bowl off the plates, the grease sloshed out, most of it landing on poor Tom's shoes. Tom was very gracious about the fuckup, but I felt guilty. Tom claims he'd been planning to take his shoes in for a professional cleaning, anyway, so no worries.

4. The cut of beef that I received from the butcher was beautifully marbled. It might not have been galbi (short ribs), but it was damn close. As such, I decided not to take my usual approach to hamburger prep: normally, I flavor up my meat with salt, pepper, and herbs like basil, parsley, and oregano; I occasionally mix in a bit of garlic and onion powder (never actual onions!). I also add a bit of oil if I think the meat might be too lean. I almost never use an egg for binding, and these days I almost never add bread crumbs, having taken to heart Bobby Flay's scoffing remark about how we're supposed to be making burgers, not meatloaf. (There is, however, a reasonable school of thought that notes that adding some bread crumbs to your burgers is a good way to retain the meat's juices during cooking: the crumbs sponge up the fluids, making for a moister burger.) On Saturday, I used no herbs and no aromatics: all I added was a bit of salt, a shot of black pepper, and very little olive oil. The meat itself was left to carry its native flavor into the finished burger.

5. I forgot to mention that Patrick, the bastard, couldn't make it. Something about how he needed to eat dinner with his wife, whom he hadn't had time to dine with in ages. Meh. Wife, shmife, I say—burgers are far more important than marriage.

All in all, a great dinner. Tom repeatedly sang the meal's praises, despite his bacon-fat-sogged shoes. I, for one, was happy that the burgers turned out as well as they did: I had worried they would split open and essentially turn into double Whoppers. They didn't, thank Cthulhu.



_

Friday, June 26, 2015

who gets the last laugh?

On Twitter, I followed a link to this Korea Observer article with the somewhat misleading title, "Is the Korean college entrance English test too tough for Americans?" (The phrase "college entrance" really ought to be hyphenated because it's a phrasal adjective preceding the noun it modifies.) The article includes an embedded video that I encourage you to watch. The video shows two capable Korean test-takers and one American (ostensibly an English teacher) who take a 50-minute section of a TOEIC test. Results: the two Koreans score 100% and 96%, respectively, while the American scores a dismal 76%. However, the video also shows that when Dave, the American, tries to ask basic questions of his two co-examinees, they (1) can't understand what he's saying and (2) can't make fluent replies.

The point being driven home by the video is one that's familiar to expat English teachers in Korea: Koreans are great when it comes to test-taking, and since Korean business culture also seems to prioritize exam results over actual linguistic competence, this is what Korean students emphasize in their studies. In a course that stresses "teaching toward the test," Korean students will flourish. More abstractly, the video is a warning that tests do not measure actual competence, but merely test-taking ability. There's truth to this, but it's also true that test design can be good or shoddy.

Witness the TOEFL, which underwent a revolutionary redesign when too many Koreans were scoring in the high 90s. TOEFL had originally been a test of the passive/receptive macroskills, i.e., reading and listening. After the redesign, TOEFL also included the elements that Korean students dread: the active/productive macroskills of speaking and writing. I worked with ETS as a TOEFL essay rater, and I can personally attest to how easy it is to guess what part of the world a tester comes from based on that tester's writing. I now live in Korea, but because I also lived in Europe, I'm familiar with both Korean and European ways of thinking through English. If 5 is the maximum score on a TOEFL essay, Europeans, especially western Europeans, all tend to score 4 or 5 while Koreans are generally stuck in the doldrums of the 3 zone. This isn't just because English is a European language: it's also because of the differing approaches to language-teaching adopted by Europeans and Asians. The European/US approach puts far more stress on communicative competence than does the Korean approach, which is more about rules, structures, rote memorization, and rote repetition—a scheme that completely ignores the fluidity and unpredictability of actual conversation.

Another, less comfortable, point of the video—one that might be visible only to the linguistically and pedagogically aware—is that many English teachers in Korea aren't worthy of the name: they have little to no real understanding of grammar, mechanics, and the finer points of rhetoric. (The Korea Observer article itself is an unholy jumble of egregious errors: it's not just English teachers who lack competence.) Watch Dave in the video: near the end, he reads aloud one of the sentences from the test, a sentence written in somewhat complex prose.* Frustrated, he asks rhetorically, "What does this mean?" Well, sir: I understood the sentence's meaning even if you didn't, and that's because I'm actually competent in my native tongue. Too many foreign English teachers in Korea would do just as poorly as Dave on a standardized test targeting their knowledge of and skill in the technical aspects of English.

At the end of the video, poor Dave hangs his head in shame while one of the two Koreans pats him reassuringly on the back. I found that interesting, because you'd think the Koreans would be equally ashamed of their garbage-quality English. But that's not how the makers of the video chose to spin the situation. Who, then, gets the last laugh?



*The sentence refers to philosopher Thomas Kuhn, author of the now-classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, who gave the world the phrase "paradigm shift" to describe a radical change in modes of thinking. Dave really should educate himself.


_

Ave, Instapundit!

Quite likely the only such "Ave!" I'll ever give to Glenn Reynolds's (in)famous blog, this shout-out isn't for Reynolds himself, but for one of his guest bloggers: Randy Barnett, who had the balls to write a post that most definitely rubs certain conservatives the wrong way because it goes against the current rightie groupthink. Here's the post in full:



MAX BOOT: Rightfully Reversing Decades of Secessionist Rehabilitation:

But there is a big distinction to be made between remembering the past — something that, as a historian, I’m all in favor of — and honoring those who did bad things in the past. Remembrance does not require public displays of the Confederate flag, nor streets with names such as Jefferson Davis Highway — a road that always rankles me to drive down in Northern Virginia. Such gestures are designed to honor leaders of the Confederacy, who were responsible for the costliest war in American history — men who were traitors to this country, inveterate racists, and champions of slavery.

In this regard, honoring Jefferson Davis is particularly egregious, or, for that matter, Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan. But I believe even honoring the nobler Robert E. Lee is inappropriate. True, he was a brave and skilled soldier, but he fought in a bad cause. Modern Germany does not have statues to Erwin Rommel even though he — unlike Lee — turned at the end of the day against the monstrous regime in whose cause he fought so skillfully. Thus, I don’t believe it is appropriate to have statues of Lee, or schools named after him, although I admit in his case it’s a closer call than with Jefferson Davis.

This is not “rewriting” history; it’s getting history right. The rewriting was done by Lost Cause mythologists who created pro-Confederate propaganda (such as Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind) to convince their countrymen that the South was actually in the right even as it imposed slavery and then segregation. This required impugning those Northerners who went south after the Civil War to try to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. They were labeled “carpetbaggers,” and their memory was tarnished while the actions of the white supremacists they opposed were glorified.

Boot is exactly right. I wasn’t kidding when I said before that I am glad to see Nikki Haley get the Stars and Bars removed from government buildings. Eric Foner and other historians like James Oakes and Richard Sewell are to be credited with correcting the historical record from the pro-Confederate revisionism that is still accepted by all-too-many on the right. Where the “Lost Cause” fable might once have been justified as a useful fiction to unify the country, lying about the Civil War and Reconstruction now only serves those who wish to sully the reputation of those who opposed slavery and promoted the civil rights of blacks when doing so took real courage (as it did for the civil rights activists of the ’50s and ’60s). In this way, like the Southerners of old, they can claim that there is a moral equivalence between North and South, between the USA and the CSA.

MORE HERE: I highly recommend the books I link to above about the men who opposed the pro-slavery reading of the Constitution before the Civil War, and who established the Republican Party to see their vision of the Constitution affirmed in its text. You can also read my articles on antislavery constitutionalism here and here. The more I learn about the history that has been concealed by pro-Confederate revisionism, the more I find to admire in our past.

Cross-posted on The Volokh Conspiracy. h/t Eugene Volokh

Posted at 5:09 pm by Randy Barnett



This is a reversal of the current conservative Zeitgeist. Conservatives, many or most of whom want, for whatever reason, to see the Confederate flag preserved, falsely equate the removal of the flag from public spaces like the state capitol to an erasure of history (a matter I discussed earlier: it's not). The above post rightly asserts that such a removal, far from being a distortion or an erasure of history, is a correction, a remedy for pernicious Southern revisionism. I can only say "Good!" to that. Imagine Holocaust deniers having their way, or imagine if Koreans abandon the fight to make Japanese textbook publishers publish a true and correct history of Japan's role in World War II. The above post is talking about something like that.

As of this writing, Barnett's post has garnered a whopping 382 comments, many of them outraged that Barnett would refuse to drink the Kool Aid.

All of this anger in the comment threads reminds me of one of Charles's posts.

Trivia: I know Jefferson Davis Highway. It runs through part of Arlington, Virginia, maybe 30 to 40 minutes from where I used to live in Alexandria.


_

bye-bye, Dongguk

June 25th is a day of remembrance in South Korea, as it marks the beginning of the Korean War, which began in 1950 and ended in 1953. Strangely, though, it's not a national holiday: offices were open, including the offices of the Dharma College Foreign Language Center at the Seoul campus of Dongguk University.

On Thursday, I trundled over to the Seoul campus to finalize some paperwork and clear out my work station. The paperwork passed muster, which meant that the dragons of bureaucracy were pleased. It took me only a few minutes to clear out my desk and shelves; I stuffed everything into my trusty Costco shopping bag, said goodbye to my coworker JJ* (the only other person in the faculty office at the time), and lumbered out to the street. I took a cab to Gwanghwamun, grabbed the 7119 bus home, and took the following shot of my stuff:


Barring some very unusual circumstance, I now have no reason to set foot on the Seoul campus again. Of course, I may end up back there just because of Namsan, but there are other access points to the mountain, so then again, I might just leave the campus be.

Bye-bye, Dongguk. It was an interesting and enlightening year.



*As I said goodbye to JJ, I observed that he was the first teacher to greet me upon my arrival on campus for the very first time as a hired professor, so it seemed only apropos—as an instance of cosmic symmetry—that JJ should be the last prof whose hand I would shake on my way out. JJ's a good guy. I'll miss him and several other faculty members.


_

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Saturday! "S" is for "BURGERS"!

I'm celebrating the end of the term with my buddy Tom and our mutual friend (also my former KMA supervisor) Patrick. Tom and Patrick will be in Ilsan this coming Saturday to work all day at a baseball-related function, manning some sort of stand and helping kids speak in English. At the end of the day, they'll be heading over to my place for a mess of hamburgers stuffed with bacon and Gorgonzola cheese plus all the trimmings.

The menu:

DRINKS
Cola, water, tea, juice (with big, nasty chunks of ice)

MAIN COURSE AND SIDE
Hamburger on toasted bun, beef patties stuffed with bacon and Gorgonzola cheese
Condiments: ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, mayo
Trimmings: lettuce, tomato, onion, sweet gherkins
Side 1: potato chips
Side 2: franks and beans
Side 3: simple cole slaw (last time, it was a little too complicated)
Possible addition: salmon steakburger with wasabi mayo

DESSERT
To be decided

To buy from the local grocer:

• iceberg lettuce
• salad greens
• tomatoes
• onions (already have, actually)
• 3 cans of pork and beans
• cabbage
• gherkins
• mustard
• canola oil
• eggs

UPDATE: I went out and bought all of the above. So that's done.

To buy from Costco:

• burger buns
• Gorgonzola
• ground beef
• salmon
• thick-cut bacon
• pre-crumbled bacon (for the franks & beans)
• potato chips (lg. bag)
• heavy cream
• butter

Much to be done before my guests arrive. Much deliciousness to be had once they do.


_

the checklist

A blogger(?) going by the moniker "Tyler Durden" has picked up and passed along a list, apparently written by a certain "Daisy Luther," called "The Last Rebels: 25 Things We Did As Kids That Would Get Someone Arrested Today." The post begins with a rant about how pussified we as a nation have become (I mostly agree with the rant), then gives us the list (here slightly edited for style):

1. Riding in the back of an open pick-up truck with a bunch of other kids
2. Leaving the house after breakfast and not returning until the streetlights came on, at which point you raced home ASAP so you didn’t get in trouble
3. Eating peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches in the school cafeteria
4. Riding your bike without a helmet
5. Riding your bike with a buddy on the handlebars, and neither of you wearing helmets
6. Drinking water from the hose in the yard
7. Swimming in creeks, rivers, ponds, and lakes (or what they now call *cough* “wild swimming“)
8. Climbing trees (one park cut the lower branches from a tree on the playground in case some stalwart child dared to climb them)
9. Having snowball fights (and accidentally hitting someone you shouldn’t)
10. Sledding without enough protective equipment to play a game in the NFL
11. Carrying a pocket knife to school (or having a fishing tackle box with sharp things on school property)
12. Camping
13. Throwing rocks at snakes in the river
14. Playing politically incorrect games like Cowboys and Indians
15. Playing Cops and Robbers with *gasp* toy guns
16. Pretending to shoot each other with sticks we imagined were guns
17. Shooting an actual gun or a bow (with *gasp* sharp arrows) at a can on a log, accompanied by our parents who gave us pointers to improve our aim. Heck, there was even a marksmanship club at my high school
18. Saying the words “gun” or “bang” or “pow pow” (there['s] actually a freakin’ CODE about “playing with invisible guns”)
19. Working for your pocket money well before your teen years
20. Taking that money to the store and buying as much penny candy as you could afford, then eating it in one sitting
21. Eating pop rocks candy and drinking soda, just to prove we were exempt from that urban legend that said our stomachs would explode
22. Getting so dirty that your mom washed you off with the hose in the yard before letting you come into the house to have a shower
23. Writing lines for being a jerk at school, either on the board or on paper
24. Playing “dangerous” games like dodgeball, kickball, tag, whiffle ball, and red rover (The Health Department of New York issued a warning about the “significant risk of injury” from these games)
25. Walking to school alone

Let's see... I did (1) when I was a high schooler on an exchange program in France in 1986; (2) when I was a kid; (3) because Mom sometimes made me such sandwiches; (4) I still do; (5) never; (6) I did all the time—what's wrong with this?; (7) only rarely; (8) I didn't do this until I was in high school; (9) got into plenty of snowball fights, but accidentally hit a friend's mom with a frisbee; (10) all the time as a kid; (11) quite often, and no one cared; (12) many a time; (13) threw rocks at jellyfish at the beach; (14) nope, never; (15) toy guns? yerp; (16) of course—that, and with Legos and actual toy pistols that shot foam bullets; (17) shot a bow and a BB gun; (18) of course! (19) yup; (20) what's "penny candy"? but I probably did this; (21) yes; (22) maybe, but I don't specifically remember; (23) I wrote lines... along with my whole class; (24) dodgeball and kickball are dangerous? (25) all the damn time.

Should my folks have been arrested for neglect?

Seems that, out of the 25 items listed, I engaged in 22 of them. And I'm still here.

(Hat tip to John Pepple for pointing out this list.)

_

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

driving ol' Dixie down

My coworker at the Golden Goose asked me my opinion on the whole "Confederate-flag thing." This is with reference to whether South Carolina should take down the Confederate flag (a.k.a., The Stainless Banner, among other names) in the aftermath of the recent shooting by racist nut Dylann Storm Roof (apparently pronounced "rofe") at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina (Wiki writeup here). Before I talk about the flag, though, let's back up and deal with some prior issues.

As I told my buddy Tom regarding the fate of Mr. Roof: "I say fry him. I don't give a shit that he may have been off his meds." What do you do when a bear wanders into town and kills nine of your people? Do you negotiate with it while thinking, "After all, it's just a bear; it's only following its instincts"? Not at all: you shoot the bastard—you bring it down, and that's how you stop more killings from happening. (This is, by the way, the best and only necessary argument for the death penalty. Screw the notion that capital punishment deters other people: it deters the only person who matters, i.e., the killer himself.) As I've noted before in writing about suicide and depression, these mental conditions may constrain our human freedom, but they don't eliminate that freedom. Even the most depressed person in the world is ultimately responsible for his or her actions. Freedom is always constrained in some manner; like water, it inevitably follows certain channels as it runs its course.

I told my coworker, regarding Roof, that the good folks at Emanuel—many of whom openly forgave the killer—were much more noble than I would have been in their place. Dylann Roof would have received justice from my bare hands had he killed either or both of my little brothers. I simply don't have it in me to forgive certain things, and in Roof's case, I would gladly pull the hangman's lever, or the rifleman's trigger—or would twist his head until I heard and felt his neck bones pop—and sleep soundly that very night.

Getting back, though, to the "Confederate-flag thing": as I also told my coworker, I'm technically a Southerner, having been born and raised in Virginia. That said, I've never felt particularly Southern. Other Virginians will note, jokingly, that this is because of my long-time proximity to Washington, DC: northern Virginia has never been "real" Virginia by most Virginians' reckoning—this despite the fact that I lived in Mount Vernon, on what used to be the property of George Washington himself—and who, if not President Washington, is the ultimate Virginian? So because I've never felt all that Southern, I can't say that I feel any twinge of regret or despair, or even nostalgia, at the thought that South Carolina might, by forever lowering the Stainless Banner, finally put aside an odious part of its past and move forward into this modern century.

I recognize that others feel differently, and part of the reason for this has to do with the power of symbols. Symbols operate on agreements (see my post on the supposedly pagan symbolism of the Christmas tree), and they also accumulate history. Think about the swastika: it may rotate differently depending on whether it's a Nazi swastika or a swastika coming out of ancient Indian culture, but the symbol has a powerful resonance in both the West and the East—all thanks to agreements as to how to view the symbol, and to the accumulated history of tradition that naturally accretes around the symbol. So I, along with many Northerners and most black folks, view the Confederate flag as a symbol that still echoes with the racism and oppression of the past. Other Southerners ignore this dimension and focus solely on how the flag represents "Southern culture," a notion with which I have little sympathy.

This brings me to an article by William Cawthon that I saw via Malcolm Pollack's fine blog. Malcolm's post is brief, but the article itself is dauntingly long. I spent an hour slogging through it during my lunch break yesterday, but I still failed to finish it. Not that finishing it was necessary: the author, a Southerner himself, repeatedly utters the same self-pitying refrain—the South's defeat turned everything upside-down; the North swept in and began systematically replacing Southern cultural notions and values with Northern notions and values; the South is steadily disintegrating. Alas for the poor, dying South. In that vein, Malcolm seems to be arguing, the taking-down of the Confederate flag is part and parcel with the continued dismantling of Southern history and culture.

Two things impressed me—negatively—about Cawthon's article: (1) he complains about the steady loss of Southern culture but provides almost no examples of what elements of that culture are worth saving, and (2) his article makes only the barest mention of slavery, which makes everything he does say in the article utterly beside the point. He claims, for example, that the South was economically more robust than the North before the Civil War. I almost laughed: the South's economy was largely founded on a booming cotton industry that was driven by slave labor! (Read more here. This is telling: "By 1850, 1.8 million of the 2.5 million enslaved Africans employed in agriculture in the United States were working on cotton plantations.") Is Cawthon really that blind to the irony of what he's saying? While lamenting the demise of his culture, the author offers us no reason to believe it worth saving. And out of 5,824 words, the author uses some form of the word "slave" (enslavement, slavery, slaves, etc.) only six times. Slavery is an issue that he actively avoids.

(In the interest of fairness and full disclosure, I should note that, having lived out in the sticks and having known country folk, I can think of a list of reasons to preserve certain aspects of Southern culture—perhaps a subject for another post. Most of the folks I knew while living in Front Royal were good, kind, and hard-working. It is, perhaps, condescending to say this, but the people I knew would have been horrified by the notion of owning a chattel slave. That said, there are also, even now, rotten undercurrents to that culture which, in an ideal world, would be rooted out and eliminated. Conservative churches in Front Royal, for example, aren't all that friendly to, say, gay couples looking to become members.)

There are Southerners who still maintain that the Civil War wasn't fundamentally about slavery: it was about states' rights. That may indeed have been an issue, and I don't think Cawthon is wrong to mention that issue in his article when he complains about Northern steamrollering of Southern ideas and values. But for Cawthon to elide the role and importance of slavery is a dirty move on his part, and I refuse to accept it.

My Golden Goose coworker, during an idle moment in the office, pointed out the so-called "cornerstone speech" given by the vice-president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, on March 21, 1861. Stephens lays out the South's convictions, and its motivating principles, with grim and appalling clarity:

The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away... Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it—when the "storm came and the wind blew, it fell."

Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.

Stephens, speaking with the implied authority of Jefferson Davis, says above that slavery is indeed a central issue—if not the central issue—in the coming conflict, and that the black man is most assuredly inferior to the white man. Southerners who shy away from this are shying away from their then-leaders' own words. Stephens also makes abundantly clear that he sees slavery as right, just, and an integral part of what makes the South the South. Is it any wonder, then, that black people nowadays—and non-black Northerners, too—might see the Confederate flag as a symbol of hatred and oppression?

So I can't get all that exercised about the taking-down of the Stainless Banner. I'm happy to see it go. And it's about damn time.

As for whether the South is really withering away, Wikipedia has this to say:

In more modern times, however, the South has become the most integrated region of the country. Since the late 1960s black people have held and currently hold many high offices, such as mayor and police chief, in many cities such as Atlanta and New Orleans.

[...]

Historically, the South relied heavily on agriculture, and was highly rural until after 1945. It has since become more industrialized and urban and has attracted national and international migrants. The American South is now among the fastest-growing areas in the United States.

[...]

The arrival of millions of Northerners (especially in major metropolitan areas and coastal areas) and millions of Hispanics means the introduction of cultural values and social norms not rooted in Southern traditions. Observers conclude that collective identity and Southern distinctiveness are thus declining, particularly when defined against "an earlier South that was somehow more authentic, real, more unified and distinct". The process has worked both ways, however, with aspects of Southern culture spreading throughout a greater portion of the rest of the United States in a process termed "Southernization".

Upshot: Mr. Cawthon's piteous whingeing notwithstanding, the South's going to be around for a very long time yet. It's not going anywhere, and by some measures, it seems actually to be thriving. If anything, southern red-state economies are proving, with Texas as a prime example, to be more robust than blue-state economies like California—a state that's managing itself into the ground thanks to over-regulation and a business-unfriendly climate. Perhaps like Germany, the South will reach a point where it repudiates its ugly past and begins to share only its good, positive, constructive aspects with the larger land.*

One last note: I see that Republican Senator Mitch McConnell has come out in favor of removing a prominent statue of Confederacy President Jefferson Davis and placing it in a history museum. I think this is a good thought, and it evokes the compromise that I personally envision: the removal of hateful icons and symbols doesn't mean their total erasure: erasing the past is never a good thing. We have to remember our mistakes if we're to have any hope of not repeating them. This is why Auschwitz and Buchenwald still exist; it's why Washington, DC, hosts the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Any Jew can tell you about the vital importance of memory. Put the past aside, forgive if you must, but never forget.

And that applies to a certain flag as well.



*Some readers might scoff at the idea that Germany nowadays is sharing only its positive qualities with Europe, especially given its own problems with race relations and immigration. From the perspective of someone in Korea who shares Koreans' frustrations with Japan's repeated attempts to change or erase its past culpability for countless depredations, I'd say that Germany has been remarkably forthright in its acknowledgment of and contrition for its past deeds. Germany now stands as one of two or three economic powerhouses in western Europe and is doing what it can to keep the Eurozone afloat, with little help from indolent Mediterranean sun-belt siesta cultures like Greece, Spain, and Portugal, all of which probably should be jettisoned from the common currency before the entire ship sinks.


_

ululate!

It is now confirmed that famed and infamous Hollywood composer James Horner has died in a plane crash. Horner was 61.

I have an ambivalent relationship with Horner's music. On the one hand, the man was capable of weaving together seemingly disparate strands of power and subtlety into a coherent, harmonious whole. You can hear both of these dynamics at work in the scores Horner prepared for, say, "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" or, much later, for "Apollo 13." On the other hand, Horner was a shameless self-cannibalizer—brazenly recycling themes, tropes, rhythms, and leitmotifs from previous movie scores in what can only be interpreted as sheer creative laziness. I heard the Klingon theme running through Horner's score for Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Commando," for example, as well as through James Cameron's "Aliens." Parts of the "Genesis Countdown" theme from "Star Trek II" were audible in Horner's music for Ron Howard's "Cocoon." The list of sins goes on.

But when Horner produced original material, it was undeniably majestic, and other composers seemed to crib from him, as I'm pretty sure Richard Gibbs did in crafting some of his themes for the "Battlestar Galactica" miniseries. Gibbs was definitely channeling Horner's "Braveheart." "Apollo 13," mentioned above, is some of Horner's best and most inspiring work. I have the album, which sits alongside his scores for "Star Trek II" and "Star Trek III." The "Brainstorm" soundtrack features moments of mystery and glory. The score for "Titanic" was, of course, memorable.

And now, it seems, James Horner is dead.

Despite the man's creative flaws, he was a composer that I had grown up with, whose music marked me deeply. I'm only a couple degrees of separation away from him, too: my brother Sean, a professional cellist, has an extremely talented violist friend named Katie who actually worked with Horner on one or more of his film scores. I wonder what that must have been like. But all of this is to say that I'll miss the man and his music. Very much.

RIP, Mr. Horner.


_

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

two strikes, one hit

After finishing my Tuesday work in Daechi-dong, I went over to the Seoul campus of Dongguk University to collect some paperwork and to drop other paperwork off. While I was in my office, I met a coworker—we'll call him Ampersand—who told me he was shopping around for a new place to live. He said that, for now, a yeogwan would be fine, so I told him I'd take him over to the Jongno 5-ga neighborhood where I had stayed a couple nights on the recommendation of a former coworker.

Amp and I taxied over to that neighborhood, but when I told him that we'd be heading into a back alley, he suddenly betrayed a great deal of trepidation, which I found amusing. We walked into the alley, and Amp started muttering, "Damn... this is filthy..." Now, I'm actually okay with a certain level of squalor (witness my multiple stays in the pube yeogwan), but Amp was apparently unready for even this rather modest level of trashiness. We passed the juicy girls; we passed the bars; we passed a few shadier-than-usual love motels. The buildings' façades had been redone since my last visit, so I ended up skipping past the yeogwan I had stayed in, but when I asked Amp if we should turn around and look for it, he said, "Naw, man. Let's go back to the main street."

So we headed out of the alley and back into the world. At that point, breathing fresher, less whore-y air, Amp felt a bit better and asked me whether I'd eaten dinner. I said no, so Amp said we should step into the soondae-guk restaurant right next to us. It looked like a nice place, so I shrugged and said "Why not?" The blood-sausage soup, laced with stringy beef, turned out to be fantastic, and was a great deal at barely $5.60 per large bowl. Good call on Amp's part. I paid, despite my colleague's protestations, so he insisted on paying the fare for our next cab ride, which was over to my old neighborhood from last semester, right in Chungmuro 5-ga. I wanted to take Amp up to the Hyundai Residence, a building just up the street from my former yeogwan. I had visited the real-estate office there months ago to ask about the cost of an apartment in the building. Amp said he'd like to see an apartment if possible. When we got to the front desk, the two harried clerks told us there were no apartments available—just hotel rooms. This contradicted what I'd heard from the real-estate office, but the night manager said, "I'm just the night manager; come back during the day and somebody higher up can help you better."

So my two attempts at hooking Amp up with a place to stay turned out to be a bust. The only high point of the evening was that soondae-guk restaurant, which was truly memorable. Amp and I walked back to Dongguk's campus, collected our stuff, walked back down to the street, and parted ways. Amp was intent on having a beer in Itaewon; I was tired and wanted to catch the 7119 bus from Gwanghwamun back to Goyang.

At least I got a good bit of walking done.


_