Sunday, June 26, 2016

at the office

I'm trying to get caught up on some work, so I'm at the office on a Sunday. Yay, me. Around 3PM, I'll take a cab over to the Olympic Park so I can meet up with my buddy Charles, his wife Hyunjin, and correspondent Hahna K., whom I've known as an e-friend via email and blog comments for years. Hahna's the one who bought my best-ever Dalma-do (brush-art painting of Zen saint Bodhidharma); you can see a miniature version of that painting on my blog's right-hand sidebar. She's also helped me out with small loans over the years, for which I've been very thankful. Anyway, I'll get to meet her, her husband, and their two kids today. We'll stroll around the park, then hit dinner somewhere. My ajumma says there's a place inside the park where people can get galbi, naengmyeon, and all sorts of other delightful foods. So that may be where we're heading. Very likely, I'll just walk back home from the park, which is only a few miles away (4.2 miles, to be exact) from where I live.


58 floors

Tonight, I walked twice up my building's staircase, from B1 to 26, then walked up to my floor—the 6th. So that's 26 + 26 + 6 floors: 58 floors in total. Very tiring, yet somehow strangely satisfying, mainly because I get to say, Yeah—I did that.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

angry Korean hummus!


I finally did it, and it wasn't that hard: I made fusion hummus without tahini! A can of chick peas, a teaspoon of fresh-ground garlic, a heaping tablespoon of gochujang, and a good bit of sesame oil that serves as a tahini substitute.

Result: fuckin' WOW!

Fusion food in Korea tends to be either spectacularly good (budae-jjigae) or spectactularly awful (pretty much all other peninsular attempts at fusion). I'll stick this one in the "good" category, thanks—the gochujang, which I've used instead of the regular (and optional) chili flakes that one normally dumps into hummus, added a savor and sweetness that hummus doesn't normally have. The sesame oil acted the way I thought it would act: it made me forget all about the missing tahini (tahini is normally essential to hummus).

I had thought about making this for a long, long time, and tonight, I finally went ahead and did it. I have all sorts of ideas for how to use this spread, which straddles both Korean and Middle Eastern flavor profiles. Stay tuned as I try to bring some of these ideas to life over the coming weeks and months!

ADDENDUM: I'm not the first to think of this, but hey—I invented it independently, which makes me the Leibniz to all these other Newtons.


influence from across the pond?

A long quote I saw on Instapundit (originally from here):

The world is looking at Britain and asking: What on Earth just happened? Those who run Britain are asking the same question.

Never has there been a greater coalition of the establishment than that assembled by Prime Minister David Cameron for his referendum campaign to keep the U.K. in the European Union. There was almost every Westminster party leader, most of their troops and almost every trade union and employers’ federation. There were retired spy chiefs, historians, football clubs, national treasures like Stephen Hawking and divinities like Keira Knightley. And some global glamour too: President Barack Obama flew to London to do his bit, and Goldman Sachs opened its checkbook.

And none of it worked. The opinion polls barely moved over the course of the campaign, and 52% of Britons voted to leave the EU. That slender majority was probably the biggest slap in the face ever delivered to the British establishment in the history of universal suffrage. . . .

The Brexit campaign started as a cry for liberty, perhaps articulated most clearly by Michael Gove, the British justice secretary (and, on this issue, the most prominent dissenter in Mr. Cameron’s cabinet). Mr. Gove offered practical examples of the problems of EU membership. As a minister, he said, he deals constantly with edicts and regulations framed at the European level—rules that he doesn’t want and can’t change. These were rules that no one in Britain asked for, rules promulgated by officials whose names Brits don’t know, people whom they never elected and cannot remove from office. Yet they become the law of the land. Much of what we think of as British democracy, Mr. Gove argued, is now no such thing.

Instead of grumbling about the things we can’t change, Mr. Gove said, it was time to follow “the Americans who declared their independence and never looked back” and “become an exemplar of what an inclusive, open and innovative democracy can achieve.” Many of the Brexiteers think that Britain voted this week to follow a template set in 1776 on the other side of the Atlantic.

Let's say this is true: the UK took the American Revolution as an example of brave assertion of independence. It could still be asked: is this the only lesson Europeans have taken from the two-centuries-old American experiment? I think the answer is no, and this raises a point that I meant to address in my recent Brexit post but didn't: one of the major reasons why there's an EU to begin with is that Europe may have looked across the pond at the US and envied the collective economic power of those fifty states, united by federalism (i.e., two layers of government—federal and state/local—each with its sphere of authority) into a gigantic economic bloc that remains the most powerful such bloc on earth. Europe saw a chance to become a rival power; it pooled its resources, organized, and seized upon that chance.

But the problem, as John Power flatly stated, is that the EU isn't the United States. The US is united by language (for the most part), common cultural assumptions, laws, and a more or less shared interpretation and sense of history, culture, and destiny (postmodernists would call this a metanarrative). It's not a uniform sense, by any means, and federalism isn't a perfect fit for a population as numerous and diverse as modern America is, but overall, it works. And Europe envies that fact.

But Europe and the United States aren't the same creature at all. First: American law and culture spring most directly from British Common Law and culture, not from Continental sensibilities. Second: US states aren't the same thing as European countries, which have their own unique histories, languages, foods, literatures, art forms, senses of humor, moments of celebration and solemnity, etc. Sure, US states take pride in their local histories and cultural artifacts, but there is nevertheless a huge overlap between and among US states that doesn't exist between and among European countries. Americans also (at least for now) easily self-identify as American first, not as Kansan first or Montanan first or Floridian first. For Europeans, saluting two flags is a more difficult proposition: saying one is European first means denying that one is French first, Italian first, etc. This is a huge disanalogy.

My point, though, is that the Leave side of the Brexit aisle might see America in terms of separatism, nationalism/patriotism, and independence, but the Remain side of the Brexit aisle looks at America and sees collective cooperation resulting in large-scale harmony and, by extension, economic might: "We are stronger together." For European countries that share Charles de Gaulle's paradoxical vision of being America's ally and America's counterweight (a vision I've always found nonsensical: allies shouldn't be thinking of how to counterbalance, i.e., stymie, other allies—not when there are actual enemies about), looking across the pond means viewing America as a collective, not as an independent, sovereign entity. Further, it means self-assembling into a collective that matches America, at least externally.

It's a bit like the ancient Jain story of the blind men surrounding the elephant: each perceives the elephant as a different thing, based on his particular perspective: the elephant is a wall, a tree trunk, a snake, a siege weapon, a whip—all depending on whether one is standing next to a flank, a leg, the trunk, a tusk, or the tail. Is America assertively independent or an example of an enviably harmonious collective? Perspective matters. America could have been as much an inspiration for Remain as it apparently was for Leave.


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my food will warp your sense of time and put you in a coma

I fed my boss and my lone coworker some fusilli with red sauce the other day. The sauce itself was actually just bottled Korean spaghetti sauce—no different from a bottle of Ragu or Prego from back home.* The meat in the sauce was of two varieties: Italian sausage (purchased at High Street Market) broken up into small, spoonable chunks, and gigantic ox-testicle meatballs made of ground beef and pork.** I had also chopped up and included two types of mushrooms: button and oyster. The result was a rib-sticking, chunky tomato sauce. I brought this mess to the office, along with pre-cooked fusilli (easier to store and reheat than spaghetti or other noodles: fusilli's spiral shape prevents it from sticking to itself and becoming a huge, fused mass of pasta) and a bottle of parmesan cheese. Around 2PM, I set about serving.

The pasta was in a container that was too large for our office's tiny microwave, so I used the kitchen's hot-water dispenser to drown the noodles for a minute and allow them to heat back up. After a quick soak-and-drain, the fusilli were ready. I had brought along my gas stove and other cooking equipment, so I fired up the stove, dumped the cold sauce into my large bokkeum pan, and began reheating. The smell permeated our small office, distracting my coworker, who claimed he had sworn off carbs that week and wouldn't be joining our meal.

That last thing didn't happen: my coworker's will broke, and he asked to be given a serving. I made him a Kevin-sized bowl of pasta, sauce, and meatballs (two per person: every man deserves two balls, yes?), then served myself, then told the boss—who came in late—that he could serve himself whenever he was ready. So we all chowed down on the huge bowls of pasta and sauce. My coworker narrated his experience as he ate, first noting how absolutely delicious the food was, then segueing into how he didn't think he'd be able to finish off the serving I'd given him, then talking about how he was determined to finish, because it was so good, but that the eating had become a chore for him. I joked that I didn't want to hear about my food being a chore, and that he should just stop eating. My coworker insisted, though, that he'd pace himself and get through the whole meal. It took him two hours.

My boss, who is as large as I am, didn't have such trouble, and he was delighted that I had put meatballs into the sauce. I made a face and, just to make him feel guilty, told him he'd made me do it. He chomped his way through his meal.

The net effect was this: my boss fell asleep in the office (not a rare occurrence in itself), having been driven into a food coma by my food. My coworker, who normally leaves the office at 5:10PM every day, stayed until nearly 6:30; he later told me this was because he was digesting and had lost all sense of time. I told him I'd take that as a compliment.

I like cooking for other folks, and I've done several of these miniature office parties already. We recently did one in which I served the same fusilli, but with a shabu-beef version of boeuf bourguignon. That was scrumptious. I've done coquilles St. Jacques, hummus and pita, fettuccine faux-Fredo (with Gorgonzola instead of parmigiano reggiano), pulled-pork sandwiches (with franks and beans), meatball sandwiches, stacked deli sandwiches, and several other meals. I'm sure I'll do more over the coming months.

But watch out, world: judging from my office mates, it appears that my food will warp your sense of time and put you in a coma if you're not careful. So eat wisely.



*In my defense: I've made tomato sauce practically from scratch a few times before, but as you know, that's an hours-long process that requires near-constant monitoring, and sometimes a guy just doesn't have the energy for such things. I also used the Korean bottled sauce because it had been on sale at my local grocery: three bottles for W10,000, which comes out to about $3, US, per bottle.

**I'm rather proud of these meatballs. I normally don't make them, but my boss obsesses over meatballs whenever we talk about spaghetti. A classic Italian meatball is normally made from three types of meat: ground beef, ground pork, and ground veal. I had no access to veal (for all I know, it's sold at specialty stores or larger Korean groceries), so I made do with two out of three of those meats. I slapped them into a large bowl along with some panko, olive oil, dried basil, dried oregano, dried parsley, salt, pepper, and sugar. For the binding agent, I went for parmesan cheese, and for an aded twist, I glopped in a heaping spoonful of some chimichurri sauce that I had recently made. Chimichurri is already 90% within the Italian flavor profile: it's got basil, parsley, vinegar, and olive oil. But where it strays from Italian is in its inclusion of cilantro. With that in mind, I was curious to see what would happen.

I divided the meat up into eight largish balls, each perhaps 3.5 ounces in weight (i.e., about half a large hamburger patty). I rolled the meatballs in flour, oiled up my pan, got the pan up to a nasty-hot temperature, dumped the meatballs in, and seared those bastards, turning them every couple of minutes to catch all the undone sides. I then dumped the meatballs into my already-completed spaghetti sauce and gave them a chance to marry their flavors with that of the sauce, cooking everything slowly and stirring constantly. I ended up eating two of the meatballs to, uh, make sure they'd been done right (yeah... that's why I had two of them...). They tasted fantastic. I really like using parmesan as a binding agent. It works well alongside the panko, and you don't miss the eggs at all. The herbs and seasoning worked in perfect concert, and the chimichurri didn't provide any false notes: if there was a hint of a cilantro-y taste, it was muted at best, but I think the cilantro contributed something, even if only on a subconscious level. Anyway, these were some of the most flavorful meatballs I had ever done.


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Friday, June 24, 2016

Joe's new home: OK Burger

I visited Joe McPherson's new digs this evening. He's now symbiotically attached to an establishment called OK Burger, which sits on a great piece of property right next to the Cheonggyecheon. The stream is a fantastic landmark that makes navigating to OK Burger extremely easy. It's impossible to get lost. I took the Line 3 subway to Euljiro 3-ga Station, walked out of Exit 4, crossed the Cheonggyecheon, turned left, walked straight a few minutes, and poof—there was OK Burger, on my right. The establishment has done a great job with signage: if you walk the route I just described, you won't be able to miss the entrance. Enter on the ground floor, and OK Burger is up on the second floor.

Here's the entrance:


Here's a sign indicating that you need to go to the second floor:


I had called the place and made reservations for two because I'd been expecting my buddy Tom to join me, but he flaked out and totally forgot, the fucker, so I ended up going to the burger joint alone. The guy I had spoken with on the phone, a possibly British gent named Ben, greeted me as I came in, and a server (can we still call them waitresses? is that politically incorrect now?) escorted me to a far table. The place was fairly empty for a Friday evening, but I'll talk more about that issue later in this writeup.

Here are some pics of the menu I was given. As you see, the first page shows the burger-related offerings. It was the second page, however, that held my attention: that was the page with all the menu items reminiscent of Joe's previous restaurant.



After some deliberation, I finally settled on the smoked chicken and fries, a side of cole slaw, and two appetizers: the shrimp and the cheese sticks. It didn't take long for the food to come out, although the fries came out a few minutes after everything else. That didn't matter to me, however, because the other food so thoroughly occupied my attention.

In the next photo, below, you get a shot of the resto's interior. As you see, the place was fairly empty, but when I met Joe and talked with him about the situation, Joe noted that the place had recently undergone some important changes in terms of management, staff, and menu—changes that coincided with his and his staff's arrival at OK Burger. With a new basic menu to build on, Joe now feels ready to begin marketing more aggressively. He assures me that, even though the current BBQ selection is fairly limited, it will be growing soon. Joe sounds like a much more cautious, deliberate guy now, compared to the heady days at his Omokgyo-based restaurant. I like this new, careful, methodical approach. It makes me want to visit OK Burger more often, just so I can see how the menu's being expanded.


Below: a shot out the window. You see how huge the "OK" signs are; the restaurant really is impossible to miss. As much as I liked Joe's previous Omokgyo location, I think this location is, frankly, better. There's plenty of foot traffic outside, and the location is undeniably more scenic. There's much more potential to rope in random customers here.


And here's a shot of OK Burger's laminated floor, which features playing cards scattered gleefully about. All in all, I like the place's relaxed, unpretentious ambiance. It's an establishment that doesn't claim to be anything more than what it is: a burger joint and pub that also happens to serve the best damn Bama-style chicken in South Korea.


At last: a shot of my meal. Click to expand. After expanding, right-click on the image and hit "open image in new tab" to see the image at its true full size.


Next: a closeup shot of my appetizers. The cheese sticks were interesting–not your typical store-bought mozzarella sticks that get deep fried and tossed negligently onto a plate along with some back-of-the-rack marinara. According to Joe, who sat down to talk with me a bit, these were made with care, and they contained three types of cheese, all of which had melted into a savory harmony. The cheese sticks and the shrimp went very well with the white sauce—one of two sauces that came with my food, the other being the sweet red cola sauce from Joe's previous resto.


And here, below, is a closer look at the chicken. This was a substantially smaller bird than whatever beast had lain on my Taste of Alabama Platter, but it proved to be enough for me, and it was just as succulent as Joe's original smoked/fried chicken. This time around, though, there was no frying: Joe had smoked the chicken for five hours after lovingly applying a fragrant rub to it, then he had crisped up the skin by setting the smoked chicken under a broiler. Even as I type this report, about six hours after having eaten that chicken, I'm still smelling its smoky, fatty goodness emanating from my fingertips—this despite the fact that I must have washed my hands three or four times since coming back to my apartment. It's as if Joe had figured out a way to capture the chicken's very soul, and that soul-essence had sunk into my fingertips. The chicken and I are now irrevocably one.


Joe noted with some irritation that there are people who don't get the chicken: they look at a thoroughly smoked bird and think it's burned. I raised my eyebrows at this; there's a difference, after all, between burning something and charring it or searing it. Even grill marks aren't really burns in the proper sense: when you burn food, this is a sign of a lack of mindful care. A burn comes from excess and inattention; charring, searing, and grill marks come from the careful application of technique. Even the very darkest parts of the chicken I ate weren't burned at all: they were crispy, and right underneath the skin was a glorious layer of dripping, juicy meat.

Below: slaw. I don't think this is Joe's original slaw (is it, Joe?), but like the previous slaw, this one generally avoided a creamy theme in favor of something tangier.


When Joe sat down with me, he was curious to see how well my chicken had turned out, so I cut the bird open and showed him:


Incredibly moist. And the entire bird was like that—every part of it. I can't begin to describe what a tactile and gustatory pleasure it was to pull that chicken apart, drag it through sauce, and suck it down.

As I mentioned earlier, the fries came a few minutes after everything else, and it didn't matter. I basically ignored the fries until there was nothing else left to eat. When I started on them—they were wedge-cut fries—they had already cooled down, but this wasn't a problem: they were still crispy, and they'd been perfectly salted. I had enough white sauce and cola sauce left over to use with about two-thirds of the fries; I turned to a bottle of ketchup when I ran out of the house-made sauces.

Fries:


Finally, a shot of the smoking ruin that I left behind:


Some people apparently went to Joe's new place expecting it to be exactly like his previous place. That is, frankly, a stupid expectation. McPherson's BBQ Pub was its own thing; this is a different project—more deliberate, more collaborative, and in some ways more experimental. Joe says he's now ready to reveal his new place to the world; I told him I'd do my part to spread the word. Joe's menu is still in its chrysalis phase; it's going to grow and expand over the coming months as he does trials with various items, gets them right, then adds them to the selection (brisket will be a long way off, Joe says). We, the customers, need to show some patience and understanding as this process unfolds. I, for one, remain hopeful that Joe's place will become well known and will grow into something hugely successful; the quality of the product is beyond question, so all that's left to worry about is the marketing.

Go visit OK Burger. Now. I've already described how to get there, but if you're more of a Naver Maps kind of person, the address is 99 Cheongyecheon-ro (99 청계천로). Phone: (02) 2285-6425. It's absurdly easy to find, and the food will be well worth your while.


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5 out of 5

My boss from KMA texted me with the good news that my performance evaluation had come back from my June 11 class, and all five of my students had given me a perfect score, 5 out of 5, for my teaching. I'm proud, but not too surprised: I like working for KMA, and I enjoy my students as much as they enjoy me. As a result of this comfy dynamic, my eval scores are always somewhere in the 95%-100% range. KMA is the perfect work environment for me; I really wish I could work there full-time, but the company has told me several times that that's not possible: as a quasi-governmental organization, KMA only gives work to teachers who are already sponsored by and/or employed at other companies. If KMA ever did offer work at its current hourly rates, I'd be out of the Golden Goose like a shot. I wouldn't even need to work full-time: just twelve 8-hour days a month would net me nearly 6 million won ($5000, US). That's about three days a week for four weeks in a calendar month.

Anyway, I'm celebrating Brexit this evening, but I'm also celebrating my eval results. Pardon my swollen head. It'll deflate soon enough.


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John Power on Brexit and related, underlying issues

Words of wisdom from a young Irish reporter who speaks Korean and now lives in Australia:

Regardless of the merits of ‪#‎Brexit‬ -- which now looks like a real possibility -- here are three things I've been saying for years:

1. The citizens of the Anglophone countries, in particular, don't "feel" European. They don't salute an EU flag or cheer on a sports team decked in blue and gold. The EU is not the United States. This matters when you are asking populations to give up some of their sovereignty for a greater project.

2. The EU has an image problem. It's viewed as undemocratic and elitist. This is what happens when you repeatedly ignore the democratic wishes of distinct populations -- as happened in referenda in the Netherlands, France and Ireland.

3. All around the world, people are clamouring to tear down the system, one way or the other. From Donald Trump to the new president of the Philippines, people are sick of the established order and probably equally sick of the snobbery that often permeates it. Again and again, politicians and the media have missed this impulse until the wagon is teetering on the edge of the cliff. This is what happens when you patronise people and sneer at their concerns for long enough.

And, now, here we are. We live in interesting times.


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the Brexit is real, and it's happening now

Brexit: the Leave side is, as of this writing, a million votes ahead of the Remain side. British newspapers have already started calling the game. You have no idea how happy this makes me. Sure, I foresee many difficulties, but in the end, the UK collectively did what Scotland alone didn't have the will to do: claim its independence.

The papers are now saying that Scotland may decide to have another independence referendum: there's a chance it might break away from England, Wales, and Northern Ireland to become a steadfastly EU country, like the Republic of Ireland. Hey, good fortune to you, Scotland, if that's what you choose to do. And also: good riddance. Your country has become heavily socialist and is now mired in a culture of dependence—quite a change from the fighting Scots of old. The UK doesn't need you or your loss of dignity. Somewhere in Spain, Sean Connery is weeping manly tears, because if Scotland now decides to become independent, it will be for all the wrong reasons.

Bleh. I didn't mean to focus on Scotland so much. Let's get back to celebrating. Perhaps tonight, I'll hoist a pint of Bundaberg in your honor, O Britain. This is a proud, proud day.

A last word: Brexiteers, be gracious in victory. The Remain crowd are still your fellow countrymen. Set about the task of healing the divisions between you. Don't be like James Franco in "This Is the End": a sore winner.


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this I vow

If the UK votes "Leave," I'm going to be ecstatic, and since I'm already thinking of traveling to Europe next year to see French and Swiss friends and family, I'll include a loop into England to celebrate the UK's independence. Yes. This will happen. You read it here first.


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update: the UK pulls a Scotland still counting votes

The Brexit votes haven't all been counted, but it looks as though the Leave crowd is going to lose by a slim but nevertheless visible margin. Like the Scots, who had their own referendum on independence, the British in general aren't ready to take the step of being fully independent from their masters in Brussels. Curiously, the 54/46 split that was seen in the Scottish vote appears to be about the same for this referendum (again, pending the final count).

Ah, well. There's always next time. The Leave crowd won't simply disappear. If anything, I hope they grow in size and power.


UPDATE: Barely 4 million of the nearly 17 million votes have been counted at this point, so everything's up in the air. As people like my buddy Mike and journalist John Power have noted, cringing Scotland and whingeing London will likely skew heavily toward Remain. It's the other people, in the British version of American "flyover country," who have the power in their hands to demand that the UK leave the EU. We'll see. Some are saying that we won't know full results until later on Saturday (London time). I'm betting, though, that if a clear margin of victory has built up after 9 million or so votes have been counted, we might know the public's feeling before too long.

UPDATE 2: The real-time updated vote count can be found here.


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Thursday, June 23, 2016

a too-little-too-late meditation on Brexit

We'll start with a piece of trivia: I submitted a definition for "Grexit" to Urban Dictionary, and that definition has since risen to the top (see here; some of the competing definitions are hilarious). I was and am pro-Grexit, and for related reasons, I'm also pro-Brexit.*

Keep in mind that this is only a blog post written by a non-expert, that my own field of expertise is religious studies, that my weakest subject has always been history, and that I've long hated politics. With all that in mind, my decidedly unrefined opinion is that not only should Great Britain leave the EU, but that the very ideas of the EU and the eurozone need to be dismantled if Europe is to retain any robustness at all in future.

After World War II, the Marshall Plan aided much of western Europe over four years—primarily the UK, France, and West Germany (no doubt the Germans were surprised to receive help from a declared enemy, but the psychology of aid has paid off in terms of German penitence for past wrongs). Having just gone through a second major war before even having reached the half-century mark, Europe had been shaken to its roots. Post-WW2 French existentialism looked at the cratered cities, saw that churches hadn't been spared, and openly questioned whether the universe was founded on any sort of benevolent metaphysical order. God certainly hadn't made an appearance, which left existentialism free to make one of its central claims: the universe is absurd, and we make our own meaning and find our own fulfillment through the brute exercise of choice. Existence precedes essence: humans, by making choices, build themselves into who they eventually become. There is no other divine help coming from anywhere. We're on our own.

With organized religion all but uprooted in Europe, then, other forces took over, including well-intended political forces that looked over the vast ruin of European history—a history mired in long, bloody conflicts—and decided that the fighting must end. From this followed the immediate corollary that Europeans should identify as Europeans first, not as French or Italian or English. This thinking dovetailed nicely with the leftist ideology of transnational progressivism: the idea of governance by a body of authority that transcends the sovereignty of any one particular nation. Instances of this progressivism are seen everywhere; the United Nations is perhaps the biggest and best example of it, especially as some see the UN as the harbinger of an eventual global government.

So Europe, especially western Europe, experienced a massive, collective urge to unify, arguably as a way of purging itself of its bloody past and moving forward in unitary harmony. This melding-together didn't happen overnight, however, nor did it happen fluidly. Before people spoke of the EU or the eurozone, there was the European Economic Community. Eventually, entities like the EU, the eurozone, the Schengen Area, etc., came into being. Keeping track of which countries participate in which entities is a dizzying task. Britain, for example, is part of the EU, but not part of either the eurozone (Brits still use the pound) or the Schengen Agreement. Switzerland accepts euros inside its borders (albeit with a penalty, a commission, or a skewed exchange rate), but retains use of the Swiss Franc; it is not part of the EU, but is within the Schengen Area. My point is that Europe is a weird mix of unevenly overlapping unities. Sometimes, this produces static; sometimes, it works smoothly.

But in the case of the eurozone, I'm not convinced that things are working smoothly at all. Sure, admittedly, it's better for business when neighboring countries all use the same means of exchange. Constantly converting money from lire to marks to francs can take a toll—almost literally, given the not-so-hidden costs of exchanges. The eurozone (and Schengen) has made cargo shipping a much easier prospect than it used to be, and this has doubtless encouraged the internationalization of business: put your admin office in Paris and your manufacturing plant in Hamburg. All of this is to the good, and there's no denying the benign political intentions that brought so many countries together to form a single economic zone. That said, Greece, with its recent Grexit flap, has revealed one of the major flaws of this arrangement: the eurozone may be predicated on the notion that "a rising tide lifts all boats," but the converse is also true: a heavy cannonball severely dimples the trampoline and takes everything down with it. What's more, Greece hasn't been the only country to experience problems rooted in financial mismanagement, corruption, socialism, and culturally sanctioned indolence: other warm-weather, sun-worshiping, wine-sipping, joie-de-vivre-loving countries with little real work ethic have seen their economies tank, too: Portugal comes immediately to mind; Spain and Italy aren't in great shape, either.

I did write about Grexit (see here). Many of the issues I raised in that post apply to Brexit as well. Europe has been too hasty in trying to overcome its past; the fact remains that, even though many modern Europeans might claim to be "European first," they aren't—not when the rubber truly meets the road. Recent polls show, for example, that the Greeks want desperately to remain in the eurozone and not return to the drachma, but at the same time, they deeply resent the EU for all of its Brussels-prescribed austerity measures. How Greeks live with this cognitive dissonance is beyond me. There's also the fact, repeated online by strident voices like that of comedian-turned-firebrand Pat Condell (watch his Brexit rant here), that Britain has sacrificed too much of its sovereignty to unelected bureaucrats. This, to me, is an issue not just for Britain, but for all other EU countries as well. Transnational progressivism, like so much that is leftist, began with the best intentions but has ended up, ironically, incarnating the very opposite of its stated goals. Far from being freeing, the EU constitution has proven stifling in its over-regulation of commerce and its micromanagement of law. (As has been repeatedly pointed out, the EU constitution is the size of a dictionary while the US analogue is the size of a pamphlet, and we Yanks get along just fine with that.) My fervent wish is for Britons to vote "Leave," then for there to be a cascade of pro-Leave referendums all across the rest of the EU.

Most of the news and commentary that I've read regarding Brexit has been skewed leftward toward the Remain crowd. Dire warnings have been issued about the deleterious consequences of a Brexit—the UK will have to renegotiate trade arrangements, Brexit is mostly about English nationalism and not about Wales or Scotland, and so on. One of the funnier predictions has been how Brexit will be a blow to the British pound, but to make that claim, one has to ignore decades of economic history: over my lifetime, the pound has proven far more stable against the US dollar (it's always been roughly 1.4-1.6 USD per 1.0 GBP) than the euro has. Since about 2000, the euro has swung drunkenly from around 0.90 USD per euro to 1.80 to what it is now: almost at parity ($1.13 per euro). I'm not too worried about Britain's short-term and long-term economic future, if exchange rates are any indication.

In my office, my boss believes the British will lose their nerve at the last moment and vote "Remain."** I think he may be right, but I can't help hoping he's wrong. Leaving the EU is the healthier option: less centralization is always better than more centralization. Socialism's repeated failures stand as evidence of this, as one thickheaded professor finally discovered after traveling all over the world. Besides: a separation is only political and economic—Britain can't physically move away from its neighbors. (At least, not yet.) Europe will still be Europe, and if other countries follow Britain's lead, Europe will be healthier and happier, its true diversity having been restored. Poor performers like Greece and Portugal won't necessarily drag down their neighbors; Germany won't have to empty its coffers into the siesta-culture money pits down south; countries will once again be able to succeed and fail on their own merits—still interconnected, but more loosely. No more rising tides or trampolines.

Immigration, by the way, is a tangential issue for me. Brexit is mostly not about that: it's about returning sovereignty to where it belongs, i.e., in the hands of the people and their locally elected representatives. Some people on both the left and the right want to make immigration a Brexit issue, but because Britain is outside of the Schengen Area, the problem currently affecting so much of western Europe hasn't been nearly as pressing in the UK.

You are, of course, free to disagree in my comments section, as long as you follow my comments policy, which basically boils down to "don't be a trolling asshole." I concede that the above essay amounts to no more than a few scattered, disjointed thoughts and intuitions, many rooted in my love of late-1980s, early-90s Europe, which is when I lived there, before all the eurozone nonsense had taken hold. Leftists constantly claim to love diversity, but they constantly undermine that claim whenever they aim for massive unity. Europe's collective history is long, varied, and irredeemably complex; you can't simply shove all these countries together and expect a love-in. The result is what we see now: Germany mad at Greece; Greece mad at the EU; strong economies mad at weaker, lazier, siesta-culture economies; rule by unelected bureaucrats; and millions persisting in the fantasy that they're somehow "European first." Oh, they're European, all right, but they're really French first, English first, Spanish first, Italian first, German first... True diversity means allowing these various countries, with their unique histories, to breathe free and express their particular characters through their own organically created channels, not through the constricting funnel of Brussels.

ADDENDUM: the Washington Post has provided a (biased!) Brexit guide for the perplexed.



*The term Grexit refers primarily to the possibility of a Greek exit from the eurozone. Brexit, by contrast, refers to the potential British exit from the European Union (EU).

**The murder of British MP Jo Cox was, as Malcolm Pollack implied in a note to me on Twitter, some of the worst possible PR for the pro-Brexit camp. This event may very well be what tips the vote in favor of Remain.



Wednesday, June 22, 2016

on standby

I'm hearing rumblings about a possible teaching gig: 16 hours at W150,000 per hour. This would be spread over two calendar months: 6 hours in July, over two days, and 10 hours in August, also over two days. That would net me a gross of W2.4 million, which would make up for my slew of KMA cancellations over the past several months. My budget has been nearly as unsinkable as a battleship up to now, but it's not infinitely so. I could use a boost.

The gig might fall through, however: I'm still trying to verify that the pay is what I'm hoping it will be. If it is, then I'm in. If it's not, then it's not worth it: KMA says I have a solid schedule for the next couple of months. We'll see what happens.

UPDATE: the job's pay rate is decided according to your experience. There's a range of possible rates, as it turns out, varying from W400,000 per class to W500,000 per class. Disappointingly, we're to be paid the same amount for longer, 5-hour classes as we are for shorter, 3-hour classes. Even more disappointingly, this means I'd be paid a maximum of W2 million won, not W2.4 million. And since it's probable that the maximum rate won't be given to someone like me (I'm counting on Murphy's Law more than on anything specific), I can expect to be paid as little as W1.6 million for my trouble. My buddy Tom, whore that he is, told me he wouldn't care: "I'd kill to do that work even if they paid me only W80,000 per hour," he said. Well... W1.6 million for sixteen hours' work isn't a terrible takeaway. That's a rate of W100,000 per hour—about what you'd pay for a decent shrink in a big US city.

Anyway, I plan to say yes to the work.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

takes a little getting used to

Joe McPherson has relocated!

In a Twitter DM exchange with Joe McPherson, I discovered that the intrepid restaurateur has relocated to the Cheonggyecheon:

Cheonggyecheon. 99 Cheonggyecheon-ro, Jongno-gu

He is partnering with OK Burger, and my understanding is that his food is appearing on that restaurant's menu. Joe writes:

Yes, I'm permanently at OK Burger with Susumu Yonaguni as my partner. I'm incorporating my BBQ and dishes [into] what already exists. Actually, we killed everything but three of the original burgers, fried shrimp, and cheesesticks.

Joe just tweeted a picture of his famous smoked chicken, so I hope that that's also part of the menu (chicken sandwiches?). In any event, I'll be hunting down the new place and probably ordering a range of dishes. This is a new thing, of course: it'd be foolish to expect a direct re-instantiation of the previous McPherson's BBQ Pub. But, hey—as long as I can get a taste of Joe's Bama-style food, I'm there.


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burning calories

Maybe a reader can help me out.

One thing I've never fully understood is how the whole "burning calories" thing works when it comes to exercise. The rule of thumb that I learned (and which you can see here) is that, for every pound you weigh, you burn about 12 calories daily, so to maintain your exact weight, you need to consume [pounds x 12] calories per day. At 270 pounds, then, I need 3240 calories a day just to sustain my weight.* To put it another way: were I to sit around and do nothing all day—including not eating or drinking anything caloric—I'd burn 3240 calories.

My pedometer, when I walk, is measuring calories burned. Yesterday's walk, for example, supposedly burned 2546 calories (I'm really not sure how accurate this count is, but I think it's partly based on the weight I had entered for myself long ago). My question, then, is this: do I add 2546 calories to my BMR-based 3240 calories to get a one-day caloric burn of 5786 calories? Or do I somehow "overlap" the exercise-related burn with my BMR burn to arrive at a lesser figure? I've never understood the math on this.



*We now know this is wildly untrue, at least in my case. As I noted after having done my 14-day experiment, my body's basal metabolic rate is super-slow. I'm sure that I burn far less than 12 calories per pound per day. Were I to actually eat 3200-plus calories a day, I'd likely gain weight faster than Violet Beauregarde inflating into a giant blueberry.


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Monday, June 20, 2016

tonight's walk (2)

tonight's walk (1)

It's a new 2016 record!

ululate!

Anton Yelchin, the young actor who made it to the big time playing Pavel Chekov in JJ Abrams's Star Trek films, has died at age 27. He was, apparently, crushed by his own car at the front gate of his home. The car was found to be in neutral gear; foul play isn't suspected, but investigations are ongoing. This has all the makings of a horrible freak accident; how much of it can be chalked up to negligence, and how much can be attributed to mechanical failure, won't be known for a while, I imagine.

I was shocked by the news of Yelchin's death, which came to me, as most news does these days, via my Twitter feed. I can't say that I had watched many of Yelchin's films; only "Terminator: Salvation" comes to mind aside from Trek. I had wanted to watch "Odd Thomas," but I somehow never got around to it. All the same, upon learning of Yelchin's death, I was left with a feeling of potential greatness nipped in the bud. Yelchin had a sharp comic sense, and I get the impression that he must have been fun to be around on set. Twitter tributes to Yelchin, from his young Hollywood friends, appeared almost immediately. Several people referred to his character as "curious"—not as in "strange," but as in "wanting to know everything." It's a shame, too, that Yelchin was the only son of his Russian parents, both nationally ranked figure skaters, who fled to the US when Yelchin was only a year old.

Yelchin's father is named Viktor, and from what I've read, Yelchin's "Wictor, Wictor" line in 2009's "Star Trek" was a sly tribute to his dad. How awful to be a parent who has lost his only child. RIP, Anton Yelchin. We hardly knew you.


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upadana

The Sanskrit term upadana means, in the Buddhist context, attachment. In the West, we use the term attachment in a generally positive way, e.g., when we say a child is attached to his dog. In the Buddhist sense, however, attachment has a psychological valence, and it refers to an unhealthy habit of mind that is normally combatted through exercises like meditation.

Imagine you've had a nasty argument with someone. You can't stop thinking about the argument; you keep coming back to it, over and over again, day after day. Part of you knows you should move on, that it's useless to keep worrying the same event the way a dog worries a bone—but you can't help yourself. It's always on your mind, lurking somewhere. Your thoughts forever loop back to this argument: you're attached.

Time and reality move in only one direction: forward. This is the nature of things. An attached person is in an unhealthy state because she is unable to move forward, is unable to let go. Her actions may be futile or useless, but she persists in them all the same, regardless of the damage this is doing to her psyche. She may not even be aware that she is in this state—a corrosive lack of awareness that some might call stupidity.

There are people who realize their attachment and begin the healthy process of moving forward. Others, too unaware to recognize the vortex they're trapped in, remain stuck at that time, at that event. Far from controlling their emotions, they are controlled by them. Far from being free agents of action, they are slaves of circumstance, doing nothing to transcend their karma (i.e., action, or the momentum of action). Most sadly, they haven't figured out that they are the authors of their own suffering (as I pointed out earlier here); they may end up hurting others because of their attachment, but at the most basic level, they're hurting themselves.

There's little that can be done for the person who shouts repeatedly into the pit, obtusely expecting a response. There's little that can be done for the person who bangs her head against the wall, again and again, somehow thinking this will bring about change. Change comes naturally; it's in the nature of all things to change and/or to be interrelated. That's what emptiness (sunyata) refers to: reality is empty of permanence, empty of non-relationality. Accept this, and you're no longer the author of your own suffering. Let go of your attachment, and swim with, not against, reality's current. You'll be happier for it.

Otherwise, expect to be tormented by the wrathful Buddha.


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Sunday, June 19, 2016

spaghetti sauce: done

econ lesson

This article's first paragraph contains an important economics lesson for those with ears to hear and eyes to see:

India is, for the first time, allowing private firms to build military weapons. This breaks the monopoly of the [state-owned] Ordnance Factory Board facilities which, because of politics and [the] fact that the Board employs nearly 200,000 people, has long been protected from commercial competition. That protection was worn down by the growing complaints from users and voters about [poor-quality] products. This is the result of corruption and lack of competition, something that became more obvious since the 1990s when India began allowing more commercial competition for state owned firms.

In Korea, a single, beautiful peach can run you close to $5, US. In the States, that would probably buy you a bag of lovely peaches. Why the difference in cost? Lack of competition. Korea might have a free-trade agreement with the US, but the peninsula is still very averse to global competition and does what it can to subvert the FTA. Korean farmers like charging top dollar for their products, mainly because they know they have a captive audience on the peninsula. Let in foreign items, and that means two things: (1) the obligation to produce higher-quality merchandise, and (2) the obligation to sell at lower prices. I'd never accuse Korean farmers of being lazy, but they're averse to working harder for less gain. That's perfectly rational, but it's a rationality rooted in a fundamentally unhealthy way of looking at the economics. Let in competition, and the consumer wins.


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with pistachios this time

plated

a riot of color

ready for assembly

squash, chick peas, feta, maters


The chicken and tomatoes have been baking away; in the meanwhile, I've been focusing on other prep. This dish has a ton of ingredients, each with its own prepping style. Labor-intensive, but also flavor-intensive in the end.


pistachios


I disturbed the neighbors when I used a hammer to crush these pistachios after having trapped them in a Ziploc bag. None of the neighbors had the courage to march up to my door and say anything, though, mainly because they know how large and angry-looking I am.


les tomates


Here are the cherry tomatoes before baking. The idea is to come away with oven-roasted maters. They've been drizzled with a mix of olive oil, salt, and pepper; I'll sprinkle basil on them when they're out of the oven.


spice mix


This gets mixed with olive oil and basted onto the chicken before and during baking. I also use this when frying up the squash and chick peas.


the cook

Recently on Twitter, there was a small flap about the "nouning" of verbs—by which I'm not talking about gerunds (e.g., changing to fish into fishing), but about taking a verb's bare-infinitive form and simply using it as a noun. For example: the infinitive to ask gives us the bare infinitive ask, and there are folks who "noun" this by saying "an ask" instead of "a request." On the show "Mythbusters," one would often hear about how a project was "a difficult build." Some people absolutely despise nouning, but despite my grammar-Nazi tendencies, I'm strangely okay with it. Well.. with some of it.

So today, I'm doing a cook. It's a rather ambitious cooking project: I'll be making my Middle Eastern chicken along with some spaghetti sauce brimming with mushrooms and spicy Italian sausage. Once this mound of food is done, I'll have more than enough to last me the coming week, after which I'll be switching over to healthier fare, like salads (which reminds me: there's a Costco run in my near future). I might be sharing some of my chicken with my boss and coworker; we'll see. If I'm feeling too greedy, or if I'm insecure about how much the chicken breast* has dried, I might share nothing.

Today's Middle Eastern chicken dish doesn't get a fancy Arabic name because it's essentially an amalgam of things I've tried before and new recipes I've seen online. Will it be Moroccan, Tunisian, Egyptian, or something else? I'd venture north African, but that's about as precise as I can be. My apologies to all the citizens of all the countries along the south side of the Mediterranean. Expect all the usual suspects in my generically Middle Eastern dish: chicken, squash, tomatoes, raisins, figs, chick peas, feta, parsley, cilantro, various spices, and couscous—probably bathed in chicken broth.

Photos to follow, probably sometime this evening or tonight.



*My brother Sean, who also cooks, likes to bust my balls about my over-reliance on chicken breast. He points out that it's the blandest part of the chicken, and the least moist. My counter to this is that the blandness makes chicken breast the perfect palette on which to add other flavors, and as for moisture—cook the chicken from a frozen state, and the result is ultra-moist (although, admittedly, it can dry out fast once you cut the meat into small pieces).


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Saturday, June 18, 2016

taste test


The term "taste test" is a bit disingenuous. As I've started to get interested in just what it is I've been drinking, I've discovered that ginger ale and ginger beer were, at least at first, two very different animals. Classically speaking, ginger beer is brewed like a beer, resulting in a drink with a very low but non-zero alcohol content; meanwhile, ginger ale is not much different from a soda: it's just carbonated water with ginger and sugar added to it. Chronologically speaking, ginger beer came first, having originated in England. Ginger ale, meanwhile, may have begun in Ireland, but the origins are somewhat disputed. Nowadays, the ginger beer/ale distinction has become blurred, especially as modern companies have taken to brewing the ales the way they brew the beers. (There's a good HuffPo article here.)

So comparing Canada Dry Ginger Ale and Bundaberg Ginger Beer may be a bit like comparing apples and oranges: they have basic commonalities that put them, taxonomically, in the same family or genus, but they're decidedly not in the same species—at least not yet, as the species may be experiencing some evolutionary convergence.

That said, I can say I definitely prefer Bundaberg to Canada Dry: the former has both greater smoothness and greater umami. The fizz in the Bundaberg doesn't force itself into your consciousness; it's more of a background white noise, like a gentle rain shower outside the covered pavilion of a restaurant with outdoor seating. Canada Dry, meanwhile, is all hard edges—about as subtle as a hammer to the head. I'm not saying it's bad—I like Canada Dry a lot—but it doesn't hold a candle to the smoothness and the depth of flavor of the Bundaberg, and this is obvious when you drink both drinks side by side. It's two completely different universes, and it's also no contest.


High Street Market had Bundaberg

Had. Until I came along and bought them out.

Friday night's walk (2)


Friday night's walk took me into Saturday: I got home a bit after midnight. As you see from my two step totals, my grand total is 33,485 steps, 15.92 miles (times 1.15 = 18.3 miles), 2562 calories burned (a whole large meal!). Weigh-in: 122.3 kg.

So now I'm gonna hit the sack, wake up, then go shop for the ingredients to make some goddamn Middle Eastern chicken.


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Friday night's walk (1)

Friday, June 17, 2016

a long walk, then some short beer

The illustrious John McCrarey (about to jet off to the Philippines) had the grand idea of aiming for a weekly step goal. He set his goal at 100,000 steps per week, most of which he does on weekends. He also routinely surpasses that goal by at least 20%. I should probably set a similar goal, but it may be too late for me, as there are now some days on which I simply walk up my building's staircase instead of doing a four- or five-hour-long walk. This week, I think I did more stair-ing than creek-walking. My step count is abysmally low, so as I said, it's probably too late for me to set a weekly step goal.

Tonight, I'll be going for 30K steps and over 30 staircases. We'll see how that works out. After that, I'll slog back to my apartment, open the fridge, wearily grab a stubby little bottle of Bundaberg ginger wargs (think: giant, red-furred wolves), and enjoy earthly bliss.


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Thursday, June 16, 2016

I LOVE AUSTRALIA

Just reappeared in my building's basement grocery:


Know what else I love? I love how "Bundaberg" sounds like Tolkien's "Gundabad"—as in the "Gundabad wargs" referred to in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." Now if only the Aussies had a drink company that sounded like "Rhosgobel"...


target zero

My favorite bathroom cubicle, in the restroom on the same floor as where I work, is often cursed by habitual hawk-and-spitters. These bastards have no shame, and they always land their nasty, wet wads in the same spot: on the floor, just to the right of the toilet bowl as you're facing the bowl. If the spit has landed far enough forward, this becomes a problem for me: with my pants around my ankles, there's a good chance that my clothing will accidentally drag through the saliva and mucus, leaving a disgusting deposit that I might not notice until I try to put a hand in a pants pocket. Almost without fail, it works like this: when I visit the john in the morning, there are no loogies on the floor. By the afternoon, there are loogies.

Today, the mightiest loogie I've ever seen greeted me when I went for my afternoon constitutional. The foul liquid had spread out in a shallow pool that was almost as wide as a dinner plate. Like many Korean toilet stalls, this cubicle had no toilet-paper roll inside it.* I had brought my own supply of toilet paper, precisely calculated down to the last square for wiping; I knew I didn't have enough toilet paper with me to take care of this disaster. Luckily, I had my satchel, which contained a packet of tissues. I took the packet out, plucked a few tissues, bent over to the floor, and got to work.

I almost vomited. It was a clear puddle, but almost the entire thing was made of mucus. The thick, slippery texture was nauseating, and chunks of mucus fell back to the floor with a moist splat whenever I tried to pick up a glob to throw into the toilet. I used up several tissues and finally got that spot clean, after which I could poop in peace.

I'm tempted to make my own sign—one that I would lay down right at Target Zero. Something along the lines of, "Don't spit here, you fucking piece of shit." But that would only invite more spitting. Spiteful spitting. Maybe figuring out some way to automatically deliver a strong electric shock would be better....



*Depending on the restroom, you might find a large toilet-paper dispenser out in the communal area. You walk over to it, unspool as much tissue as you think you'll need, then do your sacred business in the privy.


wrathful Buddha


The above demonic figure is what we'd call a "wrathful Buddha." Unlike in Abrahamic religions, in which an objectively separate and "radically Other" God might become angry and visit His choler upon the people, the thought in Buddhism is that, if you're seeing a wrathful Buddha, that's because of what's inside you—because of something you've done. The wrathful Buddha is simply a manifestation of a certain kind of karma (action), a reflection of your own internal state. You create your own hell. Act like an asshole, and the wrathful Buddha appears. You have only yourself to blame for whatever happens next. Want to return to the blissful Buddha? Then wake up and change yourself.


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"Eddie the Eagle": one-paragraph review

If you saw the preview trailer for "Eddie the Eagle"—a film directed by Dexter Fletcher, produced by Matthew Vaughn (the same unsubtle guy who directed "Kick-Ass," "Kingsman," and the surprisingly excellent "X-Men: First Class"), and starring Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman—then you've pretty much seen the film. In a nutshell: the movie is based on the true story of Michael "Eddie" Edwards, a young man who, as a child, has to wear a leg brace and is advised against ever doing sports. Young Eddie nevertheless aspires to become an Olympian, changing his desired sport over the years before finally settling on ski jumping. He trains in Germany, where he meets Olympian burnout Bronson Peary (Jackman), a former ski-jumping champion who had a falling-out with his coach, Warren Sharp (Christopher Walken), back when Peary was a young champion. You can guess the rest: moments of adversity, ups and downs between coach and learner, and eventual triumph—in this case, in the form of both a personal best for Eddie and a new British ski-jumping record, modest though it be. Of note is the movie's shameless use of corny 80s-style synthesizer music as its soundtrack (most of the plot spans 1987 and the 1988 Calgary Olympics). The film's style feels more like a TV movie of the week than an actual movie movie; the drama is small and personal in scope, and most of the acting is a bit exaggerated and played for laughs. The story has its heart in the right place, but the film, overall, feels rather lightweight. Not deep, but fun.


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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

upstairs, downstairs

My buddy Charles privately reminded me that it's now officially jangma season: the time of the monsoon. That means I won't be going out on the walking path as often. Instead, I'll be tromping up my apartment building's steps, from B1 to 26—maybe once, maybe twice—on rainy evenings and nights. (Probably just once up the stairs most of the time, but twice on Saturdays.)

Tonight, while going up the stairs, I noticed how hot and humid the staircase was. This means the staircase allows the outdoor conditions to slip inside, probably through the constant, termite-nest-like opening and closing of the stairwell's nearly thirty doors. That sucks for me, but there's nothing for it: I have no other real alternative when it rains.


heh

Some of us dedicated walkers are way, way beyond this.


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ALL HAIL!

Every year on this, the 15th of June, we recount the glorious origins of your Maximum Leader.

Now hear these words...

I speak to you in my capacity as Poet Laureate of the Mike World Order. Today, fellow minions, we celebrate the holy birth of our Maximum Leader, and as you do every year on this most auspicious day, you gather outside the awe-inspiring Villainschloss, rain or shine, and listen with rapt attention as I recite vignettes from our Maximum Leader's adventurous life.

BIRTH

Your Maximum Leader was born of two great cosmic forces: Time and Struggle. He shot like a lightning bolt out of his mother's eye socket and declared, "I am prophet, sage, lover, and leader of you all." All the creatures in the cosmos sang with joy and paid the Maximum Leader obeisance, bestowing on him the Crown of Might, the Shield of Justice, the G-String of Cleverness, and the Codpiece of Eternal Glory.

But the dwarves did not do obeisance, and they brought no gifts, and for this they were cursed to be forever and roundly beaten by the Maximum Leader and all his loyal minions. In time, the dwarves repented of their stubbornness, but to this day the Maximum Leader does not forgive them their primordial transgression.


ADOLESCENCE

The Maximum Leader had been out spearhunting all day. It was during a period of rest that he happened upon a beautiful, perfectly circular lake inside a volcanic crater, and he decided to bathe. All the creatures in the cosmos were curious, for they had never seen their Maximum Leader in his majestic nakedness before. But it is forbidden for all but the Maximum Leader's betrothed to behold him in his pristine state. The creatures gathered around the lip of the crater, straining to see what no mortal had ever beheld, and when the Maximum Leader removed Codpiece and G-String, they were struck blind and overcome with mortal agony. As all the creatures writhed about in pain, they screamed,

Praise Him!
Though we be struck blind,
and unable to find our way back to our homes,
though we be likely to die horrible deaths
from starvation and simple neglect,
all praise and honor unto our Maximum Leader!
He taketh away our sight
But our loyalty remaineth steadfast!
Lo, the pink-nippled virgins sit at their lyres
a loveliness we cannot behold
singing sweet rhapsodies in honor of His blinding glory!
Praise Him!



EARLY ADULTHOOD

It was during the Maximum Leader's many hunts for wild boar (the symbol you see on the banner of Naked Villainy) that he met his friends, who in time became the Ministers of the Mike World Order.

To the Minister of Propaganda, the Maximum Leader bestowed the Horn of Naysaying and Contrariness.

To the Foreign Minister, the Maximum Leader bestowed the Righthammer.

To the Minister of Agriculture, the Maximum Leader bestowed the Cow of Plenty.

To the Air Marshal, the Maximum Leader bestowed the Missile of Priapism.

To the Poet Laureate, the Maximum Leader bestowed the Golden Anus of Chaos.

Since those glorious days, the Horn, the Hammer, the Cow, the Missile, and the Anus have stood as symbols of the munificence and magnanimity of the Maximum Leader's reign. Every child is branded with at least three of these symbols, one brand upon the sternum and two upon the buttocks. And every child's shriek is a shriek of praise for our Maximum Leader.


THE MAXIMUM LEADER BEDS HIS BETROTHED

How famous is the tale of the Maximum Leader's seduction of his woman!

Cleverly hiding his manhood inside a bouquet of flowers, the Maximum Leader invited his loved one to choose her favorite from among them. Of course, she chose the largest and veiniest purple flower in the bunch, struck by its strangeness. "It has a terrible aspect," she whispered, "I shall pluck it and keep it in my chambers as a symbol of the changing fortunes of this world." But she proved unable to pluck the flower, no matter how she tried, and the flower grew larger and larger still with each successive attempt.

Soon the ruse could no longer be sustained, and the bouquet was destroyed by the flower's sheer massiveness. And because she was the chosen of the Maximum Leader, she was not blinded by the sight of it, but instead rode it for all it was worth. Her words during her moment of climax have been preserved for all time:

"FILL ME UP, YOU MAGNIFICENT BASTARD!"

And these are the sacred words we recite in prayer before every breakfast and every supper, to remind us that indeed we are all filled with the Maximum Leader's goodness and beneficence.


THE MAXIMUM LEADER HEARS THE CRIES OF HIS PEOPLE

It was in the aftermath of one of the worst storms to strike the realm that the Maximum Leader stood upon the highest parapet of the Villainschloss and surveyed the plight of his people with the eyes of an eagle. Maddened with grief by what he beheld, he threw several dozen dwarves off the tower, and they fell to their doom, shouting, "Praise Him!" all the while.

The Maximum Leader was too impatient to allow his many able-bodied minions to assist in reparations. Straightaway, he ran down the parapet, Codpiece glinting in the torchlight, and burst out the front gates of the Villainschloss to assist his stricken people in any way he could.

One woman, whose young son was trapped beneath an overturned carriage, cried, "Save my child!" With a single flex of his mighty buttocks, the intrepid Maximum Leader forced the carriage off the child, then claimed the child as his own and took him forthwith to the Villainschloss.

On that day, the Maximum Leader saved over twenty thousand of his people through various buttock-flexes, penis-pushups, and cleverly applied cunnilingus-- the latter technique producing the loudest cries of "Praise Him!"

But the Other Kingdom saw the realm's strife as an opportunity to attack. While the Maximum Leader's people busied themselves with repairs and rebuilding, the soldiers of the Other Kingdom stormed into our glorious realm. None of our fighting men were ready to defend hearth and home.

And in truth, all would have been lost that day, had it not been for the Maximum Leader, who faced that evil horde with only his Ministers at his side. With a great cry, the Maximum Leader charged forward. He and his loyal Ministers were only six against an army of fifty thousand, and yet they prevailed.

The silver-tongued Minister of Propaganda duped whole battalions of the enemy army into believing that there was no real danger, that this was not, in truth, a war. As they sat docilely, the Minister of Agriculture came upon them with his fierce and noble Cow of Plenty, who inundated the battalions with a horrifying torrent of equal parts milk and dung.

The Foreign Minister stood his ground, and with every blow he smashed dozens upon dozens of the enemy with the Righthammer, which always knocked opponents to the left of the wielder. The Foreign Minister waded through the army, granting a quick and merciful death to all who came too close.

The Air Marshal summoned flying steeds and rained death onto the armies from above, his Missile of Priapism causing massive arousal-- and subsequent immobility-- in the army of the enemy. His flying steeds dropped clusters of screaming, explosives-laden dwarves, decimating untold numbers of soldiers.

The Poet Laureate leapt, spun and dodged among the enemy, his Golden Anus of Chaos sowing confusion and disgust in an ever-widening circle of death. A single clench of that golden sphincter imploded the heads of the enemy army's generals, and the path was then clear for the Maximum Leader to challenge the King of the Other Kingdom to a one-on-one duel, for the King himself was leading the battle against our realm.

The ensuing combat was terrible to behold. At several points the loyal Ministers begged to come to their Maximum Leader's aid, but with a scowl and a stern warning, the Maximum Leader commanded his Ministers to stay back. The battle lasted seven days. The earth trembled, demons fled, and smoke rose from great fissures that suddenly appeared in the ground. But the outcome was never in doubt. The Maximum Leader fought with all the cleverness of his G-String, all the might of his Crown, all the justice of his shield, and all the glory of his Codpiece. In the end, the King of the Other Kingdom was beaten. He dropped to his knees, and the Maximum Leader yelled, "Close your eyes!" to his faithful Ministers, whereupon he beheaded the King with a single swipe of his ponderous manhood. Only I, your Poet Laureate, refused to close my eyes, and I beheld the terrible event by staring at the shadows on the ground. The evil King's head rolled to a stop in front of me and recited its death poem:

Felled was I by phallus-foe
My soul now flees to realms below
Truly hast thou beaten me
Hang my body on a tree
Leave me there for all to point
With my blood your folk anoint
Be at peace, this realm divine
What was my Kingdom, now is THINE!


A cry arose from the people, and they rejoiced at this great victory. I tell you, many a dwarf was beaten in celebration that evening.

And from that day to this, the realm has enjoyed boundless peace and limitless prosperity. That is why, on this day, this auspicious Day of All Days, we gather in celebration of our Maximum Leader's birth-- child of Time and Struggle, Protector of the Realm, Vanquisher of the Other Kingdom.

Praise Him!


And now: a photo of your Maximum Leader being born from his mother's eye socket as was recounted in the holy scriptures!





Heeeeeey, that's not an eye socket!





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Big Brother is watching us

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

the bitch

Nothing's going my way today.

In-office work is fine; that's not the problem. The problem is that our finance department has, for whatever buttfuck reason, switched to some new system for distributing our monthly pay stubs. It used to be that an email would come, sporting an attachment; I'd simply click on the attachment, and that was enough to open the pay stub. Today, my June pay stub arrived, but when I clicked on the attachment, another browser tab opened up, and on that screen was a field in which I was supposed to type my date of birth as a YYMMDD code. (I also could no longer use Google Chrome as my browser: code entry had to happen via Internet Explorer because Korean Web designers are stupid and never design their sites to open in anything other than IE.) I keyed this six-digit info in and immediately got an error message. Growling, I saw that, below the field, there was a long set of instructions on what to do if you're not able to enter your code and see your pay stub. I followed those instructions, which took me deep into the coiled, Byzantine guts of Internet Explorer's browser settings, with all of its confusing check boxes, then tried to input my six-digit code again.

Fuckin' nada. Error message.

I emailed the office that had sent me the email, detailing my problem. The reply was swift and completely unhelpful: "Enter the six-digit YYMMDD code formed by your birth date." Gee, thanks, guy. I wrote back that I already knew that code and had used it. I then said I'd ask the techies who work next door to me for help, and thanks, anyway. I went next door and said something was up; one of the eggheads said he'd be over momentarily. He came over; I explained my problem to him; he shook his head and said he didn't know how to solve the problem, but he tried a workaround that, miraculously, allowed me to log in and access my pay stub. The techie had worked his magic so fast that I hadn't been able to follow what he had done, and when he bolted out of my office, I tried to access my pay stub one more time.

Fuckin' nada. Error message.

That's not the only thing pissing me off today. My phone company, SK Telecom, is now fucking with me. Last month, my bill was about ten dollars more expensive than usual; I knew this was because I had used more data than my 3-gigabyte limit thanks to a super-long Skype conversation—without Wi-Fi—that I'd had with my brother David. Not a problem; I knew I was guilty as charged, so charge me. But this month's bill is for the same amount, and I know I didn't go over my data limit this time around. I'm also not happy with the fact that my phone bill hasn't gone down since my contract renewed last year. I had originally gotten the phone in Daegu in September of 2013; it came with a 2-year contract that included a pay-down of the cost of the phone. After the 2-year mark, your bill is supposed to go down significantly because the phone has been paid off, and all that's left to pay for is the monthly service charge. This never happened with me, and I've been an idiot for letting this slide for so long. So sometime this week, I'm off to an SK Telecom office to find out what the hell is going on. Wrongs will be righted, or heads will roll.

Always frustrating, being quietly bilked.

Bitching done.

EPILOGUE: I lumbered over to a nearby SK Telecom branch after work and spoke with a customer-service rep about my problems. He said I had been mistaken on two fronts: first, the ten-dollar jump in my bill wasn't because of data usage: it was because a two-year-plus-several-months-long discount had finally ended, and my bill had reverted to what was supposed to be its "original" amount. Second, paying off the cost of my phone had somehow been plotted over thirty-six months, not twenty-four. I didn't fully understand the guy's explanation, so I couldn't reconcile why the phone would be paid off over a longer period than the original contract's twenty-four-month period. Ah, well.

The rep was helpful, though: he said I could re-sign for another years-long discount if I planned to stick with SK Telecom. I tiredly said that, yes, that was the plan. So I was given a form to fill out—not a whole contract, just a discount-registration form—and I handed over my alien-registration card. The guy took my form and my card, worked his magic, and voilà—I'll be back to cheap billing... starting in July. Because today is June 14, I'm too late in the cycle to benefit from the discount this month. The guy told me to come back if I had any more questions or if anything else appeared strange. I was actually surprised he said that, as that's the kind of line you'd hear from American customer service. It's almost a dare: "Yeah, go ahead: test me. See if I'll really be here when you've got another problem." Hey, whatever; I'll take that offer. But in theory, everything ought to be fine for another two years.


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L'Express: "Tuerie à Orlando: Omar Mateen,
un tueur 'instable et bipolaire'?"

From this L'Express article (translation mine):

TITRE: Tuerie à Orlando: Omar Mateen, un tueur "instable et bipolaire"?
TITLE: Mass killing in Orlando: Omar Mateen, an "unstable and bipolar" killer?

Décrit par ses proches comme impulsif et instable, l'auteur présumé de la fusillade dans un club gay d'Orlando travaillait pour une entreprise de sécurité. Il avait fait l'objet d'enquêtes du FBI.

Un "coup de sang" dirigé contre la communauté homosexuelle. C'est ainsi que le père d'Omar Mateen, 29 ans et auteur présumé de la fusillade d'Orlando qui a fait 49 morts et 53 blessés dimanche, interprète l'acte de son fils...

...il aurait toutefois prêté "allégeance" au groupe Etat islamique dans un appel passé aux secours quelques instants avant le massacre.

Described by those close to him as impulsive and unstable, the alleged perpetrator of the shooting in a gay club in Orlando worked for a security firm. He was the object of FBI investigations.

A "violent rage" directed against the homosexual community.* That was how the father of Omar Mateen, 29 and the alleged author of the Orlando shooting that took 49 lives and wounded 53 on Sunday, interpreted his son's act...

...he [Omar Mateen] pledged "allegiance" to the group Islamic State (IS) in a phone call to emergency services a few moments before the massacre.

SOUS-TITRE: "Il se mettait à me frapper parce que la lessive n'était pas faite"

Né à New York en 1986, le jeune homme déménage par la suite avec sa famille en Floride, où il entreprend des études de droit à l'université d'Etat Indian River. En 2009, il se marie à sa première femme, dont il divorcera en 2011.

Depuis, il s'était remarié et était père d'un enfant. "Au début, c'était quelqu'un de normal qui tenait à sa famille, adorait plaisanter, s'amuser. Mais quelques mois après que nous nous soyons mariés, j'ai vu qu'il était instable, bipolaire et qu'il s'énervait sans raison", a témoigné dimanche son ex-femme, Sitora Yusufiy, lors d'une conférence de presse depuis Boulder dans le Colorado, où elle est désormais installée.

Au Washington Post, elle témoigne: "Il rentrait à la maison et se mettait à me frapper parce que la lessive n'était pas faite, ou des choses de ce genre". Omar Seddique Mateen était musulman pratiquant, a assuré Sitora Yusufiy. Mais elle raconte ne l'avoir jamais entendu faire l'apologie du terrorisme. "Il n'y avait absolument aucun signe" que ses amis soient des radicaux lorsque le couple vivait à Fort Pierce, en Floride, a-t-elle encore précisé.

SUBTITLE: "He started to hit me because the laundry hadn't been done"

Born in New York in 1986, the young man then moved with his family to Florida, where he studied law at Indian River State College. In 2009, he married his first wife; he would divorce her in 2011.

Since that time, Mateen remarried and became a father. "At first, he was somebody normal, who stayed with his family, loved joking, having fun. But several months after we were married, I saw that he was unstable, bipolar, and that he got upset for no reason," his ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, testified on Sunday at a press conference in Boulder, Colorado, where she has been placed for the time being.

She told the Washington Post, "He'd come home and start to hit me because the laundry hadn't been done, or things like that." Omar Seddique Mateen was a practicing Muslim, Sitora Yusufiy affirmed. But she says she never once heard him advocating terrorism. "There was absolutely no sign" that his friends were radical when the couple lived in Fort Pierce, Florida, she said.



The article goes on, but I don't have time to translate more. Some salient points:

1. According to his ex-wife, Mateen had wanted to be a police officer, so he trained with police friends and got a license to carry a firearm legally.

2. He worked as a guard at a facility for juvenile delinquents. Since 2007, he had been an employee at security firm G4S, whose motto is "Securing Your World." G4S tweeted its reaction to the massacre (here).

3. Orlando law enforcement said that Mateen had been interrogated several times in 2013 and 2014. The FBI became interested in Mateen after he began telling some of his work colleagues about links to terrorists. After two explicit inquiries, the FBI determined that Mateen's supposed terrorist links were not cause for alarm.

4. According to Mateen's father, the massacre had nothing at all to do with religion. Mateen apparently saw two men kissing and touching each other and was offended, declaring, "Look at that. In front of my son, they do that."

5. Mateen's father has strong political opinions, and he put out a video on Saturday that was pro-Taliban, and that called for the arrest of certain Afghan officials. The father also claimed to be the president of Afghanistan.

The article's headline is a bit misleading in that you might expect to read some expert testimony as to Mateen's mental state, but as you see, there's no expert diagnosis of bipolarity; there's only personal testimony from maybe two sources. Given that this tragedy only just happened, we're obviously just beginning to sift through the rubble. I don't expect we'll get expert psychological commentary until much later, and whatever opinions we do get will necessary be only speculative.



*The expression coup de sang (literally, a "blood[y] blow") refers to a sudden and extreme surge of pounding emotion, usually anger or rage. A rough and somewhat archaic English equivalent might be "apoplexy."


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Monday, June 13, 2016

Ave, Malcolm!

Malcolm Pollack and I might have our disagreements about who can/should use which public restrooms, but we're in full agreement about the horrific Orlando massacre, and about where the focus should be.

SIDE NOTE: I saw this comment on Instapundit, but found it inaccurate on at least one point: "Sikhs living with Hindus = No Problem." Very untrue, according to one of my Sikh students back when I taught at YB: Sikhs have often been oppressed and persecuted by Hindus—in India, at least. Another reason for me to like Sikhs as much as I do.


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