Thursday, March 31, 2016

pronouns and representation

Can you represent something by using nothing at all to represent it? Can something act as though it represents something even though the thing supposedly represented is absent? I think that, in language, the answer is yes to both questions, but only as long as your interlocutors share your linguistic (and by extension, your cultural) assumptions.

Look at these French and English examples of what I'm trying to say:

1. People say she's talented because she is.

2. On dit qu'elle est douée parce qu'elle l'est.

The above two sentences say the same thing; each can be seen as a translation of the other. Note, though, that in sentence 1, the adjective "talented" has gone missing:

She is what? She is talented. People say she's talented (1) because she is talented (2).

We can do this in English because there's an expectation that it's stylistically better to avoid repetition whenever possible. (This is one reason why we use pronouns: to avoid being repetitive.) In a sense, the adjective talented is still there in the listener's mind because, even though the word is missing, its existence is implied. You might disagree, but I'd argue that the word "talented" is represented by nothing at all: like the implied Buddha in an empty-chair sculpture, the context points to the existence of the unseen word, but the context merely implies: it doesn't represent.

You can, by now, see where I'm going with this: the French sentence takes the opposite tack. The object pronoun le, represented in context by the l' in front of a vowel sound, has to be there because in French, there's the expectation that there will always be a predicate nominative or a predicate adjective after the verb. If we were to translate the French sentence hyper-literally (i.e., unnaturally), it would be One says she is talented because she is it.

So the French sentence contains its own little mystery: the "it" is a pronoun, and we know that pronouns replace nouns, yet... the word being replaced in the French sentence is douée, i.e., "talented," i.e., an adjective. The "it" is therefore being recruited to do something it's not supposed to do! It's representing an adjective when, by all rights, it ought to be representing a noun. But the noun to be represented is nowhere to be found. (Ideally, the "it" would represent the noun phrase "a talented lady.")

In the English sentence's case, then, we're representing something by using nothing at all. In the French sentence's case, the le represents something that doesn't exist. This quirk of language strikes me as both bizarre and a little eerie.

ADDENDUM: if we were to get ridiculously pedantic about this, my notion that the second iteration of "talented" is "represented by nothing" isn't correct. The term "nothing" means no-thing, and if there's no thing there, then there's nothing to do any representing. It would be more technically proper to say that "talented" is represented by an empty space: an empty space is not nothing, as any artist who appreciates negative space can tell you. I now wonder whether this addendum actually undermines the point I'd been trying to make!


_

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"Of Gods and Men": one-paragraph review

Last night, I watched "Of Gods and Men," a 2010 film* starring Lambert Wilson** (the Merovingian from "The Matrix Reloaded") and Michael Lonsdale*** (Drax from "Moonraker") as Trappist monks in a sparsely appointed monastery housing a handful of monastics in Algeria during the 1990s Algerian Civil War. The story—based on an actual incident—is a simple one, simply and deliberately told: the monastery has built a warm, years-long relationship with the surrounding Muslim community, but war has broken out, and jihadi terrorists have swept into the area, threatening a long-standing peace. The monks must decide whether to stay or go, and then must live with the consequences. If they stay, they will likely be killed. If they leave, they will be abandoning a poor community that has come to rely on the monks' spiritual and medical care (one old monk [Lonsdale] is a doctor). The film, directed by Xavier Beauvois, features beautiful cinematography, deep existential themes, and a respectful view of Christian monastic life. If you already know of the incident on which the movie is based, you already know the fate of most of these monks, which makes the story all the more poignant and depressing. What came through for me was the shameful unnecessariness of most violence and killing, as well as the question: what would I have done had I been one of the monks?



*The original French title is "Des hommes et des dieux," i.e., "Of Men and of Gods." The English-language title strikes me as a gratuitous alteration. If anything, the English title is distracting because it now inadvertently(?) alludes to Steinbeck.

**Wilson is French, but is native-fluent in British English. The trivia is that he had to fake his French accent for the Matrix films because he's such a natural English speaker.

***I had long thought that Lonsdale was British, having seen him in mostly English-speaking roles in movies like "Moonraker" and "The Name of the Rose" (where he played a Benedictine abbot, famously kissing Sean Connery full on the lips). My first hint that he was a French speaker came in the 1990s, when I saw him in "Ronin" opposite Robert De Niro and Jean Réno. Turns out Lonsdale is actually French, and has acted in many a French-speaking role.


_

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

leftovers

I had made a huge load of pesto almost a week ago, and I wanted to use up some pasta, peas, and chicken that I had lying around, so...






_

word order in Korean

As a Korean learner, I have a question. To what extent does word order matter in Korean? Take these two examples:

아름다운 우리 화장실입니다. (A sign in my office building's restroom.)

우리들의 일그러진 영웅 (The title of Yi Mun-yeol's famous political novel, Our Twisted Hero.)

Can someone explain why the uri is where it is in both of the above expressions? Does it not matter? Or is there a nuanced difference, similar to the differences associated with adverb placement in English (e.g., She too ran fast* versus She ran too fast)?



*Some will gripe that the "too" should be surrounded by commas. That's an old-school take, and I don't disagree with it, but in modern US English, as well as in comma-hating UK English, the commas are often left out. I can't say that I lose any sleep as a result of their absence. For me, it's very much a "take it or leave it" sort of thing.



_

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter!

For those of an Easter-ish persuasion, I wish you a very Happy Easter.

A bit of trivia: one Greek word for "fish" is "ιχθύς" (ichthys/ichthus); the fish was an early Christian symbol, and the word served as an acronym. As Wikipedia notes:

ΙΧΘΥΣ (Ichthus) is a backronym/acrostic for "Ίησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ," (Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr), which translates into English as "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour."


_

Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice": review


[SPOILER ALERT. Read only if you don't care about spoilers.]

John Lee, over at The Korean Foreigner, wrote an excellent rant/review that goes in depth about the many, many logic- and story-related problems infesting "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" (DOJ). There's very little I can add to what John wrote, and I agree with every flaw he found. Be sure to read his review.

That said, DOJ didn't enrage me as much as I thought it might. The story by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer was long and draggy, especially during its first half; I also felt that, despite the significant running time, the film didn't do as well as it could have in establishing the main characters' motivations. I did appreciate the spiritual themes and tropes that were woven through the narrative—there were distinct theologies of Batman and Superman that were dripped into the audience's consciousness, and this angels-and-demons dimension of the film did mitigate—albeit only slightly—my generally negative impression of the story.

I knew the plot was going to be largely derivative of Frank Miller's vision, and to that extent I wasn't disappointed: whole snatches of dialogue, and even whole scenes, from Miller's 1986 The Dark Knight Returns are included in the film—enough so that I could predict what was going to happen next. One wonders when the DC Comics universe will finally be rid of Miller's influence; as much as I like Miller—his attitude and his take on story writing—too many superhero films have been beholden to his vision, going back at least as far as Tim Burton's first "Batman," way back in 1989. Some things are different in DOJ, though, and among those differences is the nature of the conflict between Batman and Superman.

This, for me, is my biggest complaint about DOJ. Although Batman and Superman have battled in the comics both before and after Miller's seminal graphic novel came out in the mid-1980s, The Dark Knight Returns became such an instant and powerful classic that its version of the Batman/Superman conflict would forever become the template to follow. But director Zack Snyder and his pair of screenwriters utterly changed the motivations underlying the conflict in Frank Miller's original story, opting instead to make Superman's purpose in fighting Batman as simpleminded as possible, and to make Batman's animus against Superman something of a puzzle. But before we get into the butchery by Snyder et al. of the original conflict, let's go back in time to Miller's story.

Frank Miller is one of the first creative people to engage in what would eventually become known as a reboot. In a reboot, an artist takes a known quantity—something or someone that has an established history—and changes it up, from top to bottom, essentially reimagining everything, or almost everything, about it. Wikipedia describes a reboot as a discarding of previous continuity, which is largely what Miller did with Batman. Miller's Batman wasn't the Batman that American culture had grown familiar with, especially after the campy 1960s TV series, starring Adam West, turned Batman into a teddy bear, leading the public away from Batman creator Bob Kane's original dark vision. Miller's Batman was old, monstrously huge, and inhumanly strong. There was no Robin at the beginning of the story, and when a Robin did come back into Batman's life, he arrived in the form of a teenage girl named Carrie Kelley. At the beginning of Miller's graphic novel, Batman is in retirement, but he's still smoldering with old anger—a rage that hasn't left him since the murder of his parents all those years ago. Batman operates outside the law, but over time he gains the trust, and eventually the cooperation, of police commissioner James Gordon. Batman is, paradoxically, a renegade with a code, and he has little patience for people like Superman, the "big blue schoolboy" who naively continues to color inside the lines.

In Miller's universe, the essential conflict between Batman and Superman comes down to the fact that Superman—who still fights for truth, justice, and the American way—has become an arm of the US government. Miller shows scenes of Superman in the field of battle, killing enemy troops by the hundreds on the orders of his government. He may enjoy almost godlike status, but Superman is chained by politics because that's his nature. The US president (Miller makes him look and sound like Reagan) gently asks Superman to rein Batman in, precisely because Batman's heedless vigilantism is a chaotic force that threatens power structures. Batman, meanwhile, knows his time is coming: he's going to have to face Superman at some point. He also knows full well that he can't beat a god, so as he plans for the upcoming fight, he doesn't plan to win it. All he wants is to get Superman—the clearest incarnation of governmental power—off his back. Even all these years later, I have to admire how Miller painted this picture. He totally upended and revamped our notions of Batman, but he kept Superman essentially unchanged: it was the world that had changed around Superman, making him, as Batman bitterly observes, into "a joke." Because the world has changed, Superman is capable of doing dark things like ripping off one of Oliver Queen's arms to prevent Queen—the Green Arrow—from misbehaving. Something like this is in store for Batman, and Batman is keenly aware of this. How pure can Superman's service be when the powers he serves are no longer pure? This is Miller's subversive take on Superman.

Meanwhile, Zack Snyder & Co.'s take on the Batman/Superman conflict is utterly different. Bruce Wayne, like the rest of the world, becomes aware of the existence of an extremely powerful, extremely destructive alien. Somehow, this awareness leads him to believe that Superman must be taken down, despite Superman's seemingly good intentions. Superman, meanwhile, doesn't approve of Batman's vicious, unorthodox methods (Batman is portrayed as branding some of the criminals he catches), but he has no real desire to hurt or kill Batman. Instead, Superman goes after Batman only because Lex Luthor kidnaps Martha Kent and demands that Superman bring him Batman's head. (Batman had stolen Luthor's stash of kryptonite.) This reworking of Frank Miller's original conflict was utterly disappointing to me: in Miller's world, the difference between Batman and Superman was deep, philosophical, and well-nigh unbridgeable. In Snyder's movie, the conflict between the two superheroes seems to rest on little more than a major but reparable misunderstanding. This cheapened the conflict and made it superficial. I was sorely disappointed.

As my coworker and I discussed, DOJ would likely show Superman and Batman fighting to a draw, then turning to face a mutual foe—Doomsday, as seen in the second preview trailer, a trailer that basically gave the whole game away. Doomsday was extremely powerful, but if you've seen the Hulk at work in any of the diarrhetic torrent of Marvel movies that have been released, then you already know what Doomsday is going to do. Just imagine the Hulk, but a Hulk capable of releasing massive amounts of energy. As super-foes went, Doomsday wasn't all that impressive.

The list of disappointments also includes the under-used Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman (never named as such in the movie), played by ex-soldier Gal Gadot (she did a two-year stint in the Israeli Army, so she brings a native toughness to any role that requires her to "Sigourney up," if you will). Gadot is gorgeous; when she's on screen, you can't take your eyes off her. We get hints of her Athenian, sword-and-shield fighting prowess, but in terms of fight choreography, she doesn't have much to do that requires great agility or spectacular martial-arts technique. Some critics have said that her role in DOJ amounts to little more than a preview for the upcoming, stand-alone Wonder Woman film. I can see that. (The same goes for Jason Momoa's Aquaman, who gets the briefest of underwater cameos—sort of a Khal Drogo for the fishes. Other cameos include the Flash and Cyborg.) Diana doesn't get to let her hair down, combatively speaking, until the final third of the film; that's one of the problems with overstuffing a movie with too many characters.

Two further disappointments: Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor and the use of the term "meta-human." Eisenberg's Luthor is twitchy, jumpy, high-voiced, and entirely too young-looking to be taken seriously as a heavyweight villain. I didn't care much for Eisenberg's performance; in my mind, Lex Luthor is older, more filled-out, more deliberate, more of a diabolically cool customer. Even though he's normally considered Superman's antithesis, he'd make a wonderful antithesis for Bruce Wayne—a fellow genius billionaire—as well. As for the term "meta-human," this was an obvious attempt at classifying and branding most of the DC Comics superheroes as their own type of X-Men—a different class of beings who walk the earth (or swim beneath it), hiding from most of humanity and just trying to live peaceful, quiet lives (in "Avengers: Age of Ultron," Captain America uses the term "enhanced" to describe the Maximoff twins). Batman notes, toward the end of the film, that he has a feeling all these meta-humans will have to learn to fight together against a common, possibly extra-planetary, enemy. I didn't like that scene, either: why would Batman, of all people, be talking about banding together? Batman's the consummate loner.

Bruce Wayne's beef against Superman began when Wayne's financial tower in Metropolis was destroyed during the climactic battle between Superman and General Zod. This scene in DOJ was, in part, a response to a complaint about "Man of Steel," namely, that Superman and Zod used all of downtown Metropolis as their battleground, but no one seemed to get hurt or killed, as if all those buildings had somehow miraculously been evacuated. In DOJ, we learn that there had, in fact, been massive collateral damage, and that this is why Superman, however good his intentions, is viewed by some as a menace. Unfortunately for Snyder's film, the superhero-as-menace theme was dealt with better and more maturely in Pixar's "The Incredibles," in which the entire American public rose up as one and demanded that superheroes stop their heroic efforts, which often did more harm than good. DOJ is never entirely clear about what the public actually thinks of heroes like Superman—or like Batman, for that matter. And I, for one, was never entirely clear as to why Bruce Wayne concluded that, just because Superman's heroics could be dangerous, Superman was clearly someone who could one day destroy the earth, and who therefore had to be stopped.

So while I appreciated the spiritual dimension of DOJ (Kevin Costner gets something of a Jedi Force-ghost cameo on a snowy mountaintop, offering us viewers what is perhaps the most mature commentary apropos of the yin and the yang of heroism), there were simply too many big negatives that prevented me from liking the film. There was Gal Gadot's underused Wonder Woman; there were the lame baddies, Doomsday and Luthor; there was the obvious and desperate attempt to evoke X-Men with the term "meta-human"; and worst of all, there was the screenwriters' complete trashing of the original reason behind Batman and Superman's conflict. The movie also failed to engage me emotionally; it squandered far too many opportunities to make things more visceral, more personal, and the inevitable result was a bone-dry narrative that dragged on for far too long. And after three highly demythologized Batman films by Christopher Nolan, it felt strange to see Batman plunged into a world of science fiction and spirituality. DOJ is a film I might watch on cable during some rainy evening when I've got nothing else to do, but compared to many of the recent superhero efforts I've seen, like "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Deadpool," or Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight," it's just not worth an expensive ticket for a big-screen experience. And that's a shame, considering that it cost almost half a billion dollars to make.

ADDENDUM: I'm guessing that "Dawn of Justice" refers to the dawn of the Justice League, which will spring from Bruce Wayne's suggestion that all the world's heroes and meta-humans will need to gather together to fight large-scale evil heading our way.

ADDENDUM 2: A fair-minded YouTube review can be found here.


Friday, March 25, 2016

change in plan

Unless I go insane in the next few hours, I'm likely not going to see "Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice" tonight, but will instead see it tomorrow morning—ish—when there won't be much of a crowd. Ligament will not be in attendance; she's too swamped with grad studies now that the semester has sunk its claws into her. That may be a good thing: I'm hearing almost nothing but bad reviews about the movie: it's overstuffed, it's too lugubrious, it's convoluted, etc. One of the bloggers I trust the most, John Lee of The Korean Foreigner, has penned what is likely a scathing review: I read only the first couple lines of what John wrote (thanks to my blog feed, which shows the first paragraph or so of people's blog entries) because he warned that his post was full of spoilers, and I didn't want to read anything too specific until I'd had a chance to see the movie for myself. From what I read, though, I get the feeling that John was outraged by what a time-waster the film was.

The critical reviews (see Metacritic here) are so widely negative that I'm wondering whether it's even worth spending $8 and three hours of my life to watch BvSDOJ ("Beavis! Dodge!"). But as my old high-school French teacher used to say, curiosity killed the kitty, and I'm going to succumb to my all-too-human attraction to stories. This story might be told badly, but I'll have to see for myself, especially since part of the plot is inspired by Frank Miller's mid-1980s The Dark Knight Returns, in which an aging Batman's final battle is against Superman, who has become a godlike arm of the American government (it's implied that Superman ripped off one of Green Arrow's arms in an attempt to keep that obstreperous superhero in line).

So, yes: up at the crack of 8 or 9 tomorrow morning, then a 10:55AM screening of the movie over at the Lotte World Tower Cinema, and perhaps a nice lunch while I'm at the mall.

Unless I experience a sudden reversal and decide to hit the theater tonight.


_

Thursday, March 24, 2016

a little visit to Number Four

As I'd written previously, my boss has a lawyer friend whose son heads an "Italian" (the boss's descriptor) restaurant in the Hongdae area called Number Four. The lawyer's daughter is an accomplished designer (interior and graphic design) who helped create the look of Number Four; she did a fantastic job. The lawyer had invited my boss—and, by extension, us underlings—to a special dinner at Number Four.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, so let's start the story earlier in the day this past Tuesday. Since the boss had offered to drive us to the resto, we hung around until 6PM, then piled into the boss's car, flipped on the GPS, and headed into the schizoid mecha-horror that is Seoul's rush-hour traffic. It took us a little over an hour to cross town from our southeastern region to the Hongdae area, roughly in northwestern Seoul, but not too far from the city's geographical center of Namsan.

It was dark by the time we arrived. At first, we didn't see the restaurant from the street: the restaurant's sign facing the main street is rather small and understated; as with Manimal, the sign also sits very high in the air, floating among the invisible angels that guard this city of heedless motorists. We found parking pretty much we way one would in crowded parts of Washington, DC: by driving around a block until an empty space finally appeared. We ended up parking across the street and walking over.

The main entrance to the restaurant is up some stairs and on the building's second floor. We went up that way; the boss told the confused-looking young lady who greeted us that we had a reservation. Once he explained the situation further, her eyes finally lit up in comprehension, and she told us we'd come to the wrong floor: we needed to go up to the third floor. I took a shot of the restaurant's second-floor interior before we stepped back outside, went down to street level, and took a different set of stairs at the side of the building to reach the third floor (no interior stairs, guys? really?—and if you're wheelchair-bound, you're fucked).

Once at the third floor, the boss's lawyer friend and his wife greeted us, and we all sat down at one of the longer tables. The seating was plush, and the ambiance of the third floor was more muted and serious-looking than the cheerful, almost diner-like atmosphere of the second floor. Conversation was awkward at first because most of us were strangers to each other, and also because the boss's lawyer friend, and the lawyer-friend's wife, couldn't speak English. They were relieved to find out that I could speak some Korean, but for the most part, attention was focused on my boss, who speaks Korean as fluently as my buddy Charles does, and who has a large, effusive, conversation-dominating personality. My coworker, normally a quiet guy at the best of times, was especially quiet that evening.

The lawyer's son came over, distributed menus to us, and explained that we could order what we wanted, but that the staff would be bringing over extra food for us to taste—a win-win, as far as I was concerned. An entry for lobster gnocchi caught my eye, so I ordered that. My coworker got himself an eggplant rigatoni, and when the lawyer's daughter finally arrived to sit with us, she ordered a beet risotto. My boss ordered some sort of large salad.

When we were asked what drinks we would like to order, I said I wanted a Coke, to which the lawyer's son impulsively replied, "Diet?"—on the assholish, unspoken assumption that a fat person would of course need to drink Diet Coke. "Yeah, I think you need a Diet Coke," said the lawyer to me with a smile. Like father, like son, apparently. This exchange occurred in Korean, so my coworker caught none of this. I just gave the lawyer a stony smile and ordered my fucking regular Coke. Let's face it: if you're ordering gnocchi, you're ordering a pile of carbs. What benefit do you get from Diet Coke at that point?

A Mediterranean-themed appetizer came out first: a basket of warm pita bread, salade verte, and various things to stuff inside the pita like an olive/anchovy tapenade and quenelle-shaped footballs of ricotta. Tasty and healthy. The pitas were interesting because they smelled exactly like English muffins, but the taste and texture were completely pita-ish.

The dishes we'd ordered appeared within a few minutes, along with some extras: there was a saumon en croûte on a bed of sauerkraut, which I guessed was an Alsatian dish (saumon en croûte is French while sauerkraut is German; that sort of Franco-Germanic combination happens a lot in Alsace). There was also a pair of pulled-pork sliders with cheese on toasted buns, and a French-looking chicken dish on whipped potatoes described as "balsamic chicken." I ended up not being able to try any of the chicken, unfortunately, but I could imagine the taste, and I already knew it wouldn't be anywhere near as good as Joe McPherson's flock of lovely dead birds.

I ended up pleasantly filled if not exactly stuffed, and very glad that I hadn't had to pay for any of this: the bill would have made a nun shit right there in the church.

Here's an exterior shot. Again, my phone can't handle night shots, so my apologies for the glare and the blur.


Here's a shot of the second floor, where we did not eat. Bright and happy.


A shot of the more serious-looking third floor, with another look at the restaurant's sign.


I didn't take any pics of the appetizer, but below is a shot of my lobster gnocchi, which was quite good, if not astoundingly good. The gnocchi themselves were much smaller than I had hoped for (this is Korea, where everything is smaller), but their texture was absolutely perfect: gnocchi ought to offer some resistance when you chew on them, and these did. The lobster was also front and center, taste-wise, and the diced squash was cooked to perfection: not too mushy, not too hard. The chef obviously knew what he was doing. My only complaint was that all the elements in the dish had been diced or otherwise prepped so that every piece of solid food was the same size. This created a somewhat boring textural uniformity that made it harder to pick out which pieces were lobster and which were gnocchi. A more robust presentation would have given us lobster in large, torn-up chunks along with bigger, heftier pieces of gnocchi.

Anyway, here's my dish:


Here's my coworker's eggplant rigatoni, from which my boss stole several pieces of pasta, perhaps regretting his having ordered a damn salad. I tried a single piece and liked the dish, but I think my boss liked it a lot more: he kept swooping back to it like a crow that can't resist stealing twinkling bits from a pile of shiny objects.

I liked the earthy presentation, here: huge pieces of eggplant, huge quenelles of ricotta—no subtlety at all. I wish the chef had taken the same approach with my gnocchi.


Next up: those pulled-pork sliders. The cheese is covering them so thoroughly, in the photo below, that you can't really see the meat. In the end, I liked my own pulled pork better, but this wasn't bad at all. It was modestly sauced, almost to the point of being under-sauced, but I can see why the chef might have made that decision: he may have decided to let the pork sing on its own as much as possible, with the sauce providing only supporting notes. If you think about it, Korean-style meat-eating goes along similar lines: you don't drown your meat in sauce; instead, you dip it in sauce, coating the meat with just enough flavor to provide an accent instead of allowing the sauce to insist upon itself.

Sliders, with a side of cold mashed potatoes:


This next beautiful shot is of the balsamic chicken that I never got to try. I did get to eat some of the whipped potato, and that was quite good.


There was a long pause, after the main meal was cleared away, before dessert came out. Dessert was a hilariously thin tarte made of maybe two or three sheets of phyllo dough and covered with papery slices of sugar-cinnamon apple. I had never seen a tarte so thin before, so I had to stifle my laughter. That said, the dough was buttery as hell, which brought a surprising amount of flavor to the dessert. I could have rolled the entire thing up and eaten twenty of those bad boys, but I had to content myself with a tiny two-by-four-inch piece and a modest slice of vanilla ice cream.

La tarte aux pommes:


Ah—I see that I've forgotten to talk about the beet risotto, which was the most striking dish of the evening: it was colorful and tasty, with an almost al dente texture for the rice and no trace of the beet's normally obnoxious undertones. I could have scarfed down several plates of that dish as well, and I'm kicking myself for not having taken a picture of it. I was all ready to declare the beet risotto the most creative, outside-of-the-box dish I had seen at a Korean-style Western restaurant, but when I went home and looked up "beet risotto" on Google, I was disappointed to learn that it's actually a rather common dish, after all (see these photos). Still, that knowledge detracted nothing from the experience of eating the risotto itself, and if I ever go back to Number Four, the risotto will be something I order again for sure.

All in all, the meal was competently executed and very enjoyable. If there were any problems or discomforts, they had nothing to do with the food itself and more to do with the fact that I was sitting awkwardly with strangers who obviously occupied an income bracket far, far above my own. It's one reason why I normally don't like dining with super-rich folks: it's impossible to relate to them. Put me in steerage with the hoi polloi and give me my goddamn comfort food. That's what this dinner was: the polar opposite of comfort food. It was, as I said, competently executed, but it was also dainty and a bit pretentious. I do give the chef full marks for creating authentic cuisine: there wasn't a false culinary note to be found anywhere, and my inner critic was likely frustrated by that state of affairs. My other complaints—again, having nothing to do with the food—were that the ambient music was completely unsuited to the dignified atmosphere (they were playing bass-pounding rap, for God's sakes! I wanted to go hit a nightclub), and the menu was thematically all over the place. Far from being an "Italian" restaurant as my boss had described it, the place was a European-themed restaurant, as the owner's business card said. Problem is, the pulled-pork sliders weren't European at all: they were American. It was hard to know what the restaurant wanted to be when it grew up: French? Italian? Something vaguely Mediterranean?

The lawyer and his son proudly noted that Number Four is popular among dating couples, and many customers become regulars. The place has been open for only a year and a half; I wish the owner good fortune (even if his Diet Coke remark was assholish), and might find myself back that way again, but only if I'm feeling very spendy and am not too hungry: this wasn't comfort food, so portion sizes were fairly small. My boss asked why the place was named Number Four; I don't remember the lawyer's son's explanation, but it had something to do with a cultural turning-turtle of the popular notion that 4 is a bad-luck number (the Chinese character for "4" rhymes with the character for "death," thus creating a phonetic association in China, Japan, and Korea).

The evening's experience dovetailed with my other experiences of food in the Hongdae neighborhood. Hongdae is a popular night spot and has something of a growing reputation as a foodie destination, but my own experience has been that the portions in Hongdae restaurants are consistently too small, and the food is consistently overpriced. Part of the latter problem is inevitable, as foreign food is overpriced in general in Korea,* but it is possible to find cheaper options of equal quality: the best example I can think of is the difference between the Hongdae-based Indo-Nepali restaurant Shanti and the Dongdaemun-based Indo-Nepali restaurant Everest. Everest wins on every count: the portions are larger, the food is cheaper, and the quality is as good as or better than the quality of the food at Shanti.** Number Four falls into that same trap, but I have to give it credit for providing food that is recognizably European.

Would I recommend Number Four? To the extent that it provides authentically Western food and an ambiance fueled by great interior design, yes. To the extent that the portions are small, twee, a mite pretentious, and expensive, no. I suspect that your dinner date would prefer a more relaxed atmosphere where you can dig into a steamy, fragrant pile of comfort food. But if you're rich and in love, and you buy into the "Hongdae is a foodie destination" hype, then why the hell not visit Number Four?



*Korean food in the States is ridiculously overpriced, so this problem works both ways.

**Shanti is Sanskrit for "peace," which apparently doesn't apply to wallet rape.


_

Bill, meet John. John—Bill.

Bill Keezer noted in an email that he's "un-retired." Bill might be amused to make the acquaintance of my friend and fellow blogger John McCrarey, who just wrote an amusingly sarcastic post about what "retirement from being retired" means for him, tax-wise, and how goddamn grateful he is to Uncle Sam for the privilege of being shoved up a tax bracket.


_

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Ave, Bill!

Bill Keezer takes us once again on an utterly fascinating and wide-ranging safari through the wilds of theodicy, arriving at a conclusion that I would never have predicted.


_

how to waste time at work

Have a stupid text conversation in English, but write the words in hangeul! Here's an exchange that my friend Tom and I had just a few minutes ago:


For those needing a phonetic transcription (because it's already in English, which means it's not an actual translation)—

[Kevin in yellow; Tom in white]

First hangeul quote from me: "Good. Very good. See you Friday. Bring your KY jelly because we will have big orgy!"

Tom's hangeul reply: "KY is already packed, like your fudge will be once the lights go out, you scut!"

I then express confusion about what a "scut" is.

Tom's hangeul reply (2 texts): "Srut." (i.e., slut, but he forgot to double the "l" in Korean, so it ended up sounding like an "r.") "Fucking auto-correct!"

My hangeul reply: "We take Auto-correct out behind the shed and fuck its asshole bloody."

You don't see it in the above image, but Tom texted back, "Deal!", so I sent him a thumbs-up icon.



_

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

diverted

This evening, I went to an Italian restaurant in the Hongdae area called Number Four. The restaurant is owned by the son of a lawyer (and a former judge) who has been friends with my boss at the Golden Goose for thirty years. My boss told us that the lawyer and his son had invited him and his underlings (that would be me and my coworker) to a sort of tasting dinner: free food! So the boss asked whether I'd like to come for dinner; I asked my coworker what he thought, and we both told the boss yes. The lure of free food was just too much.

So that's why I wrote no big, bad blog posts today. I've got a large review of "Philomena" and "Spotlight" coming up, but those will have to wait. I also took plenty of pictures of my experience at Number Four, where we met the lawyer, his wife, their daughter, and of course the son who runs the place. So at some point within the next 48 hours, expect a Number Four-related blog post.

Anyway, that's why there were no big posts today.


_

Ave, Charles!

My buddy Charles has written a thoughtful and glowing review of McPherson's BBQ Pub. Go check it out (Charles's pictures are nicer than mine)...then, for the love of Jesus, go visit Joe's!


_

Monday, March 21, 2016

"Foxcatcher": review in 10 words

"Foxcatcher": disturbing.

Carell, Tatum, Ruffalo: awesome.

Quietly evil ambiance.

Recommended.


_

Sunday, March 20, 2016

a visit to McPherson's BBQ Pub

I and my clan—Charles, his wife Hyunjin, my buddy Tom, and our mutual friend (my ex-boss at KMA) Patrick—finally visited my friend Joe's pub last night. I had made 7:30PM reservations, but everyone had gotten there earlier. Tom and Patrick had been at the place since 5:30PM, probably to earn bragging rights or squatters' rights or something. They're bastards for getting an early start on what was supposed to be a group experience, but this behavior wasn't too surprising because Tom's been traitorous before (he recently went to the new Seorae without me). Initially, I didn't believe Tom when he texted that he'd been at the pub since 5:30; I skeptically texted back, "White man lies and takes our land."

So I arrived last, snapping a quick pic of the pub's exterior before wandering in through the huge, open sliding door (the evening was pleasantly cool, but not cold) and being greeted like fat Norm in an episode of "Cheers." I sat down across from Charles and Hyunjin, with Patrick on my right and Tom tucked comfortably into his corner.

Tom and Patrick had long ago ordered an appetizer and some drinks to keep them busy while they waited for the rest of us; Charles and Hyunjin had ordered a boat of Chickasaw Fries, which arrived not long after I'd sat down. The fries were seasoned with the pub's signature barbecue rub, then topped with pulled pork, shredded cheese, onions, sour cream, and jalapeños—about as comfort-foody as you can get. I ate only three or four bites of the appetizer, but I could have snacked on nothing but that all day long. The spice rub made all the difference, putting the appetizer well above the Vatos Urban Tacos kimchi carnitas fries I'd had when I'd met Joe a while back, and right on par with the positively miraculous cheesesteak waffle-cut fries that are served at Rye Post in Itaewon.

Here's the aforementioned exterior shot. It was nighttime, so my camera didn't know how to handle the combination of ambient darkness and blaring light from Joe's sign. Apologies, as always, for the blurring.


Here are the Chickasaw Fries:


The server, who wasn't Korean, and who obviously felt more comfortable speaking in his unaccented American English than in Korean (Hyunjin tortured him by speaking to him in nothing but Korean the entire evening), took our orders. As I'd threatened to do, I got the large-size Taste of Alabama Platter, which the server warned was made for three. Several folks at the table had the same thought I did and blurted out, "So that's enough for one Kevin." I knew that, if I didn't finish the mound of food that was coming, I'd doggie-bag it and slaughter the rest once I was home.

With my arrival, I had interrupted conversations in progress, so I took a few pictures. Somehow, I failed to snap pics of Hyunjin, but if you want to see her lovely face, just go visit Liminality and poke around Charles's "imagery" archives. She's tucked in there somewhere.

Charles and Tom share a moment. Charles flashes his gang sign:


In the following shot, I "go meta" and get a pic of Patrick taking a picture of his food. Postmodernist "philosopher" Baudrillard (cough, spit) was mentioned at this point, because we were a group of nerds (all except Tom, who has a fine wit, but who also has no proper schooling and thus doesn't get tweedy academic humor). Patrick and Tom had also ordered the large-size Taste of Alabama Platter—the same as what I'd ordered, except that they had added an extra side of mac-and-cheese, which Tom is cradling for Patrick's camera.


Happily, the following two images speak for themselves. The first is of the front side of Joe's menu; the back side didn't interest me all that much because it was devoted to drinks, most of which I'd never have because I don't drink alcohol. The second picture is of my meal, which arrived, along with Charles and Hyunjin's meal, several minutes after Tom and Patrick's platter came to the table.


Mon repas glorieux:


I hadn't eaten any solid food since Friday evening, so I was as ravenous as a starving dragon. That said, when my meal landed in front of me with an audible thump, everyone looked at my pile of food, and some at the table openly wondered whether I'd be able to finish the whole thing. Hyunjin had said, back when I'd ordered, "There's a whole chicken with your meal!" There did indeed seem to be an entire spatchcocked chicken lying there before me: wings, breasts, thighs, and drumsticks, smoked and fried to order.

On Joe's menu, the Taste of Alabama Platter is described thus:

Large (200 g pulled pork, whole smoked fried chicken, 3 sides)

My three sides were mac-and-cheese, whiskey beans, and cole slaw. The beans were solid, with some sweetness to them (we all agreed that the whiskey didn't come out that strongly); the slaw had a nice, balanced tanginess to it (this wasn't a cream-based slaw); and the mac-and-cheese was expertly cooked and loosely packed without being goopy. I ate everything. My platter also came with three buns (the same as Linus, but not toasted... not that I'm complaining, Joe!), which I and the rest of the table used to make little pulled-pork sliders.

The pulled pork was the best I'd had of the three restaurants I've visited. I'm not sure how obvious this is in the photo I took, but the pork had more bark to it, and it was richer and more succulent. Joe's sauces were also much better than those I'd had at either Manimal or Linus' BBQ. His Tuscaloosa Sauce has a smoky, cumin-y flavor to it that's a few shades away from being a taco sauce; his Cola Sauce, which some reviewers have deemed too sweet, wasn't too sweet at all for me—certainly not the level of sweetness found in, say, Sweet Baby Ray's. The Alabama White Sauce, which is a close cousin of my very own cole-slaw sauce, went well with the pork and even better with the chicken.

Ah... the chicken. We all agreed that the chicken was the star of the show, despite how good everything else on the platter was. Without exaggeration, I can say that I have never had chicken like this in my life. The grilled-and-smoked chicken at Manimal ended up being the surprise hit when I went there with John McCrarey, but Joe's chicken, compared to Manimal's, is like Mike Tyson—in his prime—fighting my old Korean grandmother. There simply is no comparison.

I've been sitting here, staring at my monitor, trying to think of ways to put the experience of Joe's chicken into words. First, we'll note that it's called "smoked fried chicken" on the menu, so the chicken obviously goes through something approaching a Chinese twice-cooked process. What I wanted to know was how in the hell Joe managed to get both the savoriness and the smokiness to penetrate so deeply into the chicken's flesh: a chicken breast is a rather thick, hefty muscle group, after all, and it's not easy to inject flavor deep into the muscle without literally injecting flavor into it with a syringe (the pork does get injections). Joe's website provided the answer to half of that mystery: "Our chicken at McPherson’s is brined overnight to make it super juicy." Aha—brining! And for a day, no less!* Amazing. That explained much. The web page also says that the chicken is smoked "low and slow"—a phrase I normally associate with brisket and pulled pork—to get a deep, distinct smoky flavor that penetrates as deeply into the flesh as the brine does. I don't understand the physics of smoking well enough to know how this works, but somehow Joe did manage to smoke the chicken to the point where every single bite of it was redolent. The nearly assaultive combination of varying textures (outer crunch, inner juiciness, roasted skin) and varying flavors (brine, smoke, chicken meatiness) was explosively addictive.

There's a part of me that feels I may be over-selling Joe's chicken, but I can only report my own perspective and experience. I'm not kidding when I say I've never had anything like this sort of chicken before. Joe's smoked fried chicken is the some of the best chicken I've ever tasted. No dryness; no absence of flavor—none of the usual pitfalls associated with flawed chicken. Addictive. Nothing but singing angels and erect nipples.

That said, the platter's sheer size defeated me, and I ended up eating only about 85% of the food. I asked the ever-ready non-Korean server to pack up the remaining 15%—a breast/wing and a leg—which I then took home with the intention of eating it for tomorrow's lunch.

Someone made a remark about there not being any dessert on the menu—not that any of us was in any condition to eat more. We were all absolutely stuffed, ready to explode, and it was with great difficulty that we heaved ourselves to our feet to pay our separate checks and waddle out the door.

Joe, meanwhile, had appeared a bit before we were finishing up dinner. I had texted him when dinner started, wondering where he was. He hadn't texted back, very likely because he was busy—either in the kitchen or out somewhere doing an errand. He stopped by while we were eating to ask how we were enjoying the meal, and we all gave him a thumbs-up. Later on, as we were getting ready to pay, we had the chance to talk with Joe a bit. He mentioned that it had been a crazy day that had started off slowly—nobody at first, then eventually a crowd (the pub was already pretty full when I arrived a bit after 7:30PM). Joe was handling the crowd with half his usual staff, and given the attentive quality of the service with only half a staff, I'd say that Joe was and is running his place quite well.

Joe himself looked tired. I felt a lot of sympathy for him. His pub/resto has only just started; I'm sure he's still working out the kinks, but I think he's doing a marvelous job. Starting a business in a foreign country is never easy, but Joe has had extensive experience both writing about the food industry and actually working inside the food industry, so he didn't enter into this endeavor as a complete newbie. Far from it. That said, I'm sure the reality of what he's embarked upon is weighing down on him.

"You kicked Linus's ass," I told him, but Joe didn't exactly look happy when I said that. From Joe's perspective, he and Linus are simply adding their voices to a burgeoning chorus of Western-food joints in Korea; the way Joe sees it, their relationship is more complementary than competitive, and I suppose that makes sense, especially since Joe is way out west in the Omokgyo/Mokdong neighborhood as opposed to planting his flag in Itaewon like everyone else. Joe moved on to talking with Charles, Patrick, and Tom. Tom was his usual, affably jokey self, and he got Joe to belly-laugh once or twice.

Here's a pic of Joe. I told him to look as tired as possible.


Here are Patrick, Tom, and Joe:


In the final picture, we have Charles, Patrick, and Joe, with Charles doing his cheerfully obnoxious thing—an "action shot," as he called it. One weird thing about this photo: it's actually of a moment that didn't happen. I had taken two photos with Charles in it; I liked Joe's expression in the second photo, but enjoyed Charles's "action" pose from the first photo, so I spliced second-image Joe onto the first photo, and this is the result.


When I got home—I had stopped eating just in time, as it turned out, without allowing myself to become overstuffed—I puttered around a few hours before finally succumbing to temptation and finishing off the leftover chicken around midnight. The bird never even saw the inside of my fridge. That's how damn good it was. As I said: addictive.

I thought for a while about Joe's lack of desserts. I thought about maybe offering to make my mouce [sic] au chocolat for him to put on his menu; I have no qualms about sharing my recipe. But as I thought further, I realized that this wouldn't have worked: what Joe had done, in carefully constructing his menu and in explaining this menu's philosophy on his website, was to provide a consistently Alabamian theme throughout the whole dining experience. My panna cotta would have had no place on his menu; it would have been utterly inconsistent. From the BBQ-rub taters in Joe's Chickasaw Fries to the brine Joe had used for his chicken and pork to the sauces Joe had placed on the table, everything on that menu was reflective of a single, unified, self-consistent vision... and then it occurred to me that I hadn't gotten that vibe at either Manimal or Linus. Sure, Linus advertises itself as Alabama barbecue, but it was hard to see what was Alabamian about it when I sat down to eat. Pay careful attention to every step of Joe's meal, though, and you get a definite feeling that Joe is actively reaching back to his culinary roots to provide an experience that's not just generally American, but specifically regional, specifically Tuscaloosa and Chickasaw and all the rest.

I ate more at Joe's than I had at Manimal, for about the same price. I like Manimal a lot, but the Manimal experience definitely puts a dent in the wallet, especially with those expensive sides. Joe had also mentioned that he was the one who had put together all the food that day, a fact that I deeply appreciated. The guy is pouring his heart and soul into this project. I think he was smart to stay away from Itaewon; the neighborhood he's in has some Korean-style meat restaurants (that also smell pretty damn good as you're walking by them), but Joe McPherson's BBQ Pub is one of a kind. Even if he had chosen to settle in Itaewon, his pub would still have been one of a kind. I wish Joe nothing but success; I understand that he doesn't think of himself as in competition with either Linus or Manimal, but in my head, his pub ranks at the top, now that I've had a chance to experience three different visions of American BBQ in Seoul.

All hail!

ADDENDUM: Joe texted me, after reading the above review, to note that he did indeed have a dessert the night we were there, but it had been erased from the board: Amaretto Strawberry Shortcake. "We have off-menu items," he wrote. Good to remember the next time I go there.

WARNING: In the same text conversation, Joe noted that he has just raised the prices on his menu. The meal I had, the Taste of Alabama Platter, went from W30,900 to W37,900. (I guess we're lucky to have gone when we did, eh?) Joe said the place is losing money, and at a guess, this may be due to the modest pricing. The pub is still having its shakedown cruise, I think; it'll be a while before things begin to stabilize. Luckily, I'll be going back to the pub more frequently than I normally do for most midrange-budget restaurants, so I'll be collecting data points over the next year. Stay tuned. Stay ravenous.



*One part of Joe's website says the chicken is brined "overnight"; another part says the chicken is brined "for a day." The pork shoulder that Joe uses for his pulled pork is injected and allowed to rest for a full 24 hours. Exactly how much ass is being kicked, here?


_

Saturday, March 19, 2016

BBQ day!

My buddy Tom texted me, "BBQ day—Yay!" this morning. A group of us will be going out to McPherson's BBQ Pub this evening to partake of Joe McPherson's Alabama-style barbecue. I've just been paid, so I'm feeling kind of spendy, and I plan on buying the Taste of Alabama platter. The platter comes in Regular, Large, and Oh My Fucking God sizes; I'll be going for the Large, and I probably won't be sharing except in the most grudging way.

Expect plenty of foodblogging either tonight or tomorrow. If I can, I hope to finagle my way into Joe's kitchen so I can see the action happening. Not sure if I can do that: Joe's been touchy about people asking him for perks. Normally, this touchiness is reserved for resto reviewers who visit the restaurant and demand free food, but asking to see the kitchen can be burdensome as well, especially if I end up getting in the way of the BBQ-making process.

Kitchen or no, there'll be plenty of images and insights to share after our meal, so stay tuned, and prepare yourselves for a torrent of deliciousness. I'm eating nothing until dinner.


_

Friday, March 18, 2016

"The Hateful Eight": review

"The Hateful Eight" (hereinafter H8fl8) is Quentin Tarantino's eighth film (depending on how you count, and depending on which Tarantino films in his oeuvre are counted). It's the tale of a blizzardy night in Wyoming during which a group of people, most on their way to the town of Red Rock, find themselves trapped inside a stagecoach lodge called Minnie's Haberdashery. The film stars Samuel Jackson as Major Marquis ("markwiss") Warren, Kurt Russell as John "The Hangman" Ruth, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Ruth's prisoner Daisy Domergue ("Dahmer-goo," not the French "do-mairg"), Walton Goggins as the putative Sheriff Chris Mannix, and Damián Bichir as Bob the cryptic Mexican. Tarantino regulars Tim Roth and Michael Madsen also appear, along with hoary legend Bruce Dern and blushing Tarantino-newbie Channing Tatum. Superpowered stuntwoman Zoë Bell, her Kiwi accent in full flower, has a minor role. 1980s heartthrob Lee Horsley—looking unrecognizably old—also has a part, as does James Parks, son of chameleonic actor Michael Parks, who played two roles in the "Kill Bill" movies—those of a sheriff and a Mexican drug lord.

A carriage is seen chugging through the snow, trying to stay ahead of an oncoming blizzard. Inside the carriage are bounty hunter John Ruth and his prisoner Daisy Domergue; OB (Parks) is driving. The carriage is forced to stop and eventually pick up Major Warren, another bounty hunter who is trying to take three frozen bodies into Red Rock to collect his massive $8,000 bounty.* It turns out that Warren and Ruth remember each other; Ruth cautiously invites Warren into the carriage, and the band heads to Minnie's Haberdashery, the closest place to hole up for the duration of the blizzard.

During the long ride, we quickly learn that Ruth and Warren were on the Northern side while Daisy was a Southern partisan who doesn't hesitate to call Warren a "nigger" every chance she gets. In return for these epithets, Daisy gets her face smashed in with brutal frequency by Ruth, and sometimes, evil creature that she is, she seems to enjoy the attention. Ruth also expresses curiosity about a letter that Warren possesses: it's correspondence from Abraham Lincoln himself. Warren and Lincoln were apparently pen pals, you see, and to Ruth, this letter is almost talismanic in nature (there's more about the letter further into the story). We also find out that Ruth is called "The Hangman" because, instead of killing his quarry, he always brings them in alive for hanging, and he always stays to witness the executions.

A bit farther along the path, another passenger is picked up: Chris Mannix, a militiaman who fought for the Southern "Lost Cause," now claiming to be the new sheriff of Red Rock, which ostensibly makes him the man who will pay both Ruth and Warren their bounties. Thus our first group of characters arrives at Minnie's Haberdashery, just ahead of the blizzard, and at the lodge itself we meet our other group. There's sullen, silent General Sanford "Sandy" Smithers (Dern), an old Confederate; Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), a cheerful British man claiming to be Red Rock's current hangman; John Gage (Madsen), a man claiming only to be a cowpoke writing his memoirs; and Bob, an unreadable Mexican who claims to be watching the place while Minnie is away.

That's the setup, and it takes a while to reach this point. I don't want to spoil the rest of the film, but suffice it to say that some of these folks know each other; some are secretly working together; and there are folks we don't initially see who play significant roles later on. For me, one of the central questions was whether Daisy was going to end up outsmarting everyone and getting away, escaping into the blizzard to a dubious fate. There are whodunit tropes at work here, too: coffee gets poisoned; plush armchairs are uncovered, revealing bloodstains and causing suspicions about who exactly is running Minnie's Haberdashery (and where the hell Minnie herself is); wounds from the recent North-South conflict (the movie takes place some time after the Civil War) are scratched hard and reopened.

All the Tarantino tropes are there: black humor, sudden and explosive violence, snatches of the French language, overuse of the N-word, nonlinear narrative, Mexican standoffs, and even Tim Roth on the ground, writhing in pain the way he did back in "Reservoir Dogs." (I wonder if Roth felt his career had come full circle.) To that extent, the movie felt instantly familiar. Plus, this effort followed hard on the heels of "Django Unchained," so we're still in Tarantino's version of a Western. We haven't left the genre. Yet.

The plot takes a long time to build, but once the momentum is there, the story picks up and gains interest, especially as the viewer finds himself morbidly trying to predict who's going to live and who's going to die—and how. The patterns of interaction between the characters is also fascinating: while there aren't any true friendships, there are alliances and associations that shift as erratically as the currents of trust and suspicion gusting randomly among the group members. By the time the cast's numbers are whittled down to only three, the two characters who are united against the third character are a most unlikely pair (with only two testicles between them).

Most of the movie feels like a stage play, mainly because most of it takes place inside the haberdashery. It's Sartre's Huis Clos, but with guns and knives and poison, and hell is definitely other people. This sort of ambiance makes everything a bit more intimate. Strangely enough, the stage design is capacious and intricate, and much of the haberdashery goes unused: the action is confined to just a few principal areas. That's not an insight I had during my viewing of the film; the intuition came to me only later. Not that I really mind all the wasted space; when you make a movie, a lot of ideas are thrown onto the screen, and only some of them get used with any measure of thoroughness.

I mentioned how familiar the movie felt, but it's important to note that H8fl8 differs from other recent Tarantino flicks in one major respect: it's not about revenge. Oh, no, Precious. If anything, it's a return to Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" roots: it's not revenge, but rather money, mutual suspicion, and plans gone awry that dominate. Arguably at the center of it all, pulling strings without pulling strings, is Daisy Domergue, a little black hole of evil, an attractive force that drags everything into its sinister ambit.

So let's talk about the screenwriting and the acting. Tarantino is known for having an ear for dialogue, but I think he's at his best with modern repartee; his attempts at capturing various 1880s-era dialects aren't nearly as assured as what he can do in a modern urban setting. There are, of course, the usual orotund speeches (I think Tarantino would be a great choice for adapting Tom Robbins's novels: Robbins, too, likes to make his characters give sermons), including the most magnificent speech in the movie, delivered with triumphantly evil glee by Samuel Jackson's Marquis Warren as he describes a very, very bad thing he did to the son of one of the people in the lodge. Jackson isn't an actor with a lot of range: like Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman, he tends to play himself no matter what film he's in. But like Eastwood and Hackman, Jackson is excellent within the narrow range he inhabits, and in this film—a film in which he finally gets top billing—he's marvelous, and he really should have been nominated for an Oscar. Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is Hollywood's go-to gal whenever they need an actress to play a weirdo or whacko, does her best possessed-Linda-Blair impression throughout the story. She's accused of being a murderess many times over, and we never get to see her massacring folks (although she does end up shooting one guy in self-defense), but she very effectively radiates evil, and it's nearly impossible to look away from her. I had more trouble with the spoken performances by Kurt Russell and Walton Goggins: their accents and cadence felt weird and exaggerated. Russell seemed to be doing a John Wayne impression, and Goggins's country-boy accent was obnoxiously in-your-face for most of the film before it resolved itself into something quieter by the final reel.

Unfortunately, I saw "The Hateful Eight" on my tiny laptop's monitor, which means that all the gorgeous retro-style Panavision cinematography (I think Colorado stood in for Wyoming) was lost on me. Ennio Morricone was persuaded to come back and score this film (he'd apparently had enough of Tarantino after "Django"), and he ended up winning both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for his work (some of which, ironically, was recycled from his old, unused sheet music for films like "The Thing"). Personally, I found Morricone's music obnoxious and intrusive at times; it was a relief when most of the lodge's interior shots were done without any music at all. Silence can sometimes be its own reward.

Overall, because the movie started slowly and built itself steadily up over time, I wasn't too thrilled about the beginning, but I did warm up to the plot as events rolled along. While "The Hateful Eight" lacks the intensity of films like "Pulp Fiction" or "Reservoir Dogs," it exudes its own miasma of morbid fascination, with JJ Leigh's Daisy Domergue as the gravitational center, the axis around which all the characters eventually turn. I recommend the movie; a bit like a cancer, it'll grow on you.



*The video's trivia notes remark that this sum is anachronistically high: it would be the equivalent of several hundred thousand dollars today.


_

Thursday, March 17, 2016

hmmm

I'm supposed to be writing a review of "Spotlight," which I watched over a week ago, then watched again this past weekend. I think what I'm going to do is rewatch "Philomena" first, then review the films together because they both deal with grave injustices perpetrated by the Catholic Church: sexual predation by deviant priests in one case, and the selling-off of bastard children in the other.

Today being Saint Patrick's Day, the film I'd most like to rewatch is "The Commitments," hailed by many as "the most Irish film ever." I've seen it several times already; it's an awesome, cheerful, life-affirming film about a group of young Dubliners who just want to perform American-style soul music. Alas, the only two Irish-themed films in my video library are the black comedy "In Bruges" (which I've somehow neglected to review) and "Calvary" (reviewed here), which is a fantastic film, but way too dark and sad for Saint Paddy's.

So instead of all that, I'll be settling down with a nice, warm bowl of chicken-and-shrimp curry while I watch "The Hateful Eight," a Tarantino film that's supposed to be something of an oblique sequel to "Django Unchained."

En avant!


_

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Ave, Charles!

Charles posts some thoughts about the recent five-game battle between 9th-dan Korean baduk (go) champion Lee Sedol and Google DeepMind's AlphaGo, which resulted in a 4-1 victory for the machine. Charles concludes his meditation by appreciating Lee's acumen and observing that we're still a long way from being taken over by our own technology.

Whether you find the Terminator/Matrix scenario to be an urgent matter may depend on how confident you are about the progress currently being made in AI. The popular long-essay website Wait But Why recently published—what else?—a long, two-part essay on why it would be rational to fear the advent of conscious AI; it's worth your time to read it. In his essay, Tim Urban, one of the two main writers at WBW, maps out human attitudes toward AI by demarcating two major precincts: Confident Corner (with optimistic strong-AI proponents like Ray Kurzweil) and the much larger Anxious Avenue, where all the worrywarts (like Stephen Hawking and, apparently, most Hollywood screenwriters) reside.

Personally, what I took away from the Lee/AlphaGo match was that, at the beginning, there was a lot of prideful rhetoric floating around about how the ancient Chinese game was so complex that it required intuition for excellence. What AlphaGo has arguably shown (and, really, the jury is still out on this, as there are other baduk masters out there) is that brute-force calculation may be all that's necessary for excellence at the game.

If this is our line of thinking (and it may not be yours), at least two possible conclusions present themselves: (1) intuition is an illusion that intelligent machines are slowly deconstructing: you don't really need intuition to be great at baduk; (2) intuition is an emergent phenomenon that can be manifested in machines, i.e., AlphaGo—especially when it astonished the commentators with some of its moves—did indeed play intuitively.

The implication of the first conclusion is that intuition reduces to brute-force calculation, and if intuition can be so easily simulated here, then other aspects of human behavior, awareness, and cognition can also eventually be simulated (thus putting us on the road to creating Cylons... or to making machines that bootstrap themselves to the point where they can create their own Cylons). This takes us down an old and well-worn philosophical path that's been discussed to death: if everything about us can be exactly simulated, then are robots that minutely simulate us conscious? This is the old problem of the "philosophical zombie": a being with no interiority that can nevertheless pass for a being with interiority. Can we, in fact, verify that the being has no interiority? Can we, in fact, declare that there was nothing intuitive about how AlphaGo played? What are the standards of proof?

The implication of the second conclusion might be thought of as the flip-side of the zombie problem. Here, we assume the existence of intuition, which automatically implies that intuition need not be unique to humans (if we have built intuition into AlphaGo, and if AlphaGo isn't human, then non-humans can possess intuition). In this line of thinking, if we build a robot that acts conscious in every way, then we can rest assured that it is conscious. The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Measure of a Man" dealt with this very problem and resoundingly concluded that an android like Data was actually a conscious being imbued with the rights and freedoms of all sapient beings—not a mere machine, not a zombie.

For myself, I agree with Charles that we've probably got a long way to go before the machines are forcing us to the ground and taking our lunch money. At the same time, Tim Urban's essay on the topic of AI is disturbing enough to make me wonder just how long we have before we—as Morpheus put it in "The Matrix"—give birth to AI.

ADDENDUM:

1. Seen on Twitter: AlphaGo's Domination Has South Korea Freaking Out About Artificial Intelligence. With special focus on intuition.

2. Article/video seen on Drudge: We Should Be More Afraid of Computers Than We Are.

3. This article makes the point that Charles made in his post: intelligence and consciousness are two completely different animals.


_

Rubio the absentee

Here. For a young senator, Marco Rubio has already built up an impressive record of truancy. No wonder Trump stomped his ass in Florida: Floridians (except for a clutch of loyal Cuban expats in Miami) don't like Rubio.


_

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Four-hour Chef: review

Timothy Ferriss finds ways to do things. He's a risk-taker, a challenge-facer, a success-meister, and I think he wants to pass himself off as a life-guru. His book The Four-hour Work Week put him on the map, his charmingly misleading title attracting over a million readers and catapulting him to media stardom. I've watched some of Tim's talks and interviews on YouTube; he comes off as friendly, open, and knowledgeable but also extremely driven—and there, I think, lies the fundamental disconnect between who Ferriss is and what he's trying to sell the public.

Like a lot of success gurus and so-called "life coaches," Ferris, with his insane energy and drive, is very much outside the norm, but he wants us to think that his ways of doing things, if we but imitate them, will lead us lowly normals to similar levels of personal success and fulfillment. As much as I love and respect religious traditions and practices, I'm skeptical of gurus, and doubly skeptical of people who think they can boil life down to a few simple formulae and peddle those formulae to us as some sort of existential cure. As with many how-to-succeed books, Ferriss' tomes basically allow him to get richer while we curious folks, most of us far less driven and much farther down on the IQ totem pole, sniff curiously at what Ferriss is selling before shrugging and moving on to the next guru to sucker us in.

Not that I think Ferriss is actively malicious, but I do think he is, at the very least, misguided. His books follow the exact same trajectory as that of the self-help manuals written by all his spiritual predecessors: "You too can succeed... if you just do XYZ in our program!"

Knowing nothing about Tim Ferriss at the time, I saw the The Four-hour Chef (hereinafter 4HC) on Amazon and was mildly curious, so I stuck it on my Amazon Wish List. My buddy Mike bought the book for me as a gift, so of course I read it all the way through. 4HC takes the reader on a culinary journey; it assumes you have zero competence in the kitchen but are willing to learn, and Ferriss emphasizes that the point of 4HC isn't actually the cooking, but the ways in which to learn new things. For Ferriss, this is key: learning how to learn.

Ferriss is a good, engaging writer when he wants to be; my inner proofreader, never far from the surface, sounded no alarms as I combed through this Princetonian's prose. His language is as lively and energetic as he is; he has obviously carefully honed his writing to snag the fat part of the readership bell curve. (This is another thing to know about Ferriss: every move he makes is somehow calculated—a point he readily admits during his public talks, but which doesn't exactly endear him to me.)

That said, the book's structure is all over the place, manically zigzagging from kitchen advice to anecdotes about hunting or kickboxing or learning Japanese. I got the impression, while reading this happy mess, that in Ferriss's mind this all made sense—it would all eventually gel for the reader. At the end of 4HC, Ferris did try to sum up what he'd been trying to do throughout the book, but I don't think he succeeded. Reading 4HC was a bit like following Robin William's segue-rich comic stylings: you never end up where you thought you'd be going. I admit I might have had a different feel for the book had I obtained the hard-copy version. Cell-phone-based Kindle apps make your voyage through prose ruthlessly linear; the cell phone's tiny screen acts as a spotlight that narrowly focuses your attention on one tiny snatch of text at a time. The effect, in this case, was to magnify the desultory nature of 4HC's structure, and I can't call that a virtue.

Ferriss, knowledgeable fellow that he is, offers us plenty of interesting sound bites (prose bites?)—trivia about human biology, French cooking techniques, and the weirder precincts of the Japanese language. The problem, alas, is that, while I was reading 4HC, these informational morsels came at me so fast and furiously that, by the end of the book, I couldn't remember anything. (That's not Ferriss' fault; in fact, part of Ferriss's spiel is about developing good mental habits, so it's my fault for not dutifully and mindfully taking notes—something that is possible to do on a Kindle. In fact, I took notes quite often while reading through the A Song of Ice and Fire saga the first time.)

Ultimately, reading Ferriss's book began to feel more like a chore than an adventure. There's a moralizing undercurrent to everything he says, as well as a pervasive feeling that he's trying to sell something. Should we trust those super-driven folks among us who rise above the hoi polloi and declare, "I have the answers"? I'm not sure we should. And let me say this: 4HC took a hell of a lot longer than four hours to read.


_

Adios, Marco

Down in flames he goes. I never had much hope for Marco Rubio, anyway, and I'm pretty sure he's going to get his ass stomped on Super Tuesday II—quite possibly even in his home state of Florida. Rubio has run a bland, feckless, often tone-deaf campaign; he tossed aside an immigration-related promise some time ago, angering his faithful, and the delegate math simply isn't breaking in his favor. This NYT article may as well be Rubio's epitaph.

Perhaps this just isn't his time. Rubio is younger than I am, after all; he has many years ahead of him. He'll live to fight another day, once the current crowd of septuagenarian assholes has left the stage to go drool in a corner somewhere.

I fully expect Rubio (and Kasich) to drop out after Super Tuesday II. If Trump ends up the nominee, I don't expect Rubio to support him. Rubio might support Ted Cruz, though, if Cruz somehow clinches the nomination. We'll see. Always in motion is the future.


_

Monday, March 14, 2016

back to 13

With the coming of Daylight Saving* Time this past Sunday, Seoul is back to being only 13 hours ahead of DC. Come fall, we'll be back to being 14 hours ahead.

I've long considered DST a relic of the past that needs to be done away with. In fact, with time zones drawn as crazily as they are, we should move to a global standard, and if this means that some people work 9 to 5 while others work 4 to 12, then so be it! We can get used to anything.

Stop this local-time nonsense!



*Apparently, I've been saying it and spelling it wrong all these years. It's not Daylight Savings (plural) Time; it's Daylight Saving Time. And technically, if we're dealing with a phrasal adjective, it ought to be Daylight-saving Time, with a lower-case "s." (You capitalize only the first letter of the first word in a hyphenated compound or phrasal adjective. Yes—the rule obtains even if it doesn't "look right" to you. Sorry.)


_

Sunday, March 13, 2016

II

Super Tuesday II, March 15, is coming, and it's no longer obvious that Donald Trump is going to clinch the nomination. In terms of delegate count, Trump currently leads second-placer Ted Cruz by only 90 delegates: 460 to 370, or a factor of 1.24 to 1.

Up for grabs on the 15th:

Florida: 99 delegates
Illinois: 69 delegates
Missouri: 52 delegates
North Carolina: 72 delegates
Ohio: 66 delegates
Northern Mariana Islands: 9 delegates

That's a total of 367 delegates. Republicans need 1,237 delegates to win the nomination. Trump is more than a third of the way there. Is he bogging down now, finally, or is he, if anything, only just getting started? We'll know more by Wednesday. Marco Rubio, meanwhile, is looking tired and sounding increasingly bitter: in a recent interview exchange, now going viral, he was recorded as saying that supporting whoever the GOP nominee is would be increasingly difficult.

Dr. Vallicella, meanwhile, argues that if you're planning to abstain, you're basically throwing your vote away for Hillary to capitalize on. He can keep his game-theory analysis; as far as I'm concerned, voting is an exercise of conscience, and my conscience tells me that neither Trump nor Hillary deserves my vote in November.


_

finally!

After weeks and weeks of laziness and procrastination, I finally put together my new, el-cheapo TV stand, which is little more than a slap-together wooden set of shelves. Assembly was Ikea-level easy, thank goodness, and the shelving is sturdy enough to hold a somewhat heavy 42-inch HDTV. I finally counted the number of HDMI ports on my entertainment appliance and discovered with joy that there were four such ports, which is wonderful news: I can attach my region-free DVD/Blu-ray player (thanks, John), a video-game console (most likely an X-box that will let me play Halo), and a Roku (should I decide to get one). The console and Roku are purchases I'll make much later, once I'm further in the black with my budget, which won't be until after August—around October or so—as I have to pay off my second major debt by the end of the summer.

Anyway, as Jesus said, It is accomplished. I now have a decent, respectable TV stand. I have no plans to hook my TV up to the wall cable; most broadcast TV is garbage, be it American or Korean. Instead I'll be relying, for the next little while, entirely on a soon-to-be-growing library of DVDs and Blu-rays, and Lig will probably bring some of her cherished horror videos over for scary-movie parties.


_

March 8 birfday dinner

Birthday dinner with Ligament this past March 8 was a humble symphony—well, more of a smallish chamber group—of grilled cheese, tomato soup, salad, and homemade chocolate-covered cashew clusters.

The salad you see in the first picture is deliberately done up in a somewhat pretentious, avant-garde way: the tuna has been shaped by two spoons into a quenelle (this is often done with ice cream); the half-deconstructed caprese (slice your own tomato) features all the elements: tomato, mozzarella (barely visible at the very bottom of the bowl, where it sits in fanned-out slices), and fresh basil. Quail's eggs are dirt-cheap in Korea, so they make an appearance as part of the cucumber-y tuna salad that occupies the left-hand side of the bowl. The dressing (not shown) was olive oil, balsamic vinegar, rendered berry syrup, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, fresh-ground garlic, and a blot of mustard to emulsify.


Lig ended up concentrating on the soup and sandwich; a bit like my buddy Tom, she's not much into vegetables, and she seemed turned off by the smell of the balsamic vinegar, which was a disappointing reaction for me. But I guess this is how you learn a lady's tastes.

Next up: an overhead shot of a very nice pack of pie/cake slices that Lig had bought and brought with her for no particular reason, unless it was because she was following the Korean custom of not showing up to a place empty-handed (a custom I routinely ignore, by the way). From left to right: strawberry-cream pie, chocolate cake, crêpe pie (literally made from a stack of crêpes, like one of Guy Fieri's tortilla-cake monstrosities), regular cream pie (the least tasty of the bunch), and fresh-cream cake (saeng-cream cake, as it's called in Korean).

I didn't get around to eating any of these delectable slices until after Lig had left (she refused to eat any herself, either because she was angelically unselfish, or because she was just full); I could tell they were expensive because they actually had flavor. Most Korean attempts at Western desserts lack enough egg, sugar, and butter. Not so with these confections.


Click the following picture to enlarge it. This is my only pic of dinner; Lig has a thing about being photographed, so it's hard for me to get any proper eating-related shots. She also wasn't that happy about this photograph because she felt that the blob of tomato soup on her grilled cheese would make her look like a slob to the world. Sometimes, with women, you just can't win. I'm uploading this pic to the blog, anyway, and she knows it.


Finally, a pic of the pièce de résistance: my chocolate-covered cashew-nut clusters. About 1.5 cups of chocolate chips and maybe 2/3 of a cup of Nutella got melted together in a double-boiler; the cashews were boringly unsalted, so I added a pinch of salt to the chocolate, then tossed in the cashews. I poured the whole hot mess into a butter-lined cake tin, stuck that bad boy uncovered in the freezer for 30 minutes to let it harden, then let it all chill the rest of the time inside my fridge, nicely tucked inside a large Ziploc bag. (By freezing the chocolate first, I got rid of the evaporation/moisture problem that would occur were I to put warm chocolate directly into the fridge.)


The chocolate, after a good fridging, holds up fine at room temperature; the Nutella affects this not at all. Lig, bolder and more aggressive than usual, demanded that I give her half to take home. Somewhat unnerved, I did as she asked. A few days later, I shared the rest of the chocolate-cashew clusters with my boss and my coworker at the Golden Goose.

Always nice when your food is in demand.


_

Saturday, March 12, 2016

"Mockingjay, Parts I and II": review

This won't take long.

While I found the Suzanne Collins series fairly interesting, I can't say I was all that thrilled with the two movies that concluded the cinematic version of the series. Adjectives that come to mind regarding both "Mockingjay"s are: dull, plodding, boring, superficial, and disappointing (especially when compared to the second film in the series).

And that's about as much thought as I want to expend on this topic.


_

Ave, Dr. V!

Dr. Vallicella has noted the same news that I tweeted about yesterday: that chess master Garry Kasparov has no patience for those who sing the praises of socialism. As someone who actually lived through applied socialism, Kasparov knows whereof he speaks. I re-quote Kasparov here:

I'm enjoying the irony of American Sanders supporters lecturing me, a former Soviet citizen, on the glories of Socialism and what it really means! Socialism sounds great in speech soundbites and on Facebook, but please keep it there. In practice, it corrodes not only the economy but the human spirit itself, and the ambition and achievement that made modern capitalism possible and brought billions of people out of poverty. Talking about Socialism is a huge luxury, a luxury that was paid for by the successes of capitalism. Income inequality is a huge problem, absolutely. But the idea that the solution is more government, more regulation, more debt, and less risk is dangerously absurd.

Margaret Thatcher famously said, "The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money." Socialism rests on at least two major false assumptions: (1) that the human animal, being social, is at heart sharing and cooperative as opposed to competitive; and (2) equitable redistribution is necessary because resources are finite. The first assumption is false because it ignores the fact that life has arisen, evolutionarily, in a state of constant competition: nature is red in tooth and claw, and while humans do indeed share and cooperate, this isn't the most fundamental truth of human nature, however much we might wish it to be. The second assumption is false because we routinely underestimate the power of human intelligence when it comes to finding solutions and inventing creative new methods to do things. Peak oil? Along comes fracking. The invention of electronics has created whole new industries necessitating a whole new work force. Socialists wrongly assume the pie is limited; free-market capitalists know the pie can be grown.

I've written this before, but it bears repeating: socialism, and/or its overlappingly close cousin, the command economy, doesn't bear healthy fruit. Look at what Hugo Chavez did to Venezuela, whose economy is currently in the toilet. Look at other command economies—workers' paradises like Cuba, from which thousands are constantly trying to escape, or North Korea (same deal). Look at how Romania has improved since 1989. Look at western Europe, whose quasi-socialist economies have generally been sagging for years, especially in the warm-weather, siesta-culture countries like Greece, Spain, and Portugal. "Ah, but what about Scandinavia?" you ask. As that article I'd recently cited pointed out, Scandinavia is, in some respects, more free-market-oriented than the US is. Scandinavia doesn't count. Try again. Same goes for China, which has a repressive one-party governmental system but a fairly capitalistic economy—and where the Chinese economy is faltering, the cause of the problems can always be traced to government meddling. Everywhere you look, the free market trumps the command economy. And the most powerful image that supports this thesis is:



_

Friday, March 11, 2016

"Why is it that every White House chief of staff—"





_

countdown to the death of Kevin's Pie

The dotty lady who runs the new pie shop, Kevin's Pie, is either absent from her station or utterly inattentive to passersby. I've now eaten one of her shop's cheesecakes, and it was way below par, as was the hot chocolate I'd consumed the day before. I don't see this place lasting very long—not with its expensive prices for low-quality product.

I'm officially giving Kevin's Pie six months before it bites the dust, and to put my money where my mouth is, I'm using this countdown timer to keep me honest: Kevin's Pie will be no more by 8:30PM (close of business in my office building) on September 6, 2016. So let it be written!






_

Thursday, March 10, 2016

sigh...


Grrr.


_

quick hanja penance

Learning hanja (Sino-Korean characters) is often a combination of developing muscle memory and engaging in whole-language learning. You don't necessarily "read" a hanja character the way you do a word written in letters (i.e., symbols with a roughly 1:1 sound-symbol correspondence); instead, you take in the whole character, understand its meaning-in-context, and utter the syllable it represents.*

In a comment, I admitted to my buddy Charles that I didn't know the two Chinese characters that, together, mean "congratulations": chuk-ha. Since I have little to do in the office today (just finished a major book project, so we're in winding-down mode), I thought I'd look up "congratulations" and practice it a bit. The results were pretty godawful:


I did, however, do a slightly better job when I switched to a thicker marker:


We're getting closer to muscle-memory mastery of the characters. Aesthetically speaking, I like the chuk but hate the ha, which I find ass-ugly.



*People like Professor Mark Miyake—who has made a career of studying East Asian languages—will argue that it is indeed possible to "sound out" a Chinese character if you have some notion of the pronunciation of the character's radical (root). This is somewhat true in my experience, but I'm not convinced the method is all that reliable when it comes to guessing the pronunciation of a never-before-encountered character.


_