Sunday, August 20, 2017
Saturday, August 19, 2017
Got a perfect score from my KMA students today. Peeked at the evals again before the jogyo had a chance to come into the classroom and collect them. Lots of maeu manjok ("highly satisfactory") ratings. How long will this streak go on? Only The Shadow knows.
Today's class was interesting because I had a Brazilian guy in it—my very first Westerner at a KMA course (I taught a Frenchman for a semester back when I was at Sookmyung Women's University). He was witty and much more interactive than the other two Korean students, but everyone ended up having a good time and learning something. I'm always thankful when the students say they appreciate the class; the Brazilian chap even said he'd come back to KMA specifically to take another of my courses. (Promises, promises, eh?)
Friday, August 18, 2017
Touchée ce mercredi par le terrorisme à Barcelone et à Cambrils, l'Espagne est endeuillée. Le bilan s'élève pour le moment à 13 morts et à plus d'une centaine de blessés.
La Catalogne touchée en plein coeur ce jeudi par un double attentat touchant les villes de Barcelone et de Cambrils, éloignées de seulement une centaine de kilomètres l'une de l'autre.
Tout d'abord, en fin d'après-midi, un van a fauché une centaine de piétons sur les Ramblas de Barcelone, causant 13 morts.
Un peu plus tard dans la soirée, autour de minuit, c'est la station balnéaire de Cambrils, à une centaine de kilomètres au sud de Barcelone, qui a été visée. Une Audi A3 noire avec à son bord 5 personnes a foncé sur la foule, faisant sept blessés. Les assaillants ont été abattus par les Mossos, la police catalane.
Trois suspects ont été arrêtés, dont deux à Alcanar, proche de la ville de Tarragone, où une explosion est survenue mercredi, la veille des attaques. Selon les autorités, elle serait en lien avec les attentats de Barcelone. Les occupants sont soupçonnés d'avoir tenté de fabriquer un engin explosif. Deux personnes se trouvaient dans le logement, dont une est morte.
Hit this Wednesday by terrorism in Barcelona and Cambrils, Spain is in mourning. The count has risen, for the moment, to 13 dead and more than 100 injured.
Catalonia [was] hit in its very heart this Thursday by a double attack striking the cities of Barcelona and Cambrils, located only about 100 km from each other.
First of all [i.e., at the beginning of all this], at the end of the afternoon, a van ran into about a hundred pedestrians at Las Ramblas in Barcelona, causing 13 deaths.
Later in the evening, around midnight, it was the seaside resort of Cambrils, about 100 km south of Barcelona, that was targeted. A black Audi A3 holding 5 people plowed into the crowd, injuring seven. The assailants were killed by the Mossos, the Catalan police.
Three suspects have been arrested [in a residence], two of them from Alcanar, near the city of Tarragona, where an explosion occurred Wednesday on the day before the attacks. According to authorities, this is linked to the attacks in Barcelona. The occupants are suspected of having tried to put together an explosive device. Two people were in the residence, of whom one is dead.
Much more info here.
So! This is the new normal, yes?
I just wandered over to ROK Drop and saw the horrific picture of Haeundae Beach, crowded as always in the summer. I have no idea what charm there is in visiting a beach that's also being visited by a million other people. My suggestion: stick to the riverlands. There's water and great natural beauty; there's often a breeze as well, and in many cases, you can just drive up to a picnic area and spend the next few hours enjoying a quiet idyll. Best of all: no massive crowds. This time of year, there might be some fishermen and campers, but not enough to keep you from finding a space and having room to breathe free.
Forget the damn beach. That's for losers.
An overseas friend writes (slightly edited, and with an alias):
Re: your nutty cashier who didn’t handle Korean. Some ramblings. Feel free to save and read later for when you need to handle another cranky [person] who can’t handle a foreign face, and just goes to $@’%& pieces when you show up.
Tale, the first. My American buddy and I would regularly have a weekly dinner at the same BBQ joint.
It would be a quiet night for them; the manager knew us and stood guard at the door while the waitress du jour would handle the table work. Until the one nutty waitress achieved vapor-lock when we walked in the door, and couldn’t handle it. We took our table(s) in the corner, and she finally approached. My buddy ordered in Korean, as was the case for about 8 weeks in a row at this point.
The girl got more tense as my buddy ordered. She kept uttering sounds for “What?”, “Again?”… then finally broke down and turned to walk to the manager at the cash-register by the door. She wasn’t crying, but she was on her way. “I don’t understand English!” she cried to her boss.
The manager said nicely-but-loudly (in Korean), “He’s speaking Korean. Just take the order!”
She pulled it together finally. As I recall, I had to interject myself by pointing silently at the menu and gesturing with multiple fingers to indicate “2 beers,” “3 orders of pork.”
Tale, the second. The Japan Post Bank $’@% wouldn’t process my money transfer.
Just a few weeks ago, I hit the local Japan Post Office to do a money transfer to the USA. Just a little bit, for some small bills. And exactly the same as I’ve done for quite a while. And PRECISELY the same as I’ve done here a few times now. But this bitch wasn’t having it.
As I walked in, I asked another clerk (without my taking a number to be served first, I just needed a blank form) for a copy of “this form I got here, I need another.” She gave me two. I spent a while filling it out, and I finally grabbed a ticket number to be served in this sleepy joint when I was ready to go.
The bitch got my form—which is the SAME as the last 10 I’ve done—and she achieved vapor-lock. She had to explain *something* in Japanese. I couldn’t quite follow. Especially since I’ve done this transaction more than her 35+ year old self has done… and I don’t work at a bank.
So I call my wife. Bitch talks with wife… poorly. I get the phone back, wife is PISSED. Teller was RUDE. Not casually rude. But $&@’% the #*$% rude. Teller wasn’t even trying to be decent.
Long(er) story, short(er)—returned with wife in tow; another teller helped us with no trouble, and we left. Last time I went back, didn’t see The Bitch.
I hope all is well.
re: that first story
There was a time when I snidely thought this sort of communication breakdown happened because the foreigner was speaking poorly in Korean, with a thick accent. Ha! Silly, incompetent furriners! But after hearing many more such expat stories, often from Korean-fluent people, I began to realize this was a cognitive/psychological problem on the part of the Korean interlocutors. There's a mental filter in place that causes the Korean's mind to short-circuit when Korean pours out of a foreign face. I suspect the filter is rooted in unjustifiably low expectations: Koreans, as a rule, simply don't expect foreigners to become competent in spoken or written Korean, so every instance of competency is a rude awakening (we have to make exceptions, though, for Koreans who routinely deal with Korean-competent foreigners). There's plenty of justification for low expectations because there are indeed many foreigners who make little to no effort to learn Korean despite years in country, but there are more and more foreigners—many of whom appear regularly on TV—who aren't merely competent but actually fluent in Korean.
To be fair, I've caught myself suffering from the same cognitive problem while back in the States: there have been times when, in talking to a foreigner or a fellow citizen of foreign extraction, I've automatically (and unjustifiably) assumed that the person couldn't speak well, so when s/he said something clear and obvious, my mind would unnecessarily scramble the utterance so that it became unintelligible, thus forcing me into a "What?/Again?" situation. So it's possible to enter a conversation while already primed to expect mistakes, and this expectation of mistakes is, at least in part, what leads to breakdowns in communication.
Yesterday, I bought a router from the electronics store in my office building. Like many Korean routers, this one hooks me up with the "iptime" network. It took a bit of tinkering—and squinting at installation instructions in Korean—to figure out things like how to configure for passwords and how to rename the router so that it isn't listed simply as "iptime." I have now renamed my device "bighominid," and things seem to be running perfectly smoothly.
I had been using my MacBook Air laptop as a Wi-Fi hub for the past few years, but I think the laptop is starting to get old, and the Wi-Fi connection has lately become unstable. I used to be able to watch YouTube videos on my phone thanks to my laptop's Wi-Fi signal, but lately, the signal has been crapping out, which forces my phone to default to its standard LTE connection. Since video streaming easily piles on the gigabytes (and I've allotted only 3 GB to myself per month), I can't afford to watch videos while on LTE—ever. So I knew I needed a stable Wi-Fi connection, and the obvious solution was to buy a router.
Koreans refer to routers by the hangeulized name ra-u-teo (pronounce the "eo" somewhere between "aw" and "uh"), or by the pure-Korean designation gongyu-gi, i.e., a sharing device (cf. the English term "data sharing"). To set the router up, you need to type the router's IP address into your browser, then follow the step-by-step setup prompts from the "router wizard." I more or less managed to do that, and I can now unplug my laptop and watch YouTube from any part of my apartment.
My phone is also connected to "bighominid," so we're stable and in business. My laptop, meanwhile, is starting to show its age, so it won't be long before I have to start looking for a replacement. I'd actually like to expand a bit, with a blazing-fast desktop computer for my, uh, desktop, and another laptop to be able to tote around. But those aren't purchases I'll be making just yet—not until I've paid off my final major debt.
Thursday, August 17, 2017
At work, one of our number has bailed on us: he did a runner sometime over the past two or three days, leaving Korea quite suddenly and with almost no advance warning. I didn't know anything was wrong until a different coworker sent me a text yesterday morning asking me to check up on our man, who hadn't been responding to calls and texts over the weekend. I'm pretty sure everyone was having nightmare visions of this dude lying in his bed, dead and slowly rotting, the foam from his final seizure drying on his lips and cheeks. I went up to the seventh floor, knocked on my coworker's door three times, and got no answer. I then slid open his hallway-side window—like a criminal—to peek inside his apartment.
No one was there, and the place was empty.
I took a cell-phone pic of the situation and texted it to the coworker who had asked me to check on our runner. Based on the cleared-out look of the apartment, I immediately assumed the guy had skedaddled, and I relayed this suspicion to the office. Later on, I discovered that the runner had emailed our boss a day or two ago to apologize for bailing and to explain how depressed and homesick he had been while living in Korea.
While I think it's a sign of immaturity to cut and run with little advance notice, thus leaving one's boss and coworkers in the lurch, I can understand how some expats in Korea come to feel the need to bolt. Korea elicits strong reactions; many expats plunge into the culture fairly deeply, finding it hard to pull away even when they do manage to leave. Plenty of expats come back here; I'm no exception, having zigzagged between Korea and the US for years. Other expats stay until they've had their fill of perceived nonsense, then they leave on a note of "Fuck this, and fuck Korea." It's probably better that they do leave: there are other expats who, for some mysterious reason, hate living in Korea, complain constantly about the country, yet never leave. I don't understand these miserable bastards at all, but if I had to guess, they remain in Korea out of fear of change, laziness, and the never-admitted knowledge that they can't hack it back in their home country. (Or maybe they just lack the money for a plane ticket out of the badlands. The lack of money is probably the result of fear and laziness, too.)
Anyway, we're in the midst of hiring for two open slots, and now we suddenly have a third position to fill. Luckily, we already have a pile of résumés in our applicant pool, so we may be reconsidering some of the people who applied but, for whatever reason, failed to make the grade the first time. Not all of these people are duds; it's just that other applicants were better.
By the way, this coworker who ran is the same guy who complimented my Middle Eastern chicken, proclaiming it legitimately Middle Eastern. When I did my second in-office luncheon, he called my food "five-star." For that selfish reason, if for no other, I'm sad to see him go: I've lost a fan of my cooking.
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Here are Phil DeFranco, Roaming Millennial, and Stefan Molyneux on Charlottesville:
Molyneux's spiel is by far the rantiest, especially in its latter half. He seems to undermine his point about the need for civil, rational discourse when he starts shouting at the camera. Molyneux does, however, point out early on that the police:demonstrator ratio was 2:1, which means that law enforcement and the maintenance of order should have been easy (excepting, of course, unforeseeable events like the helicopter crash that killed two police officers and James Fields's mowing-down of leftie demonstrators, resulting in one death).
"Split" is a 2016 film that represents the victorious comeback of much-maligned director M. Night Shyamalan. It stars James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, and Betty Buckley. There's a cameo by Shyamalan himself (he usually appears briefly in his own films), as well as an uncredited cameo by Bruce Willis as David Dunn, the protagonist of Shyamalan's 2000 film "Unbreakable." As with the 2000 film, Shyamalan is intent on exploring the world of superheroes and superpowers, but in "Split," this is done primarily through the lens of psychotherapy. And like Luc Besson's "Lucy," a major theme in "Split" is the power of the human mind over matter.
The plot of "Split" is almost absurdly simple: three high-school girls get in a car, expecting the father of one of the girls to drive the three to their respective homes. Instead, a creepy man named Kevin Wendell Crumb (what's with all the movies about crazy people named Kevin?) slips into the driver's seat, renders the girls unconscious with a spray, then drives them to an undisclosed location, locking them seemingly deep underground. Kevin turns out to be a victim of DID: dissociative identity disorder, which until recently used to be known as multiple-personality disorder. We come to learn that Kevin is inhabited by at least twenty-three distinct personalities, one of which is seriously diabetic and in need of insulin shots. There is a rumored twenty-fourth personality, a demonic one known only as The Beast, which apparently requires the sacrifice of young girls and promises to be a liberating force for the other twenty-three personalities. The Beast's arrival is foretold by several of Kevin's personalities. In the meantime, the other twenty-three personalities take turns "in the light," i.e., acting as the dominant personality inside Kevin. Among these personalities is Dennis, who is all business and physically threatening. There's also Boston-accented Barry, who claims to control who gets to be in the light. Next is lispy nine-year-old Hedwig, who is something of a trickster. The last major personality we meet is prim, proper, British-accented Patricia. Kevin makes it easy for the viewer to know which personality is in the light by constantly changing clothes to match the personality. In the end, we never meet more than a handful of the twenty-three identities in residence.
The girls, meanwhile, begin their captivity locked in the same room together, but subsequent escape attempts force Kevin to place the girls in separate rooms. We see most of this trauma through the eyes of Casey (Taylor-Joy), who is something of an outcast. The other two girls resent Casey's apparent aloofness, not realizing that one reason for Casey's detachment is that she had been sexually abused by her uncle (Brad William Henke) during one or several family hunting trips in the woods. We see Casey's past in flashbacks.
Kevin, while manifesting Barry, regularly visits a psychiatrist named Karen Fletcher (Buckley). Fletcher is fascinated by the interplay between and among Kevin's personalities, and she also suspects that each personality somehow makes the person different in very real ways: physical stature and strength, handwriting, body chemistry (which is why only one personality needs insulin). Fletcher digs into deeper and more dangerous territory as she comes to realize that Barry, although he claims to be the executive personality deciding who gets to step into the light, is actually second fiddle to Dennis, who is not merely the executive but also the herald announcing the arrival of The Beast.
As part of my undergrad work, I took courses in general psychology and abnormal psychology, and some of the more disturbing things I recall seeing, in a psych textbook that I still own, were photos of so-called "stigmata" and about fourteen handwriting samples taken from the same person manifesting different personalities. The "stigmata" were brought about through hypnosis: the patient was taken back to a time in his or her life when s/he had been tightly bound and confined in a basement. The evocation of that time period caused the actual rope imprints to appear on the patient's wrists, redness and all. The picture showing the handwriting samples was just as disturbing: as they say, it's actually quite hard to "fake" handwriting in such a way that the fake sample looks nothing like one's normal penmanship. People usually leave traces of themselves in their attempts at fakery, but the fourteen writing samples in my textbook all convincingly looked as if they had come from completely different people. "Split" attempts to take the idea of mind-over-matter even further, suggesting that the mind can change one's body chemistry and even give a person what are effectively superpowers, like the acquisition of a hulking muscularity or the ability to climb walls in a spider-like way. This is obviously fiction, but Shyamalan does a good job of keeping the proceedings from seeming totally implausible.
That being said, "Split" was something of a mixed bag for me. The story was coherent, and the acting was fine, but the plot was rather predictable. For example, the moment I saw Karen Fletcher, the psychotherapist, I knew she had death written all over her. Fletcher was our guide and gateway into a scarier universe, but there was no doubt in my mind that, in the end, The Beast would require her life. The latter third of the movie follows a fairly standard "final girl" horror-movie template, although the dénouement is, admittedly, somewhat unexpected. Another problem was that, despite the film's slow pace and talky script, we never really got to know the other two girls in any depth, which made it obvious they were just cannon fodder.
The appearance of Bruce Willis's David Dunn means that The Beast and Dunn exist in the same filmic universe, and since I've heard of "Unbreakable" being referred to as "the first movie in an 'Unbreakable' series," I suppose this makes sense. Perhaps we'll see The Beast go up against David Dunn in a future film (assuming the film is made before Willis is too old for the role). You'll recall that Dunn's superpowers are enormous strength, inhuman physical toughness, and the ability to form psychic connections with people he touches.
Despite the predictability of "Split," Shyamalan does a good job with suspense and atmospherics, and James McAvoy gives a bravura performance as Kevin. The film was rated PG-13 in the States, so the viewer needn't worry about things becoming too gory and gruesome. Overall, I can cautiously recommend "Split." Watch it mainly for McAvoy's performance, but do expect to know the outcome well before the story is over.
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
I had to put down my ailing Gregory Whitney 95 backpack today. The poor thing has been shedding flecks of faux leather since even before my big walk in April. The parting was fairly unceremonious: I took my backpack down to the B1 garage level, which is where we residents throw out our bagged garbage and recycling. When you throw away items that are out of the ordinary and a bit cumbersome, like worn-out desks and couches and standing lamps and computers, you have to pay the parking-garage guard a fee. In my case, that fee was W3,000, or just under three dollars. With that, I simply laid the backpack against a pile of garbage, turned, and walked away without a spoken goodbye. But inside, it felt as if I had abandoned a faithful travel companion. That pack, purchased in 2008, had been with me to Europe and back; it was the pack I used during my 600-mile hike in 2008, and it traveled to and from Korea with me several times. The April-May walk across South Korea was its last hurrah; when I used it recently during my abortive attempt to walk to Incheon in soul-crushing heat, the pack's hole allowed a water bottle to slip through, and at that point, I knew the old boy was done. It was only a matter of dropping the pack off at the basement dump, something I hadn't wanted to do since coming back from the failed walk on August 5. But today, I finally took a breath and did the deed, and I feel all the emptier for it.
From here, though, we have to look toward the future. I'm still brand-loyal to Gregory, and I see on Amazon that Gregory has a new, sleek pack: the Gregory Denali 100. This might be a great replacement for my defunct Whitney 95. It costs a lot more, but part of that is probably because of improved tech since 2008. I'll give it a look and see how I like it.
The walk goes on.
Another week has gone by. The electricians came by yesterday (Monday) to reinstall my circuit breaker, which has been hanging out of my wall for the better part of a month. All the internal leaking has dried up. I asked the repairmen how bad the problem was, and they reiterated that the leak had begun two floors up, on the eighth floor. All the necessary construction work has been done—presumably on the floors above me.
In a sense, I was lucky: almost a month ago, the electricians had pulled my circuit breaker out of my wall to keep it out of the way of the leaking. Once that had been done, I was told simply not to touch the breaker panel, and that I could otherwise operate all my electrical appliances normally—my A/C, my fans, etc. In other words, the problem didn't affect me too deeply, which is one reason why I'm not ranting about it. Last week, when the electrician called and said, with some hesitation, that the problem would take another week to solve, I laughed and replied, "I've waited weeks already, so what's another week?" It really was no skin off my nose. I also told the guys that the most important thing was safety, so they needed to take their time and do things right. Here's hoping that they have.
Today is VJ Day in the States and Liberation Day in South Korea. Koreans rarely use this day to thank their liberators; there seems, alas, to be a push to act as if Korea somehow liberated itself. Whatever speech President Moon gives today, it probably won't mention—much less offer thanks to—the countries that helped liberate Korea from Japanese occupation. That said, it's a national holiday, and we proles are off work today, so it's not all bad.
(If Moon breaks with tradition and does thank the US and its allies, I'll eat my hat. You will eventually be able to go here to see the English transcript of the president's speech for yourself. It's not up yet, so please be patient.)
Monday, August 14, 2017
You may have heard about how an initially peaceful "white nationalist" demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned into a riot and ended, on the second day, with at least one death when an angry driver, James Fields, rammed into a crowd of demonstrators. Fields turned out not to be someone of the left, but rather someone of the far right. The demonstration featured rhetoric expressing a desire to preserve white culture, but also featured swastikas and Nazi salutes. The violent group Antifa ("anti-fascists," supposedly, but the group uses fascist tactics) showed up, and that's when the fighting started and the local police failed to do their duty. Ed Driscoll's take is here. Fields's act of vehicular manslaughter was, in a sense, just the icing on the violence-cake.
Roger Simon, in this PJ Media article, writes that what we're seeing isn't a reflection of the country at large, given how small a slice of the population consists of white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazis, etc. This is an important point that will be forgotten in the furor.
Meanwhile, since the 1920s, our population has more than tripled to some 325 million. Using the figure of 100,000 white supremacists (not many of whom made it to Charlottesville fortunately), this puts the percentage of white supremacists in the U.S. at a puny 0.03%. Terrible people, yes, but no epidemic by any stretch of the imagination. By way of comparison, an estimated 3 billion pizzas are sold every year in the U.S. There's an epidemic.
More to the point, are there more of these white supremacists than members of the equally violent and disgusting Antifa movement? Again statistics are hard to come by. (Both sides like to wear masks.) But I tend to doubt it. If anything, Antifa has been far more active, until Saturday.
Obviously, none of this is to exonerate in the slightest the human excrement that descended on Charlottesville. It's just to put them in perspective. For the next week or two -- assuming we're not at war with North Korea -- we will hear non-stop geschreiing from our media about what a racist nation we are, how we have to come together, rend our shirts, investigate this and that and endlessly discuss how bad we are until we're finally forgiven at some undetermined point in an ever vanishing future that seems never to arrive.
Neither the left nor the right came out looking angelic in this latest incident. The right certainly isn't advancing its cause by allowing swastikas and Nazi salutes to gain free air time. The left, of course, resorts to violence far more than the right does by several orders of magnitude these days; Antifa is a prime example of that. But now there's James Fields, and while I understand Roger Simon's desire to minimize the significance of a Charlottesville-style incident, I do have to wonder whether Fields's act is the first of many retaliatory acts to come as the right's patience finally cracks. The specter of civil war is always looming in the background. Can large-scale disaster be averted?
Styx sees all this as primarily the biased media's fault:
ADDENDUM: more Antifa violence in Seattle.
ADDENDUM 2: the right, at least on Gab.ai, isn't distinguishing itself when it uploads morbid humor like this:
That's one sample of many such posts that I see on Gab. People are cheering the death of the woman who got mowed down by Fields. I'd love to say that we're talking about only a small minority, but the preponderance of such images and posts on Gab isn't reassuring. There's a very large, very angry group of people that is beginning to feel it's been pushed around enough, which is why I fear this kind of incident is merely a foretaste of what's in store.
Sunday, August 13, 2017
I met my buddy Tom for dinner in Jongno this evening. I had been holding his six packages of books for the past few weeks; he had been in the Philippines, and he brought me back four bars of Gillette armpit deodorant that he was able to buy for half the cost of the same product here. We traded items and went to the local galmaegi-sal restaurant, but that place was closed, so Tom suggested we hit a spot called Julio's, another Tex-Mex joint thankfully outside of Itaewon. The place reminded me of how Dos Tacos used to be before that place began to wither and shrivel. I suggested we share a quesadilla as an appetizer; for his main course, Tom chose tacos (pictured below, albeit blurrily). For my part, I got the Nachos Grande, which proved not to be too grande, but was filling all the same. The "bacon" in the quesadilla turned out to be the thick pork-belly cut that Koreans use when making samgyeopsal. The pork was startlingly smoky, and it was easily the most memorable part of my meal. The nachos were fine, and Tom's tacos came out of the kitchen looking bigger than they had looked in the menu's photos. A good meal, all in all, followed up by our ritual ice-cream session over at the local Baskin Robbins. Below are two photos of the meal: Tom's tacos and my nachos (plus part of the quesadilla). The "bacon" wasn't at all crispy, the way we Yanks like it, but the smokiness of the meat more than made up for the lack of texture.
Julio's was good enough to make me want to go back and try out other parts of its extensive menu, so I might be making a trip out there again soon.
Funniest thing I've read all day, and it's 1:05AM.
I have more to say on trans/gender issues, but not yet. This is a complex topic, and while some of the ethical and social issues arising from it are easy enough to form positions on, other issues require a measure of nuance, sophistication, and—dare I say it?—compassion. I'm still fumbling my way through all this, so please bear with me. More later.
Saturday, August 12, 2017
Joshua Stanton thinks it's a bad idea for the US to ramp up its threatening rhetoric against North Korea. Styx, meanwhile, thinks Trump's rhetoric is apropos for East Asian-style diplomacy. As Joshua writes:
I’m already on record on the topic of threatening war against North Korea: it scares our friends more than our enemies (who assume, correctly I hope, that we’re bluffing). If we want to threaten the thing our enemies fear most, threaten to sow the seeds of the revolution that the people of North Korea desperately need. Nukes aren’t much good in that kind of war, and China would never tolerate their use so close to its borders. If we can’t resist threatening to bomb someone, at least threaten to bomb the person who is responsible for this crisis, and deliver those threats privately. The people of North Korea didn’t elect Kim Jong-Un. At least Americans had a choice, sort of.
The people of North Korea don’t make policy, can’t criticize their government’s policies, and often don’t even agree with those policies. They’d rather eat than have missiles. So I really wish we would not play directly into the hands of Kim Jong-Un’s propaganda by threatening the very people we’ll need to befriend, support, and empower to verifiably disarm His Porcine Majesty.
Styx, by contrast, says this in his video (linked above):
There is a difference between the way in which diplomacy is conducted in the European style, and the way in which diplomacy is typically conducted in an East Asian style, with regards to, you know, a threatening or aggressive situation.
In East Asian politics, the two sides basically size one another up, tell each other, "Hey—I'm big and bad. I'm gonna annihilate you if you get involved. Back the fuck down." And neither one is supposed to back down! It's like the posturing of bears. Bears, when they don't want to actually physically fight with one another, they exchange some warning roars, and they make themselves look big and burly, and they do a few fake charges. And the idea is that they both sort of retire from battle having not fought out their differences. It's a strategy of actual avoidance of warfare.
When North Korea says that it has drawn up concrete plans awaiting Kim Jeong-eun's orders to fire four missiles into Guam's territorial waters, it's probably a bluff. Now, Obama never realized this. Obama would see a situation like that and say, "Oh, we call for calm. We will defend our allies," blah—[he] may issue a few vague statements and ultimately do nothing. That's how you get disrespect. There is a reason why, late in his presidency, when Obama went to Beijing the last time, they didn't roll out the carpet; nobody was there to meet him. They saw him as a joke. Because in their culture, that's a sign of weakness. It's a sign that he's impotent—that he doesn't have any balls. Trump has chosen the correct strategy to deal with the situation in Korea: he's saying, "Hey—make my day. Go ahead and fire your fuckin' missiles. We'll fire something way, way worse at North Korea." That'll probably back them down and avoid conflict."
So here are two foreign-policy stances for you to mull over today. Which one do you think hews more closely to reality? (Males being males, I expect someone to come along in the comments and proclaim, "Neither!" Because it's somehow always a sign of wisdom to defy or shatter dichotomies. Heh.)
In my more whimsical moments, I think it'd be a hoot for us to fly drones all over North Korean airspace, and then to play "missile tennis" by launching warhead-less missiles from ships or subs on either side of the peninsula, back and forth to the east and west, from ocean to ocean, just to show what we can do.
Friday, August 11, 2017
One of my new coworkers used to work in the film industry, and she studied film, too. One time, her class had Edward James Olmos as a guest speaker, and according to her, Olmos—whom I greatly admire as an actor—turned out to be a raging asshole. He insisted that none of the students take notes while he talked, and he apparently went ballistic when one student clickity-clacked on a laptop. He told people not to take any photos of him, either, even threatening others by saying something like, "If you post any pics online, I will find you!" He also allegedly harangued a student while unironically referring to himself in his Bill Adama role from "Battlestar Galactica," roaring, "Don't fuck with a commander!"
This news came as a shock and a disappointment to me, but upon reflection, I think there were signs. Olmos has had a history of playing morally upright authority figures, and there's doubtless a feedback loop between his self-righteousness and the roles he gets. In one of the DVD extras that came with my copy of "Battlestar Galactica: The Plan," which Olmos directed, we see Olmos seated at a table with his actors, giving some sort of grave motivational speech intended to get the actors in the correct frame of mind for the upcoming scenes. The man obviously takes himself seriously. In another clip, Olmos talks about how relieved he is that "Battlestar Galactica" is a sci-fi show with no aliens. I don't remember his exact words, but at one moment he said, roughly, "If they ever put aliens on the show, I've already warned the crew that, when the alien appears, I'm going faint, drop to the floor, and not move again. Then I'm going to walk out. They can do whatever they want with that footage." While this can be interpreted as an example of Olmos's artistic integrity, it's also of a piece with the arrogance and instability that my coworker talked about (she called Olmos "insane"). Very disappointing to learn this ugly truth about one of my cinematic idols.
I've been charged with creating a textbook on philosophy for elementary schoolers, so I've been creating the content, making design elements, and fashioning layout. Here's a link to a draft of Unit 1, which of course begins with the question, "What is philosophy?" Thus far, I've had near-total freedom to create the content and the look as I please, but Unit 1 is soon going to be reviewed by several teachers (Koreans, most likely) who will offer their input as to how easy or difficult the material is, and/or how appealing the design is. The boss is pretty sure that the teachers will think the material is a bit too difficult for their kids; I'm inclined to agree, so I'm already anticipating having to redo most or all of what you see. As for other critiques, the boss thinks that the "listening" dialogue on page 7 needs to be removed so the students can't read along. I agree: I placed the dialogue there more as a filler than as actual content for the students. In the final version, the dialogue will likely be gone, and only the listening-exercise instructions will remain. Otherwise, the boss declared himself pleased with the unit's overall look, and he doesn't think the reading passage is too difficult (given that I was at pains to explain many new terms within the passage itself), but he's still fairly sure that the unit will need to be redone after the teachers have had their say.
Creating the content was easy and straightforward, but doing the art and layout took a long, long time. In the future, when I get back to working on this textbook, I've been told that I should concentrate solely on creating content. I hope this doesn't mean that other people will be brought in to do the design work (this has become my baby, after all), but that may be the only way to produce the book faster. My own thought is that I can radically reduce the number of illustrations I do per unit, which will speed production up nicely.
ADDENDUM: Dammit. I'm still finding mistakes in this draft. For my own purposes (because I'll need to go back to the original files, clean up the errors, then create new PDFs and hard-copy printouts), I'll list the gaffes here.
1. Page 3: need a closed quotation mark after "dead" in question 5.
2. Page 4: "analyze" is a verb, not a noun.
3. Page 4: for #4, "wisdom" = awkward phrase "a deep sense of about how to live life..."
4. Page 7: Prof. Jones's line, second utterance from the bottom: close up the space in the phrase "an animal that can use reason or logic."
5. Page 7: close up spaces after all ellipses (consistency).
6. Page 7: Prof. Jones's final line: close up space in the phrase "human beings are unique."
7. Page 11, section 1, question 2: delete "has."
8. Page 12: close up spaces after ellipses.
9. Page 14, section 2: switch "by ...ing" and "come to" to reflect proper order of patterns.
10. Page 16, section 1: change "6-line" to "4-line."
11. Page 17, #3: add the line, "Print out your paragraph and bring it to class."
ADDENDUM 2: corrections made. I'm breathing easier, now.
These office lunches have become hugely expensive affairs, but despite how tiring and wallet-draining they are, they can be fun. I had insane amounts of leftover chimichurri, pesto, Thai peanut sauce, and hummus, so I prepped the following for today:
1. Thai chicken satay with peanut sauce
2. Hummus with Indian roti flatbread
3. Pesto chicken-and-mushroom fusilli pasta
4. Shabu beef plus chimichurri
As before, the staffers destroyed anything chicken-related. There's still a ton of hummus left, but the hummus got plenty of compliments. This was my first time tasting Indian roti, which turns out to be much more savory than a standard naan. A coworker discovered that the roti actually goes very well with the Thai peanut sauce, which makes sense, given that roti is South Asian and Thai peanut sauce is Southeast Asian—two flavor profiles that aren't too far apart. One staffer said that he thought today's lunch was even better than the last one.
And that's it for August. I'll be doing another luncheon in September.
Thursday, August 10, 2017
The James Damore fiasco continues. As Philip DeFranco noted (link in previous post), Julian Assange of Wikileaks has publicly offered Damore a job, and I suspect that other companies will be doing the same. In the meantime, triggered women at Google are now skipping work because they've been made to feel uncomfortable by Damore's ten-page screed (which, along with being called both a "diversity memo" and an "anti-diversity memo," has also been called a manifesto, probably because of its length). As this article points out, the disgruntled women's action essentially confirms what Damore says in his piece regarding feminine emotionality.
In the document, Damore suggested that "women on average are more cooperative" and "more prone to anxiety," and that this often involves a search "for more work-life balance while men have a higher drive for status on average."
What could demonstrate these arguments more clearly than women staying home (focusing on life over work and accepting a cut in status) in solidarity with other women (more cooperative) and feeling "uncomfortable" going back to work (more prone to anxiety)?
Indeed, NPR quoted [software engineer Kelly] Ellis as a sympathetic source, noting that "she left Google in 2014 after she was sexually harassed." Ellis also reported feeling traumatized by seeing "similar language when I was at Google being shared on internal message boards and other different internal forums."
Here's the thing: Ellis refused to report the verbal sexual harassment she received at the time, posting it on Twitter only after she had left the company, and acknowledging she had no evidence to support her claims. She said Google "reprimanded me instead of him," despite the fact she hadn't reported the incident. Nowhere does Damore's document dismiss sexual harassment or support the idea that women should be objectified.
The manifesto was very fair, presenting the virtues of the Left biases and the Right biases, but warning against the dangers of imbalance. Damore was not arguing for Google to become a conservative company — he was arguing that it should have more intellectual diversity, correcting blind spots and maximizing value for everyone concerned.
The women employees at Google, by reacting the way they did, underscored his general points about men and women. Again, Damore only said that gender stereotypes explain the difference between the average man and the average woman — many men and women overlap on the spectrum.
In general, women focus more on empathy, work-life balance, and cooperation, while men focus more on leadership, things and ideas, and competition. "Status is the primary metric that men are judged on, pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail," Damore argued.
Rather than just focusing on why women are less frequently in top leadership positions, he explained that "the same forces that lead men into high pay/his stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths."
Men did not ditch work on Monday, even though many of them undoubtedly were disturbed to see a memo questioning their basic assumptions. Women did, and the reporting focused on them as victims, proving both of Damore's points that women tend to be less competitive and that society tends to be protective of women.
Damore was not denouncing either of these trends as bad, but insisting that social sciences and companies like Google need to acknowledge them. Unfortunately, this reaction suggests both that Damore's analysis was accurate and that it will fall on deaf ears.
The "thus proving Damore's point" notion has become a meme, of sorts, over the past week as this kerfuffle has attracted public attention. Google is now a ponderous company that often seems blind to many ironies, e.g., the contrast between its "Don't Be Evil" motto and its collusion with China in helping to reinforce China's Great Firewall, which suppresses information that the Chinese government doesn't want its citizens to see. And now we see the irony that Google, supposedly pro-diversity, actually wants employees to march in lockstep and hew to a specific ideological line. Google owns YouTube, so this ties into my earlier post re: the continuing constriction of free speech on that platform.
Wednesday, August 09, 2017
Stefan Molyneux will happily talk your ear off for an hour, but you can always count on Paul Joseph Watson to have a brief, acerbic take on the issues of the day. In the video embedded below, Watson gives his perspective on the recent controversy surrounding the now-fired Google employee James Damore, who wrote and sent around what has been variously called a "diversity memo" and an "anti-diversity memo." Damore's memo dares to mention possible hard-wired differences between the sexes; he also notes that, for Google, ethnic/cultural/racial diversity might be important, but diversity of opinion/perspective is not. For this thoughtcrime, Damore has been pilloried, fired from his job, and even doxxed.
Take it away, PJW:
ADDENDUM: my good-natured ribbing of the prolix and vociferous Stefan Molyneux aside, it's interesting to note that Molyneux actually scored an interview with James Damore himself. You can watch that 45-minute exchange here.
ADDENDUM 2: Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit posts:
CONOR FRIEDERSDORF: The Most Common Error in Media Coverage of the Google Memo: Many headlines labeled the document “anti-diversity,” misleading readers about its actual contents. They wanted a white-male hate object, even if they had to invent one.
True. If you've seen any part of the actual memo, then you know full well that it affirms various types of diversity, including the racial/ethnic/cultural (and sexual) kind.
ADDENDUM 3: Philip DeFranco opines, with lengthy quotes from the document, here.
Tuesday, August 08, 2017
I might be seeing things, but I'm pretty sure some impetuous kid carved "Kim Jeong Eun [is an] idiot" into a local tree. Look at the unaltered tree first, then scroll down, look at the enhanced picture, and decide for yourself.
Visited the doc yesterday and today. Had my blood pressure taken, gave a urine sample (hadn't done that in a while), and had my blood drawn for full-scale blood work. Yesterday, the doc told me to come back today for my blood-work results; in the meantime, my BP turned out to be fine after three months of not exercising the way I had during my long walk. The doc said I was at 130/85, which is slightly high, but not alarming (classic BP is 120/80 for adults).
This morning, I came back for my blood-test results, and they turned out to be mixed: high blood sugar (albeit substantially improved from three months ago), but normal levels of cholesterol, and all other signs appeared to be normal. The doc altered my meds a bit (I'd told him about my geographic-tongue issue), but I couldn't pick up the meds at the local pharmacy because they weren't in stock. The lady at the pharmacy ordered more meds for me and told me to come back around 4PM, which it is right now, so I'm off to pick up my meds.
I'll have enough medicine for two months, and since I never take my meds on Sunday, I can stretch that time out to about two-and-a-half months before I need to come back to the doctor's office. In all, my numbers could have been worse after three months of relative relaxation and dietary misbehavior. The doc told me to keep exercising, which I'll definitely do. Sometimes, it feels as if I'm regularly visiting a drug dealer.
Monday, August 07, 2017
Having nearly reached my 15-gigabyte capacity, I recently bit the bullet and subscribed to paid storage for my Google account. Being the stingy bastard that I am, I went for the cheapest option, which is $2 a month for 100 gigs of storage. When you first sign up for Gmail, Google gives you a free 15 GB to play with, which is a decent chunk of memory for a non-pro like me: I don't constantly send or store huge graphics or video files, so I don't consume that much memory. I switched over to Gmail in 2006; it's now 2017, so it's taken me eleven years to max out. With my new 100-GB account, I now have an extra 85 GB to play with. If I use the storage up at the same rate as I have over the past decade, then I have over 62 years' storage left. In other words, I'll be dead long before I use up my current storage.
Good to know that something will outlive me, even if it isn't progeny.
Sunday, August 06, 2017
In the midst of supposed White House chaos, Trump's recent trans ban for the military, and the RAISE Act (which limits immigration), Trump seems to be getting things done in a way that isn't obvious if your only sources for Trump-related news are the mainstream media.
1. Someone Just Noticed That Trump Is Getting Stuff Done
2. Trump Has Quietly Accomplished More Than It Appears
Styx comments on Jim Justice's defection to the GOP. In doing so, he points out some of the nonsense coming from Trump's opponents—accusations that essentially cancel each other out.
Styx comments on Trump and Russia:
Wrestlers have known this for years: to reach your weight class, just sweat.
Today, I went out for my 2.5-hour creekside walk, having decided that the 5-hour megawalk would be too much. I sweated and sweated going up and down those fourteen staircases... and at the end of my walk, when I weighed myself on my bathroom scale, I was back down to 117 kg after having regained 3 or 4 kg in the three months(!) since I finished my trans-Korea hike. You'll recall that I'd lost 10 kg during that walk; I went from 126 kg to 116 kg, and here I am again, hovering around 117 kg after being around 120 kg for the past few weeks.
Actually, I drank two 600-ml Powerades, so I guess I'm up to 118.2 kg, but I've also taken a piss since then, so that needs to be factored in. By morning, I expect to be around 117 kg again, as I'm currently fasting. Not a bad way to start the week, even if the weight loss is mostly water loss and not fat loss.
Oh, and I just made a gigantic batch of hummus with my leftover chickpeas from the goodbye party we'd had at the office. Want some?
My cell phone's Weather.com app is telling me that it's insanely hot right now (38º C, feeling like 44º C), but I'm going to go for a creekside megawalk in that heat with nothing more than my small backpack and maybe four liters of water. Normally, I hike at night, which is probably also the wiser course for today, but every now and again, I fancy a good daytime stroll.
Here's my problem, though: while I love hiking at night, I prefer going to the gym in the morning. This has led to a sort of paradox in my daily schedule that has caused my gym attendance to grind to a halt. The problem is that, on a day when I go to the gym in the morning, I don't like walking at night, and on a night when I do my walking, I don't like going to the gym the following morning. Result: I've ended up doing neither. Ideally, and as I discussed a month or so ago, I should be doing everything in the morning: my creekside walks every Monday-Wednesday-Friday, and my gym-plus-staircase routines every Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday. But such a schedule means waking up very early every morning, something I'm still constitutionally averse to doing.
"So what's to prevent you from doing gym + walks at night?" you ask. This is going to sound weird, but what I like about hitting the gym at 6:30AM is that there aren't any expats in there: it's all Koreans. I don't know why, but it'd weird me out to be grunting and sweating away with a fellow Westerner in the room. Am I a racist? Maybe, but I think it's something else because I don't get weirded out when going to a gym in the States. What's going on may actually be a form of GOMAS, a syndrome that I wrote about long ago.
Before I head out on my walk, though, I have to swing by a contact-lens store and buy myself a new lens. I have no idea whether lenses are sold singly, but if they are, I count on paying W35,000 for one instead of W70,000 for a pair. After coming home from my abortive walk yesterday, I was so exhausted that I crawled into bed without removing my contacts, and I can only assume that my right-side lens crawled off, and out of, my eye while I was sleeping. This has happened before, and it's a fairly common occurrence for wearers of contacts, but I was troubled that I couldn't find the lens once I woke up. Normally, the lens will be sitting on the pillow, or somewhere on the mattress, or it will have tumbled off the bed and onto the floor. I've looked everywhere, and the lens seems to have disappeared. One other sinister possibility is that the lens is still inside my eye socket, having somehow crawled around my eye and tucked itself into the orbit somewhere. While there's a chance that that might have happened, it's been more than 24 hours, which is plenty of time for the lens either to make itself felt or to have crawled back around to the front and ejected itself from my eye. None of this has happened, so I'm assuming the lens left my eye and has simply gotten lost at sea.
Anyway, I'm hitting the lens place before going on my walk, and I'll make an effort to take my lenses out before sleeping from now on. Something tells me that my dried-up lens will turn up eventually; that's happened before. I've been wearing contacts since high school, so at this point, I've (forgive the optical pun) seen it all.
ADDENDUM: barely ten minutes after publishing this blog post, I found my fucking lens. I don't know how it got there, but it was sitting, tucked away, on the shelf where I keep my contact-lens-related supplies. It must have dropped off my unfeeling fingertip while I was trying to transfer it from my eye to the lens case (after I'd woken up from several hours of sleeping while wearing the lenses, I mean). The lens is as dry as a bone right now, so I'm letting it soak in saline solution for two hours before I risk putting it back on my eye. But at least that saves me a W35,000 trip to the contact-lens store, eh?
ADDENDUM 2: out of sheer monkey curiosity, I checked the soaking lens after ten minutes. Poof—like magic, it was ready to wear, so it's on my eye now.
Saturday, August 05, 2017
Today proved to be too much. I was out of the apartment at 6AM, and for the first couple of hours, the heat wasn't bad at all. I was walking generally west along the Han River, which meant the morning sun was behind me, hitting my backpack more than me.
But by the time 9:30 rolled around, the sun was much higher in the sky, and the weather was getting hot, humid, and positively angry. My pack weighed 15 kg, thanks mainly to the six liters of water and the food I had packed (no restaurants: I was planning to eat on the road), but also thanks to the spare clothing and other random bits of gear. One of my water bottles fell out of my backpack's huge hole, so I had to waste time rearranging my gear to keep anything else from falling out. After that, I trudged on.
Around 11AM, I was right on top of Yeouido when I decided to call it quits. I had just tried resting in the shade under one of the many river bridges I'd passed, but when I tried to get up after resting, I was hit by a wave of dizziness that told me all I needed to know about how realistic my chances were of completing the hike. The last thing this country needs is the sad sight of a 270-pound guy laid out flat on the trail, gasping his last. So, while standing under a two-level bridge, I hailed a cab and made my way back to my apartment, arriving a bit before 11:30AM, a defeated man. It was 98 degrees Fahrenheit out (37º C).
So in the end, I suppose heatstroke did become a concern, and while I'm ashamed not to have completed the 18-mile walk to Gayang Bridge, I do think I dodged a bullet by choosing to stop early. I'll try this walk again in October, when the weather's more reasonable. Meanwhile, I have other ways to work up a sweat.
Friday, August 04, 2017
I'm hiking to Incheon, starting tomorrow morning. This hike will take me along the Han River trail, westward to the Ara Trail, which will eventually lead me to the ocean—what Koreans call Seohae, i.e., the West Sea. The total distance from my apartment to the Ara Seohae Gapmun Injeung Senteo—the Ara West Sea Lock Registration Center—is about 55 kilometers. That's a two-day walk, broken up into roughly 28-kilometer segments. I've looked at the map, and the halfway point is a bridge called the Gayang Daegyo, which sits almost exactly at the 28-kilometer mark. From the bridge, it's about a 1.5-kilometer walk into town, where there's a neighborhood that's chock-full of motels. I'll crash in a motel for the night, then walk almost the same distance the following day. In theory, I'll get another stamp in my Moleskine for my collection, then I'll likely take a cab back to either Incheon Station or to Incheon International Airport. If I go to the station, I'll take the subway back into Seoul; if I go to the airport, I'll catch a limousine bus back to my neighborhood (the 6600 bus goes to Gaepo-dong, which is right where I live). Most likely, I'll be opting for the bus: it's a nicer ride.
There's little to pack aside from a ton of water, light packaged meals that can be eaten along the way, a toiletry kit for when I'm in the motel, and maybe some extra clothing to wear while my hand-washed things are drying. My pack will be fairly light as a result: the heaviest thing will be the water, and I'll be slurping that greedily along the way. Since I was a dope and left my smaller backpack at the office when I recently carried over a bunch of food, I have no choice but to reenlist my battered Gregory, with its massive hole in the bottom.
Part of me thinks this hike might be the quick road to heatstroke, given that it's going to be extremely humid and about 97ºF on both days of the walk, but I'm thinking that this will be survivable. I learned a lot about enduring sunlight during the big walk from Seoul to Busan, and I still have my toshi (sleevelets, manchettes) and my wide-brimmed hat. I'll also have my trusty trekking pole. What could go wrong, right?
Anyway, wish me luck. I'll be happy to be back out on the trail, even if only for a weekend.
There are some people with whom you can improv; there are others who don't have the ear, or the sense of humor, for such a thing. Comedienne Tina Fey has said that improv means saying "yes" to everything that comes your way. On an improv-comedy show like Whose Line Is It, Anyway?, this is exactly what the actors must do, creating whole universes simply by affirming each other's whimsy. If you've decided you're on Mars, building an igloo, your partner might try speaking like an Inuit and asking you whether you want seal for dinner. Your partner might also decide that that funny light in the Martian sky is an alien ship landing in your vicinity, which means you need to stop building your igloo and go exploring. Little children are often great with these sorts of flights of fancy; adults, being self-conscious, overly dignified, and overly ossified, often fail to retain the necessary mental and emotional flexibility to do improv well. Tina Fey writes:
The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, "Freeze! I have a gun," and you say, "That's not a gun. It's your finger. You're pointing your finger at me," our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, "Freeze, I have a gun!" and you say, "The gun I gave you for Christmas?! You bastard!" then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun. Now obviously, in real life, you're not always going to agree with everything everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to "respect what your partner has created" and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.
A lot of people don't get this, which is why some of them fail to connect with me when I try to be funny. One of my coworkers, for example, can be Spock-like in his literalism. He has a Japanese-American girlfriend from Maine, and there's another coworker in our office who hails from Maine. When we hired another employee who is also from Maine, I joked to my coworker, "Aha—a karmic connection!" Spock blinked and asked, "What do you mean?" I said, "Your girlfriend's from Maine, right?" With a look of utter seriousness, Spock said, "Yeah, but our other coworker's from Maine, too." By this point, a person open to improv humor would have said something like, "Yes! This was destined to be! All roads lead to Maine!" Instead, the humor fell flat, and I apologized for the bad joke.
Having an improv frame of mind means being open to new things and saying yes to life. It's not a bad way to live, and it will certainly improve your sense of humor, thus making you less of an asshole. Try it. You'll feel better about yourself and the world.
I haven't posted about Everesting in over a month because, as you have doubtless guessed, I'm not Everesting. I could claim it was because of the oppressive summer heat, but ultimately, it comes down to just being "damn lazy," as my mother used to grouse.
In my defense, I've been trying to get more serious about jumping rope (which I do at 1AM, in the park, with no one looking), and to that end, I followed the Zen Dudes' advice and bought myself a Crossrope kit, which comes with a light rope and a heavy rope. The ropes I bought are perfect for a guy of my height (about 6'1", or 185.4 cm), and I can now skip almost a full minute before my uncoordinated feet get tangled. I'm not at a point where I can do anything but "regular bounce," as the Zen Dudes call it, but regular bounce is workout enough: funky tricks (like double-unders, boxer skips, and side swipes) can wait. Jumping rope is a surprisingly intense activity, given how light and fluffy everyone looks while doing it. Technically, it's a plyometric exercise, i.e., a form of "jump training," so the intensity makes sense. One of the main points of jumping rope is to engage in an intense activity that's also fun, thus allowing for workouts that are productive yet blessedly brief. Supposedly, it's a 1:3 ratio between jumping rope and running, in terms of cardiovascular intensity.*
Below: pics from the night I unboxed my Crossrope kit.
*Author Ken Cooper, who wrote the bestselling Aerobics back in the 1970s, claimed there to be a rough 1:4:16 ratio between and among swimming, running, and biking (i.e., swimming a mile gives you the cardio benefits of running 4 miles or biking 16 miles). He based this on test results done on the relative oxygen consumption of swimmers, runners and bikers, both male and female. I have no idea whether that ratio can withstand scrutiny today, but as a rough comparison of three common activities, it seems reasonable.
Thursday, August 03, 2017
Spot the error below. As Lennon might say, it's easy if you try.
The above poster sits in the hallway that leads to my office. The same hallway leads to a suite of several classrooms, and it's often full of students waiting to go to class. I guarantee that not a single student has noticed the gaffe on the poster... and if a student were to notice the mistake, I sincerely doubt he or she would lose any sleep over it.
It's embarrassing to work for a company whose very lifeblood is the promulgation of correct English, only to see posters—on company grounds, no less—that feature embarrassingly boneheaded typographical errors. And why do such errors appear? Because people in this country don't fucking care enough to proofread. It's a common lament among expats that we could make a killing doing proofreading for Korean ads and other materials in English... were it not for the fact that no one here actually gives a rat's ass about the quality of the English that appears on posters, brochures, commemorative plaques, museum displays, etc.
Korea is paradoxical that way. On the one hand, the country cares intensely about its global image and is constantly worrying about how others perceive it. On the other hand, the country continues to act in ways that show it cares little or nothing at all for what the rest of the world thinks. Stupid, error-filled "Engrish" is everywhere; television comedians perform racist comedy in blackface; girl groups casually flaunt their Nazi garb. It's a special form of collective insanity that makes life for us expats both interesting and frustrating.
Wednesday, August 02, 2017
Tuesday, August 01, 2017
Charles reviews "Dunkirk" and responds to a couple points from my own review.
Now that I'm home from work, I can write a bit more. In his review, Charles contends that, although he agrees with the basic idea that a war film ought to convey the horror of war, you don't need blood and gore to do that. In his mind—if I'm reading him right—this exonerates Nolan from my accusation that the director didn't take the concept of war seriously because he did provide a level of tension, which Charles describes in detail in his review.
I fully agree with Charles that a film doesn't need viscera to be visceral, but for me, there needs to be something there—some surrogate—to convey the horror. As I said in my review, all Nolan gave us was a half-hearted gesture at suspense, and even then, this wasn't enough to keep me from almost nodding off at several points during the movie. So while I agree that a war film doesn't actually need blood and guts to convey the brutal nature of war, I didn't come away from "Dunkirk" with the feeling that Nolan had found a surrogate. I've felt more tension while watching any number of Tarantino films.
Maybe it's just that I went to an early matinee and didn't have a very good night's sleep. My fatigue could have played a role in my experience of Nolan's film. Then again, I most frequently go to matinees these days, so I'm not ready to let Nolan off the hook quite yet.
Monday, July 31, 2017
Sunday, July 30, 2017
2014's "The Raid 2" stars Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Cok Simbara, Julie Estelle, Alex Abbad, Tio Pakusadewo, Oka Antara, Cecep A. Rahman, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kenichi Endo, and Kazuki Kitamura. It also brings back that incredible martial artist from the first film, Yayan Ruhian, in a very different (and arguably lesser) role. Whereas the first movie had the simplest of plots, "The Raid 2" is so over-plotted as to be hard to follow at times. I found it difficult to keep track of which henchman was working for which crime boss: the movie is all about the taking-down of several major crime families at once, with Rama (Uwais) going undercover as a spy whose job is to gather evidence and certify who is connected to whom, and how.
A one-paragraph summary of the plot might go like this: we begin barely two hours after the first movie ends, and during these two hours, we undo everything that had been established by the end of the first movie. If you saw the first movie, you'll recall that Rama's brother Andi (Donny Alamsyah) elects not to leave his life of crime because he's in his element and feels he can protect Rama; at the same time, Rama is taking the corrupt lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) to justice. When "The Raid 2" begins, Andi is killed by up-and-coming crime boss Bejo (Abbad), and Wahyu is killed on orders from Bunawar (Simbara), a Machiavellian police investigator who roots out police corruption in the manner of internal affairs. Bunawar tells the shocked Rama that there are bigger fish to fry, and that Rama needs to go undercover so that the investigators can take down much larger targets than mere foot soldiers like Wahyu. Rama is placed in prison, where his fighting skills gain him the attention of Uco (pronounced "ooh-cho": the Indonesian "c" is an English "ch") and, eventually, of Uco's crime-boss father, Bangun (Pakusadewo), who thanks Rama for saving his son. Two years pass with Rama in prison before he gets out and has the chance to meet Bangun. Meanwhile, Bunawar has hidden Rama's family to keep them safe; Rama himself has had his history as a policeman expunged to make it easier for him to penetrate the crime families. Bangun's crime family maintains an uneasy truce with a Japanese yakuza faction that has moved into Jakarta; Bangun's son Uco chafes at the need to be respectful around the Japanese, who he feels do not belong in the country. Uco also wants more responsibility, but his father thinks the young man is still too hotheaded and shortsighted to rise in the ranks. Meanwhile, young and ambitious Bejo believes it's time to take down the established families to make room for new blood, and Bejo catches the attention of Reza, a corrupt, high-ranking police official currently in a quiet partnership with the Japanese.
"The Raid 2," like its predecessor, features plenty of hilariously bloody action and violence. It also sports an actual plot, and it even delves into the inner lives of some of the minor characters, like Yayan Ruhian's Prakoso, a heavy who works for Bangun but is estranged from his own wife and son. But for a movie about a massive undercover op, "The Raid 2" is surprisingly short on suspense: I saw several wasted opportunities where Rama could have been discovered, but the criminals weren't savvy enough to suspect him. (The TV series "24" did a much better job of putting Jack Bauer in tense situations where his cover might be blown.) I'm also not sure what to make of the movie's morally ambiguous ending. Without revealing too much, I can say that, by the end of the story, Rama has accomplished only half of Bunawar's mission to take down all the major crime families in Jakarta. There are some major loose ends, which I suppose could be taken care of in a third movie. Finally, I'm ambivalent about sequels that undo much of the work accomplished in previous movies. It was a turn-off in "Alien 3," for example, when Newt and Hicks were killed off at the very beginning, an event that undermined those characters' efforts to survive the extraterrestrial onslaught in "Aliens." For "The Raid 2" to begin with the deaths of Andi and Wahyu, as a way of clearing the board for a new set of allies and antagonists, was a bit frustrating.
All the same, "The Raid 2" proved to be eminently watchable, and I enjoyed it. It's filled with brutal impacts, pulse-pounding chase sequences, loads of fight choreography, and even more gunplay than the first film. For those who came away from the first movie loving the action but wishing there had been a plot, "The Raid 2" makes up for that omission in spades.
[WARNING: one major spoiler re: artistic approach, but not plot.]
"Dunkirk" is a World War II drama directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, and Tom Hardy. As you probably know from either seeing the movie yourself or reading other reviews, the film involves Nolan's usual nonlinear narrative and depicts the Dunkirk evacuation of late May to early June 1940. The story focuses on three perspectives: land, sea, and air. The land narrative, titled "The Mole," takes place over the course of a week and puts the spotlight on the British soldiers waiting to be evacuated; the sea narrative covers a single day and concentrates on the civilian ships that have been called by the British military to cross the English Channel and aid in the evacuation; the air narrative covers a single hour and shows us what it was like for a handful of British pilots to chase down German warplanes despite dwindling fuel. The story jumps from one perspective to another, thus playing with the viewer's sense of time and perspective, infusing the plot with a sort of unbalanced confusion. Certain events appear in all three narrative strands and arguably happen slightly differently, depending on perspective, thus also cultivating a "fog of war" sensibility.
The film is ably directed and features both beautiful aerial vistas and some truly masterful acting from the normally over-the-top Shakespearean Kenneth Branagh (there's a moment on the Mole where he stoically accepts the prospect of impending death), but I'm going to go against the tide of critical love for this film and confess that it annoyed the hell out of me when it wasn't outright boring me. To be honest, I'm not sure why this movie is now being lauded as one of the greatest war movies of all time, nor do I understand the critics who rave that this is Nolan's best film ever. The score by Hans Zimmer is a recycled mishmash of the basso throbbing you've already heard in the Batman films (with the addition of a tick-tock-like auditory leitmotif to drive home the point that time is of the essence), and Nolan's use of nonlinear narrative is cannibalized—albeit slightly reconfigured—from his earlier work "Memento," a movie with multiple narrative strands that can be broken apart and reassembled into chronologically coherent wholes.
Nolan's film—and this is a major artistic spoiler—is utterly bloodless, like the gun battles on that old TV show "The A-Team," which to me is unforgivable for a war movie ("Dunkirk" is rated PG-13 in the US, for God's sake). It's not that I lust for exposed guts, blown-off limbs, and leaking brains, but one of my criteria for a good war movie is that it should portray the sheer horror of war—the consequences that ensue when masses of humans are pitted against each other. The first twenty minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" left me almost shell-shocked; that was some of the most intense cinema I've ever experienced, and Spielberg set the bar very high for all war films to come after. Nolan, who apparently isn't even interested in Spielberg's bar, doesn't give us horror: if anything, he makes a half-hearted gesture toward suspense, and that's about it. Despite the movie's short running time (only 106 minutes), much of it is filled with long, expansive shots and eloquent silences. There's very little dialogue, but there's enough to make me wonder whether Nolan had been torn between making a talky movie or a completely talk-free one. What we get is a bad compromise between those extremes.
So I side with the complainers who dislike the fact that Nolan reached into his bag of narrative and cinematic tricks, only to show us the same old tricks. Although the cinematography and the acting were on point, the movie felt like Nolan being Nolan, and it didn't take the concept of war particularly seriously. I suspect this is going to be a forgettable movie for me: ask me about it in a year, and I doubt I'll remember many—or any—details.
But, hey: don't trust my review. Everyone else loves this film, so go see it if you want. For me, this was a mixture of recycled tropes and pulled punches: a real bag of mush. And by the way: I think the French who saw "Dunkirk" and complained that France gets short shrift in Nolan's film have a point.
Saturday, July 29, 2017
Friday, July 28, 2017
Thursday, July 27, 2017
Unsurprisingly, my morning was hectic. I had stopped cooking, last night, to get a few hours' shut-eye before continuing at 6:45AM today. The next few hours involved all the non-stop cooking that I probably should have done the night before. I somehow managed to get the Middle Eastern chicken prepped, then I worked on the galbi and got that prepped, too, although I remember wishing I'd had a proper grill. The "searing" on the galbi came from the blackening of the marinade on the frying pan: the first round of meat wasn't seared that much, but the subsequent rounds acquired a sort of artificial sear thanks to the carbonizing sugar in the pan. I finished cooking and still had about thirty minutes in which to shower.
Just as I was about to shower, I got a text message from the building's plumbers, who asked whether it'd be okay to come up to my place to check out my leak problem. I groaned: it was 10:35AM, and I had an 11AM appointment in the lobby with our department's new guy, who had flown in from Maine just yesterday. I texted that the plumbers could come up at exactly 10:55AM. My plan was to finish my shower, get dressed, let the plumbers in, dash downstairs to meet the new guy, then get back upstairs, wait while the plumbers finished their work, then lug my half-ton of food over to the office via cab with the new guy in tow. Luckily, that's approximately how the timing worked out, but that final half-hour before leaving was hectic all the same. Right as the plumbers were leaving, they told me to come back home in the evening, turn my A/C on for an hour, then call their office so they could confirm there was no more leakage from the A/C (the Carrier repairman came the other day and supposedly fixed the leak). They left; I then gathered my stuff and left with the new guy. We went down to the street and got a cab.
I got to the office around 11:40 and began final prep, which involved setting up my huge food containers (plastic buckets, essentially), slicing up some tomatoes, and crumbling some feta cheese. My boss had suggested that we begin our shindig—which the boss described as a goodbye party for our outgoing staffer and a welcoming party for our newbie—at 1PM. A bit after 1:00, everything was ready, and we all gathered for the meal. I explained how to plate, heat, and eat the Middle Eastern chicken, then I explained how to attack the galbi, which I had made expressly for the outgoing staffer, who had told me he liked Korean food.
Here's a pic of the huge plastic containers in which I'd placed my food for ten:
Here's a closeup of my Middle Eastern chicken, which you've seen before:
One of my colleagues has a Lebanese mother, and he told me my food looked and smelled legitimately Middle Eastern, so I'm no longer going to surround the term "Middle Eastern" with scare quotes. I've gotten the official seal of approval.
Below: most of my colleagues, faces mosaicked out, sitting in a spontaneous circle while they noshed. "Food brings people together!" I joked when I walked in and saw this tableau. "And people bring food together!" replied the outgoing staffer.
My Aussie colleague said I should start a restaurant and sell this chicken. He thinks I'd make a killing, which I took as high praise. One of the female staffers muttered, "This is so fuckin' good," which is the first time I've ever heard anyone get sweary over my cooking. I had been very worried that the chicken—which was all breast meat—might have dried out over the course of the morning and early afternoon, but everyone assured me the meat was just fine, and my own plate of chicken wasn't bad at all.
Final shot: digging in. You can see a glimpse of the galbi in the foreground. The sauce next to it is a sweet glaze made from the original marinade plus a hell of a lot more sugar.
As much as people liked the galbi, they liked the chicken way, way better, and that huge bucket of food was nearly totally destroyed by the time everyone had stopped eating. There's enough left for one serving for one person. Where I went wrong, though, was in making way too much rice and couscous. This is a carb-hating office, I've discovered, and I'd say that only a fourth of the carbs got eaten. Astonishing, but also worth noting for future reference: from now on, I'll make only a fraction of what I'd made for today.
That problem aside, the food was a hit. I even got a compliment from the "so fucking good" staffer re: my oi-muchim, which she enjoyed along with her beef. Everything's been stowed in the new, recently upgraded office fridge (we replaced the previous one with a much bigger one), so I have nothing to tote home. I've told the staff that they can take whatever they want from the leftovers and have lunch or dinner with them. I also provided Ziploc bags to people who wanted to bag up some food to take home. My longtime coworker (from before our move to this new building) took home some food for his girlfriend to munch on. He said he's secretly hoping she hates it so that he can eat it himself. And that about says it all.
Remind me to tell you the story of my wild goose chase in quest of cilantro.