Sunday, July 23, 2017

swerving away from "Dunkirk"

I woke up at the ungodly hour of 7AM and decided, "Nah. I want more sleep." And thus did I cancel my trip out to the cinema today to see "Dunkirk." I might see it next weekend, but for whatever reason, all desire to see the movie left me this morning. Meanwhile, I'm reading online that the French are upset about director Christopher Nolan's version of events at Dunkirk: his film apparently writes out the role of thousands of French troops who bravely remained to perform a holding action against the Germans while the British rescued their own.* A further wrinkle to that story is that elements of the British military turned around and rescued as many of the surviving French troops as they could. My understanding is that none of this is portrayed in Nolan's "Dunkirk," and it seems like an agaçante omission to me.

*A quick reading of the Wikipedia entry for this film shows that the French rear guard, as well as its evacuation, is mentioned in the movie, but there's little to nothing else said or shown about the French military, hence the scandalized French reaction.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Local newscaster Jim Vance, a fixture from my childhood, has died at age 75. Not satisfied with this haul, the Grim Reaper has also just claimed actor John Heard, 72, who was at the center of an assault scandal many years ago. I remember Jim Vance with fondness for his stolid-but-kind demeanor, but I lost track of him when the 1990s came around. As for Heard—I vaguely remember watching a video of his performance in 1979's "The Scarlet Letter" back when I was in school. More recently, I recall his guest-starring appearance on "Battlestar Galactica," where he played an engineer who suddenly finds himself the captain of his ship when the previous captain dies. He was a capable actor—never quite the mighty leading man, but appearing in some of the bigger films of recent decades ("Big," "Home Alone," "Awakenings," etc.).

These deaths both come as a surprise, and these days, there must be something wrong if you're dying in your 70s. In the world of old people, seventy-something is young.

on tricksters

The Crash Course YouTube channel continues to put out short videos covering an interesting range of academic topics. I've been watching Crash Course Mythology fairly (ahem) religiously, and I think the latest video might be one that my buddy Charles could take a gander at and offer an opinion on as to how well done it is: it's about trickster figures, and this video (the first of several trickster videos) concentrates on Anansi the spider, whom I know mainly through having read American Gods.

it's all about the power

Last night, around 2AM, my circuit breaker fritzed out on me again, as it did almost exactly a year ago. I schlepped downstairs to the lobby concierge and explained the problem; he phoned an on-call repairman, who showed up within twenty minutes. The repairman quickly determined that there was a small water leak causing water to drip slowly onto the main-switch part of the circuit breaker. He asked me whether I'd had trouble with the circuit breaker before; I told him about last year, so like last time, water leakage was again a problem. The repairman told me he was going to pull the circuit breaker out of its mounting and bring it forward to keep it away from the leaking water. Meanwhile, since something needed to be done about the leak, he said someone would come back to my place on Saturday afternoon.

That guy arrived around 1:30PM. He'd already been informed about the leakage, so he popped open a ceiling panel to look around the narrow crawlspace. His purpose was to check whether the leak was coming from upstairs. His initial check didn't reveal the leak's source, so he moved into my bathroom to check again (my bathroom also has a ceiling panel giving access to the crawlspace). This time, he found something: my air conditioner was leaking water across my ceiling and all the way over to the circuit breaker, which is mounted near my apartment's door. That's a distance of about four meters—a long way for water to crawl. I can only surmise that, when my A/C was originally installed, someone did a shitty job of installation.

And this is where things got complicated. Because this is fundamentally an A/C problem, we had to call the Carrier A/C service center to schedule another repairman to come out and fix the leak. My current repairman spoke with the customer-service rep, then the phone got passed to me, and I spoke with the CSR, who told me they'd be sending someone out to my place in a few days. I advised her not to phone me because I tend not to answer phone calls from unfamiliar numbers, but that text messages would be fine. The repairman gave me some more phone numbers so that I could call for someone to complete the circuit-breaker repairs after the Carrier people had come and gone.

I'm not sure how clear all that is, so let me lay out the chronology in list form:

1. I'm to wait for the Carrier people to come out and repair the A/C's leak. A person or team will be at my place in three to five days.
2. Once Carrier has come and gone, I'm to call my building's repairmen to come and complete the repair of my circuit breaker, which is currently hanging out of the wall while water continues to drip inside the wall.

It's a complicated dance for what seems a straightforward problem, but because the A/C is a Carrier-brand piece of equipment, we have no choice but to involve Carrier in the repairs. Otherwise, there'd be no one but in-house repairmen on the case. For now, I've got power, and that's what matters. The food in my fridge is safe, and I can use the leaky A/C to keep myself alive and sane in this oppressive heat and humidity. In a few days, both the A/C and the circuit breaker ought to be repaired. It'd be nice to get through at least one summer in this apartment building without any circuit-breaker-related problems. The most annoying aspect of last night's fritz is that I had been planning to go see a matinee showing of "Dunkirk" today, but because I had to stay put to wait for the repairman, that wasn't possible. Tomorrow, then.

it's nice to be fondly remembered

My buddy Mike sent me screen shots from Twitter (see below). It seems I'm missed. Twitter had its flaws, but it was a better experience, in many ways, than Gab currently is. Gab has some interesting people, but it's also fairly univocal, and there's a great deal of alt-right racism and antisemitism. Not to say that Twitter was bigotry-free (ha!), but I suppose the darkness is more visible on Gab because it's a self-selecting demographic of similar-minded people. The assholes stand out more clearly because there's less background noise.

Anyway, I do feel sad about abandoning so many Twitter e-friends. They were and are good folks. At the same time, I'm sure they're doing just fine without me.

Friday, July 21, 2017

dinner with the coworkers

Office life has changed completely for me. Whereas life before had been library-quiet, life now is as noisy as a classroom full of caffeinated middle schoolers. Before, I had only one coworker, and he was assigned completely different projects from mine, so we barely talked during the day, except when we'd do our thrice-daily walks. The boss might come in, tell one or several of his many, many fish stories, ask us a few questions about our progress, then lapse into silence along with us. For an introvert like me, this was a good arrangement. Now, though, I work with a cluster of new coworkers who all know each other well, who have already formed strong bonds of collegiality and camaraderie, and who are constantly visiting each other's work stations to ask about something or to teach something. This new group has already grabbed up my coworker and plunged him into one of their projects (the grading of a massive pile of student essays), and they aren't shy about lobbing grammar questions my way, either.

Tonight was our department's first dinner out together (what Koreans call hwaeshik, as I romanize it, or hoesik, as I think it's officially romanized*). We ended up, after much indecision, dining at the local Ho Lee Chow, which I've reviewed here. Dinner was a noisy, random, nonlinear affair, much in the spirit of family dinners at my buddy Mike's house in Virginia: everyone talks at once, trying to get his or her thought-fragment-y point in. Chunks of ideas fly back and forth in no particular direction, and while there's plenty of noise and laughter, it's not something I enjoy very much. Sitting quietly and having a meaningful discussion that smoothly segues from topic to topic, à la "My Dinner with André," is more my style. So after about an hour at Ho Lee Chow, I felt the urge to skedaddle, and that's what I did. No disrespect to my dinner companions: they're all fine people, and I'm happy to have gotten to know them. But social occasions just aren't my thing. I suffer through them as gamely as I can, then I leave when I've had enough.

*I won't blame you for pronouncing hoesik as "hoe sick." I would, too, and that's why I prefer my more transcriptive romanization. The actual Korean sounds a bit like "hweh-sheek," but spelling the Korean that way is a little too out of bounds even for me.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

this day in 1969

John McCain has brain cancer

In about a year, Senator John McCain, who has lately been a major thorn in Donald Trump's side, will no longer be among us: he has been diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressively malignant form of brain tumor there is. GBM took my mother, and before her, it took Senator Ted Kennedy. Median life expectancy after diagnosis is about twelve months; Mom lived nine months, and Kennedy lived fourteen or fifteen. What kills a person in the end isn't so much the tumor itself as the infection that results from a depressed immune system. I don't envy Senator McCain his final ride into the darkness.

John McCain has been a leader of the Republican wing of the Never Trumpers. While I find that his behavior of late has been obnoxiously obstructionist, I can understand, to some extent, his anger at Trump: you may recall the way Trump had declared McCain not to be a war hero (McCain is famous for having been a prisoner of war in Vietnam, during which time he was tortured to the point where he could—and can—no longer raise his hands over his shoulders) because, in Trump's view, war heroes don't get caught by the enemy. McCain had benefited for years from being nearly fetishized for being an ex-POW, and this harsh reality check from the unsubtle Trump was undoubtedly an enormous blow to the ego, and very likely the source of McCain's contrarian behavior over the past year or so. McCain's pettiness at the end of his career and life will not gain him plaudits from historians who review the latter part of his public service, but I suspect it's too late for the senator to change now.

Depending on what happens next with debulking surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy, McCain probably has a few months of functional time remaining to him. After that, the tumor will cross to his other brain hemisphere, and the resulting edema from the inexorable pressure of the ever-growing cancerous tissue will shut down McCain's cognitive functions. There may be seizures; there may even be changes in mood and personality; there will certainly be cognitive impairment. By that point, McCain will already have said goodbye to life as a senator and will have retreated from public view. We'll have silence for a few months before the sudden-but-expected announcement of McCain's passing, unless McCain turns out to be one of the lucky 1-2% of GBM victims who survive long-term after initial first-line therapy.

ADDENDUM: Styx's much harsher take on McCain, whom he hates, is here.


(seen on

We are well beyond Engrish at this point.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

painful to listen to

The Zen Dudes try to talk about meditation in this video, which made me wince:

Some of what the guys say is on the money, e.g., when they talk about "being present" or breath-counting or not judging one's own thoughts as they arise. But too much of what they say is ego-centered, which is not what meditation is about at all. The guys say things like, "I think, 'Today, I'm going to be...'" or "I'll ask myself the question, 'What's it like to be me right now?'" or "It's a great way to practice self-awareness."

On Zen Meditation

tests make you testical if quizzes make you quizzical

I administered my language obstacle course the other day, and while my poor victims were sweating their way through it, I began thinking critically about the test's flaws, and about how I'd change the test if I were ever to write up an improved version. One thing I'd change is the test's focus. It's not a horrible exam, as exams go, but it is a bit all over the place, especially the grammar section at the end, which tests for several things simultaneously, such as knowledge of grammar, knowledge of grammatical terminology, and ability to proofread. That section could use a lot of retooling, and truth be told, the entire test could stand to be revamped, this time while keeping in mind the fundamental question of test design: what are you testing for? If you don't have a clear answer to that question, designing your test will be difficult.

This past weekend found me in the office, toiling away for two full work days to prepare an answer-explanation packet for my charges. I expected griping once I made the exam results known, and I got some griping, but it was all of the low-grade, good-natured, grumbly sort, expressed in the form of jokes and playful jibes, not as passionate accusations or teeth-gnashing. I had been worried that, in giving the test, I would be souring my relationship with a new group of coworkers, but they all turned out to be good sports. They thanked me for the explanation packets, and the few grumblers who did want to pursue a contentious point did so in a non-aggressive way.* To defuse the tension when I was giving out the graded tests, I doled out prizes in the form of candy bars, fruits (those were the consolation prizes), and a large tin of butter cookies. This seemed to be the right way to go, given that no fights broke out.**

The one lady who hadn't shown up last week showed up on Tuesday, and she has to take my test as well. I suppose I'll be administering it to her on Wednesday. I wonder what her reaction will be. One of her coworkers told me she's a big-time descriptivist, which means she'll likely hate the test. Oh, well.

*I got two complaints—one about hyphenation and another about commas between coordinate adjectives. I looked into the hyphenation issue and concluded the complainant had a point, but that there were plenty of authorities who swung my way on the question. As for the comma issue, well... that wasn't even worth discussing.

**The test has four sections, so I gave out prizes to the people who did the best in each section, and I reserved the giant tin of butter cookies for the person who had the highest overall score. The consolation prizes—ripe Korean plums—went to the two lowest scorers, who accepted their awards in a cheerfully sportsmanlike way.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Ave, Justin (again)!

I don't know what it is, but my friend Justin is on a foodblogging kick.

He lives in Thailand. Here are some fusion Tacos de Larb.

Monday, July 17, 2017

David So's discourse on slutty girls

You have to get past So's reflexive Kevin Hart impression, but this video from 2013 is still pretty funny. And there may be a nugget of wisdom in there, for those with ears to hear.


All this time, I've been mispronouncing "Bundaberg," as in the ginger beer that I raved about. I've been defaulting to German and saying "BOON-duh-berg," but my new Aussie coworker tells me it's "BUNN-duh-berg," a town not far from where he was born. I stand corrected!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

cashier bitch

All I want to do, when I go to the grocery, is shop and get outta there. Normally, that's how things work, but every once in a while, I find myself dealing with some cheeky bitch of a cashier who wants to fuck up my day. It's standard procedure for these ladies to ask me whether I want a bag, and if so, what type. I can choose between blue garbage bags (that serve perfectly well as shopping bags, mainly thanks to their handles) and white eMart plastic bags. I always choose the latter because I save the bags and use them for sorting out the recycling. (It's ridiculous, but I have six small garbage cans in my apartment: two are for generic garbage; the other four are for the recycling—paper, glass/aluminum, PET plastic bottles, and plastic bags/wrapping, which Koreans call binil, i.e., "vinyl.")

Today, I asked the lady for two eMart bags. She didn't acknowledge that she had heard me, and she gave me only one bag. "Please give me two bags," I said politely.

"Yes," she responded with obvious irritation, making as if she'd heard me the first time. Had she? If she hadn't heard me the first time, she was being rude by sounding irritated now. If she had heard me the first time, she was being rude by not giving me two bags when I'd asked for them. Either way, she was being rude.

The lady rang up my purchases and shoved a slip of paper in my face: "This is your discount coupon," she began in Korean. "You can use it next week, okay?" She said the "next week" in English, then said "Discount coupon!" in English.

"It's okay to speak to me in Korean," I said with a smile. I often say this to Koreans who automatically assume I can't speak Korean. In the meantime, I was wondering why the lady had begun her coupon spiel in Korean, then switched to English in mid-stream. I can only assume I looked especially stupid to her. Normally, when I admonish cashiers by saying that speaking Korean is fine, they respond with a smile.

"Huh?" grunted the cashier, unsmilingly. What I had said had been perfectly clear, but she was obviously one of those people who, upon seeing a foreign face and hearing understandable Korean, couldn't process how that was possible.

So I spoke more slowly and more loudly: "You can speak Korean to me."

She rose her voice in response: "I can speak Korean to you?" Then she gave me the complete coupon spiel again, this time entirely in Korean. I could have cut her off and said, "You already told me all this," but she was in cunt mode, so I let her ride it out. When she finished, I gathered by bags, thanked her, and left the store with a "Goodbye," to which she did not deign to respond. What a fucking twat.

Just venting, guys. Just venting.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

toilet rules

I think I need to make a coffee-table book devoted to the awesome signs I see inside Korean toilet cubicles. Here's a pic from the new building that I work in:

1 person, 1 session: PLEASE use only 50 cm (using more is a waste)

50 centimeters is about 19.6 inches—slightly more than a biblical cubit.

"South Korea's Brain Drain"

Here's an article about how Korea's "Hell Chosun" atmosphere is driving out its brightest minds. Here's a snippet:

But beneath this veneer of “Gangnam Style” glitz and first-world efficiency lies a different story. Ask most Seoulites in their 20s and 30s about living in Korea, and you’re likely to hear a litany of complaints. This trait is especially acute in the country’s highly educated youths, particularly amongst those who have worked or studied abroad.

The 2016 IMD World Talent report ranked South Korea 46th out of 61 countries on its Brain Drain Index, placing it below less developed nations like India and the Philippines. The same report listed South Korea 47th countries on quality of life, and a pitiful 59th on worker motivation.

In recent years, young South Koreans have begun referring to the country as “Hell Chosun,” a reference to the Chosun Dynasty that lasted on the peninsula for 500 years, until the late 19th century. While “hell” is certainly hyperbole, if not outright offensive to those who live in war zones and abject poverty, the emergence of this phrase provides insight into Korean youths’ perceptions of their society.

Heo Seung-hee left South Korea in 2011 and now works as a registered nurse in Sydney, Australia. Before emigrating, she was employed at one of the most prestigious hospitals in Seoul.

“My strongest motivation to leave was the work culture,” she said. “There was really bad corruption. The doctors and nurses only get jobs because they graduated from a specific university or knew the right people.”

This idea of earning the right credentials and making the right contacts is drilled in from an early age. South Korea places enormous pressure on its youth. From elementary school onward, most students must attend an array of extracurricular cram schools to help them outpace their peers, often working late into the night to complete their assignments. These years of effort have only one goal: to prepare them for the ultra-competitive and life-defining college entrance exam.

After a brief stint of soju-infused bonding at university, the men are sent off for around two years of national service, usually in the military or police. Later, when they begin to look for work, Koreans of both genders must slog through months or years of part time jobs, unpaid internships, and qualifying exams just to enter a workforce that is conservative, as hierarchical as the military, and dominated by men.

“There was really bad gender discrimination,” said Heo. “Anyone that was male would ask me to bring them coffee. When we went to a hoesik [a company dinner], I had to sit next to them and pour alcohol for them. I felt uncomfortable, but it was a very common practice.”

There's much more. Go read the rest.

Friday, July 14, 2017

I had a good laugh

...and I hope you will, too. Who's the most badass of them all?

(seen on

Ave, Justin!

A prize for culinary inventiveness goes to my friend Justin Yoshida.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

moved... sort of

Up to now, I've been working in the Daechi/Mido branch of my company. The main branch of my company, to which R&D is moving, sits just up the street in an old building that recently had almost half of its fourth floor cleared out completely. When I first went over to check out the site, weeks ago, the space was nothing but bare concrete, dangling wires, and limp ventilation pipes. Not even a month later, the space has been miraculously (but also hastily) transformed into a suite of offices, most of which are glass-walled. The makeshift construction-workers' door that had greeted me in June has now been replaced by a sleek, electronic sliding-glass door. Our offices all have doors with electronic keypads, and despite the building's overall decrepitude, our interior space looks quite shiny and new. It also looks a hell of a lot like an aquarium, a fact that many of us remarked upon—not all positively.

I had the chance to meet most of our new coworkers; two were missing today. The ones I met seemed like good folks, all in all. We sat down for coffee at one point, and I got to know a couple of the newbies better than the rest. One gent turns out to have biked the very same Gukto Jongju that I walked; we expressed our mutual respect. All of the newbies are nervous about taking my language obstacle course; I've apologized profusely to them (well, to the ones I've met, anyway), and I've joked that one or more smartasses will probably grumble in disagreement about some of the questions. I think they'll be taking the test tomorrow, which means I'll be grading a batch of tests for a good part of the day.

I left work early today to meet up with my buddy Tom and his friend Patrick, so I ended up saying goodbye to my new coworkers a little before 5PM. Dinner with Tom meant galmaegi, of course. Conversation was hilarious, especially since Tom and Patrick needle each other like an old married couple. While I sat with the guys, I thought about tomorrow. My work station is more-or-less set up, and I heard that the LAN/internet connection was put into place after I had left. But there's more to do, in terms of setup, and I hear we're getting new bookshelves to replace the ones we currently have (which we've already filled with books and other knickknacks). So tomorrow ought to be interesting.

As the boss himself said, things won't begin to smooth out until a couple weeks have passed; there will be some rough patches during this shakedown period. I've already heard complaints from the newbies* about their office chairs, about bookshelf space, and about desk sizes (many of us, especially those of us doing design work, use two monitors side by side). We have other issues to resolve as well, such as whether we're going to consolidate our Dropbox storage space. We three "originals" from R&D also need to sit together and discuss the flow chart of power: am I to become a supervisor or not? I'm hoping not, but that's up in the air.

Exciting times ahead.

*I use the term "newbie" advisedly: some of these people have been at the company longer than I have, but they're all new to the R&D department.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

the internet for dummies

Unfamiliar with terms like "normie," "Pepe," and "Kek"? Roaming Millennial has a primer for you, and it's consumable in under eight minutes!

more proof that central planning sucks

Call it socialism, communism, Kimism, blue-state economics, or whatever: central planning sucks balls. It's why Western Europe's various economies are sagging. It's why oil-rich Venezuela has become a massive shithole. It's why there's no more Soviet Union, and why North Korea lags so far behind South Korea in economic robustness.

And now, this:

Best-Run States Are Low-Tax Republican, Worst-Run Are High-Tax Democratic, Study Finds

Over on, there's a growing movement—patchwork and confused right now, but gaining coherence and momentum—to support Californians who want their state to secede from the Union. Some call it Calexit; others simply say, "Good fucking riddance."

Even better:

And finally, this:

We will know them by their fruits.

"Spider-Man: Homecoming": review

Wanting to avoid the crowds, I went to the 7AM matinee of "Spider-Man: Homecoming" this past Sunday. The theater still had plenty of people in it, even at that time of day, and the movie was, last I checked, raking in over 80% of the ticket shares for all movies in South Korea. Marvel has marketed itself excellently all across the world, and Korean expectations for this film were much higher than they were for the superb "Wonder Woman" (reviewed here).

In this instance, the excitement is justified. "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is a good and worthwhile re-re-reboot of the Spider-Man character. You'll recall that we had a foretaste of Spider-Man in "Captain America: Civil War" (reviewed here), a movie that definitively ushered Spider-Man, now played by young British dancer/acrobat Tom Holland, into the MCU (i.e., the Marvel Cinematic Universe), along with Spider-Man's new, hotter Aunt May, played with winsome, MILF-y charm by Marisa Tomei. In "Homecoming," the movie is largely Spider-Man's, although Tony Stark/Iron Man is a minor-but-significant presence in something of a mentor's role for young Peter Parker.

Directed by Jon Watts and starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Robert Downey, Donald Glover, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, and Tony Revolori, "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is not exactly a rehash of the Spider-Man origin story (already done twice with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield): it's more of a coming-of-age story for Peter Parker (Holland) as he grows into his role as a new superhero. Peter is a sophomore who has a crush on statuesque Liz (Harrier). He's best friends with fellow science geek Ned (Batalon); he and Ned sort-of hang out with weird, stand-offish Michelle (Zendaya), navigating the perilous waters of life in a sci-tech high school. Peter lives in Queens with Aunt May but moonlights as Spider-Man. Ever since his "audition" in Germany (during "Captain America: Civil War"—the airport fight), Peter has been on Tony Stark's radar, and Stark has taken a liking to the kid, to the point where Stark has created a whole new StarkTech Spidey suit for the teen to wear. The suit comes equipped with a dizzying array of features and functions, and much of the movie is about Peter and Ned's discovery of just what the suit is capable of doing (taser webs! web grenades! kill mode and interrogation mode!). The movie does an excellent job of getting us into Peter's headspace so that we can understand what it's like to be a stressed-out high-school student (with the unasked-for gift of amazing superpowers) who must keep his heroic identity a secret from those he's closest to. Like most of the heroes we've come to know, Peter Parker walks the razor's edge of a double life.

The movie's main villain is Adrian Toomes (Keaton), whom we later know as The Vulture. Toomes is the head of a cleanup team that moves in after the Avengers have left a mess. When we first meet Toomes and his team, they are in the midst of cleaning up after the Battle of New York (see the first "Avengers" movie, reviewed here). A federal team, the US Department of Damage Control, suddenly arrives and flatly declares that Toomes's contract is now void, and that Toomes can leave. Seething, Toomes quickly realizes that the USDoDC is Tony Stark's creation. With a family and employees to care for, Toomes is left with nothing but the already-scavenged Chitauri weaponry he has managed to spirit away from the Battle of New York. Noting to his men that times are changing, Toomes concludes that he and his men must change, too, and thus begins the career of The Vulture.

These three parallel tracks, then, are what "Homecoming" runs on: (1) Peter's balancing of high-school and home life with his superhero life, (2) Peter's relationship with Tony Stark, a father figure whom Peter is eager to please (as well as Peter's most direct connection to the Avengers, whom he idolizes), and (3) the Vulture's plans to hijack not just Chitauri leftovers, but also newfangled StarkTech gadgetry as a way to strike at Stark. Once Peter begins tangling with The Vulture, things get interesting when it turns out that Peter and Adrian Toomes are only one degree of separation apart from each other—a fact that Toomes figures out first (thus making him one of the better and smarter MCU villains we've seen).

Overall, I very much enjoyed "Homecoming." Tom Holland is a great choice to play Spider-Man, and Michael Keaton's bizarre trajectory from Batman to Bird Man (briefly reviewed here) to the cold-eyed Vulture shows that Keaton is perfectly comfortable in the world of oversized heroes and villains.

Let's talk about what "Homecoming" gets right and what it gets wrong. We'll begin with the positives. The movie's cast is great; Jacob Batalon is funny and earnest as Peter's friend Ned; Zendaya is convincingly nerdy as the aloof brainiac Michelle; Marisa Tomei, as Aunt May, gets what is arguably the movie's funniest line right as we cut to the ending credits. The story focuses a great deal on character development, which is always a relief to those of us in the audience who are older and grumpier than the kids who are concentrating on the quality of the special effects (more on that below). Director Jon Watts proves to be good at pacing the story more or less evenly, and he doesn't allow "Homecoming" to fall into the trap of becoming another cinematic vehicle for Iron Man. Robert Downey is always a likable and compelling screen presence, but he isn't allowed to overshadow Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, and the rest of the young cast. "Homecoming" is also shot through with plenty of humor, some of which is related to Spider-Man's StarkTech suit. (The "interrogation mode" scene gave me a chuckle, largely thanks to Donald Glover's uncharacteristically deadpan performance.) Peter's school tormentor Flash Thompson (Revolori) isn't a physical bully in "Homecoming" the way Flash was in the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield versions; he's more of a psychological tormentor, and it's not a big spoiler to say that neither Peter Parker nor Spider-Man can quite get the best of him because of the non-physical nature of his harassment. Of the three filmic versions of Spider-Man, "Homecoming" gives us the best glimpse into high-school life (keeping in mind that this isn't a typical high school), and it accomplishes this despite being fairly plot- and characterization-heavy.

"Homecoming" has other pluses in its favor. For example, this version of Spider-Man is shown making rookie mistakes consistent with his rookie-superhero status: at one point, our hero webs a guy to a car, thinking the man is a car thief, but it turns out that the man is indeed the car's owner. Later on, and more seriously, Spider-Man's over-eager attempt to take down The Vulture's crew on the Staten Island Ferry leads to a disaster that could have cost many lives. This is a fallible, gawky, and even clumsy Spider-Man—something we've never seen before.* I also need to heap praise on Michael Keaton: his Vulture is a smart villain, but there's one scene in particular, in which we see Adrian Toomes through a car's rear-view mirror, putting two and two together as he realizes who Spider-Man is. The moment is reminiscent of Willem Dafoe's excellent dinner-table scene in Sam Raimi's first "Spider-Man," when Norman Osborn figures out Spider-Man's identity after he sees the gash on Peter Parker's forearm. For Keaton, this is an excellent bit of acting, all seen through a narrow rectangle that crops out most of the actor's face, and it's one of the artistic highlights of the movie.

Now, let's switch to what the movie doesn't get right. Please keep in mind that, even if I go into some detail on these complaints, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, so whatever minuses I mention need to be put in that perspective. First: tone. We now live in a post-"Deadpool," post-"Logan" era (reviews here and here, respectively). This means blood, guts, swearing, filthy humor, and scary examples of human (or even inhuman) evil. Marvel movies have shown they're now willing to go there, and to my mind, there's no going back. The "Guardians of the Galaxy" films (reviews here and here) dialed back the violence and vulgarity a bit, but they, like "Dr. Strange" (review here) brought their own unique and highly original sense of unself-conscious fun to the mix. "Homecoming" feels like a retreat from all that ramped-up intensity, which is a bit disappointing. Then again, one doesn't go to a "Spider-Man" film looking for blood, gore, and casually lobbed f-bombs, so I admit I may be expecting too much. Spider-Man has generally been a more wholesome hero; he's gone the dark route in the comics on several occasions, but his story is generally the story of a teen who somehow remains cheerfully positive despite crushing adversity.

Another problem I had was with the roping-in of Spider-Man to the MCU. If you were to ask me to rank the three cinematic Spider-Men, I'd probably still put Tobey Maguire's version in first place. Maguire gave us a touching, heartfelt performance that allowed us to feel Spider-Man's humanity and compassion. It was far better than the wisecracking turn that poofy-haired Andrew Garfield gave us, and while Tom Holland handles the role with skill and aplomb, the character is no longer a stand-alone thanks to Tony Stark and the Avengers. While it's true that Iron Man isn't in "Homecoming" for long, his presence is with us more or less constantly thanks to the StarkTech suit that Parker wears for much of the film. With every new StarkTech feature—webwings, enhanced espionage mode, a suit AI that Peter names Karen (voice of Jennifer Connelly!)—we're reminded of the pervasive influence of Iron Man. I understand that Marvel Studios has plans for Spider-Man and the larger MCU universe, but I couldn't help feeling that Spider-Man's frequent dependence on Stark detracted from his character at least a little.

Before watching "Homecoming," I saw some non-spoilery reviews of the movie, and many of the reviewers complained that some of the action sequences were choppily edited, making the action occasionally difficult to follow. I'd have to agree. This wasn't like watching Tim Miller's "Deadpool." Miller (and remember that "Deadpool" is his first-ever major film) is a natural when it comes to directing action. Jon Watts seems to be a bit less comfortable depicting fights and frenetic commotion, although I wouldn't say those scenes were badly filmed. It's simply that, now and again, it's hard to figure out who is doing what, and where.

There's also the issue of special effects, another complaint of mine. Back in 2002, when Sam Raimi's first "Spider-Man" came out, some people griped that the CGI animation for Spider-Man looked far too fake. CGI, when used for animating human motion, can be problematic because people, especially when moving fast, risk looking far too light and plasticky. Since the 2002 film, special-effects crews have tried and tried to animate Spider-Man more realistically, but there's no escaping the uncanny valley, it seems. Even in "Homecoming," there are moments when Spider-Man's movements, especially the ultra-fast ones, simply look fake. Given the widespread nature of the problem, which bedevils all sorts of effects-heavy films, I'm not sure this is a specific complaint against this movie. But like it or not, this movie contains moments where it's hard to suspend disbelief.

And as with other recent films, one of the biggest disappointments for me was, once again, Michael Giacchino's musical score. Giacchino has real talent, and I think he's a musical genius, but his best-ever score was for "The Incredibles" back in 2004, and it's been downhill ever since. As I've noted before, his score for "Star Trek" relied too heavily on a single leitmotif played over and over ad nauseam. Since "Trek," his scores have echoed the music of veterans like Alan Silvestri ("Predator," "Back to the Future," "The Abyss," "Beowulf," "The Avengers," etc.) and, more specifically, Danny Elfman ("Batman," Sam Raimi's first two "Spider-Man" films, etc.). The score for "Homecoming" owes a major debt to Elfman and feels like lazy cribbing. For a while now, I've been under the impression that Giacchino is taking orders from directors and producers and studio bigwigs who are asking him to produce their notion of what's needed for a given film. I suspect that, back when he was scoring "The Incredibles," Giacchino had much more leeway to be independently creative, and he rewarded the studio's and the audience's trust by producing some truly awesome orchestrations.** It really is a shame to see how Giacchino has been domesticated over the years, and I hope, one day, that the man gets mad, hulks out, and breaks free of the uncreative chains currently binding and stultifying him. To be honest, while I don't like the "Homecoming" score that much, I can't honestly blame Giacchino for it because I don't think it's really a reflection of who he is.

Those complaints aside, "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is a very good action film that moves along at a merry clip, leavening the plot with plenty of humor, giving us a dimensional villain, and showcasing yeoman's work from the entire cast. As summer blockbusters go, it's worth your while, and if you're a comic-book nerd, you'll appreciate all the sly and overt references hidden and/or displayed throughout the movie.

*True, in Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man 2," our hero temporarily loses his powers because of a psychological hangup, but that's not the same thing at all. And while Raimi's first "Spider-Man" shows Peter stumbling a bit before finding his feet, that awkward phase is relatively short, whereas in "Homecoming," it's more of a running joke throughout much of the film.

**I could go on and on about how amazing the score for "The Incredibles" is. The movie weaves together the superhero and spy-movie genres, and Giacchino's music is—pardon the pun—an exquisitely pitch-perfect match for the action. It truly is a work of genius, and it helps make the movie. Pixar's film wouldn't be half as good without Giacchino.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

what a liberal, reformist Muslim looks and sounds like

This is must-see viewing as far as I'm concerned: Roaming Millennial interviews Imam Tawhidi of Australia, a Muslim who strongly advocates radical reform of Islam from within:

Of particular note to me is this moment in the interview (starting at approx. 26:08):

ROAMING MILLENNIAL: ...and I think the issue of who has the most legitimate form of Islam is one that is particularly contentious within the Muslim community. You mentioned earlier "my form of Islam," or, you know, "my type—my type of interpretation of Islam." In your opinion, do you think that, when you look at what the Koran actually preaches, do you think that these fundamentalists in some ways have a more true-to-form version of Islam?

IMAM TAWHIDI: When I say "my version of Islam," we need to understand that Islam is not one big school of thought. It's a combination of seventy-three schools of thought. And my school of thought is a minority—a very—probably the smallest school of thought out there. And most of our scholars are being imprisoned and butchered and killed and poisoned and so on by the Iranian regime.

With regards to the Holy Koran, we need to make sure that we treat it as a book. Let's not give it more of time [sic] than it actually deserves. Maybe people want to deal with ISIS, but they point back at the Holy Koran. The Koran is a book. We need to treat it as a book. The human is a human being with a brain. When the human being reads a book and then turns around and kills people, then clearly the problem is with the human being! I mean, I could give you the First Testament.* If you're gonna read that book, and you're gonna go out killing people because of Matthew 10, verse 34, that says that Jesus came with a sword,** and someone's gonna go out there and start killing people! Or if I gave them the Torah, or gave them the Sohof of Abraham and said, "Come"—every book is gonna have verses of defense!

Every book is gonna have something we don't like in it, something we don't see [as] compatible because, obviously, they're over a thousand years old—two thousand, three thousand, four thousand! If we're gonna limit the discussion to a book, then we're not actually gonna go anywhere with reforming Islam.

There's more to Islam and terrorism than just a book because if you say to me, "Imam, what's the main book for your denomination?" I'll say, "The Koran!" You get ISIS, and you say, "What's the main book for your denomination?" They'll say, "The Koran!" So all of these groups, they all read the Koran.

The problem is, we believe that the majority of these statements are actually metaphoric, or symbolic. Other versions of Islam take them to [be] the literal words, literal meaning. So for us, we're very flexible. We're very flexible when viewing the Koran. Because it's a book! It is a book! That's it! It's not like God came down in a form, and we're rejecting God as a being, you know. We're just dealing with the Koran, and we're rejecting all of the Wahabi, Salafi, terrorist, interpretation [sic] of these verses.

I might be in the middle of the road politically—leaning left on some issues and right on others—but when it comes to religion, I'm a flaming religious liberal. This imam is speaking my language, and I think this is the first time I've ever actually heard a liberal Muslim—liberal in the Western sense—speak his mind. As the imam himself notes, his point of view represents a vanishingly small minority in Islam, but he wants to fight to make his perspective more prevalent. A more secular, reformed, Westernized Islam is certainly conceivable, and if it's conceivable, then sociologically speaking, it's a vision that's possible to realize.

That said, the task of cultivating such a version of Islam in today's world is about as herculean as it gets. Part of the problem is that the imam is asking most Muslims to accept heresy. When the imam insists, for example, that the Koran "is a book," he's implying that the Koran is merely a book, i.e., a piece of literature like other pieces of literature. (This is reinforced when, later on, he talks about understanding scripture as having symbolic or metaphorical meaning—something that most practicing Muslims could never countenance.)

As I learned in my own religious-studies courses, the analogue of Jesus the Christ in Islam is not Muhammad—it's the Koran itself. The Koran is understood by Muslims to be the Word of God incarnate in the same way that Christians understand the Christ to be the incarnated Word. Some theologians even coined the Latin term inlibritio (the in-book-ing) as a rough analogue to the Christian incarnatio (the en-flesh-ing). This is why the physical Koran must be treated by Muslims with utmost respect, reverence, and adoration. Proclaiming the Holy Koran to be "[just] a book" isn't merely rude: it's sacrilegious. And with the Koran thus shielded by this strong sense of taboo, how on Earth is this imam ever going to cultivate a less literalist understanding of the holy word?***

There are huge problems for any Muslim liberal who is serious about liberalizing Islam. But what excited me most about this man's discourse was his affirmation of my mantra: religions are as they are practiced. His point about how different types of Muslims all cleave to the same scripture is a beautiful illustration of the point I've been trying over and over to make on this blog (at least back when I used to write more about religious topics): the same scripture can lead to different thoughts and behaviors depending on the approaches taken by the people reading it. It's a matter of perspective and temperament, for you see: it's the people, NOT the doctrines, who make the religion. There is nothing inherent in the scriptures that dooms Islam to manifest in only one way. Islam—or so a Buddhist would say—has no essence. It merely is what it is right now, and there's no cosmically necessary reason for it to remain this way. In fact, if the world teaches anything, it's that everything changes, so Islam will change, too. Because that's the nature of existence. Globally peaceful Islam will only emerge when its practitioners are globally peaceful: that's the long and the short of it. I completely disagree with the people (many of whom are on the right) who insist that Islam is somehow inherently or essentially violent. It isn't. It isn't because—again, as the Buddhists would say—nothing is inherently or essentially anything because everything is intercausal.

We may not live to see the advent of a globally peaceful Islam that has evolved out of its current benighted state into something more enlightened and civilized. But I trust that the current state of affairs won't last forever: nothing lasts forever.

*The term "First Testament" is in fact used among biblical scholars who wish to avoid whatever supersessionist connotations there might be with the term "Old Testament." In this particular discussion, though, the imam actually intended to cite the Second (i.e., the New) Testament, as the scriptural example he gives refers to Jesus. See next footnote.

**Matthew 10:34: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Many modern liberal Christians are uncomfortable with this seemingly militant Jesus, but I think the larger point the imam is making is one that I've made repeatedly on this blog, to wit: it's possible to reinterpret even the most extreme verses of scripture in an irenic way. See the second footnote in this old entry to learn more about sword imagery in some religions.

***Note, too, that this is exactly the opposite of what Zen Buddhism teaches about its own scripture. While Seon scholar (and former Seon monk) Robert Buswell cautions Westerners about cavalierly labeling Zen as "anti-scriptural," as people with a superficial understanding of Zen are wont to do, it's nevertheless true that Zen itself is comfortable with the idea of using the holy scriptures as toilet paper if that's what upaya (i.e., skillful means) calls for in the present moment. Why? Because the Most Important Thing isn't somehow magically contained within the scriptures: the best the scriptures can do is point to that thing, i.e., to refer beyond themselves to something far greater and deeper, and yet—as both Zennists and Taoists would say—something radically ordinary.

Monday, July 10, 2017

sigh... there's a simple solution

Your reusable water bottle is likely full of harmful bacteria, according to this article.

But thank God you read this blog because I have the solution!


You're welcome.

I knew it

Just got word that our moving day has again been delayed—thanks to rain this time—to Thursday. According to my phone's app, Thursday will be 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius) and partly cloudy. Huzzah! An auspicious day for moving, I say!

This is Korea: nothing ever moves in a straight line, you should never trust what anyone tells you (especially when it comes to plans), and last-minute changes are de rigueur.

NB: the boss just got back into the office, and he's heard nothing about a change in moving date. He's also ticked off that a Korean subordinate found about about this before he did. As he says, Koreans have trouble calling foreigners, even when they speak fluent Korean, which is why the caller called my boss's subordinate instead of calling my boss directly. In any event, we're waiting for confirmation about the date change. It could be that we're still on for Tuesday. In Korea, to stay sane, you must keep an open mind and keep your options equally open. Many Westerners are driven crazy by this because they adopt an inflexible, Stick to the plan! attitude that makes them kick and scream when things go off the rails.

But let me clarify: there are times when it's the Westerner who's inflexible, but there are other times when it's the Korean who's more inflexible. More later, perhaps.

Monday lunch

Today's lunch fest is now over. My stuffed-burger patties weighed in at a full ten ounces (280 g on my kitchen scale) after cooking, so my boss and coworker pronounced themselves defeated and unable to eat the Costco franks after having worked their way through their respective burgers. Below are some pics of my own lunch. Click to enlarge.

Whenever I have a choice between ketchup and BBQ sauce for a burger, I always opt for BBQ sauce (which I also prefer for dipping my french fries). And although I brought onions for my lunch partners, I avoided placing that vile vegetation on my own sacred burger. The second pic allows you to see the Gorgonzola and a little morsel of bacon peeking out. I made the burgers by using a 6-ounce patty on the bottom, which I molded into a bowl shape. I then added the stuffing (cheese + bacon) and topped the bowl with a 4-ounce patty. Next, I pinched and crimped the two patties together to form what turned out to be nearly perfect seals on all six burgers: during the cooking process, I lost only a small drop of Gorgonzola through a tiny, tiny flaw in one burger. That was a proud-dad moment for me. (If the burgers are my children, then I guess I've sent them off to be slaughtered.)

My burger, laid out:

My burger, with a cross-section closeup:

My Costco frank:

Purists will, of course, scream about my having desecrated the frank with ketchup, but know this: I often eat hot dogs with nothing but ketchup on them.


I brought four burgers and four dogs to the office; there's one burger and there are three dogs left. The boss claims he'll be eating a dog later today; my coworker will be taking the remaining burger and two dogs home to share with his girlfriend. Back at my apartment, I've got one more burger patty and maybe eight or nine more Costco franks—plus plenty of burger and dog buns—waiting to be destroyed. I also have three pounds of bacon waiting to be cooked to a crisp, as well as a load of lettuce and tomatoes, so it appears I'll be eating plenty of BLTs this week. One day, I need to try the Englishman's "bacon sarnie"... but where to get brown sauce? Dunno. If I can't find it, I'll have to make it, I suppose.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Darth Vader: Lord of the Chips

when you see the crazy lady, you will believe


the approval of an expert

My brother David works in the creative department of his company—we'll call it Rumpelstiltskin*—in Washington, DC. His company is a PR firm that creates materials for various private and public organizations, including the federal government. This often means creating videos, flyers, and other material meant for broadcast and/or distribution. David is part of a team of "creatives," as they're called; in his case, he's the jack-of-all-trades tech guy, and he has created plenty of videos featuring live action and animation. David selects music tracks, edits video for pacing and logical sequencing, finds actors, adds animation and other special effects, and responds to most of the other technical demands of video-making. David's team includes other creatives who are good at things like art, writing, and graphic design.

One of David's coworkers is a Russian graphic designer named Nat. Over Skype the other night, David told me he had shown Nat the graphic design I had recently blogged (here), and he said she loved it. I told David I was gratified to get validation from a real expert, especially since I'm no pro at design, but I also told David that he should have simply shown Nat the picture without saying it had been done by his brother. That way, she'd have given a more honest opinion. But David reassured me that Nat is actually a fairly blunt sort of person who doesn't pull punches, so the opinion she expressed was sincere. And now that I've been to David's company's website and seen a picture of Nat for myself, I think I'm in love.

Anyway, cool: my design aesthetic makes sense to someone, at least.

*In case you don't remember, Rumpelstiltskin is an imp who helps out a miller's daughter by magically spinning straw into gold to satisfy the cruel king who has imprisoned the girl. This story is probably also the origin of the modern joke about demanding someone's firstborn child in return for a favor or a service. Anyway, just as Rumpelstiltskin magically gets things done for others, David's company also magically gets things done for those it contracts with.

pickles for impatient people

I finally tracked down a recipe that I first saw on a video: it's for "instant" pickles, and it doesn't require a whole week of your time and lots of stress about whether foreign bacteria might mess up the fermentation process. No: this recipe (more technique, really) allows you to make pickles that can be served within thirty minutes. Fuck, yeah! That's my kind of pickle!

Don't be fooled by the many supposedly "quick" pickle recipes out there. Most of those recipes still require you to wait at least a day or two before you can partake of your drunken cukes. Fuck that. Pickles were never meant to suffer for a week in pickling solution, losing their cellular integrity and turning unpleasantly sour. Pickles ought to be bright and fresh and deliciously crunchy, as these Food Lab pickles are.

I'll be making my own batches soon. Very soon.

over the cliff

This coming Tuesday—unless there's another sudden change in plans—we're moving to our new office down the street, which is located in a building that houses what we all call "the main branch" of our company. Monday is our final packing day, and I'm already 80% packed. I just need to label my computer equipment so it doesn't get mixed up or lost. Monday is also "belated Fourth of July party" day: I've bought all the elements for an enormous and extremely unhealthy lunch—stuffed burgers, pornographically huge hot dogs, potato chips, and cookies. (My coworker will take care of the soda situation.) I've nixed the coleslaw for simplicity's sake: it's all about the burgers and dogs.

We'll pack up the rest of our office-related possessions in the morning on Monday, stuff ourselves silly in the afternoon, and if our boss keeps his promise, we'll be leaving the office early. The movers have told us that they'll be barging into our office very early on Tuesday—around 7AM—to take our stuff to the new office, so we can simply go straight to the new office on Tuesday to begin the Great Unpacking. I've seen our new space: it's much larger, mainly because it's going to accommodate eleven people instead of our current three.

The truly interesting bit will be getting to know my new coworkers. The composition of the new crew is a bit confusing, so follow me closely: we're supposed to be taking on eight staffers (six men and two women) who currently work in other departments, thus bringing up to ten the number of people under my current boss. But two of those staffers are at the ends of their contracts and will be moving on to other things, either leaving the country or finding other work. My boss says that we will therefore be hiring two newbies right away. Where the newbies will come from, I can't say; they might come from completely outside the company, or they might be shunted over from different departments. One way or another, the R&D department will have ten employees under one manager—a significant expansion in the size of our department, and a minor victory for our boss, who has wanted to expand for a while.

Originally, there was talk of me becoming a supervisor, but I told my boss quite frankly that I'd rather not supervise anyone and would rather think of myself as a peer of and not a superior to the newcomers. I don't know how this is going to work out; the flow chart of authority still isn't entirely clear to me, and I suspect the boss himself is still thinking things through. First, he needs to figure out what projects the newbies have been working on before being shunted to R&D; next, he needs to find out the newbies' strengths and weaknesses; after that, he needs to see whether I and my coworker actually need to become supervisors.

As for taking the measure of my soon-to-be-coworkers' strengths and weaknesses, my boss wants to inflict my infamous "language obstacle course" on the eight newbies. I now feel very guilty about having created that test. I asked the boss whether he was serious about doing this, and he looked at me as if I were stupid. "I want to find out if these people are any good," he said, "and if they're not, then I'll send them elsewhere." By this, he meant not that he'd fire them if they failed my test, but that he'd shunt them over to different departments if they turned out to be linguistically incompetent. I told the boss that I'd thought the obstacle course had been developed for potential hires, not for people who are merely moving from one department to another, but his feeling is that the test can be applied more universally than that. So at some point soon, I'm going to have to inflict my obstacle course upon my new coworkers. I'm not looking forward to how that's going to affect the office dynamic, but this is not my call. (Sorry, future colleagues. But welcome to R&D, I guess!)

So this coming week will be a time of excitement and upheaval, at least in terms of moving to a new physical space and meeting new coworkers (whom I'll soon be abusing). We're plunging over the cliff, but overall, I find this radical change to be more exciting than worrisome. Perhaps cliff-plunging is the wrong metaphor to describe the situation.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

well, that's a relief

Matt Van Volkenburg, who blogs at Gusts of Popular Feeling, has a new post out noting that, after ten years, the South Korean Justice Ministry has decided to drop the HIV-testing requirement for foreign English teachers. It was a stupid requirement when it was put into place, and a perfect example of governmental reaction to a "gust of popular feeling"—in this case, a gust of anti-foreigner resentment, which billows into the public sphere more often than we expats would like. But such gusts of xenophobia are part of South Korea's societal immune system, so maybe, from the Korean perspective, they serve a salutary function by keeping foreigners from feeling too welcome or too cozy, while also keeping them on notice that they are, at best, a tolerated presence and not really a welcomed minority that adds to the rich diversity of the peninsula. Diversity: that's how Amurricans think, not Koreans.

The HIV-test requirement never really affected me: by 2005, I had shifted from being a mere hagweon instructor to being a university professor, moving me from the title of gangsa (that's gang-sa, instructor, not "gangsta") to gyosu (i.e., professor). Not that my respectability went up any, but the type of paperwork I had to fill out to get a professor's position was different from the rigamarole that people applying for hagweon positions must go through. Also, when applying for uni work, I never had to submit FBI background-check paperwork, although for my Daegu Catholic job, I did have to go through a domestic background check (which failed to note my long history of pimping and drug-running, thank God). All the same, even though I personally was never under the HIV-testing microscope, I felt the burden of the ROK government's attempt to breathe down our necks a little more warmly and moistly, and I'm glad to hear that Sauron's eye has shifted away, even if only slightly.

Friday, July 07, 2017

l'éléphant dans la pièce

I haven't wanted to talk about the elephant in the room that's been dominating the current news cycle, but it's time to face facts: the hashtag #CNNBlackmail isn't going away anytime soon. This story has been evolving rapidly since it began with Donald Trump's CNN-takedown meme, a retweet of a GIF showing Trump, from ten years ago, tackling Vince McMahon, but with McMahon's head replaced by a CNN logo. CNN and other journalists have cried foul, insisting that Trump is inciting violence. The sordid tale has morphed, since then, to a renewed focus on CNN itself, which found the person who uploaded the original GIF to Reddit. CNN apparently contacted this person, after which the news agency published a statement that sounded an awful lot like blackmail, intimidation, etc.

I'll let Philip DeFranco take it away. His summary (up to about 8:08 in the video) is good enough to get you oriented:

Here's Paul Joseph Watson's contribution, which notes that the identity of the person contacted by CNN has changed from a 15-year-old to a middle-aged man. Watson then notes that the actual creator of the GIF may in fact be some dude out in Mexico, not the person CNN has been threatening. Warning: the following video includes the obnoxious Alex Jones, head honcho of InfoWars. I'm okay with Watson, who also works for InfoWars, but Jones is a loudmouth who risks damaging his own brand, if he hasn't done so already. Anyway, here's the video, which begins with a hilarious compilation of memes that have arisen in response to CNN's threats against the middle-aged man who goes by the goofy moniker HanAssholeSolo:

What you're seeing, with that GIF compilation, is a variant of "the Streisand Effect," in which an attempt to suppress/repress/oppress leads to explosive pushback. According to lore, Barbra Streisand once demanded that people take down images of one of her posh Malibu residences, so of course the Internet responded by shotgunning images of her ostentatious domicile everywhere, making a relatively unknown property into a widely known quantity. If CNN thought that its belligerent posturing could somehow intimidate other internautes (as the French call Netizens) into silence, that thinking has blown up in its face, and the memes, like a toilet explosion, are now everywhere. There's even the juicy possibility that CNN's threats have broken one or more laws, so we'll see how that pans out. What's obvious is that the media, for all their flailing, have become experts at shooting themselves in the face where President Trump is concerned, and this won't change anytime soon because, as Styx points out, the old "legacy" media don't have a blessed idea how to deal with the new alt-media.

Meanwhile, here's Roaming Millennial's take on the CNN flap:

You will, of course, watch Roaming Millennial's video because she's pretty.

Roaming Millennial brings up a term that's been bouncing around a lot lately: "doxxing." This is slang for releasing another person's "documents" (hence "doxx") to the public—information like phone numbers, email addresses, IP addresses, actual home addresses, etc., in the hopes of inciting harassment against the person being doxxed.

Doxxing isn't a new phenomenon: here in Korea, everyone knows the story of the "dog-shit girl" (gaeddong-nyeo, 개똥녀), whose little dog took a watery shit inside a subway car way back in 2005. When offended riders demanded that she clean the mess up, the defiant woman ignored her fellows, collected her dog, and simply left the subway. Thanks to videos of the incident, the woman's face was splashed all over the internet, and it was only a matter of time before someone ID'ed the woman and found out her personal information. After that, the dog-shit girl was harassed by phone and at her home. Such is the power of online vigilantism, and I suppose we should be glad that things didn't escalate beyond that. So for my old-fogey readers, now you know what "doxxing" is: malicious exposure of private documents and information. (A variant spelling is "doxing," but the double-X spelling came first. Urban Dictionary suggests the term comes from the ".docx" file suffix.)

The #CNNBlackmail situation continues to evolve, and I'm coming to agree with savvier commenters that Trump is using Twitter the way an aikidoka employs an atemi, i.e., as a strike that isn't intended to do more than to distract and/or keep the opponent off-balance. Meanwhile, Trump is quietly enacting policy—a fact that's hard to notice if you've been reading only mainstream-media sources. Switch to alt-media for a comprehensive list of Trump's accomplishments since taking office. Everything else is fluff.

Oh, yeah: this.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Merry Fuckin' Christmas

Everyone's favorite plumpie, Kim Jeong-eun, jokes that he'll frequently send off "unpleasant gifts," i.e., longer and longer-range missiles, to America. That, or farts.

Ave, Steve!

My buddy Dr. Steve doCarmo writes a review of Episode 8 of the new "Twin Peaks" revival series, in which David Lynch picks up where he left off after two-and-a-half decades. I never watched the original "Twin Peaks," so I imagine that, were I to try to get in on the new show, I'd see nothing but a series of solipsistic in-jokes where "Twin Peaks" habitués would see profundity. I remember trying to sit through "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me" (the movie "sequel" to the canceled TV series) when it appeared on cable, but I had to change the channel after thirty or forty minutes. Too off-putting and disorienting. It's not that I hate David Lynch or despise his artistic vision: I sat through and appreciated both "Blue Velvet" and "Eraserhead," the latter being much more memorable than the former. (And before I forget: I also enjoyed "Wild at Heart.") But something kept me away from "Twin Peaks" during its 90s heyday, and "Fire Walk with Me" was just too much of a muchness. That said, Steve's well-written review was intriguing to me, and it almost made me want to watch the revived "Twin Peaks"... but then I realized I'd have to slog through the original series, plus "Fire Walk," to have the background to appreciate the new material.

Steve teaches English at a college out in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (the setting for the movie "Signs" by M. Night Shyamalan). He's a singer-songwriter, guitarist, composer, and all-around brain. He also leans waaaaay to the left, but don't let that stop you from reading good writing.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

it's time we had that talk

Komerican comedian David So came into YouTube prominence when he posted a humorously angry response to the racist (and not very articulate) rant by white UCLA student Alexandra Wallace, who was upset about "Asian" behavior in one of UCLA's libraries. Wallace's tirade included the embarrassing string of Chinese-mimicking syllables "ching-chong ling-long ting-tong," for which she will always be remembered. If you haven't seen So's response, please click the above link—which is fairly timely, given that So jokingly incites violence against Wallace but—so far as I know—doesn't get in trouble for doing so.

So has his own YouTube channel, which boasts 1.4 million subscribers. In the "Carpool Confessions" video below, which is actually two unrelated videos spliced together, So converses with some Asian cuties while driving (in and around Los Angeles, I presume). The first conversation is about L.A. drivers and neighborhoods, but it's the second conversation, with Julie Zhan (ethnically Chinese, not Korean, as you can tell by the surname), that will take you back to sex-ed class in middle school and make you wish your teachers had talked about the things that David and Julie talk about while they're rolling along.

I'm thinking about subscribing to So's YouTube channel; he's witty, vulgar, and hilarious. Check out his visit to Body Spec, a stats-gathering service that does a variety of biometric scans on you to determine your level of health and fitness (body fat, bone density, etc.).

Monday it is, then

I'm obsessed with the idea of having a post-Fourth burgers-and-dogs office party, but instead of doing it this coming Friday, I've elected to bring the food in this coming Monday, which is the day before we're currently* slated to move down the street to our new office. I talked with the boss about this, and he thinks Monday works fine. My coworker, who recently came back from a gut-stuffing trip to see relatives in the Philippines, isn't interested in a feast this week, but he might be interested next week.

The plan is simple: stuffed burgers (for reference, see this post from 2015) with trimmings, hot dogs with condiments, potato chips (probably of the kettle-chip variety), coleslaw, and maybe something for dessert—not sure what yet, but am leaning toward chocolate mousse/panna cotta, which is fairly light, if done right, and not bad for the summer.

*I say "currently" because we've already had one change of date, and I fully expect another. This is Korea, where you never take anything that anyone says literally. If you do that, you're a sucker. There's a reason why anthropologists refer to Korean society as "low-trust."

Ave, Jasmine!

Québecoise blogger Jasmine, whose foodblog Jasmine Cuisine is one I follow with interest, has a very interesting new recipe up: fake pulled pork with jackfruit. I've never eaten jackfruit before, but I've seen photos and videos of it. Jasmine's photos show fairly convincingly that, at the very least, the flesh of a jackfruit can look like pulled pork. As for the taste and mouth feel... I'd have to make this to know more. But I'm tempted, and I think there may be a store or two in Itaewon where I can find jackfruit (called "fruit du Jacquier" in French, Jasmine informs us—or just "jaque," according to one of Jasmine's photos). This particular fruit-for-meat substitute has apparently been trending for a while (go to YouTube and type "jackfruit pulled pork" into the search window), but it's the first I've heard of it.

Jasmine writes her recettes in French, so French knowledge is helpful.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Nimblewill Nomad: Gandalf of the paths

My freelance colleague Neil Armstrong (you read that right) sends me a link to this article about the man they call Nimblewill Nomad, whose real name is Meredith J. Eberhart. You can call him "Eb." From his 60s to his mid 70s, Eb has walked nearly 40,000 miles, i.e., more than 1.5 times the circumference of the earth, most of that in North America. His backpack has barely ten pounds of gear (4.5 kg), and he often relies on the charity of drive-by strangers to get him over a barren patch of Texan land alive.

In the abstract, at least, I'd love to spend my life doing what Eb is doing, but as you read further in the article, you realize that Eb is chasing, or being chased by, his own demons, and this is what drives him to remain on the road even after declaring that he's done walking. I'm not plagued by such demons (I'd say that my demons go by the names Sloth and Gluttony), and while I have a romantic attraction to life on the trail, I'm not at a point where I'm willing to shed everything to become an eternal nomad.

Go read the article and find out all about Eb. Incredible man.

At one point on our final day together, Eberhart paused at the intersection of a gravel road to show me the contents of his pack. He spread out his things in the dust. There was a tarp tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, the small bag of electronics, a hint of a medical kit, a plastic poncho, his maps, a pair of ultralight wind pants, and the pile of metal junk. All of the fabrics had the wispiness of gossamer; a strong wind could had taken most of his earthly possessions away.

Besides his truck and a few mementos he kept at his sister’s house, he didn’t own much more than this.

“I tell my friends: every year I’ve got less and less, and every year I’m a happier man. I just wonder what it’s going to be like when I don’t have anything. That’s the way we come, and that’s the way we go. I’m just preparing for that a little in advance, I guess.”

Instead of a toothbrush, he carried a wooden toothpick. He did not carry a stove. He did not carry a spare change of socks, a spare set of shoes, nor any other spare clothes. He did not carry reading material, nor even a notebook. He did not carry toilet paper. His med-kit contained little more than a few bandaids, a pile of aspirin, and a sliver of a surgical blade.

Shaving down one’s pack weight, he said, was a process of sloughing off one’s fears.

Each object a person carries represents a particular fear: of injury, of discomfort, of boredom, of attack. The “last vestige” of fear that even the most minimalist hikers have trouble shedding, he said, was starvation. As a result, most people ended up carrying “way the hell too much food”. He did not even carry so much as an emergency candy bar.

Yeah, I can relate to "way the hell too much food." Goddamn MREs.

enjoy the fireworks, Amurrica

I wanted to celebrate the Fourth this week with my boss and coworker, but because we were slated to move offices this week, I decided to hold off on the cooking until a better, calmer time. This morning, I heard that we wouldn't be moving until early next week, so maybe I'll do something this coming Friday. Today, though, will be a fairly quiet Fourth.

My favorite way to celebrate the Fourth came to me by accident while I was living in Front Royal, Virginia: one year, on the night of the Fourth, I took the car over to Shenandoah National Park's Skyline Drive, enjoying the nighttime quiet and stopping at random overlooks that gave marvelous views down into the wide, shallow bowl of Shenandoah Valley. While at one overlook, I saw a tiny, far-off sparkle of fireworks, then I heard the long-delayed pop of the fireworks going off. Waiting for more, I saw fireworks going off in other parts of the valley—humble, scattershot celebrations of our country's independence. It was a marvelous sight, simultaneously beautiful and defiant: diminutive bursts of light punctuating the vast terrestrial darkness. There was no coordination among the fireworks displays; I had no way to predict when and where a burst might appear. But the overall effect was enchanting, and observing these fireworks was the polar opposite of how our family used to like celebrating the Fourth: by driving into crowded Washington, DC, fighting for a parking space, then slogging onto the Capitol grounds to lay out a picnic spot and defend it from all interlopers. True, the city's musical gala was always a delight: Barry Bostwick was normally the host, and there would be guest appearances by the likes of Aretha Franklin and/or Ray Charles, who would sing his version of "America the Beautiful" and his classic "Georgia." But the crowds and the drunkenness and the garbage and the long lines for the porta-potties were never pleasant, so I viewed our DC outings with overall distaste. Give me a quiet Fourth, or give me death!

It's not the season for fireworks here in Korea; at times like this, I'm very conscious of being an expat. But my thoughts turn to my home country, and I wish all my fellow Americans a happy and mindful Fourth of July. Cherish your freedoms.

Monday, July 03, 2017

seen on Gab

More precisely, this is why proper punctuation is important.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical."

My Kiwi buddy John once told me a joke that went something like this:

"How's that motor running?"
"Like a raped goat!"

Humor is an interesting phenomenon that often follows its own bizarre associative logic. The above exchange is a prime example of this, so let's get nerdy and do a bit of discursive analysis.

The joke is an exchange between two blokes, and the humor relies on a punny misunderstanding by the answerer that is, in truth, a correct understanding of the intentions of the questioner.

The pun hinges on two senses of the participle "running." When the questioner asks how the motor is running, he's asking about how the motor is functioning. The answerer deliberately misunderstands the word to mean "travel quickly on foot." He employs the simile "like a raped goat!" to evoke, on one level, the speed and fervor of a desperate farm animal fleeing the scene of its sexual violation. But on a deeper level, what the answerer is truly saying is that the motor is indeed running (i.e., functioning) at a high level of efficiency. So: what seems at first blush to be a misapprehension is shown to be a correct apprehension. The answerer, despite seemingly misinterpreting the questioner's meaning, has in fact directly answered the questioner in a humorously vivid way.

This simple exchange is fascinating for what it reveals about the layers of meaning and intent that are possible when at least one interlocutor is in a humorous frame of mind. The joke, of course, is ruined by over-explaining it in this way, but every now and again, a little discourse analysis is good for the mind.

Trump the body-slammer

Donald Trump recently retweeted a ten-year-old video of himself at a WWE event slamming Vince McMahon to the floor, then getting up and walking away triumphantly. But the video in question had been retooled so that McMahon's head had been replaced by a CNN logo, and below was the hashtag #FraudNewsCNN. The media are, predictably, up in arms about what they decry as "incitement to violence." By that standard, of course, the media themselves are guilty of such incitement: cf. Kathy Griffin and the severed head. My own stance regarding Griffin was, as you recall, that what she had done was not incitement to violence by any sane interpretation of her gesture. Sure, it was crude, inappropriate, etc.—but it wasn't incitement, especially coming from a comedian.

In his reaction to the Trump retweet, Stefan Molyneux lists occasions in which the media have committed similar sins:

• months and months of comparing Trump to the literal second coming of Adolf Hitler
• CNN's portrayal of the individual who rushed the stage to attack Trump as "an activist, a hero"
• CNN's openly pondering Trump's assassination prior to his inauguration
• [the media's] pic of Steve Bannon, framed in crosshairs
• a CNN commentator's pondering on air whether Jared Kushner was "maybe one of the people who has to die"

About that last sin, Molyneux notes, "Trump is Hitler, but very Jewish Jared Kushner, well, maybe he's just one of the people who has to die!"

Ed Driscoll at Instapundit notes several other media hypocrisies and includes a tweeted quote from Molyneux: "After weeks of hearing how assassination plays and holding up a severed head [were] just ‘art’—the leftist response to [Trump’s] tweet is precious."

My take is that Trump's slamming of a CNN logo is no more an incitement to violence against reporters than Kathy Griffin's head-in-effigy moment was an incitement to go out and saw off the president's head.

We really are turning into North Korea, aren't we—a land where symbols are conflated with the things they symbolize. This would be a good time to remember George Carlin's gibe that "I leave symbols to the symbol-minded."

Styx weighs in here.

The flip side of all this is that the right needs to go back to Kathy Griffin and Julius Caesar (a Shakespeare-in-the-Park play in which a Trump-like figure is stabbed to death) and recognize that these instances of free expression aren't incitement to violence, either. Certain people on both sides need to drop their double standards, let go of their hypocrisy, and just relax. I'd much rather have a goofy war of words and symbols than a real war of blades and bullets.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

must be the weekend

Ave, Charles!

Charles presents an interesting meditation on "long process" bread-making. The photos are especially appetizing.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

CNN: American voters = "stupid as shit"

Project Veritas continues its "American Pravda" onslaught against CNN. In the latest hidden-camera video released by James O'Keefe, a CNN associate producer, Jimmy Carr, is caught saying that American voters are "stupid as shit," thus supporting the rightie suspicion that modern leftism amounts to coastal elitism and is no longer the champion of the average working man living in "flyover country." Carr also avers that Donald Trump is "hilariously unqualified" to be president and is "fucking crazy."

Andrew Klavan, meanwhile, has a short video on fake news.

A note about Van Jones, the prominent and outspoken CNN commentator who was caught saying the Trump-Russia narrative is a big "nothingburger": Philip DeFranco notes that O'Keefe's gotcha moment with Van Jones isn't really much of a gotcha, given that Jones is on record previously as saying, quite openly, that he doesn't expect anything to come of CNN's pursuit of the Trump-Russia angle. DeFranco shows the older footage of Van Jones, so it does indeed look as though Jones isn't privately revealing some new, previously unaired opinion. That said, I still think it's curious that Jones feels as he does, but the higher-ups at CNN wish to continue to beat this particular drum.

No matter the details, it's all about impressions, and CNN is losing the PR war here. The channel has lamely attempted to refocus attention on Trump's latest salvo of "lookist" tweets (Trump huffily tweeted about an MSNBC anchor, Mika Brzezinski, who had allegedly been "bleeding badly from a facelift"), which CNN, et al., are deeming sexist, but the right is pushing back by noting the media's hypocrisy in being faux-outraged now after having constantly and mercilessly lambasted Trump for his looks.

Personally, I'm not sure that Trump does himself any favors by shooting from the hip with his often poorly edited tweets. Others disagree, of course: some supporters think Trump is a mad genius, given his tweets' power to distract, and to drive to distraction, thereby allowing Trump a measure of control over the media narrative, as well as the freedom to move around behind the smoke screens he creates. Note, for example, that Trump's attack on Ms. Brzezinski (whom he also called "low IQ") is diverting people from the multi-front war going on right now with the continued planning of the border wall, the success of Kate's Law in the House of Representatives, various Obamacare rollbacks, the kicking-in of the travel "ban" (it's more of a moratorium than a ban), the quiet retooling of campus sexual-assault policy, etc.

Is Trump a mad genius? I don't think I'm smart enough to judge. I am, however, reminded of King Joyse from Stephen R. Donaldson's Mordant's Need fantasy novels. When our protagonist Terisa meets King Joyse, he is an old and possibly senile dodderer who seems oblivious to the fact that he's surrounded by enemies both within and without his kingdom, all of whom wish to do him in and take his kingdom over. By the middle of the second novel, though, we learn that Joyse's weak appearance has been a ruse to bring his many enemies within easy striking distance, and that Joyse has relied on his remaining loyal servants to keep the kingdom together while Joyse himself passively allows his master plan to coalesce. In a sense, Joyse's enemies end up doing themselves irreparable harm, much the way we see CNN currently flailing desperately, lashing out and making itself look increasingly worse. So while I can't say for certain whether Donald Trump is indeed the 4D chess master that some make him out to be, I can at least entertain the possibility that he's a hell of a lot more adept than he looks (and sounds).