Monday, March 19, 2018

excellent nerd adventure

The punchline of this hilariously nerdy video comes at the end when you see who directed it:

And just in case you missed this other tribute to Stephen Hawking:

Sunday, March 18, 2018

tyke versus trolley

Here's a hilarious video titled "A Two-year-old's Solution to the Trolley Problem":

You'll recall that the "Trolley Problem" is a fairly standard hypothetical when discussing ethics: a trolley is barreling down a track that will soon fork two ways, A and B. Down Fork A is a group of people milling about on the track, unaware of the danger. Down Fork B is a single person, also on the track and unable to move off. As the switch controller, you must make a choice as to which track the trolley will roll onto—the one with a group of people, or the one with a single person. Making this choice—especially if you believe even a single human life is precious—is painful. The nature of the choice, and one's reasons for making it, can lead to a deeper discussion: is it more ethical to save a greater number of people, and if so, does this mean the worth of human lives can be discussed in terms of numbers?

Other versions of the trolley problem pit one unfamiliar person versus your own pet, a group of important scientists versus your mother, and so on.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

emotional vampires

Throughout high school and college, I met a lot of women who revealed themselves to be emotional vampires: they fed on the validation they received from the opposite sex, and they defined themselves according to the level of that validation. A vampiric woman adored by many guys is happy to the extent that she has options, socially speaking. Such women lead charmed lives, never once earning their social status through strength of character or through achievements that hint at hard work and deeply held values.

The problem, of course, is that when you define yourself by what others think of you,* you become dependent—a slave to others' opinions. I have no respect for such people. At my most compassionate, I pity them, for they seem unable to see the marionette strings that force them into their puppet-dance. At my least compassionate, I simply despise folks who define themselves only in terms of others.

If you want to live an authentic life, don't be a slave to the thoughts, opinions, adoration, adulation, and validation of other people. I'm not saying you should become a chest-beating egomaniac, but at the very least, develop the ability to function independently. Don't say, "I'm nothing without someone else." That's bullshit. Then, having developed a foundation of confident independence, if you do meet someone and decide to become life-partners, the person you meet will respect your inner strength and autonomy, and you'll respect that person's in return. That's the healthiest sort of relationship: a bond between two strong people who, if need be, can function perfectly well alone and apart.

Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

—Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Love is born of strength, not weakness—of independence, not slavish dependence. First function alone and find your strength. It's when you stop seeking in a needy way that the right person will come along. Got that, lady vampires (and guy vampires, too)? You can't coast through life on charm and beauty; these things don't last. Orient yourself to what does last, and you'll lead a deeper, more fulfilling life.

Oh, and Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

*Here in Korea, this is how millions of Koreans live their lives: defined and confined by others' opinions. I can't tell you how many young, beautiful, talented female TV stars have committed suicide because they got swamped by a wave of online hate after making some moral mistake like cheating on a boyfriend or engaging in a racy photo shoot. In theory, such successful women ought to hold enormous social power, but instead they see themselves as prisoners of public opinion. And because a Korean sees him- or herself as a nexus of relationships and not as a monadic individual, once cut out of the network of relationships, that Korean is cast adrift and has nothing to live for. Reduced to nothing by social rejection, a Korean is left desolate, unmoored, and unable to find purpose or self-affirmation. This is what leads to suicide. Otto Rank and one of his disciples, Ernest Becker, theorized that suicide is the result of losing the conviction that you are the hero of your own personal life-narrative. All it takes, for a Korean, to lose that heroic status is to suffer mass rejection—or even just the rejection of immediate family: look at high-school students who throw themselves off apartment-building balconies in despair because they're convinced they've done poorly on a college-entrance exam. Allowing oneself to be so weak and dependent is the royal road to crafting a fragile life, one that is easily shattered, wasted, and lost.

Friday, March 16, 2018

don't try this at home

Last week (from Sunday, March 4, to Friday, March 9), I ate almost no solid food as a response to my shock at how much weight I've regained. I lost a few kilos, but apparently, I ate and drank so much over the weekend—when I was making my seitan gyros—that I canceled out whatever weight loss I had incurred. This week, from Sunday the 11th to this very morning (Friday the 16th), I doubled down and starved myself pretty much wholesale. Whereas I cheated a bit on the "no solid food" rule last week (I had yogurt one day and ice cream on another—technically not solid food, but not exactly full-on liquid, either*), I had nothing but non-sugary drinks this week and absolutely no food that was even remotely solid.

The experience wasn't bad at first. There was some hunger at the beginning, and I spent a lot of my time torturing myself by watching YouTube videos about hamburgers and pizzas (there's a "Chicago's Best" series that might be to your liking). Otherwise, everything was fine: as I reported the previous week, I actually felt more energetic and more mentally focused as a result of not taking in the usual toxins—mostly sugar and other carbs—that are part of my regular, not-so-disciplined diet.

Then came the crash. This started Thursday evening, while I was still at the office. I began to feel sick, and I ended up going home about an hour early. That night, as I was taking a handful of my pills, my gag reflex kicked in, and I almost didn't get the pills down. That's never happened to me before, and I took note of the peristaltic hitch. This morning, i.e., Friday morning, was even worse: when I woke up, I had zero energy, and my mind was muddled and cloudy, such that the mere act of thinking felt like navigating through a thick fog. That, too, was clinically interesting, but it was also somewhat alarming. I knew I'd be seeing the doctor later that morning, after which I planned to break my fast and get some nutrition into my body. The need to do that suddenly seemed more acute, given my physical weakness and muzzy-headedness.

Showering and dressing proved to be a chore. My shoulders ached from the mere act of lifting my arms up, and I found myself out of breath after every exertion—after toweling myself off, after putting on my clothes, and even after shouldering my shoulder bag. In every case, I'd make an exertion, then pause, then cautiously move on to the next activity. I began to wonder whether I'd even be able to make it to the doctor's office without fainting. I walked down the hallway to the elevators, got down to the lobby, and ended up taking a cab to the Mido building, which is where my doctor's office is. Weak and lethargic, I thanked the cabbie and somehow slid out of the car, then managed to walk across the street and up to the doctor's office without collapsing in a breathless heap. This was not the condition in which I wanted to see the doc: I had wanted to be alert and chipper, and to see some much-improved numbers thanks to all the fasting I had done.

Well, the numbers turned out to be a mixed bag. My blood-sugar test—one of those quickie diabetes things where they prick your finger and use a tiny device—came back with a result of 150, which isn't horrible for a pre-diabetic. My HbA1c level, however, was still frighteningly high at 8.3: this reading represents your blood-glucose level over the course of a month, so two weeks of fasting didn't do much to reduce that number. My blood pressure wasn't bad at 130/80 (although I hear that that level is now considered hypertensive, as the medical community recently readjusted its standards), and I no longer suffer from a Vitamin D deficiency (I took extra supplements). I do, however, have high cholesterol, so the doc tweaked my meds slightly, explaining what he was doing as he tapped away at his keyboard. I nodded tiredly, vaguely surprised the doc didn't notice my lethargy. Either I'm a great actor, or the doc needs to be more observant. Revised prescription in hand, I left the second-floor office to go to the first-floor pharmacy, where I picked up my $90 of medication—two months' worth.

After getting my new batch of meds, I groaned at the thought of walking the ten-minute stretch from the Mido building to the Cheongshil building, where I currently work. Somehow, I managed to do the walk despite being weak and dizzy. Along the way, I stopped by a Paris Baguette and got myself a salad, a bit of bread, and two tiny-but-expensive bottles of designer juice. I schlepped the rest of the way to the office and retreated to my work station. After a few minutes, I pulled out my food and, very unwisely, decided to start by eating some salad.

Bad move. I should have started with the juice, as it turned out: my stomach must have shrunk or something over the course of the week, and the moment I stuck chunks of chicken and cherry tomato into my mouth, my gag reflex awoke, and I nearly vomited right then and there. I held myself perfectly still for the next five or ten minutes, desperately wondering what was going to happen next. I was sweating; my breath was coming in shallow, quiet gasps, and my mind frantically planned what to do should I actually need to vomit. The plastic Paris Baguette bag was next to me, so I resolved to grab it and use it as a barf bag if necessary. Several minutes later, though, I felt a spasm in my stomach, which was followed by a belch... and that was it. The nausea went away, and I began to sip at one of my bottles of juice. With the juice in my stomach, it was now safe to begin eating, but I didn't—couldn't—gobble. Over the course of the next three hours, I slowly, slowly ate my meal. A coworker of mine, who had told me about a new sandwich that the local bakery was selling, came by my work station and handed me the sandwich in question, which was very thoughtful. I couldn't eat it at first, though; I had to wait an hour or two before that was possible. It proved quite tasty.

When the boss came in, he could see right away that something was wrong with me. After he arrived, I got up and went down to the basement grocery to get more juice, which proved to be the best thing for me. I also bought some dried fruit and some mixed nuts, and these went down without triggering the gag reflex. I ended up leaving work four hours early (using some of my comp hours to do so), and once I got home, I had a session on the loo, then I slipped into bed and didn't move for several hours. Now here I am, awake and typing this entry, and I'm feeling much better, given all the nutrition now coursing through my veins.

I once did a hard-core fast in high school. Can't remember the reason. I ate zilch for a week, coming out of the ordeal a bit tired, but otherwise okay. Now that I'm almost 49, I can say that repeating such an experience, at my age, isn't a good idea at all. Sure, you can lose weight like a wrestler trying to move down a weight class, but the process fucks with your brain and body. Not recommended. Or if you do fast, don't do it for more than 72 hours. You really don't want to be where I was on Friday morning.

*I'm speaking dietetically, not in terms of the technical definition of a liquid.

from 126 to 118.6

I dropped a lot of weight this week thanks to my starvation regimen. On Sunday, I was right around 126 kg after my seitan-gyro fest (despite having fasted during the week before the fest); this morning, my scale tells me I'm at 118.6 kg, for a loss of a little over 7 kilos (mostly water, I'm sure). I've paid a price for this, though: I'm weak and fairly dizzy, and I'm wondering whether I'm going to faint after I take my blood-pressure meds this morning. We'll see, I suppose, but the good news is that, once my doctor's checkup is done, I'll go back to eating later today. I had originally thought of pigging out, but I'm in such a delicate condition that I think I'm going to start with something modest like fruit, yogurt, and some juice.

More news later.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Paris au fil des années

Here's a fascinating video showing the evolution of Paris from ancient times through the 1800s, when the Eiffel Tower's construction began. I'd embed the video if I could, but embedding of this video is forbidden, hélas. So go old school, cliquez, and enjoy.

what if the DNA test doesn't even matter?

Here's John Pepple on the question of Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren—who claims American Indian heritage, but without any real evidence—and that damn DNA test that she refuses to take. It could be that the test is irrelevant.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

seen on Gab

Here's how the media will spin Hillary Clinton's recent stumble (she stumbled twice, as you'll see if you watch the video) while walking down some steps in India:

In the video, Clinton's left foot seems to skitter out from under her as she's gingerly making her way down the steps. That looks to me like a nerve that's firing on its own when it shouldn't be firing. Something's definitely going on in her brain.


Physicist Stephen Hawking, popularizer of black-hole science and cosmology, author of A Brief History of Time, and a voice of caution regarding intelligent alien life, has died at the age of 76. While his ALS deprived him of much of a physical life, Hawking enjoyed an immensely rich inner life, often expressed in his many publications. I've read A Brief History of Time at least twice, but I can't claim to understand it, this despite Hawking's best efforts to keep math out of his explanations of cosmology. I think the phrase "thermodynamic arrow" makes an appearance in the book, and the concept is used in conjunction with the notion of why time (and cause-effect along with it) flows in a particular direction. Beyond that, I recall having a feeling that the ideas in History were simultaneously too big and too subtle for me to grasp.

Hawking was more than a scientist: he was a pop-culture icon. I fondly recall Hawking's brief appearance as himself during a holodeck scene involving poker in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (here's the scene in question). I remember watching Eddie Redmayne's performance as Hawking in "The Theory of Everything," which offered some insights into the man's personal life. Hawking's passing is a real blow; the world is a bit dimmer today. I offer my condolences to Hawking's loved ones and inner circle, and I wish the good professor godspeed as he takes his place in the firmament of great scientific minds.

RIP, Dr. Hawking.

attempt 2 coming soon

This weekend, I have to be in the office to finish up a project whose deadline is fast approaching, but for at least part of my Saturday, I'm going to shop for the components I'll need to make gyros for my coworkers. Some of this shopping will, alas, take me into Itaewon: High Street Market sells ground lamb, which I'll be combining with ground beef to make that lurvely, funky meat. If I'm lazy, I'll also try to find and buy naan somewhere in Itaewon (sometimes High Street has it, but sometimes High Street doesn't, so I may have to go strolling around le quartier). If I'm not lazy, I'll find a naan or pita recipe online and try to make my own. I normally use naan in place of pita because it's hard to find the exact Greek pita that Greek-American fast-food joints use when serving their gyros (the pita I want looks like this and doesn't flare into pockets). I don't want the "pocket bread" that has the thin sides; I'm looking for something thick, soft, and robust for rib-sticking gyros.

Meanwhile, I've ordered liquid smoke and liquid aminos, both of which will likely arrive either late this week or early next week. Once I have those magical reagents in hand, I'll try a different seitan lamb recipe, and if it works out, I might spring it on my unsuspecting colleagues. If it tastes or smells funny, though, I'll eat it all myself as punishment.

Speaking of punishment: I ate the rest of my first batch of seitan, which was a less-than-ideal experience. Once it was buried inside a gyro, it was somewhat palatable, but it still suffered from a certain wrongness that was initially hard to pinpoint. I did, however, finally figure out what was wrong with the previous batch of seitan. I was washing dishes the other night when the thought occurred to me: my seitan smelled just like dog food. Apparently, the herb/spice/seasoning combo I had used in my first attempt at seitan—which was close to what I usually use when making beef/lamb gyro meat—was exactly the wrong combination to use with vital wheat gluten and nutritional yeast. Given how funky that yeast is, I might also dial down the yeast/gluten proportion in future recipes. We'll see how that goes. I'm by no means finished with exploring the possibilities of seitan: I'll be attempting fake chicken, fake pepperoni, and those amazing-looking barbecue ribs sometime in the near future.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

the England flap

Some videos on the recent detention by London authorities of three right-leaning public figures. I doubt you're hearing much about this on the mainstream news.


Paul Joseph Watson:

Phil DeFranco (just the first few minutes of this video):

Asian Americans who vote Democrat

"Why do Asian Americans continue to support liberal candidates and policies?" asks Dr. V. The answer, according to an article by a conservative Chinese-American woman to whom Dr. V links, is threefold: (1) Asians tend to congregate in big cities, which already skew ambiently liberal; (2) Confucian values lead Asians to look at the state as a benevolent, paternalistic entity; and (3) Democrats have done a better job of spinning their party as the "big tent," whereas Republicans have marketed poorly, when they pay attention to Asians at all.

It's an interesting article. I'm still digesting it. I, too, have often wondered why so many Asian Americans vote Democrat. You'd think the Republican/conservative message of hard work and being the captain of your own future would resonate with Asians, but maybe point (3) above is correct, and the GOP has done a poor job of marketing itself to that demographic. It could also be that first-generation Asians, coming from a more collectivist cultural mentality, find appeal in liberal identity politics and the emphasis on systems, not individuals. Here in Korea, society tends to shy away from any notions of personal responsibility; the only time someone shoulders blame and apologizes is when he or she has been caught red-handed, thus besmirching his or her "honor"—a notion tied to shame (a public emotion, as opposed to guilt) and having nothing to do with internal integrity.

But what do I know? I haven't studied the issue in any depth.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Brexit, straight from the horse's mouth

Here's Nigel Farage, explaining Brexit:

My Brexit-related posts are here.

faux-lamb alternatives

I'm not satisfied with how my vegan lamb ended up tasting. Luckily, there are other seitan-lamb recipes out there on YouTube. Alas, I have enough vital wheat gluten to make only one of the following two recipes, so I'll probably have to order more gluten from iHerb. Feel free to offer your thoughts in the comments after you watch both videos. Which do you think I should try? Or do you know of a different—and better—recipe?

This one includes curry, which would make it pretty savory, but possibly a bit weird:

This one includes dill, which feels right to me if you're going for a lamb-y taste. I don't know how the liquid aminos will affect the taste, though:

Buddhism: religion of peace?

No religion is inherently anything. Religions are as they are practiced, which makes violent Buddhism, like peaceful Islam, possible.

Hong Kong (AFP) - Buddhism may be touted in the West as an inherently peaceful philosophy, but a surge in violent rhetoric from small but increasingly influential groups of hardline monks in parts of Asia is upending the religion's tolerant image.

Buddhist mobs in Sri Lanka last week led anti-Muslim riots that left at least three dead and more than 200 Muslim-owned establishments in ruins, just the latest bout of communal violence there stoked by Buddhist nationalists.

In Myanmar, ultra-nationalist monks led by firebrand preacher Wirathu have poured vitriol on the country's small Muslim population, cheering a military crackdown forcing nearly 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh.

And in neighbouring Thailand, a prominent monk found himself in hot water for calling on followers to burn down mosques.

What has prompted this surge in aggressive rhetoric from followers of a faith that is so often equated, rightly or wrongly, with non-violence?

For many in the West, schooled in Buddhism via the beatniks, Hollywood, meditation classes, tropical holidays and inspirational Dalai Lama quotes, the visceral response of these monks can be a shock.

But Michael Jerryson, an expert on religion at Youngstown State University who has just completed a book exploring Buddhism and violence, says throughout history some Buddhists -- like any faith -- have used religion to justify violence.

"There's a common mindset, whether it's Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand... that Buddhism is somehow under threat," he said, describing the latest incarnation of violent Buddhist rhetoric.

"Each area has its own history, its own causes and instigators, but these instigators are also interlinked."

Take a guess what the "threat" is in some of these countries.

mysterious (love?) note

the view inside my piggy bank

On my desk at work, I have a blue-plastic piggy bank shaped like a giant Lego cube. This morning, I set my phone on the piggy bank while the camera was still on and saw this rather interesting closeup view of the piggy bank's interior. Not wanting to waste an opportunity, I snapped a pic while the camera still rested on the piggy bank, et voilà.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Styx on WaPo on gun control

A good history lesson here (ignore the chest hair and focus on the content):

While we're at it, here's Colion Noir on stopping school shootings:

okey dokey

The "I, Tonya" review is up. Enjoy.

while U wait

While you wait for my "I, Tonya" review, here's video of Joe Rogan demonstrating some ostensibly taekwondo-ish kicks to an embarrassingly fawning cameraman:

Back in my 20s, I could kinda do some of those kicks—same technique, with the same height and maybe a similar force (because even then I doubtless weighed more than Rogan), but not with Rogan's speed, balance, and precision. Alas, the only photographic evidence I have for this claim is here, so you'll just have to make do with a roundhouse kick.

"I, Tonya": review

Often funny, always satirical, and sometimes very hard to watch, 2017's "I, Tonya" is the maybe-sort-of-true story of the notorious Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), who was peripherally involved in a 1994 incident in which her friend and rival, fellow Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver), was attacked by Shane Stant (Ricky Russert). Stant struck Kerrigan with an extendable baton, injuring Kerrigan's knee and prompting the skater's famously plaintive exclamation of "Why? Why?" to the cameras as the world watched.

The story of "I, Tonya" begins early in Harding's life, back when she is a little girl (Mckenna Grace) who is in love with skating, but who must labor under an incredibly abusive harridan of a mother named LaVona Golden (Allison Janney, who won the Oscar for this role). Tonya's father leaves the picture early in the girl's life, leaving her in her mother's clutches. LaVona verbally and physically abuses Tonya who, as a teen, eventually meets Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and begins a life away from her mother. The movie follows Tonya's rocky relationship with Gillooly, who is also physically abusive, and his dealings with shady friends like the fat and stupid Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), whom the movie portrays as the oafish, self-deluded mastermind behind the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. The movie takes us from Tonya's early career on the ice and through her first and second Olympic competitions. We witness her downfall as the Kerrigan scandal erupts around her, and we see something of the aftermath as Tonya is banned for life from competitive skating, only to take up celebrity boxing and, eventually, to become a mother herself.

"I, Tonya" has the obvious agenda of making Tonya Harding sympathetic—a victim of circumstance who didn't ask to be born into a hardscrabble, white-trash existence, and who careened from an abusive mother to an abusive boyfriend and husband. Personally, I wasn't moved by this attempt at manipulation; the real-life Harding has all the appeal of a rotting fish. I did appreciate the director and screenwriter's choice to turn the movie into a narrative told from three distinct and fundamentally contradictory points of view: Tonya's, LaVona's, and Jeff's. The film is peppered with Scorsese-style fourth-wall breaks à la Henry Hill in "Goodfellas," and we can never be sure whose tale is closest to the truth. Like life, the film's story is a jumbled, incommensurate mess, but it's clear that Harding's life is far messier than most people's lives. I ended the film feeling thankful that, for all the drama I've been through in my own life, none of it holds a candle to the horror the film portrays.

Along with the direction and the screenwriting, the actors all carry the film. Allison Janney is marvelous as the hateful, selfish, twisted, and even devious LaVona Golden; Janney deserved her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Margot Robbie does an incredible job of portraying Tonya's attempts at gathering up the scraps of her dignity in a precious, competitive world little different from that of ballerinas. Robbie looks nothing like the real Harding, which means she has to work all the harder to sell this performance. I got the impression that Robbie did much of her own skating, except for those crucial triple-axel scenes, so she gets credit for that as well. Sebastian Stan is also impressive as Jeff Gillooly, who alternates between being hilariously stupid and being frighteningly abusive. When I said, earlier, that this movie was "hard to watch," I was referring to the physical abuse that Gillooly deals out to Tonya. Fists to the face, open-hand blows to the face... at one point, Jeff grabs Tonya's head and smashes it against a glass-covered picture on the wall. Much of this abuse comes out of nowhere, a reflection of Jeff's sudden and unbridled fury. It's Jeff, in a way, who either controls or is a reflection of the movie's tone as a whole: "I, Tonya" is alternately funny and frightening, allowing us a glimpse into a world that most of us, with our comfortable lives, would be hard-pressed to imagine. Paul Walter Hauser also deserves a shout-out for his performance as dim-bulb Shawn Eckhardt, who lives a slob's life with his parents, but tells an interviewer he's an expert in international counterterrorism.

The movie contends that Jeff Gillooly simply wanted to scare Nancy Kerrigan as a way of psyching her out and disturbing her competitive focus, but it was Shawn Eckhardt who took Gillooly's plan and turned it, for whatever reason, into an actual attack on Kerrigan—one that was easily traced back to Shane Stant, whom Eckhardt hired, and then back to Eckhardt and Gillooly themselves. Where things get murky is in how much Tonya knew about the plan to attack Kerrigan. The movie implies that she knew Gillooly wanted to send Kerrigan anonymous threatening letters, but nothing else.

All in all, "I, Tonya" is a well-directed film filled with ace performances by a stable of talented actors. Its crazy tone and fractured, obfuscatory narrative structure reflect the brokenness of the lives of the people whose story we're watching. The film shows us a world I'm glad and thankful not to live in, but it does fail in its mission to make Tonya Harding, a truly unsavory person, into someone sympathetic. That flaw notwithstanding, I think the film makes for worthwhile viewing. You'll laugh, you'll cringe, and every time Jeff Gillooly's fist smashes into Tonya's face, you'll wince and die a little inside.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

faux gyros for lunch: a learning experience

After watching many, many videos on how to make seitan, I created my own seitan "lamb" recipe for gyros, which you can see here.

The object of the game was to put together wet and dry ingredients, as with a regular dough or batter, and to end up with a loaf that must then be processed further. So that's what I initially did: I dumped the wet and dry ingredients into a bowl, created a shaggy dough, then plopped that dough onto a lightly floured work surface and kneaded the hell out of it for the ten minutes recommended by that avant-garde vegan guy. (NB: not everyone recommends a ten-minute knead. Most cooks generally say, "Knead until the dough is firm and stretchy, but difficult to pull apart.")

I noticed two things right away: (1) the mushroom chunks from my dried-mushroom "powder" tended to leap out of the dough mass as I was kneading it, which meant I was constantly reincorporating the shroom flecks as if I were collecting hair with a lint roller; (2) the dough, being made mostly of vital wheat gluten, felt queasily like flesh as I kneaded it. It didn't feel like any dough at all, and this was creepy to me. There was something rubbery, resistant, and tensile about the mass—something that did hint at flesh. Not that I've had much experience baking bread, but I've done a pizza dough or two, so I have some idea as to how normal dough feels in the hands when you're kneading it. Seitan dough is positively eerie in comparison; the fact that you're massaging almost pure protein makes for an uncanny tactile experience. While my other senses were telling me that this was in no way a type of meat, my hands were telling me that this was a young woman's well-toned buttock.

Here are a few shots of the kneaded mass, your first look at seitan:

The white flecks in the above pics are the aforementioned dried mushrooms. I had made some mushroom powder by grinding up dried shiitake mushrooms (pyogo beoseot in Korean), and while most of the resultant material had been pulverized, plenty of chunks remained, and thanks to granular convection, those chunks worked their way up to the surface. I could have ground down the large chunks in my mortar and pestle, but I had wanted some chunkiness because I reasoned that that would add to the fleshy texture of the finished seitan.

After kneading the dough, I let it rest for thirty minutes in a large plastic bowl while I cleaned my work area* and prepped a vegan beef broth (recipe here). Like rice, you cook seitan by bringing liquid to a boil, then immediately bringing the liquid to a simmer the moment the seitan goes in. Unlike rice, you need to let the seitan simmer a long time—about 60 to 90 minutes if you're dumping the seitan in as a single, huge mass, as I did. If you cut the seitan up into smaller chunks, you can reduce your simmer time to about 30-40 minutes.

Here's the seitan, all a-simmer:

If the above looks to you like a huge shit log in a bath of diarrhea water, I don't blame you: that's how it looked to me, too—like something from a sewer. I'll say this, though: that vegan beef broth wasn't bad at all. While it's definitely not legitimately beefy in taste, it certainly hints at beef, which is probably about all one can ask for. With the right soup recipe, the fact that the broth is vegan might even go unnoticed.

I let my seitan simmer for about 80 minutes. I took it out, drained it, and patted it down a bit before laying it on one of my cutting boards. I have two plastic boards: a green one for vegetables and a red one for meat. You can see, by the color of the cutting board, what I think the seitan qualifies as:

Out of sheer primate curiosity, I weighed my loaf of seitan to see whether it had indeed increased to two pounds, as one recipe said it would. It tipped my kitchen scale at about 785 grams, or 1.73 pounds. Fairly close. Had I baked the seitan, there would have been no water to absorb, and I assume the loaf would have been denser but also lighter.

I let the loaf cool for thirty minutes while I went downstairs and bought some tortillas. Being impatient, I sliced the seitan up once I got back from shopping, trying to keep the slices thin to mimic gyro meat. (This turned out to be a mistake, and I'll talk about why down below.) The knife's passage through the seitan was smooth as I sliced it, but there was some resistance. The seitan's texture was firm but somewhat rubbery—meatish, but alien enough to feel strange. Below, you'll see the result of my slicing:

I did taste a slice or two of the seitan at this point, and I can't say I was all that impressed. The herbs, spices, and seasonings all pointed toward lamb, but the lamb itself was still missing, and in its place was this strange not-quite-meat. In terms of mouth-feel, the first chew was the most rubbery, but the texture became more like meat with successive chews. That fact in itself was weird and vaguely off-putting; the seitan simply wasn't registering right as I chewed it. I have a feeling that vegans who craft meat substitutes for themselves are engaged in a grand act of self-hypnosis in an effort to convince themselves that what they're eating isn't just meaty, but actually better than meat (both morally and gustatorily).

With the loaf now cooled and rested, the next step was the pan-frying. First, though, I grabbed my tortillas (I have to say, these Korean-made flour tortillas are way better than the off-brand Western shit that many groceries sell: there's none of that bitterness that comes from too much baking powder) and "Greeked" them up by painting on a very thin layer of olive oil mixed with garlic powder. I then pan-fried the tortillas for about 45 seconds per side, which was just about the perfect way to prep them. I then set the bread aside and concentrated on my "lamb." Below are three shots of frying and fried seitan:

Let's talk about why slicing the seitan thinly was a mistake. Meat is muscle. Muscle tissue is made of cells, and every cell contains a tiny bit of water, thus making the tissue as a whole rather watery. You have to cook the hell out of meat to drive all that water out. Muscle tissue also contains small or large amounts of fat, depending on the cut of meat we're talking about. Together, the muscle's natural moisture and fattiness give the meat a certain body. Seitan isn't flesh, and as I quickly discovered, the process of pan-frying the ersatz meat quickly drove the water out of those thin slices, turning the thinnest of the slices into, for lack of a better phrase, crunchy "meat" chips (NB: I was pan-frying in olive oil, in keeping with a Mediterranean flavor profile). The thicker slices of seitan fared better on the pan, and after I finished my first batch, I elected to pan-fry the subsequent batches of seitan 90% on one side and only 10% on the other. Next time around, I'll know to cut the seitan slices thicker, to sear one side with very high heat, and to barely cook the other side. In sum: cutting seitan thin and pan-frying it is a mistake unless you want "meat" chips. But here's another thing: the crispy, hardened "meat" chips, while tough to eat, tasted better than the softer slices of pan-fried seitan!

Below: a shot of my Greeked-up tortillas:

Next up—a shot of the beginning of a build as I construct my first gyro:

Perhaps the best thing about these gyros was my tzatziki sauce. That's what brings all the elements together. And I don't apologize for putting dill in my tzatziki. If you don't like it, don't eat it. And don't expect to be invited back.

The last two food-porn shots of my first gyro:

I ate three gyros in all. What a way to break my five-day fast.

Overall, this was a real learning experience. I think I might have cheated myself by tasting a slice of the seitan before I'd had a chance to pan-fry the "meat" and put it into a gyro. Tasting the meat confirmed what I'd already suspected, which was that it was impossible to simulate lamb. To be sure, I knew that from the beginning: I never seriously expected to get bona fide lamb from vital wheat gluten, but all the same, I was curious as to what my labors would produce. After tasting the "raw" seitan (i.e., after taking it out of the boil), I then tasted it after pan-frying, and the flavor was much improved—especially that of the "meat" chips. Finally, I tasted the seitan inside a gyro, and that's when I realized I should have waited to taste the meat. Seitan lamb doesn't make much sense out of context, but once you put it in the context of a gyro, with vegetables, feta, and tzatziki, it makes more sense and is a somewhat passable substitute for lamb. You wouldn't have to be a supertaster to know that what you were eating wasn't real meat, but the fact that the meat wasn't real wouldn't bother you. Seitan is good enough, I think, to serve as a meat substitute in a pinch. Its texture becomes less of an issue when it's part of a gyro, and if you were ever to mix it in with real lamb, as a way of bulking up the meat, you might not notice it at all.

Which brings us to the issue of vegetarians and subterfuge. People on diets often have to find ways of psyching themselves into accepting major dietary changes, so for vegetarians and vegans who still have some sort of attachment to meat, there's a certain amount of self-deception going on. This isn't entirely bad; in fact, it often leads to an astounding amount of creativity. I've already linked at least twice to the vegan guy whose video shows him making seitan "ribs" (see above). Those "ribs" do look good, and I'd like to try making his recipe someday, but there's no getting around the fact that those ribs simply aren't meaty, meatalicious meat. But artful vegans, along with trying to fool themselves, are often about the business of trying to fool carnivores into eating something meatless. Sometimes this chicanery** works; sometimes, as with the recently popularized Impossible Burger, this doesn't. In the end, meat is meat and plants are plants.

This leads to my next point, which is that, if you're turning vegetarian/vegan, you're better off going balls-to-the-wall without even trying to simulate meat. It's a personal bias, but I think that the best vegetarian food around is Korean Buddhist food. I remember going to a Buddhism conference in Anyang, and during the lunch break, we attendees were served a marvelous vegetarian buffet lunch that made me completely forget about meat. Nothing in the buffet even tried to resemble meat; every dish was unrepentantly full of vegetables that looked and barked like vegetables. While I was teaching at Dongguk University, which is Buddhist, I often ate at the campus's vegetarian cafeteria,*** which offered a rotating buffet menu every day of the week. There, too, I never once missed having meat, and the selections were unfailingly tasty. As we move closer to the meat-simulacrum end of the spectrum, the "veggie burgers" that I've enjoyed most have been the ones that didn't try to imitate ground beef, but which were instead stamped patties made entirely of easily discernible vegetables—pea pods, bamboo shoots, soybean sprouts, and the like. Simulating meat probably comes from some lingering attachment to animal flesh. I'm aware there are vegans out there who have rejected meat entirely, and God bless 'em. But for those vedge-heads**** who linger on the carnivore frontier, I'd strongly suggest fully rejecting meat and diving deep into le monde végétal.

Anyway, I'm no longer sure whether I want to spring the fake-lamb trap on my unsuspecting coworkers. Before I made the seitan, I thought that, if the simulacrum came close enough to the real thing (as you see above, the pan-fried "lamb" sure looks a lot like real gyro lamb), I might be able to fool some people into eating it. Now, I'm no longer sure because the "meat" certainly didn't convince me that it was anything other than fake. All that said, I've only begun to explore the possibilities with seitan. It could simply be that I need to tweak my recipe to make the "lamb" more palatable. Perhaps I need to add fat, and more water, to the dough. The research has only begun, and today was only the first assay.

ADDENDUM: for a reminder of what real gyro meat looks like, see this döner kebab post from 2016. Scroll down a ways to see true pan-fried meatiness.

*Seitan dough is godawful rubbery. When it sticks to your utensils—I began making the dough by stirring with a wooden spoon—it behaves like gunked-on cheese, and is just as obnoxiously difficult to clean off your kitchen tools and surfaces.

**Granted: Gordon Ramsay, who is in the linked video, isn't a vegan, but he's pulling the vegan trick of trying to fool carnivores into thinking they're eating meat when they're not.

***Okay, okay: the blog entry that I linked to makes the point that there is an apparent meat analogue on my plate. That said, I still didn't miss meat whenever I ate at that buffet, and the meat analogue never convinced me that it was anything other than tofu.

****Sorry, but I write "vedge," not "veg," just as I write "mike," not "mic," and "fridge," not "frig." Those shorter forms all sound wrong to me, so I'll stick to what sounds right, thank you very much. To my ear, "veg" rhymes with "leg"; "mic" rhymes with "dick," and "frig" rhymes with "pig" and is a euphemism for "fuck." Blame my Phonics background if you want.

seen on ROK Drop

ROK Drop embeds a Bruce Klingner tweet that includes this satirical pic:

Robb Stark (pictured above, with beard) was the winningest battle commander in the War of Five Kings until he was betrayed by the Frey and Bolton families. I'm pretty sure that Kim Jeong-eun isn't planning to riddle Donald Trump with crossbow quarrels and knife wounds, but it's nice to see other doubters as to the success of the upcoming US/NK summit. Again, I'll be happy to be proven wrong, but for the moment, the policy is Wait and See.

Just to be clear: the reason most of these attempts at conciliation fail has to do with verification: North Korea might make a concession, but then it gets antsy about having foreign inspectors on its soil, looking over its shoulder. Until we can get around this verification problem, there's little hope of anything more than a one-way flow of money, supplies, and privileges to the North, with nothing substantive flowing back to the the US, the UN, and South Korea.

Keep in mind, too, that North Korea, by having nukes, doesn't even need to project force across the Pacific to be a threat to the world economy: all it has to do is destroy Seoul and Busan. Theoretically, it can already do this, and has arguably been able to do this for a long time, since even before it bulked up on nukes. Seoul will continue to act as if it's a partner with North Korea and not its de facto hostage, but the reality of the situation is starkly simple. (See what I did there, GoT fans?)

culinary adventure: coming soon

Well... it is accomplished. I've cooked up a loaf of seitan, prepped it, pan-fried it, and served it to myself in three gyros. I've got pics that document the proceedings, and I'll be blogging more fully about this project later today. Stay tuned, for there's much to say.

Friday, March 09, 2018

I'll believe it when I see it

Even the young liberals in my office are abuzz:

Can Trump pull a rabbit out of his ass where others have failed? I have my doubts. We've done this dance before; we've been, many times, in the role Charlie Brown, forever trying to kick the football that Lucy sets out for him. Every single time, we grant money and concessions to North Korea, then agreements are signed, and with the ink not even dry, North Korea goes about violating the agreements and yielding nothing. So call me a yuge skeptic when it comes to the idea that Trump can succeed where others have failed. I'm reminded of Ellis, the doomed character in 1988's "Die Hard," who thinks he can negotiate with a killer and somehow come out on top because, hey—it's all deal-making. You might say that's disanalogous because Trump's the one with the "bigger button," but look back at the history of such negotiations, which are littered with the dead legacies of former US presidents.

I'm open to being proven wrong, of course. Trump could surprise us. But in this case, hope doesn't not spring eternal.

this never gets old

Ohio state legislator Wes Goodman turns out not to be a very good man. The married Republican official, who has crusaded against LGBT rights and gay marriage, was recently caught having sex with a man in his office. Goodman has since resigned.

An Ohio lawmaker who routinely touted his Christian faith and anti-LGBT views has resigned after being caught having sex with a man in his office.

Wes Goodman, who is the Republican state legislator for Ohio, is married to a woman who is assistant director of an annual anti-abortion rally known as March for Life.

The right-wing legislator, who pushed “family values”, was reportedly witnessed having sex with a man inside his office who was not employed by the legislator.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the observer told Ohio House Chief of Staff Mike Dittoe what had happened on Tuesday afternoon. Mr Dittoe responded by telling House Speaker Republican Cliff Rosenberger who in turn met with Mr Goodman.

The 33-year-old, who has been branded the “conscience of the conservative movement”, resigned for “inappropriate conduct” shortly after the meeting took place.

Mr Goodman, whose Twitter biography describes him as “Christian. American. Conservative. Republican. Husband to @Beth1027”, has regularly claimed "natural marriage" occurs between a man and a woman.

"Healthy, vibrant, thriving, values-driven families are the source of Ohio's proud history and the key to Ohio's future greatness,” reads his campaign website, which has now been taken offline.

Haw haw. This shit keeps happening. Remember Ted Haggard?

It's enough to make me think that the old argument that homophobes are secretly gay may have merit. (I tend to think that that notion is a distant cousin of the "he who smelt it dealt it" argument: the guiltiest are the loudest accusers.)

satanic interlude

I haven't blogged about this yet, so here's the news: I haven't eaten anything since Monday. No solid food. I'll be breaking that fast this weekend, when I make my batch of seitan and eat an experimental low-rent gyro (by "low-rent," I mean that I'll be using a tortilla instead of legit flatbread) or two, then it's back to foodlessness for the next few days.

Part of what prompted this was my horror at getting on the scale after a couple months of not weighing myself. During those months, I was sure that I had been regaining all the weight I had lost during my long walk last year, and getting on the scale showed that, yup, I had regained nine of my ten lost kilos. Ashamed, I decided to fast as a sort of penance, and also because I tend to be an all-or-nothing kind of person when it comes to things like eating and physical effort (to wit: eat big and hearty or not at all; walk across the country or just be lazy).

For the past few days, I've lost almost a kilo a day, which is six times faster than the kilo-per-week you're supposed to lose on a regular diet/exercise regimen. I haven't really been hungry, and perhaps because I've had some carby drinks this week, I haven't been tired. I've been walking, but only short distances, and I haven't done a lot of stair work. Intestinally, I'm amused to see that I'm still pooping, albeit just a tiny bit each day. It's amazing how long the poop will linger in the guts before it decides to depart via my brown stargate. I had one hilariously violent diarrhetic night after I'd drunk a whole bottle of milk: as I get older, the Korean half of my DNA has been kicking in, and I've become somewhat lactose-intolerant. Otherwise, I spend my days feeling a bit empty but not overly hungry. I don't help my situation by constantly watching food-related videos on YouTube, but I haven't been driven insane by the decision to stop eating for a while.

The real kicker is that, the moment I started fasting, I'm pretty sure my blood pressure went right down. Normally, when I haven't been exercising much, the BP meds keep me from feeling headaches and a slight constriction around the heart. If I stop taking the meds for a day, I feel the effects immediately. But now that I'm not eating, I can walk a couple hours and not feel anything untoward: it's as if I'm still taking my meds (which I'm not doing this week). I also think I'm more alert while fasting: all this week, I haven't once nodded off in front of my computer at work. The trade-off, of course, is that I miss the psychological satisfaction that comes from stuffing my gullet. I'd love to have a load of McDonald's food pushing outward, like an alien baby, against my groaning belly, and I do miss the taste of food. But for now, it's enough for me to focus on the benefits of what I'm doing. The weight is coming down; my BP seems to have settled, and I'm pretty sure my blood sugar is a lot lower, but I'm not crashing: there have been no symptoms of hypoglycemia.

So I'm probably going to continue this fast into next week, or I might start to bring some food back into my diet—low-carb items like chicken breast and broccoli, the mainstay of movie-stars-in-training. But this Saturday, it's a "seitanic" interlude for me.*

*For my gyros, I normally include lettuce and tomatoes. Charles has talked about how lame the tomatoes are here in Korea; there's a very thin slice of time during which rich, meaty tomatoes are available, but otherwise, the tomatoes tend to be disappointing, 'tis true. I just bought a bag of tomato powder, though, and one of the uses of tomato powder is to enhance the flavor of bland tomatoes, so I'm looking forward to trying that out tomorrow.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

this weekend's project: summoning seitan

One of the common ingredients in the making of seitan is chickpea flour. Despairing of finding such flour anywhere near me, I had purchased a bag of dried chickpeas from iHerb with the intention of milling my own flour, but the moment I tried grinding those little fuckers in my food processor, the noise was horrifically loud. I might as well have been grinding glass marbles. And after milling away at those chickpeas for a full minute, I saw that there was precious little fine powder: most of the vegetable matter was still in large, broken chunks. I decided then and there that making my own chickpea flour was a lost cause.* When I searched on iHerb for "chickpea flour," I didn't find any, so I went to the GMarket website and—surprise, surprise—GMarket had it. (I saw later that iHerb sells "garbanzo-bean-and-fava flour," which isn't quite what I wanted.)

That flour arrived today, and I now have all the ingredients I need to make a batch of seitan.** I'll be Frankensteining a slab of ersatz meat this weekend. From what I've seen online, there are two schools of thought on how to prep one's seitan: you can simmer it, or you can bake it. (And if you're making gyros as I am, you can then pan-fry it.) I'm probably going to try the simmer method first, but there's an awesome video of a vegan dude making seitan ribs by using the bake method, so I'll definitely have to try that next.

I'm not turning vegan or anything; I've simply been curious about this particular meat substitute for a while, now, and when I make gyros for the office later this month, one of the things I'm going to do is tell my coworkers that "I've got two kinds of lamb for you" without elaborating. They'll probably figure out that one kind of "lamb" is meatless, but I still want to see how they react to it. (I wonder whether I should check for gluten intolerance among my coworkers first.) Think of it as a kind of psych experiment.

So: we summon seitan this weekend. There will be pics.

*For those who might be wondering: I did try to pound the food-processed chickpea chunks into fine powder with my mortar and pestle, but this too was a noisy process, and the chickpeas proved to be so hard that, if I had wanted to grind/pound them with the necessary force, I would have had to move outside to do it because the noise would have been intolerable to my neighbors.

**Seitan also goes by the cute nickname of "wheat meat," given that it's mostly made of vital wheat gluten. You can actually make your own vital wheat gluten from regular flour: take several cups of flour and add enough water to make dough. Knead the dough until it's coherent-looking, and the gluten in the dough has begun to produce a bit of elasticity. Put the dough in a large bowl and add enough water to cover the dough ball. Knead. Periodically dump out the cloudy water and add more, but never stop kneading. Keep dumping and adding water, all while kneading, until the water is clear. At this point, what you've done is to wash away all the starch, and the rubbery, much-reduced mass you're left with is the vital wheat gluten. Some seitan recipes use little more than this gluten, but most recipes call for the addition of certain ingredients to add flavor and body to the seitan. Nutritional yeast powder adds a bit of funk and cheesiness to the wheat meat; chickpea flour adds body and texture, making the seitan more organic and less rubbery; soy sauce (or its variant, tamari) and miso paste add crucial umami; mushroom powder adds some earthiness as well as a bit of organic unevenness to the texture; tomato paste (or in my case, tomato powder) adds necessary coloring and flavor that nudge the seitan toward a more realistic-looking meatiness; various herbs, spices, seasonings, and aromatics (dried parsley, dried oregano, dried basil, powdered garlic, powdered onion, salt, pepper, etc.) help round out the flavor, turning a flavorless lump of glutinous protein into something approaching meat. For my gyro "lamb," I'll be adding my Middle Eastern spice blend, which includes cumin, paprika, cayenne, and turmeric.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

contra scotosis

There is a willful blindness in the West when it comes to reckoning with Islam. Dr. V dredges up this 2016 article, which deals with the problem of willful blindness versus seeing truly.

The fact that there are multiple ways of construing Islam hardly makes the Blind Sheikh’s literal construction wrong. The blunt fact of the matter is that, in this contest of competing interpretations, it is the jihadists who seem to be making sense because they have the words of scripture on their side—it is the others who seem to be dancing on the head of a pin. For our present purposes, however, the fact is that the Blind Sheikh’s summons to jihad was rooted in a coherent interpretation of Islamic doctrine. He was not perverting Islam—he was, if anything, shining a light on the need to reform it.

Another point, obvious but inconvenient, is that Islam is not a religion of peace. There are ways of interpreting Islam that could make it something other than a call to war. But even these benign constructions do not make it a call to peace. Verses such as “Fight those who believe not in Allah,” and “Fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war,” are not peaceful injunctions, no matter how one contextualizes.

"Panache. Yeah, it means flamboyance."

Whole lotta shakin' goin' on.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

the era of Krakengärd begins!

My buddy Mike was under the impression that I needed some deodorant (I have indeed complained about how difficult it is to find proper deodorant here in Korea, and have only rarely mentioned that I can find deodorant at Gwangjang Market near Jongno 5-ga or get deodorant from my buddy Tom, who buys it by the bagful in the Philippines), so for Christmas, he and his son went deodorant-hunting and happened upon a nifty-looking Old Spice deodorant called Krakengärd. The image of the angry kraken seemed amusingly "Game of Thrones"-y to Mike and his boy (perhaps evoking the Drowned God?), so they very kindly purchased two sticks and sent them my way. I told Mike, at Christmas, that I'd start using the Krakengärd once I finished my current stick of Gillette Clear Gel. I'm fairly brand-loyal to Gillette, but I do like the scent of Old Spice, so I think the switchover will make for a pleasantly fragrant experience. And lo and behold: the switchover happens today! No gel came out of my Gillette, this morning, when I tried to swab my pits, so I went to the closet and released the kraken! Thanks, Mike and Iain!


A family doctor in Texas goes nuts and shoots a couple who had been trying to help the doctor's mother move some furniture.

A Texas family doctor could face the death penalty after police say he murdered two of his neighbors who were helping his mother move – all while the victims' children watched.

Robert Edward Fadal II, 56, is facing capital murder charges in the deaths of Tiffany Leann Strait, 30, and Anthony Ray Strait, 27, the San Antonio Express-News reports.

Police say the victims were helping Fadal's mother move furniture on Sunday morning when Fadal fatally shot both of them with a rifle "for no apparent reason" just outside his gated compound in Seguin, KSAT reports.

The Straits' three young sons, who are between 7 and 10 years old, witnessed the shootings from the back seat of the family's car, the outlet reports. The family had agreed to stop and help Fadal's mother before heading to a birthday party for Anthony's mother.

I don't care if the doc has a brain tumor prompting this behavior: may he burn in hell.

Monday, March 05, 2018

blazing-fast internet is now MINE
(and I'm gonna get fuckin' billed)

Internet problem: solved. Whoever came into my apartment (I had contacted HR about restoring my connection) got rid of the DSL modem completely and finally—finally!—hooked me up directly to the building's internet. In modern Korea, you don't expect to find a slow-poke modem in your new place, but that's the shit I've been living with for two-plus years. I knew, early on, that my connection was slow because I went to and did the test, which uses a metric from 0 to 100 in Mbps (megabits per second). Back when I lived in Ilsan, my connection speed was 93-95 Mbps; here at Daecheong Tower, since 2015, it's been a paltry 30-40 Mbps. Now, however, thanks to the repairman's visit, I'm blazing along at a full 95 Mbps for both uploading and downloading. This means I can play Geoguessr on my laptop—something I've been unable to do up to now because the slow connection speed has kept the images from refreshing quickly. (If you haven't tried Geoguessr, try it: it's addictive. I'll write a post on it soon, but I've been playing it on and off since 2013, back when I lived near Daegu and worked at Daegu Catholic University.)

But Murphy's Law is always lurking: there's always a price to pay when forces beyond your control elect to improve your life in some way. Because I had accidentally cracked my modem's housing, I expect I'll be billed for that. A coworker today wondered whether I had been billed for my several-day stay on the 16th floor; I told her that I had only just gotten back to my own apartment, so if I'm to receive a bill, it hasn't come yet. Thanks to my coworker's question, I'm now expecting a bill.

An improved internet connection gives me one less reason to want to move out of this dump of a studio. Besides, I have only a few months left here, unless my boss can come up with a sweet deal to have me stay another year.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Ave, Charles!

Charles describes his recent Olympic adventure. At one point, he writes:

According to the Korean government romanization system (and the McCune-Reischauer system as well, in fact), the single vowel “u” is used to represent this sound. Why change this to “oo”? Did they think people were somehow going to mispronounce “Suho” or “Jinbu” (which was spelled “Jinboo,” by the way)? I might understand this if they wanted to use a single “u” for Pyungchang, as “eo” doesn’t look anything like the sound it represents, but as everyone knows, they did not do this. If you’re wondering why I’m getting so worked up about this very minor thing, it is because my Korean name is “Suho,” and I certainly don’t spell it “Sooho.” So I’m going to spell the tiger’s name “Suhorang,” and that’s that. Sometimes you just have to take a stand.

I sympathize and have done this myself re: the spelling of Noh Mu-hyeon's name. I hate "Moo-hyeon" because the "Moo" spelling sucks the dignity out of the name. See my old post on the varying dignity of letters. Meanwhile, give Charles's post a read.

iji he ah layciss oh ah trooss-tellah?

I'd really like to know what you think of this video:

A few reactions:

1. Despite his abominable accent, which confirms every stereotype of how Japanese people speak English (by the way, all respect to Japanese folks who speak English perfectly or almost perfectly), the guy's grammar and overall fluency are excellent. With very few exceptions, the guy's sentences are put together very well and clearly.

2. It's a bit rich for a Japanese person to preach to others about the need to leave the past aside and move on. Japan is the collective author of much collective suffering away from its shores (not to mention the author of suffering within its own shores, given the history of internecine strife among various families, factions, and temples), and this isn't the first time that a Japanese person has tried to say, "Nothing to see here... move on" in an effort to shift focus away from tragedy and guilt. While I get the point he's trying to make about the need to move forward, away from tragedy and toward a constructive future, it's difficult for the brutalized to hear "Let's move on" from the brutalizer. Japan has had a naughty tendency to whitewash its own culpability. Even while the Japanese government has, on several occasions, offered South Korea expressions of sorrow and regret, Japanese publishers of history textbooks have continued to distort history. Koreans are correct to mistrust Japan's overall sincerity on the topic of war crimes, and as long as one part of Japan says one thing while another part does another, there will be no reason for trust.

3. All of that said, the guy's questions strike me as sincere. It probably takes courage to make a video like this, given the distinct possibility that the vlogger could get his scrawny ass kicked on the street, especially if he's living in the West.* As for whether he himself is racist... well, he's Japanese, so at a guess, there's probably a good bit of racism flowing in those veins.

*He's a Japanese guy teaching Japanese, so he's probably in Japan, where an expat's need to speak Japanese creates a market for teachers of the local language. If he's in Japan, then perhaps it doesn't take much courage for him to say what he's saying, as there's little risk—in such an un-diverse nation—that he'll encounter (m)any blacks on the street.

back at my place

I got no word from the repairmen about whether my bathroom was officially ready for use. Even though I had left a note specifically requesting that they leave a memo or send me a text message indicating "All done," the lazy bastards uttered not a peep. So based on what the HR guy said last Monday or Tuesday, I packed up my stuff and moved back to my place today despite the lack of an official OK.

Not having taken too many items with me on my several-day trip upstairs, I found it easy to set myself back up in my regular apartment. One hitch, though: my goddamn modem isn't letting any data through (it's showing that there's a connection, but no data flow), so I'm typing this blog post on my laptop while temporarily—very temporarily—using my phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot. I did have to spend some time cleaning out the crud left inside my bathroom by the repairmen—nasty, booger-like flecks of silicone sealant were everywhere on the bathroom floor—and I had to use my trusty lint roller to de-schmutz the surface of my dining table. But all of that is done, has been done for hours, and I'm fairly settled back in.

My other problem is a new crick in my neck—this time on the right side, and probably the result of sleeping awkwardly while in the 16th-floor apartment. The twinges and spasms are fairly severe, but I won't be going back to the damn witch doctor, whose services didn't strike me as all that effective last time. No: I think I'll stick to my previous remedy: Father Time, healer of all wounds. And twinges. And spasms.

In looking over the repair work done on my bathroom, I'm not sure I can trust the quality of the workmanship. In the note I'd left for the workers, I had mentioned that there were holes in the walls of my bathroom. From what I can see, only the very largest hole—big enough for mice to get through, although I've never seen any mice or roaches or other pests—got filled in with a massive thrombus of silicone. I also think I see new holes—holes that hadn't been there before—on the wall behind my toilet. All in all, the repairs look shoddy.

This leaves me worried that the downstairs neighbors are still going to end up complaining about leaks. But I have a plan: if they do, then I'm going to request a move to that guest room, assuming that's possible. The difference in quality between my current apartment and that guest room is epic: I've come back to my place hating my nasty, dingy, un-cleanable third-world fucking bathroom even more than before. Moving upstairs would mean sacrificing that magnificent view out my window, but since I keep my blinds down most of the time, anyway, I could live with that loss. The gain, meanwhile, would be significant: a far cleaner apartment with a far larger and cleaner bathroom (that has actual tiling! and a shower curtain!), a large kitchenette, tons of built-in storage space, and blazing-fast internet.

So while I'm willing to stay in my current nasty place, I'll leave if the downstairs neighbors complain one more time. That complaint will be the straw-that-broke-the-camel's-back catalyst for a move to a nicer space, even if it'll be for only another few months.

Meanwhile... yup... I'm back at my place. Joy.

English quirks: when comparatives work in reverse

Look at the following autobiographical paragraph:

I'm a fat guy, and I've always had a barrel chest. Even when I was thinner—I've never been thin, mind you, but I've been thinner than I am today—the area between my solar plexus and my navel has always been convex but muscular, despite a distinct lack of exercise. Strange but true: this is my life as a barrel.
Note the three highlighted words: thinner, thin, and thinner again. If you think about it, the two instances of thinner have somewhat different senses. The second thinner functions the way you'd expect it to: as a standard comparative of thin ("Bob is thin; Burt is thinner"). It's the first thinner, however, that operates a bit strangely: if we compare the first thinner to the thin, we realize that thin is describing a skinny Kevin who never was, while thinner is actually describing a fatter Kevin who did exist.

Kevin now and since forever: fat
Kevin 20 years ago: thinner than now (say, 90 kg)
Kevin never: thin, i.e., actually skinny (say, 60 kg)

So: thinner designates Kevin at 90 kg while thin designates Kevin at 60 kg. Bizarre, no?

You could argue, I suppose, that there's nothing strange or self-contradictory happening here because the thinner is clearly referring to "Kevin when thinner than now." Still, what the first thinner represents is a Kevin who is heavier than the hypothetically thin Kevin (see above), and I find that quite bizarre.

There has to be a name for this sort of topsy-turviness when using comparatives a certain way. Does anyone know the term for this phenomenon? It's probably some Greek word—a -phrasis or an -esis of some kind.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

tonight, we restore our faith in humanity

Workers rescue a baby elephant, whose mother then salutes the workers:

a roundup of VFX Oscars from 1929 to now

Saw this on YouTube and thought I'd share, given that the Oscars are happening this weekend:

With the time difference, I'll likely be asleep while the awards are being doled out. I've pretty much stopped watching the Oscars, anyway, given the actors' penchant for self-righteous political grandstanding. That said, I'm still mildly curious as to who will win the big awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress. I'm also slightly curious about Best Musical Score, Best Editing, Best Sound, and Best Special Effects.

I hope Gary Oldman wins for his portrayal of Churchill in "Darkest Hour," but this awards show will also feature Daniel Day Lewis—in his apparent swan song—for "The Phantom Thread," and Lewis is nearly impossible to beat. For Best Actress, well, fuck Meryl Streep. My vote goes to Frances McDormand in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." For Best Picture, the choices are mostly annoying except for "Darkest Hour" and "Three Billboards," so I hope one of those two can win.

I heard that, for the 90th Oscars, they're going to dial back the politics, but I seriously doubt that's going to happen, especially since the host is Trump-hating Jimmy Kimmel. I have to wonder how Kimmel ever got along with his partner-in-comedy, right-leaning Adam Carolla. Oh, yeah—and Kimmel is a woke #MeToo feminist, now, eh? I seem to remember him co-hosting, with Carolla, "The Man Show," which was all about the ogling of tits and ass.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Thursday, March 01, 2018

"Coco": review

[NB: SAFE! No real spoilers.]

When Disney took Pixar under its wing, it was inevitable that singing—a Disney animated movie's trademark—would eventually end up creeping into a Pixar movie. Luckily for the 2017 movie "Coco," this didn't turn out quite as bad as it could have, and this is mainly thanks to the screenwriting. In Disney movies, the singing often gets brutally shoehorned in: characters suddenly break into song for no discernible reason. In "Coco," the story of Miguel Rivera, a tween boy who wants to become a musician, the singing actually makes sense when it happens because the songs are an integral part of the story unfolding before us.

A bit like "A Christmas Carol," the adventure that Miguel experiences takes place—except for the coda—over the course of one night and one morning. Born to a family of shoemakers who have rejected all music because of an ancestor who abandoned the family generations ago, Miguel knows deep in his soul that he was meant to be a musician. His hero, Ernesto de la Cruz—musician, actor, and all-around Don Juan from a bygone era—had a motto: "Seize Your Moment." Miguel's family is in the midst of hectic preparations for El Día de (los) Muertos—the Day of the Dead (for us Yanks, and in a totally different cosmology, this would very roughly correspond to Halloween*), but Miguel wants to participate in a music contest happening that night. Breaking into the mausoleum of his idol de la Cruz, Miguel attempts to steal the star's famous guitar and finds himself, along with his faithful dog Dante, plunged into what I can only describe as the world of the dead. Adventures ensue, lessons are learned, great mysteries are solved, and a couple major plot twists ambush us.

Pixar has done it again in producing a movie whose color palate is incredibly rich and variegated. This is a far more imaginative and scenic adventure than what we saw in "What Dreams May Come." Symbol-hunters and other culture geeks will have a field day trying to take in all the Mexican culture that is presented to us. And speaking of beautiful visuals: we see several bridges connecting the lands of the living and the dead that are gorgeously rendered as solid-but-not-solid, each bridge a mass of Aztec-marigold leaves describing a bridge's surface and support columns... but with the columns disappearing into nothingness, like virga. Looming above those bridges is the necropolis—the great, vibrant city of the dead, where the deceased carry on much as they did in life, but only for as long as they are remembered by mortals in the realm of the living. The necropolis holds other splendors as well: the alebrije, fantastical creatures of legend that come in many forms, serving as guardians and psychopomps—and playing important roles in this movie's plot.

"Coco" (the name of Miguel's 99-year-old great-grandmother) is directed by Lee Unkrich (who directed "Toy Story 3"). It stars Anthony Gonzalez as the intrepid Miguel, Gael García Bernal as Hector, Benjamin Bratt as Ernesto de la Cruz, and too many other stars to name (I'll mention a poignant cameo by Edward James Olmos). All the voice actors hit their marks beautifully; it's easy to tell that they all had fun making this movie. Along with the fine acting and the amazing visuals, the music—both the orchestral soundtrack and the songs—was phenomenal. I was surprised to see, in the credits, that the orchestral score was by none other than Michael Giacchino, whom I've chided multiple times for being enslaved to uncreative studio idiots who won't let him exercise his particular brand of mad genius. In this movie, Giacchino finds his soul, and while his score isn't quite up to the creative par he set in "The Incredibles," it's a damn sight better than the work he's done in his last several movies.

This is a story that puts both family and culture front and center. The culture is there for the viewer to see, but the movie isn't preachy about it: we never hear cringe-worthy dialogue like, "Of course we can do this! We are Mexicans!"—or any other self-conscious nonsense like that. We the viewers enter into a kind of osmotic relationship with the culture on display before us: we absorb its tendrils, and these strands are subtly interwoven with the theme of family so that, in the end, everything makes organic sense. The movie also provides a vision of the afterlife that many, even if they're not Mexican, probably wouldn't mind entering into. This is significant, given that "Coco" is a children's movie as much as it's a movie for grownups.

As magnificent as "Coco" is (and yes, I shed a tear at the point where everyone said I'd be shedding a tear), it doesn't top my personal rankings for Pixar films. At this point, I seriously doubt that anything could ever dethrone "The Incredibles" for me: I'm too emotionally committed to that film. But while "Coco" might not be Pixar's acme, it's still a very impressive achievement and, I think, well worth your time to see at least once.

*Christ, I can imagine a whole battalion of anthro, soc, folklore, and rel-studies academics rugby-piling onto me for being so cavalier as to establish a facile equivalence between two very distinct traditions. Fine, fine, fine—to be clear, Halloween and the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations have radically different historical and cultural roots, proceed in radically different manners, and most importantly, SIGNIFY radically different things for their respective celebrants. The events share almost nothing in common except a yen for skeletal imagery, a kind-of relationship with the Catholic liturgical calendar, and the same date: October 31. There—better? I'd feel guilty as hell if people came away from this review going, "So the Day of the Dead is basically Mexican Halloween!" More info here.

China gets sick of "N" words

You gotta read it to believe it: China temporarily bans the Roman letter "N," along with Orwell's books 1984 and Animal Farm.

It is the 14th letter in the English alphabet and, in Scrabble, the springboard for more than 600 8-letter words. But for the Communist party of China, it is also a subversive and intolerable character that was this week banished from the internet as Chinese censors battled to silence criticism of Xi Jinping’s bid to set himself up as ruler for life.

The contravening consonant was perhaps the most unusual victim of a crackdown targeting words, phrases, and even solitary letters censors feared might be used to attack Beijing’s controversial decision to abolish constitutional term limits for China’s president.

The Communist party has painted the move—which experts say paves the way for Xi to become a dictator for life—as an expression of overwhelming popular support for China’s strongman leader. However, there has been widespread online push-back in China since it was announced on Sunday on the eve of an annual political congress in Beijing. In a blog post, Victor Mair, a University of Pennsylvania China expert, said censors had taken “quick, drastic action” after “the internet was flooded with complaints.”

According to a list compiled by the China Digital Times website, search terms blocked on Weibo, China’s Twitter, included:

- ‘Ten thousand years’ (万岁), which is China’s way of saying: ‘Long live!’ or ‘Viva!’

- ‘Disagree’ (不同意)

- ‘Xi Zedong’ (习泽东), a hybrid of the names of Xi and Chairman Mao Zedong

- ‘Shameless’ (不要脸)

- ‘Lifelong’ (终身)

- ‘Personality cult’ (个人崇拜)

- ‘Emigrate (移民)

- ‘Immortality’ (长生不老)

The name Yuan Shikai, a Qing dynasty warlord who unsuccessfully tried to restore monarch to China, was also banned as were the titles of two George Orwell books, 1984 and Animal Farm.

Less clear is why censors took issue with the letter ‘N’. Mair speculated it was “probably out of fear on the part of the government that ‘N’ = ‘n terms in office’, where possibly n > 2.”

Charlie Smith, the alias of the co-founder of, a group that helps users track and bypass Chinese censorship, said he found that explanation plausible. “[Censors] probably determined it was sensitive and then moved to add that content to the blacklist so others would not be able to post something similar,” he said, noting that the seditious symbol had now been emancipated. I doubt that they actually put that much thought into it so sadly, the letter ‘N’ was a temporary victim of this rash decision.”

Read the rest. Note that the "N" ban was temporary. A few reactions:

1. Google has been complicit in helping China build and maintain its Great Firewall, so I expect the company—whose motto is, ironically, "Don't Be Evil"—to help China in any way possible with this current wave of oppression.

2. I guess the leader's name was "Xi Ji Pig" for a time. Rapper name: G.G. Pig!

3. Victor Mair is a big China/India scholar; it's good to see him quoted, albeit briefly.

4. Regarding Xi's attempt to become a lifelong maximum leader: "All who gain power are afraid to lose it." (Chancellor Palpatine)

5. "Sesame Street" muppets must be running amok and screaming in fear about now: there are now only 25 letters of the alphabet that can sponsor the show.

6. I expect there to be something of a Streisand Effect regarding Orwell's books. When you ban Orwell, especially when you're specifically banning 1984 and Animal Farm, it's pretty transparent what you're doing.

7. It's amazing how the Chinese censors are able to anticipate which words/concepts will be trending. They must be closely in touch with the popular mood. It seem ironic to be so empathetic with one's own people, then to turn around and betray those same people.

8. In terms of damage, selecting "N" isn't bad: the five most frequently used letters in English are E, T, A, O, and N (reference: Herbert S. Zim).

9. No "N"s for Xi? What a fuckig cut that guy is.