Sunday, July 22, 2018

great Styx rant

Styx gets his rant on re: the left's supposed "tolerance" and the actual intolerant reality, plus why it's impossible to trust the mainstream media, which promotes distortions of the truth along with fearmongering:

Part of what Styx talks about is a man-on-the-street interview conducted by Lauren Southern (a Canadian conservative and prominent alt-media YouTuber—and she's so damn young!). You've already read my caveats about the value of such interviews, but in this case, I don't think Southern—who was apparently in Australia—has discovered anything different from what other interviewers have discovered while on American university campuses: the thinking is utterly brainwashed and, with very few exceptions, utterly univocal. This is the zombie apocalypse, in my opinion: diversity of thought is pretty much gone from the one place where it most ought to be flourishing.

This is not a discussion anymore; it's just a screaming match. So, lads, it's sad to say, but let's all suit up and get ready for the much-ballyhooed civil war. The ones with the most guns will win, I think, and fairly quickly, too. Time to crack some skulls.

You mean...
you'll put down your rock,
and I'll put down my sword,
and we'll try and kill each other
like civilized people?

—Man in Black, "The Princess Bride"

another shopping spree, then meal prep

My back is killing me, and I don't know why. I think it may be because of the super-heavy load I dragged to my apartment from Costco last night, but I've lugged heavier without suffering this problem. Anyway, I'm taking aspirin to combat the pain, and it's helping a bit. (Too much aspirin, and I start bleeding out of the wrong holes.) I can also move around, albeit slowly and delicately, so I'm good to go with today's shopping and the beginning of today's cooking.

I plotted it out last night: I've got six things to make ready today, and if I don't get them all done, I can work on the remainder tomorrow without destroying my schedule. The six thing to prep today are:

1. Hot dogs, and by "prep," all I mean is "buy"; true prep will be super-simple.
2. Shack Sauce: this will be from a recipe by Kenji López-Alt.
3. Chili: pretty much self-explanatory. Con carne, with beans.*
4. Corn salad: a medley of corn, bell peppers, chili peppers, and onion.
5. Baked beans: beans, bacon, hot dogs, BBQ sauce, brown sugar, and a bit of mustard.
6. Corn bread + butter: to go with the chili.

So: I'm off to visit, for the first time ever, John Cook Deli Meats near Apgujeong Station to pick up some andouille so I can finish off my gumbo broth (to which I'll be adding some filé powder, which recently came in the mail). After that, I'm going to another local grocery to get most of the remaining items on my shopping list: my own building's grocery is closed today per the stupid, anti-capitalist regulation that big-brand stores must close every 2nd and 4th Sunday to give littler stores a chance to compete. I would be off to the local No Brand store (yay! one just opened up a couple weeks ago in the Daechi neighborhood!) to buy hot dogs, but No Brand is part of E-Mart, so it's closed today as well.

*In a stroke of awesome luck, I discovered that my downstairs grocery is selling 750-gram plastic bottles of Canadian Great Northern beans, which go well with chili. I started soaking a batch last night; unlike chickpeas, Great Northern beans absorb water at a shockingly fast rate (but the two beans' absorptive capacity is about the same). Adding them to the chili ought to be great fun. Oh, yeah: the reason why I went hunting for dried beans in the first place is that I needed four cans of baked beans for my chili recipe, but the grocery had only three, which caused me to go into MacGyver mode and root around for beany alternatives. Stumbling upon Great Northerns was a huge stroke of luck: these beans are often used alongside of, and can be used in place of, the more classically Tex-Mex pinto beans. (I'd have to travel to Itaewon to find cans of kidney beans, and I can't be arsed to do that.)

your dose of Sunday entertainment

If you're not familiar with Ozzy Man Reviews, this is a YouTube channel on which an Ozzy man (i.e., an Aussie, i.e., an Australian bloke) overlays his own wacky narration onto popular (and sometimes not-so-popular) YouTube videos. In many cases, his unhinged comedy raises the quality of the original video by an order of magnitude. Here's a typical vid in which the Ozzy Man offers commentary about a "homewrecker penguin":

Meanwhile, Jesse of Voto Studios has come out with a hilarious video on Mexican muay thai. I'm beginning to realize that his channel is some sort of oblique tribute to the music and culture of the 1980s. Listen for the Edward James Olmos "finger man" quote from that scene in "Stand and Deliver" when Jaime Escalante shows a student how to use ten fingers to do the nine-times table. You can also watch the scene here.

If you've been following Jesse's recent updates, you know that, several episodes ago, he tried to kill his cousin Flaco (I had to look up flaco in the dictionary; it means "skinny"), but everything now seems to be more or less back on track.

Finally, we've got the continuation of the giant-metal-dart obsession shared by the Aussie guys of the How Ridiculous channel. In this episode from a while back, the giant dart is pitted against an old, dead refrigerator. Since the dart—a gift from a viewer—weighs in at a good and deadly 15 kg, I think you can guess what will happen, but that's not going to stop you from looking on in morbid fascination.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

one reason to love the internet: purchasing tickets from afar

With the internet, I no longer have to go to a travel agency to find a decent deal on a flight. And since I know French, I can traipse on over to the SNCF website (SNCF = Société nationale des chemins de fer = France's state-owned railroad company) to get train tickets without having to deal with surly employees au comptoir (at the counter). I had been trying to buy un aller-retour (round-trip) ticket from Paris to and from the town of Niort, which is only a few kilometers from my buddy Dominique's B&B; the aller part wasn't a problem, but I kept getting a "train non ouvert" message ("train not open") every time I tried to select a train for the retour to Paris. In the end, I gave up and bought just the aller-simple. I'll worry about the retour once I'm there. And since I'm going to be on vacation, I said "fuck it" and bought a first-class ticket, which was only a few euros more expensive than deuxième classe.

It'll be a bit of a race to get from Charles de Gaulle Airport to La Gare de Montparnasse, but I've given myself almost a two-hour window to do it: arrival at Roissy (Charles de Gaulle Airport) at 6:30 p.m., TGV from Gare de Montparnasse departing at 8:22 p.m. Since I won't have any checked baggage, I can spare myself the hassle of waiting at the baggage claim and can simply proceed past passport control and out into France itself, into the wilds of the Paris Metro, which has doubtless evolved over the intervening years.

Dominique and I have been emailing furiously back and forth over the past 24 hours, and he tells me not to bother taking a cab from Niort to Le Vanneau-Irleau: he'll simply drive to Niort to pick me up. So I've got dat goin' for me. Which is nice.

In case you're having trouble picturing Dominique and his lovely family, here's a pic from January of this year.

my biggest stunt yet

I've got a burgers-and-chili-dawgs luncheon coming up on Friday the 27th. Today's a major shopping day for many of the things I'll need, but not for everything. For example, it makes no sense to buy cabbage for cole slaw right now: if I made cole slaw over the weekend, it would be wilted and nasty by Friday. Same goes for the beef patties: buying the beef right now is a bit premature: the beef needs to be fresh, so I'll likely buy it Wednesday night and cook it up late Friday morning.

I've been trying to parse out this enormous task, breaking it down into smaller tasks. I think I've solved the bread problem: I had originally wanted to bake my own buns based on a recipe I saw from Korean YouTuber Maangchi, but then I encountered these fantastic "milk buns" being sold at the grocery in the basement of my building. They're the same consistency as Maangchi's bread. I can buy the milk buns, halve them, lightly toast the insides with butter, and voilà—bread done! I still need to make the Shake Shack-style "special sauce," but I think I have most of the ingredients for that. Chili, which is a major feature of the meal, will be made this weekend. Baked beans, with chopped-up hot dog, will also be made in the next 36 hours. Slaw will have to wait until Wednesday or so. The hot dogs are the easiest part: buy them in mass quantities, then begin gently boiling them on Friday morning. They need at least two hours to get to where I want them. Hot-dog buns are a Costco thing: Costco sells large boxes of buns, and any extra buns can be bought at the local "meatateria," which sells a good bit more than regular meat. (Or I can just buy a second box of hot-dog buns from Costco.)

For the meal, I'm offering nothing healthy:

• smash burgers (trimmings of lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion + special sauce)
• chili dawgs
• chili bowl (dogless, burgerless chili w/cheese and jalapeños)
• corn bread (for the chili-bowl option)
• chips (potato and corn, the latter for the chili if desired)
• baked beans
• cole slaw
• corn salad

...that ought to be enough, right?

The group that's coming to the luncheon, the "ipshi team," is by far the largest team in our department: they've got fifteen people, and our R&D team has eight members. That's going to be quite a crowd. Since I already have two folding tables from Costco, we can seat twelve guests with no problem. The three remaining guests can sit at empty work stations, and we R&Ders will sit at our own work stations, too.

One thing that's puzzled me is how to handle the smash burgers. Cooking them on Monday, then storing them in the fridge or freezer, presents the practical problem of having to reheat all that meat on Friday; plus, a lot of the juice might flow out of the meat, leaving you with bad burgers. Cooking the burgers at any time presents the practical problem of smoke: smash burgers are supposed to be made on a ripping-hot pan, with about 45 seconds of searing/cooking per side. That's the whole point of a smash burger: if you sear two small patties that add up to one regular-sized patty, you're doubling the seared surface area and amping up flavor, which is the essence of the charm of a place like Shake Shack (or so they say; I've never been there). I might be able to circumvent the smoke problem with my my new, fairly powerful range-hood fan plus my stand-alone electric fan. I also have to figure out where to insert cheese into the burger-making process. What I think I'm going to do is this: cook up all the burgers (60 small patties) early Friday morning, throw the burgers into a plastic container where they can keep each other warm for an hour or two, cart the whole thing over to work, slap cheese onto the patties as the burgers are being served, and instruct the diners to use the next-door microwave to finish the cooking off: 30-45 seconds ought to be enough time to melt the cheese and significantly reheat the burgers, at least around the edges. The diners can then come back and top their burgers off with trimmings. If I cook and pile up the burgers too early in the morning, I can store them in my oven, at low heat, until it's time to pack them up and transport them.

There's much more to think about, but you get the idea: this luncheon will be the biggest catering project I've ever done. Wish me luck.

thanks again, Bill

Bill Keezer strikes again with another link to a cartoon:

"Isle of Dogs": review

Is it my imagination, or is Wes Anderson like a deadpan version of Steven Spielberg? With few exceptions, so many Anderson films follow the trope of kids on a mission. Look at 1998's "Rushmore" (kid vies for a teacher's love), or 2005's "The Squid and the Whale" (kids deal with divorce), or 2012's "Moonrise Kingdom" (coming-of-age film). Now comes 2018's "Isle of Dogs." Note that, depending on your accent, the film's title sounds like "I Love Dogs," and that's kind of what this movie is about, although I have to admit the movie's central message seems somewhat muddled to me. For what it's worth, the story plays like a Wes Anderson comedy, i.e., the humor is generally muted, deadpan, and somewhat oblique. I've never found Anderson's work all that funny, at least not in a laugh-out-loud way (with the notable exception of "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which did make me laugh out loud several times), and in that vein, "Isle of Dogs" is more of the same.

The movie is directed by Anderson and stars the voices of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Courtney B. Vance, Fisher Stevens, Harvey Keitel, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Frank Wood, Kunichi Nomura, and Yoko Ono. The basic story is that the Kobayashi clan has, for centuries, despised dogs, animals that began as free-running, independent beasts that eventually submitted to human masters, over time becoming disease-ridden and pestilential. The current mayor of Megasaki is himself a descendant of the Kobayashi clan, and he has a "ward": a twelve-year-old nephew named Atari whose parents had been killed years ago. All the dogs in the area, having contracted some sort of "dog flu" and/or "snout fever," have been deported to Trash Island, a marginal place filled with garbage and rot and broken machinery. Atari sneaks away from his uncle, steals a small plane, and crash-lands on the island in search of his dog Spots, who was the first dog deported by Mayor Kobayashi. A small pack of dogs (that includes Jeff Goldblum as the resident rumor-monger) comes to Atari's aid, with one scruffy stray named Chief (Cranston) holding back. Much of the story is devoted to the developing relationship between Chief and Atari; other subplots revolve around the mayor's continued attempts to suppress efforts by dog-sympathizing scientists to develop a vaccine that can cure all the animals en masse. A student movement led by an expat girl takes hold, and a small-scale rebellion against the mayor builds.

As I mentioned earlier, it was hard to know what exactly the movie was about. Was it about the fundamental bond between people and dogs? If so, there are dogs like Chief who would rather bite humans than play the role of loyal companion (although Chief softens up eventually). Was it about unnecessary cruelty to animals? Hard to say: the type of cruelty we see is so cartoonishly exaggerated as to be hard to take seriously. If anything, the cruelty is merely a plot device to provide our supposed hero, Atari, with a series of difficult challenges to surmount. Was it about political corruption (with the attendant murder and suppression of information) and the need to rebel against calcified social structures? What was this film about? As with most of Anderson's work, I had a hard time reading and making sense of the story, even though it played out comprehensibly—at least at a superficial level—right in front of my nose. Anderson's defenders, of whom there are many, could doubtless teach me a few things about what the man is going for, but to me, it's not a sign of good artistry when you need a Cliff's Notes explanation to decipher a film.

That said, I found "Isle of Dogs" watchable and even touching on occasion. I didn't find it ha-ha funny, but that's par for the course with Wes Anderson, whose sense of humor generally moves to the beat of its own esoteric drummer. As a kid's adventure, the film aims true at a young target audience: children will like this movie, I think, even if they don't understand some of the intricate plot points. I enjoyed the way the movie played with language: the human characters mostly spoke Japanese, which was only occasionally subtitled or rendered into English by various means. The dogs, meanwhile, spoke in English as a way to symbolize the language barrier between dogs and humans. (Spots has an earpiece, as does Atari, that can be used for interspecies communication, but this device doesn't dominate the plot.) In the end, I think this movie is meant to be something on the order of an epic or an odyssey, but on multiple fronts: a boy and a dog become friends, a corrupt city is healed, and the relationship between man and beast is restored to a rightful, natural order.

Friday, July 20, 2018

locked and loaded pour la France

For my trip to France this October, had some super-cheap deals (around $570, round trip) with semi-reputable airlines. I went with Air France, which originally charged about $940 for the ticket, but by the time I was done buying the ticket, the price had gone up to about $990, thanks to a raft of extra, tacked-on fees. My credit card's asshole is sore and a little bloody from that experience, and I now have to adjust my unsinkable budget to take this purchase into consideration, but that's just a matter of shifting some numbers around. I had originally planned to purchase my France ticket next month or the month after, but I saw that Kayak was offering "green day" deals right now, which is what prompted me to talk to my boss, then purchase my current ticket right away. (I don't think my ticket was actually a bona fide "green day" deal: that was more for the China-based airlines.)

So I'm now good for both my August trip to the States and my October trip to France. The dates are more or less locked in. I need to talk to my French buddy Dominique about how, exactly, I can get to his bed & breakfast, La Demeure du Marais ("Fendwelling" in English, or the less romantic-sounding "Home on the Marsh"—but the place doesn't actually look marshy), located in or near the town of Le Vanneau-Irleau. (I just discovered that a "vanneau" is a "lapwing" or a "plover" in English, i.e., a type of tiny shorebird. By contrast, typing "irleau" into my French dictionary gives me a "forme introuvable" result: un-findable! Will have to do more research.) I see there's a train station in the much larger town of Niort, so I'm guessing I can grab a train from Paris to Niort, then find some way, maybe via a local cab, to get from Niort to Le Vanneau-Irleau.

Am very excited to travel to the US and France this year. I had wanted to do this last year, but it would have been too much to do my Seoul-Busan walk and then fly out to two far-off countries for two weeks each. I haven't been to France since 2007. Dom's kids, except for the littlest, are almost all grown up now. Hard to imagine.

Happy Moon Landing Day!

another treasure trove

I recently blogged about the possibility that our planet contains an enormous deposit of diamonds about a hundred miles beneath the surface. Well, a few days ago, news came out that a sunken Russian vessel was found not far from the Korean island of Ulleung-do, and it might contain billions of dollars (or about a 100 billion pounds) in gold. A salvage project is, as you can imagine, under way, with Russia and several other participating countries (including South Korea, in whose territory the ship is) planning to divvy up the treasure.

A South Korean salvage team has discovered the wreck of a Russian warship that was sunk in a naval battle 113 years ago and is believed to still contain a trove of gold bullion and coins worth 150 trillion won, or £100 billion.

The Russian Imperial Navy cruiser Dmitrii Donskoi was discovered at a depth of more than 1,400 feet about one mile off the South Korean island of Ulleungdo.

A joint team made up of experts from South Korea, Britain, and Canada discovered the wreck on Sunday and used two manned submersibles to capture footage of the vessel, with the company behind the discovery promising to use a percentage of the money to fund the construction of a railway line linking Russia and South Korea...

Good times. Good times.

with thanks to Bill Keezer

Some images I got from an email sent by my friend Bill Keezer:

Thursday, July 19, 2018

plates and bowls

On Tuesday morning, I went back to Gwangjang Market to pay my final W50,000 and collect my set of 25 plates and 25 bowls. I had been looking for the restaurant-quality flatware made of tough plastic, and I found it at Gwangjang after a few fruitless trips to other markets.

Here they be:

Those are ten-inch plates. The bowls aren't quite as wide, but they're wide enough to serve a large portion of soup, or a huge glop of bibimbap, or hell, even cereal. They're tough, and while I expect them to turn brown and scuffed over time, they'll last forever.

At long last, my upgrading is complete: the office now has metal forks, knives, spoons, and chopsticks, plus tough flatware worthy of such utensils. The plastic flatware that has served us up to last month will be stored and used only as needed. I also bought two folding tables that saw use last month, when we did moqueca. I think, all in all, we're good, and Kevin's Office Kitchen (I'll have to work on that phallic initialism, KOK) can operate in earnest. I also think I'm turning into a damn catering service—one that doesn't turn a profit.


Study to show yourself approved,
a workman who need not be ashamed,
rightly dividing the word of truth.

—2 Tim. 2:15

Without even studying anything, I got official approval for my upcoming vacation in the States. My approximate travel dates will be August 9 to August 23; I'm flying standby, space available, so these dates might change rather suddenly.

The above ticket comes courtesy of a cousin who works for a major US-based airline; she got me a "buddy pass" that, alas, wasn't free, but was several hundred dollars cheaper than anything I could see on

Regarding my October trip: the selfsame showed me that round-trip tickets to France are way the hell cheaper than tickets to the east coast of the US: instead of starting at $1280, tickets to Paris, Charles de Gaulle Airport, start around $650. Alas, those lowest prices are for China-run airlines, all of which have been given very low customer ratings. At the $900 range are tickets for flights by British Airways and Korean Air, two airlines I trust more than the poorly rated China Eastern (despite its being operated by Air France). Should I get a ticket with China Eastern? I'll ponder this. Meanwhile, feel free to leave my ass a comment.

Glenn Greenwald on "treason" rhetoric

The media are taking this "Trump = traitor" meme and running with it, promoting yet another false narrative. Glenn Greenwald offers a fairly even-handed look at how both the right and the left have leaped too quickly to the "traitor" label.

Cut it out, assholes.

PJW on immigrants

Paul Joseph Watson, pointing out hypocrisy as usual:

There's a South Korean connection in the video, too.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

calling all Nathan Fillion fans

If you haven't heard about the "Uncharted" fan film starring Nathan Fillion and Steven Lang, then take a look:

It's not perfect, and it's obviously done on a shoestring, but for people who don't have enough Nathan Fillion in their lives, this is a welcome shot in the arm. My main complaint is that this fan film is too brief.

Background on the film.

What is "Uncharted"?

You're welcome.

Glenn, at length (Trump = traitor redux)

Glenn Reynolds is the libertarian curator of the superblog Instapundit. If we follow the distinction that Dr. Vallicella made years ago, there are, among bloggers, those who are linkers and those who are thinkers, i.e., those who merely refer you elsewhere, with perhaps some quickie witticism; and those who write at length and in depth on certain pet topics. I think my own blog falls somewhere in the middle as I definitely have both "linker" and "thinker" modes when I make my posts.

Anyway, Reynolds is normally a big-time linker on Instapundit; when he writes at length, his writings take the form of USA Today columns. It's rare to see lengthy prose on the blog itself, which makes this recent post rather remarkable. I'm not highlighting it, though, because Reynolds wrote at length: I'm highlighting it because of what Reynolds said. Here are some excerpts (including material not written by Reynolds) regarding the current asinine "Trump is a traitor" meme being out put by the mainstream media and various globalists.

Meanwhile, some lefties are warning about the anti-Trump hysteria: Steve Vladeck writes: Americans have forgotten what ‘treason’ actually means — and how it can be abused: We are willfully turning a blind eye to the sordid history of treason that led to its unique treatment in the U.S. Constitution. If you cheapen the definition of treason, you had better be ready to be called traitors, and perhaps treated as such.

Likewise, Jay Michaelson in The Daily Beast: Stop Saying Trump Committed ‘Treason.’ You’re Playing Into His Hands.

Treason is clearly defined in the Constitution, which states, in Article III, Section 3: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

This definition does not apply to Trump. He is not levying war against the United States, and to be an “enemy” requires that a state of war exists between the United States and the foreign nation in question.

That does not exist in the case of Russia. Congress has not declared war, and Russia’s alleged cyberattacks, while they may constitute acts of war in the abstract, have not been regarded as such by the United States. (Last year, the European Union announced it would begin regarding cyberattacks as acts of war.)

Even when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of spying for the Soviet Union, they weren’t charged with treason, because the Cold War was undeclared, and not a formal “war.” Nor were other Russian spies such as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen.

In fact, the only indictment of treason since World War II was of American-born al Qaeda supporter Adam Gadahn. Unlike Russia, al Qaeda is a formal “enemy” of the United States, because Congress authorized war against it. And in fitting with war, Gadahn was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2015.

Perhaps the domestic political class was Trump’s intended audience, and he intended them to go batshit crazy. In that case, A+.

Meanwhile, Roger Kimball writes: What Critics Missed About the Trump-Putin Summit.

As becomes more and more clear as the first Trump Administration evolves, this president is someone who is willing, nay eager, to challenge the bureaucratic status quo, on domestic issues as well as in foreign policy.

Trump inherited a world order on the international front that was constructed in the immediate aftermath of World War II and has subsequently amassed a thick, barnacle-like carapace of bureaucratic procedures. Perhaps those procedures and the institutions that deploy them continue to serve American interests. But what if they don’t?

As I’ve said, the best way to understand the Trump presidency is as the renegotiation of the post-World War II institutional structure. Naturally, the barnacles don’t like that. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong, but the intensity of their screaming indicates their emotional (and livelihood) investment, not who’s right.

Meanwhile, if the argument is that Trump is a Putin stooge, the arguers have to deal with the fact that Trump is clearly harder on Russia than Obama was, or than Hillary, by all appearances, would have been. Even NeverTrumper Eric Erickson writes: Remember, Trump’s Policies Against Russia Have Been Tougher Than Obama’s.

We’ve been killing Russian mercenaries in Syria. We have expanded and enhanced NATO’s footprint in Eastern Europe over Russian objections. We have sold military weaponry to Ukraine. We have been indicting Russians for interfering in our elections. We have imposed sanctions on Russian oligarchs. We have imposed sanctions on Russia itself. We have actively been aiding Britain and other governments that have seen a Russian presence with targeted assassinations. “We” being the United States under Donald Trump. [...]

The media and left would have you believe Donald Trump is captive to Russia. Lately, they’ve been pushing the idea that he may be some sort of sleeper cell Manchurian candidate who Putin owns and controls.

A fellow law prof (of the lefty variety) was even speculating the other day on social media that Melania was Trump’s KGB control agent.

As Walter Russell Mead wrote last year:

If Trump were the Manchurian candidate that people keep wanting to believe that he is, here are some of the things he’d be doing:

Limiting fracking as much as he possibly could
Blocking oil and gas pipelines
Opening negotiations for major nuclear arms reductions
Cutting U.S. military spending
Trying to tamp down tensions with Russia’s ally Iran

That Trump is planning to do precisely the opposite of these things may or may not be good policy for the United States, but anybody who thinks this is a Russia appeasement policy has been drinking way too much joy juice.

Obama actually did all of these things, and none of the liberal media now up in arms about Trump ever called Obama a Russian puppet; instead, they preferred to see a brave, farsighted and courageous statesman.

So I don’t know if Trump knows what he’s doing. (As proof that his remarks were dumb, he’s already walked them back) American presidents have historically done badly in their first meetings with Russian leaders, from Kennedy at Vienna to George W. staring into Putin’s soul. And as a general rule, Presidents don’t criticize their own intelligence agencies while at meetings with foreign adversaries. But then, as a general rule, U.S. intelligence agencies aren’t supposed to be involved in domestic politics up to their elbows, as has clearly been the case here. And don’t get me started on John Brennan’s disgraceful comments, which Rand Paul correctly calls “completely unhinged.” Brennan, like his colleagues Comey and Clapper, has made clear the rot at the top of important intelligence agencies, and people like Peter Strzok suggest that the rot extends some ways down from the head. So maybe the general rules don’t apply any more, and Trump is more a symptom than a cause of that.

So maybe his approach to Putin is disastrous, maybe it’s smart. But the most important thing Trump can do is get a better class of people in charge of the institutions where the rot is worst. I don’t know if he can do that at all.

You might look at the above, notice that Reynolds wrote only a few paragraphs, and come away unimpressed. As I said, on his own blog, Reynolds is more linker than thinker, so even a few solid paragraphs is* something to behold.

*Don't try me on the grammar, here. In English, we often take countable nouns, lump them together into single conceptual units, and treat them as grammatically singular.

- Ten hours is a long time to hold your breath.
- Sixty miles is quite a distance to walk!
- Fifteen novels is a lot of summer reading.
- Three pizzas is a lot to eat in a single sitting.
- Ten seconds is a short time to have sex.

Note, too, in the above examples, that the verb seems to agree, not with the subject, but with the predicate nominative, which also happens to be either singular or uncountable. Strange, eh? But here we are.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Styx on Trump-as-traitor

The whole "Trump is a traitor" meme is stupid and designed for suckers.

happy chobok

I was in a cab and on my way to Gwangjang Market, this morning, to pick up my 25 plates and 25 bowls when I heard, over the radio, the repeated announcement that today was chobok, i.e., the first of three markers for the month-long "dog days" of summer. The word cho means "first" or "initial" or "beginning." For the purpose of these bok days (boknal in Korean), we've got cho (first), jung (middle), and mal (ending/final): chobok, jungbok, and malbok, the three boknal of summer (a.k.a. sambok, or the 3 bok), each defining a part of the hottest month-long period (which doesn't necessarily correspond to a solar-calendar month). I think these days are determined well in advance—so far in advance that they're printed on calendars that have been manufactured the previous year. I need to do some research into how the concept came about, and how such days are determined.* Anyway, happy chobok. Enjoy languishing in the heat; we've still got August ahead of us, and the first two-thirds of September.

Meanwhile, I have to wonder: is the jangma (monsoon) over? If so, that's the shortest jangma period ever. is predicting only one rainy day from now to the end of July. Go figure. Then go pray to the god of climate change: have mercy on us.

*Korean Wikipedia suggests that chobok is placed on the haji (summer solstice), with the other two days rolling forward from there.

the girl's best friend, buried 100 miles deep

You may have already seen the revolutionary news that scientists have discovered an unimaginably huge trove of diamonds hiding deep, deep inside the earth—about 100 miles deep, as it turns out: about £150,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (150 septillion pounds') worth.

Don’t tell the Hatton Garden gang: scientists just unearthed an eye-watering hoard of diamonds, so valuable it would completely destroy the world’s economy. The scientists reckon there’s a quadrillion tonnes of diamond buried in the ‘cratonic roots’ in continents. There’s just one, tiny, catch: the treasure trove is buried 100 miles down, deeper than any drill has ever penetrated, according to MIT researchers.

Cratonic roots are the most ancient sections of rock under tectonic states, shaped like upside-down mountains. The researchers estimate that the roots may have 1-2% diamond, meaning that about a quadrillion tons of diamond are buried there.

Given that a ton of diamond is 50,000,000 carats, worth at least £3,000 each, that comes out at a tasty £150,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 by our relatively unscientific calculations. ‘This shows that diamond is not perhaps this exotic mineral, but on the [geological] scale of things, it’s relatively common,’ says Ulrich Faul, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.

‘We can’t get at them, but still, there is much more diamond there than we have ever thought before.’ The researchers concluded that there were diamonds down there due to an anomaly in seismic data – where sound waves seemed to speed up. Faul and his colleagues calculated that the anomaly could be caused by 1%-2% of diamonds in the ‘cratonic roots.’ Faul said, ‘Diamond in many ways is special. One of its special properties is, the sound velocity in diamond is more than twice as fast as in the dominant mineral in upper mantle rocks, olivine.’

Bringing up even a small portion of that deposit would indeed wreck the world's economy: with supply now suddenly outstripping demand, a diamond would become a common rock. Any drilling company that wanted to be first to get these diamonds (which seem to be only theoretical at this point) would need to hoard them and dole them out stingily, constricting supply and maintaining demand.

Otherwise, the idea that the earth has that much diamond is pretty astonishing.

what a way to trash my favorite saint

I'm not Catholic, but I have many relatives who are, and my best Korean buddy here in Korea is Catholic, too. I attended two Catholic universities: Georgetown as an undergrad, and Catholic U. as a grad student. It's fair to say that I have, on some level, ties with and an understanding of Mother Church that may, in some ways, exceed those of regular cradle Catholics (how many cradle Catholics can, off the tops of their heads, explain the concepts of immanent vs. economic Trinity and perichoresis?). So it's unsurprising that, despite being a cradle Presbyterian, I have a favorite saint: Francis of Assisi. Francis died early, in his forties, after a life of extreme self-abnegation. A series of legends grew and flowered around his storied existence, including the idea that he had an almost pagan sense of communion with living things and natural phenomena (witness, for example, his "Canticle of the Sun"). I can't say which legend does or doesn't have a ring of truth about it, but the man's mystique has always fascinated me, along with his legendary discipline and humility.

Saint Francis has a namesake in the United States: the city of San Francisco, which bears his name and holy title. I've been to San Francisco once or twice, and I took back some happy memories. Alas, these days, the place is turning into a trash heap or, as this article bluntly calls it, a shithole. Not a very fitting tribute to a most worthy individual.

The homeless problem is out of control. Experts say it “could exceed some of the dirtiest slums in the world.” There are around 7,500 homeless people in the city. Human feces is strewn across public areas. The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit examined over 150 blocks of downtown San Francisco and found 96 blocks littered with feces. San Francisco’s new mayor, London Breed, observed, “there are more feces on the sidewalks than I’ve ever seen growing up here.” She says that a cleaning crew will clean up an area, but “right after they leave, maybe an hour or two later, the place is filled with trash again.”

Very sad. The place used to be a beacon of culture and, more recently, a food mecca. I'd ask "What the hell happened?"—but I already know the answer.

Styx at 3:58 on who's more violent

Really good point being made, here, at 3:58 in this vid:

Monday, July 16, 2018

la France remporte la victoire

Je ne regarde presque jamais les sports à la télé ou sur internet, mais il faut quand même reconnaître la France à l'occasion de sa victoire contre la Croatie dans la finale de la Coupe du monde. Cela fait vingt ans depuis le championnat dernier; il s'agit donc d'une occasion plutôt significative, voire même symbolique.

J'avais vu que Paris a déjà subi une explosion orgasmique de festivités; ses rues, éternellement sales grâce aux crottes de chien éparpillées partout sur les trottoirs, se sont salies davantage. A Paris, les gens font la fête de leur propre façon: bien arrosés, et violemment!

Bon, je te félicite, la belle France! En avant pour l'an 2022!

my mailbox

One of the first things I did, when moving into my new apartment, was march down the hall to the bank of mailboxes on the fourteenth floor. Good thing I did: the mailbox's door had been locked, leaving only the narrow flap through which to insert my meaty fingers to retrieve mail with great difficulty. A few days after completing my move, I went downstairs and told one of the lobby guards about my problem. He said he'd send someone up to take care of it. A week and a half went by, and nothing. I went down to the same lobby guard and complained about the situation. He said that no repair guy was coming, and I couldn't understand his explanation for why this was so. Frustrated, I remarked that "It would be nice if someone took care of this," and I stalked off. While it's possible to insert my fingers in through that flap, I can't get my hands all the way inside: they're simply too big. Any letters that landed on the far side of the mailbox would therefore be unreachable unless I brought along some tools, like kitchen tongs, or even a ruler to slip under the mail, to help me reach all the way to the back.

Then, just the other night, I tested the mailbox door again and, mirabile dictu, the thing opened like a charm! I went downstairs and asked the lobby guard what happened, and he proudly said, "I opened it for you!" The guy is normally very friendly, so I didn't yell at him about why he had waited so fucking long to do something he could have done almost two goddamn weeks ago. I'm simply thankful I can now access my mailbox like a normal person, but I'm left wondering why the mailbox had been locked in the first place. Very odd.

Ave, Jeff!

Having just gotten off a Ben Franklin kick, Jeff Hodges is now on a Lincoln kick. In honor of his latest Lincoln post, which notes that Lincoln has become famous enough to have many dodgy quotes attributed to him, I offer you my favorite of the faux-Lincoln online memes:

I would kill to have written that.

the surreal mind of a dinosaur

I saw this and laughed my fool head off. No idea if the subtitles are accurate, but they do add to the comedy. Welcome to "Cockatoo running around yelling absolute nonsense":

that guy again, with a timeline this time

One thing I miss about Twitter is Hale Razor and his tweets:

In case you need a refresher:

1. In 2009, Hillary Clinton, at the time cozying up to Russia, brought out a plastic toy in the shape of a large reset button that symbolized a resetting of US-Russian relations. The Russian-language label on the button was a mistranslation of the English word "reset": the actual translation, as Foreign Minister Lavrov laughingly pointed out to Clinton upon receiving the button, would have been "overcharged."

2. The "after the election, I'll have more flexibility" quote from 2012, during the presidential election campaign, was overheard thanks to a hot mike as President Obama quietly made the promise to President Dmitri Medvedev. Left-leaning Snopes rates the claim that Obama was making secret promises as "true."

3. The snide "want their foreign policy back" gibe came from President Obama during a debate with Mitt Romney, who claimed that Russia loomed large as "our number one geopolitical foe." There's value in pointing out that the Democrats have since flip-flopped on this issue, but this one is a two-edged sword because the Republicans can also be said to have flip-flopped: Trump, operating these days as an avowed Republican and conservative, has made no bones about trying to make peaceful overtures with Russia. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, has taken a more hawkish stance toward Russia, even once openly declaring she would take military action against the country should it be determined that Russia had carried out cyber-warfare against the US. This is one of the reasons why Styx, in his videos, insists on calling Hillary (and John McCain, while we're at it) the true warmonger, and not Trump. Meanwhile, Trump hasn't been as dovey as all that: he's reinforced existing sanctions and slapped new sanctions (albeit reluctantly) on Russia. One could also argue, as Styx does, that Trump is basically a New York liberal, not a conservative Republican at all, in which case it's merely Trump, carrying the GOP flag, who has redirected GOP policy into a more pacifistic channel, very much against the GOP's will. That leaves open the question as to why the liberals flip-flopped so thoroughly on the Russia issue. Consider that, a month before the 2016 election, it was Trump who was saying he might not take the election results at face value if it was discovered that there had been any jiggering of the polls. The Democrats' response was to laugh in Trump's face and assert that the elections were utterly kosher. Only weeks later, with Trump having won, the Dem's flipped (in every sense of that word), and suddenly it was Russia, Russia, Russia all the time—which it's been to this day, 1.5 years after Trump's electoral victory... which corresponds to the final joke in Razor's above-mentioned tweet.

More on this silliness here.

ADDENDUM: Trump on who the US's "foes" are:

"Well, I think we have a lot of foes. I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now, you wouldn't think of the European Union, but they're a foe. Russia is [a] foe in certain respects. China is a foe economically, certainly they are a foe. But that doesn't mean they are bad. It doesn't mean anything. It means that they are competitive."

From here, with a deliberately misleading headline that makes it sound as if Trump thinks the EU is simply an enemy, period. This is why it's important to read more than a headline plus the first two paragraphs of a story these days.

For more on Trump versus Russia, see here.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

le nouveau gardien de mon frigo

Let's put Bodhidharma to work:

Dalma Daesa, as he's called in Korea, is a dour-faced Indian saint who went to China to preach the dharma. Legend has it that he meditated for nine years straight to gain enlightenment, during which time he ripped off his eyelids to prevent himself from ever falling asleep—hence the way he's always portrayed as having a bug-eyed glower. His biggest claims to fame: he's the First Patriarch of Ch'an (Jpn. Zen, Kor. Seon) Buddhism, and he's the father of kung fu, having taught the Chinese monks a series of combative, calisthenic-style asanas (postures) to improve their poor health. This evolved into the various styles of martial arts now known all throughout China and the world. As a folk image, Dalma Daesa is supposed to bring luck to your abode. We'll see whether placing Dalma on my fridge (the mount for the chimes has two super-strong magnets on it) makes the food I cook any luckier. I've placed the chimes at such a height that they'll ring no matter which fridge door I open and close.

Styx on the chance of an HRC run in 2020

A peppy Styx ridicules the notion of a 2020 run for Hillary Clinton:

I agree: Hillary should run. Heh.

probably the most incredible story of the year

The Tham Luang cave rescue. This is going to be made into books, TV specials, movies...

Give Tony Jaa a starring role, please, as one of the Thai SEALs.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

I hope this is money well spent

Today, I was on a mission. I went to several of my old haunts in the Chungmuro/Jongno area, looking for a particular type of heavy-duty plastic flatware. First, I went to Jungbu Market, one street over from the yeogwan in which I lived during my first semester as a professor at Dongguk University. I had in mind a particular store, at Jungbu, that used to sell plates, bowls, and utensils of all types. It was a sort of kitchen-supply store, and as I recall, it had everything. So today, when I lumbered into the market, I was surprised to see that the entire store had been ripped out of the ground: it was now walled off, and when I peeked between the cracks of the metal paneling surrounding the area, I saw that the former store was now nothing but a construction site, waiting to become something else.

This was further evidence of a general feeling I've had for years, to wit, that the universe is doing its utmost to thwart me, no matter what it is I want to do. If I want to turn a corner, someone else going in the opposite direction will turn the same corner and crash into me or force me to yield (this is Korea, so I'm always the one yielding because people are assholes). If it's after midnight, and I want to cross an otherwise-empty street, a car will suddenly appear and force me to pause before crossing. If I want to buy Bundaberg ginger beer from the local grocer, the grocer will stop stocking it (there are about ten products for which this is true).

Anyway, it figured that the store was now gone. So I trudged a few blocks over to Gwangjang Market, where I knew there was a similar store. I had gone there months earlier to buy a mortar and pestle, and I knew that this store had piles and piles of flatware of all sorts. (Trivia: "flatware" can refer both to utensils and to plates; bowls and jugs, etc., are normally called "hollowware," but I'm sloppily including bowls under "flatware" here because these are somewhat flat-bottomed bowls with high sides.)

I found the store, and a friendly shopkeeper there helped walk me through some of the products on display. It didn't take long to find exactly what I'd been looking for: heavy-duty plastic plates and bowls such as are used by numerous Korean-style Chinese restaurants and regular old Korean restaurants. The guy even used inches as a unit of measurement to describe the width of the plates he had. Unfortunately, because I needed to buy twenty-five plates and twenty-five bowls, the guy wasn't able to hand them over: he didn't have that much flatware in stock. He did, however, have more in storage elsewhere, so I asked him whether I could order the plates and bowls and pick them up later. He said that would be fine, and that he could have everything by Monday afternoon/evening. I told him I worked late, so he suggested that I pick the items up on Tuesday morning. We settled on 10:30 a.m. as the pickup time. I asked him whether I could pay by card; he looked sheepish and said he preferred cash. The total damage was W150,000 (W3,000 per single item, 25 each of plates and bowls); I had W100,000 in cash on me, so I handed that over and promised the rest on Tuesday. He gave me a receipt with a handwritten record of our transaction; I scribbled my name and phone number for him on another sheet of paper, and that was that.

I walked over to Insa-dong, bought some cute trinkets (more on the reason for this later, maybe), then grabbed a cab home. It was a nasty, sweaty day of walking, and I'm about to go out and walk a few more thousand steps before calling it a day. I'm glad to have found that shop, though; it was a life-saver. On Tuesday morning, I'll trundle out to Gwangjang Market again with my huge Costco bag and the final W50,000 that I owe the shopkeeper, then I'll grab the flatware and cab back to the office, my mission of upgrading all the elements of my in-office meal prep now complete. I'm slowly turning into a catering service.

a spine-tingling revelation

After that appetizing tour of a BBQ place, here's something to de-appetize you.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Ryan Smokehouse

I met Charles around 6:30 this evening, and we walked the short distance from Jamshil Saenae Station (formerly Shincheon Station) to Ryan Smokehouse [sic—not "Ryan's"], which sits about 250 meters back from Olympic Daero, one of the main streets in southeastern Seoul. If you're interested in finding the smokehouse yourself, take the subway (or a cab) to Jamshil Saenae Station, find Exit 4 of the station, walk in the direction toward which the exit is pointing, then take your first major left turn away from the main street. After that, just walk along the slightly crooked street for about 250 meters until you see the sign and doorway for Ryan Smokehouse on the left.

The smokehouse has a bar and sit-down area on its first floor, but the lady host greeted us and took us back outside and up a metal flight of stairs on the side of the building to the second-floor area, which is dedicated exclusively to restaurant-ish activity. Charles and I were seated at a roomy four-top in the corner, close to a window that gave us a nice view of the street below. Having both read Joe McPherson's writeup of this place, we decided to go with the Big Boy Platter, which presents the newbie with a tour of many of the treats on offer. Here's a picture of what the platter looked like. Click on the image to enlarge:

We were told that the corn fritters came, as a side, with the meal, so we could pick three other sides to go along with the platter. We chose cole slaw, Brunswick stew, and potato salad—no lack for carbs. I'm not sure that Charles was all that happy with the choice of potato salad (I may have insisted on it a little too avidly), but in the end, I think it proved to be a decent selection. Here's a closeup of the fritters (no click needed):

The fritters proved absolutely delicious when hot—sort of a light and fluffy, "hush puppies meet sopapillas" type of bread—crunchy around the edges and soft and aromatic on the inside. Charles wondered aloud whether I was okay eating the fritters despite the onions inside them, and I told him I didn't mind.

Part of the platter was a heap of pulled pork, and another part was some beautiful, fresh-baked bread, still redolent from the oven. Inevitably, my friend and I had to make pulled-pork sandwiches, and that's what we did, slathering barbecue sauce onto halved rolls, piling on the pork, and topping the meat off with pickles and purple slaw (all visible in the first picture above). Below is a shot of my first such sandwich:

It shouldn't have been a surprise, but many of the side dishes proved to be as memorable as the main items of the platter. Below is a picture of two such sides: the Brunswick stew and the potato salad, the latter of which proved to be just as good as Joe McPherson said it was in his article. The potato salad managed to avoid the sin of being obnoxiously mayonnaise-y and vinegary, and the Brunswick stew caught my attention because of its spicy smokiness, a sure sign that this had been concocted by a Texan.

Speaking of Texans, founder Ryan himself made an appearance, shook our hands, and talked with us a bit. (In fact, we had a few helpful staffers either serving us attentively or explaining how the current menu was about to undergo some changes as the restaurant targeted its market more closely. Normally, I don't like having my meal interrupted by people who wander up and just start talking, but in this case, I could feel the optimistic energy of the place, which is fairly new and still looking eagerly toward the future, so in that spirit, I was actually glad to hear what these staffers had to say.) If I recall correctly, Ryan solicitously asked more than he told, but one of the things he did tell us was that we were seated at the exact table where Joe McPherson had been with his daughter. Call it karma.

Brunswick stew and potato salad:

All in all, I'd say this was most decidedly a thumbs-up experience, and Charles and I have agreed to return to the smokehouse at a later date, this time with Charles's wife, who is also a BBQ aficionado.

So let's talk a bit more seriously about the ups and downs of tonight's culinary adventure. Don't worry: I'm not going to say that I actively hated any part of the meal I ate, but you have to realize that I'm becoming pickier in my old age, and I also have a string of BBQ joints in Seoul against which to compare this latest dining experience. I've been to Linus; I've been to Manimal; I've been to two out of three of Joe McPherson's places. At this point, I think I can call myself a veteran of the Seoul BBQ scene (as can Charles, who has probably been to even more places than I have—and both he and I have cooked certain BBQ-related items on our own, thus giving us even more insight into this particular cuisine), so I no longer come into a smokehouse as a complete and uncritical tyro.

Starting with the sides, then: the corn fritters, already described above, were fantastic. Same goes for the Brunswick stew, of which I could have eaten buckets. That stew was packed with flavor, and I think it blindsided me, partly because I approached it as if it were a mere side. That was a mistake, and the stew itself demanded respect the moment I tasted it. The bread rolls were awesome as well—puffy and soft, but dense enough to be taken seriously, and the perfect consistency for use as a pulled-pork conveyance. The potato salad, which Joe described in his writeup as "buttery," was subtle in flavor, and the taters themselves were mashed to just the right consistency: there was a bit of chunkiness in the midst of all that smoothness. If there was a loser-by-default among the sides, it would have to be the purple cole slaw, which went largely uneaten: Charles and I, through combined effort, probably scraped off maybe the top third of the slaw, leaving the rest to be packed up at the end of dinner (and taken home by yours truly). It's not that the slaw was bad: Charles complimented it several times during dinner. It's just that, among a crowd of very good sides, this was simply the least good. Oh, before I forget: we also had a small side of pickles that proved to be quite delicious. Not too sweet, and sitting inside a small metal cup, just chilling alongside some jalapeños and raw onions. I made sure to slap some pickles onto my pulled-pork sandwiches.

Let's shift our focus to the main items on the platter. Obviously, Charles and I went for the pulled pork first, but we both agreed that there was a massive slab of pork rib, in the middle of our tray, that was calling to us. The pulled pork wasn't bad, but it proved to be a bit dry and didn't have nearly the flavor I thought it ought to have. Perhaps it needed a bit more sauce, but I think it was mainly the dryness, along with a lack of strong seasoning, that was the problem. If I were going to judge pulled pork, I'd look at the following factors: juiciness, meat/bark contrast in texture and taste, spicing/seasoning, and saucing. The more I think about it, it's a wonder that the Brunswick stew could be so packed with flavor while the pulled pork ended up so bland. None of this is to say the pulled pork was bad. I enjoyed the hell out of the little sandwiches I made with the pork; I simply wish the pig could have had more oomph.

The sausages were obviously smoked, but despite whatever amount of time they spent in the smoker, their interiors were soft and easy to chew and swallow. They had more spicing and seasoning than did the pulled pork, but I can't say that they were the most memorable items on the tray. No, that honor would have to go to the two biggest stars: the smoked half-chicken and the slab of barbecued pork rib. As you'll recall from my writeup of Joe McPherson's first restaurant, the chicken that Joe had made was so fantastically incredible that it pretty much altered the structure of my brain right then and there. Comparing other places' chicken to Joe's chicken seems more than unfair because, quite frankly, there isn't a chicken in Seoul that can make the grade. That said, Ryan's smoked half-chicken, taken on its own terms, was fantastic: smoked all the way through and not just on the surface, the meat was perfectly tender, and the skin had a toothsome texture—crispy here and there, but also participating in the chicken's juiciness in other spots. Very addictive. The pork rib (I think Joe called it a pork-belly rib) had all the taste that I would have expected from the pulled pork. Charles got the meatier end of the rib, but my end of the rib was still loaded with flavorful meat—a bit dry at the extreme end (which was to be expected: it was a burnt end,* after all), but juicy, tender, and smoky the farther in I went.

Charles had eaten a large lunch, so he couldn't get into the BBQ mêlée to the degree that I could (I'm a big eater even after having had a big lunch). Still, despite my valiant efforts to clear the tray, we ended up with enough leftover food for yours truly to have bagged up. Overall, I'd say my experience at Ryan Smokehouse was a massively positive one. There were a few little hitches, but I'm pumped about going back and trying other parts of Ryan's extensive menu. Charles and I both love brisket (like Joe Mac, we passed over the brisket this time around), so we'll likely be focusing on that the next time we visit.

Ryan himself is a big, friendly guy. Visit his Instagram page here. His staffers are all friendly, helpful, and not at all annoying: they're there to enhance your dining experience, and I for one welcomed their presence.

ADDENDUM: how could I forget to talk about dessert? When Ryan visited our table, he brought a complimentary dessert with him: house-made bread pudding. I told Charles that I had a soft spot for the obnoxiously enormous bread pudding served at the local Famous Dave's in Alexandria, Virginia, but I have to say that Ryan's bread pudding definitely gave Dave's pudding a run for its money. Although much smaller in size than Famous Dave's bread pudding, Ryan's dessert made up for its midget status with amazing taste that came through as a nice balance of different flavors, with nothing overpowering anything else. As Charles and I dug deeper into the dessert, the pudding's texture seemed—to me, at least—to improve as we got down to where the bread had absorbed more of the liquid elements of the pudding (probably butter, eggs, milk, and maybe some vanilla... Charles would doubtless add that there was bourbon in there, too). Unfortunately, Charles and I destroyed the pudding before either of us thought to take a picture of it, so I don't have any images to show you. Sorry. Maybe Charles has a shot, but I don't remember him taking any dessert pics. (We also failed to take any selfies with Ryan, whom we saw chilling outside when we left the restaurant.) Ah—Joe's article (linked at least twice above) has a pic of the bread pudding.

*Technically, it was a rib tip because (1) it was pork, not beef, and (2) it was literally from the tip of the rib, not from the end of a beef brisket. Still, I'd call what I ate a close cousin of a burnt end. Yum. That'll do, pig. That'll do.

the BBQ cheat day

I've tried to be good this week, eating low to no carbs by scarfing down nothing but chicken breast and salad and fish,* but today is Fuck It Day, and I'll be teaming up with my buddy Charles this evening to tackle the latest BBQ mecca in Seoul: Ryan Smokehouse. Read Joe McPherson's writeup to learn more about the place, which is run by an honest-to-God Texan who knows his way around a smoker.

Expect photos.

*I'll have you know that I officially began my Eschew the Elevator campaign on Monday, and I've been walking upstairs from the B1 level to the 14th floor of my apartment building every single goddamn night after I put in my steps. After only four days, it's getting marginally easier to make the climb, although I still end up soaked in sweat by the end. Next week: we ramp things back up to 26 floors every day. Hooray!

my blog's RSS feed makes me laugh sometimes

I follow quite a few different blogs, and I visit them whenever I see updates on my own blog's RSS feed. Occasionally, in a bizarre bit of synchronicity, several blogs will all talk about the same topic or theme, which is both creepily uncanny and ticklishly amusing. Tonight is a good case in point: John Pepple, who follows soccer and has been writing about the World Cup, just put up a post titled "Soccer: England Snatches Defeat from the Jaws of Victory." Right after that on my blog's feed, I see that Michael Gilleland—self-styled "antediluvian, bibliomaniac, and curmudgeon"—has just published a post titled "Prayer for the Dead," which may well apply to England's crash-and-burn at the World Cup. The prayer reads in part:

O goddesses of earth, and you, form of the invincible beast which, fame ever tells us, have your bed and growl from your cave in the gates passed through by many strangers, a guardian not to be subdued in Hades! I pray, child of Earth and Tartarus, that he may walk clear when the stranger comes to the plains of the dead below. On you I call, who are eternal sleep!

Grim words for a grim time (team). Heh. But do remember: it's just a game.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

I think I'm in love (for now)

The feeling will be gone by tomorrow, but for the moment, I'm basking in the warm glow that comes of finding myself across the desk from a cute woman who very obviously likes me. Let me enjoy my temporary glory: these things are rare for a guy like me. I know full well I'm not much to look at, but every once in a while there's an instant in time during which I lock eyes with a pretty lady and, as the French say, ça fait un déclic, i.e., something clicks.

I had waited until the last moment to register my change of address. You can do this either with the Seoul Immigration Office directly, or with the local district office (gucheong in Korean). To meet with someone at Immigration, it's now necessary to get online and make a reservation; slots fill up quickly, so this is no longer something you can do on the spur of the moment. Seeing that I wouldn't be able to hit Immigration for a couple weeks, and knowing that I needed to inform someone of my change of address within fourteen days (today marks the fourteenth day since my move on June 28), I elected to hit the Gangnam District Office today. Of course, before doing that, I needed to obtain a proof of residence: you can't just stroll into the district office and claim to have changed your address. So this morning, I went to the second floor of my apartment building, which is where the building's admin office is located. Those staffers proved to be of little help. "Not our responsibility," they said. "You need to go back to the realtor who arranged for you to move into your new place."

So I went down to the lobby floor to Tower Budongsan (Tower Real Estate). No one was there. Normally, there's this one lady I talk to; she was the one who first took me on a tour of the apartment, and she has also helped me sort out the whole rent-and-gas-bill problem. I waited in that office for the better part of an hour, and finally, someone walked in. I didn't know this lady, but I explained my situation. She made a few calls, and a male staffer from my company showed up. I re-explained my situation to him, and after he and the lady checked around for a bit, they concluded that there was a rental contract that could serve as proof of residence, but that they couldn't print it out right there, for some reason. The man told me he'd fax the thing to the HR department where I work (which made me wonder why he couldn't just hand the document over). I got to work, went to the second-floor HR department, and picked up the fax from the lady who was working there.

Next step: go to the district office. I grabbed a cab to Gangnam Gucheong and walked into the building, a hulking edifice serving as a temple to bureaucracy. I had been to this office several times before; it's a take-a-number system: go to the appropriate ticket dispenser (there were several such dispensers, each for a different section of the floor), grab a ticket, and wait for your number. The bell for my ticket sounded immediately, and I found myself sitting across the desk from a lovely, petite lady who initially spoke to me in English. She asked me if I was there to list a change of address, and when I said yes, she consulted with a colleague, then handed me two forms to fill out. "You fill this one out yourself; for this other form, you fill out the top part, and your employer has to fill out the middle. If you come back today, we can get this all done by today." I asked when the district office closed; she said six o'clock. Somewhere toward the end of our exchange, I started speaking in Korean, and the lady became all chirpy and much more cheerful, which made her look even cuter to me. Still, it was disappointing to know I'd need to fill out two dang forms, but I dutifully took the forms, left the building, and cabbed back to the office.

I filled out both forms to the best of my ability, then took the form that needed to be filled out by my company down to HR. The same lady at HR gamely filled out everything necessary, and within a few minutes, I was back out the door and on my way to the district office again. Upon arrival, I walked over to the ticket dispenser to take a number again, but as I knew was going to happen, my sweetheart saw me and called me directly over to her desk, almost as if she didn't want any of her coworkers to grab me. Nice to feel needed. Alas, she gave me yet another form to fill out, but I was under her spell at this point, so I didn't care. She accepted the filled-out forms I gave her, and then I gave her the third form plus a photocopy of my passport. She asked me to wait a bit, and within a couple minutes, she had processed the forms and written my updated address on my F-4 visa card. I didn't have to pay any fees, and as I thanked her and turned to leave, she said something to me that I know was nice, but I can't recall exactly what she said. There was a good bit of crackling eye contact between us, and as I walked away, I realized I lacked both the cleverness and the initiative to ask her out... although it would also have been necessary to check her hand for a wedding ring.

In terms of cuteness, my petite clerk reminded me a little bit of that Japanese lady named Rie ("ree-eigh") from those Buzzfeed Tasty food videos (see her here). Very similar smile. Alas, I won't see her again until I need to change my address once more, and who knows when that's going to happen? If she's not married now, she'll be married by then.

civile vs. militaire: un parcours compétitif

The following video, in French with subtitles (if you click the "CC" button below the video window), shows a race on a military obstacle course (le parcours du combattant) between Clément Dumais, a civilian and professional parkourist, and Major Gérald (no other name given), the "officier du sport" of the First Foreign Legion regiment of the French Foreign Legion. The major looks to be significantly older, but he knows the obstacle course intimately, whereas Dumais has only just arrived and, as far as I can tell, is given no opportunity to feel the course out before competing. The competition is nevertheless pretty gripping to watch (with Dumais, at one point, veering accidentally off the course before the major sportingly calls him back on course). I was impressed by both men's athleticism, as well as by the respectful sportsmanship that both displayed when the race was done. Enjoy.

ADDENDUM: upon rewatching the video, I saw that there are a couple clips of Clément getting the tour of each individual obstacle, so while he didn't have the chance to do a practice run, he did have the chance to take the field in, enabling him to anticipate each challenge. If these gents ever decide to have a rematch, they should aim to do it on neutral ground: a 500-meter course that contains 50% military-style obstacles and 50% free-running-style obstacles, with neither contestant being allowed to see the course before he runs it.

nothing good will come of this video

A couple things to note about the following vid:

1. There's no spoken dialogue, and the captions are in French, but you can pretty much guess what's going on even if you don't know French.

2. Despite the use of certain French cheeses and meats, this has to be some of the most un-French cooking I've seen: the French generally (1) eat smaller portions than Yanks, (2) focus more on garden/fresh vegetables than on cheese and meat, and (3) don't focus nearly as much on bread as the stereotype about French people would suggest. And yet here we are, watching a French-language video showing little more than cheese and carbs, with occasional hot dogs (and American-style bread bowls) thrown in, plus the liberal use of Coca Cola, barbecue sauce, and US-style streaky bacon (as the Brits call it).

That said, enjoy the decadence laid out before you.

NB: the video's title, "15 recettes pour les accros au fromage," means "15 Recipes for Cheese Addicts." The slang term accro comes from the verb accrocher, which means "to hang on to" or "to hook on to." When you're hooked on something, you're an addict.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

mature exchanges are hard to find

I was strolling through YouTube when I stumbled upon a video of Jordan Peterson talking about the Buddha. Peterson offers some interesting insights, but the video concludes with Peterson essentially interpreting the Buddha's story through his (Peterson's) own psychological lens. But this isn't what interested me: what interested me was a brief exchange between two commenters (scroll down below the video to see the exchange) that highlights a major disconnect between academics (or the academically minded) and the more down-home hoi polloi. Before I say more, here's the exchange:

Appleblade: I give Prof Peterson a pass here. Some Buddhist purists don't like his Western interpretation of the lesson of the Buddha's story, but he's not doing anything wrong. Buddhists have their own interpretations of other religions and philosophies. They're not wrong to do that ... what else can religions and philosophies do other than espouse their own views, and say what's wrong with other views insofar as they disagree? It's part of having a mature, comprehensive worldview.

aboctock: Buddhists have interpretations of other religions and philosophies? Which Buddhists would that be? Some monks sitting somewhere? Your regular born-and-bred Buddhist person has barely any idea of the existence of other religions. And other PHILOSOPHIES? I wonder which Buddhists you've been hanging with.

Appleblade: Well, aboctok, The Buddha himself rejected Hinduism and said why. I'm sure there are Buddhists who 'don't get out much', and don't have opinions on other religions, but since Buddhism is a rejection of ordinary ways of thinking about things, I'm inclined to think almost all Buddhists know the more common ways of thinking about reality ... that there's a heaven where you go when you die (Muslims & Christians), or that there's nothing after you die (atheists, Jews, the non-religious), etc.). I've only personally known 2 Buddhists, but they both were originally Christians.

aboctock: I respect your frankness and don't doubt your intentions, but really, you're talking about a boutique brand of Buddhism, either: individuals in Buddhist populations who follow through on a deep interest in a wider spirituality (quite unusual), or more likely, westerners who have embraced Buddhism (entirely foreign mindset.) Spend a decade or two living among the regular village folk who make up the overwhelming economic weight throughout a Buddhist country, and you'll undoubtedly see what I mean. The brutal truth is that behind the face presented by ritual, they have barely any understanding of the philosophy of their own religion, never mind anybody else's. There is an enormous gulf between the set of ideas that have currency for a westerner who gravitates to some form of Buddhism, and the "precepts" handed down to the vast bulk of practising Buddhists—and that's hundreds of millions of people. This is where taking up Buddhism differs hugely from embracing Christianity or Islam, or probably anything. If you force your way well beyond the distorted cocoon of people who already have a professed interest in spirituality (e.g., converts), and make sustained contact with populations of people who grew up Buddhist, you will see that they are different worlds. Hehe, alternatively, since this idea is no doubt uncomfortable and awkward, just feel free to forget that we had this conversation, no hard feelings. But I live with them. Lol, there's no philosophy to speak of. Ever. It is the polar opposite of the ethic that characterises a westerner who puts up their hand and says, "Hey, I'm interested in Buddhism." If you are/were such a person, then you already know far more about Buddhism than nearly all Buddhists do. Which is not in itself a criticism of them; that's just how Buddhism—on the ground, as practised by many millions of actual Buddhists—works. Err, or should I say operates. But no, their understanding of the philosophy of other religions, not to mention philosophy (!) is not well-developed. It might be impressive in context, but that context is brutally simple. Sorry.

Appleblade: As everything you said here makes sense, I guess I think we were just talking past each other. lol! ... (I'm an academic, so when I speak of Buddhists or Christians, I have in mind people who are serious about their faith as a matter of truth ... my bad, no doubt.) The great bulk of Christians probably have no idea what they believe, and the Fundamentalist types who pride themselves on doctrine are in a grand minority. If you say so, I'm happy to accept that the great bulk of Buddhists simply practice rituals, and know little of the deep reasoning behind it all.

Isn't there any Buddhist Sunday School where you live? ;)

Commenter "aboctock" starts off a bit aggressively, but "Appleblade," a self-professed academic, remains civil. While I wish aboctock's tone were less arrogantly assertive, I can see that he (I assume aboctock is a he) is at least willing to engage in discussion and argument by offering substantive reasons and examples for his point of view. Both interlocutors make very good points—points that are relevant to those of us in religious studies. One of the major problems, as Appleblade points out at the end, is the danger of "talking past each other" when discussing religious traditions at the macro level (e.g., by referring only to "Buddhism" without further qualifiers): it's quite true that there are sophisticated, rarefied, philosophical strains of a religious tradition while, at the same time, there are simpler/simplistic, folkloric, superstitious strains. A professor can expound on Buddhism to an audience full of folkloric Buddhists, and those Buddhists won't recognize any Buddhism in what the professor is talking about. This gives rise, in some circles, to a perceived contrast between "nightstand Buddhism"—a philosophically tinged understanding of Buddhism based almost solely on the reading of books and stripped entirely of communal religious practice, history, and tradition—and so-called "real" Buddhism, i.e., the unsophisticated, ceremonial, god- and legend-filled Buddhism as it's actually lived by the regular folk, which is more about chanting and magic and ritual than it is about philosophy. (Christians run this same gamut; so do Jews, Hindus, Muslims, etc.) My problem, though, with the "nightstand versus real" dichotomy is that it essentializes folkloric Buddhism and is too quickly dismissive of other approaches to the Buddha and to Buddhist belief and practice. I, too, am often tempted to knock philosophical and nightstand Buddhists off their pedestal by contrasting their often-naive perception of Buddhism with Buddhism as it's actually lived in Asia. But it's not wise to give in to that temptation because that road leads to essentialism—which is ironic, given Buddhism's native anti-essentialism.

Anyway, it was refreshing to find some intelligent comments on YouTube for once. YouTube comment threads are so clogged with intellectual sludge that it's often an exercise in futility to dip into them. I'm glad I stumbled across this.

seen on Gab

Love this:

This is the flip side of "Trump shouldn't build a border wall, but celebrities can live inside walled properties, and gated communities for the rich are OK because reasons." So, yes: do leave your doors open and enjoy the fruits of having open borders, right in your own home!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

"Chappaquiddick": review

[NB: spoilers ahead.]

Two days before the moon landing that gripped the nation on July 20, 1969, Senator Edward Kennedy, most likely having had a few too many, drove off a small bridge and into a pond at Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts. The car flipped over and sank upside-down into the water. Kennedy somehow managed to escape the wreck, but his passenger, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, remained trapped inside the car, which filled with water. Kennedy later claimed to have tried to help Miss Kopechne before giving up, leaving the scene of the accident, and retreating to his hotel. He failed to report the accident for about eight or ten hours, but when he finally did, he confessed he had been at the wheel. At some point during that crucial span of time, and probably very early on, Miss Kopechne drowned. For people of a certain age, the very name "Chappaquiddick" is synonymous with this incident and, depending on one's political affiliation, such people see Kennedy as either having suffered enough for what he had done or having never experienced the full justice that should have been meted out to him (Kennedy was sentenced to two months in jail, with the sentence being suspended). For his part, Kennedy seemed to have been affected enough by the incident to cancel any bid to run for president in both 1972 and 1976. As you doubtless know, Kennedy went on to serve several more decades as a senator before dying of brain cancer in 2009.

It's been nine years since Senator Kennedy's death, and now there's a movie about this incident. 2018's* "Chappaquiddick" is directed by John Curran ("We Don't Live Here Anymore") and stars Aussie actor Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy. Also starring are Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne, Bruce Dern as ailing patriarch Joe Kennedy, Ed Helms (of "The Hangover" fame) as cousin and lawyer Joe Gargan, comedian Jim Gaffigan as US District Attorney for Massachusetts Paul Markham, and Clancy Brown (best known for "Highlander" and "Starship Troopers") as former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The movie, with its short running time of 101 minutes, covers the Chappaquiddick incident itself as well as the immediate aftermath, with pre-ending-credits title cards explaining future events.

By the time the incident blew up and and then blew over, the American public had been made aware, in bits and pieces through the media, of the salient points. What "Chappaquiddick," the movie, does is flesh out some of the details while leaving certain important questions unanswered. The portrayal of Ted Kennedy comes across as both critical and sympathetic, and in my opinion, the movie ultimately refuses to take sides. If the story gives us a clear bad guy, that would have to be Dern's old Joe Kennedy, wheelchair-bound, barely able to speak, and angry about how Ted is tarnishing the family's name and legacy. When Ted first calls his father at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port and spills his guts, old Joe merely croaks in response, "Alibi." Ted takes the manful route, however, and tells the police he had been driving, although he is seen speculating aloud about whether to say that Mary Jo had been at the wheel (a lie that would have dissolved the moment the body got pulled from the water). Later on, when Ted is face to face with his father, old Joe slaps his son and manages to gasp that Ted will never be a great man like his now-dead brothers. Old Joe's selfish focus on the family legacy, and his utter unconcern for the Kopechne family, gives him a malign cast while also removing part of the onus of guilt from Ted's shoulders: it must have been hard, the movie contends, to have been the son of such a man.

But the movie also shows that Kennedy made a string of poor moral choices—that despite his rhetoric during a party that the Kennedy family has a "true compass"** as its moral guide, Ted, at least, was morally adrift and unsure what to do. We see evidence of how at sea Ted is during an early moment in the film, when Kennedy is captaining a sailboat in a regatta. The man proves to be a poor captain with no intuition of how to pilot his ship; as metaphors go, this one is fairly heavy-handed but somehow apropos. We see further evidence of Ted's lack of a moral compass when he first leaves the scene of the accident. Later on, when Ted is strategizing with his family's people, we watch how various lawyers and PR agents react with shock and dismay to Ted's poor decision-making. Ted fumbles as he blindly throws out possible strategies for handling the press, and he causes howls of dismay when he lets his staff know he has released a statement to the local Edgartown police that has already been read aloud to the press—three times. We watch as Ted thinks a neck brace might be appropriate to wear to Mary Jo Kopechne's funeral (no one thinks the brace is a good idea), and in the film's final moments, we witness Ted's moral dilemma as he must choose between reading aloud an honest resignation speech written by his cousin Joe Gargan, or a more sympathy-garnering speech by lawyer Ted Sorensen (JFK's speechwriter). Ted opts for Sorensen's speech, and the rest is history: a montage of interviews shows that Democrats were mostly sympathetic to Kennedy (with the majority of interviewees saying "yes" to the question, "Would you vote for him again?"), making clear that, even with Mary Jo Kopechne's death so recent in public memory, the public already forgives the man.

Is "Chappaquiddick" a critical examination of this period of Kennedy's life? Is it attempting to use this terrible incident to say something more general about Ted Kennedy's well-intended but slippery moral character? Is it a cynical, Tom Wolfe-style commentary on how wealth and privilege (and a huge, distracting event like Neil Armstrong's moon landing) can shield a person from justice? Is it trying to give viewers an even-handed presentation of events, mixing facts and speculation? It's hard to say. I came away feeling the film was muddled about what it was trying to accomplish. This may, in itself, not be a bad thing: leaving events open to interpretation is sometimes the more mature road to take. That said, I still came away feeling as if something were missing. It wasn't the acting: Jason Clarke's Ted Kennedy is well portrayed, with a muted New England accent that stays well away from caricature. Bruce Dern exudes a sort of miasmic evil as old Joe Kennedy. Kate Mara, as Mary Jo, somehow manages to project both a wan soulfulness and a bit of a lost quality, as if she were at the center of events that would prove too large for her (as, in a sense, they did). Nor was it the cinematography: the film is beautifully shot, evoking the late Sixties without a lot of fanfare. The music wasn't particularly memorable, but that wasn't what was missing, either.

One morbid question I had, early in the film, was whether the camera would dwell on the process of young Miss Kopechne's drowning and, eventually, her corpse, once it was brought to the surface. The movie did, in fact, portray some of her final, frightened moments of life, but did so via an interesting narrative device: what I might call a "counterfactual flashback." By this, I mean that there was a scene in which Ted was back in his hotel, pondering what had just happened and what must still be happening. The "flashback" we see isn't a personal remembrance, but Ted's own speculation about what Mary Jo must have been going through right at that moment. We see the poor woman with her face pressed desperately into a shrinking air pocket as she recites the Hail Mary (Kopechne was, in fact, from a Catholic family). Later on, when the assistant coroner, the local police, and the diver are discussing her corpse—which is visible to the viewer—they note that saliva bubbles at the corners of Mary Jo's mouth seemed to indicate she had fought for life and didn't drown immediately. In other words, she suffered. As ghoulish as it sounds, I think Mary Jo's death, which is so central to this story, provides a kind of ground or anchor—given its brute factuality—that stands in contrast to Kennedy's moral drifting.

I've seen various reviews that dismiss "Chappaquiddick" as superficial fluff. For my part, I think the film has substance, but it does pull its punches, and it leaves us with no firm verdict on the incident or on Ted Kennedy. As I said earlier, this might not be a bad thing; in the end (and the film has a line to this effect has well), it is history itself that will judge Kennedy for his sins, including his sins of omission.

Only one huge mystery remains: how was Ted able to swim out of the overturned car while Mary Jo was unable to? The way the film shows it, the young woman wasn't pinned against a seat or anything; she was swimming freely inside the car, banging at windows in a desperate attempt to escape the vehicle's confines. If Ted had gone out an open window, why wouldn't Mary Jo have been able to follow? Did the car shift and roll slightly? What happened?

*This movie screened in 2017 at the Toronto Film Festival; its general release in American theaters was in April of 2018.

**The phrase "true compass" pops up several times in the movie and is also the title of Ted Kennedy's final book. Ponder the irony.