Friday, January 18, 2019

involved in some birfday celebrations

There's death, which weighs heavy, but we also have to celebrate life where and when we can. Two people in our office have birthdays that are very close to each other: Saturday, January 19, and Monday, January 21. One of these people also likes to cook, as it turns out, so he and I began formulating a meal for Monday. A few people from other branch offices will be coming; in total, we'll have around five or six people chowing down. The meal we came up with isn't particularly healthy, and it echoes a meal I did late last year with friends at my place and coworkers at the office. Here's the plan:

1. store-bought BBQ baby-back ribs
2. mac and cheese (Mike Symon's recipe again)
3. cole slaw (no-mayo recipe, which was damn good last time)
4. corn slaw (Kevin's standard spicy recipe)
5. dinner rolls (either Korean "milk bbang" or Costco dinner rolls)
6. cake or tart

The partiers don't know it, but I'll also be making a huge load of "Cajun fried rice" with leftover andouille, plus more chicken and shrimp (small ones this time), and the rest of my Bratwurst and Regensburger Wurst.

That really ought to be plenty, ja?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

my ajeossi has passed away

The Korean side of my family is flung far and wide. My mother's older sister ("Emo" or "Imo") and younger brother (John) live in Texas. Emo's husband, my Uncle Ed, died well over a decade ago. Emo has two children, my cousins Marie and Mark. Both have kids of their own. Uncle John also has a wife and two kids, both adults. His daughter married a Chinese-American guy a few years ago. As far as I know, all of John's family is still in Texas. Mom and Dad left Texas for Virginia way back in the 1970s, thus establishing the Virginia branch of our family, which includes my two brothers. My father's brother Pete, Pete's wife, and their four daughters all live in California. The Korean and Caucasian branches of the extended family have never met. My mother's four first cousins, all old and gray now, live in Korea, as I do.

I privately refer to these cousins, in descending order of age, as #1, #2, #3, and #4 Ajeossis. Each one is, according to the inevitable Korean pattern, married and a father. #1 Ajeossi lives in Chang-dong, in the northern part of Seoul, not too far from the Hanguk University of Foreign Studies. I actually have no clue where #2 and #4 Ajeossis live. #3 Ajeossi lived in Garak-dong, in southeast Seoul not far from me, with his wife. Their two sons have been on interesting life-paths; the elder brother studied music in Germany for a while, then came back, got married, and became a professional singer and private tutor. The younger son also went to Germany to study German as well as to live and work in the country; he's become more or less fluent in German, and he's now married to a Korean-German gyopo he met there. Both of these distant cousins have kids.

#3 Ajeossi is the one who was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer last year. I got the news today, from #3 Ajumma, that he had passed away. I don't know how long ago it happened, but I knew back in September that he was terminal. I also feel very guilty for not having visited more often, and part of me is a bit miffed that, even though I had asked Ajumma for frequent updates about Ajeossi's condition, she never once gave them. I'll be visiting her tonight, I hope. Of course, I don't plan to bring up my resentment at not being more in the loop. That would be crass and selfish, and given my own negligence, there's no moral high ground, here. But I'll be doing what I should have done while #3 Ajeossi was still alive: I'll be visiting.

Here's a family pic that got taken when #3 Ajeossi became a granddad thanks to his elder son and his daughter-in-law. This was before the younger son's wife was visibly pregnant; she has since given birth. #3 Ajeossi was a granddad twice over before he passed.

Pictured on the left side, from top to bottom: Gi-yeol (elder son), Jeong-min (wife), #3 Ajumma, baby.

Pictured on the right side, from top to bottom: Jae-yeol (younger son), wife (don't know her name), and #3 Ajeossi.

PERSONAL NOTE: #3 Ajeossi and I weren't all that close, but he was a fixture from my youth, from right around high school, I think. If I recall correctly, the first time I'd ever met him was back in 1986, when we went to Korea as a family for the first time. It was between my junior and senior years in high school, and this was my first time ever traveling internationally. (My month-long stay in Carquefou, France, happened later that same summer, so it was a dizzying, international double-whammy for me.) Ajeossi was quiet and soft-spoken, preferring to listen to conversations instead of participating in them. His wife, my #3 Ajumma, did most of the talking. For the longest time, #3 Ajeossi and his family were the only practicing Christians among Mom's four cousins, but sometime in the 1990s, #2 Ajeossi, the CEO of his own company, suddenly converted, and his family with him. I know some Koreans go Christian merely as a networking strategy (like elsewhere, Christianity is big business in Korea; there's no shortage of rich Christians in this country); it's hard not to be cynical in #2 Ajeossi's case. #3 Ajeossi and Ajumma, by contrast, have been dedicated, pious Christians since I've known them. Ajeossi went from being a deacon to eventually becoming an elder (ironically, in my PCUSA congregation, I became an elder before Ajeossi did; in Korea, a youthful elder is unimaginable); his wife was involved with singing and the decoration of the church with fresh flowers every week; their elder son, a natural singer at a young age, became a member of the choir and eventually was its conductor (he still is, as far as I know).

Back around 1993, when I was visiting Korea on my own for a few weeks, #3 Ajeossi and I did a road trip down to Daejeon to see the Daejeon Expo, a festival of scientific and technological achievements. As we were driving to Daejeon, a dump truck in front of us hit a bump, and a huge clump of dirt bounced out of the truck and landed smack on our car's windshield, cracking it dramatically. Ajeossi, who normally has no temper, gunned the engine, pulled alongside the truck, and waved the driver over to the side. What followed was an agitated conversation once both drivers were out of their vehicles and on the street; it was obvious the trucker didn't know what had happened. I assume the conversation ended with a promise of payment of some sort, perhaps via insurance.

We must have gotten to the expo at a quiet time because the place was a ghost town. Only a handful of tourists could be seen, dwarfed by the large structures and exhibits around them. In the 90s, my Korean was almost nonexistent, so Ajeossi and I said very little to each other the entire trip. It was all a bit boring and very, very awkward. While at the expo, Ajeossi and I rode a simulated roller coaster: the idea was that you go into a domed cinema with a 180-degree projection screen; you sit in chairs that have a limited range of movement to help you feel the twists and turns of the visuals before you. The chair comes equipped with ear-level speakers so that you're immersed in Dolby-quality sound. The visuals included a roller coaster and a spaceship that flew among asteroids and landed in some alien ocean in which, thanks to our chairs, we bobbed heavily up and down. We may have left the cinema and sampled some "international" street food that wasn't all that international. I remember very little else from that awkward, awful trip.

In the years since, I picked up more Korean and was able to say more during family conversations, but #3 Ajeossi was as taciturn as ever. Meanwhile, it was Ajumma who would call me often, and in recent years, she's been texting me. Ajeossi texted me maybe two or three times. I may still have those text messages, in fact; they were little more than cheerfully worded pieces of spam that he had felt it necessary to pass along.

And now, he's gone. I'm still processing this. I knew he was going to step through the Great Door sometime soon, but that doesn't make it any less surprising when death happens. I wonder how Ajumma is taking this. She spent so many years yelling at Ajeossi for being too quiet and passive. That said, I doubt she feels anything approaching relief or vindication now that Ajeossi is gone. If her situation is anything like mine was in 2010, she's feeling as if a limb had been ripped away, leaving a torn and empty space in her very being. And now, she's going to have to deal with the silence that comes with his absence. If she believes in spirits and souls—as I know she does—she might take comfort in the idea that Ajeossi is still, somehow, around. But I've personally never found that thought very comforting. It's no substitute for an actual hug. And when I remember my mother's hugs—how warm she felt, how comforting she smelled, how right the universe was in those moments—the thought that "she's with me now" feels somewhat sad and empty. I don't envy Ajumma what she's going to have to deal with now. As a woman in her seventies, she confronts a new and difficult burden. Ajeossi may have had his faults, but he was a good man—a very good man, with no vices like smoking and drinking and overeating, and he left us all much earlier than he should have.

Pronunciation note: Ajeossi is pronounced somewhere between "AH-jaw-shee" and "AH-juh-shee." Ajumma, meanwhile, is pronounced "AH-joom-mah."

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

son of it is accomplished

I went to the bank today—Shinhan Bank, I mean—and did my three things: (1) I got the international wire transfer done; (2) I renewed my cell phone's e-certificate so I can continue to do cell-phone banking; (3) I checked about my international-wire-transfer limit. Item (3) turned out not to require me to do anything: the teller told me I was good through 2025 because I had registered for a transfer-limit increase last year, and the only problem would be if I were to try to transfer more than $50,000 a year out of the country. Since that amount is more than I currently make per year, that's not even going to be an issue.

So all the admin bullshit is done until tax time rolls around. And if I recall correctly, dealing with the tax documents isn't that huge of an inconvenience: it's just a matter of going to the tax office and following instructions. The staffers there do all the rest. Woo-hoo!

your five favorite authors?

The question came up in our office: "Who's your favorite author?" This proved too hard to answer; we're all word nerds and bookworms here, so limiting our favorites to a single person was impossible. We also began to think aloud about the criteria for saying someone was a favorite. What if you respected an author but didn't exactly like his writing? (That's how I think about Tolkien: an innovator in his genre, and blessed with a grandiose vision... but his books are a slog. Cf. Tolkien's easy-to-read contemporary, CS Lewis.) Should screenwriters be included? What about comic-book writers and their episodic storylines?

Ultimately, I didn't answer the question, but I did change it to, "Who are your five favorite authors?"—which ought to be slightly easier to answer, although, granted, if a mother of twelve had to name her five favorite children, she'd have a hard time doing so. I decided that, were I to attempt an answer, my major criterion would be whether this was an author to whose works I returned often. So: assuming "favorite author" is, in my case, equivalent to "author I'm most likely to return to," here are my five favorites, not listed in any order of preference, prominence, or professionalism:

1. Tom Robbins. The man is a nut, a refugee from the Sixties who still writes in a druggie-tinged vein (vein/druggie pun intended). The first novel of his that I read, and still my favorite, is Jitterbug Perfume, about an ancient European king named Alobar who searches through the centuries for the secret of immortality. He is accompanied by his Indian lover and co-seeker Kudra, and the book is peopled with weird characters like the ever-fading god Pan (the idea of a god whose existence is sustained by believers' belief comes up again, decades later, in Neil Gaiman's American Gods), the LeFever brothers, Priscilla the bisexual waitress, Madame Devalier and V'lu, and the effervescent Irish stereotype Wiggs Dannyboy, a "scientist" also questing for immortality. Robbins's other books are great, too: I've read and enjoyed Another Roadside Attraction (about Jesus' corpse), Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and a naughty favorite of mine, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates.

2. Stephen R. Donaldson. My list wouldn't be complete without this man. While I'm not a fan of his Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, I've read and reread the first two trilogies—in which a mysterious Hindu monk sends a leper from our world to battle the devil in an alternate world—too many times to count. Donaldson's writing treats characters as symbols and metaphors representing something far larger than themselves, and Donaldson's stories often deal with heady philosophical themes like fate/freedom, choice/necessity, peace/violence. Donaldson's female characters often end up getting raped, which is disturbing, but Donaldson is on record defending the idea that his characters develop best when they're put through a wringer. Some of his male characters, like Angus Thermopyle in the Gap series, are arguably raped on several levels as well. And some of Donaldson's prominent female characters suffer no sexual violations, like Terisa Morgan from The Mirror of Her Dreams, and Linden Avery from the Covenant novels. In his later years, Donaldson's prose became a bit too abstract and self-conscious, but his earlier work moves along at a lively clip and will massage even the tautest brain with a host of cosmic ideas.

3. JK Rowling. Rowling may have taken a hard left turn into self-righteous PC/SJW politics, but her Harry Potter heptalogy will remain for me an example of exemplary storytelling. Rowling's series follows the young boy Harry Potter as he discovers his power and learns to use it, all while making fast friends and learning life-lessons from wise old masters like Albus Dumbledore, and even from bitter, nasty teachers like Severus Snape. The Harry Potter books, for all their magical realism, explore human themes like courage, devotion, love, friendship, integrity, and a sense of adventure. Even the minor characters in Rowling's works are dimensional, and despite Rowling's frustrating tendency to strew her pages with comma splices, she writes with a nimble, deft wit that keeps the reader turning those pages. Rowling does all this while remaining firmly double-rooted in both British fantasy (pageantry, swords, and sorcery) and British children's stories (cool kid, dead parents, nasty relatives), giving her work an air of history, dignity, and authority. There might be a debate about whether Hermione should have been paired up with Harry and not Ron (Rowling later expressed regret about this), but when you think about all that poor Ron and his family have gone through, I think his ending up with Hermione is a condign fate for a character who best represents the steadfastness of good friendship through thick and thin.

4. Stephen King. King is another PC/SJW numbskull, but he's a damn good writer. His stories could sometimes use some brutal editing, but with the exception of his horribly bloated and borderline-nonsensical novel It (I've complained about it here), I can't say that King has ever written a single boring sentence. I've read a couple different versions of The Stand, which is a novel I come back to every few years. I haven't read much of King's material since, oh, the 1990s, but many of the novels I have read have stuck with me, and I come back to them, too. Along with The Stand, I've enjoyed novels like Salem's Lot, Cujo, Pet Sematary, Firestarter, Misery, Christine, Needful Things, and The Dark Half. I've also enjoyed King's short-story collections: Skeleton Crew, Night Shift, and Four Past Midnight.

5. Larry Niven. Some of my earliest readings in science fiction were from Niven's works. I began with Neutron Star, a collection of short stories, several of which followed the adventures of one Beowulf Shaeffer, a tall, albino Crashlander who, in some ways, felt like a precursor of Han Solo, but without the hirsute counterpart. I eventually graduated to Ringworld and Ringworld Engineers, but I couldn't stand Ringworld Throne, which was written much later than the two earlier novels. Niven couldn't stay away from the ringworld concept, and I thoroughly enjoyed both The Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring, both of which take place in an immense gas torus that encircles a small star. I'd love to see these novels translated to film: this would be a purely zero-gee adventure, with lots of wind and sunlight and weird creatures that have evolved to survive in all the floatiness. When I can, I reread Neutron Star, Ringworld, and The Integral Trees. Oh, and All the Myriad Ways.

Honorable Mentions
Michael Crichton (who was scientifically preachy but very readable)
Robert Heinlein (who was politically preachy but very readable)
CS Lewis (who wrote compelling fare for kids)
Chuang-tzu (who gave us the humorous side of Taoism)
Mark Leyner (with thanks to Steve doCarmo, who introduced me to this hilarious guy)
George RR Martin (another lover of comma splices, but an incredible yarn-spinner)
Neil Gaiman (I've only ever read American Gods, which I enjoyed, despite its many typos and awkward locutions, but a single book isn't enough to put Gaiman in my Top Five)
Arthur C. Clarke (I've talked about how sci-fi smuggles religious themes into its narrative; this was the guy for that because many of his stories dealt with incomprehensible cosmic powers, thus evoking gods and magic)

Why so little love for female authors? I like Amy Tan, I guess; her writing is clear and emotionally compelling, but Tan's problem is that she's too repetitive from book to book. How much money can you make by beating the same dead horse of Chinese family history and tradition? The Kitchen God's Wife reads exactly like The Joy Luck Club, beat for beat. Barbara Hambly is a well-known SF writer, but I find her prose so annoying as to be unreadable. I don't think she's a good writer at all. In theology, there's the very readable Elizabeth Johnson, who wrote the feminist theological work She Who Is, but as with Neil Gaiman, that's the only book of hers that I've ever read, so she's not going on any lists. If you want to recommend some female authors for me, feel free to do so in the comments. Oh, wait: I do like Carrie Fisher's prose. Fisher was a brutally funny, brutally honest author.

I was tempted to cram Heinlein and Crichton into the fifth spot, above, but I decided not to. Larry Niven's writing is much more of a go-to thing for me, a sort of linguistic comfort food, whereas both Heinlein and Crichton strike me as too self-consciously didactic and agenda-driven to make the list. I guess I could also have included some other writers from my religious-studies background, like John Hick and Kate McCarthy, but those are authors whose works affect me only intellectually, not emotionally.

So that's my list, plus honorable mentions and a few remarks. What's your list?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

présenté sans commentaire

analyzing Don Davis's "The Matrix" score

I really ought to listen to more musical analysis. This was fascinating.

news clippings

1. Something's Going On in Europe

2. a critique of a critique of President Trump's piss-poor spelling
      (h/t to John McCrarey)

I wrote John privately about this one:

Truth be told, Trump's gaffes bother me a lot, and for some of the reasons McWhorter points out. How hard is it for an Ivy League grad to be mindful of something as simple as spelling? Styxhexenhammer666 takes the position that Trump is misspelling deliberately as part of a psy-ops move to get people to talk about his tweets. I'm not sure I buy that. At the same time, Althouse et al. have a point when they say that educated language has no necessary connection with the implementation of good policies. My frustration with that way of thinking, though, is that the "successful" get away with being carefree, and by extension, careless: these people feel free to think that someone else will pick up after their linguistic messes. Sigh... Of course, given a choice between an articulate Obama and a barely articulate Trump, I'll choose Trump every time.

3. 10 Reasons Trump Will Win Reelection (some parts could use an editor)
      Read the comments, too.

elegant design

The most awesome staple remover I ever owned—and I no longer know where it is—was made from a single piece of metal. I loved the simplicity of its design, which translated into simplicity of use: just slide the metal tip underneath a staple... and keep on sliding until the staple undoes itself and lifts smoothly out of the paper. Amazing. I need to order myself another one of those. As much as I like the pinchy-looking staple removers because they look like barking dogs, I much prefer this simple, elegant design. In case you don't know what I'm talking about, here's a picture:

It's smack-your-forehead in its simplicity—one of those things that make you go, "Why didn't people think of this earlier?" Sorry if I seem to be going gaga over a simple tool, but every once in a while, you encounter a manmade object where it's obvious that everything just clicked, and the result of that click was something so utterly, cosmically correct that using it is a pleasure that never grows old. Robert Pirsig might call this Quality.

I'll browse GMarket and Amazon and see if I can't find this thing again. The time has come to order myself one. Or two. Or more.

it is accomplished

My Daegu Bank account is, at long last, no more. I went to the DGB branch in downtown Seoul, close to City Hall, last night in a desperate attempt to get to the ATM and transfer some funds to my Shinhan Bank account (I have rent that needs paying), but the security guard in the building where DGB is told me that I could access the ATM only from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fuck the luck. So I went back this morning, arriving around 9:45 a.m. and deciding on the fly to do what I had originally planned: transfer my money to my Shinhan account and close my DGB account. The procedure involved filling out some forms and typing my passcode into a little keypad several times, but it was otherwise relatively painless. The only wrinkle: I had been paying my cell-phone bill through my DGB account (I had gotten both my DGB account and my cell phone while I was living in Daegu; this was back in 2013, at the beginning of the fall semester). By closing my DGB account, I would have to inform my cell provider, SK Telecom, that I was switching to a new billing account. I'll do that later today.

But we're not out of the woods yet. There's more housekeeping to do: tomorrow, I have to transfer money to the States, renew my $50,000-a-year international-transfer limit, and renew my cell phone's cell-banking electronic certificate. Koreans are big on these e-certificates, which play no role at all when you're doing internet banking in the States. My US-based PNC Bank account is accessible via internet, so all I need is a web browser on my phone. (I happen to have the PNC Bank app, but the level of convenience/inconvenience is about the same either way, app or browser.) All I had to do was go through an online registration procedure, create an ID and password, and voilà—access. In Korea, registering for cell-phone banking is a 90-minute process involving many, many forms and three—count 'em—different passwords, all of which you must memorize. On top of that, there's the e-certificate that must be installed on your cell phone for cell banking. The whole thing is cumbersome and ridiculous, but Koreans love-love-love their paperwork. I guess it imbues the proceedings with a feeling of seriousness. It's sad, too, because this is the reverse of how things are when you get contact lenses: in the US, it's a long, expensive, ridiculous procedure; in Korea, you basically walk in and walk out with new lenses in under fifteen minutes. Ah, well.

After tomorrow, then, most of the admin bullshit will be done until tax time rolls around soon. You can guess how much I'm looking forward to that.

UPDATE: this afternoon, I went to the SK Telecom office and switched the auto-debit over to my Shinhan account. With no DGB account to keep track of, this means I've now consolidated the Korean end of my finances. I still have my US bank account and my US credit card to be mindful of, but that's not a burden. At least I don't have to manage several accounts and several cards. God, what a pain that would be.

Monday, January 14, 2019


Seoul's AQI has been floating around the 230 mark* since about noon today; this is as bad as I've ever seen it. I can normally see the Lotte World Tower in the distance from just outside our place of work, but not today. Today, looking even a hundred meters ahead seems like looking into a light fog—but it ain't fog. It's all fine and superfine dust, some of which blows in from China, some of which comes from local, pollution-belching sources.

I had hoped to get back to walking tonight, after having taken a few days off because of a crazy food-prep schedule last week, but it doesn't look as though that's going to happen. So I'll either cab it to my place or take the subway, but first, I need to do the thing I still haven't done: transfer money from my Daegu Bank account to my Shinhan Bank account. That means trekking downtown. Paying for everything with my credit card is getting rather onerous; I can only guess at how my credit rating is suffering. Luckily, payday is the 16th—this coming Wednesday—so my coffers will finally be refilled after my $9000 dumperoo late last year. The plan this year is to save $3000 a month, then send $6000 every two months to my US account in order to pay down the last bit of my major debt. Doing that five times ought to do the trick, so in theory, I'll be debt-free by the end of October. That's going to happen after I turn 50, alas, so I'll have missed my goal of being debt-free before 50, but whatever—I'll be debt-free by the end of the damn year, and won't that be a relief?

For the moment, though, the highest priority is being able to breathe.

*The air-quality site I consult for Seoul, AQICN, uses a parts-per-billion scale. Read about it here and here. Very roughly, it's from 0 (healthy over 24 hours' exposure) to 500 (hazardous over 24 hours' exposure). Seoul's AQI (air-quality index) tends to vary, during the day, from around 60 (yellow/moderate) on a "good" day to 160 (red/unhealthy) on a "bad" day. Today is an outlier; we're not normally in the "purple" zone (very unhealthy), and generally speaking, the AQI indicators on the street read green at night, when I'm doing my walks (fewer cars?). A much cleaner city like Geneva might be eternally green, with a low-numbered AQI of around 20-ish. Lee District Park, near where I used to live in northern Virginia, is right around that level as well. So I hope that puts Seoul in perspective: things are bad in the big city. Here's how things look for Korea (mainly South Korea), as well as parts of China and Japan:

Brown is the worst; even if you can't see the individual AQI numbers, you can see that China has quite a few such regions. Seoul is pretty bad right now, with a surprising amount of red extending away from Seoul and trailing down the peninsula. Japan looks pretty wholesome by comparison, with swaths of yellow (moderate) and green (good). Note the general lack of data for North Korea... although I suspect the air there is markedly cleaner than it is in South Korea because of the poverty and its attendant lack of pollution-producing industry.

somehow escaping the #MeToo hate

I think comedian Craig Ferguson got out of the talk-show game just in time to avoid the witch hunt that is the current #MeToo movement. Watching clips of Craig on YouTube, I had to wonder whether he'd be able to get away with even a hundredth of the flirty banter he engaged in back in the day. With puckered-sphincter scolds and moral-panicky harridans on the warpath against any and all perceived disrespect of female flesh, Craig Ferguson's show would never have survived the time we currently live in. So: congrats to him for getting out when he did. He should consider himself lucky that none of his shenanigans has created any sort of karmic blowback. Here's a compilation of Craig Ferguson doing what would now be called sexually assaulting women, one after another:

Sunday, January 13, 2019

rest in peace, my friend

I saw Bill Keezer's email before I looked at my own blog's news feed: the sad news has come that Steve Krodman, the blogger who went by "Elisson" (derived from "Eli's son," hence the double "s" and the single "l") has died of causes related to ALS. The progress of his disease was frighteningly fast, a rapid downhill rush from diagnosis to difficulty moving and breathing to total loss of limb function (he had to dictate his final blog post to his daughter, who typed for him) to the news I got this morning from Bill. There was no Hawking-style, years-long lingering. This was, as ALS progressions go, rather quick and brutal.

In his mid-sixties, Steve leaves behind his wife Dee (Donna) and his two daughters, Melissa and Jocelyn. Melissa, if I remember correctly, only recently gave birth around Thanksgiving last year, thus making Steve a granddad before his end.

Steve and I corresponded with some frequency. We even met once, at National Airport, when he was passing through the Metro area on his way somewhere. We sat down for lunch, talked about all sorts of topics, spoke French to each other (he claimed not to have knowledge beyond high-school French, but he was pretty damn good), and parted ways with a hug—initiated by Steve, of course; I do hugs, but I'm rarely the one initiating them.

If you've had the chance to read through Steve's several blogs—Blog d'Elisson, Lost in the Cheese Aisle, and his latest and last, The Concentrated Mind—you know Steve was a talented writer and a first-class wit. Like me, he shared a love of both the scholarly and the scatological, and he could express crude thoughts in a most literate manner. It's always good to have one foot planted on the earth and one hand reaching up into the celestial, for we are all both animal and angel, and Steve exemplified this duality with style and verve. I'll miss his writing; his blogs were always among my go-to reads for any given day.

One thing that truly saddens me is that it wasn't so long ago that Steve had written about the passing of his own dad. Life can be cruel in how it lines us up to be pushed off the cliff; it's unfortunate that Steve had to die so soon after the passing of his father. But if Steve's death reinforces one thing in my mind, it's this: terminally ill or not, we are all born with an invisible sell-by date stamped onto our foreheads, so life needs to be lived to the fullest before we reach that date. Steve was an amateur chef and gastronome; he reveled in the cultural and had deep roots within his own Jewish community. His family is a good, solid, tight-knit one—a true circle of care that surrounded him in a months-long hug when his ALS diagnosis became known. May we all learn from his example.

But Steve was also a poet, and I'd be remiss if I didn't compose a death poem for the man—something appropriately naughty and gross. So I give you The Elisson Sonnet:

To fart is life, the wisest men will say
A fact that I affirm with every heave
I fart to greet, to blow my woes away
I fart hello; I fart to take my leave

But cosmic truth shows holy symmetry
So this, the truth, I now impart to you:
"To fart is life" is evident to me,
But Life's a fart is also just as true

The happy man of farts is full of life
He farts a blessing on his kids and wife

But life, just like a fart upon the wind,
Does come and go in haste, so breathe it in!

RIP, Steve. I'll miss you. And now, because I know it's what you'd want me to do, I'm going to go have myself a nice, warm bowl of gumbo and eat it heartily, mindful of the gift of your presence among us on this plane of existence.

ADDENDUM: in a seemingly unrelated blog post, Lorianne writes:
I’ve realized some inexorable truths. The day after a snowstorm is almost always sunny, and the most bitterly cold days often have the clearest, bluest skies.

ADDENDUM 2: Steve's full obituary has now been slapped up on his blog.

getting schooled on onions

I've done the technique shown in the video before, but only because I'd been moved by a random, silly impulse to do so. I guess I should have taken that impulse more seriously and really thought about what I was doing because this strikes me as a legitimately good technique. One note, though: the lady refers to "parallel cuts," i.e., cuts parallel to the surface of the cutting board, but I've never seen any use for them.

more cartoons via Bill

With thanks to Bill Keezer for the links:

In case you're missing the joke re: the second cartoon, this has to do with two things. First: goofy CNN reporter and perennial Trump antagonist Jim Acosta, who recently beclowned himself by going to McAllen, Texas, and examining a border barrier that had been in place for some time. Acosta claimed not to see any sort of national crisis close to the fence; what he seemed to miss was the obvious fact that border-crossers tend to cross the border where there is no fence, so if nothing is happening by a fence, that's probably a sign that the fence is working. And second:

KUSI, a local TV station in San Diego, California, claims that CNN declined an interview with one of its reporters after finding out the reporter thinks a border wall is effective.

KUSI reported on air Thursday that CNN reached out to them and requested the station provide one of its reporters for a segment on the “debate surrounding the border wall and government shutdown.” The station offered Dan Plante, who frequently reports from the border and has spoken to a number of Border Patrol agents who have concluded that a border wall is effective at curbing illegal immigration and drug trafficking.

Steve Cohen, KUSI’s news director, told The Daily Caller in a phone interview that KUSI warned CNN in its offer that Plante would likely not conform to the cable network’s desired narrative on the wall.

“I told my guy, ‘We have to let them know that our approach is the wall works,'” Cohen explained. “CNN got back and said, ‘We’re declining. We don’t need your guy.'”

If it's true but doesn't fit the narrative, chuck it out. Jim Acosta is currently my pick for the Democrats' next Baghdad Bob. Lord knows there are plenty more nominees.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

okra quest

We're about to find out just how extensive the selection of vegetables at Garak Market is. I've found American-style parsley there, as well as cilantro. But what about okra? I was given the challenge by my Cajun coworker, who loved my gumbo, but who complained that the okra in it was obviously not fresh. I personally don't have a discriminating enough palate to tell frozen from fresh once a vegetable has been thoroughly boiled in a stew, but then again, I also didn't grow up eating gumbo. So my coworker and I tossed around ideas as to where fresh okra might be found in Korea, and I lit upon Garak Market, which I think of as my go-to place for esoteric, or merely hard-to-find, vegetables. Garak Market is huge, and it does seem to contain a wide variety of almost everything the good earth can provide, so why not start the search there? I'm heading out in a few minutes, and if I find some fresh okra, I'll be adding it to my gumbo broth along with a fresh supply of proteins: jumbo shrimp, homemade sausage, and yes, as it turns out, more chicken. I had written earlier that I had plopped two whole kilos of chicken into the gumbo I'd taken to the office; by the time I had fed twenty-six people and packed up extra take-home gumbo for one manager and one coworker, there was very little left of my gumbo aside from the broth. Stats-wise, I'd say 95% of the gumbo's solids are gone, and 60% of the gumbo broth is gone. So there's still a shit-ton of broth.

Check this blog post for updates and, possibly, photographic proof of okra found.

UPDATE: failure! The entire market was closed down when I got there. Some shopkeepers were still shuffling around in the darkness, but for the most part, the auction blocks and individual stores were closed and shuttered. I went into one vegetable store that was still lit and spoke with the ajeossi inside. He said that today was a shwineun-nal, i.e., a day off (literally, a day of rest). He also said that I wouldn't find okra anywhere in Garak Market. My immediate reaction to this was skepticism. I'll go back to the market tomorrow to check with other people. The place has never let me down before; I suspect it won't let me down this time, either. Hell, as I was walking by the rows and rows of closed shops tonight, I looked inside one window and saw a stack of boxes of fresh paprika, something I've never seen in my life. Hard-to-find items are definitely available in this market, so I don't think this ajeossi's pronouncement is the final word. He was a nice guy, but I'm betting he's wrong.

always looking foodward

I'm going to have to try making this:

I admit I'm intrigued by alternative methods for arriving at more or less similar culinary results: meat substitutes fascinate me, as you'd know if you followed my (unsuccessful) seitan quest; alternative ways to make chocolate pudding and chocolate mousse also pique my interest (hence my "mouce au chocolat" from a while back), and that's what you see happening above. If I recall correctly, chia seeds are, in fact, being sold at the local Costco way down the street in Yangjae. Finding cashew milk might be a bit more difficult, but I bet that GMarket and/or iHerb will have it. (I just checked: GMarket for the win.)

Expect pudding-related shenanigans soon.

Sokal Hoax, 2019 version

I hadn't heard about the Boghossian hoax, so this was fascinating and hilarious to me:

Trolling leftist academe never gets old, but it does seem almost cruel, given how easy it is, time and again, to expose the utter lack of intellectual rigor in such circles. Here's the thing: I suspect that many of these scholars are actually quite smart and thorough when taken as individuals. But when taken as a collective, as a troupeau de moutons, they are quite stupid and gullible. What's doubly funny is that, despite a growing history of successful hoaxing and trolling by non-leftists, these idiots never learn from their mistakes.

Friday, January 11, 2019

history as fodder for standup

Eddie Izzard loves to delve into history for his standup material, but here's Al Murray showing a whole new way to teach (a slanted view of) history while doing hilarious standup:

this is just sad

Can you name all seven continents? Watch these geniuses at work:

I think one dude got them all. One.


the gumbo lunch

At long last: the shrimpening of the gumbo while at the office:

I got to the office about 50 minutes before I was to serve lunch to a mass of hungry coworkers. I set up my little gas ranges and decided that, since the shrimp was still frozen, I would quickly boil a small pot of water on one burner while I used the other burner to heat the massive amount of gumbo I had heaved into the office. This proved to be the correct strategy: by lunchtime, the gumbo still hadn't come to a boil, although it was plenty hot. Having boiled the shrimp on the side, I was able to toss the little guys straight into the gumbo (see above).

Below: an exciting shot of rice and garbage.

Next: the dessert spread. My coworkers bought fruit and cookies; I brought my bread pudding, which some people raved about.

A shot of the bread pudding before it got massacred:

Lunch aftermath: some members of our R&D staff mingle with the IT team. The other teams ate and left. Koreans don't do the French thing and linger while eating: when Koreans want to linger, they normally go to a café to hang out, chat, and maybe smoke if smoking is allowed.

Lower-right corner of the photo: my stuffed walrus. I also have a plastic octopus and squid, all bought at the Jamshil Lotte World Mall, where there's a shop close to the mall's aquarium that sells sealife-themed memorabilia and paraphernalia.

Finally, a shot of my bowl of gumbo. I did it wrong and put the rice down first. In Louisiana, rice is normally served as a dollop on top of the gumbo.

One of the managers asked me all sorts of questions about Cajun cuisine; I answered with what little I knew. Another manager said this meal was better than the previous one (this guy is always making backhanded compliments; you're never sure if they're really compliments); I boxed up a load of gumbo for him to take home. Another coworker will be taking a load of gumbo and a few slices of bread pudding home to his fiancée. I had a hell of a time lugging everything to the office, so it's good to know I'll be going back with almost nothing. I might buy some more shrimp to throw into the remaining gumbo broth, and I'll toss in the rest of my andouille. As for chicken: I put in a whole two kilograms of dead birdage, so I really don't think I need to add any more.

nearing final prep

Here's some homemade andouille, which I'm chopping up and preparing to boil. I had made about 25 or 26 andouille links, each weighing about 150 grams. All in all, I put about 16 links into the gumbo. Things are spicy and salty now, but not too spicy or too salty for my taste. Your mileage may vary:

Here's a pic from before the boil:

The andouille was definitely fattier and more savory than last time around. All in all, I'd call this batch of sausage an improvement. The salt and fat levels were almost on par with those of Mexican chorizo. In the end, I'm glad I boiled these links separately before dumping them into the gumbo: with a lot of the salt and fat cooked away, what I was adding was mostly meatiness without all the saltiness.

Below: the failed batch of cornbread before I cut it into small cubes for bread pudding. Here's the funny thing, though: when I sampled the cornbread tonight, it tasted pretty good.

Bread pudding normally means cubing up leftover bread, then adding two mixtures: a heated milk/cream-and-butter mixture, and an egg-sugar-salt-cinnamon mixture—the basic components of a custard. You heat the milk and butter until the butter melts, then while it cools, you add the egg mixture to the bread. Stir thoroughly, then add the cooled-down milk-and-butter mixture to complete the custard. Stir again and place into an ungreased baking pan. Bake uncovered at 350℉ for 40-45 minutes.

Looking craggy but smelling mighty delicious:

Sorry for the blur in this final shot:

I tried a piece from the smaller baking pan; it tasted great, but it was definitely heavy: a true bread pudding in all sooth. I didn't add rum or raisins to this dessert, mainly because I'm still thinking of it as a flavor-contrastive accompaniment for the gumbo. It's still cornbread-y enough to fit the bill.

When the pudding initially came out of the oven, I saw that the butter had separated and risen to the surface, bubbling everywhere along the pan's edges. As the puddings cooled, the butter sank back into the cake-like mass. I shudder to think what the dessert might taste like when eaten cold; I'm going to advise my diners to heat the pudding up in the microwave before eating it: congealed butter might not be everyone's number-one favorite thing.

Anyway, prep is done, including a huge container of rice, which isn't pictured above. I only have to gather everything up and lug it to the office.

Wish me luck. I think everything tastes good, but that's just me.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

sausage, pudding, and rice

The gumbo has been more or less ready to go since earlier this week, when I consigned it to the fridge to allow time to pass and flavors to marry. Tonight, the night before I lug everything to the office the following morning, I have three things that need doing:

1. add more sausage to the gumbo
2. make bread pudding out of my failed batch of cornbread
3. cook some dang rice

I'll be doing all three of the above things tonight, and in that order. Rice must come last because I have no intention of sticking it in the fridge: in the fridge, it'll harden and start to dry up. At the same time, I don't want my rice to sit in my warm apartment for too many hours because there's a chance it might start to go bad right inside the container. That's why the rice is being done last: so it sits on my dining-room table for the least possible amount of time.

I've invited the entire office—all four teams of us—to this little event tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. We don't seem to have a full complement of staffers these days, so we might not reach 30 people, but that's fine: I know what to do with leftovers.

Fingers and tentacles crossed.

PJW on the gilets jaunes

I've been meaning to write my French brother Dominique about this:

the best "wall" argument

The right makes itself look stupid whenever it tries the "hypocrisy" argument by saying that politicians like Nancy Pelosi live in houses surrounded by huge walls, thus undermining their "walls are immoral" argument. Does Nancy Pelosi, in fact, live on a property surrounded by walls? There's some doubt about that,* so why risk making a gaffe in an attempt to demonstrate hypocrisy?

Here's a better approach: to demonstrate hypocrisy, you don't need to point out a property wall at all! If the object of your criticism lives in a house, then it's enough to note that the house has walls. And don't those walls serve a beneficent, salutary purpose? Bill Keezer recently linked to what I think is the absolute best meme on this topic:

Hell, you could go further and note that your cells have walls! Try living without cell walls! Like it or not, differentiation and separation are necessary ingredients for existence and coexistence. We can't, don't, and won't all blend together into some sort of mystical alloy. America is a salad bowl, not a melting pot.

*Yes, conservative readers, I'm aware that Snopes is considered leftie propaganda, and maybe that's what it is. Just focus on the purported facts and not on the source of the information. Committing the genetic fallacy doesn't make you look smart.

and the pet war continues

Seen on Gab:

While I think the above is funny, I don't really agree with it. I think it's true that a cat is most loyal to the people who feed it, but there's more to the story than that. I used to think of all cats as arrogant little beasts that did nothing to enhance quality of life. All they did was take-take-take and look cute. But then, over two-and-a-half decades ago, our family acquired a grey-and-white fluffball of a cat whose musical meow caused us to name him Mozart. Mozart proved to be a "people" cat who actively enjoyed hanging around with the family. My brother Sean was able to grab Mozart by his ankles, when swing the cat dramatically onto his neck and shoulders like a living feather boa. The cat submitted to this with nary a complaint, and when he plopped onto Sean's shoulders, his eye* would be half-closed, and he'd be purring loudly. Mozart loved that maneuver. (Caveat: only Sean was ever permitted to handle Mozart that way.) If a cat expresses his love of the family by hunting and killing smaller animals and dropping the carcasses off at the doorstep, then Mozart expressed his love constantly, forever depositing little piles of death that would evoke oohs and aahs from us whenever we saw them. Some of those carcasses were horrifically mangled—I recall, once, seeing a rabbit on our porch that had been thoroughly gutted: everything below the rib cage was missing, but the skin of the rabbit's back was still there, and so were the rabbit's hind legs and tail. I praised the cat all the same: it's terrible when the cat just hates your guts, but praiseworthy when it just ate some guts. I was looking out the window, one fine summer day, when I saw Mozart burst out from under the bushes lining the front of our house, hissing, tail puffed in fury, to chase away a dog that had strayed onto our property: another example of loyalty to the family, and a sure sign that some cats, at least, will protect property.

Could Mozart detect drugs or cancer? Could he disarm an armed man without being asked to do so? Learn over 104 voice commands? Probably not. But Mozart, who lived for at least twenty-two years, proved to me that not all cats are selfish, arrogant assholes. He died while I was overseas; I wasn't there the way I was when our dog died. Hilariously, the folks decided to bury the cat right next to the house... and when the house was renovated a couple years later, the new outdoor A/C unit was unwittingly placed right on top of Mozart's little grave. A more distinguished headstone for a cat you'll never find.

*Back when he was young, Mozart lost an eye in a fight with another neighborhood cat. When he came back from eye-removal surgery (his eye had been deeply slashed, with vitreous humor leaking out, making him look a lot like the Terminator), Mozart's head was half-shaven, and he was wearing one of those ridiculous plastic Radar Collars of Shame to prevent him from scratching at his stitches. He had to relearn all the basics, from feeding himself while wearing the collar to navigating the house's indoor staircase without any depth perception. Eventually, the stitches were removed and the collar came off, and we discovered that Mozart loved it when one of us guys would stick a finger into his empty eye socket and rotate the fingertip to give him a scratch. Mom refused to scratch Mozart this way; she thought it was a disgusting act. Whenever I gave the cat a socket-scratch, I could feel the twitching of certain still-extant muscles inside the socket as the cat purred his satisfaction. Speaking of disgusting: I also discovered that Mozart loved chewing on used Q-tips. The scent (and flavor?) of human earwax drove him nuts. If scientists had developed earwax-flavored cat food while Mozart was alive, he'd have eaten it by the bagful. Again, my mother was revolted every time she saw me take a Q-tip out of my ear and hand it to the cat. The cat, purring, would flop onto his back and gently gnaw at his prize. I think my mother's disgust extended to both of us: she was revolted that I would ever feed the cat my earwax, and she thought the cat—a supposedly dignified animal—was equally nasty for actually liking the earwax.


Cornbread. I forgot to put in the baking powder. Each muffin looks like a shortcake for strawberry shortcake.

I belatedly added baking powder to the remaining batter; the muffins in the later batches rose more, but they had a faintly bitter tang. Perhaps there had been too much baking powder. I did go off-recipe this time, adding butter (not in the original recipe) and honey (ditto), but adding the baking powder—which I did rather sloppily—probably didn't help matters. The first batch of muffins tasted better.

I suspect that this entire batch is ruined. I tried a sample of each of the other trays of cornbread I'd baked, and not one tasted the way it should have. No matter: I've got enough material to bake everything again tomorrow.

ADDENDUM: or, instead of making a whole new set of cornbread, I could salvage the current crop by turning it into a nifty bread pudding.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

today's Eric André earworm

With thanks to Binging* with Babish, I now have this fucking tune in my head:

Time to deliver a PIZZA BALL!
Time to deliver a PIZZA BALL!

*I don't like spelling it that way, either. It really ought to be bingeing, with an "e," but unfortunately, "binging" is considered a legitimate spelling. Legitimate or not, I see "binging" and mentally pronounce it like "flinging."

keep this in mind

While the Democrats moan and groan about what is only a very partial government shutdown as President Trump jousts with a mostly Democrat House of Representatives over funding for the proposed US-Mexico border wall, it's important to remember this:

You’d never know it from much of the coverage[,] but no federal employees have missed a paycheck yet.
Instapundit's commentariat has been very creative in suggesting all sorts of alternative ways to fund the border wall. Give those comment threads a look-see if you're so inclined.

hat tip to Bill Keezer

Some memes that Bill Keezer linked me to:

I love this one, but I'm pretty sure I've seen this joke before:

"Ralph Breaks the Internet": review

[NB: some spoilers, but the movie's third reel isn't given away.]

2018's "Ralph Breaks the Internet" is directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston. It stars the voice talents of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, and much of the original cast of 2012's "Wreck-It Ralph." The new movie is basically a quest: Wreck-It Ralph (Reilly) and his best friend Vanellope von Schweetz (Silverman) must enter the wild, freewheeling reality of the internet in order to find and mail-order a new steering wheel for Vanellope's video-game cabinet, Sugar Rush, an old-school 3-D racing game in which Vanellope is the perennially dominant badass driver. The game's steering wheel snaps off when the girl playing Sugar Rush loses control of Vanellope's car: normally, Vanellope is supposed to act like a regular video-game character, obeying the commands of the real-life human doing the driving, but when Ralph (himself a video-game character) responds to Vanellope's declaration of boredom by digging her a new track inside the virtual reality of her game, Vanellope wrests control away from the human driver and hares off onto Ralph's freshly dug path. The real-life girl yanks the wheel in frustration, separating it from the video-game cabinet. Mr. Litwak (Ed O'Neill) can't afford to replace the broken steering wheel, so he prepares to decommission Sugar Rush and sell its parts for scrap.

The previous movie established that video-game characters all have inner lives and independent will; they can even hop from game to game via electric wires (don't ask how this works), but there's a hitch: a game character can "respawn" in his or her own video game, but dying in a different game means permanent death. Ralph and Vannelope contrive a way to plunge into the internet via Mr. Litwak's new server, but they are both conscious of how precarious their existence is. This doesn't stop Vanellope and Ralph from entering a grim, Grand Theft Auto-style game called Slaughter Race, where the dominant badass is a beautiful racer nicknamed Shank (Gadot), who plies the streets with her motley crew. Shank's first meeting with Vanellope happens when Vanellope manages to steal Shank's prized car; Shank and company tear off in pursuit, and Shank is thoroughly impressed with Vanellope's driving ability. Eventually, the two become friends, and Shank tells Ralph and Vanellope that there are other ways to earn money on the internet than by stealing Shank's car. Money—real-life money—is the goal, here, since Ralph and Vanellope need Mr. Litwak to be able to replace the Sugar Rush steering wheel, thus saving Vanellope's game from the junk heap. Along the way, the heroes meet Yesss (Henson), a slick social-media mogul who thinks Ralph can make money by gathering "likes" from making goofy viral videos of himself.

The main conflict, though, arises when Vanellope, who has been bored with her life since befriending Ralph, realizes that she feels absolutely at home in Slaughter Race, a game with no clear rules and no set track, where danger abounds and the characters—far from being nauseatingly cute like in Sugar Rush—are colorful, quirky, and even strangely deep. Slaughter Race is the perfect environment for Vanellope, a natural-born road warrior destined to drive fast and hard. Ralph, meanwhile, has expressed utter satisfaction with his life: Vanellope is his best friend, and he's made his peace with the other characters in his own video game, Fix-It Felix. For Ralph, the status quo is just fine. So "Ralph Breaks the Internet" becomes a parable about friendship, exploring what happens when two people wish to remain remain friends despite ever-diverging interests.

As with "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse" and "Ready Player One," "Ralph" is a smorgasbord of references and Easter eggs. The movie gives us a hilariously evil portrayal of what an internet virus looks like while also slamming us repeatedly with product placement in the form of real-life company logos—Facebook, YouTube, etc. I have a feeling that, as with the movie "Searching," all this 2018-specific imagery will ultimately work against the film, rendering it very out of date—a time capsule of a slice of an era. For the moment, though, the humor can be enjoyed on its own terms: Disney-property characters, like C-3PO and Imperial stormtroopers and Groot, make an appearance, along with the whole gamut of Disney princesses, who are used to poke gentle fun at the very concept of Disney princesses.

I'm also impressed that this sequel isn't a retread of the earlier movie. The first movie was about exploring one's own nature; this movie, by contrast, is about the strains on and bonds of friendship. It also carries a strong feminist message, thanks to Vanellope and Shank's super-competence when it comes to driving and their often Bechdel-approved repartee. (And let's be honest: the movie is at its best whenever Gal Gadot's character is on screen.) The virtual landscape that directors Moore and Johnston take us through is sumptuous in its colors and dimensions; the internet comes alive as a real, organic, and even frightening place. The film also acts as a commentary on the social-media-driven nature of modern culture, with its constant distractions and interruptions thanks to obnoxious popups and other forms of marketing. It's a well-realized world, and not always a pleasant one.

But "Ralph Breaks the Internet," for all its warmth and pizzaz, doesn't top the 2012 film. You'll recall that, in my review of "Wreck-It Ralph" (see above link), I interpreted the movie through the lens of the Bhagavad Gita: Ralph must come to accept his bad-guy dharma and act selflessly, without thought for the fruits of his actions, just like the warrior Arjuna. There were layers of religious, philosophical, and existential meaning there; by contrast, "Ralph Breaks the Internet" is a much simpler, much less sophisticated and nuanced creature. The 2012 film had something timeless about it, something mythical; this film is more straightforward, the way some lesser children's books are. The sequel also squanders some of the main characters who had made the first film such a hoot: Jane Lynch's Sergeant Calhoun makes an appearance or two, but she's been gentled by marriage to Felix (Jack McBrayer) and doesn't really have much to contribute to the plot. Zangief makes a bizarre cameo related to body hair and depilation. Felix himself is given very little to do, and if I recall correctly, Q-bert does little more than give someone a sad or reproachful look.

Overall, "Ralph Breaks the Internet" is fun and watchable; I laughed several times throughout the story as it unfolded. You won't find it quite as moving or quite as profound as the first film, but it's a fine sequel all the same. Go watch the movie with my blessing.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

"worshipped as a god"

You know, the 21st-century me is tempted to read an article like this one and scoff at those stupid primitives with their stupid superstitions:

One-eyed Calf Worshipped as a God in India*

...and then something occurs to me. Imagine all the people you know, or have briefly encountered, who have Down Syndrome or the vestiges of polio or some genetic disease that leaves them horribly disfigured and even difficult to look at. Imagine the lives these people lead in Western society, where they're shunned and marginalized—not only by actively cruel people, but also by those who might otherwise be decent folks. How different would the world be if, instead of people reacting to these stricken beings with fear and loathing and queasiness, people reacted instead with feelings of respect, awe, and veneration? What if, in such instances, we remembered that the duty of the strong is to protect and cherish the weak? What if, like Saint Francis, we stop along the path and embrace the leper?

So who, I ask you, are the real stupid primitives in this scenario?

*Good Lord, that "Holy cow!" pun never gets old, does it? Yeesh.

all in all, it's just a....

Let's talk about the wall—or, as Trump is now calling it, the "border fence."

Chuck Norris backs Ted Cruz's proposal to make El Chapo and other drug lords pay for the US-Mexico border wall. Let me go one further and suggest that, after making the drug lords fund the wall as a way to stanch the flow of drugs into the country, we then legalize drugs. Oh, the ultimate fuck-you to El Chapo and all of his brethren! Readers of this blog know that I'm very pro-legalization, and not just for "soft" drugs like marijuana, but for all drugs. I think that, as long as individual states and the federal government don't make the stupid mistake that California is currently making by taxing legalized drugs to death, drug money could be a major source of income for governments at the state and national level.

And here's Styx on the Democrats' current obstructionism:

A lot of people paint Trump as Hitler, or if not as Hitler, then as some sort of dictator wannabe. If that were really true, though, then Trump would have forced the issue long ago, and he'd have his wall already. It's been two years, and we're still dickering. That's not the mark of a dictator. People seem to forget their history: dictators don't allow the press to constantly hound and second-guess them. Dictators don't let masses of citizens come together for their "Fuck Trump!" rallies. They don't allow anti-authoritarian messages to spread on social media. They don't advocate for an armed citizenry. Trump is an asshole and an egomaniac, and yeah, he lies—but don't confuse him with an actual dictator.

And then there's this: remember back when George Carlin had no problem with fences?

aventure matinale

Tuesday morning, I'm waking up very early and heading into town to visit a branch of Daegu Bank. I've decided either to transfer all my money from that account to my Shinhan Bank account, or to withdraw all the cash in W50,000 notes and stuff everything into my wallet. Either way, I'm emptying out my Daegu account and then closing it: it has served its purpose, and I no longer need it. Besides, I find it's easier to keep track of finances when they're consolidated, so there's that as well.

Since I'm now on a quest for cornmeal with which to make cornbread, I suppose I'll swing by a shop near my place of work once I'm done with Daegu Bank downtown. Getting two agenda items done even before I get to work is something of an adventure for me.

UPDATE: overslept again, goddammit. I was up way late working on the gumbo, so that's my excuse. I guess I'll just have to go downtown tomorrow.

changement de plan

This is my second time making gumbo—and like last time, it's a large batch. There's a part of the process that I had forgotten about, though: paranoia. Allow me to explain.

Gumbo is put together step by step, and as the various ingredients come together, the overall flavor of the gumbo changes... but for the longest time, the gumbo actually tastes a bit off until one reaches the final third of the process, which is when the proteins start to go in. This batch of gumbo seemed fine during the roux- and stock-making stages; the brown roux that I settled on this time turned out perfect (and I didn't burn my hand like last time, so thank Cthulhu for small favors), and when I added the vegetables (Trinity plus okra), the aroma rounded out and, while not gumbo-like in the least, nevertheless had an appealing freshness about it. Garlic went in soon after, and that certainly helped.

But things seemed to go awry once I added the fish stock to the roux, then added tomato paste and crushed tomatoes. The broth seemed salty, but it had lost all depth of flavor: the whole thing tasted watery and lifeless. I decided that I'd toss aside my schedule and add my andouille tonight, along with chicken, instead of waiting a day or so. I added only a small portion of the andouille I had made Sunday night, then I took the heavy pot off the heat, seared my chicken breasts (super-cheap from the Foreign Food Market—better than Costco prices), cut them up, then dumped all two kilos into the stew along with the andouille. Because the fish stock and the tomato sauce had made the broth too thin, I added a cornstarch slurry (yes, cheating, I know), and that stabilized the whole thing. I added bay leaves and seasoning; I let the stew simmer for nearly an hour, and then I tasted it.


I should have remembered going through the same paranoia the first time I had made gumbo. Of course the stew is going to taste strange until you begin adding in the proteins! Making gumbo is an additive process in which layers upon layers of flavor are incorporated and allowed the time to marry. Speaking of which: tonight's flavor-marrying needed to continue off the stove, so I containerized the gumbo and stuck the two giant plastic snap-seal boxes into my fridge, where the gumbo will sit until early Friday morning, which is when I heat the stew to boiling, add some more andouille, and finally toss in the jumbo shrimp, which I'll allow to cook via residual heat. The whole thing ought to be perfect when I re-containerize the gumbo and cab over to the office.

So I'm ahead of schedule. The gumbo is 90% prepped, so I might as well concentrate on making cornbread, which I plan to make even sweeter this time by adding honey. Oh, shit—I need to buy cornmeal. I think I know where to find it locally. God knows that tripping over to Itaewon every time I need foreign ingredients is a pain in the ass.

Monday, January 07, 2019

"politically motivated hate"

By now, you may or may not have heard the case of Lara Kollab, a doctor working at the Cleveland Clinic, who was recently fired after it was discovered that she had written some venomously antisemitic tweets only a few years ago, threatening to mis-prescribe medicine to Jews, whom she also describes as "dogs." Read more about Kollab here. The article notes that, after Kollab was fired from her job, she has, through her lawyers, issued a public apology for her words. It is, as the article speculates, an open question as to how sincere Kollab's apology is. And if there any doubt that "hate" can appear on both sides of the aisle, let Kollab and her injudicious tweets be Exhibit A for the left and its hatred.*

*As I've said repeatedly, is Exhibit A for the right side of the aisle. Liberals really ought to join Gab just so they can harvest samples of the rampant bigotry on display on that site.

I guess I'm committed

I just printed out and distributed a bunch of posters announcing a "gumbo festival" this coming Friday, so I'm pretty much committed to serving... well, everyone on our side of the fourth floor of this office building. That's going to be around thirty people. I've got enough bowls and spoons to serve that number of people, and I'll be able to pack the gumbo into my huge, plastic containers, along with another huge container of rice (Korean rice, not whatever rice is popular along the Gulf coast*). I'll also be lugging over a few batches of cornbread—enough for thirty, obviously. I don't look forward to the dishwashing afterward, but that's the price you pay when you feed 'em big.

I spent longer than I thought I'd spend making my new, improved andouille yesterday. It smelled great and tasted better than my previous batch from last time, but it's also rather salty, probably because I upped the fat content by adding fatty bacon, which contains plenty of salt. This means I need to be judicious in terms of how much sausage I put into the final gumbo. I'll be sure to watch salt levels along the way.

So here's the prep schedule (subject to revision):

Tonight (Monday): prep the main stew component, i.e., the roux, the stock, and the vegetables. I'm making some significant changes, here. First, the stock won't be shrimp stock: it'll be a standard, Korean-style fish stock from the boiling of dried fish and seaweed. Given the aforementioned saltiness issue, I won't add any extra salt to this. Another major, major change: I'm going to blaspheme and not cook my roux until it's black. I can totally see why black roux has become the tradition: it's all about the taste. But I'm willing to sacrifice a bit of taste in favor of a roux with greater thickening power; you can't leave it all up to the okra to thicken everything: the okra just doesn't have enough mucilage pour faire l'affaire. So: a medium-brown roux it is. That sort of roux is, in my opinion, still flavorful, and because it's not a light-brown (called "blond") roux, it won't thicken the stew into something that is both gloopy** and easily burned on the stovetop.

Also tonight: par-cook the chicken, then put it in the fridge. When I added the chicken last time, it cooked nicely, but it looked so pale and corpse-like that it was almost off-putting. This time, I plan to sear the chicken pieces a bit, but not to cook them through on the pan: they'll finish cooking once they're in the stew. Oh, yeah: "par-cooking" the chicken will mean, in this case, pan-frying partway in oil after dusting the chicken pieces with cayenne. This is close to an Indian trick: in Indian cooking, you "activate" your spices by cooking them first, well before you deal with the more substantive components, like vegetables and proteins. I won't use too much cayenne because I don't want to alter the taste of the gumbo that much.

Tuesday night: cut up the andouille (currently in the freezer), pan-fry it a bit, dump it in the stock, and give the whole thing a boil to begin the process of flavor-marriage.

Wednesday night: dump the already pan-fried chicken into the stock and give the whole thing another boil to finish the chicken off. More flavor-marriage.

Thursday night: make and bake the cornbread. Wrap it up and containerize it for the journey over to the office the following morning.

Friday morning: dump the shrimp in; give the gumbo a final boil. Chop up and prep the vegetable garnish (celery leaves and scallions). Containerize the gumbo and the garnish, put it in the giant Costco bag along with the cornbread, then lug that heavy fucker to the office.

Serve thirty hungry staffers. Receive praise during the meal. Be forgotten not long after. Do it all again in a few months.

*No one complained last time.

**Auto-correct is telling me that my options are "goopy" and "gloppy." Fuck it.

shut up and know your place

I'll quote this straight from Instapundit:

SAME UNIVERSITY WHOSE FACULTY AND ADMINISTRATION LED ANGRY, DESTRUCTIVE MOBS AGAINST A FALSELY-ACCUSED FRATERNITY, WITHOUT FACING ANY CONSEQUENCES: A second year medical student has been suspended from the University of Virginia after questioning his professors during a lecture on microaggressions.
Kieran Bhattacharya was suspended from the University of Virginia after the institution alleged Bhattacharya became “unnecessarily antagonistic and disrespectful” during a lecture Bhattacharya says was titled “Microaggressions: Why Are They So Sensitive.”

Bhattacharya published audio recordings, both of the classroom incident that led to his suspension, and of the following disciplinary hearing that led to his suspension.

In the classroom recording, as the lecture concluded and students are allowed to ask questions at approximately 28 minutes in, Bhattacharya took the opportunity to raise several concerns with the professor....

Bhattacharya says he was then summoned by the University of Virginia’s Academic Standards and Achievement Committee for punishment.

During the half hour long meeting, Bhattacharya repeatedly asked what about his behavior was incorrect, and how to remedy it. He was criticized for his decision to record the lecture, and repeatedly told that his “this aggressive, threatening behavior” must be changed.

After repeatedly asking for examples of his unprofessional behavior, one committee member suggested his decision to record the meeting as an example.
They know they’re talking nonsense, and they don’t want donors and taxpayers to realize just how bad things are. So they set out to silence a minority student who’s not buying it.

I recommend a scorched-earth lawsuit. And a Department of Education civil rights investigation.

This is the same sort of treatment that arrogant academic twats gave Lindsay Shepherd. What really is the point of going to college anymore if it's all silencing and indoctrination? Whatever happened to the marketplace of ideas?

Sunday, January 06, 2019

yet the center holds for now

Very enlightening YouTube podcast by two expat friends who live in China and have families there. They have a whole slew of videos, often critical in tone, about many aspects of China and living in China. There are certainly some parallels with life in South Korea, but in this particular video, the topic is why everything seems so dilapidated—a problem that is only a relatively minor one here in Korea (relative to China, I mean), where new (and arguably better-quality) buildings are springing up all the time.

I like how the talk-radio format has been supplemented with motorcycle-riding. This gives the viewer a great sense of what China really looks like—a feeling that's sometimes missing when one is only reading about China.

Elsewhere: China's "No Solution, Don't Care" culture.

gi-il (忌日, 기일)

[NB: This is an updated repost originally from here.]

My mother died of brain cancer at 8:03AM on January 6, 2010, nine years ago today. Nine years is a long time, but sometimes, it still feels like yesterday.

Alas, I don't believe in ghosts, and I'm not inclined to believe in souls or in other remnants of personhood after someone dies. You're gone; you scatter; your echoes are the only things that remain, rippling forward in time ever more weakly, affecting the history of the cosmos in increasingly subtle, occult ways. At what point do you fade completely? Or do you ever fade completely? If there's no true boundary between you and the rest of the universe, the answers to such questions may be inarticulable.

I chronicled much of Mom's cancer ordeal at my blog, Kevin's Walk. Today is Sunday, and I thought I'd pass along, as I do every year, a famous story about the Chinese Taoist philosopher Chuang-tzu, who is said to have acted strangely when his wife died:

When Chuang Tzu’s wife died, his friend Hui Tzu came to offer his condolences and found Chuang Tzu hunkered down, drumming on a potter pan and singing.

Hui Tzu said, “You lived with her, raised children with her, and grew old together. Even weeping is not enough, but now you are drumming and singing. Is it a bit too much?”

Chuang Tzu said, “That is not how it is. When she just died, how could I not feel grief? But I looked deeply into it and saw that she was lifeless before she was born. She was also formless and there was not any energy. Somewhere in the vast imperceptible universe there was a change, an infusion of energy, and then she was born into form, and into life. Now the form has changed again, and she is dead. Such death and life are like the natural cycle of the four seasons. My dead wife is now resting between heaven and earth. If I wail at the top of my voice to express my grief, it would certainly show a failure to understand what is fated. Therefore I stopped.” (Chapter 18)

This version of the story is taken from here.

Different cultures develop different ways of dealing with death and mourning. In Korea, which carries on the old Chinese tradition of venerating one's ancestors, people typically have a jaesa (제사), a ceremony for previous generations. While it may sound morbid, I suppose this day could be described as a "death day," the closed-parenthesis counterpart of a birthday. But is it really all that morbid to celebrate the transition from life to death? Far from being morbid, the day could be seen as a kind of ritualized symmetry.

Today, then, I and my family commemorate my mother's death. While it pains me that I can no longer hug her or hold her hand, I'm grateful for the care and wisdom she imparted.

I love you and miss you, Mom.

ADDENDUM: without getting into details, because I want to respect people's privacy, I should note that there are people around me who are suffering. Two people that I know are suffering from different forms of neural degeneration; one person has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and another—I suppose I can say it's an uncle of mine because I've mentioned him before—has terminal liver cancer. It's a grim reminder that mortality is the one incontrovertible fact of human existence—an empirical and epistemic reality that none can deny, try as they might. All life is doomed to move deathward because the nature of this reality is such that all things have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But it boots little to fixate on the end when there's so much middle to experience. Terminally ill or not, we all inevitably end, and while I might use words like "grim" and "doomed" and "incontrovertible" and "inevitably," the real truth is that death is natural—an inextricable part of life, and part of the natural order. The angel of death isn't to be feared: it's a friend and companion, symbolizing the mundane fact of change. A wave appears in the ocean; it exists in its distinctness for a little while, then returns to the larger body of which it has always been a part. So it is with us: each of us participates in the swirling ocean that is reality, the Tao, enjoying a brief moment of distinctness before stepping through the Great Door and returning to the matrix whence we came. But if we're like those ocean waves, then there's a sense in which we never really leave.

On a more personal and less philosophical note: I find it hard to believe that next year will mark the ten-year anniversary of Mom's passing. The wounds are still there; they'll never heal. But I'm living my life, muddling through, pursuing happiness in my own clumsy way. This year, sometime around November, I'll finally be out of scholastic debt. All that will remain will be my ever-revolving debts—public storage, my credit card, bank maintenance fees, etc. Small stuff. With the major debts gone, I can concentrate on saving money, and then I'll need to decide, sometime soon, whether it's worth my while to go back to the States, flush with cash, or to live the rest of my life here on the peninsula, visiting the States and Europe (and, I hope, elsewhere) only occasionally.

I saw someone online—maybe it was Jordan Peterson—suggest a little mental exercise: take 15 minutes and write down where you'll find yourself, ideally, in a few years, assuming you're not hampered by the usual constraints (e.g., money problems, etc.). I might write that mini-essay soon, so, Dear Reader, watch out for that. Mom would probably want me to look forward and not backward, anyway. A lot of road still lies ahead.