Thursday, January 31, 2019

Ave, John Mac!

Much of life is about besting yourself, for as long as you're able to do so.

John McCrarey writes a post about two personal victories, one in darts and one in trailblazing. While I'm very happy for his darts victory, I'm way happier to see what seems to be, for the moment, an end to John's ongoing, and often frustrating, trailblazing saga: for the past little while (weeks? months?), John has been determined to find a loop* trail that starts and ends at his neighborhood... and it appears that, after much trial and error, he has, at long last, found a path. I have no right to be, but I'm proud of John for having toughed it out and having found his damn trail. I'm happier today as a result. Good for you, John. Good for you.



*In the comments section of his own blog, John tells me the path isn't a true loop, although it seems to me that it's pretty close.



where to get a poncho, then?

The commentariat has spoken, and it looks as though I'm going to go on a search for a poncho in my size. This ought to be easier than finding a rain jacket in my size because ponchos are generally loose and baggy, whereas rain jackets are a bit more form-fitting. I'm a 4XL kind of guy, and that's a size you rarely find in Korea unless you go to a big-and-tall store, of which there are several in Itaewon. I may be heading there, anyway.*

In the meantime, I'm trying to think of other places to find a poncho. The Dongdaemun neighborhood is full of sports- and outdoors-themed shops, but I've been to some of those stores, and they can be way overpriced (example: a shop specializing in sleeping bags didn't have anything for cheaper than $200; in the States, a decent bag is under $90). The large eMart and Lotte Mart stores in the area (eMart at Yangjae, Lotte Mart at Jamshil) might or might not have sections devoted to outdoor activities.

Time is against me. If I don't get a poncho by sometime tomorrow, I'm going to have little choice but to stay two nights in Hanam City. If I walk at all, that is.

If you have suggestions as to where to get a functional poncho, I'm all ears. Or all eyes, given that this is a text medium.



*Since the poncho is probably going to go on over my coat, we're really talking 5XL.



test walk: 37,816 steps

Tonight's walk was much longer than anticipated. It took me until almost 2 a.m.; I had stitched together two walking routes. I had also planned to walk about 30,000 steps, but I ended up walking almost 38,000 steps, i.e., a bit over six hours. All in all, a good test walk for the coming weekend. I had achy feet, but no blisters and no other major pains.



The weather witches are now forecasting light to moderate rain for Sunday, Day 2 of my walk, from early morning until the afternoon. Fuck. I walked in rain during my big walk in 2017, but that was during the balmy spring months. This will be a nasty winter rain, and I need to ask myself whether I'm going to rush out and buy a proper poncho or rain jacket, or simply endure a day of rain and allow myself to get soaked. I have a blue, synthetic-fabric windbreaker that is water-resistant for perhaps the first few minutes of a shower, but after that, it soaks up rainwater like any other sort of cloth. A light rain might be bearable, but a moderate rain could easily soak through my coat, through my windbreaker, and into my bones.

So now the question becomes: buy proper rain gear, or cancel the walk?

Another possibility: it's a five-day weekend but only a four-day walk, so I could sit out Sunday by staying a second night in Hanam City. Expensive, but doable, and rain hasn't been forecast for any other vacation day.



Wednesday, January 30, 2019

his worthiest opponent is... himself

Here's yet another in a growing collection of edited videos in which Jordan Peterson debates himself (h/t a coworker). The public seems to have decided that, because Peterson apparently* thrashes everyone who challenges him, no one else is his equal.



*There are actually plenty of haters and doubters posting "response" videos to Peterson, thinking that they've taken him down. These videos are almost never direct confrontations, though. Peterson is on his way to becoming a Kermit-voiced national treasure for Canada.



visit prep for #3 Ajumma

I'll finally be visiting my recently bereaved #3 Ajumma tomorrow, so this morning, I'm beginning the prep for a load of galbi (marinated beef short ribs) and oi muchim (a kind of quickly made cucumber kimchi) to tote over to her place. I've tried bringing Western food over to her before, but she seems to have very provincial tastes. I have no idea how well the galbi is going to go over; we'll know soon enough, I suppose. I don't think I'll actually start marinating the meat until tonight; over-marinating can leave you with super-salty beef.

Last night, I got a 2.5-kilo load of L.A.-style galbi (i.e., thick cut) from Costco for about W70,000. At my local grocery, the same galbi, in a 1.5-kilo package, costs W60,000. So you can see why it pays to shop at Costco, especially when it comes to buying things like meats and cheeses in bulk. Last night, I saw that Costco also had two other things: (1) a gigantic bag of shelled pistachios for W20,000, and (2) Kirkland dinner franks, which are back after a long absence. I didn't notice that the franks were back until I was on line for the cashier: another dude in the line piled them on to the conveyor belt, which caused me to utter a reflexive "Dammit!" that I failed to stifle.

I had grabbed the pistachios while I was shopping, but I guess I'll be tripping out to Costco again soon to get me some moodahfookin' franks. If you're familiar with Kirkland dinner franks, you know they're pornographically huge and, in my opinion, not the best franks in the world to be eaten as is. They are, however, the perfect processed meat to be chopped up and tossed into a load of baked beans to add flavor and meaty texture. If you insist on eating them as you would regular hot dogs on buns, then they're much better after you pan-fry them (and bury them under chili). You can also stick them in budae-jjigae, where they make the perfect complement to Korean stew, spam, and crumbled hamburger.

And now: on with the galbi and oi muchim prep.



Tuesday, January 29, 2019

movies in a queue, movies un-reviewed

In case you're getting sick and tired of my movie reviews, I have good news for you. A bit of background first: I'm in the midst of a book project, but every time I watch a new movie, I've felt obliged to review it. In order to give myself more time to focus on my project, I'm going to stop writing reviews for the next little while, at least until the first phase of my book project is done. In other words, I'll still be watching movies in my free time, but I won't be reviewing them. Once I get back to writing reviews, in a few weeks or a few months, I might begin by reviewing some of the movies that I've watched during my review moratorium, or I might just do reviews of whatever movies I'm currently watching. From my end, it'll be liberating to just watch a movie without feeling that I need to write anything critical about it.

I have a long list of movies in my queue right now. Here are a few of the ones that might, sadly, go un-reviewed:

"Leave No Trace" (looks awesome)
"Christopher Robin"
"Blindspotting"
"Deliverance" (seen, but will be rewatching)
"Dallas Buyer's Club"
"The Greatest Showman"
"The Magnificent Seven" (remake)
"The Commitments" (seen many times but never reviewed)
"The Hitman's Bodyguard"
"Big Trouble in Little China" (seen before)
"Inferno" (gack)
"Filth" (will have to watch with earbuds)
"Bad Times at the El Royale"
"Super" (Rainn Wilson)
"Kumaré" (a doc about a fake guru)

There are actually quite a few movies I've watched that I've never reviewed. Off the top of my head: "Doubt," "The Lunchbox," and the "Kill Bill" movies come immediately to mind. I might give those a rewatch, at some point, and then review them. We'll see.

Anyway, it's going to be a dry white season for movie reviews on this blog for the next little while. I'm sure you're sorely, sorely disappointed. If you want to lodge a complaint, please feel free to take it up with my assistant:


I can probably free up even more of my time by forgoing anything politics-related—a moratorium that will doubtless come as a relief to an even greater swath of the Hominid-reading demographic. Besides, I'm kind of tired of slapping up politics-related entries. Nothing changes as a result of them. What's the use?

So what's left? Well, with no Styx or Paul Joseph Watson to embed, I guess I'll have to go back to posting—gasp—my own thoughts. Ye gods. Luckily, I can talk about the upcoming walk for the next few days, then blog the walk itself. I'm looking forward to a change of scenery; the Incheon walk is so familiar to me now, but I haven't been out toward Paldang Dam and Yangpyeong City since... well, since 2017.

Strap in and prepare for a whole lotta nuthin'.



Political Compass self-check

Another session with the Political Compass survey leads to the following result:


I may be sliding out of the Centrist Dickhead Region, at long last, but I seem to be, barely, a centrist for the moment.

Take the survey yourself here.



"Sorry to Bother You": review

[WARNING: lotsa spoilers.]

Let's make something very clear from the start: "Sorry to Bother You" is, among other things, a way-way-left anti-capitalism screed, but for most of its run time, it's also pretty damn funny. It's a good day when I can disagree so thoroughly with a movie's message but still like the movie itself. Directed by first-timer Boots Riley and starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, and Armie Hammer, "Sorry to Bother You" is about the rise and fall and rise and fall of harried telemarketer Cassius "Cash" Green (Stanfield).

Green lives with his girlfriend Detroit (Thompson) in the garage of his uncle Sergio (Crews), who is fed up with Cash for not paying the rent. Sergio is on the verge of losing his property, which is partly what motivates Cash to beg for work at a telemarketing firm called RegalView. Cash is caught lying during the interview for the job, but the boss interprets this as the chutzpah needed to make sales, so Cash is hired. Once he's on the team, Cash finds himself unable to make any sales despite the prospect of becoming a PC, i.e., a "Power Caller": someone who moves upstairs, receives a massive raise, and engages in a whole new level of salesmanship. An older coworker (Danny Glover!) informs Cash that, to make sales, he just needs to learn to use his "white voice," which will go over more smoothly with his mostly white interlocutors. Once Cash makes the switch to the white voice, he becomes a sales-closing monster who catches the eyes of the bosses.

RegalView has been screwing its employees over, though, and the ground-floor telemarketers are organizing themselves into a labor union led by Squeeze (Yeun). Cash's girlfriend Detroit, an avant-garde artist who twirls signs on the side, also joins RegalView—just in time to be part of the protest movement against the company. When the workers decide to stage a twenty-minute strike during which they make no sales calls, Cash joins in. The bosses pull Cash aside and, instead of firing him, inform him that he's been promoted to the status of Power Caller. Cash gives in to temptation and moves to the upper floors, where life at RegalView is completely different from the hellhole of ground-floor telemarketing. Even the electronic voice of the elevator that Cash rides to the upper floors (voiced lusciously by Rosario Dawson) coos sexily at Cash, praising his masculinity, intellect, and sexual prowess.

Cash finds himself in a moral dilemma: (1) stick with a job at which he's a proven talent, abandoning his friends, his girlfriend, and his own principles, or (2) leave the Power Calling behind and live a more authentic, less corporate-drone existence. Cash stays with the PC work, which eventually puts him in contact with RegalView's biggest client, a company called WorryFree, which essentially enslaves its workers for life, gathering an ever-growing workforce of cheap labor. WorryFree's CEO, self-help guru Steve Lift (Hammer), eventually invites Cash to a party where he reveals to Cash what WorryFree's master plan is: to use a mutagen that changes humans into half-horse humanoids called equisapiens—workers who are stronger and faster, but also more docile and easily trainable. Lift wants Cash to become an equisapien himself so that Cash can act as a liaison between the horse-people and regular humans. Despite an offer of $100,000,000 paid out over five years, Cash is horrified, and because he has just snorted some coke in front of Lift, he's also worried that the "coke" might actually be the aforementioned mutagen.

How does Cash resolve his dilemma? Does he pick his career over his girl? I think you already know the answer to that one; if there's one thing this movie doesn't do well, it's disguise where it's going next (except, admittedly, for one major twist as the credits roll). With an obvious moral and political agenda, the movie makes itself both very predictable and extremely preachy. But it's also hilariously absurdist and willing to leaven its heavy-handed message with a megadose of morbid black comedy that covers the themes and topics of race, capitalism, and what it means to be human and free.

But none of this is done subtly, so if you go into "Sorry to Bother You" expecting nuance, you're going to be disappointed. Far from using oblique metaphors, director Boots Riley goes for a kind of magical-realist literalism: when Riley argues that corporations dehumanize you, he means they literally take away your humanity. Cash is a case in point (and note that "Cassius Green" sounds like "cash is green," and that Dante's ninth circle of hell in his Inferno has only three victims languishing in it—Judas, Brutus, and Cassius, all betrayers): first, he loses his regular "black" voice in favor of a white voice (white voices are literal overdubs by white actors—David Cross and Patton Oswalt, for the most part); he then experiences horror when he sees, up close, human workers who have been transformed into equisapien beasts. The Marxist idea that people are never paid what they're worth (I do agree with this notion, actually) is sprinkled throughout the plot, and there's even a scene in which Detroit, doing performance art at her gallery, allows herself to be humiliated by her audience in a way that symbolizes the white-capitalist world's centuries-long exploitation of the black man.

There's a lot I could say in reply to what I see as a big pile of self-deluded ideological garbage, but instead of wasting your time with those arguments, I'd rather note that, first, the movie did force me to do some thinking about some of the justice issues it put on display. Second, for most of its run time, the movie really is damn funny, and if you're going to make a political or philosophical argument, humor is the best vehicle for doing so. Third, I was very impressed with Boots Riley's talent as a director. I think he's going places. His freshman effort strikes me as something of a love child from two Spikes: Spike Lee, whose social-commentary DNA is apparent in this film, and Spike Jonze, whose absurdist sensibilities would applaud scenes of horse-men with huge, flopping dicks running rampant through the city, assaulting police (who are, of course, part of the oppressive power structure).

Twice now, I've noted that the movie was funny for most of its run time. In the final reel, the film's tone changes markedly to something deadly serious, and even though the absurdity is still there, it plays second fiddle to the way in which the film's various issues come to the fore and dominate the plot. Corporations are portrayed not merely as dehumanizing, but as actively murderous: part of a network of arms-selling, destruction, and mayhem, all in the name of the almighty dollar. Capitalism is a soul-crushing reality that must be stopped.

But strangely, despite the film's trenchant critique of how modern America is seemingly structured, no proactive solutions are actually offered beyond a vague suggestion to live more authentically, to remember one's friends and one's loves, and, perhaps, to unionize wherever corporate oppression is to be found. The scenes of chaos in the final reel might be said to reflect a Marxist eschaton, an uprising of the proletariat and the institution of a glorious new order, but I don't think this is the only way the movie can be interpreted.

Despite the movie's lack of subtlety in the ideology department, despite its confrontation of problems without providing real solutions, I found "Sorry to Bother You" to be a kind of black version of a Tom Wolfe novel... although maybe that's the wrong thing to say, given that Wolfe tended to lampoon everyone equally, whereas Boots Riley's film is painfully one-sided. In the end, I was entertained by the story but repulsed by the message.

And let me give in to my inner barbarian and say that Tessa Thompson has never looked hotter. Damn. And you have to love her ever-changing earrings.

On a personal note, I'll confess that, in my youth, during a period of financial desperation, I did telemarketing for two weeks at a place with the über-generic name of Dealer Broker Trust—a proper noun constructed entirely of common nouns. When I first went to the initial training session (where, just as in this movie, we were given a phone script and told to stick to it no matter what), I sat in a carpeted cellar with a handful of other desperate souls, and we listened to a telemarketing pitch from a smarmy-looking guy who wowed us with promises of how much we could make if we managed even a ten-percent closure rate. The dollar figures the guy wrote on the whiteboard got bigger and bigger (remember: if you're gonna lie, lie big), and we all left the session, scripts in hands, pumped and ready to make those dang calls. Once I got home and began cold-calling, though, it quickly became obvious that I wasn't going to get anywhere near a ten-percent closure rate. If I recall correctly, I didn't close a single sale. And for the life of me, I can't even remember what the hell I was selling. Two weeks of that discouraging nonsense was enough to knock some sense back into me, and I eventually found real work. Yes: telemarketing is degrading and dehumanizing. Yes: the company sees you as a replaceable cog in the machine (which is also true at my current job!). Yes: you suck if you're working at telemarketing. Conan, what is best in life? To be your own boss, to be separate from and un-beholden to any power structures, and to live on your own terms.



Monday, January 28, 2019

#Hilarious but also #SadButTrue

This is pretty much what it's like to work in my office every day...


...except I don't bother defending Trump. Trump's a big boy; he can defend himself. And if you believe that people who think as irrationally as those shown in the video are susceptible to logical persuasion, you're laughably naive.

Do yourself a favor: don't engage. Find reasonable people to talk with. They do exist, and on both sides of the aisle.





directed at America, applicable to Korea

What's funny about the embedded video below is that, even though it's Michael Moore's attempt at critiquing another aspect of the United States that he thinks needs improving (and he may be right), the criticisms apply even more forcefully to the very broken South Korean educational system, where the psychology is utterly backwards from where it should be. No homework? No standardized testing? No multiple choice? School is about finding your happiness? No such thing as a "best school"? The devil you say!






flipping the "logic" of the MAGA-hat hysteria

Read the thought experiment here.



hubbub at the National Assembly

From about 2 p.m. to almost 4 p.m. yesterday (Sunday), I sat in a coffee shop and caught up with the Notorious Lara T, who had suggested meeting in or near Yeouido. Since I had also wanted to do a long walk, I decided that I'd simply trek to my apartment from our meeting place—a trip that would take about six hours since I was starting just west of Yeouido, at Dangsan Station. I didn't end up walking all the way: because of a lack of foresight, I hadn't brought along my scarf, gloves, inner jacket, and mask for when the weather would turn especially chilly after sunset. In the end, I did about three hours' walking before giving up and catching a cab to cover the rest of the distance. But the early part of my abortive walk took me past the Gukhoe ("gu-kweh," i.e., the National Assembly)—or, more fully, the Gukhoe Euisa-dang, i.e., the National Assembly Building—the meeting-place for South Korea's unicameral parliament. I could hear it before I got close, but as I walked past the front of the building, I saw what seemed to be a protest of some sort happening on the building's front steps. People with signs were there, and a man and a woman seemed to be taking turns working a bullhorn, barking something or other that I couldn't understand (I can't understand bullhorn-speak when it's in English). That was pretty much the highlight of my walk. I got another ten or twelve kilometers before the sun set, and then I gave up, hailing a cab and heading back to my apartment in defeat. I really ought to plan better next time.

Those pics of the protest (click to enlarge):









my friends and their (mis)adventures

John Mac continues his trailblazing project.

Charles visits the dentist.



Sunday, January 27, 2019

pathfinder

This coming Lunar New Year's weekend, which goes from Saturday, February 2, through Wednesday, February 6, is when I'll be doing another four-day walk—this time going east past Hanam City and Paldang Dam, then stopping in Yangpyeong City and turning around to go back to my place. On Sunday (i.e., today), after meeting up with a friend in Yeouido, I'll be doing a six-hour walk as part of my ongoing program to keep my feet conditioned for long-distance trekking. Come New Year's weekend, I ought to be ready to head out for another 120-kilometer hike.

But I'm a bit apprehensive: this hike will recapitulate the route I took during the first two days of my big Seoul-to-Busan walk. It was on Day 2 that I ended up with a huge blister that stayed with me for the rest of my 26 days on the path. Day 2 took me from the Hanam/Paldang Dam area through a series of tunnels, and finally to a modern-art museum in Yangpyeong City. I was so tired, by that point, that I cheated and took a cab for a short ride to the yeogwan I had chosen: the River House Motel. From my walk blog, I saw that I had walked a whopping 12.5 hours that day, at 56,917 steps,* which is probably why I had the blister, and why I elected to stay in that motel for two nights.

So the problem is this: if I do do this eastward walk this coming Lunar New Year, the second and third days—which are essentially the same stretch between Hanam and Yangpyeong—are going to be brutal. One possible solution, though, is that I can follow the Namhan River more closely this time without having to go into downtown Yangpyeong. Why? Because this time, I don't have to look for that damn certification center (which I never found last time: that center's stamp is the only one missing from my collection). When I use Naver Map on my phone to calculate the distance from the Baro Hotel in Hanam City to the River House Motel in Yangpyeong, I get a figure of only 34.63 km, which is far less than I actually walked that fateful day. So with this new route, things shouldn't be quite so brutal.

ADDENDUM: because I also won't be looking out for the certification center on the first day of the upcoming hike, that day's distance will be markedly shorter as well: only 25.22 km, according to Naver Map. So, in total, I'll be walking 119.7 km, which I believe will be slightly shorter, overall, than the walks I've done to Incheon and back. That's good to know.



*If you're doing the math, you see that 56,917 steps over 12.5 hours is a pitiful 4,553 steps per hour, far down from my usual 6,000 steps. I can only think that this was partly because I had rested a lot on that day. Assuming a 6K steps/hour rate, I would have walked a total of 9.5 hours, which means I would have spent three whole hours resting. I don't recall resting quite that long on that day, but I do recall resting a few times and walking very slowly and painfully toward the end of a long, long day of trekking. It's possible that the figure of 12.5 hours' walking is off. When I look at what my pedometer recorded for that day—April 23, 2017—well, it does put me as walking between 6 a.m. and about 6:30 p.m., so maybe 12.5 hours is the correct figure, and maybe I really did take that long to rest along the way. Hmmm.



Saturday, January 26, 2019

my one, lone thankful student

A gyopo student from back when I was teaching at YB in Centreville, Virginia, has kept up a correspondence with me in the years since I had left that company to return to Korea. He just got into the University of Virginia, so here's the email I got this morning:

Hi, Mr. Kevin. I just wanted to let you know that I JUST GOT INTO UVA! I am very excited to be going to school with my brother and Rachel (she got in as well). I want to thank you for teaching a crazy little kid to focus on school. You helped me so much to reach my goal. Again, thank you so much.

My reply:

N,

I doubt that I had much to do with your good fortune, but I congratulate you on getting into UVA. Good luck with the next four years of undergrad life. Stay focused on your long-term goals, but be open to the possibility of new life-paths. College is the place to figure out who you really are and what you really want out of life. I'm sure you'll approach your undergrad studies with the same focus and industry as you've done for your high-school studies.

I have only one humble suggestion for you to keep in mind: if you decide to pursue graduate-level work, i.e., going for a master's degree or a Ph.D., don't delay. Go into grad work right away. I made the mistake of waiting eight years, and I now know that I had wasted my time. Learn from my mistake and decide early whether you're going to pursue a graduate degree or not.

Aside from that, I wish you nothing but the best. I hope to hear from you, once in a while, during your college years. Thanks for your email. Take care!

Pax,

K

I recall N as being smart, driven, and self-directed. He had an impish grin that hinted at occasional silliness, but overall, he was serious about life, so I was never worried about where he was heading. I often envy people like N, who seem so naturally goal-directed and almost destined to succeed at whatever they do. My own path through life can barely be called a path at all: it's been more of a mosey or a meander—or really, more of a stumble and a bumble, which is why I told N to be decisive regarding grad school.

How much of our personal life-trajectory is determined by our genes? How much comes from environmental factors, and how much from sheer force of will (which may also have a genetic component)? Personal destiny—if destiny is even a meaningful concept—is such a mystery.



that Gillette "toxic masculinity" ad

Here's a snippet of Jordan Peterson's reaction to the recent self-righteously virtue-signaling PC ad by shaving company Gillette:


Here's Ozzy Man, paying lip service to the PC crowd:


And here are two reminders of where Ozzy Man actually stands. First:


Second (not for the shy and prudish):


In case you missed the original Gillette commercial, it's here.

A "parody" version of the commercial, which is more like a snide commentary than an actual parody—and is more thought-provoking than funny—is here.

The idea that corporations ought to be "woke" is so financially suicidal as to be hilarious. "Get woke, go broke" is the chant over at Instapundit, and it's been taken up by others who are sick of the PC malaise. Why would you stake your business on a strategy that alienates at least half the country? Why not avoid politics altogether if you're trying to sell to the largest number of people possible?

The problem is, as many in the alt media have pointed out, that we're living in a moral panic, so it's necessary to declare ourselves in order not to be overrun and torn apart by the puritanical outrage mobs. In that light, I can see why Ozzy Man might be thinking about his own survival. He's pulling a Bill Burr: skirting the edge, playing both sides of an issue, and just trying to remain funny and relevant. Do I admire Ozzy Man for his savvy pragmatism in these dangerous times, or do I despise him for his apparent moral cowardice?

One last thing: Peterson, in the above video, notes the similarities between big government and big corporations. I hit on this years ago when I drew this little cartoon that made much the same equivalence:


Bureaucratic mediocrity. It's what we settle for, time and again.



"Bohemian Rhapsody": review

Ah, Queen.

Queen is a guilty pleasure of mine. I normally tell people, when they ask about my musical tastes, that I'm stuck in the 1980s, listening to favorites like Huey Lewis and the News, Sting (newly liberated from The Police back then), Heart, Tina Turner, etc. I always somehow neglect to mention how much I enjoyed—and still enjoy—listening to Queen, perhaps the only band to inspire me to dance when no one is looking. But the fact of the matter is that, even if I don't mention it aloud, Queen is one of my favorite groups. People say Queen was revolutionary and innovative; I don't know about that. I've often found them singable, danceable, quirky, and hilarious. The song "Bohemian Rhapsody" always cracks me up because, at the very end of that wild, musical roller-coaster ride, the song ends with a goddamn gong. That gong would be pretentious in any other context, but at the end of "Bohemian Rhapsody," it's a mockery of pretentiousness—a joyful salute to the people who get the joke, and a massive fuck-you to the staid, stodgy, tweedy people who don't. How can you not love a group with the balls to end a song that way?

"Bohemian Rhapsody" is also the title of a 2018 biopic that has done surprisingly well here in South Korea, remaining at #1 on the movie charts for more than two months—a rare feat, indeed, in a short-attention-span culture where movies normally hold sway over the public for no more than two weeks. "Rhapsody" was also apparently a global success; as of this writing, it has raked in an incredible $800 million on a budget of about $52 million. Perhaps this is due to the talented direction of Dexter Fletcher, who took over for Bryan Singer after Singer was fired. Perhaps the movie owes its success to the incredible Rami Malek, about whom we will say much shortly. I think, though—and this is a point that the movie itself makes—the success of "Rhapsody" comes down to the enduring popularity of Queen and its songs. Some groups and solo singers are known in history as one-hit wonders; not so with Queen, and every song featured in this movie will be one that any audience anywhere will immediately recognize.

While Freddie Mercury (Malek) is the focus of the film, the biopic is actually about Queen as a group. We start in 1970, with Freddie—known back then as Farrokh Bulsara, son of Indian-Parsi parents—working at Heathrow Airport as a baggage handler. Farrokh's father disapproves of his son's lifestyle, and he reminds his son of his own maxim for living: good thoughts, good words, good deeds—a Zoroastrian concept that echoes Buddhism's notion of "the three karmas," i.e., thoughts, words, and deeds. Farrokh has been following the band Smile for some time, and when Smile's lead singer suddenly quits, Farrokh offers his services to guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy). The three take on bassist John Deacon (Joe Mazzello, who played "Tim the human piece of toast" in "Jurassic Park" all those years ago), and the band Queen is born.

The film follows Queen's fantastic trajectory as they pick up lawyer Jim "Miami" Beach (Tom Hollander), personal manager Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), and band manager John Reid (Aidan Gillen). There are some humorous scenes as the band tries to convince a doubtful EMI Records exec played by Mike Myers (again affecting a Scottish accent) that their music is actually worth fighting for. While Queen's public trajectory seems optimistic, Farrokh—now legally known as Freddie Mercury—is having problems in his personal life. Having originally fallen in love with and pledged commitment to Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), Freddie discovers that he isn't a monogamous heterosexual, but rather a promiscuous bisexual or homosexual (there's some controversy on this point). In any event, he confesses his bisexuality to Mary, and their relationship is forever changed. Mary goes on to find another boyfriend, but she remains friends with Mercury. Later on, Freddie succumbs to the temptation of going solo, and he discovers he has AIDS. Things come to a triumphant close, however, when Freddie apologizes to his bandmates; they come back together and rock the house at the massive 1985 Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium, England.

"Bohemian Rhapsody" features large swatches of Queen's music, but for most of the movie, these songs are chopped up and never heard properly from end to end. It isn't until the film's final reel, which features an absolutely astounding, you-are-there recreation of the Live Aid concert, that we hear a performance almost in its entirety. That scene alone must have been a gargantuan production, and it's pulled off beautifully. YouTube already features shot-for-shot comparisons of the actual concert and the movie's version of events, which turns out to be, at least for that part of the movie, rather faithful to real life.

Overall, I found the movie to be a touching affirmation of life and individuality. Freddie, several times, declares that he has to be the person he was meant to be—this despite the disapproval of people like his very traditional father (who does come around in the end). The movie is also a testament to sticktoitiveness: when you're up against a beady-eyed record executive who has barely heard of you and doubts your talents, that's the time when perseverance is crucial.

I don't know enough about the actual biographies of Queen's band members to comment on the film's realism. I can, however, say that, for a biopic, the film does seem to pull its punches regarding Freddie's sexuality, the intra-band conflict, Freddie's AIDS diagnosis, and how he suffered before dying. I think the film is meant as something like a gentle tribute—not a hagiography, exactly, but something fully intended to portray all the principals in a positive light, and to give us a story with an uplifting ending. One thing the movie stresses is how Queen, unlike many other bands of the era, was so focused on having audiences interact directly with the band by actually participating during concerts. This is exemplified during the "We Will Rock You" scene, in which we see the stomp-stomp-clap idea put forward, developed, and performed on stage. Throughout the film, we see audiences stomp-clapping with the band, singing notes in choral repetition with Freddie as the chorus leader, and intoning Queen's lyrics even before the band itself can sing them. While I suspect this sort of audience behavior wasn't unique to Queen, the movie submits that Queen was instrumental (no pun intended) in promoting this body-centered, performer-audience dialogue.

At the center of the film stands pint-sized actor Rami Malek in the role of Freddie Mercury. If you know anything about the history of this film's production, you know that Malek wasn't the filmmakers' first choice for the role: they had originally wanted cringe-comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen actually looks a hell of a lot like Mercury; give him the right mustache, and he's the spitting image of the singer. Cohen is also talented and chameleonic enough to do a good job in the role, but in 2013, he left the production because of supposed "creative differences." Malek stepped into the role... and my God, he hit it out of the park. Wearing a plate to simulate Freddie's protruding incisors (the film tells us that Mercury was born with four extra incisors, widening his mouth and allowing a greater vocal range), Malek nails every quirk and nuance of how Mercury moved, spoke, and thought, almost down to the atom. At the risk of sounding clichéd, I'd call this a mesmerizing performance. Malek has rightfully been nominated for both an Oscar and a BAFTA award for his acting in this film; if he wins, it will be a well-deserved victory, whatever the film's overall merits and demerits.

One unsung hero deserves to be mentioned, here: Marc Martel, a Canadian "soundalike" singer whose voice uncannily resembles that of Mercury. It's Martel's voice you're hearing whenever Rami Malek appears to be singing. Finding Martel must have been a casting coup for the filmmakers, and the Canuck doesn't disappoint.

The biopic may have taken gross liberties with the facts, as most biopics do. But I don't care. I came away from "Bohemian Rhapsody" with a lump in my throat—not from sadness, but from happiness. At one point in the film, girlfriend Mary Austin tells Freddie that, given his whirlwind life, full of sex and drink and drugs, he's "burning the candle at both ends." Mercury may have done just that, but while he was on this earth, he was a gift and a treasure. He and his merry band left us with a legacy of singable, danceable, quirky, and sometimes even hilarious music that we can come back to again and again whenever we need cheering up. For that, I'm thankful, and I highly recommend "Bohemian Rhapsody."



Friday, January 25, 2019

Hari Seldon reads my mind

Styx's attention was also grabbed by the HuffPo/BuzzFeed calamity:






karma

Major anti-Trump outlets BuzzFeed and Huffington Post are undergoing severe cutbacks in their workforce.

BuzzFeed to Cut 15% of Jobs in Latest Digital-Media Retrenchment

As for the HuffPo:


I'm reminded of the oft-repeated aphorism on Instapundit:
The torpedoes the left fires into the water to get Trump keep circling back on them.
More HuffPo layoffs here. Pardon my Schadenfreude:


Haw haw. But I'm sure you ladies will all find work.



a scary trip down the PoMo rabbit hole

This author isolated six precepts of critical theory. Read if you dare.



my genius country

Sigh...






another meme

Another link from Bill Keezer:






Jon Miller is en fuego

A more-passionate-than-usual tirade from Jon Miller:


Things are insane in America. What's funny is that both my leftie and rightie expat friends in Korea—some of them, anyway—say they have no intention of moving back to the States, given the current climate. Of course, being on opposite sides of the political aisle, they're saying this for utterly different (albeit symmetrical) reasons, but it's telling that both sides seem to agree that America has become too toxic to go back to.



Thursday, January 24, 2019

not to put too fine a point on it...

This woman is indeed unbelievably imbecilic:


Styx predicts she'll sell out her principles within a year. She claims that billionaires are all immoral, but they're the ones funding her party these days. Democrats are now, and have been for a while, the party of the rich. Any talk of "the 1%" rebounds right back to them. Once Ocasio-Cortez realizes the reality and gets a taste for the funding moolah and the power that comes with it, she won't look back. I suspect Styx is right about that.

There's a ton of YouTube videos highlighting this woman's stupidity. I might throw a few of them up here on the blog. Some are entertaining; some aren't that logical in their criticisms of "AOC," as she's now known.



sign of the times

With thanks to Bill Keezer for the link:


And now it's turning out that Nathan Phillips, the Native American at the heart of the Covington incident (which took place in DC, where several rallies were happening simultaneously), is an out-and-out liar.

I do have to admit, though, that I can't stand the expression on the kid's face. (His name is the Gaimanesque Nick Sandmann.) He reminds me of some of the smug, dickheaded punks I taught back when I was a high-school teacher in the early 90s—the very essence of Backpfeifengesicht. I remember one kid named Chris who thought he was Jim Carrey. What a fucking asshole.



Wednesday, January 23, 2019

una pregunta

Is there a difference between the Net-slangy interjections "REEEEEE" and "SQUEEEE"? I'm going to guess that the latter is a squeal of delight (hence "squeee..."), while the former is more a shriek of consternation, frustration, etc., in the onomatopoeic style of an alarm going off. How far off am I? Have I completely botched this?



gumbo with humor and flair

What I learned from the following video is that you need to cook your gumbo a few hours before it's truly ready. I think the presenter can afford to do this because he doesn't put any shrimp into the mix: if you're using seafood, you normally have to add it at the last minute because it's done pretty quickly. Anyway, enjoy this presentation on making gumbo, which is done with humor and a lot of personality (but with no okra and no filé):


(And remember that I made my own andouille. Ha!)





Tuesday, January 22, 2019

meals

Two of the native-speaker English teachers in our office had birthdays: one on Saturday the 19th, the other on Monday the 21st. We decided to fête the birthday people on Monday, so to that end, I brought in homemade cole slaw, homemade corn slaw, leftover sausage, the components for mac and cheese (pasta, double cream, Gruyère, herbs, seasonings, bacon), and some store-bought rolls. One of the birthday people, J, bought several half-racks of pre-cooked baby-back barbecue ribs, which turned out to be pretty good. The other birthday person, M, brought in little personal-sized tarts for dessert, and those were quite delicious.

Today, Tuesday, I fed the substantial leftovers to the rest of the office for dinner. I deliberately set dinnertime for 7:30 p.m. because I knew half of the staff would be gone: I had a lot of leftovers, but not enough to feed twenty hungry Koreans. Of the three teams I invited, only two showed up, but we still had ten dinner guests.

Here are some photos from yesterday and today. First up: I had leftover sausages from previous events, so I took those out of the freezer, thawed them a bit in my microwave, cooked them in beer (not being a connoisseur, I normally pick my beers at random; this time, it was a Hefe-Weißen), then finished them with a sear on a dry pan. J, who is South African and knows his braai and wors, proclaimed the sausages exquisite.


Next up: corn salad, which wasn't as good this time, but which nevertheless proved fairly popular. I made it spicy, like last time, finely mincing up green chili peppers along with several colors of bell peppers. I also added dried onion flakes and crushed red pepper, black pepper, my standard slaw sauce (mayo + pickle juice), and a spoonful of sugar because the whole thing still tasted somewhat bland. I think I bought the wrong brand of corn; one online expat contended that Korean corn is what Americans would call "feed corn," i.e., it's fibrous roughage designed for horse molars—bland and lifeless.* The local groceries all sell American brands of canned corn; I'll stick to those from now on, even if they're a bit more expensive.


Below: cole slaw. I grated the carrots in a cheese grater, and this time around, I minced the cabbage into tiny pieces, burger-joint-style. I added way more black sesame seeds than last time; I think their flavor really enhances the slaw. What's funny is the recipe actually calls for poppy seeds, but I didn't have any on hand. Maybe I'll order some from iHerb next time.


When it came to the item you see below, I braced for impact, expecting people not to like it. This was my "Cajun fried rice," made from the echoes of the gumbo I had served the previous week. To make my previous batches of gumbo, I had boiled my homemade andouille first, which left me with a redolent, fatty broth that reminded me of what happens when you boil chorizo. Not wanting to waste the sausage water, I used it to cook up a huge bucketful of rice, and that was the base for my Cajun fried rice. I diced up and pan-fried a kilo of chicken breast, pan-fried (in andouille fat) two bagfuls of small shrimp, pan-fried my remaining andouille, then used the rendered fat from the fried andouille to pan-fry a series of veggies: onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, etc. I had a rotting bagful of green onions left over, so I took the time to strip away all the rot, then mince the fresh remainder and mix it straight into the fried rice as is, i.e., uncooked. This added a fresh bite to the rice. The rice itself also got a frying, but this created an annoying layer of nurungji on the bottom of the pan—a savory crust of rice made even more savory by the andouille fat. I mixed everything together (well, not the nurungji, but everything else), hoping that the large cut I had used for the bell peppers wouldn't bother anyone. (It was getting late; I was tired, and I didn't want to spend the time micro-mincing the bell peppers the way I normally do.) Result:


People loved it. J asked to take a batch home, and tonight, one of the female staffers took a bunch of the rice home, along with a few other leftovers, including both slaws and the remainder of my mac and cheese (explanation forthcoming).

Here's a shot of most of the staffers chowing down:


And here's the mac and cheese:


Once again, I used Iron Chef Mike Symon's miraculous recipe—Gruyère plus double cream, no Béchamel. Although I didn't have rosemary, I herbed and seasoned the dish my way, and it turned out just fine. Everyone complimented this dish; it was the obvious favorite. I had to explain, to the people taking some mac and cheese home, how to go about reheating the dish, given that it was guaranteed to harden in the fridge: get a pan, add some milk, bring the milk to a simmer, then add the mac and cheese and stir, slowly and patiently. Do not microwave, on pain of causing the cream/cheese sauce to separate and become a nasty, greasy mess.

On Monday, I added pancetta to the pasta. Today, it was good ol' Amurrican bacon, cooked to a crisp. In all, I'd say the mac and cheese was pretty damn good. I ate two servings.

Below, some store-bought ribs after a session in the microwave:


The ladies play Rock, Paper, Scissors to determine who among them will wash half the dishes:


In this final shot, the men do the same:


Everyone thanked me for the meal. This whole thing was an unexpected effort: J had mentioned the birthday thing only a week or so beforehand, shortly after we'd had the gumbo. I normally do big cooking projects once a month, so yeah, this took me a bit by surprise. But I was happy to do it: an excuse to cook for others is always a good thing. The crowd washed most of my dishes but neglected to do a few of them; no worries. I washed what little was left to do. Come February, I'll be doing it all over again... but probably only for the R&D/native-speaker crowd, not for all four teams on our side of the floor.



*Horses do eat corn, in case you were wondering.



more coverage of the Covington blowup

It's been a great week for fake news, what with the media's having tripped over its own dick regarding the false BuzzFeed news story about Michael Cohen's claim that Donald Trump told him to lie to Congress—news that Special Counsel Robert Mueller himself, head of the Trump-Russia probe, broke his relative silence to refute. Now, with the Covington Catholic High School incident continuing to dominate the news cycle (well, at least the alt-media news cycle), we have even more opinions on the matter pouring in.

Here's Paul Joseph Watson on the supposedly harassed Native American, the smirking white student, and the Black Hebrew Israelites:


Here's Jon Miller's take:


Miller writes in his video's blurb:

It didn’t matter who instigated the incident between the Covington Catholic high schoolers and the Indian [drummer because] the MSM had a narrative to push. They had NO interest in finding out the truth or getting the students’ perspective. Instead, they were more focused [on] demonizing Trump supporters based on nothing more than the color of their skin.

That was the case for both the Covington flap and the above-mentioned Cohen flap: the narrative always comes first, then you fit your "facts" to the narrative. Were it not for alt media, there would be no journalism. Styx points out that the high schoolers at the center of this incident, and their families, have lawyered up and might be going after some news organizations for their sloppy, slanted, defamatory reporting. Well, good. I support freedom of the press, but that doesn't mean I support the freedom to lie and spin with impunity. Someone needs to hold these bastards accountable for their constant Baghdad Bob-ing.

Here's Styx:


Meanwhile, there are some juicy posts over at Instapundit, where they're tearing into this latest fake-news snafu with vigor. See especially here, here, here, here ("Sue the bastards!"), and here (Trump weighs in, gaffes and all).

And this satirical article's title puts the matter well:

Press That Sicced Mob On Teenagers Based On 10-Second Video Clip Unsure Why Some People Call Them ‘Fake News.’

It's frustrating, the extent to which the PoMo mentality has taken over public discourse. We can't talk about truth anymore; it's all narratives now. Based on the work I did in religious studies, the term "narrative" holds a sacred place in my consciousness, but the term is being defiled in how it gets used these days, just as the word "myth" is tossed around sloppily, with no respect for its academic meaning. Anyway, this is the discursive reality we live in now, and to fight a toxic narrative, we need to weave an equally powerful counter-narrative. It's like what Messala said in 1959's "Ben Hur": to fight an idea, you need another idea.



a joke seen on Gab

Here you go:

Two guys grow up together in Manchester, but after college, one moves to London and the other to Cardiff. They agree to meet every ten years in Wentworth to play golf.

At age 30, they finish their round of golf and go to lunch.
“Where you wanna go?”
“Hooters.”
“Why?”
“Well, you know, they got the broads with the big racks, the tight shorts,
and the legs ..."
"OK.”

At age 40, they finish their round of golf and go to lunch.
“Where you wanna go?”
“Hooters.”
“Why?”
“Well, you know, they got cold beer, sports on the big-screen TVs, and
everybody has a little action on the games.”
"OK."

At age 50, they finish their round of golf and go to lunch.
“Where you wanna go?”
“Hooters.”
“Why?”
“The food is pretty good, and there's plenty of parking.”
“OK.”

At age 60, they finish their round of golf and go to lunch.
“Where you wanna go?”
“Hooters.”
“Why?”
“Wings are half price.”
“OK.”

At age 70, they finish their round of golf and go to lunch.
“Where you wanna go?”
“Hooters.”
“Why?”
“They have six handicapped spaces right by the door.”
“OK.”

At age 80, they finish their round of golf and go to lunch.
“Where you wanna go?”
“Hooters.”
“Why?”
“We’ve never been there before.”
“OK.”

This joke takes the two guys from age 30 to age 80, which got me wondering: how long has Hooters actually been around? Turns out that Hooters was established in 1983, so relatively speaking, it hasn't been around that long. Here's hoping the chain manages to survive at least fifty years... assuming the #MeToo crowd doesn't take it down.



Monday, January 21, 2019

parodying the heroes

I may have slapped this video up before, but it always bears re-watching. Here's Batman at his most dirty-minded:


And here's a Key & Peele parody of the Lethal Weapon franchise:


And while we're on the topic of Key & Peele...






hilariously cynical

I'm guessing the truth isn't actually too far removed from this:






Styx on those evil, evil Covington High School kids

This video got flagged and removed by YouTube, so I'm embedding the same video from Styx's BitChute channel (he maintains multiple platforms for just such occasions). Watch the vid and decide whether Styx said anything racist or otherwise bigoted. This is just more evidence that YouTube and other platforms for self-expression all follow a particular agenda.


Meanwhile, here's Styx on YouTube, talking about the de-platforming of his video:


UPDATE: here's Styx on BitChute, discussing his de-platforming. This video was itself de-platformed from YouTube by the same censorious cunts who suppressed his previous video.


As for the incident in question, in which some Catholic high-school youths purportedly harassed an aging Native American who is also a military veteran, it's probably going to turn out, as is always the case when fake news is involved, that the original story was only that: a story and not the truth. People reviewing the video in question aren't seeing the antagonism and bigotry supposedly on display against the celebrated veteran.

From here:

Last night before bed, having only seen those shorter videos, I retweeted a condemnation of these boys. Now I regret that, having seen the whole video, and observing how left-wing activists — some of them Christian — are seizing on this ugly incident to discredit the March For Life, a massive annual event protesting the murder of the unborn.

To be clear, it is POSSIBLE that these boys really did make fun of this old Native American man. If that’s what happened, they should apologize.

I don’t think this is what happened at all, though. These boys were already chanting their high school chants. Nathan Phillips confronted them. They don’t appear to understand what point he was making with his own chanting and drum-beating. And now they are held up to the contempt of the country for something they appear not to have done at all. And, the news accounts conveniently ignore the provocative, racist, foul-mouthed attacks on the boys by one of Phillips’s Native American companions.

* * * * * * * *

From what I can tell from over here, what is being reported about the Covington Catholic boys appears to be almost 100 percent Fake News. I started out ready to condemn those boys, but after watching more videos of the entire incident, I changed my mind. I am willing to revise this opinion if more facts come forward, and I welcome your e-mailing them to me.

More here, where the theory is propounded that this attack on Catholicism is preparation for the upcoming Supreme Court battle to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Amy Coney Barrett, who is decidedly Catholic. The left needs Catholicism to be a strike against Barrett, just as the right tried to make John F. Kennedy's Catholic faith into a liability. (How'd that turn out?)

The problem, for the left, is that American Catholics, while coming in all political flavors, have a very large, liberal-leaning voting bloc. Attacking Catholicism is likely to disenchant Catholics who might otherwise be for the liberal/Democrat cause. The left should tread lightly.

Even more here: The Media Wildly Mischaracterized That Video of Covington Catholic Students Confronting a Native American Veteran. The veteran, Nathan Phillips, may have actually been part of the problem: he interposed himself between a group of "Black Hebrew Israelites"—who were shouting racial and sexual slurs and epithets—and a group of quiet, utterly nonviolent white students, convinced that the white students were making ready to attack the black students, whom Phillips automatically assumed to be the victims.



Sunday, January 20, 2019

"John Adams" (2008): an impressionistic review

"John Adams," a seven-episode, 2008 miniseries from HBO about the adult life of John Adams, second president of the United States, covers the man's life from 1770 to Adams's death on July 4, 1826, the very same day that Thomas Jefferson died. The series stars Paul Giamatti as John Adams, Laura Linney as wife and advisor Abigail Adams, and Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon on "Game of Thrones") as Thomas Jefferson, the ultimate frenemy. A good portion of the series is devoted to exploring the political and philosophical differences between Adams and Jefferson, despite both men's agreement on the need for revolutionary independence from England. In seven episodes, we move from just before the American Revolution to the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence to the first fifty years of the United States' existence. There is some focus on the "Quasi-war" with France, but little to none on the War of 1812. Adams and Jefferson apparently had a falling-out that lasted for years, but over the final fourteen years of their lives, the two men struck up a correspondence in which they each explained themselves to the other and forged, thereby, a kind of reconciliation. Jefferson died a few hours earlier than Adams on July 4, 1826; as Adams neared death, one of his final utterances was, "Thomas Jefferson survives," a moment the TV series faithfully recreates.

This isn't to say the series was faithful in all aspects. Wikipedia actually has a long list of the various historical gaffes and liberties made and taken by the filmmakers. Some were minor in nature and scope, such as the date of Nabby Adam's mastectomy. Others were more significant, such as the idea, promoted by the series, that Samuel Adams (Danny Huston, playing John Adams's cousin whose name lives on thanks to a beer) had a vicious streak and was in favor of mob violence: one episode shows John and Samuel reacting very differently as a Boston crowd tars and feathers a British official. Despite the inaccuracies, I appreciated how the series brought the era to life, being so accurate as to mark the progress of time and aging by making everyone's teeth increasingly decayed and discolored.

The series deals with the small as much as it deals with the large: we are given a sense of life in the Adams household: how John and Abigail treat their children, and how this care, or lack of it, affects the kids as they grow into adults. Charles Adams (Kevin Trainor), the show submits, suffers from his father's absence and from a combination of scorn and indifference whenever the elder Adams is there, all of which drives Charles, who is naturally rebellious, to drink heavily. He dies in ignominy at the tender age of thirty, succumbing to cirrhosis of the liver, leaving behind a wife and children. Nabby Adams, the eldest daughter of John and Abigail, eventually dies of breast cancer; the show gives us a painful-to-watch mastectomy scene (no gore is actually shown; it's all implied) that both presents the barbarism of late-1700s medicine and gives the viewer hope that Nabby will live a somewhat normal life after the operation. Nabby's cancer recurs, though, having metastasized to her other breast and to her spine. The Adamses have other children, but the series doesn't focus on them.

Along the way, as America goes through its painful birth pangs, we meet historical figures like Benjamin Franklin (Tom Wilkinson, speaking French, during the Europe scenes, with a charming smirk and a decidedly American accent), King George III (a brief but brilliant cameo by Tom Hollander, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actors; you may remember him from "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation"), and George Washington (David Morse, with a fairly nicely done prosthetic nose to give him the famous Washingtonian profile). Franklin is portrayed as an old rogue who thoroughly enjoys living in France as an ambassador. He and John Adams clash primarily because of Adams's insistence on being blunt and straightforward. When Adams finally meets King George III after America has gained its independence, the meeting is portrayed as brief but extremely carefully worded, with the king—who was in the grip of mental illness—staring off into the middle distance so as to avoid eye contact with another human being. George Washington is a (literally) towering figure in the series who nevertheless appears only peripherally: this is a series about John Adams, after all, so this is to be expected. That said, Washington commands everyone's attention the moment he's in the room, and he manages this despite being portrayed as extremely soft-spoken. (The first president's inauguration is humorously portrayed as inaudible before a crowd of thousands: the gentleman administering the oath of office is far louder; Washington's repetitions of the oath sound like Christian Bale's Batman muttering to himself.)

But the center of this political whirlwind is commanded by Paul Giamatti as John Adams and Laura Linney as the faithful, long-suffering, and savvy Abigail Adams. When I did a quick bit of research after watching the series, I learned that John Adams was an inveterate letter-writer, and it's often through these correspondences that historians have been able to learn as much as they have about the man's character, and that of his wife. Linney's portrayal of Abigail Adams hits all the right notes. She's a wise family woman who can rightly be called one of America's earliest feminists, but she conforms to the social roles forced upon her by late 18th-century and early 19th-century society. Bearing the burdens of both motherhood and the maintenance of the Adamses' property, Abigail often pines for her husband's return from wherever he is stationed, be it Philadelphia or France. Linney carries these worries quite effectively upon her brow; we can see plainly the love, care, and concern she has for her husband and her children. Abigail ends up living a long life, and she dies in bed. She is party to the friendship/rivalry between her husband and Thomas Jefferson; initially charmed by Jefferson's manner and intellect, she grows cool to him later on as Jefferson seems to evolve into a more extreme and revolutionary figure who also—and this is problematic for Abigail—owns slaves. John Adams, it should be known, owned no slaves. Of the first twelve US presidents, only two were not slave-owners, and both men were Adamses. Paul Giamatti, for his part, offers a solid and earnestly done rendition of the second president. Not exactly known for his looks, Giamatti nevertheless projects a certain hard-edged charisma, delivering his lines with passion and wit, making it easy for us, the viewers, to see John Adams as a persuader almost in spite of himself.

If I understand this correctly, the series depicts the differences between Adams and Jefferson this way: Adams was more of an authoritarian who, while paying lip service to the notion of federalism, stressed the importance of a strong federal government and the need for the people to be governed. This authoritarian streak was most visible in Adams's signing of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which criminalized false and/or seditious speech against the government, and also allowed for the imprisonment and deportation of non-Americans deemed dangerous or potentially hostile. Jefferson—somewhat ironically for a slave-owner—stressed the importance of individual freedom, and he was wary of government's tendency to oppress. The series shows how this ideological conflict spilled over into and affected the men's friendship, and much of the final episode is devoted to a voiceover rendition of the fourteen-year-long correspondence that enabled the men to reconcile.

Overall, "John Adams" proved to be both watchable and educational, well acted and competently filmed despite quite a few shaky-cam moments that lent the proceedings a somewhat anachronistic vibe. Many of the shots of colonial America—showing hillscapes, distant forests, and architecture that I instantly recognized—made me pine for home. While the show had its flaws, I see it as a fair-minded biopic that I would gladly recommend to anyone looking to learn a bit more about the life of my country's second president, a man who had large shoes to fill after George Washington vacated the office. One thing I found curious, though, was how each episode would open with a succession of revolutionary flags with slogans like "Join or Die," "Don't Tread On Me," and "Unite or Die"—all depicting serpents. It's a wonder that the eagle ended up as our national symbol. Benjamin Franklin famously proposed that the turkey be our national bird. It's interesting to speculate on how close we were to becoming members of House Slytherin.



Saturday, January 19, 2019

going artisanal

Some colas that they're selling at the new SSG Food Market:


Guess which one I wrapped my lips around first.

And while the cola didn't taste as if it had come out of a cock, it did taste as if it had come out of a metal pipe. "Strong cola taste," forsooth. Dégoûtant.

As for the other colas (which were also cherry colas): the Wizard of Oz/Golden Records cola was good but a bit weird and watery; the Americana cola had an old-time taste reminiscent of cream soda—heavy on the cherry, light on the cola-ness. Overall, I can't say that I liked any of these colas. This is one time when inquisitiveness indubitably dispatched the pussy.



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?