Thursday, April 09, 2020

Uncle Bernie throws in the towel

Bernie abandonne! Styx on the latest turn of events:

quite a nice meal

The two chefs from Sorted Food prep a wholesome Easter meal:

I might be stealing some of the techniques showcased in this video.

For those who might have forgotten, this is Holy Week, and it's now Maundy Thursday.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

there's always something new to learn

Stupid slang is always appearing on the horizon, and one of the latest bits of stupid slang is the epithet "Karen," which generally refers to white women with a certain pointy-blonde hairstyle who manifest a bitchy, overprivileged, "I wanna talk to the manager" attitude. Here's Shoe0nHead with a video about Karens:

I started hearing this term a few months ago, and it immediately grated on me. I'm just going to hunker down and hope that this particular bit of slang passes out of the vernacular within the next twelve months like an enthusiastically launched turd.

is this shit for real?

Joe Biden, apparently:

“We cannot let this, we’ve never allowed any crisis from the Civil War straight through to the pandemic of 17, all the way around, 16, we have never, never let our democracy sakes second fiddle, way they, we can both have a democracy and … correct the public health.”

Sorry if this amounts to virusblogging, but I see this more as Bidenblogging.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Pepple on persuasion

Dr. John Pepple has some thoughts on how righties ought to approach lefties if there is to be any chance of convincing lefties to abandon their ways. Is this even a battle worth fighting?

In another post, Dr. Pepple also has advice for the media on how to beat Trump. This advice is impossible to follow, of course, for it begins with "Start off by being fair." Fat chance.

China, China, China

Laowhy86 (Matthew Tye) and SerpentZA (Winston Sterzel), two famous expat vloggers who used to live in China, but who both now live in the States, sit down for an interview with the crew from China Uncensored to talk about life in China, Orwellian government oppression, and why they ended up leaving. This is a very good watch if you have the time:

yet more eppel peh

So I made an apple pie over the weekend, and I didn't tell JW I was doing so. He hates feeling left out, but I was making this pie for my boss and coworker.

The pie came out great... except for one pretty major thing, which my coworker discovered, and remarked upon, the moment he cut into the pie.

"Everything's swimmin' around down there," my coworker said as he cut into the pie. It took me a second to realize what the problem was. Why would the pie's filling be so runny? I openly mused about whether it was the type of apples I had used. Then it hit me: flour. I'd forgotten to add the fucking flour. Two heaping tablespoons of flour—which acts as a thickener, combining with the water from the apples—was the difference between ultimate victory and ultimate disaster. You can see some of the runniness below:

So I tilted the pie tin and scooped out all the runny (but oh-so-delicious) fluid that had collected at the bottom of the pie and the bottom of the tin. All the runniness went into a waiting bowl, and then I punished myself by drinking the whole thing down. Truth be told, it wasn't much of a punishment: the liquidy part of the filling tasted damn good. And so did the rest of the pie, really: everything tasted just fine; it was the filling's texture that was lacking. My coworker was a good sport about the whole thing, even helping himself to a second serving. The crust came out perfectly, at least, so I didn't have to worry about that. The idiot-proof pie-dough recipe strikes again.

Here's the piece I sliced for myself, post-drainage:

My coworker asked me an interesting question: what about par-cooking the apples before pouring the filling into the pie crust so as to have super-soft apples at the end of the bake? I told him that I had followed the classic recipe, which calls for putting the apples into the pie raw. After about an hour of baking, the apples come out fully cooked through, but they still retain a tiny bit of firmness and crunch—a reminder of their former freshness. I told my coworker that I do like the gooey texture of cooked-to-death apples, and that I've done apple pies with filling that's been par-cooked on the stove before it goes into the pie shell. I promised both my boss and my coworker that I'd bake a "redemption" pie to be served this coming Friday; I won't forget the flour this time, and I'll probably par-cook the apple filling before putting it into the shell for baking.

The only excuse I have for the lack-of-flour fuckup is senility. I had certainly meant to put flour into the filling. I simply had a senior moment and forgot. Mea maxima culpa.

separated at birth

In the midst of the current crisis, the Dems keep wanting to investigate Donald Trump. Adam Schiff is, of course, spearheading one such investigation into Trump's handling of current affairs. Schiff is hard to take seriously, though. I mean, look at the guy:

He kind of reminds me of Cohagen from "Total Recall," after exposure to Martian air:

Yeah... I don't think this investigation will lead to anything except a Trump landslide.

See you at the party, Adam!

Monday, April 06, 2020

seen on Instapundit

Does your neighborhood have a problem with looting thanks to law enforcement announcing it won't respond to calls about non-violent crimes? Read on:

binge-watching TV, catching up on pop culture

I've been steadily working my way through "Burn Notice," a series I'd watched for a few years before skipping off to Korea. I started watching "Burn Notice" after Season 1 had finished, and I left off before the final two seasons of the show's seven-season run, so this particular binge-watch is a combination of catching-up and first-time viewing. Unfortunately, I spoiled the series finale for myself long ago, so I know that one of the main characters dies at the very end, and two others end up in something like a family situation. I'm currently three episodes into Season 2, and I'm realizing how many refugees from the cast of "Battlestar Galactica" ended up guest-starring on "Burn Notice."

Once I finish bingeing this series, I have several more to wade through before I get back to watching and reviewing movies. Here's the list thus far:

"Gunpowder" (starring Kit Harington; this is only a three-part series, so it'll go down easy)
"Ash vs. Evil Dead"
"White Collar" (another series whose final seasons I missed)
"Rick and Morty," Season 4, episodes 6-10 (when the episodes come out)
"Impulse," Season 2 (this came out a while ago, but I haven't bothered to watch it)

I'm writing this entry at work, so there may be a series or two that I'm leaving out. Still, even with the incomplete list above (which I'll round out once I get home), I've got enough TV viewing to keep me occupied for a couple months. "Burn Notice" alone is going to take some time to get through, even at a rate of three episodes per night.

Have no fear: contrary to what I wrote above, I might sprinkle some movie-viewing and reviewing into all the TV bingeing.

the stats roller coaster

Not that it matters much to me as a person who isn't aiming for popularity, but I've been watching my blog stats with some curiosity. It's been a roller coaster for the past few months, and I can guess why. Before the current circumstances, I had been getting 1500-1800 unique visits per day. For the past two months, that dropped down to about 500-700 visits, and only lately has the number risen to around 1000. Will the trend continue to improve? It's not looking likely: I recently peaked at around 1300 visits on one particular day, and since then, I've been hovering at around 900. At a guess, my blog isn't a must-read for most of the people who visit; there's no "in sickness or in health" level of commitment to the Hairy Chasms. And that's fine; I'm happy to have any readership at all, but as I said, I'm not obsessed with how large or small that readership is. So I'll continue to watch the fluctuations with interest, but I have no plans to market myself any differently by changing how I blog.

Dr. V's rare grammatical error

Spot the error (from this post):

Trump has merely made its presence more evident by standing up and fighting for the conservative cause, something that milque-toast Mitt and his ilk were unwilling and incapable of doing.

Dr. V. is normally pitch-perfect with his grammar, so this is a very rare error. His posts contain typos, but typos are just typos and not worth castigating. We all make typos. Hint: I'm not focusing on the archaic rendering of "milquetoast" as a hyphenated compound, although "milque-toast" is, given its origins, technically erroneous. No: this error goes a bit deeper.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

an ancient review of "The Dark Knight"

Here's an old 2011 review of "The Dark Knight" by a much younger-looking Jeremy Jahns, who makes the same point I did about why I don't see Christopher Nolan's Joker as a trickster figure: the Joker claims to be an agent of chaos, but he meticulously constructs a series of Rube Goldbergesque schemes designed to cause people to hurt and kill each other. To use the old terminology from Dungeons and Dragons: far from being chaotic evil, the Joker is lawful evil: orderly, precise, almost mechanistic.* He's also thoroughly saturated in bloodlust and an active seeker of carnage and ruin. Lawful evil for sure.

*Sticking with the D&D perspective for a moment: from my understanding, tricksters are generally chaotic neutral, not actively evil. They have a lot in common with hurricanes, wreaking havoc on the righteous and the wicked alike. In "The Dark Knight," the Joker tells Harvey Dent that the thing about chaos is that it's fair. That may be true of chaos, but it's not true of the Joker himself. The Joker is more of a devil figure than a trickster figure: his fixation on pain, fear, and suffering—plus the way in which he constantly traffics in lies—should set off all sorts of alarm bells in the heads of Christians familiar with their satanic lore.

the bread I might try to make

My boss and coworker want brisket sandwiches for the big April meal, which I'll be serving on Friday, April 17. I now subscribe to an "as homemade as possible" ethic, which means I'm finally—finally—going to try baking a legitimate loaf of bread. Chef John at Food Wishes has a recipe for "No-knead Country Bread" that I'm going to try to make. It seems simple enough, although it also looks quite sticky as a raw dough. Instead of making one huge loaf, though, I'm going to make several small, sandwich-sized loaves that ought to come out looking like ciabatta, given how Chef John's rather saggy-looking loaf turned out.*

Wish me luck. I'll do a practice bake or two. If I can't find spelt flour anywhere nearby, I might have to order some from iHerb.** Or just go commando and use only regular flour.

*Chef John mentions ciabatta in the video. And yes: I'll adjust baking time accordingly since I'm making buns instead of one huge loaf.

**Just checked iHerb. All of the spelt flour is either discontinued or out of stock. Lurvely.

Tim Pool on Joe Rogan on Donald Trump

Some months back, Joe Rogan—and we should all remember the guy's a confirmed, pot-loving leftie—expressed positive thoughts about Bernie Sanders. Parts of the internet went nuts, both positively and negatively, on the assumption that Rogan had officially endorsed Sanders. Now comes the news that Rogan would rather vote for Trump than for Joe Biden. As with the Sanders comment, this remark was made in an offhand manner, but once again, the internet has gone nuts (even though most sane Democrats are wondering how in hell Senile Joe ended up the front-runner). Here's Tim Pool, commenting on the situation:

A few possibilities:

1. Rogan's just being honest-in-the-moment and expressing how he feels.
2. Rogan's deliberately trolling a certain sector of the internet just to generate clicks.
3. Both of the above.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

today's brief walk

Today's walk ended up being a meager 12.7 kilometers, and partly because I took some ibuprofen before I began the walk, my right foot was fine the entire time. I'm tempted to say that I'm ready to try a full-scale, 30-kilometer walk, given how well today went, but that might be asking for too much, too soon. We'll give it another couple of weeks.

We all received a text-message notice from the government this morning, which told us that a stretch of path in Yeouido was going to be closed off. We actually got to that very stretch of street, which is a famous one, lined with cherry blossoms and begging for romantic couples to stroll there. Some twenty-somethings wearing some sort of uniform blocked our way and told us where to detour in order to reach the Han River. I shook my head about all the path closings, but JW explained the rationale for the closings this way: the cherry blossoms are out, so these paths that ended up being closed off would have been crowded with people otherwise. JW doesn't seem to think that the moving air would have served a protective function against the virus (compare the open air to a closed-in office space or subway car), but there we are.

In the shot below, we're away from Yeouido and heading out toward the last few kilometers before the Gayang Bridge. This walk felt a bit surreal: when I do a normal walk to Incheon, I start from my place, and the Gayang Bridge represents the end of a very long day's walking. By the time we hit the bridge today, the walk felt... how shall I say this... unearned. Even JW was commenting on how short the walk felt, which means he's successfully recalibrated his sensibilities to those of a true distance walker.

Using his phone, JW directed us to a local restaurant-of-good-repute not far from the Gayang Bridge. I think the place is called Deungchon Kalguksu. I haven't looked up the hanja for "Deungchon," but I'd guess that it means something like "Lantern Village." I won't be surprised if I turn out to be wrong, though; this is just an uneducated guess.

According to JW, who was reading the info off his phone, Deungchon is famous for its multi-stage meals: start off with soup, then after you eat most of the soup solids, the ladies dump in a bunch of udong noodles, and when you finish off the noodles, the ladies give you a mixture of rice, egg, and minced vegetables that all get stirred into the remaining spicy broth.

JW wanted me to take a picture of how full the resto was. We sat at a table on the second floor; the first floor was simply too crowded. As you see, the ambiance was convivial, and no one was wearing a mask. In theory, this was a high-risk environment—the very sort of thing that the ROK government is discouraging and the US government is—depending on the state—outright banning. You see JW in the bottom-right corner, looking smug.

Round 1: the soup:

I think this wall is showing the resto's name:

The menu:

Pretty much everyone in the restaurant ordered the same thing, i.e., the beoseot maeuntang, or spicy mushroom stew. Here's Round 2—the udong noodles (definitely not kalguksu):

And finally, Round 3: the rice, eggs, and veggies:

JW gave me his perspective on the whole COVID-19 situation, Trump, etc. I'll blog in detail about this later, after my moratorium ends on April 19. For now, suffice it to say that JW calls himself a conservative, but he sounds like a liberal statist to me. He talked about reading both Camus's La Peste (The Plague) and Huxley's Brave New World recently (changes at work have allowed him much free time for reading, he says), and he pronounced himself seduced by Huxley's vision of a world in which people are bred to be happy with their lot in life, willing participants in a version of Plato's noble lie. I found it kind of scary to hear my old buddy talking this way, but I'm going to chalk this up to a phase: JW often gets temporarily inspired by the books he's reading, then the inspiration fades, and he gets inspired by the next book on his list. Still, as they say on Instapundit: "1984 was supposed to be a warning, not a how-to manual!" Oh, yeah: JW also read Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel.

JW told me that he also has another walking partner: his young daughter, who apparently loves walking—unlike JW's constantly complaining son! So he may be bringing her along on these walks as well. She's already apparently tough enough to go 10 or 15 km (they did a long walk just the other day), but I'm not sure I'd take her for a 30-kilometer stroll quite yet, and I've told JW that that's our next route: the 30K stretch from Gayang Bridge all the way to the western shore and the beginning of the Four Rivers Trail in Incheon. That's actually going to be close to a 35-kilometer walk if we include the distance from Gayang Station to the Han River, plus the distance from the Ara West Sea Lock (where the Four Rivers Trail begins) to the nearest subway station, Geomam, about 3.2 km away.

Politics and dystopian thinking aside, it was a fine walk on a fine day, and I'm happy with how my right foot performed. More walking to come, especially now that spring has sprung.

JW's joke

While we were walking from Yeouido to the Gayang Bridge, JW told me this riddle, which only speakers of Korean are likely to get:

Q: The coronavirus vaccine is still a year away, so why haven't any Korean Buddhist monks gotten sick?

A: Because they already have their 백신 (baekshin).

Sigh... riddles are no fun when you have to explain them, and JW had to explain this one to me, although after I heard the explanation, I realized I should have gotten the humor the first time around. The riddle plays on the phonetic resemblance between the English "vaccine"—pronounced "baek-shin" with a Korean accent—and the Korean word baekshin, literally "white shoe." A baekshin is a white gomushin, i.e., a simple, traditional shoe made of gomu, or rubber (cf. the French word gomme, used for erasers, chewing gum, rubber, etc.). Here are some pics of traditional gomushin and baekshin.

So the monks aren't sick with COVID-19 because, well, they've already got their baekshin (white-rubber shoes/vaccines).

Go ahead and groan.

JW is a dad twice over, and I feel as if we're in dad-joke territory.

bit by bit, freedom of movement is being whittled away

It almost feels like a gesture of defiance, but I'm meeting my Korean buddy JW Saturday morning to do a relatively short 12-kilometer walk from Yeouido Station to the Gayang Bridge, and from there into town. We'll probably eat lunch in town (the Gayang Bridge is on the waaay western side of Seoul—a testimony to just how wide Seoul is) and get on the subway at Gayang Station to head back to our respective domiciles.

Friday afternoon, I received yet another text message from the ROK government. This one informed us that certain local bike paths would be closed off for the weekend: the Banpo Creek, the Yangjae Creek (close to my neighborhood), and the Yeoui Creek, which you can hit if you walk or bike far enough along the Yangjae Creek path. No text messages—that I know of—about closing off the Han River path. I suppose we'll find out Saturday morning whether the Han has been closed off, too. At a guess, probably not. We need to preserve at least a semblance of freedom, ja?

More on the walk later.

Friday, April 03, 2020

back when blogging was about fun and whimsy

I had completely forgotten about this 2003 short story: "The Return of Moaning Myrtle."

2003 was the year I began blogging.

interesting point about "Galaxy Quest"

Quite a few movie lovers consider "Galaxy Quest," starring Tim Allen, to be the ultimate Star Trek parody. Some even go so far as to classify it (just as people classified "The Orville") as an actual Trek film—in spirit, if not as a literal part of the Trek universe. I liked "Galaxy Quest" when I saw it years and years ago, but it was only while watching a dude on YouTube the other day (Joe Scott, talking about cephalopods) that I heard about a story-related flaw I'd never thought of: if the naive aliens who kidnap the team are incapable of lying, how did they arrive at the idea of masking their true tentacular form from the humans?

butt goat in the daytime

The Korean word 벗꽃 can be romanized as beot-ggot, which sounds a lot like "butt goat" to me, so that's the mental image that arises whenever I consider the local cherry blossoms.

my childhood love

I grew up with the 22-volume Funk & Wagnalls Wildlife Encyclopaedia, a British collection of books about all sorts of creatures that walk, crawl, creep, swim, and fly. I also grew up loving molluscs—especially cephalopods, which are the subject of the Joe Scott video below. Quite a few videos on YouTube explore the question of cephalopod consciousness, especially as instantiated in the not-so-humble octopus, a short-lived mollusc (I spell mollusc the British way because, well, Funk & Wagnalls, and because the word looks somehow less literate and dignified when you spell it with a "k") that harbors an amazing intelligence that human beings are only beginning to fathom. Joe Scott spends a lot of time exploring the possibility that octopuses (which he deems the correct plural, not octopi) might in some sense be true aliens, given how separate they are, genetically speaking, from the rest of Terran life. Scott naturally concludes that octopuses aren't actual aliens, but they do appear to be quite foreign.

It doesn't take much brainpower to reason out that octopuses and other cephalopods evolved right here on Earth. First off: humans have been eating them for millennia. I'm no Star Trek-style xenobiologist, but I don't think it's possible to digest food that has an utterly alien genome. Second: octopuses and other cephalopods manifest recognizable traits and behaviors: curiosity, anger, excitement, agitation, stress, fight-or-flight, etc. Creatures from another world would doubtless behave in ways that are utterly unrecognizable to us, and in fact, Scott makes a point I've long made myself regarding aliens: how aliens look will probably be completely unlike anything within human experience. Even with "convergent" evolution causing alien morphology to share certain traits with Terran life (e.g., alien water-dwellers would evolve in fish-like ways to be able to move smoothly through a liquid environment), that's no guarantee that aliens would look like anything we have here on Earth.

Enjoy the video. I found that it took me back to my nerdy, octopus-loving childhood.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

look carefully

What's hilariously wrong with the following picture? Click to enlarge. It might take you a moment to see the problem, but when I noticed it, I couldn't help thinking that this was so classically Korean:

I used to think fry pan was another instance of Konglish. Then I found out that that's what the British call frying pans. I'll hang that one on the wall along with strange locutions like "pay rise" (pay raise), "drink driving" (drunk driving), "proving dough" (proofing dough), and so on. The collection is always growing.

NB: you could counter that one classically American problem is why hot dogs and buns don't come in packages with the same numbers of each.

sauce veloutée aux fruits de mer et aux pleurotes

Seafood in Kevin-style sauce veloutée with oyster mushrooms, on a bed of fusilli:

Unlike last time, there are no scallops this time.

the "urinal game"

My coworker pointed me to an old Flash-driven activity called "The Urinal Game." It's apparently a kind of psychological test. I tried the game and think it's at least 50% bullshit, but give it a whirl yourself and see what you think.

I got a notification today, in my Chrome browser, saying that Adobe Flash would no longer be supported on Chrome after the end of this year. Is something going to replace Flash, or are we saying bye-bye, en masse, to a ton of Flash-driven games and animations?

No more De-animator?

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

"Doctor Sleep": behind the scenes

Here's a nifty behind-the-scenes look at "Doctor Sleep":

There's a sense in which "Ready Player One" ruined the experience for me. You'll recall that, in Spielberg's film, there's an incredible scene with a fantastically rebuilt set of the Overlook Hotel. I honestly couldn't tell how much of that scene was CGI and how much was real and practical. I can say, though, that the scene had a visceral impact on me; it was literally breathtaking—as in, my breath actually caught in my chest while I witnessed that moment. I've seen a ton of movies in my fifty-plus years, and it's hard to impress me these days, but that moment in Spielberg's film blew me away.

Along comes "Doctor Sleep," which features not only flashbacks to the Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film, but also new scenes of the hotel forty years later, now dilapidated and creepily undead, still haunted and angry. Alas, the Spielberg film wowed me so deeply that I don't think I was able to appreciate the hard work that the crew of "Doctor Sleep" must have done to make their own re-creation. That's unfortunate; set design was a key component of "Doctor Sleep"—an aspect of the film that I left out of my review.

Well, however much Spielberg's film stole the fire from Mike Flanagan's movie, I'm glad someone made a little documentary to pay tribute to the cast and crew's hard work on "Doctor Sleep," a movie that worked hard to strike a balance between its two predecessors: Stephen King's iconic novel and Stanley Kubrick's iconic film.

NYC in 1911

This is pretty amazing:

and in toenail-related news...

The second toe on my right foot—i.e., the toe next to my right foot's big toe—has been defying holy prophecy for months. That toe's nail was starting to blacken way back last year, in October. The change in shade was visibly progressing almost daily, so I predicted that the toenail would fall off by Christmas. It didn't.

It lingered.

Like John Belushi's Thing That Wouldn't Leave, my toenail clung stubbornly to its assigned toe for months, and even after it had obviously died, it still refused to fall off.

Until today.

I was working at my toenails with my heavy-duty clippers, and when I ran one blade of the clippers underneath the dead toenail, as I've done for months, the nail suddenly popped up on one side, indicating that it was finally ready to come off. Because months had passed, I knew that the dead nail was covering a new toenail. In the past, I've tried very hard not to tug dead nails off because I don't want to provoke any bleeding. Today, though, I decided to help the nail along, first by scraping under it several times with the clippers, then by pulling slowly but steadily on the nail when one end of it came loose. After about thirty seconds, the other end of the nail came loose, and the whole thing was liberated bloodlessly from my toe. The nail underneath was rough-looking, having been covered in grit and sludge and toe cheese for months—only now seeing the light of day. I'll need a few rinsing sessions at the kitchen sink to pretty the nail area up, but for the moment, it's enough to know that the worst is over.

Shoe0nHead re: Biden's assault accusation

You didn't hear that Joe Biden has been accused of sexual assault? That's because the media are stifling this as much as possible. Sad. Here's Shoe, talking about media double standards:

We've heard this bullshit before, of course: "Believe All Women"... unless the woman is talking about a prominent Democrat. Move along—no hypocrisy here.

a cute one from Babish

Andrew Rea, who goes by Oliver Babish on his YouTube channel Binging with Babish (I really wish he'd spell it "bingeing," but I guess that's just me), has just uploaded a whimsical video about the "imaginary pie" from the movie "Hook."

Enjoy. Your inner child will thank you.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

"Doctor Sleep": review

2019's "Doctor Sleep" is written and directed by Mike Flanagan and stars Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Carl Lumbly, and Cliff Curtis. It picks up after the events of both Stanley Kubrick's 1980 movie "The Shining" and Stephen King's 1977 novel The Shining. Flanagan has said that he had deliberately set out to reconcile the disparate stories found in the decades-old film and novel. In this new story, young Danny Torrance is now Dan Torrance, a man in his forties who has followed his father's path into alcoholism, although in Dan's case, this is a way of coping with his unasked-for gift, "the shine," i.e., the ability to connect telepathically with people, spirits, and objects imbued with psychic energy. Dan's alcoholism reaches its near-nadir and, realizing he needs to start over, Dan travels to New Hampshire to begin a new life. While there, he befriends Billy Freeman (Curtis), who gives Dan a job, arranges for Dan to have a modest apartment, and acts as Dan's sponsor at the local branch of Alcoholics Anonymous.

While Dan is getting his life together, young Abra Stone (Curran) is proving to be a psychically powerful child. Not only gifted with the shine, Abra is capable of telekinesis and the "push," a telepathic ability seen in Stephen King's novel Firestarter. The "push" is like a Jedi mind trick: it's a powerful psychic shove that, when done right, can make another person do the "pusher's" bidding unquestioningly. Abra somehow encounters Dan's mind while she's trolling the psychic sea, and she and Dan become long-distance friends long before they ever meet face-to-face. Abra also becomes aware of a malevolent group of seemingly human beings who call themselves The True Knot. Their leader is Rose the Hat (Ferguson), whose nickname comes from the distinctive magician's top hat she likes to wear. The True Knot is essentially a coven of soul-eating vampires who have a special craving for people gifted with the shine. For these vampires, though, the purest form of psychic energy—which they call "steam"—comes from children not yet blunted and corrupted by the world. It's not enough simply to eat these children's souls: the steam is made more delicious by pain and fear, so children caught by The True Knot are first tortured before being killed.

Dan ends up working at a nursing home as an orderly. Along with a cat that can sense when residents are about to die, Dan provides spiritual comfort to the elderly, many of whom fear the moment of their passing, which Dan describes as being like falling asleep. In this way, Dan earns the moniker "Doctor Sleep," and he finds a way to use his rusty telepathic gift to help others. Dan gets occasional visits from the revenant of Dick Hallorann (played by Scatman Crothers in 1980, and by Carl Lumbly here), the aged psychic who helped him as a little boy during the events of The Shining. The ghost gently admonishes Dan at certain ethically crucial moments of Dan's existence, and he ultimately provides Dan with the motivation to help young Abra, who is powerful and confident, but also vulnerable.

And so "Doctor Sleep" is the story of the convergence of these three plot lines: Dan's, Abra's, and Rose's. Rose gets wind of Abra's raw psychic power and immediately aims to claim Abra's soul. Abra finally meets Dan in person, and the two try to figure out how to stop Rose and her evil commune. The movie strongly implies that, like classical vampires, many members of The True Knot are centuries old and have been feeding off souls for ages.

This is going to sound strange, but "Doctor Sleep" struck me as containing plenty of Star Wars tropes. We can start with the fact that Ewan McGregor starred in the prequel trilogy as a younger Obi-wan Kenobi. More than that, though, "Doctor Sleep" features many Jedi powers from all nine Star Wars films. We see the already-mentioned telekinesis; we see a type of psychic projection reminiscent of the "Force projection" done in both "The Last Jedi" and "The Rise of Skywalker." In that latter film, we also watched Emperor Palpatine suck the life-energy out of Rey and Kylo Ren, regenerating himself in the process; at a certain moment in "Doctor Sleep," Rose performs much the same trick. When members of The True Knot die, they disappear much the way the Jedi do. Finally, the very notion of the "push" is reminiscent of the "Jedi mind trick," which causes people to do whatever one asks, even numbly repeating parts of the instructions being given.*

There are a couple tropes, though, that don't come from the Star Wars universe. Dan's ability to "lock" ghosts inside a prison in his mind reminds me of a similar trick used by a character in Stephen R. Donaldson's The Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. In those books, a powerful-but-abused character learns how to "bury" opponents in the ground of a metaphysical "cemetery" that exists only in his mind, thus taking away their potency. Another trope occurs in about the middle of "Doctor Sleep": Rose the Hat projects herself across the American countryside in her search for Abra; we see Rose, or her psychic avatar, flying over the landscape and finally alighting inside Abra's bedroom. This strongly reminded me of Randall Flagg's demonic ability to project his Eye across the landscape in King's The Stand. So I associate this particular form of privacy-invading projection with a satanic ability. This isn't merely a radar sweep: this is a remote drone that also acts as a bug for espionage. Another trope is The True Knot's collection of souls, which are, hilariously, kept in what look like thermoses. These soul-thermoses have push-open caps that allow a victim's "steam" to escape into the air and be breathed in by any vampires surrounding the thermos. I was obliquely reminded of King's Needful Things, in which Satan-surrogate Leland Gaunt possesses a suitcase that, it turns out, contains all the souls he has collected through his diabolical work.

"Doctor Sleep" also has much more self-consciously deliberate callbacks, especially to 1980's "The Shining." Without throwing out spoilers, I can say that the film's final reel mostly takes place in the ruins of the Overlook Hotel, a haunted patch of ground that Dan and Abra hope to use to their advantage against Rose. So we see the Overlook some thirty or forty years later, and we get flashbacks (these happen periodically during the movie's run time) of Dan's past. The Overlook looks different thanks to the passage of time; the characters populating Dan's memory of the past also look different because everyone has been recast: not only has Scatman Crothers been replaced by Carl Lumbly, but Shelly Duvall—who played Danny's freaked-out mother Wendy—has been replaced by the very different-looking Alex Essoe. Perhaps the weirdest replacement of all was that of Jack Torrance: originally played by Jack Nicholson, the axe-wielding Torrance is now played by Henry Thomas—yes, the guy who played Elliott all those years ago in "E.T.: The Extraterrestrial."

Does this work? Well... yes and no. Each of the replacement actors (I forgot to mention Roger Dale Floyd as this film's version of young Danny) proves capable in his or her assigned role, especially Carl Lumbly as the kindly Hallorann.** I think I had the hardest time swallowing the idea of Henry Thomas filling Jack Nicholson's shoes, even for brief moments. Thomas does what he can; at first, I didn't even recognize him in profile, although he did seem strangely familiar. It wasn't until I looked the cast list up online that I had my holy shit moment. It was a brave choice by the director not to rely on trendy deep-fake and de-aging CGI technology; Flanagan is on record saying that he thinks the tech hasn't evolved enough, by this point, to be totally convincing. So he went old-school and simply recast the roles.

And how does "Doctor Sleep" work overall? Well, like Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," the new movie also deviates in very important ways from the novel: one crucial character who survives to the end of the novel dies in the movie version. I found the movie's conclusion to be satisfying, and the movie overall was enjoyable, although about thirty minutes too long for my taste. That said, I did enjoy how the film took its time allowing the three plot lines to converge; this helped crank up the suspense a bit through character development, although on the whole, the movie wasn't particularly scary. I like how sympathetically the story treated the issue of alcoholism, as well as the parallel theme of redemption. The movie also—and I might sound like a sicko for saying this—thankfully pulled no punches in its depiction of child-killing, which is something that even a lot of R-rated movies are apt to do. No, this film definitely goes there, and by the time the story ends, the body count includes a few kids.

Ewan McGregor, a Scotsman, handles the American accent ably (he's done this before, of course); the same goes for veteran Kiwi Cliff Curtis, who has done many US films with an American accent (e.g., "Live Free or Die Hard"). Both actors also play their roles as former drinkers convincingly and sentimentally. Kyliegh Curran does a good job as plucky little Abra (I'm pretty sure you're supposed to think "cadabra!" every time you hear her name). I was a bit worried about having Rebecca Ferguson play the big bad, possibly because I'm in lust with the woman, and I worry that her beauty might be a sign that she's only good for action-movie roles that don't require much emotional subtlety. Happily, I was wrong: Rose the Hat, our head vampire, is a memorable villain. Ferguson plays the role with relish, allowing herself to be vulnerable when she encounters the sheer might of Abra's psychic abilities, and she somehow manages to look scrumptious while being evil. Ferguson is Swedish, and her slightly "off" accent works to her advantage, reinforcing the impression that she is a long-lived vampire who has traveled long stretches of time and space to be where she now is. Hats off to the whole cast, really, and hats off to writer-director Mike Flanagan as well. While I might chide him for his pacing, I think Flanagan largely succeeded in welding together the stories from Kubrick's movie and King's novel. I don't know whether that trick can be repeated: with important characters dead in the movie and alive in the novel Doctor Sleep, I have no idea what shape a sequel might take. For the moment, though, it's enough to say this was an enjoyable watch—not very scary, but filled with characters you'll care about.

*Stephen King's novel Firestarter, about a pyrokinetic girl and a dad with the ability to psychically "push" people, came out in 1980. "Star Wars" came out in 1977. Was King influenced by Lucas? Hard to say. It's possible that King came upon his idea for the push completely independently of George Lucas. For all I know, King has featured the push in even earlier novels. To be fair, the notion of pushes and Jedi mind tricks springs out of the concept of hypnotic suggestion, which is why I go no further than to suggest that King's push is reminiscent of the Jedi mind trick and not influenced by it.

**Lumbly was a memorable guest star on a particularly good episode of "Battlestar Galactica."

tales of Barrett the old gunslinger

So here are two more short pieces of fiction I'd written for Gravoca. Both are about Barrett the old gunslinger, a man who's seen his share of death and is now old and weary. The two passages appear in the same unit and give the student an idea about pacing and rhythm. The first piece is calm, slow, and meditative; the second piece is pure action.

     The wind was blowing hard and autumn-cold when Barrett and his horse reached the mountaintop. The angry afternoon sun glared down from a crystal-blue sky, as hard and cold as the wind. All around the old, tired gunfighter, dry leaves rattled and clung desperately to the trees; some leaves lost their grip and flew away sadly into the void like abandoned children. Barrett slid off his horse, sauntering over to a tall boulder that gave him a grand view of the fall-colored valley below. He sat on the rock’s hard surface and just watched as the trees writhed in the wind like souls in hell, their agony echoing the agony in Barrett’s own heart.

     Barrett was old, but he was fast and experienced. He had already counted his enemies: five gangsters—Brody, Chuck, Dwayne, Maynard, and Collier—surrounded him. The little town was quiet and scared, waiting for the fight to start. Quick as a snake, Barrett drew his gun, whirled, and fired twice at Brody, striking him in the heart. The man coughed once as he died. Barrett’s next shot took Chuck between the eyes; Chuck said nothing as he fell onto the dusty ground. The remaining three men moved quietly around Barrett, trying to confuse the old gunfighter, but Barrett understood his enemies too well. Another shot, and Dwayne was struck in the stomach; the bullet hit his spine, paralyzing his legs, and the brute fell onto his side, groaning loudly like a wounded bear.
     Barrett saw Collier’s leg poking out from behind a carriage. He shot Collier’s knee; the boy was only eighteen, and he screamed like a girl as he fell over, exposing his face to Barrett’s gun. Barrett fired again, and the young man died in a pool of blood. Only Maynard was left. Barrett stood perfectly still, guessing that Maynard would jump out and try to shoot. That’s exactly what Maynard did, and Barrett pulled the trigger... but his gun was empty. Six shots—gone. Completely unworried, Barrett calmly holstered his gun, drew his knife, and went for the last gang member.

walking: the pain update

I once again forgot to take painkillers before last night's 15K-step walk. That in itself is a good sign because it means I'm less conscious of pain in general. I tend to self-medicate when the pain is bad enough that I can't ignore it. Last night, unfortunately, the pain did reach that level about halfway through my walk. Once I got back to my place, I took some aspirins and some ibuprofen to chase the ache away, but the pain was a warning sign, I think: 15K steps is probably going to be my max for a long while yet.

My right foot remains slightly, frustratingly swollen; I might visit the ortho clinic again to get a followup X-ray done. In the meantime, I take last night's pain to mean that I shouldn't push too hard. That's a dispiriting realization, but I also don't want to damage my foot permanently, so this may be a good time to listen to what my body is telling me.

a spot of fiction for you

I wrote the following story as an example of four-paragraph narrative writing. The boss has me working on the final volume of our nine-book Gravoca series, which deals with grammar, vocabulary, and the art of writing. Specifically, the following story demonstrates how a writer can take a five-paragraph narrative and squeeze it into a four-paragraph structure by fusing the falling action and the dénouement together in the fourth paragraph. I'm bizarrely proud of some of the writing samples I've written for the Gravoca series. Here's hoping you enjoy this little spot of fiction.

     October. And once more, I came home bloody. My mother saw me and cried, “Claude! Why does this keep happening? Did you fall off your bike again?” I couldn’t tell my mother the truth: gigantic Billy Baxter, another student at my school, was a nasty bully, and Billy had been beating me up and stealing my lunch money. My father also saw me, but instead of looking horrified like Mom, he looked disappointed, and I could see that he knew what had really happened. “I already told you,” he said later, when Mom wasn’t around, “that if you let that kid beat you up, and you never fight back, he’ll never stop picking on you.” I saw no sympathy in my father’s eyes, and I realized that this was a problem I would have to solve myself.
     The next day, at school, my friend Cody tapped me on the shoulder and took me aside. “Hey, Claude,” he said. “I know you’ve been having a lot of trouble with Billy. My dad teaches self-defense classes. Wanna join?” Depressed, I thought about Cody’s proposal for a second, and then I said yes. And that’s how I met Cody’s dad, Mr. Hunter. Mr. Hunter looked a lot like a hawk—steely eyes, a piercing stare, and absolute seriousness. To be honest, I was more scared of Mr. Hunter than I was of Billy the bully. But Mr. Hunter proved to be an excellent self-defense teacher, and over the next few months of training (my parents gladly paid for the sessions), I learned a lot about fighting and how to stop being afraid, and more importantly, how to avoid fights. I also became closer friends with Cody, who was pretty cool. As I trained, my self-confidence grew.
     February. I was in the boys’ bathroom, washing my hands, when Billy Baxter walked up behind me and violently slammed my head into the bathroom mirror. Without thinking, and with almost no anger at all, I instantly ducked and spun around, trapped my opponent’s knees, and toppled Billy to the ground. He stared up at me in utter shock, and I stood over him, fists clenched, feeling victory flood through me. I could also feel myself starting to tremble as fury crept into my mind, and a desire to beat Billy into a bloody pulp—right there on the bathroom floor—came over me. But then I remembered what Mr. Hunter had said about controlling your emotions: “Angry fighters always lose. Control yourself, control the situation.” I took a few deep breaths, calmed myself, and extended my hand to Billy, offering to help him up. Without saying a word, and still looking a little frightened, Billy surprised me by actually taking my hand. I helped pull him to his feet, and for a quick second, we looked at each other. I gave Billy a quiet nod; he nodded back, and then he left the bathroom.
     June. We students were getting antsy because next week would be our last week of school before summer vacation. No one had seen me take Billy Baxter down, but somehow, the rumors spread that I had beaten Billy up. It was true that Billy no longer bothered me. In fact, he no longer bothered anyone, and maybe that’s why the rumors had been flying. Anyway, it was a warm, sunny Friday, and I was sitting on some steps by one of the high school’s many doors. Quite without warning, Billy Baxter, the giant ex-bully, quietly sat down next to me, saw the book I was reading, and said, “So, what’s that book about?”

I need to see whether I've blogged the pieces I did for earlier volumes re: Barrett the old gunslinger. If I haven't blogged them, I might slap them up.

ADDENDUM: you wouldn't be wrong to sense the influence of "The Karate Kid" on this story.

ADDENDUM 2: my boss, in reviewing my work (he's our editor-in-chief) criticized one aspect of the story. He didn't buy what may be the best part of the piece: "...Billy Baxter walked up behind me and violently slammed my head into the bathroom mirror. Without thinking, and with almost no anger at all, I instantly ducked and spun around, trapped my opponent’s knees, and toppled Billy to the ground." According to my boss, the protag can't duck if he's just had his head smashed into the mirror. I countered that ducking doesn't necessarily mean you've successfully avoided a blow. You can duck (i.e., crouch and gather yourself) as a precursor to a counterattack. I mimed what I meant, showing the boss how what I'd described in the story was not just possible but plausible. The boss replied that people who get their heads smashed into mirrors don't usually have the wit or the reflexes to execute a martial-arts move perfectly. I responded that I wasn't trying to make Claude (the protag) into an all-seeing ninja who can now anticipate all attacks from behind; to me, it seemed more realistic to let Billy the bully get a good blow in before Claude could reply. Claude's self-defense training didn't make him infallible. The boss, though, remained stubbornly unconvinced, so I shrugged and told him what I usually do regarding company-related work: I don't take ownership of anything I do for the company, so if he wants me to reword it such that Billy only attempts to smash Claude's head into the mirror, then he'll get what he wants. (Seriously: I don't care.) The boss seemed mollified, but it wasn't as though I'd been arguing adamantly not to change the story; ultimately, I don't give a fuck, so changing the story is no problem for me. My only real purpose in that office is to keep the boss happy so I can keep receiving a paycheck. Cynical, but there we are. At the same time, I still don't think the boss's criticism is all that valid, but I'll leave it up to my readers to decide.

Monday, March 30, 2020

appendicitis update

My French brother Dominique is finally out of the hospital after a month there (and two surgeries) because of appendicitis. The poor guy says he lost 12 kg thanks to muscle loss (he was in bed most of the time) and a meager diet consisting of liquid food and an IV drip. In the final week of Dom's time in hospital, he was mercifully allowed to eat slightly more substantive things like yogurt and oatmeal, and even some vegetables. Now that Dom is out, he still has to convalesce: his stitches need another month to heal, so he's been told to go take gentle walks around his small town. He can't overstuff himself on food, nor can be do more intensive things like weightlifting as a way to regain muscle mass: all that comes later. For now, it's baby steps. Well, at least he's out of that damn hospital. I'd been worried that he might catch something nasty while there, but he seems to have dodged that particular bullet, thank Cthulhu. I'm sure his family is happy to have him back at home. I had written Dom's kids separately to ask how they've been holding up, but thus far, no response. Ah, well. Kids are kids, and it could be that the French have as little use for email as do the Koreans.

walking: a wee change in plans

I'll be doing a 15K-step walk tonight, but I won't be moving to a MWF schedule quite yet: my right foot got achier on Sunday, and it's still somewhat achy, so I don't think I'm as ready as I'd thought I was to move to a three-times-per-week walking schedule. So I'm upping the step count to 15K steps per walk, but I'm keeping the frequency of walks at twice per week.

your word of the day

Just learned this word from my boss and coworker: smombie.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Honest Trailers finally skewers "Skywalker"

At long last, Honest Trailers has come out with its hilarious takedown of "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," which manages to skewer the movie in ways not done by other critics:

walk report for Friday, March 27

I successfully walked a total of 16,379 steps Friday night. My right foot hurt because I'd forgotten to take any ibuprofen before starting the walk. That turned out to be a good thing, though, because it allowed me to gauge my pain levels more accurately. End result: the pain proved tolerable, and on Saturday, when I woke up, I was able to move around just fine without limping—and still without taking anything for the pain. There was indeed some residual achiness, but nothing intolerable. Despite the continued swelling, which is more annoying than worrisome (it's certainly not debilitating), I think I'm ready to ratchet my walks back up to a minimum of 15K steps from now on. And since I seem to be recovering fairly quickly from those walks, I can move from walking only on Mondays and Fridays to walking on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule. I don't think I'll push my luck by trying to walk more frequently than that, at least for the next few months. Instead, on my off-days, I might cycle hither and thither a bit.

On Saturday, April 4, I'm going to be naughty and meet up with my buddy JW for a hike along the Han River from Yeouido Station to the Gayang Bridge. I'm slowly turning JW into a distance-walking addict, and I'm trying to introduce him to the entirety of the Incheon-Seoul-Yangpyeong axis, a 120-kilometer stretch that takes me four days to walk. We've already walked from Yeouido to my place, and from my place to Hanam City, so JW already knows about 45 km of the whole axis. The April 4 walk from Yeouido to the Gayang Bridge is short: a total of 12 km once we reach the bridge, turn south into town, and walk to Gayang Station, where we'll take the subway back to our respective homes. (We might hit lunch before riding home.) After we do the Yeouido-Gayang walk, we'll tackle the Gayang-Incheon walk, which is a full 30-kilometer stretch. I think my foot will have healed enough for me to do that trek. After we conquer that stretch, the only segment left to do will be the one from Hanam to Yangpyeong. That one's a beast at 35 km, but I'll be sure to rest up before tackling that.

Upshot: things are looking up. It's good to be walking for real again.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

truth in advertising

scenes from a nighttime walk

I successfully managed to walk 15K steps Friday night. Along the way, since the cherry blossoms are out, I took a couple shots of the blooms. It was a very breezy night, so once again, I've got nothing but blurry images.

this ad is awesome

The following pic is part of an ad that hangs on a message board in the old building where I work. I love this ad. Our building also has a couple small hagweons, and I can only imagine what the horny pre-teen students are thinking as they tromp up the stairs past this image.

I want to steal this

One of my neighbors left a lovely pottery piece out in the hallway, across from his/her apartment. I wish the focus were better so you could appreciate how beautiful and how disciplined the calligraphy is. I do want to steal this. And maybe one day, I will.

"Picard," Season 1: Jeremy Jahns's take

Here's Jeremy Jahns's spoiler-laden review of "Picard," Season 1:

Friday, March 27, 2020

a burning question is finally answered

Qu'est-ce qui différencie un thé, une tisane, et une infusion?

The answer, dear friends, is here. (In French.)

'nuther Cajun Fraintch-speaker

And below, here's another dude speaking Louisiana French. Like the previous guy, this gent is perfectly understandable. As some people are saying in the comments to these videos, this style of French simply sounds like Amurrican-accented French. I'd have to agree, although the guy in the video below seem to flap his "R"s off the tip of his tongue more than the previous guy did—shades of Québecois!

It's very tempting to lump these folks in with US learners of French, given their strongly American accents, but they obviously speak with a level of comfort and fluency that shows they can already function quite well with the French they have. Far from learning the language, they're living it, and I'd say they'd have no trouble traveling in France.

awesome video essay re: Monty Python and filmmaking

In the following video, you learn that the animated face of God used in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" was based on the photo of a then-famous bearded cricket player. Very educational video, with plenty of filmmaking-related insights, and rather poignant at the end:

Part of the video essay deals with a scholar (Erik Kwakkel) who searches out medieval-era doodles, e.g., on illuminated manuscripts. That scholar's site—a Tumblr blog—is here.

in these troubled times...

It's good to remember how puerile and stupid we sound when we're texting, chatting, or otherwise communicating with each other in the modern idiom:

KEYWORDS: James Earl Jones, Malcolm McDowell, obvi, hottie, adorbs, cray-cray, amazeballs, totes McGotes, Sprint commercial

why I don't normally leave comments elsewhere

People are fucking twats in the comment sections of posts. It's been years since I engaged a stranger in any sort of lame-ass flame war, but two moments of conflict—not quite at the level of a real flame war—burbled up today.


The first one occurred over at Tim Urban's fine long-form blog Wait But Why, where Urban writes ultra-lengthy, thoroughly researched essays. Urban had just written a fanciful post about a fictionalized Tim who gets shrunk down to 1/10,000 his normal size and finds out there's a whole other universe of people who live at that scale—people who are much more advanced than our civilization is because time, for them, moves a hundred times faster, thus allowing them to evolve (from our perspective) far more quickly. Tim's guide in this "miniverse" then shrinks him and herself down again to 1/10,000 of their miniverse size, such that they now find themselves in a microverse that's not quite flirting with quantum reality. The story is a bit preachy: it's about how these tiny—and tinier—beings have solved all sorts of civilizational problems that still plague regular humans who exist at the normal anthropic level, and how all this applies to the current pandemic, which the miniverse and microverse civilizations had actually put into motion as a way to wake us regular humans up. I thought it was a cute, if overly didactic, story, and I wrote the following comment:

"Ant-Man" meets "Watchmen," but with slightly more optimism and less cynicism than "Watchmen."

Shrinkage stories always lead me to wonder what happens to the atoms inside the body of the person who's been shrunk. Atoms' properties must necessarily change when the atoms are forcibly scrunched in that way. The universe has certain inviolable forces and constants that it would be unwise to jigger with.

Me, I think being shrunk to the size of a quark would plunge me into a hell-realm where there's nothing but violent, buffeting mists and tornadoes of color... and the horrible sound of reality roaring and shrieking.

For my trouble, I received the following retarded reply from a "Dmitry PissKopf," who turns out to be a 72-year-old man. Dmitry wrote in response:

Dude, it is not a physics lesson. It is a story to bring some clarity to the current human condition and our predicament, with a pinch of hope that the corona pandemic will force change to save mankind.

[NB: Dmitry's comment has 3 likes and 5 dislikes thus far. Other people obviously think he's being an old, crotchety asshole.]

So Dmitry made the mistake of thinking I had somehow missed Urban's point in order to focus—wrongly—on a technical matter that isn't germane to the story. Dmitry, like so many others, refused to credit me with any intelligence, and in so doing, proved himself to be the dumber cunt. I replied to Dmitry with sarcasm, and Dmitry has refused to take the bait:

Thank you for clearing that up.

(Frankly, I'm unsure whether Dmitri understood my reply to be sarcasm.)

No more replies from Dmitry PissKopf in that thread, but in a different thread, we mixed it up a bit more. Another commenter, a woman, wrote the following comment:

Nice little story read! :)

However, how the atoms that make up your body can still exist in a tiny form in the tiny world, and coexist next to the same but larger sized atoms of the virus, is beyond my knowledge. ;)

So I slipped in a response to the lady, mainly to test whether Dmitry was scanning the comment threads for more BigHominid. He was. I wrote:

Careful! I wrote a similar comment two hours earlier and got an unpleasant response about how "This is not a physics lesson" from a cranky old guy who hypocritically complains about negativity in the comments section, then turns around and spreads his own negativity. If you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing.

Anyway... I, at least, applaud your comment! Be a free thinker!

A few minutes later, Dmitry replied:

Not a cranky old guy at all, old yes, cranky no. You cannot bring physics into this story to justify your lack of understanding the author's intent. I am a free thinker, you, however, are rigid and without imagination.

Indeed! Calling someone "rigid and without imagination" = not cranky at all!

One of the reasons why I normally stay away from comment-thread exchanges is that they involve a regressive descent into childishness for all parties involved. I call this an ego-vortex, which sucks you in for as long as you wish to indulge in the stupid behavior. Granted, by responding at all, I had chosen to enter the vortex, so I accept my share of blame for this entire stupid exchange. Anyway, I replied to Dmitry:

And it never occurred to you that I did actually get the author's point, but had critical thoughts, anyway. Who lacks imagination, again?

Dmitry shot back with a laughable irrelevancy, a total straw-man attack that had me scoffing at its pitiful nature. He wrote:

Please reserve your critical thoughts for the bible and Brother Grimm fairy tales.

At this point, I knew I was dealing with one of those stick-up-the-ass liberals who consider themselves oh-so-enlightened, oh-so-evolved beyond the Bible and religion, and who like putting opponents into conceptual boxes that are embarrassingly asinine caricatures of conservatives. The implied equivalency of the Bible with the Brothers Grimm was a major hint, and Dmitry has left comments elsewhere on the page in question that confirm his liberal stance. Here's one (addressed to "s g"):

s g - the only type of person who would vote your comment down may be labelled a "deplorable" Trump supporter, some rigid nationalist who wants a closed border society where all doors and opportunities are shut.

Anyway, I replied to Dmitry with the following, using both the mocking "mirroring" technique as well as another psy-ops technique that I'll explain in a moment:

Please reserve your desire to repress free thinking for people who actually care.

You may have the last word. Life is too short to waste time with small-minded people. Bye, hypocrite.

The idea was to leave Dmitry in a psychological bind. The final "Bye, hypocrite" was an obvious ploy to get Dmitry to respond—a final poke of the stick at the angry dog. At the same time, I grandly ceded the last word to Dmitry, offering him the chance to end our exchange on his terms. But I knew he wouldn't do that: a man that childish and small-minded (age doesn't entail wisdom) isn't going to accept a handout from an opponent. While I can't get inside Dmitry's head, I'd like to think he spent a few minutes debating whether to reply. In the end, it seems, he's decided not to. The exchange—at least for now—appears to be over. 72-year-old Dmitry probably agrees that life is too short to waste on undesirable people, and I'm sure he believes me to be as small-minded as I believe him to be.

Anyway, there's no doubt the fucker is a hypocrite. Here's what he wrote elsewhere:

A few negative thinkers here. Thanks for a wonderful piece of hope that this crisis will awaken humanity and bring some justice into our "big" world. Yes, greed and selfishness (the root of greed) bring out the worst part of humanity. At 72 there is not much encouragement for the survival of our species in my head, but you make me smile.Many thanks!

So that's Dmitry, vainly separating himself from the "few negative thinkers here" in this comment thread. How sunny he is! How averse to negativity!

And then he turns around and acts like a royal cunt. What a dumb fucking hypocrite.


I was watching one of Styx's "bonus" videos on BitChute, his alternative video platform. Styx expanded to BitChute (he's still on YouTube) because of YouTube's increasingly repressive policies. What he does now, to attract more viewers to his second platform, is create "BitChute exclusive" videos. Anyway, I was watching one of those exclusives when, once again, Styx mispronounced a word. I don't normally leave comments on Styx's videos, but he said "shuts-puh" while trying to pronounce chutzpah. So here's the comment I left:

Oy, gevalt! Did I hear "shuts-puh" at the end, there? Chutzpah is pronounced "hoots-puh," with a raspy "h" that sounds like the German "ch."

For my trouble, some idiotic white knight with the screen name of "imp69" nobly decided to step in and defend Styx's honor. The imp squeaked:

Thank you Dr. Grammar. That certainly makes a difference in the overall message.

This was so lame (and no vocative comma, the fuckhead!) that I kept my reply minimalistic:

Pronunciation, not grammar.

I haven't heard a peep from the imp since.

So in both cases—and this is a major reason why I don't usually involve myself in comment threads for popular online personalities—we're seeing instances of so-called "white knighting," i.e., people who arrogate to themselves the role of defending the person they admire, thereby acting as part of an "immune system" within the comment threads. I don't know why certain people have the impulse to address those who never directly address them, but this is a psychological problem that I've seen all over the online realm, and not just in certain comment threads. Trying to voice any sort of sentiment "aloud" under a popular post means risking attack by the local immune system.

I guess I'm done... unless either Dmitry or the imp should pipe up yet again. If they do, well... I already told Dmitry he could have the last word, so if he does write anything, I'll feel all sorts of Schadenfreude in the knowledge that he finally gave in to temptation and couldn't help himself. As for the imp: I wonder if s/he even realizes how cutting my response was. I didn't even need to add the word "idiot."

Not that I can gloat, for I was one of the idiots for a brief while.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

click if you dare

A poem I wrote. With a secret message.

when you don't understand
supply and demand

Went to a local chicken place for lunch today. The meal I was looking to get would have cost me, in normal times, W17,000. But these are not normal times: the current pestilence has driven customers away; no one wants to congregate in restaurants, it seems, so in-resto business has dried up—or such was my impression today. The guy at the cash register told me I could sit down wherever, and that I could pay upon leaving. So I ordered the meal I normally get from this place, then I ate it... and when I went to pay, I was charged a whopping W21,000. I asked why the price had gone up so much, and the guy gave some explanation that involved the current situation. Mentally, I was going, Huh? When I told a coworker, later on, about what had happened, he blurted, "But that's not how supply and demand work!"

Exactly. High supply but low demand normally means lower prices to attract customers, for that's how you increase demand. What's going on here? If I'm to be charitable, I'm going to guess that the management is reasoning that whatever customers come in must be desperate to eat the restaurant's chicken, so they'll pay a higher price for it. In my case, well... I guess I paid the higher price. But that strategy works only once: I won't be coming back to this place until the crisis is over, and prices have gone back down.

Before I left the resto, the cashier lamely added that there's a 10% discount for take-out and delivery. That would have put the price at around W19,000, which is what a person would have paid for delivery back in the day (W17,000 base charge + W2,000 delivery surcharge). I won't say "Never again!" regarding this resto, but I will, sadly, have to say, "Bye for now."

and let this be a sign unto you

Remember back when I asked a supervisor about how the food-delivery people find our office despite the lack of a door sign with our office number on it? Remember how the supervisor interpreted my innocent question as a call to action, and how one of his staffers said he'd get on the problem right away?

Well, we now have a door sign. I didn't notice it until just today, so for all I know, it's been up for a while. But the point is: we now have a door that's actually labeled. We finally exist.

To the delivery guys, anyway.

how not to solve the garbage problem

Almost every kid wonders this:

a dog's life

Two videos of the further adventures of Stella, the Lab who loves jumping full-speed into leaf piles. This first one might put a lump in your throat:

This one's pretty funny:

Commas, Part 6

Commas, Part 1
Commas, Part 2
Commas, Part 3
Commas, Part 4
Commas, Part 5

Once you're through today's discussion, you're halfway done with this 12-part series!

Today, we talk about commas and parenthetical expressions. Let's start with the latter before we talk about the former. What is a parenthetical expression?

Sometimes just called a parenthetical or even a parenthetic, a parenthetical expression is a group of words—walled off by commas, em dashes, or parentheses—that adds nonessential information to a sentence. There are different reasons to wall off words in this way: to make the reader privy to an aside, to emphasize an idea, to add a bit of drama, etc. Parentheticals are often associated with appositives, i.e., words or phrases that identify a noun, acting like adjectives. When the appositive contains essential information, no commas are needed. When the information is nonessential, you surround the appositive with commas... and a parenthetical is born. (In other words, as mentioned above, no parenthetical will never contain essential information! This is good to remember. Strip a parenthetical out of a sentence, and the sentence's essence remains.)

Here are some appositives that are also parentheticals:

• Sheila, the boss's wife, was the wank fantasy of every guy in the office.
• Principal Simmons, the family cat, loved burying his face in tuna.
• Phil McKraken, the banana-stealing macaque, was about to get his comeuppance.
• Superman (that horny bastard) face-raped a marble statue of Jefferson Davis.
As for the punctuation: em dashes make for more dramatic parentheticals. Compare:
• The reason you felt nothing was that Dr. Trump used his hands—not his penis—to probe your tonsils.
• The reason you felt nothing was that Dr. Trump used his hands, not his penis, to probe your tonsils.
Parentheticals can appear at the beginning and at the end of sentences. In such cases, only one em dash or one comma will be necessary. To wit:
• In the beginning, the cosmos was a giant wormhole called The Great Fallopian.
• Crotch-scratching Marvin was a virgin—or so the legends said.

IMPORTANT: remember that a parenthetical doesn't count when you're considering subject-verb agreement. Look at the following examples to see what I mean:
• Sam's dick—and his balls, too, for that matter—was covered with claw marks.
Claudia, and also her loopy sister Olga, claims to have impregnated a giraffe.

In each of the two sentences above, I've bolded the simple subject and the simple predicate so you can see the subject-verb agreement in action. In the second sentence, you might be sorely tempted to treat the parenthetical as part of a compound subject, but this is not the case.

NOT COMPOUND: Jim, as well as his dog Lassie, has an unhealthy fascination with sheep.
COMPOUND: Jim and his dog Lassie have an unhealthy fascination with sheep.

Introductory expressions, which we already talked about in Part 1, are arguably a type of parenthetical.
Five years ago, I unleashed a fart that moved California a meter to the west.
To Hilda's great shame, Torrance the bulldog had defecated yet another pentagram.

To sum up: parentheticals are usually marked by commas, em dashes, and parentheses. They normally contain nonessential information, and you shouldn't consider them when trying to figure out subject-verb agreement. Introductory expressions and appositives can also be parentheticals. When parentheticals appear at the beginning or the end of a sentence, they are marked off by only one comma or em dash, not by a pair of either.

We good?

In the comments section or on a different writing surface, rewrite the following sentences with commas if needed. Also, correct any incorrect grammar. Do not rewrite if there's nothing to correct. Highlight the space between the brackets to see the correct answers.

1. Nancy Pelosi no stranger to adversity gamely kayaked along a river of mucus on her way to the main river of hell.
2. Confident in his own abilities Max dramatically removed his codpiece and ordered Charlotte to fire the bean-bag gun at his crotch.
3. The elf who saw Santa naked was immediately struck blind and afflicted with leprosy.
4. The Yorithra a dreadnaught-class battle cruiser searched the vast Deferens Nebula for the last remaining Scroton ship.
5. Silas's cat and also his dog scampered over with Silas's wife's eyeballs in their mouths.
6. Pastor Bowers and maybe his nephew as well were presumed eaten by a gay anaconda.

[1. Nancy Pelosi, no stranger to adversity, gamely kayaked along a river of mucus on her way to the main river of hell.
2. Confident in his own abilities, Max dramatically removed his codpiece and ordered Charlotte to fire the bean-bag gun at his crotch.
4. The Yorithra, a dreadnaught-class battle cruiser, searched the vast Deferens Nebula for the last remaining Scroton ship.
5. Silas's cat, and also his dog, scampered over with Silas's wife's eyeballs in their mouths.
6. Pastor Bowers, and maybe his nephew as well, was presumed eaten by a gay anaconda.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

the other moratorium

Well, fuck me. I guess this counts as a moment of virusblogging, but so be it.

I've got a month's worth of meds left, and I have no particular desire to find myself in my doctor's office, waiting alongside a bunch of sick people just so I can get re-prescribed. It might affect my health, but I'm going to stop taking my meds until May, at which point I'll resume. Perhaps, with the warmer weather in June, we'll see a fall-off in infections and deaths, and the chances of picking up the virus in the doc's waiting room will have gone down by then. This will put the onus on me to eat healthily and to exercise, achy foot or not. But since everyone is advising us citizens not to visit the doctor in person, I'm going to follow that advice, even at the expense of my blood pressure and blood sugar.

We'll see how the moratorium goes.

is the Bible "wildly pro-slavery"?

In his fine review of "Harriet" (which I'll be reviewing soon myself once I've had a chance to watch the film), friend and fellow blogger Steve Honeywell makes the claim that the Bible (by which he means, I think, the Christian Bible) is "wildly pro-slavery." Does this claim hold water? Should we examine it more closely? Keep in mind that Steve's writing a movie review, not a theological treatise. It would be unfair to scrutinize Steve's claim without at least noting this. The claim has a hermeneutical aspect to it, but it shouldn't be considered an example of bare-knuckle hermeneutics.

That being said, I'm not sure I'd call the Bible "wildly pro-slavery." It's definitely got plenty of passages that can justify slavery, and that have certainly been used to do so, so no argument there. But there's a reason why there's a whole branch of theology called liberation theology. With verses in the Bible like Isaiah 61:1-2 (which Jesus quotes later on), it should be obvious that the Bible also contains plenty of freedom-from-oppression language.

If I were to attempt a fair-minded, modern assessment of the Bible, I might frame the situation this way: the Bible is a product of its time and circumstances, and in those unenlightened days, slavery was a given—a harsh reality that was part of everyday existence. (Since slavery still exists today, even within the USA thanks to sex trafficking, we might still call it a given.) The Bible, which is already a messy jumble of contradictions, reflects an ensemble of historical mindsets. Can it be read as a pro-slavery document? Absolutely, and as I wrote above, this has already been done. But it's by no means an objective truth that the Bible, taken as a whole, is definitively pro-slavery. Yes: it contains verses that clearly promote the acceptance of bondage (or that take it for granted), but it also contains narratives about leading a people out of bondage. The Exodus story focused on this very theme, and much later, Jesus seized upon this imagery in his message to the people under Rome's thumb... although for Jesus, the liberation he was preaching had little to do with the mortal world and everything to do with the spiritual—hence his "render unto Caesar" exhortation.

Those of us who traffic in the comparative-religion side of religious studies will sometimes use the term salvation-liberation to describe that toward which many, if not most, religions aim. Many* of the major religions paint a picture of existential strife or unsatisfactoriness: something is not quite right with this world—something about it is fallen or illusory or otherwise lacking. This reality isn't the realest reality, nor is it the reality in which the highest human fulfillment is possible. Salvation, in many religions, often entails some form of liberation, e.g., the Hindu notion of moksha, or release from samsara, the painful wheel of existence. Christian notions of salvation include the idea that "the truth will set you free." Buddhism, taking its cue from Hinduism, also preaches a praxis that releases one from the bonds of karma (the law of action and consequences) and samsara.

But just like the Bible specifically, religion taken as a whole presents a mixed bag. Different religious traditions preach liberation, but they also preach a kind of bondage-through-orthopraxis (correct practice), partly because religious institutions have an interest in acquiring and retaining membership. The notion of yoga is interesting to focus on for a moment: the word comes from the same proto-Indo-European root as the modern English word yoke, and in fact, yoga implies a yoking of oneself to one's orthopraxis.**

This brings us back to a theme I've written on before (e.g., see here, last paragraph): the idea that freedom isn't possible without strictures. Real fulfillment comes from sacrifice and self-discipline, from the stripping-away of frivolously random, unmindful activity and the cultivation of focus and specific, methodical effort. Is this the same as slavery? Obviously not: the self-discipline and sacrifice that I'm talking about are done by choice, which is a fundamental difference. And yet... religions, taken as large, cumbersome institutions, often seem to preach the theme of submission or submissiveness (I recall the youth at our church once innocently singing a song titled "I Just Wanna Be a Sheep")—a sort of Slavery Lite that keeps the cash flowing into the churches and temples from the pockets of the masses who, yoked in by tradition and social pressure, have a hard time breaking away from the institution.

Getting back to the question that prompted this meditation, though, I'd again affirm that the Bible, taken as a whole, is not "wildly pro-slavery." Too many verses in the Bible contradict this contention and make the situation less than obvious. Much is a matter of interpretation, not of objective truth. Slavery, as a historical notion, is an odious blight on human history. Slavery, as a very abstract concept, is a different animal entirely, and might have some overlap with the concepts of yoga and orthopraxis. The second type of slavery includes an element of choice not found in the notion of chattel slavery, but even when we focus again on the first type of slavery, the Bible overall doesn't clearly come down on the side of the slave-owners.

The Bible is a harsh and often off-putting book. I think that makes it a fine document for adults to reckon with. Non-biblical stories that offer morally complex or ambiguous characters and situations—such as what we find in the works of Shakespeare, for example—do much the same thing: they require us to wrestle with their message, and to realize that the important thing is the act of wrestling, not necessarily the message itself. The message itself, which is a function of a person's relationship with a text, can change over time because, well, people evolve. This is why, if we take the notion of living truth seriously, we have to understand such truth to be dynamic in nature, changing right along with us. When a document like the Bible comes along and exposes us to the ugly side of humanity, as well as to the ugly side of ultimate reality (even an atheist can affirm that Nature, as a sort of ultimate reality, is red in tooth and claw), this is good: it's an opportunity for internal struggle, for learning, and for the salubrious evolution of one's character. I therefore wouldn't advocate dismissing the Bible because it contains passages that seem to laud slavery or to promote a slavish mindset: quite to the contrary, I'd advocate facing the unpleasantness head-on, contending with it, and coming out stronger. You might argue that humanity has grown beyond its need for Bibles, or that the Bible is immoral and therefore ought to be tossed aside. To such a claim, I'd reply that, Bible or not, people continue to generate literature that disturbs, provokes, and offers deep insights, so there's no escaping the question of wrestling with the text. You may as well include the Bible among those texts. Struggle with it, struggle against it, and grow from the experience, always in the knowledge that the struggle never really ends.

ADDENDUM: you'll note that I didn't go the scripture-quoting route in the above essay. That would be useless: if I were to find 36 Bible verses that affirmed my point of view, Steve could easily find 36 verses affirming his point of view. Where would that leave us? That, by the way, is an utterly fruitless way to debate scripture in any situation, but a lot of idiots engage in just that exercise. Yeesh. Also: it's easy to Google "Bible verses about liberation." And to be fair, it's equally easy to Google "Bible verses about slavery."

*Taoism and Zen Buddhism (which has some roots in Taoist thinking) come to mind as world-affirming exceptions to this line of thinking. The here-and-now is all we have, according to the Taoist/Zen perspective, and being mindful of this fact, as well as participating in it fully, is the goal of spiritual practice.

**The word subjugate also has the -jug- root, which comes from the same root as yoke. To subjugate someone is to put that person under the yoke.