Wednesday, April 24, 2019

"Avengers: Endgame": two-paragraph review (no spoilers)

[NB: I'm going to write a deeper review of both "Infinity War" and "Endgame" sometime soon. There's a lot to discuss that can't be discussed in a spoiler-free review.]

2019's "Avengers: Endgame" gets its title from lines uttered by both Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who use the term "endgame" in somewhat different contexts. For Stark in "Age of Ultron," the "endgame" referred to what he saw as the coming extraterrestrial invasion, now that Earth had been made aware that it was merely one planet in a galaxy awash with often-hostile alien life. For Strange in "Infinity War," the "endgame" was more specific: the final phase of the fight against Thanos—a Titan who embodied all of Tony Stark's nightmares about how impotent Earth would be against technologically superior alien forces. "Avengers: Endgame," directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, is both the immediate sequel to "Avengers: Infinity War" and the capstone/swan song for the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phases 1 through 3. When last we left our heroes, Thanos the purple giant (Josh Brolin) had used the six Infinity Stones to wipe out half of all life in the universe. His mission accomplished, Thanos retired to an idyllic jungle/garden planet to bask in his victory, and in what he saw as a new era of peace and prosperity for all living things. Our heroes—those who have survived—are in varying stages of moving on or dealing with this new, post-genocide reality. Thanks to the reappearance of Ant-Man, the remaining heroes learn they can use time travel to go back to a point in history before the Stones have been assembled into a single weapon (I mean the Infinity Stones, not the Rolling Stones), and that's the basic jumping-off point for the movie.

"Endgame" clocked in at a full three hours, and I have to say that it was tedious at points. As I'd written earlier, I found "Infinity War" to be very well paced, but for "Endgame," the pacing was uneven. There was a lot of dramatic talkiness before we got to see any action; some critics have been praising this as "character moments," but I think those moments were a case of too little, too late. There were also some huge plot holes that left me scratching my head, and certain prominent characters whom I'd expected to appear never appeared, which was a bummer. As before, the Infinity Stones struck me as more of a do-what-the-plot-demands device than anything meaningful, and because time travel basically makes death into a trivial problem instead of something terrible and final, the film didn't have quite the emotional impact it should have had. Oh, to be sure, "Endgame" went for those heartstrings, and it was even somewhat touching toward the end, but what dominated my attention was the fact that this movie tried to squeeze goddamn everybody into its story, which meant that no one held center stage for very long, not even the leaders like Captain America and Iron Man. Sure, sure: "Endgame" brought the spectacle; it was watchable on that level, and I could appreciate the mighty effort that went into making the film look good. I might even see the movie a second time just to try to de-confuse myself about certain seemingly illogical plot points and to enjoy all the special-effects havoc, but that second viewing would be more for academic reasons than for reasons of simple enjoyment. Poor pacing, an overstuffed cast, a rather subdued Thanos, the tired rehashing and repetition of events that had occurred in the previous movie, and a ponderously cliché, Peter Jackson-style battle at the end that features a flying horse—all of these factors added up to a rather flaccid and disappointing followup to "Infinity War." Perhaps if this movie had been split into two movies, things might have been better, although ending Phase 3 after twenty-three movies instead of twenty-two might have been asking too much of MCU fans. I can't and don't heartily recommend "Avengers: Endgame," but you're probably going to see it no matter what I say, so try to see the good in the movie and ignore the bad... which includes many horrific scenes of Thor as a weepy fat man. That's not a joke: in Marvel's theology, gods can gain weight and turn into slobs, just as Valkyries, who are almost goddesses, can apparently get drunk off too much alcohol. Comic-book mythology is as nonsensical as real-world mythology, but logical sense isn't Marvel's primary goal. For Marvel, the maxim is always Turn your brain off.

Ave, Charles!

Charles bakes a loaf in a Dutch oven, and at the end, he shows off his wife's seafood stew. Both the bread and the stew look delicious, and I'm once again left to wonder why Charles failed to invite me to dinner. This is not how a friend treats a friend. So now we are enemies.

Jeremy Jahns reviews "Avengers: Endgame" (no spoilers)

I'll say this: Jeremy liked the movie way more than I did.

the wait is over

I'm a gullible creature, easily susceptible to the suasion of market forces. And while I can be a snob about some things, my tastes are generally not very highbrow, especially when it comes to the movies I like to watch.

I'm not much of an art-film guy, mainly because artsy filmmakers annoy me. And to my mind, there's a difference between pseudo-deep artsy pretentiousness and artful profundity. Many of the movies I like are artfully deep: definitely within the range of the tastes of the hoi polloi, but sparking interesting thoughts all the same. I may even have written (or tried to write) some of them down in some of my reviews.

Which leads me to where I am now, and what I'm doing. I'm blogging this entry at the Lotte World Mall, and I'm here because I have a ticket for a matinee showing of "Avengers: Endgame," which comes out in East Asia on the 24th, and in the US on the 26th. So yes, I'm a sucker for all the hype, and like the millions (billions?) who saw "Avengers: Infinity War," I'm monkey-curious as to how the story ends. I'll know that ending by the time I make my way to work today.

I have several problems with "Infinity War," which I still haven't discussed in a spoilery review. But I own the movie on iTunes and have watched it many times, and I have to admit it's grown on me. I have to respect the way the writers handled the complex story structure; the film has good pacing. The dialogue and action are snappy and energetic, and I can't say that the film really drags at any point. The actors all hit their marks, and while I think Thanos's plan is stupid as hell when viewed through the lens of population dynamics, I really love James Brolin's burly performance as Thanos, a villain who forces us to reconsider whether the color purple can be dismissed as merely frou-frou.

The movie spawned endless speculation as to which hero would die (everyone's betting on Captain America because actor Chris Evans is at the end of his Marvel contract), how the team would defeat Thanos (with time travel as the most likely solution), and what nifty new hero-to-hero interactions we'd see (Rocket and Black Widow?). This movie also marks the end of the so-called "Phase 3" timeline; Phase 4 will begin with movies featuring familiar heroes but will eventually go super-cosmic to include some of Marvel's grander celestial beings.

I'm honestly not sure how interested I'll be in Phase 4 and beyond. "Endgame" promises to end with a bang, and I might very well be all Marveled out by that point. I suppose we'll see, though. I've been a sucker for marketing before, and I doubtless will be again.

ADDENDUM: according to the nifty Population Calculator, if we assume a 2000-era global-population growth rate of 1.2%, and a 2018 global population of 7.6 billion people, we know that Thanos's snap would reduce Earth to 3.8 billion. At the aforementioned growth rate, we'd be back to 7.6 billion people by the year 2076. Thanos would have "solved" our planet's overcrowding problem for less than 60 years.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

HRC humor, via Bill Keezer


NZ/Sri Lanka: false equivalence

Roger Simon writes on why the cases of New Zealand (with its recent mass shooting by a left-leaning ecoterrorist with bizarrely white-nationalist pretensions) and Sri Lanka (where a coordinated spate of Eastertide bombings by Muslims has killed around 300 innocent people, mostly or entirely Christians) are far from the same beast:

The seemingly unlimited supply of virtue-signalers who dominate our culture have assured us emphatically the recent terror attacks in New Zealand and Sri Lanka are equivalent, a kind of quid pro [quo] between races and religions.

Other than the fact that, tragically, a great many people died in both—more in Sri Lanka, but the numbers are horrific enough in NZ—this is utter nonsense. They couldn't be more different.

New Zealand was the act of one aberrant or evil (call him either or both) racist individual motivated by rage against immigrants—Muslim "invaders"—he thought were ruining his country. Sri Lanka was a planned attack on multiple targets by a local militant group, likely with the aid of a yet larger group or groups (possibly ISIS) from outside the country, acting under the dicta of a highly-evolved ideology euphemistically referred to as fundamentalist Islam or Islamism.

That ideology—that seeks to take over the world—has hundreds of millions of adherents and sympathizers across the globe, vastly more than Nazism at its height. Whether active or not, they consider themselves at war with Judaism and Christianity as well as all other religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) and seek to eradicate these others from the earth.

Read the rest.

Ave, John Mac!

John McCrarey had been talking about Easter Mountain over the course of several posts. He knew it was an upcoming climb (as in a literal climb, i.e., using hands along with feet to scale the slope), and he'd been expressing doubts about whether he could/would make it to the top when the time came to do the Hash. Well, it turns out he did the climb successfully, so he deserves a tip of the hat for a job well done. His reward for making it back to the foot of Easter Mountain (apparently a post-Easter Hash tradition) was an actual earthquake—perhaps also a reflection of that long-ago day when Jesus died, and an earthquake sundered buildings and tore the Temple veil in two. Or maybe it was more like the earth's affirmation of John's achievement, the way the ground shook when the Buddha touched the earth at the moment of his enlightenment. John modestly describes this moment as "rock and roll."

gateway into horror

I normally enjoy watching Almazan Kitchen because it's self-conscious food porn in an idyllic, wooded setting. Very relaxing, and I do pick up some cooking techniques here and there. I believe the chef is a Serbian guy named Boki, and he's pretty good at what he does. However, he's not perfect, and I've discussed Boki's fondue failure here. That said, there's a galaxy's difference between not perfect and horrifying. As I was watching the following video a few months ago, I could sense that something was very wrong, and if you're any sort of cook, you'll sense it, too. While it'll be tempting for you to fast-forward to 11:51, when the true horror is revealed, I'd recommend that you sit through the buildup and feel the mounting tension as you watch, powerless to avert the coming disaster. This was a major, major fail on Boki's part, and I'd say that over 90% of his comments section is shrieking about the same thing. I'm actually surprised that Boki thought the video was worth uploading. Maybe the cameraman he employs is contractually obligated to edit and upload all videos. Personally, I think this should never have seen the light of day. I've watched chefs who allow us to see their cooking fails before, but the problem here is that Boki plays it all straight, as if no fail had occurred. That just makes the whole thing even grosser.

Anyway, watch and cringe.

A couple vids later, Boki had a similar fail, but there's no need to show you that one since it's the same type of failure. Just wow.

potentially unnecessary art therapy

I had my issues with "The Dark Knight Rises," but Ryan George's Pitch Meeting take on the movie is hilariously cruel.

Monday, April 22, 2019

hey, California!

We still use plastic straws here in South Korea. So suck on that.

it's official

Distance from Daecheong Tower to River House Motel: 57.72 km according to Naver Map.

Distance from River House to Hoya Chicken/CU convenience store and back to motel (i.e., a short round trip): 1.124 km.

Total distance walked before flopping onto a bed: 58.844 km.

So: not quite 59 km. Well, darn.

Naver Map's reckoning of the distance from the River House Motel to the CU convenience store by the rotary = 562 meters one way, or 1.124 km round trip as written above:

Sunday, April 21, 2019

via dolorosa

Ladies and gents, this was an adventure. I'm thrilled to be done with it, and I'll probably never do anything like this again, but I'm proud that I managed to walk almost 60 kilometers in a single walking session. Admittedly, I took a few 5- and 10-minute breaks along the way, but that's what I'd do on a normal long-distance walk, anyway.

I'm not sure what my actual distance was. I arrived at the River House Motel and snapped that selfie, but I kept on walking to find lunch and grab drinks from a local convenience store. That definitely added some distance to the walk, maybe even pushing me beyond 59 kilometers. Anyway, I'll verify distances when I'm at my office desktop and can use the ruler function on Naver Map to get some idea of how many more meters to tack on.

My step count is pretty much what you saw in the earlier post, plus about 8900 steps to reflect the walking I did between 10:22 p.m. and midnight Friday night. 89 minutes comes out to about 8900 steps, assuming my normal rate of 100 steps per minute. That puts my total frustratingly close to 90,000 steps. It's also frustrating that my pedometer automatically resets to zero at midnight, but I don't think I'll ever walk 60 km from early morning to late night just to get an unbroken step count on the app.

The walk answered a few questions for me. A practical one was: will I end up with blisters? As it turned out, I didn't. This was part luck and part skill. I could feel some unpleasant friction happening inside my shoes, but I tried practicing a kind of "mindful walking" that meant looking where I stepped and placing my feet carefully on the ground in such a way as not to produce undue pressure or rubbing. This actually seemed to work, and there were times when I could do the thing without too much conscious thought. But the lack of blisters also had to be luck because that was literally tens of thousands of footfalls.

Another serious question I had was about pain levels. I had wondered whether the pain of doing twice my usual maximum distance would build up until it became intolerable, or whether the pain would build to a still-tolerable level and plateau there. As it turned out, fortunately, the latter was true. The pain never rose above the levels I've experienced while on previous walks.

Having said that, I hurt pretty much everywhere, including in places that didn't have much to do during the walk, like my arms. My left calf keeps wanting to charley-horse on me, but I won't let it. My left middle finger went into spasm Saturday evening, contorting itself weirdly but painlessly as I stared at it. Trying to move into a sitting position after lying in bed for a while is still a groan-inducing chore, but that may have more to do with age and lack of fitness than with the walk. I groan upon awakening pretty much every day, and every day, the first word out of my mouth is usually "Fuck." I hate doing things.

Yet another question was about recovery. Would I be in any condition to walk come Sunday, or would I be a mass of paralyzing aches and shooting pains? As it turns out, I'm more or less fine once I'm vertical. During my walks around town this afternoon and evening (I did over 10K steps), my soles were problem-free. I had expected them to recommence their screaming, but they took me everywhere I wanted to go with nary a complaint.

As for the pains I experienced during my walk: I think you can imagine what most walking-related pain might be: aching feet and ankles, aching hip joints, and in my case, an aching lumbar/sacral region (i.e., the small of my back), probably due to my gut. I had 2 liters of bottled water with me; I carried two of my four water bottles in the pockets of my cargo pants to minimize pressure on my shoulders from my day pack, which was too small to have a pressure-relieving hip-belt assembly. I also had two bottles of trail mix, although I regretted not carrying only one. I did snack on some trail mix during the walk, but my fear of needing to poop in the middle of nowhere kept me from eating too much.

The walk itself started off pleasantly. The night was initially cool but not cold. That lasted until about 1 a.m., when the temperature dropped about ten degrees Fahrenheit. I had anticipated this, so I broke out my jacket. The near-constant river wind, though, made hiking through the night rather uncomfortable. I hunkered into myself and simply endured; I often drop into a sort of This too shall pass mode when I'm in the midst of some temporary hardship.

Lighting was almost never a problem during the night. Seoul produces a ton of light pollution, and Friday night, an incredibly bright moon was out such that, even when I was away from most artificial lighting on my side of the river, I was still casting a remarkably sharp shadow on the ground because of the moon's intensity.

I passed the hours the way I usually do on such walks: by talking out loud to myself and hoping like hell that I wouldn't pass by some quietly squatting stranger who now thinks I'm a lunatic. I talk to myself in English, French, and Korean. In the case of the latter two languages, the self-talk is often just a way to get in some language practice. When I talk to myself in English, I sometimes imagine my best friends walking alongside me (although I know that, in reality, not one of them would be interested in accompanying me on one of these long walks). Or sometimes I imagine some chick I know and like. Or sometimes, it's just me and God.

As I joked to my buddy Tom last night on the phone, I did find myself, around 4:45 a.m., asking God to hurry up with the sunrise and the warmth. I was getting pretty cold, even with my jacket, and quite in spite of the effort of walking. Sunrise did eventually come, and that was sometime after I had crossed the Hanam City border and made it all the way to the Paldang Bridge. It felt weird not to stop in Hanam for the night; in fact, there was a little voice in my head (which returned repeatedly throughout the walk) that whispered I should pussy out now, just give up and call it a day because there's always next time. Somehow, I ignored that voice as I passed by Hanam without stopping.

Farm dogs barked at me as I skirted Hanam and got to the Paldang Bridge. I admired their sense of duty, but I wished they'd calm down. Crossing the bridge was a windy and cold experience, but the sky was lightening, which was a relief. I was pretty tired by that point, and after I crossed the Paldang Bridge and checked Naver Map, I saw I had another thirty kilometers to go. Still, the daybreak was somehow energizing, so I pushed on.

I realized that I was now basically recapitulating the previous two times I had walked to Yangpyeong from Hanam. In both previous cases, I had started my trek a bit after 5 a.m. This time, the difference was that I hadn't stopped to sleep. That's a trivial realization, but it felt significant as the implication sank in: I was now doing Day 2 of a two-day walk, but without having given my body a chance to rest and recuperate. The true test was now beginning.

I resolved to simply take everything in stride, if you'll forgive the walker's pun. I had a finite number of kilometers to cover, and I had a rough ETA: about 4 p.m. From that moment on, I knew I'd be measuring all time and distance against what I knew of my diminishing speed and that ETA.

I never shat along the trail, but diabetic that I am, I did have to piss. For the most part, I managed to take drink breaks at intervals that allowed me to reach rest facilities well before I'd feel ready to explode. I'm not sure how I managed that bit of timing, but the drink-and-piss choreography went almost perfectly. I had to void my bladder out in nature only once or twice.

As morning crept on, temps did become warmer. I eventually took my jacket off and put on my toshi to protect my forearms. The day was gorgeous, going from warm to hot, and it was a relief every time I passed through one of the ten or twelve tunnels along my path. I did end up with a sunburned face and hands, but hey: my forearms, which had been forewarned and protected, were unscathed.

The aches in my body built up. I had to bend over several times while walking, in an effort to decompress my sacral vertebrae. The temptation to quit also never left me; that voice would whisper things like, "You're passing a train station now. Why not just hop on and train the rest of the way to Yangpyeong? No one'll be the wiser." I'd like to report that I muttered "Get thee behind me!" to my inner Satan, but all I did was ignore the voice. I'll have to think about why I find it easier to ignore temptation while I'm walking than while I'm sitting in my office, staring at a bag of M&Ms, and contemplating opening it. Maybe it really is true that life simplifies itself when you walk.

When I got to the point where Naver was telling me I had under twenty kilometers to go, I found that encouraging, and I could finally admit to myself that this thing was doable. That, friends, was a good feeling. "20K and counting" proved to be an excellent psychological milestone. From that point until the end of the walk, every kilometer covered felt like its own victory. As morning bled into afternoon, I was startled to realize that I might actually arrive earlier than anticipated, despite having begun the walk 82 minutes later than scheduled.

I began mentally anticipating when I'd see such-and-such a landmark as the walk drew to a close, and once I walked past a particular church, I knew, without consulting my smartphone, that I had only a couple kilometers to go. I pushed myself to walk faster, risking blisters, after hours of dragging my feet.

The final stretch found me muttering in frustration about why the hell I had chosen a motel at the extreme edge of town. I had passed several motels along the way, and the Satan-voice silkily cooed that I could stop now if I wanted to. I ignored the voice one last time, marched up to the River House Motel, took my selfie at exactly 3 p.m., then tiredly went in search of lunch and drinks. (By the way: did I mention that I stank? You know it's bad when you can smell waves of body odor coming off your person.) Got lunch at Hoya Chicken again; the lady remembered me from last time. Bought a ton of drinks at the nearby convenience store, got my motel room, and took a load off my screaming feet.

As I wrote earlier, I doubt I'll ever do this again, although an athletic coworker of mine excitedly suggests that I make this a yearly thing. Right now, I think I'd rather spend nearly a month walking across Korea, with proper rest stops, than repeating what I just did. Walking nearly 60 km while burning about 6500 calories (two days' worth of food for me) in 16.6 hours is achievement enough.

There might be more thoughts later, but I need to wash some clothes, sleep the sleep of the victorious, then head to work in the morning.

Fucking work. God, I hate doing things.

mostly Sunday images

Aside from the selfie of my exhausted face, I took only one other pic yesterday, and that was only because I knew my friend Bill Keezer is into flower pics. These were some pinker-than-usual cherry blossoms:

And here's my pinker-than-usual face, all sunburned except for my forehead, which was protected by my bandanna. I think this looks pretty funny:

My "gloves" started coming back as well:

Online correspondent Daeguowl (Paul Carver) politely insisted that the Yangpyeong Art Museum Cycling Certification Center was around by the museum, so I decided to put Paul's claim to the test. After lazily lounging until the early afternoon, I hiked around town and went over to where the modern-art museum was. Spiraling inward so as not to miss anything this time, I did eventually find the center's red telephone booth, as you see in the photos below:

It was a moment of grim victory to finally find that fucking center, but it was also frustrating. I'd circled that goddamn building several times in 2017 and somehow managed not to find it. Naver Map kept shifting the position of the center around, pulling me in fruitless circles.

I've walked back to Yangpyeong twice since 2017, so I think I've earned my stripes. Some weekend soon, I'll train back here with my Moleskine and add the certification stamp to my collection. I've been wanting to do that since 2017. Many thanks to Paul for the location tip.

The Buddha's birthday, called Seokga Tanshin-il or Bucheonim Oshin-nal in Korean (Vesak in Hindi), is the second week of May this year (it's always April 8 on the lunar calendar, which means the date always shifts on the solar calendar). The lanterns are already out:

I thought it might be best to get a shot of this building, which appears to be Yangpyeong's tallest landmark:

Not far from the above building and the train station was this spiffy couple, forever frozen in a posture of waiting:

Finding that cert center had been my big mission of the day. I was hungry for some Chinese for whatever reason, so I went searching for somewhere local. I found a place called In Hwa Ban Jeom. That place served some of the best damn tangsuyuk (sweet-and-sour pork) that I've ever had. Granted, their fried mandu was pretty standard, but the tangsuyuk was memorable. Take a look:

And here's the mandu:

A few things made the tangsuyuk amazing. First, the crunch. I've gotten so used to the declining quality of Chinese food in Seoul that I sometimes forget what it's like to taste sweet-and-sour pork that's actually crunchy. Second, the sauce. Lightly fruity but smooth and not gooey, the sauce did what it was supposed to do, i.e., play second fiddle to the fried pork. Third, the fruits and vegetables in the sauce. These were all a hell of a lot fresher than what I'm used to. I plucked out all the onions, but the cucumber, pineapple, and lychee all had some pop to them. Wonderful.

The lady running the restaurant proved to be very nice. I also could hear that half of her staff was actually Chinese. I wonder whether that had anything to do with quality control. I thanked the lady for a great meal and complimented her on her flavorful, crunchy tangsuyuk.

Pics of the resto's signage, in both Chinese and Korean:

And lastly, my usual motel's-eye-view pic of the river from my window (Room 302):

I might not come back to this motel. First, they charged me W65,000 for Saturday (a lot of places up their room rates because Saturday is often a high-traffic day, even for quieter motels like River House), although they did under-charge me for Sunday (W35,000 instead of the usual W45,000 for a river-view room). Second, the girl at the front desk today was a bit bitchy. "You're 302, right?" she asked brusquely as I was on my way out for my afternoon walk. I said yes. "Did you pay?" she then asked. I found that to be an insultingly stupid question. How the fuck else did I get my room key if not by paying? I stepped out and dumped a bagful of trash into a receptacle not far from the motel's main entrance, and the girl came running out when she heard the noise. "You can just put your bag of trash in front of your door, and we'll pick it up," she said. True, she could have worded that in a bitchier way, but this still felt like micromanagement. I smiled tightly, told her I'd do that next time (i.e., never, since I'd be leaving the following morning), and lumbered off to have a day, muttering angrily to myself. Third, when I came back from my walk, my room's door was hanging open. I knew I'd locked it, so the only immediate explanation was that a cleaning staffer had come in, then neglected to close the door after finishing cleanup. While I doubt this is a high-theft area, I was severely annoyed to come back to an open door. Complaining about the problem is useless now: as mentioned, I'm leaving tomorrow morning. There's no opportunity for the staff to do a do-over and redress the lapse in security. It's better just to take my business elsewhere.

Anyway, that's a brief narrative in pictures. I'll write a separate post soon about the adventure itself. Stay tuned.

Happy Easter

Saturday, April 20, 2019

arrived 3 p.m.

I was on the phone with my buddy Tom yesterday evening, about three hours before I was to embark on my long walk. "No disrespect," said Tom, fully intending to disrespect me, "but do you still think you have it in you?"

I had told Tom about my 2008 Troutdale-to-Cascade Locks walk, which was about 36 miles. I had done that walk with a 60-pound pack on my back, and I was eleven years younger when I did it. Well, today, Tom's question got answered:

I arrived at the River House Motel at exactly 3 p.m. on Holy Saturday, an hour earlier than predicted. The pic's filename is basically a date/time stamp, for anyone who might be a doubting Thomas (see what I did there!? Easter humor and Tom humor!).

I also started late on Friday night: 10:22 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. So instead of walking an anticipated 19 hours (estimating 9 p.m. to 4 p.m.), I walked only 16 hours and 38 minutes.

But what I'm proudest of is this:

I walked 98 minutes before midnight last night, so you need to mentally add 9800 steps to the above total. Adding steps or not, the Saturday step total alone was enough for the pedometer to announce I had made a new record, which won't be broken anytime soon.

I'd love to say more about the walk, but I'm dead tired, my feet are screaming, and I'm barely able to see straight, so I'm going to wrap things up for now and continue tomorrow, when I'm more coherent.

Friday, April 19, 2019

going on a stroll

I'm getting to work early and leaving early so I'll have time for final prep for tonight's insanely long walk. My phone is still telling me the walk will be 57.8 km, which comes out to 35.9 miles. This may well be the longest I've ever walked; it certainly rivals the Troutdale-to-Cascade Locks walk I did as part of my larger walk in 2008. In theory, the current walk ought to be easier than the 2008 walk: I won't have a 60-pound (27 kg) pack on my back. Then again, I was eleven years younger in 2008, and these days, I'm starting to feel my age, especially in my knees, but also all up and down my torso.

As noted before, this walk ought to take less than 12 hours in theory. Nearly 60 km, at a pace of 5 kph, comes out to less than 12 hours' walking. But in reality, I'll be taking breaks along the way, and as my fatigue and pain levels go up, I'll be slowing down, too. For those reasons, I'm betting on a 19-hour walk. If I start at 9 p.m. tonight, I ought to arrive at the River House Motel sometime around 4 p.m. on Saturday. Last I checked, the weather is supposed to be great until Saturday evening, when there's a 30% chance of rain.

This will be a bare-bones trek. At most, I'll be taking 2 liters of water with me (possibly refilling along the way, if/when I pass by a convenience store), plus some personal toiletries and very little else. Since I'll be walking all night plus a good part of Saturday, the weather ought to be fairly cool at first (there'll be a low of 47℉/8.3℃ just before sunrise—jacket weather), with a high of 68℉ (20℃) during the day. I have to remember to bring along my hat and toshi for sunburn protection; we don't want a repeat of Day 2 of the 2017 walk.

I don't think I'll be writing anything more until I'm actually at my destination, so this blog entry is probably it for Friday. Strangely apropos that I'm doing this walk of pain, this via dolorosa, on Easter weekend; Easter Sunday is going to be spent in a motel bed, with me groaning in agony while my battered feet try to recuperate. I'll train back to work and limp into my office early Monday afternoon, as is my wont. I'll have lost a few kilos, and given that I'm on a strict budgetary regimen, I hope not to regain that weight too quickly. We'll see.

Happy Pesach!

Sending you all the best.

I thought of the "challahcopter" on my own, but when I searched Google, I discovered there were already 65 entries for various sorts of challahcopters. Oy gevalt.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

taking on Bernie Sanders

Jon Miller takes on hoary old Bernie Sanders and his kooky (not to mention hypocritical) socialist economic policy:

après l'incendie

A coworker points me to this NY Times article with a 3-D model to help readers understand why Notre Dame was basically a tinderbox. The animation (which is quite helpful) works best if your mouse has a scroll wheel.

Laurence Jarvik writes about some implications of the burning of Notre Dame.

I'm hesitant to frame this fire in terms of a culture war; we haven't confirmed whether the cause was arson or accident. Let's leave politics for later.

Charles, this one's for you

Bon Appetit puts out some pretty good cooking videos on YouTube. The video below features a guest baker named Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery. The dude is quietly intense, and his crisp professionalism as he works his dough and bakes his bread is almost intimidating to watch. My buddy Charles is an accomplished baker, but I'm sure that he'd say he's still constantly learning, so why not give my friend a chance to compare notes with a fellow baker? Of course, the video is such that anyone can enjoy it. Even non-bakers like me can appreciate the thought and action that go into making good bread.

burrito prep

These turned out to be some ugly-ass burritos. I think I made ten of them, and they're all twisted and misbegotten. In my defense, I've had loose-and-floppy burritos at the Old Post Office Pavilion's food court in downtown DC. That said, I do need to work on my wrapping game in order to form actual cylinders. Most burritos look as if they could be shot from a spud gun. Mine look as if they could be laid out as bases on a baseball diamond.

Anyway, aesthetic issues aside, the burritos were fairly simple, but a few things had to be prepped. For the beef filling, I browned some ground beef and added green bell peppers plus corn to bulk up the final product. The sauce binding everything together also got plenty of dried onion, powdered garlic, paprika, cayenne, cumin, salt, pepper, and the now-sacred-to-me chipotle powder. God, that stuff is addictive. I could unscrew the bottle cap and stand in my kitchenette all day long, just sniffing the redolent contents. Along with the ground beef were the refried beans. Alas, I used frijoles negros when I should have used pinto beans in order to arrive at that familiar brown color. My refried beans taste fine, but they look fairly evil. They got a shot of Tabasco, along with onion flakes, fresh ground garlic, salt, and pepper. A third component was the Mexican rice (a.k.a. arroz rojo, i.e., red rice). I watched a few videos on how to make this familiar side dish, which proved fairly easy to make with passata di pomodoro (tomato purée), a bit of garlic, minced chiles, and some other seasonings.

I piled the three components on tortillas and added shredded cheese. The goal was to make something freezable and then microwaveable, which is why I added no guacamole, sour cream, or fresh vegetables. It's now too late for me to buy any of those additions, so I'm stuck with the burritos I have. What follows are the photos from the burrito-making process. Enjoy.

A wide shot of all the burrito components:

A closeup of the ground beef, which tasted marvelous:

The Mexican rice (with Korean rice substituting for Mexican arroz):

My evil-looking refried beans:

Shredded cheese, up close:

The foot-diameter flour tortillas:

Assembly begins:

With cheese added:

A little sriracha for some kick:

And the ridiculously shaped burritos in all their awkward glory:

I do a taste test of everything I make, and while these burritos don't look very good, I guarantee they're fucking deliciosos. Can't wait to chow down on them later this month. I made ten, with the purpose of eating two per meal, thus giving me five burrito meals over the course of a month. Mmmm.

more humor via Bill

This gave me a chuckle:

And this one shows a thought experiment that the right often has to engage in:

Not sure why, but this one makes me laugh the more I look at it:

I just received this one:

And this last one has a sad-but-true vibe to it:

Imagine living in a place like San Francisco, where there are apps to help you avoid the areas of town with high concentrations of human feces. Talk about a city literally going to shit. L.A. doesn't seem to be far behind, and the same goes for places like Paris and Stockholm as well.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Austerity Day 1: empty pockets

Off to work, I was halfway down the hallway to the elevator when I realized I had forgotten my keys, handkerchief, and wallet. I paused, realized that I didn't need my wallet, and walked to the elevator with a smile. It was actually quite liberating to go wallet-free, and my day of austerity was only beginning.

Truth be told, it wasn't that bad. Maybe it's because the reality of what I'm doing hasn't sunk in yet, or maybe this really won't be a bad month. I did do a poor job of controlling myself regarding snacks: in preparation for the month of hardship, I had bought "fun size" packs of M&Ms and Twix bars (I inadvertently got the new gingerbread-flavor Twixes; they're surprisingly good), and they proved impossible to resist. I had bought enough to have one M&M pack or one Twix per day, but I blew through several of each at the office, then ate another couple of them at home. Oops.

But I drank no soda, and while I might be jinxing myself when I say this, I can't say that I missed it. (Again, I may be singing a different tune as the month wears on.) Hooray for my blood sugar, I guess. Now, all I have to do is rein in the snack consumption, and the only carbs I'll be getting will be with my one-meal-a-day lunches: ramyeon with my budae-jjigae, rice with my chicken/shrimp curry, oatmeal with my oatmeal, etc. Anyway, I had only a single Mason jar of tea with sugar and Splenda; aside from that I drank only water. I have an infinite supply of water at home thanks to my Brita pitcher/filter, and we've got a slow-ass water dispenser down the hall where I work. It's a bit of a step down, that dispenser: our previous one also dispensed ice, which I now sorely miss.

I did a walk tonight; it was a bit over 20K steps. Got home, snuck a couple more snacks (there's no Mom around to growl at me for sneaking food, and I don't think that God is a cosmic CCTV recording my sins, yet I still get furtive and sneaky when it comes to nicking treats), and haven't had anything else to eat. I've decided that I will eat tomorrow (Thursday), but it's tuna/egg salad with celery, so it shouldn't be too voluminous. Once I finish lunch, I won't be eating again until I arrive in Yangpyeong on Saturday.

So I survived the day. Wednesday's lunch was beef with chimichurri sauce. It wasn't that good, actually: the beef fat had aged several days and acquired a strange, old-fat smell that didn't go away when I microwaved the beef for lunch. Still, I wolfed the meat down with the chimi; Dr. Atkins would have been proud (although he would also have recommended cutting back on the meat and adding lots of leafy greens).

It does feel a bit weird, though, to embark on this regimen and then interrupt it right away: I'll be spending money and eating off-script during and after my crazy-long walk this weekend, then returning to austerity on Monday. But aside from that wobble, I'll be on course with my meal plan until mid-May.

Day 1 is done, and the project doesn't feel impossible. That's a good sign.

PJW strikes back at fake news

The twattery from fake-news services like BuzzFeed continues...

I enjoy BuzzFeed's food-related videos, but the channel is otherwise useless.

Ave, Lorianne!

Zen teacher Lorianne writes a meditation on the death of her cat Bobbi.

Whatever comfort I find in the aftermath of another pet death lies not in an imagined future but in this stone-sure truth: for a brief and precious time, Bobbi knew moments of pleasure and peace: the bliss of a head-scratch, the delights of a sunny windowsill. Forever and ever, amen, such simple pleasures will be–must be–amply and abundantly enough.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

...and now my watch begins

My final expense, tonight, was an iHerb order for psyllium-husk tablets—easily enough to last me a month. Starting midnight tonight, and going on to May 16 (my next payday), I'll be on a no-expenditures regime: not a single won to be spent. Pas un seul sou. I've got one more batch of food to cook up (breakfast sausage, to be eaten with oatmeal and scrambled eggses), and then my food calendar kicks in. The calendar isn't accurate, though: I'd forgotten to account for my upcoming three-day trial of terror, i.e., my 60-kilometer walk that will start this coming Friday and end sometime Saturday evening. I'll be staying two nights at the River House Motel, and since I won't be lugging along any of my home-cooked food, I'll have no choice but to shell out for both the motel and whatever food and drinks I consume while away from Seoul. I won't be eating on Thursday, and I probably won't eat anything on Friday, either, so I ought to have a thoroughly empty stomach by the time I start the walk around 9 p.m. Friday night. Upshot: no food Thursday or Friday, nothing home-cooked on Saturday and Sunday, which already wrecks four days of my thirty-day meal plan. Not to worry, though; I'll improvise, adapt, and overcome. I'm looking forward to seeing whether I really can get through the next thirty days spending almost nothing. I'm wiring $3200 to my US account tomorrow, which will leave me with a few hundred bucks in my Korean account—just enough in case of emergencies. But for the moment, it's simply a matter of buckling down and powering through this austerity: night gathers, and now my watch begins.

something you can really blame America for

I normally think of Google and its ironically un-self-aware motto "Don't Be Evil" (which, I heard, was quietly taken down last year) when I ponder the question of US companies helping China repress its own citizens. But the laundry list of companies is far longer than I ever imagined, and this China Uncensored video functions as a public-service announcement to all the people who are dying to look for reasons to hate the United States:

And we're not merely helping China censor its own people: we're censoring ourselves!

avoiding "Game of Thrones"

Ever since I became an inveterate YouTube-watcher, I've found it exceedingly difficult to avoid spoilers for shows I plan to view after everyone else has seen them. The problem is that YouTube's algorithm, which knows me better than I know myself, keeps suggesting review/commentary videos for me to watch. The videos' titles are visible to me even before I have a chance to click "not interested," and those titles can themselves be spoilers. Season 8 of "Game of Thrones" just started, and while I'm doing my best to avoid spoilers, I've already seen two or three, simply by glancing at video titles before I dismiss those videos. The same goes for io9 commentaries whose links appear as suggested reads on my cell phone. Any day now, I'm going to see some io9 article title like "Why Jon Snow's Death Early in Season 8 Doesn't Affect the Overall Plot" before I have a chance to look away.

I tried signing up for HBO via Amazon Prime, but Amazon is claiming that the service isn't available in my country. I might try subscribing again at home via my VPN (I'll make Amazon think I live in California), but most likely, I'll just wait for the series to be done in six weeks, then wait an extra couple of months for the season to come out on home video, at which point I'll add the final season of "Game of Thrones" to my Amazon Prime Video collection. In the meantime, I have to navigate the dense minefield of spoilers lying in wait for me out there.

Notre Dame en flammes

The first news I had that the cathedral of Notre Dame was burning was a text from my buddy Mike very early this morning. From what I can tell, the cause of the fire may or may not be related to electrical work that was part of a larger renovation project going on at the cathedral. While it was no surprise that items inside the cathedral might have been flammable, it was a shock to see how much of the cathedral itself was vulnerable to fire. I can only imagine that the renovation project was supposed to be finished in time for Easter, which would at least partly explain the timing of the fire. It was easy to think, reflexively, that this was a terrorist act of some sort, but initial reports aren't leaning that way. We'll see; if some group does end up taking responsibility for the fire, that might give the event a more sinister cast.

As for where we go from here, with the chance that France has lost a number of national treasures (along with the treasure of the edifice itself, or not) in the fire: my feeling is that France will rebuild. Cathedrals burn all the time; treasures are lost all the time. I might feel a greater pang if I were a historian, but I'd bet that every single treasure inside Notre Dame has been logged and recorded and digitally rendered many times over. The objects themselves might have been lost, but their memory will remain. If I seem a bit unsentimental, it may be because I live in a country where beautiful Buddhist temples have a history of repeatedly burning down and being rebuilt. Life goes on, and lucky for us, no one seems to have been killed in this fire. That's far more important than the irrevocable loss of a few material things.

Monday, April 15, 2019

grammar quiz

I just saw this text on a banner-style meme:

Julian Assange is not a journalist, he's an anarchist.

Correct the comma splice. I can think of at least two ways.

Maloney's: a chance to practice my Fraintch

Our R&D team, a group of four, went out to Itaewon (well, to Gyeongnidan, next to Itaewon) at the suggestion of one of our number. We went to a vaguely Irish-themed bar called Maloney's whose interior décor was utterly Amurrican, and whose bartender, at least tonight, was French. My coworker had told me that two of the staffers were French—a man and a woman. The man came in, at one point, and sat at the customers' side of the bar for a bit before leaving. The Frenchwoman bustled about, handling everything visible to us and leaving the cooking to the Pakistani chef in the back. Our coworker had recommended that we come on a Monday night because Monday was calzone night. No standard calzones, though: our choices were steak or chicken. Like on an airplane.

Let's rewind the narrative a bit. We left our office and arrived a teensy bit before 6 p.m., which is when Maloney's officially opens. But we saw that there were patrons already inside; the only hitch was that the chef wasn't opening the kitchen until 6 on the nose, so we ordered drinks—a Coke for yours truly, a Corona for our gyopo coworker (who said he has a whole Costco crate of Corona in his flat), and something a bit harder for my other two coworkers. When we finally did order, we all got the steak calzone. While we waited (and waited...), I recalled that there might be French people working here, and the lady bartender had an accent, but I didn't want to come right out and ask her whether she was French.

When the food finally came out (one by one, almost grudgingly, with 6-7 minutes between each dish's arrival), I thanked the demoiselle in French, to which she replied automatically in French, perhaps not even noticing that we were suddenly speaking French. As the dinner proceeded, I spoke to her a bit more and more in French, and she was wowed by what she considered my perfect pronunciation. I told her, in all truth, that I had lost a lot of my French, but she gave me a politely skeptical look that said she knew I was the real deal.

Of course, if we step back from the moment and view it objectively, I know full well that this lady is well versed in making people feel welcome, so it's an open question as to how sincere she really was. At one point, though, she did ask me flat-out whether I was French (the very question I had failed to ask her!), which I took as an ego-boosting compliment that whisked me back to the days when my French was a lot more spot-on, and I was receiving all sorts of compliments for sounding perfectly French (one person even said I could have been a spy). Those days are gone, alas, and while I still consider myself fluent, I no longer bill myself as "near-native fluent." Last October's trip to France was fairly humbling in that regard: it was a chance to see how rotten my language skills had become.

Anyway, you're not here to read about conversations with pretty young Frenchwomen. You're here to see the calzone I ordered, and here it is, in all its greasy, unconventional-looking glory:

I ordered mine without onions; everyone else got onions in theirs. The calzone didn't look like any calzone I'd ever eaten before; it looked less like a calzone and more like a chimichanga. As for why the chef wrapped the calzone that way, I have no idea. I heard he was Pakistani, but maybe he was Pakistani by way of Mexico. Normally, calzones look a lot like Cornish pasties. What we got looked fairly Tex-Mex.

But the calzone was great. It came with a spicy pink mayo that was partway toward becoming a bona fide remoulade. The grease on the calzone was probably butter—or more likely, a mixture of butter and oil—because the calzone was redolent of butter. I could tell that the greasiness was no mistake: this was part of the cook's signature style, and I could appreciate it on that level. I told my coworkers that the meal was perfect comfort food. It all seemed vaguely familiar, and I belatedly realized that the calzone tasted exactly like a cheesesteak—which is not a dig at the chef's work. My only real complaint is that the thing was too small. (A dietitian would disagree and insist the portion size was just right for a person of my size.) Small or not, the meal was a good one.

I don't normally go to bars, but even a bar-avoider like me could appreciate the way Maloney's did its best to be open, relaxed, and welcoming—much like how the French are, actually. Many Americans think the French are assholes, but that's most likely because they haven't met any French folks—by which I really mean French folks from the towns and villages, not the big cities. But I digress. It was a fine, fine meal, and I was happy to have the chance to practice a few sentences of French avec une vraie Française. Kudos to my coworker for suggesting Maloney's. When I left the bar (I abandoned my coworkers, who appeared to want to sit and drink for a while longer), the lady told me to come on back so we could keep speaking French. Maybe I will. Who knows?

sorry, but...

I've put comment-thread word verification back on. The stream of spam never became a torrent, but I've been getting spam comments at a rate of 1-2 per hour, so it's becoming a lot like Chinese water torture. I'm sorry that word verification means an inconvenience for my two regular commenters, but do recall that it's also an inconvenience for me: despite Blogger's claim that a blog admin doesn't have to deal with word verification on his own blog, I do, in fact, have to click all the squares that show crosswalks, traffic lights, bicycles, cars, buses, and trucks—as well as the "I'm not a robot" check box.

Suffer one way or suffer another.

a month of no spending

So I've thought about how to approach this month of austerity, which will last from April 17 (the day after payday) to May 16—and possibly beyond, if this new lifestyle proves bearable. I won't be starving myself by adhering to a W100,000 budget; I realized fairly quickly that that would be insane, and like any addict, I'd find a way to cheat, anyway. Better to take a temet nosce approach ("know thyself") and cook a month's worth of food in advance, then live only that food during the month between paydays. I'm almost done cooking everything up; tonight, I cook the second-to-last dish, which is burritos. Here's the menu thus far, with a number in parentheses representing approximately the number of days I can eat the item in question.

• chorizo with rice and beans (5)
• chicken/shrimp curry (4) with rice
• beef burritos (5), including Mexican rice
budae-jjigae (6)
• beef with chimichurri (1)—this one will die early
• oatmeal/egg/sausage breakfast (5)
• spaghetti bolognese (4)
• tuna/egg salad (3)
• Soylent, to fill the gaps (5)

The idea will be to adhere to an intermittent-fasting regimen of one largish (but not over-largish) meal per day. No further food shopping during the month; I have to complete my shopping before the period begins (i.e., by the end of Tuesday the 16th). I will also save money by walking both to and from work (I normally walk home from work, but I'll begin walking to work to save on cab/subway fare). I will also not order any new movies via Amazon Prime or iTunes (I have a ton of movies in both my queues, anyway), and as I mentioned earlier, I won't be prepping any more giant office luncheons for the foreseeable future. The idea is to spend as close to literally nothing as possible from April 17 to May 16.

There will be some cheat days this month, though. "Avengers: Endgame" comes out at the end of April, so I'll definitely be spending money to watch that (probably with my Korean buddy and his son), although I may try walking out to the local cinema and back (it's only 80 minutes one way). I'm also doing my insane 60-kilometer walk this coming weekend (Easter weekend), which roughly marks the two-year anniversary of when I began my trans-Korea walk in 2017 (I actually began the walk on April 22 that year). I'll have to spend money to stay for two nights at that River House motel in Yangpyeong.

Buying the food for a month of eating was expensive. My bill is probably over W300,000, but it's still less than I'd spend on snacks and eating out (plus actual meals) over a normal month. If I try to do another no-expenses month after this one, I'll need a week or so to spend a few hundred bucks to buy ingredients and prep meals. The point of this exercise isn't so much about getting my life in order (although there's a bit of a self-improvement component, too) as it is about being able to send exactly $3000/month to my US bank account to dump directly into my Navient scholastic debt. If I'm able to send $6000/month every other month until the end of the year, then I'll be debt-free by the end of the year. If, for whatever reason, I can't hold to this budget, then I'll just have to zero out my debt in early 2020. That's not ideal, but better late than never.

My great fear is that, given my luck and the fact that the cosmos tends to work against me, I'll zero out my debt and suddenly discover I've got testicular cancer or some bullshit like that. My mother's luck ran much the same way: she survived the trauma of the Korean war, had a stressful time raising us three boys, reconciled late in life with her abusive older sister, then got brain cancer right as the contractors were about to finish renovating her house. She didn't even have the chance to enjoy her newly refurbished home. And as superstitious as it might sound, I do fear that my own fate is going to follow Mom's trajectory. There are problems in my life that I know are completely my fault—things I've done to myself through stupidity or arrogance or laziness. But there are also problems that I've had to cope with that stem from circumstances beyond my control, and it's those things that frustrate me the most and make me feel constantly thwarted by the cosmos. A good Buddhist attitude would accept that life never goes straight from A to B, but I'm not a good Buddhist.

Anyway... baby steps. No catastrophe has happened yet, and I'm still on the road to being debt-free. We'll see how things pan out in another eight-ish months. And won't you be happy that, sometime next year, I'll stop writing about my goddamn debt?

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Happy Palm Sunday

Holy Week begins for us Christians.

I suspect that history would have gone much, much differently had Jesus ridden into Jerusalem on the back of a trained velociraptor.

Trump unleashed

Tim Pool thinks Donald Trump is on his way to a Reagan-style landslide victory for his second term. The left seems utterly unable to un-crazy itself; the economy, while still buried under trillions in debt, is doing substantially better than it did under Obama, and the US's geopolitical position is shifting away from global laughingstock to Power to be Viewed Cautiously. What do the Democrats have, really? Not a single viable candidate has emerged—yet—unless you count Joe Biden, who as of this writing still isn't officially running.

So Trump is getting a second term, which makes him, for the moment, the opposite of a lame duck. Others have sensed this, too, which is why The Epoch Times has written an article titled "Now You Will Finally See Trump Fully Unleashed." Here's the lede:

Now that special counsel Robert Mueller has submitted his final report to Attorney General William Barr, stating he and his crack team of investigators discovered no evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to influence the 2016 election, a key page has been turned in the story of Donald Trump’s presidency.

It was expected by many—especially in the Fake News media—that Mueller’s final report would prove devastating to Trump and would come with a slew of long-expected and hoped-for indictments of members of his inner circle.

But it was not to be. Not only would there be no further indictments by the special counsel, but Barr also informed Congress in a summary letter that Mueller had found no evidence of collusion by any U.S. citizen—affiliated with the Trump campaign or not.

Until now, due to the mainstream media feeding fake news to the American public for more than two years about the Trump-Russia collusion hoax, the president has essentially been governing with one arm tied behind his back.


And now, it’s over. Whatever stories the media may want to write about Trump going forward, they won’t be basing them on supposed anonymous sources “close to the Mueller team,” spinning vivid fantasies about forthcoming indictments of key Trump associates that are based on lots of Russian collusion evidence Mueller supposedly is collecting.

While Democrats and the DNC Media Complex struggle to cope with the fallout from the Mueller report, Trump will move forward quickly and press his advantage.

Trump’s other arm is now free. And he’ll quickly begin using it, especially on immigration.

Trump is now fighting for sane immigration and border policies with both hands instead of just one. That’s why he’s suddenly talking about closing the southern border along with withdrawing aid from countries that won’t stop sending illegal immigrant caravans.

The article strikes me as too triumphalist, though, when it crows:

Lee Smith wrote in Tablet Magazine that this exposure of the Trump-Russia election collusion hoax is an “extinction level event” for the Fake News media, and he’s right. The release of Mueller’s report will only be the beginning of the extinction event, however.

The Fake News media is going to spend the next several weeks desperately trying to spin why they fell for the Trump-Russia hoax. I expect Trump will fulfill his vow to declassify of all the FISA documents, catching them in their own lies. That’s because the truth is that many of these news outlets didn’t “fall” for the hoax, they were willing participants in creating and spreading it.

The Fake News media’s present spin cycle is loudly complaining that Mueller’s final report is being “hidden” from them and demanding access to it, while simultaneously asserting that Trump and Attorney General William Barr are trying to purge damaging information from it.

They’ve been set up.

That’s because the Mueller report is going to fully expose just how much of a fraud the Trump-Russia election collusion hoax really was. Far from finding anything that could be used against the president, the entire Trump-Russia narrative is going to be exposed as a farce.

I can see how the Trump-Russia narrative is a farce, but exposing it as a farce isn't likely to turn aside the tsunami of stupidity that's been heading the right's way for a while. We live in an era of shamelessness, in which hate-crime hoaxer Jussie Smollett can have a mountain of evidence against him yet still walk free. Evidence means nothing. Exposure means nothing. Minds simply cannot be changed, these days, because we're long past the time when people could be persuaded by facts and logic.

As for Trump's exoneration by the Mueller report being an "extinction-level event" for the mainstream "fake news" media: again, nah. The article correctly points out that the media are already desperately re-spinning the Mueller report and rewriting history such that leftist journalists don't look like a bunch of dupes, but these days, all journalists have to do is petulantly insist, against all evidence, that they're right, that they're seekers of the truth, and a large sector of the gullible public will give them a pass.

I agree with the article's basic thesis that Trump now has more room to breathe and to act. As to whether recent events have somehow crushed the news media, I seriously doubt it. It's true that about half the country mistrusts the media as things stand, but I don't see that fraction growing anytime soon because trust and mistrust are, these days, functions of political ideology, which is one short step away from saying they're religious points of view.

Milo does Ilhan

Brutally un-PC, Milo Yiannopoulos does a sustained impression of freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who broadcasts her antisemitism with impunity before a prostrate Congress. The best response to such threats is always humor:

going to McDonald's in style

This looks like a hell of a lot of fun:

"A Vigilante": review

[WARNING: I spoil the ending to be able to discuss a major story point.]

I've been sitting on this review for about a week, mulling over how best to approach this movie. It's been very tempting, given the spate of grrrl power movies that have come out in recent years, to compare 2019's "A Vigilante"—which stars Olivia Wilde (who played Thirteen on "House") and is directed by first-timer Sarah Daggar-Nickson—to films like "Wonder Woman" and "Captain Marvel." But I'm not sure that such a comparison does justice to Daggar-Nickson's movie. Or maybe it does, but only if we consider "A Vigilante" to be an actioner like the other films. Here's the iTunes blurb for "A Vigilante":

Give her a call, and she'll give you justice. After escaping her violent husband, Sadie (Olivia Wilde) makes it her life's mission to help free others in danger. Now, after months of rigorous training in survival skills, boxing, and lethal martial arts, Sadie is back with a vengeance in this fight-packed action-thriller.

That has to be one of the most misleading blurbs ever written. "A Vigilante" is 180 degrees away from being a "fight-packed action-thriller." The movie moves at a glacially slow pace; it uses a quirky music soundtrack very sparingly to convey the buildup from quiet thoughtfulness to raw emotion; from what I saw, there are only a few instances in which we see Sadie actually land blows. The movie isn't about the violence; this isn't a retread of Jennifer López's 2002 "Enough." The focus is almost entirely on the state of Sadie's mind, which gives us viewers some insight into what it means to become a vigilante.

The story cuts back and forth between (1) group-therapy sessions in which Sadie generally just sits quietly, not volunteering anything, and (2) the work Sadie does as a vigilante. It takes a while to understand that the group sessions happened in the past; they aren't happening in parallel to her righteous work. This is important because our understanding affects how we see the therapy: is Sadie hiding the fact that she's a secret vigilante from the group, or are those sessions a kind of catalyst, driving her to become a vigilante? It turns out that the latter is the case: therapy empowers her to take on the mantle of a woman who abandons passivity, gathers up her courage, and turns the tables on violent men.

Sadie's past is filled with demons. Her abusive husband killed their young son, then he went on the run and still hasn't been caught. Sadie knows the man is a survivalist, and she knows, in a general way, that he'll be out hiding in the Adirondacks, biding his time and living off the grid. Sadie eventually tells her therapy group that her husband would drive the whole family out to the mountains to practice survival skills; whenever her son wasn't looking, her husband would deliberately break one or more of Sadie's bones, ostensibly as a way to "train" her in wilderness first aid. On the day Sadie decided to leave her husband, she and her son managed to get a couple hundred yards before he caught her, slashed her dozens of times with a knife, and then killed their boy. Sadie is filled with self-loathing because she thinks that taking her son with her to flee was what got him killed. At the same time, she is filled with fury about the monster who is her husband.

The movie first takes us episodically through a few instances of Sadie's vigilante work. The women who call her use a code phrase to indicate they're seeking her special sort of help. The first man we see her deal with gets a well-aimed strike to the throat when he jumps up in fury after Sadie commands him to leave his family. We then cut to a quiet scene in which the man, thoroughly subdued and with trembling, bloody fingers, signs away most of his money, then signs certain papers relinquishing ownership of family property. We never see what happens between that first throat strike and the paper-signing, but we can tell that Sadie has worked the man over, probably torturing him into submission. Sadie helps a few other men before the focus of the story turns to the unresolved issue of Sadie's husband.

Sadie's hunt for her husband signals a shift in the movie's tone. First came the righteous anger that powered Sadie through her various encounters with violent husbands who abused their families. In this second half of the film, the focus is now on Sadie's desire to kill her husband despite still being terrified of him. We don't learn much about the man, except that his name is Mitch. We do learn that he's mentally unstable—possibly schizophrenic, possibly psychotic—and this manifests in his cruel and twisted point of view, in which he sees Sadie as the reason their son is dead. It's no spoiler to say that Sadie eventually tracks her man down, but I'm going to have to spoil the movie's conclusion because that's the only way I can talk about my ambivalence toward the film.

Sadie finds her husband's hiding place: a cabin out in the wintry wild, which is empty when she finds it. Her husband somehow tracks Sadie back to her current hotel, and in the movie's only jump-scare moment, knocks her out. Sadie wakes up tied to a chair in her husband's cabin; when he leaves to go hunting, Sadie manages to free herself, but when her husband comes back, all her new-found fighting skills prove useless against what I assume to be his military combat training. Having subdued Sadie, Mitch commands her to place her forearm over a piece of firewood on the floor. She does so, and Mitch stamps on her arm, breaking it. Sadie is now reliving all those terrifying family excursions out in the mountains. She manages to escape Mitch, and she runs to an empty ski lodge that looks as if it's either been abandoned or is in the early stages of being renovated. She rushes inside the building, blocking the main door, then uses various items to create a splint for her broken arm. All she can do now is wait for Mitch's inevitable arrival while she tries to figure out how to take him out.

After a brief cat-and-mouse scene in which Mitch quietly tracks Sadie, Sadie abandons the element of surprise and simply confronts Mitch in a well-lit swimming-pool area. They exchange words as they circle each other, and Sadie promises to kill Mitch for killing their son. We cut to a scene in which Sadie's group-therapy leader reads a letter from Sadie that talks about how she now has the courage to fight for abused women; Sadie advises the group leader to burn the letter, which the leader does. Cut back to the present, and to the swimming pool: Sadie has killed her husband, and she lies beside his staring corpse. Later, in a nighttime scene, we see Sadie's truck from behind, crawling along a forested path. Sadie stops the truck and appears, opening the truck's back hatch and struggling to lug out something heavy: Mitch's naked body, only barely wrapped in a heavy black tarp. Sadie unceremoniously drops the body onto the road, leaving it uncovered. She gets back in her truck and drives away. The epilogue tells us that the police found Mitch's body but found no evidence of who might have done the crime. In the meantime, Mitch's life insurance will now pay out to Sadie—something that hadn't been possible while Mitch was still alive and running from the law. Now having seen a certain measure of justice done, Sadie returns to her work, and to an uncertain future, as a vigilante who fights for abused women.

The movie's quiet, smoldering ambiance doesn't encourage you to cheer for Sadie, although there are opportunities to feel a sort of grim satisfaction whenever she fucks a nasty man up. The story is clear that each of these men deserves what's coming to him, but I didn't take the film to be some general commentary on "toxic masculinity," a dangerously nebulous concept that's currently very much in vogue. If the film showcases some sort of feminist agenda, that agenda arises organically as a function of the story. I don't think the screenplay was written top-down, with writers in a room saying, "Let's make a kickass feminist tale and flesh out the details later." From what I saw, Sadie comes first, in all of her battered humanity. Olivia Wilde does an excellent job of taking us through the range of Sadie's emotions. Sadie's life is a haunting tragedy, and for much of the film, the specter of her husband—who is somewhere out there—hovers nearby. The viewer is free to explore the question of how a person becomes a vigilante, and I guess that, in some ways, "A Vigilante" does vaguely share some traits with a superhero origin story, as long as the superhero in question is one with a tragic past that motivates his or her current actions.

What frustrated me, though, was Sarah Daggar-Nickson's constant turning-away from violence. I assume there's a good reason why she did this. At a guess, she was trying to emphasize something I'd written above, to wit: violence isn't the point of this story. But in Sadie's final confrontation with Mitch, Sadie—despite a broken arm, and despite having been twice outfought and overpowered by her husband—somehow gets the upper hand and kills him. It would be nice to see how this happens, not because I'm slavering to watch a good beating, but because, up to that point, we viewers are made to see Mitch as crazy but physically superior in every way. In other words, after a narrative that is nine-tenths plausible in how it plays out, we suddenly do a hard left turn into fantasy. From what I could see, there was simply no way Sadie could ever have gotten the upper hand against her husband. Fighting him should have been like fighting, unarmed, against a bear.

I mentioned plausibility. We see Sadie basically training herself to fight. She never takes classes; she never spars with anyone else: at the domestic-violence center, she nicks a book on the Israeli military martial art of krav maga and does what she can to internalize the fighting principles that the manual teaches. Sadie has access to a punching bag somewhere; we never learn where, and I found those punching-bag sequences a bit confusing because, as she goes on her missions, Sadie tends to stay at random hotels. Does she keep the bag in her car's trunk? The movie never explains this. But the movie realistically shows that, while Sadie can acquit herself one on one with an unsuspecting male opponent, she has trouble fighting multiple male opponents (she takes down three drunk guys outside a bar, but with difficulty*), and—at least initially—she can't do a thing against her expertly trained husband. Sadie isn't made out to be a krav maga superwoman the way Jennifer López's character was in "Enough." We feel Sadie's terror at the prospect of physically confronting Mitch, so it's a major letdown when we aren't allowed to witness the actual takedown.

Daggar-Nickson's directorial choice not to show Sadie's violence is a huge flaw in the narrative because it actually causes a narrative problem. Sadie's takedown of her husband comes off as contrived, which is disappointing given how realistic the movie had been up to that point. But the movie also has so much going for it, mainly thanks to Wilde's deeply empathetic performance and Daggar-Nickson's ability to build tension. "A Vigilante" isn't an action-thriller; there's actually very little action in it. It is, however, a most excellent character study about a woman who has had everything taken away from her. And in the end, I have to give the film kudos, despite the violence-lacunae, because we're rooting for Sadie to find some measure of peace in her life. And a bit like the way Batman suffered a single tragedy that he relives every time he takes down yet another criminal, we comes to understand that peace, for Sadie, can only come by living her new, chosen life.

*Interestingly, this scene actually showed the violence, but perhaps in a way that was meant to reveal that Sadie, despite having studied about fighting, is no robotic fighting machine.

NB: I think "A Vigilante" was released in theaters, but it was simultaneously made available for rent on iTunes and Amazon Prime Video. Customer reviewers on Amazon (where the movie currently has 3 stars) are giving this film a lot of hate, probably because the renters went in expecting an action-thriller, as I did. Can't say I blame them for feeling betrayed, but if you take the movie on its own terms and ignore the stupid marketing, it's a worthwhile way to spend 90 minutes. I saw some complaints about "story holes" and about Olivia Wilde crying and panting too much, but I think those complainers missed the point of those scenes, or they simply felt no sympathy for Wilde's character.