Sunday, June 30, 2013

2 pics of Saturday dinner

Here are two images of Saturday night's dinner, which took me all day to prepare, because yes: I am that slow.

Click each image to grandiositize:

The above pic shows the entire spread. David and Patricia didn't really dig into the hummus-and-naan appetizer I had created for them when they arrived, which is unfortunate: there was way too much bread on the table when dinner started. Instead of eating the appetizer, David and Patricia (especially Patricia) nibbled on the bits of bacon that I had placed in reserve to use in making my fettuccine dish.

The courses that you see are:

1. Appetizer: Store-bought hummus (Costco) plus naan (also Costco) painted with my own jolly mix of olive oil, garlic powder, chili flakes, and salt, then broiled mercilessly into submission. I also added a sprinkling of feta to the hummus.

2. On the plates: (1) baked salmon filet with honey-mustard glaze. Alas, the glaze didn't turn out too well. It tasted just fine, but it didn't caramelize the way I had hoped, and ended up looking like, well... honey-mustard sauce. Also on the plates: (2) my faux-Alfredo pasta dish, with chicken, shrimp, bacon, and baby spinach. The cream sauce didn't have any parmesan: instead, I used Kirkland-brand bleu cheese, taking the sauce's flavor profile in a French direction. This turned out to be a great choice for the dish, which benefited from the bleu's pungency. Not a meal for kids, who would probably never get past the stink. The shrimp, which I'd cooked in a salt/garlic/butter mix, were plump and a tad overcooked in my opinion (David and Patricia had no complaints), but the chicken was awesome. As I normally do, I baked the chicken from a rock-hard frozen state, which made the breasts tender and exquisitely juicy when I took them out of the oven. I garnished the pasta with some minced green onions.

3. Bread: at Wal-mart, I had nabbed a cheap loaf of American-style "Italian" bread, which I sliced thickly on the bias and slathered with a butter/garlic/seasoning mix, then broiled into submission, like the naan/pitas. Patricia agreed to take all the leftover bread home with her—both the naan and the garlic bread.

4. Salad: a baby-spinach base overloaded with sliced cucumbers and peppers, julienned carrots, slivered almonds, raisins, mandarin oranges, bacon, bleu cheese, and minced green onion. The dressing was simplicity itself: a raspberry vinaigrette made from homemade raspberry syrup (raspberries + simple syrup) and balsamic vinegar—nothing else. I resisted the urge to add my usual Italian-dressing ingredients, i.e., salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, garlic, etc. Patricia once told me that, in Brazil, where the cuisine has been heavily influenced by Western Europe, salads are simple and unpretentious: the dressing is rarely more than balsamic vinegar (my own experience in France and Switzerland confirms this uncomplicated sensibility). In that spirit, I held back and made a dressing with only four ingredients: berries, sugar, water, and balsamic vinegar.

Patricia loved the salad dressing so much that she said she wanted just to drink it straight. She and David both ended up dipping their shrimp and salmon in the dressing. I groused that I should have used that dressing as the glaze for the salmon. Perhaps, next time, I will.

The second pic, below, is a close-up shot of my own place setting. You get a better view of the salmon and of the pasta dish. Alas, the salmon looks as if it's off-puttingly covered in mayonnaise, which it isn't: that's supposed to be a honey-mustard glaze. The glaze never acquired a proper sheen, unfortunately, despite an extra minute or two under the broiler. Next time, I may go heavier on the sugar to encourage caramelization. Or I'll just use the above-mentioned raspberry vinaigrette.

As before, click the image to enlarge:

And that was Saturday's dinner. Patricia joked, "Who else is coming?" when she saw all the food I had laid out for her and David. But everyone gamely stuffed him- or herself; I had made this meal in honor of David, who normally orders an Alfredo pasta dish whenever he finds himself at a family-dining resto like Outback Steakhouse or Applebee's. In the aftermath, I bagged up all the bread and half the remaining chicken, and gave that to Patricia to take home.


Saturday night's dessert

A new innovation: the "straspberry shortcake":

The cake, alas, is not homemade. The strawberries were amazingly fresh, purchased at Wal-mart. The heavy cream was purchased at Costco and whipped into shape by my brother David. The raspberry sauce was a mixture of homemade simple syrup (1:1 portions of water and sugar) plus a pile of fresh Costco raspberries.

And thus it was that David, his wife Patricia, and I capped off dinner.

Oh, yeah: coarse-grained cane-sugar sprinkles on top.


Saturday night dinner guest

Meet Penny. Be quiet, though: she's sleeping.

Penny is a border collie-boxer mix, and is very well-behaved. She charged into my apartment on Saturday evening, eager to be off her leash so she could explore my domicile at her leisure. Her owners, my brother David and his wife Patricia, treat her with great love and gentleness, in part because they have to: Penny's been cursed with a super-sensitive constitution. She can eat only very specific foods and very specific dog treats, otherwise she ends up with explosive diarrhea. Penny's inner workings were generally fine during her three-hour stay at my place, although she did pee on my carpet at one point. David and Patricia apologized profusely and cleaned the mess up immediately (David led Penny out for a much-needed poop); I smiled and took the whole thing in stride. Animals are animals, after all; they don't follow the human script when it comes to proper etiquette.

Penny struck me as a lovable little pooch. It took her a couple minutes to warm to me at first, but she eventually gave me a wished-for lick on the face when I leaned in close. And, as David and Patricia both humorously observed, she fell fast asleep in our company as our huge dinner wound to a close (more on that in another post). David tells me that Penny's not much of a fetcher, but she does love to chase people: she's a natural hunter. Patricia and Penny bounded back and forth through my apartment several times, Penny doing her best to tackle Patricia.

When it was time for the gang to leave, Penny gave me a final good-bye lick. That was sweet. I'm glad to have had the chance to meet Penny at least once before I head off to Korea. There's a chance I might see her again next week, though, since David, Patricia, and Dr. Steve will all be over for the Fourth of July.


Bill Whittle talks sense on gay marriage

I run hot and cold with Bill Whittle. Sometimes, his rants strike me as being a little too theatrical, overblown, breathless, and over-the-top. At other times, his rants strike me as making perfect sense, and this is one of those times. His basic point, in this "Virtual President" video, is that government has no business at all saying anything about marriage (direct YouTube link here), gay or straight, and that any individual church called upon to marry a gay couple should have the right of consent or refusal as a matter of conscience—precisely what I believe. He goes on to say that he recognizes that this position will offend some people, but that we don't have the right not to be offended (Islamists and the PC crowd take note). Based on what I've seen from the feedback at my DOMA post, both liberal and conservative commenters seem to agree with this basic point: conscience matters, and the government has no say in any of this. That's good news: we all agree on something.



I'm delighted to see some vigorous activity in the comment sections of my recent posts on Paula Deen and DOMA. I was initially worried that, despite my having made an earnest writerly effort in both cases, those posts would end up ignored.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

CubeSmart it is

After checking around with other local self-storage facilities, I've decided to stick with CubeSmart. While I'm antsy about the extra costs involved in renting a storage space (insurance, special lock, admin fee), I couldn't find any deals that offered the same service for a comparable price. Some facilities' monthly fees were $10/month cheaper, but they didn't provide climate control or other amenities.

In deciding to go with CubeSmart, I feel that my upcoming move to Korea has suddenly become more real: I can now begin to box up my possessions and drive them over to Warrenton, Virginia, several boxes at a time.

The adventure begins in earnest.


DOMA, historical irony, and ramifications

As soon as I heard about the US Supreme Court's DOMA decision, I tweeted the following:

Historical irony: a right-leaning Supreme Court has declared DOMA—signed into law by left-leaning Bill Clinton—unconstitutional.

Some will immediately argue that the situation wasn't that simple, so let's take a moment to unpack what really happened with DOMA.

DOMA stands for the "Defense of Marriage Act." It is a 1996 piece of legislation that was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton, an ostensibly liberal Democrat. It defined "marriage" as a union between one man and one woman, and barred same-sex couples from receiving a raft of federal benefits.

While it tickles me that liberal Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law, in all fairness—and in the interest of full and true disclosure—it should be noted that DOMA was initially introduced by congressional Republicans, who pushed hard for its passage. At the same time, and also in the interest of fairness, we should observe that DOMA passed both houses of Congress by a significant margin (85-14 in the Senate, 342-67 in the House of Representatives), indicating that the act had wide bipartisan support. Such was the political Zeitgeist in 1996.

Bill Clinton expressed regrets at signing DOMA into law, and began to agitate for its repeal. He had, in fact, been against DOMA from its inception, which raises the question of why he bothered to sign the act into law in the first place. The cynical answer also happens to be the true one: Clinton was in an election year, and didn't wish to jeopardize his chances at reelection. If nothing else, the man was a consummate pragmatist. He also happened to be personally against gay marriage.

So it's true that my tweet oversimplified matters, but I think I was basically on the right track. The fact is that the current makeup of the Supreme Court still skews conservative, so it was a conservative court that, just a few days ago, declared Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional. It's also a fact that Bill Clinton embodied the paradox of being a political liberal who was also personally against gay marriage.

Section 3 of DOMA says:

Section 3. Definition of marriage

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

The Supreme Court's decision is essentially a conservative one in that it disempowers the government from defining marriage. This is, I think, conservatism at its best: letting people go about their private lives and loves with a minimum of moralistic (and coercive) intrusion. I see the striking-down of DOMA's Section 3 as a major step in the right direction, and longtime readers of this blog know that I've been a staunch supporter of same-sex marriage for years. A close relative of mine is gay, and I'd like for him to live in a country where he can be as free as anyone else to marry whom he chooses, with no negative repercussions or legal constraints in terms of federal benefits.

George Takei, a.k.a. Mr. Sulu from the classic Star Trek TV series and movies, has written an article providing his reflections on the recent DOMA decision. His basic thesis is that opposition to gay marriage, for all the supposedly rational justifications on which such opposition is based, really comes down to an "ick" factor—a gut-level distaste at the thought of grown men (and women) kissing each other. Takei writes:

Whenever one group discriminates against another — keeping its members out of a club, a public facility or an institution — it often boils down to a visceral, negative response to something unfamiliar. I call this the "ick." Indeed, the "ick" is often at the base of the politics of exclusion. Just this March, for example, a young woman at an anti-same-sex-marriage rally in Washington was asked to write down, in her own words, why she was there. Her answer: “I can't see myself being with a woman. Eww.”

Frankly, as a gay man, I can't see myself being with one, either. But it's usually not gays who write the laws. If this woman were in Congress, her personal discomfort might infect her thinking—and her lawmaking. Gays kissing? Ick.


To help justify the "ick," many, like that judge in Loving [Loving v. Virginia, 1967], turn to the Bible, perhaps because science doesn’t lead to the conclusion that homosexuality is unnatural. As one popular saying goes, homosexuality is found in more than 400 species, but homophobia in only one. But references to the Bible or other religious texts are not a solid footing on which to base notions of traditional marriage. Concerns about the separation of church and state aside, traditional marriage has never been what its homophobic proponents believe. As author Ken O’Neill reminds us, the fact that you can’t sell your daughter for three goats and a cow means we’ve already redefined marriage.

Not all people campaigning against gay marriage care to see themselves as homophobic, although I admit it's difficult for me to understand how advocating for continued marriage inequality is not homophobic. These people do attempt "reasoned" objections to the legal affirmation of gay marriage, but I can't say that I've ever encountered an anti-gay-marriage argument I could describe as either successful or convincing.

In a post against gay marriage titled "The Infertility Argument for Same-Sex Marriage," Dr. Vallicella gives us the old college try. In this post, Vallicella attempts to show why, if marriage is fundamentally about procreation, there is a disanalogy between (1) infertile heterosexual couples wanting marriage and (2) gay or lesbian couples wanting marriage. To wit:

Suppose two [heterosexual] 70-year-olds decide to marry. They can do so, and their marriage will be recognized as valid under the law. And this despite the fact that such elderly couples cannot procreate. But in many places the law does not recognize marriage between same-sex couples who also, obviously, cannot procreate. What is the difference between the opposite-sex and same-sex cases? What is the difference that justifies a difference in legal recognition?


Here is a relevant difference. It is biologically impossible that homosexual unions produce offspring. It is biologically possible, and indeed biologically likely, that heterosexual unions produce offspring. That is a very deep difference grounded in a biological fact and not in the law or in anything conventional. This is the underlying fact that both justifies the state's interest in and regulation of marriage, and justifies the state's restriction of marriage to opposite-sex couples.


[Concerning] the justification of the state's involvement in marriage in the first place[:] It is obvious, I hope, that the state ought not be involved in every form of human association. State involvement in any particular type of human association must therefore be justified. We want as much government as we need, but no more. The state is coercive by its very nature, as it must be if it is to be able to enforce its mandates and exercise its legitimate functions, and is therefore at odds with the liberty and autonomy of citizens. It is not obvious that the government should be in the marriage business at all. The burden is on the state to justify its intervention and regulation.

But there is a reason for the state to be involved. The state has a legitimate interest in its own perpetuation and maintenance via the production of children, their socializing, their protection, and their transformation into productive citizens who will contribute to the common good. (My use of 'the state' needn't involve an illict hypostatization.) It is this interest that justifies the state's recognition and regulation of marriage as a union of exactly one man and exactly one woman.

I have just specified a reason for state involvement in marriage. But this justification is absent in the case of same-sex couples since they are not and cannot be productive of children. So here we have a reason why the state ought not recognize same-sex marriage.


The right place to start this debate is with the logically prior question: What justifies the state's involvement in marriage? The only good answer is that state involvement is justified because of the state's interest in its own perpetuation via the production of children and their development into productive citizens. (There is also, secondarily, the protection of those upon whom the burden of procreation mainly falls, women.) It is the possibility of procreation that justifies the states' recognition and regulation of marriage. But there is no possibility of procreation in same-sex unions. Therefore, same-sex unions do not deserve to be recognized by the state as marriage. This is not to oppose civil unions that make possible the transfer of social security benefits, etc.

Vallicella's argument is that the state has an interest in continuing its own existence, which means the state has a legitimate motivation for legislating what sort of marriage is legal. Unfortunately, this logic opens the door to all sorts of silly arguments. If the state were to make laws with an eye to its own perpetuation, then...

• it would have to mandate scientific research into longevity, since it's in the state's interest to have longer-lived citizens. Any lab not performing longevity research would be punished.
• it would have to ban all condoms and other birth-control measures, since those measures are specifically designed to control population size, and are thus a threat to the state.
• it would have to open the borders wide to immigration, since more citizens = more voters = more state, for longer.
• it would aggressively promote "circle" or "communal" marriages that would supply a large number of offspring and, it can be hoped, plenty of hybrid vigor, ensuring productive citizens.
• it would have to outlaw death. Every individual death is a blow against the state, after all.

Given the absurdum to which the above reductio leads, I think it's safe to say that "the state has a vested interest in its own perpetuation" is not a legitimate reason to discriminate against same-sex couples seeking marriage.

Vallicella might reply to my reductio by adding Ptolemaic epicycles to his argument; he could refine and refine what he means as we volley back and forth, but in the end, his argument will eventually collapse under the weight of all those epicycles. The Ptolemaic model of the solar system failed for just that reason: it rapidly became unworkable as the paradigm's basic structure and premises proved demonstrably false. A true understanding of the solar system required a Copernican revolution, a redefining of the notion of "solar system" that took the facts into consideration. In much the same way, the brute fact of the increasing acceptability of same-sex marriage will eventually necessitate a redefinition of the word "marriage."

Some conservatives accuse liberals of hijacking discussion by redefining terms, but it should be painfully obvious to both sides of the aisle that, in the case of marriage, a redefinition of the concept is both necessary and moral. At the most basic level, we have to recognize that gay people are people, and as such, are deserving of equal human rights, including the right to publicly, and proudly, vow lifelong love and fidelity. It's impossible for me to think of a single "rational" argument against same-sex marriage that does not violate the recognition of a same-sex couple's basic humanity.


Friday, June 28, 2013

fall of the Butter Queen

[NB: I had originally intended to write a single post covering both the Paula Deen flap and the Supreme Court's ruling on an aspect of DOMA, but the Deen post—as you see below—grew until it became a malignancy that couldn't be ignored or compromised with, so I've made it into its own separate post. DOMA will come later.]

I used to have a "Nana." In American English, the word means different things to different people; for my family, Nana was a woman named Rae who had unilaterally declared herself my grandmother—a cashier coworker of my mother's (back when Mom worked at National Airport) who insinuated herself into our family and never left. She adored me and my two little brothers—loved us to death. I never found out where Nana was originally from, but her eardrum-smacking country twang told us she was from the sticks.

Back in the 1970s, Nana lived in a trailer park on Route 1 in Alexandria, next to the old drive-in cinema, and she'd have me stay overnight on occasion. I could read novels to my heart's content, or watch TV, or even go to the movies. Nana had two biological grandsons, and it was with them that I saw cool films like "Star Wars." As the years passed, Nana moved into a legitimate apartment in Fredericksburg, Virginia; we visited her there a couple times a year, and she'd have a marvelous spread of food waiting for us. Much of our time during those visits was spent simply sitting in her sun-bright living room, talking about nothing and everything. She'd ask how we were doing in school; she'd ask about our summer vacation plans. In short, she kept an eye on us the way any loving grandmother would. Back when I was a kid, I used to be sad whenever we left Nana's place; she treated us so well.

But as I got older, I began to realize that, however much she loved our half-Korean family, Nana couldn't stand black people. Her racism ran deep. My discovery of her prejudice was initially shocking, then appalling. I didn't know, any longer, what to do when I was around her. Her attitude became the subtext of every conversation; it infused, like a miasma, every visit as I saw her more and more clearly.

I remember when Nana grew old enough to be moved to an elder care center. She spent most of her time in bed—watched over, ironically, by a staff that included black members. I would sit by her bed sometimes, holding her hand, and would gently ask her what she had against black people. I don't think I ever got a straight answer from her. For her, holding on to her prejudice was more important than rationally justifying it.

"What about Martin Luther King?" I asked her incredulously one day.

Nana shook her head. "Lower'n dirt," she said flatly, speaking to the ceiling. There was obviously little point in discussing the matter further. Funny... now that I think about it, Nana used to have a picture of Jesus on her wall. White Jesus, of course.

Is it possible to love a racist? Can love coexist with revulsion? For myself, all I can say is that I cried when Nana passed away. Her memorial service included an open-casket viewing. As the line of people moved forward and I found myself next to Nana's withered body, I placed my big, warm hand on her small, cold, wrinkled one, and wordlessly wished her safe passage. Then I left the funeral home, walked blindly out into the parking lot, sat down at a curb, and cried beneath the silent stars.

Culturally speaking, former Food Network superstar Paula Deen comes from the same ornery Southern stock as Nana. She has the same grandmotherly charm, the same obnoxious twang, and for years she was the reigning queen of Southern-style comfort food—all butter and grease, with enough carbs to give an elephant an infarction. In a court deposition for a discrimination case, Deen recently said "Yes, of course" in response to a question about whether she had ever used the epithet "nigger." As soon as this came to light, controversy erupted. Deen is currently being sued by Lisa Jackson, a white manager of one of Deen's several restaurants. Jackson claims both to have been sexually discriminated against and to have been a witness to Deen's verbal abuse, which included the use of what people euphemistically call "the N-word."

Over the past several days, Deen has mounted a strange but morbidly fascinating PR defense. She released two apology videos on YouTube; the first video must have been deemed too awkward, because it was soon taken down and replaced by the second. Both videos feature a hand-wringing Deen who doesn't seem all there: her deer-in-the-headlights expression says it all; she looks like a woman in shock as her empire crumbles around her. Watching the videos, I half expected Deen to break into the Macbeth soliloquy, that emotionally distant recitation of a monarch in the midst of losing everything, now struck by the fundamental meaninglessness of all his labors: "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow..."

Initially unable to appear on a broadcast with journalist Matt Lauer, Deen eventually did appear, and this time she seemed both vulnerable and more defensive. In her most recent interviews, Deen has said things like, "[These are] very, very hurtful lies... [P]eople I have never heard of are all of a sudden experts on who I am." She has also tried to turn the tables on her detractors, taking up the aegis of no less than Jesus Christ and God Himself, simultaneously inviting those without sin to cast the first stone and invoking the sacred "I AM" (יהוה, YHWH) Tetragrammaton of the book of Exodus:

"If there's anyone out there that has never said something that they wished they could take back, if you're out there, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me. Please, I want to meet you. I want to meet you. I is what I is and I'm not changing."

At this point it might be fair to ask whether Paula Deen is actually sorry for her past sins. "I'm not changing" indicates intransigence and defiance. She also noted that "I wouldn't have fired me" which, along with her feeling that she's been misapprehended by the public, indicates a sense of unjust persecution. I detect little, if any, real regret in such a stance, which implies that the tears she cried in front of Matt Lauer may have been mere crocodile tears. Southern belles, and former Southern belles, are known to shed those.

It may not really matter how sorry Deen is: she's outta here. Her sponsors—from the Food Network to Wal-mart to Smithfield to Home Depot to Novo Nordisk—have almost all dropped her, and while her loyal fan base has been busy writing and speaking in her defense (even vampire author Anne Rice, who didn't know Deen existed until this controversy came to light, has spoken up on behalf of the Southern chef), a torrent of articles expressing shock at and disappointment in Deen has erupted, and is only growing worse.

Is Paula Deen a racist? By her own reckoning, absolutely not, yet I'm fascinated by the "of course" in her "Yes, of course" reply during the court deposition. Why "of course"? Was Deen trying to say, "Of course I used the word 'nigger'! I'm Southern, so what do you expect?"? If that was her intention, well... it's awfully lame to try to hide behind a quaint and pernicious stereotype. Personally, I'd rather give modern Southerners the benefit of the doubt and assume that many, if not most, have learned their lesson since the Civil War. Innocent until proven guilty, and all that.

But if it wasn't Deen's intention to hide behind a stereotype with her "Of course," then what was her intention? I have no clue, but given how quickly her repentance hardened into wounded obduracy, I'm not inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. And that, I suppose, is where Nana and Paula Deen part ways for me: Nana loved me as if I were a grandson, which made her unrepentant racism all the more painful; Paula Deen is someone I've never met in person, and she's never been central to my existence. I have no deep personal feelings about her, one way or another. Just as George Carlin claimed to take a Joker-like delight in the breakdown of society's structures, I witness the melting-away of Paula Deen's buttery dominion with more than a little Schadenfreude.

ADDENDUM: A decidedly more conservative take on the Paula Deen mess can be found here. The article by Larry Elder, to which Dr. Vallicella links, essentially argues not that Deen did nothing wrong, but that others have done worse and have gotten away with it. That's no defense of Deen. My brother was once pulled over by a cop for speeding. David tried to argue that another nearby car had been speeding as well. "But I caught you," replied the cop (I know this because I was David's passenger at the time). And that's really all that's relevant. If you counterargue that the issue Elder is discussing is fairness, well, I'm sure David's cop would reply that life ain't always fair, so suck it up, Buttercup.

ADDENDUM 2: Some skepticism about the "Paula Deen isn't racist" meme. Be sure to watch the entire video.

ADDENDUM 3: from an article that I like a lot, despite the fact that it makes a point that could have been made by Baudrillard (a French postmodernist thinker who did a lot of work studying the relationship between being and seeming):

These revelations didn't only hurt Deen with a certain number of people who don't consider themselves part of a southern tradition, who may have recoiled from things like her recitation of her dreamed wedding that sounded very much like a plantation fantasy. They also hurt her with a segment of southerners who know that every time this happens, every time a southern lady acts like everybody knows most jokes are about black people and Jewish people and rednecks, they have to listen to an avalanche of obnoxious Yankee generalizing about how no one should expect anything else from a southern lady of a certain age, which is, of course, false.

As James Poniewozik wrote at Time, "Deen made a pile of money off a certain idea of old-school southern culture. In return, she had an obligation to that culture — an obligation not to embody its worst, most shameful history and attitudes. Instead, in one swoop, fairly or not, she single-handedly affirmed people's worst suspicions of people who talk and eat like her."

ADDENDUM 4: Some defenders of Paula Deen are claiming that she's being unfairly crucified for "something she said years ago." I've seen this meme pop up a lot. First, watch the video to which I linked in Addendum 2, above, then tell me that Deen has repented of her old ways. Second, the "something she said years ago" wasn't some one-off incident: it was, rather, a history and a pattern of verbal habits—precisely the thing she's being accused of in Lisa Jackson's lawsuit. Sorry, folks, but there's a reason Deen's under the microscope.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

later on

Stay tuned for my commentary on Queen Paula Deen and the fall of DOMA.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

full day today

Today, for once, I work a full eight-hour shift. I would have liked to work four 8-hour shifts this week, but I suppose we don't have enough students to justify that much work. Things might get better by mid-July, which is when a few more students are slated to trickle into our tutoring center. For the next couple of weeks, though, life is going to be shaky.

Our enrollment for the summer intensive courses is way down from last year. We have no students enrolled in the Critical Reading/Writing course, and there are only four students in the SAT course—down from seven or eight students last year. Our particular center has never been one of the more active ones; student numbers have always been low. In truth, that's one of the reasons why I've enjoyed working at YB Near: it's quiet. When I used to work at YB Far, located just across the street from a high school and thus swamped with students, I thought that place was a madhouse. Stress was high; at YB Far, we sometimes violated policy and seated four students with each tutor.

So I guess it's a trade-off: I can enjoy the quiet, but I'll suffer from a bare-bones schedule. Today, though, things won't be so bare-bones.


saying "no" to 30 seconds of minor fame

Regarding my June 13 post about breaking up a fight, I received the following tweet from a Max Leatherman of The Huffington Post, to which I replied:

I have to respect Max for having properly used a vocative comma ("Hey, Kevin," not "Hey Kevin"), and for bothering to address me by name.


what happens when animals use too much sriracha

Charles sends the following pic, which he insists is not a commentary on my weight:

Me, I think it looks as if the manatee is farting fire. As the porn star said: "Thar she blows!"


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

T minus 44

Tuesday. Only 44 more days to go before my final day at YB. Oh, and it's Yugio (yuk-ee-oh = 6-2-5 in Sino-Korean, i.e., June 25, the date on which the Korean War started). A mindful Yugio to you all.

I sent a long list of questions to a future colleague, P, at the Catholic University of Daegu. His answers were terse but informative. Among the more interesting bits of information: I may not even be working five-day weeks. As with the package that Daegu Haany University had offered me, it's likely I'll be working only four-day weeks. There's a very remote chance, P warns, that I might have to work a six-hour day, but the weekly work-hours total never seems to exceed twelve hours. No office hours are required (which I find strange), and while there's an "English café" that can be manned by native-speaking faculty (and for which the faculty are paid extra), I won't be required to man it.

My overall impression is that, since CUD is nearly doubling the size of its current faculty, our individual obligations shrink, or are diffused, in inverse proportion to faculty size. If I do get a Saturday gig with KMA (which I wrote about here), I may forgo the English café and the CUD vacation classes so I can concentrate on where the real money is. Then again, if I turn out to be a glutton for punishment, I might teach those vacation classes along with the KMA classes. We'll see. Much depends upon a hard-nosed assessment of my financial situation.


where to send your complaints

Charles writes an interesting piece on the recently restored Namdaemun (Great South Gate), Korea's National Treasure Number 1. In it, he takes minor issue with the translation on the commemorative plaque:

Of course, I have to comment on the translation, which in general is decent but does bear signs of having been done by a non-native speaker of English (such as the ubiquitous parentheses issue. Parentheticals in Korean are not separated by a space from the preceding text, and every semester I have to remind my students that we do things a little differently in English). The English text is significantly longer, which is due in part to the fact that Korean is a more spatially-compact language, but information has been added to the English version as well. The original, for example, only says that the walls to the left and right were torn down between 1907 and 1908, while the English adds the explanation that this was done by the dastardly Japanese. I don’t mind the explanation, although I think it probably could have been worded better. More puzzling is the addition of the phrase “to the nation’s great horror” in the last paragraph. Was the translator afraid that readers might not think the Korean people were sufficiently horrified by the tragedy? I don’t really see the point to it at all. The preceding clause (“almost entirely destroying the roof of the gate house”) also differs from the original (which simply says, “(the gate) was heavily damaged”) and happens to be incorrect; it wasn’t just the roof that was almost entirely destroyed, but the whole gate house.

Lastly, most of the informational panels scattered around the city (and the nation) specify dates first by using the year of the reign of whichever king was on the throne, followed by the Western year in parentheses. I’ve always been very annoyed by this in translations, because the information means absolutely nothing to most English-speaking readers; anyone who cares about this information can already read the original. So this is my plea to translators: unless the king is somehow directly involved in what is being discussed, leave out the “whatevereth year of the reign of King So-and-So.” And on the subject of unnecessary things, was “respectively” at the end of the first paragraph really needed? Did the translator really think the reader might mistakenly assume that the king would pray for rain during a flood?

Enough with the nit-picking, though—call it an occupational hazard. I probably would have tried to make better use of the space available, but, minor issues aside, it is nice to see some information about the gate posted nearby. (And, in all fairness, some of these issues might not even be the translator’s fault—I retranslated most of the informational panels in Seoul for the 2002 World Cup, and when I was finished, civil servants who were not native speakers of English or translators helpfully “corrected” my translations, much to my dismay.)

Well, Charles, you can address your critiques to none other than Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges who, along with his friend Professor Suh Ji-moon, helped create the English text for the plaque. Writes Dr. Hodges:

. . . you'll be able to read the plaque's words, which Professor Moon translated and I edited -- except that the people who actually constructed the plaque changed our punctuation slightly and twice left out the essential space required before a parenthesis.

They may even have reworded a slight bit. I'm not sure . . .

Have fun talking, gentlemen!

Meantime, I wonder who wrote the original Korean text for the plaque.


Monday, June 24, 2013

all praise be unto Young Chow!

I drive past Haymarket, Virginia on my way to and from work. Occasionally, I hit Exit 40 and go into Haymarket. There used to be a great restaurant there called 55's, which served one of the very best Reubens I've ever had, along with great hand-cut fries. 55's went under, alas, but Young Chow, the Chinese joint located about 300 yards from where 55's used to be, is still around, and they've got excellent fried wontons and crispy beef. Some Chinese restaurants serve horrible crispy beef: terrifyingly chewy chunks of gristle in soggy breading, leaving you to wonder whether the meat you're masticating is actually bovine. Good crispy beef should be cut in long, thin strips and served up in a breading that's crunchy enough to defy the softening power of the sweet/spicy sauce with which it's garnished. Young Chow's crispy beef is just such a dish: it remains crunchy right to the final morsel. Behold:


Sunday, June 23, 2013

T minus 46

I'm down to my final five Sunday lessons with my private tutees. Their mother wanted me to switch to teaching SAT prep, which is fine by me, since that's what I do at my regular job. So, to that end, I've bought some big, fat Kaplan SAT workbooks (the kids already have the College Board's massive SAT prep book, which is actually quite good), and will be slogging through a full-scale SAT with the kids today (Sunday). I had assigned the test to them last week; their homework was to do two or three sections per day. Today's session will be devoted to scoring my students, analyzing their errors, determining their weaknesses, and assigning Kaplan homework based on what I discover.

In other news: I've been snooping around other self-storage facilities, and have yet to find one as good as CubeSmart, which is looking more and more like my best option.

In other other news: I'm emailing back and forth with my soon-to-be boss, and also with a future coworker, about the particulars of life at the Catholic University of Daegu. At the same time, I'm trying to establish extra Saturday work that I'll likely be doing in Seoul; the monthly pay is a few thousand dollars per 40 hours' work. Even if I were to work only six months out of the year, that would be an enormous boost for my income.



My supervisor tells me that none of my turdy kids will be here during the summer: they had come to YB only to be tutored in school-related subjects (i.e., not SAT prep and the like). This means they won't be back until late August, by which time I'll have flown the coop! Woo-hoo!

I honestly can't think of a better way to end my career at YB than by a blessed absence of turdiness. No goofy Sam, no arrogant, moody Maximus, and no bloody damn Iblis. Thank you, Jeebus. Thank you.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

low rent

I just got an emailed reply from my soon-to-be boss, Professor Y, about monthly rent. If I'm housed on campus, I'll be paying around W80,000 a month, probably just for utilities and maybe a little, tiny slice of rent. That's about $75/month, which is about a tenth of the rent I'm paying now. Professor Y notes that, because so many new profs are being hired by the Catholic University of Daegu, campus accommodations might not be available for all of us newbies. In that case, we'll be fixed up with lodging in the city and given a monthly stipend. Either way, rent is going to be dirt-cheap. So that's a relief.

CORRECTION: I just received an email from one of my future coworkers, who tells me that rent is W100,000, and I'd also have to pay utilities, which I assume will add another W30,000-W40,000 to the total. That's still not horrible, and certainly less than the $300/month I had projected.


storage space

Today, I drove over to the nearby town of Warrenton to look into a 5' x 10' climate-controlled self-storage unit. The campus of CubeSmart Self-Storage is neatly trimmed and squeaky-clean on the inside. The nice lady who gave me a guided tour told me that temperatures were held at around 80 degrees in the summer and 55 degrees in the winter. I would have liked the summertime interior temps to be closer to the 70s, but you can't have everything. On a more positive note, CubeSmart also has a convenient auto-pay option for expats. My one major gripe is the price: storage itself is about $71 per month (no free month of storage); there's a $22 up-front admin fee, and the place requires insurance and a special type of lock called a "disk lock." $2000 insurance coverage translates to $10 a month. I had hoped not to exceed $70/month for the entire package, so the question is whether I can tolerate paying $81/month for long-term storage.

The unit I saw was located on the second floor, so there ought to be no worries about flooding in bad weather. The lady recommended that I buy one of those humidity-removing gel packs; she said those would need to be changed out every 45-90 days, which sounded like a real hassle, not to mention another painful expense. I'd have to ask one of my brothers to come by the storage facility to change out the gel every couple of months, but that would put an unfair burden on my brothers.

I told the lady that, to be frank, I was still shopping around for storage units. She took this information in stride, and actually encouraged me to continue shopping; in the meantime, she'd keep my storage unit reserved until July 7. Overall, I was impressed with the tour, with my tour guide, and with the facilities. The only question in my mind is whether an extra $10/month will be worth it. If I can find an equally decent, climate-controlled storage space for cheaper, I'll go there. If I can't find such a place, I'll stick with CubeSmart.


T minus 48

48 more days to go until my final Thursday at YB, and I've still got 99% of my moving-prep checklist to get through. Right now, though, I'm more immediately focused on prepping for the Fourth of July: my buddy Dr. Steve will be coming down again, and my brother David, his lovely wife Patricia, and their intrepid dog Penny (currently suffering from a urinary-tract infection) will also be making the trip over.

All my guests have, miraculously, elected to celebrate the Fourth the way I've been celebrating it for the past few years: by driving out to a lonely overlook on Skyline Drive, and staring into the Shenandoah Valley while fireworks pop off until about 9:30PM. I've found this style of celebration to be both relaxing and beautiful—nothing like the hectic activities our family used to engage in on the Fourth. As residents of the Mount Vernon, Alexandria, area, we would often elect to head into Washington, DC, just fourteen miles up the road, to watch the huge fireworks and musical celebration on the US Capitol lawn. While such big events were full of bombast and good cheer, I would inevitably find myself chafing at the crowds and the sunburn and the long lines for the Porta-John bathrooms. I've never liked big parties. Hell, I've never liked most parties, big or small, unless I was the one running them. But this Fourth ought to be cool. I just hope my guests don't get too bored.

Ah, yes—about that 1% of my checklist that's been accomplished: I've been to my rental office to talk with the nice lady about leaving my lease contract early. There was no talk of penalties, but I will have to pay the full amount for the August rent, even though I'm leaving on August 12th (my flight to Korea is the following morning). Luckily, that's not the end of the story: the rental office will send me a refund check once the new resident arrives and takes over. I was told that the transition from me to the new resident (a woman apparently itching to rent an apartment in this particular complex) would be at least a four- to five-day process: after I hand my keys back in, several crews will arrive and fix things up: painting, carpets, etc. I don't seriously expect to get my deposit back, but if it does come back, I'll be pleasantly surprised. The refund, meanwhile, will cover everything from the day the new resident moves in to the end of the calendar month. I assume that means, approximately, from August 16th to August 31st, my 44th birthday. 44 Magnum.


Friday, June 21, 2013

"Kick-Ass": the two-paragraph review

"Kick-Ass" is a 2010 superhero comedy directed by Matthew Vaughn and starring Aaron Taylor-Jackson as the eponymous protag and narrator, Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass. Dave is a high-school nonentity: as he tells us in his opening narration, his own power is that he's invisible to girls. Oh, and he masturbates a lot. It's a setup right out of a 1980s teen flick, but unlike the typical sad-sack 80s nerd, Dave has big dreams: upset by the fact that everyone, at some point, wants to become a superhero, but no one ever follows through with that dream, he simply decides, one day, to suit up and become Kick-Ass. His efforts are halting and he doesn't accomplish much, but things change when he crosses paths with Hit-Girl/Mindy (Chloë Grace Moretz), a vicious eleven-year-old trained in the fighting arts by her ex-cop father, Damon Macready (Nicolas Cage), who also suits up in Batman-style body armor and calls himself Big Daddy. As a cop, Big Daddy had spent years pursuing crime boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong), but after Macready was framed and jailed, losing his wife in the process, he devoted his life after prison to turning his daughter into a killing machine as ruthless as he was. Kick-Ass feels intimidated after his encounter with this pair, but he ultimately helps them in their quest to take the evil D'Amico down. D'Amico has a gawky son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who finds himself in the awkward position of Kick-Ass's friend and betrayer. 

Like Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon," "Kick-Ass" has no countdown clock to increase suspense. This is primarily a coming-of-age story woven into a revenge drama, and it generally works well. The script is tight, the plot holes are minimal, and the violence is easily as ridiculous as the hilarious carnage in Clive Owen's gut-busting "Shoot 'Em Up." As other reviewers have noted, "Kick-Ass" isn't shy about putting kids in harm's way, or about depicting children (Hit-Girl in particular) committing horrifying atrocities with guns and blades. In the scene that introduces us to Chloë Grace Moretz's character, Mindy Macready gets shot in the chest three times by her father, who has fitted her with a flak jacket and who wants her to understand what a bullet impact feels like. (Mindy's birthday present later that day: a pair of Filipino balisong knives.) I thought the movie was funny and action-packed, and after some initial queasiness about all the violence against and by children, I decided to switch off that part of my brain and just roll with the plot. Still, I winced when Mark Strong's Frank D'Amico nailed little Hit-Girl in the head with a reverse turning kick toward the end of the movie. "Kick-Ass" straddles multiple genres and comes dangerously close to sexualizing minors; it also violates any number of taboos with Hit-Girl, who is as foul-mouthed as she is deadly. But all of that is part of this quirky movie's brutal, bloody charm, and I recommend it as an entertaining way to spend two hours. Hats off to Chloë Grace Moretz for having learned how to handle such a large variety of weapons and fighting styles.

T minus 49

Exactly seven more weeks to go before the end of my career at YB. Hard to believe. This Saturday will, in principle, be my final Saturday at my current job: come Monday, I'll be switching to a Monday-through-Thursday schedule—no Saturdays. At least that'll mean three-day weekends until the end, thank Jeebus.

But if I work Mondays... will this mean going back to teaching Iblis and Maximus? I've enjoyed my several Wednesdays without these enfants terribles. Will Monday become my new hell day, or are these imps simply not coming during the summer? I'll ask the office.


the unfortunate beans

I had a huge amount of sauce left over from my pulled-pork adventures, and I wanted to use it for something. Upon tasting it, I was hit with the idea of making pork and beans: the sauce was sweet and tangy, and the addition of some jalapeños, bacon, and brown sugar would make for the perfect pork-and-beans recipe. The concept was so clear in my head that all I needed to do was to go out and buy the necessary components. One trip to Costco later, and I had everything but the beans. I decided to get some white beans (a.k.a. navy beans or frijoles blancos); luckily, the local Wal-mart had them. I bought two bags, and that may have been my first mistake: I should have bought only one.

I poured the beans and the sauce into the slow-cooker, then added minced jalapeños, crispy (microwaved) bacon, and raw bacon. I also added some juice from the jalapeño bottle, knowing full well that most of the spiciness would be cooked out after several hours, leaving only a faint capsaicin echo. I stirred the whole thing up, and it smelled fantastic. Not long after, I went to bed.

In the morning, I woke to an aroma that was pleasant on top, but that had an unpleasant undercurrent to it. Thereby forewarned, I lumbered into my kitchenette, uncovered the beans, and saw that they looked great, but... they had absorbed so much of the liquid that there was little liquid left to prevent burning. I sampled the beans, and sure enough, this was a classic Soup Disaster Moment: the charred taste had infused the entire batch. I tried rescuing the beans—which still looked damn good—by dumping the loose, unburned ones into a pot and chucking the burned bottom layer. I tried adding a bit of water, sugar, and ketchup to the remaining beans, but to no avail. Ultimately, I decided to toss the entire batch, cursing the colossal waste of time, effort, and food.

Lesson learned: next time I try to make pork and beans, I'm going to cook the beans separately in plain water first, then add the sauce and other elements only when we're near the end of the cooking process. This ought to give the beans' flavor enough time to marry with that of the sauce, brown sugar, and bacon, while preventing any burning. I'll also need to control the beans-to-water ratio: much more water needed for proper beans! Those little suckers are sponges.

I'm not daunted, though. Disappointed, yes, but not daunted. I'll be trying this again soon.

A last, loving look at my beans, before they got chucked:



As I pulled into my parking spot at my apartment, I saw the following doe snooping around our bushes. I re-parked at an angle so I could shine my headlights more directly at the animal:

Malcolm, on Twitter, called deer "Rats. With hooves." It's true we've got a plentiful supply of deer here in Appalachia; hunters ought to be out in force, harvesting that yummy venison.


pre-diet decadence

It's one of the absolute simplest desserts: fresh raspberries and cream. I took some heavy whipping cream, mixed in some coarse-grained cane sugar I'd bought from Costco, blitzed the cream until it was fluffy, then slapped it on a bowlful of raspberries. I added a sprinkle of sugar on top for good measure. Behold:

I must say, the raspberries were amazingly cheap at Costco, and now is the season to be buying all those berries: Costco is piled high with fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. If you're a lover of yogurt, homemade soda, or berries and cream, you should gitcher fine self over to Costco pronto.


amateur shot: pulled-pork BBQ wrap

I have a lot to learn about lighting and angle and composition in photography, but all the same, here's a rather mediocre shot of a recently assembled pulled-pork barbecue wrap with White American cheese, thinly sliced sweet gherkins, bottled jalapeños, and some sriracha:


Thursday, June 20, 2013


James Gandolfini, the actor perhaps most famous for his role as Tony Soprano in "The Sopranos," has died of an apparent heart attack in Italy. He was a very young 51—only seven or eight years older than I am. Kinda' makes ya' think, doesn't it?

Well... if you're going to die, there are few better places to die than Italy.


today, we mourn with Eli's son

I was shocked to see, in my blog feed, the horrible news that Elisson and his wife had just lost their beloved kitten Levon, barely ten months old. Elisson has also put up a touching valediction for his cat that would be worth your while to read.

I offer up Stephen R. Donaldson's poem on death and mourning:

Death reaps the beauty of the world—
bundles old crops to hasten new.
Be still, heart:
hold peace.
Growing is better than decay:
I hear the blade which severs life from life.
Be still, peace:
hold heart.
Death is passing on—
the making way of life and time for life.
Hate dying and killing, not death.
Be still, heart:
make no expostulation.
Hold peace and grief
and be still.

—Stephen R. Donaldson, 1977
Lord Foul's Bane, Chapter 17, "End in Fire"


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

life after Kevin

Some of my Korean students are already scheming about how to handle my eventual absence from YB. Little Kristi, the girl who claims to want to get into TJHSST, says she has relatives in or near Daegu, so her family might drop by to see me. Another of my students just told me that his family has plans to visit Korea next year; they, too, could very well swing by the Daegu area to pay me a visit.

It's nice to think that I'll be keeping in touch with many (well... at least some) of my students. I've enjoyed this job, and I hope my students have had as much fun learning from me as I've had teaching (and learning from) them.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

T minus 51

Just fifty-one more days until my final day at YB, August 8. The summer intensive starts up next week, so I'm hoping for a radical increase in work hours—enough to pad my bank account such that I can launch myself to Korea in a state somewhere above abject poverty. Ideally, during the summer intensive, I'll be working four eight-hour days per week. I won't be receiving any further income from tutoring or from YB-related curriculum development; I'll have finished my last project sometime this week. This means I badly need to stack up on regular in-class work hours. If I dip below 32 per week, that's going to be trouble.


lucky bastard

At about 3:25AM tonight, just 150 yards from my apartment building, I got pulled over for speeding. I had been out to Warrenton, about 35 minutes away from my town, to deposit two checks I had received from the family whose kids I tutor; I suppose I was rushing a little too fast along the final stretch of highway before my apartment. Lights came on behind me, so I slowed, made the next-to-last turn to my place, and stopped in the same spot where I've seen dozens of other drivers stop before.

The policeman, it turned out, was Scottish. I didn't place his accent at first; it wasn't the typical American travesty of a Scottish accent. I should have caught the rolled "r"s, though. We had a weird discussion about whether I was wearing any eyewear, and the officer said something like, "If I tell you exactly how fast you were going, I have to write you a ticket." I'd never heard that rule before. "I'm going to check your record," he said. "If you come up good, I'll just let you off with a warning." He sauntered back to his car, and my heart sank, because he would surely see that I'd been pulled over last year for speeding on Route 66. A few minutes later, he walked back up to my window.

"I'm lettin' you off with a warning," he said. "I know it's late, and you were trying to get home, and people get careless when they're almost home. I'm done in twenty minutes, and I'll probably go thirty-five here." He pointed vaguely at the twenty-five zone. That was a relief. The officer chuckled. "You look tired," he said. I was. All I did was nod in confirmation, and promise to behave better—the same empty promise I give every officer who pulls me over.

So I'm home again, and about to hit the hay. One lucky bastard.


the mission

Today, I'm going to tool out to Shenandoah Valley Moving and Storage, just up the street a ways, to see whether they've got climate-controlled storage units. If they do, that'll be great: I'll be able to move boxes of my things quickly and efficiently a very short distance. I'm hoping this will minimize my need to rent a U-Haul van.

UPDATE: Failure! I decided to call ahead and ask about the sort of storage available at Shenandoah Valley Moving and Storage, and they told me that they don't have climate-controlled units. That's a blasted shame... SVMS is located so close to where I live.

So! The search goes on.


Monday, June 17, 2013

"Man of Steel": review

How apropos to review "Man of Steel" on Father's Day (and a Happy Father's Day to all good dads out there!), for this newest tale of the adventures of Superman is a movie about fathers.

I can see why critics have been so polarized by this film. A quick scan of the Rotten Tomatoes website shows that professional reviewers generally either love the movie or hate it, and in many cases, the love and the hate are rooted in the same reasons: the movie is brooding, it's darker than previous Superman films, it's focused on action, etc. Would I recommend the film? Yes, but only cautiously. Like those critics, I find myself torn, and the rip passes right between my heart and my head.

On the heart level, as an emotional experience, I found "Man of Steel" quite watchable. At no point did the movie drag. The pace wasn't as breathless or relentless as it can be in, say, a JJ Abrams effort (with Abrams and his Star Trek films, I always think of people running desperately through corridors as if caught in nightmares about futility), and the special effects, though magnificent, indicated to me that director Zack Snyder was showing remarkable stylistic restraint compared to the time-bending cinematic woo-hoo he gave us in films like "300." Was this because of the spooky, spectral, sobering influence of cerebral producer Christoper Nolan (director of the Dark Knight films, "Memento," and "Inception")? It's hard to say, but Nolan did have a hand in the scriptwriting, and probably had a creative voice in other aspects of the film as well. As I had guessed might happen, "Man of Steel" does show a bit of strain from the clash of two very different approaches to the story, and this strain manifests itself in terms of stylistic and tonal unevenness, but the unevenness isn't so pronounced as to detract from the overall entertainment.

Also on the heart level was my enjoyment of the fact that "Man of Steel" is much more explicitly a science-fiction movie than its predecessors were. The opening scene, for example, takes place on the planet Krypton, a world in collapse that stands as a metaphor for our own abuse of the Earth's natural resources. Krypton's core is imploding from over-mining, it seems (a reference to the fate of the Klingon moon Praxis in "Star Trek VI"?), and scientist Jor-El is doing what he can to save the Kryptonian race while attending and assisting in the birth of his son, Kal-El, who is beginning his life on a dying world. Also on Krypton is General Zod, a man bred from birth to be a warrior. Zod, who has his own interest in preserving the race, attempts a coup against Krypton's high council, and Jor-El, racing against both Zod's coup and the planet's imminent demise, figures out a way to preserve the Kryptonian race's genetic legacy and send his son to a safe world: Earth. All of this is very science-fiction-y, and to a sci-fi lover's further delight, "Man of Steel" features crustacean spacecraft that will remind many of the humped, beetle-shaped ships from "Dune" or the massive, fire-farting scarabs from "Starship Troopers." A few of the more claw-shaped craft will look familiar to people who have seen a similar image in "The Incredibles": the detached pincer of the second Omnibot, which Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl manage to fire straight into the Omnibot's hull. Jor-El's winged-dragon steed, meanwhile, will remind people of Obi-Wan Kenobi's frilled-lizard steed from "Revenge of the Sith."

I was happy to see at least two cast members from "Battlestar Galactica" in the film, even though they had only minor roles: Tahmoh Penikett, who played BSG's Helo, and Alessandro Juliani, who played the ill-fated Gaeta. These two appear in such rapid succession that I had to think Zack Snyder was making a deliberate nod in Galactica's direction. Harry Lennix from "The Matrix Reloaded" was also in attendance as an army general, and Christopher Meloni (whose TV and film credits range far and wide) played a good-hearted colonel who eventually comes to support Superman.

The movie's action sequences are generally among its positives although, as my buddy Mike's wife pointed out after the film, some of those scenes are so long and over-the-top that they become a bit tedious. I was especially interested to see Kryptonian martial arts. We first see examples of this fighting technique when scientist-warrior Jor-El duels hand-to-hand against the younger, stronger General Zod. Later on, when the untrained Superman faces off against evil, combat-trained henchman Faora (pronounced "fey-YOH-ruh," and not the Italian way—"FAH-oh-ruh"), we see Superman get out-techniqued. Some reviewers have complained about the amount of collateral damage Superman must have incurred in his final fight with General Zod—a fight that punches holes in an untold number of tall buildings in Metropolis. My assumption is that those buildings are mostly empty by the time Superman and Zod fight.

The acting in "Man of Steel" is well done; everyone hits the proper beats. Henry Cavill is stolid and sturdy, but he has the chance to show extremes of emotion (such as when his adoptive mother is threatened). Amy Adams is a cute-as-a-button Lois Lane; her relationship with the Big Guy is handled more intelligently, and less sappily, in this movie than in all the previous ones. Lois's only problem is that she has a bad habit of falling from great heights. Michael Shannon's Zod is smoldering and purpose-driven; I almost felt that Shannon could have played Khan in the recent Star Trek film. German actress Antje Traue's performance as the ruthless minion Faora is solid and confident, and Christopher Meloni manages to make an impression in a fairly minor role. Diane Lane, whom I normally consider unbelievably sexy in a young-Kathleen-Turner sort of way, does a convincing job of toning the sexiness down and playing Martha Kent as a woman of the soil.

Overall, the plot of "Man of Steel" is engaging and not too hard to understand, although I did have trouble keeping track of which villains were on which spaceships. But as I noted, my heart was saying one thing while my head was saying another. On an intellectual level, "Man of Steel" isn't a thinking person's film: once you start puzzling over some of the plot holes and other lapses in story logic, you may find yourself frowning in confusion.

"Man of Steel," perhaps more than any previous Superman film, emphasizes the fact that Superman is an alien, that he is not one of us. The film is more explicitly sci-fi in emphasis than its predecessors, and while this may be a treat for sci-fi fans, it presents problems for the truly hardcore fans, the ones who demand scientific rigor from their SF films. One problem is the physics of Kryptonian bodily movement on Earth. Faora, in particular, is portrayed as a vicious and merciless fighter, but if she were truly as powerful as her movements make her seem, she wouldn't merely be throwing human soldiers around like rag dolls: she'd be cutting through them as if they were bags of jelly. There should have been a lot more blood and gore, especially where Faora was concerned. Another problem is that Kryptonians on Krypton move like Earthlings on Earth, so when the Kryptonians initially arrive on Earth, they should have had far more trouble adapting to their newfound powers. We see this with Superman himself: one scene shows Superman testing his ability to fly; it takes him a while to figure this power out, and a mountaintop or two is sacrificed for these experiments.

General Zod's evil plan for the Earth is based on his desire to re-create Krypton. To this end, he deploys a two-part gravity weapon, positioned on opposite sides of our planet, that beams energy into the ground and sends convulsive pulses through the Earth. In the area immediately surrounding the beams' impact with the ground, gravity flips and flops: objects like cars and concrete debris are temporarily flung into the air, then thrown violently back to the Earth's surface, again and again. What's strange about this, though, it that the gravity pulses have no effect on human beings: we see cars and concrete chunks in Metropolis rise and fall while people run among them, completely unaffected by the weapon. We can chalk this up to Hollywood's sloppy notion of physics, and it has the unfortunate effect of making suspension of disbelief harder.

While watching "Man of Steel," with its razzle-dazzle special effects, I also had the impression that I had seen all of this before—especially in the Matrix films. The so-called "genesis chamber" on Krypton, for example, looks like a seaweed field from which hang thousands of Kryptonian babies, each baby sealed in its own protective, nutritive bubble. This image forcefully reminded me of similar imagery in 1999's "The Matrix," wherein we see the fields where the machines are growing and harvesting human beings for their bioelectric power. Kryptonian monitor displays and weapons also seem to rely on a silvery "nanoswarm" technology—metallic bubbles that constantly swirl into recognizable (and rather Art Deco-looking) shapes: star maps, faces, and aggressive tentacles. Superman, in trying to knock out the gravity weapon, has to contend with a truly massive version of this technology, and I was again reminded of the ravening machines in the Matrix movies. The nanoswarm did leave me wondering why, instead of forming into tentacles, the nanoparticles didn't simply try to invade Superman's lungs, like the malevolent bots in Michael Crichton's nanotech-nightmare novel Prey. Not even Superman can fight a cloud. And yet another Matrix moment hit me as Zod and Superman battled in Metropolis: every time Superman slammed into a building, a circular puff of dust erupted, reminiscent of the reality-ripples that formed from similar impacts in all three of the Matrix movies. Zack Snyder owes a large creative debt to the Wachowskis, and another debt to JJ Abrams: at one point in the film, an attempt is made to "create a singularity," i.e., a black hole. All of this has happened before.

Since we're on the topic of scientific failings, we should talk about that great unanswered question: how is it that Kryptonians speak English? I admit that this bothered me more than it should have, but I had been hoping, before seeing the film, that the movie might provide an answer to that question. Instead, "Man of Steel" takes a Star Wars-style tack and gives us a race of people who speak English but write in their own script. (Much is made of Superman's "S," which is not an "S" but a family-seal glyph signifying hope.) When General Zod comes to Earth, he somehow blanks out all of our electronics, then uses our TVs and computers to send out a global simulcast in all of Earth's languages. How he accomplishes this, I don't know, but it was the same tactic used in the pilot episode of the recent (and defunct) TV reboot "V."

"Man of Steel" also fails to satisfy in its treatment of major themes, the most central of which is the formative power of fatherhood. The good points first: Kevin Costner does a fine job in the role of Jonathan Kent, Superman's adoptive father on Earth. Jonathan's character is simultaneously fascinating, tantalizing, and touching. It's no spoiler to say that he dies partway through the film: anyone who remembers the 1978 "Superman" knows that Pa Kent has to go, that the tragic loss of the wisdom-figure is part of the heroic path. The manner of his passing, in the new movie, left my buddy Mike thoroughly dissatisfied, but I was touched by Jonathan's final gesture to his son before he perishes: it was a gesture that said, "Don't reveal your powers for my sake. Not even to save me." That scene was probably the most human moment in the film, and Clark Kent's expression as he watches his father be taken away from him is heart-wrenching. In that moment, Superman is powerless to do anything because he's bound by an idea—specifically, the idea that revealing himself to the world will produce only chaos. But Jonathan Kent is something of a mixed bag: while he is cautious about keeping his adopted son's powers a secret, he also encourages his son to find out who he is. This message overlaps with what a holographic representation of Jor-El tells Clark later on: keep testing your own limits. The ghostly Jor-El reveals to his son his purpose in sending his baby boy to Earth: Kal-El/Clark is to be a light unto the people, a bridge between Earthling and Kryptonian cultures, and Kal-El's mission will be to bring humanity to some sort of greater fulfillment. We don't see much of this as the film goes on, alas; Superman seems to view his role as more of a guardian than as a leader. There is, however, one explicitly Christic moment in the film, when Superman floats into space, his body in a cruciform posture, just before he throws himself into one of his several rescues of poor Lois Lane.

What's unsatisfying about the movie's treatment of the fatherhood theme is that Clark is presented with two distinct visions of his role on Earth, but those visions aren't given enough screen time to truly clash. Jonathan Kent recognizes that his son cannot stop himself from doing good, but the older Kent fears that the revelation of Clark's powers will cause such a backlash that the reaction will obscure or devalue any good that Clark manages to do. To that extent, Jonathan Kent's fears mirror those of Lara, Kal-El's mother, who is also worried that her son will be seen merely as a freak among the Earthlings. Jor-El's vision for his son, meanwhile, is much more aggressive and ambitious: he has sent Kal-El to Earth for a reason—to be nourished by its young yellow sun, to gain powers, and to lead humanity to a greater fulfillment. With this sort of conflict in place, with these extremely contrasting notions of what Kal-El/Clark should be doing with himself, it would have been interesting for Jonathan Kent to have met and spoken with the ghostly hologram of Jor-El. Instead, Clark ends up with two dead fathers.

So if I could sum up the movie's negatives, they would be: (1) too many tropes cobbled from other films, and (2) not enough time spent dwelling on central themes. Of course, the blazing action kept us all from being bored, but ultimately, "Man of Steel" is cotton candy for the mind: fluffy and tasty, but not especially nourishing. And that, folks, is why I recommend the film to you, but only cautiously. Don't go expecting to see something deep. Enjoy the fascinating glimpse of Krypton and high Kryptonian civilization (which seems to include plenty of ridiculous hats and "Thor"-style armor); enjoy the titanic fight scenes as gods battle each other on Earth; enjoy the nod both to Plato's noble lie and to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (Kryptonians are genetically engineered to enter Kryptonian society according to caste, a fact against which Jor-El rebels); and enjoy the ridiculous notion that Superman may very well be pregnant (you'll know what I mean when you hear the appropriate dialogue).

ADDENDUM: I realize that I failed to say anything about Hans Zimmer's score. First, I should confess that I'm not the biggest fan of Zimmer's musical notions, but I'll grudgingly admit that he's improved with age. His score for the 1990s-era "The Rock" was embarrassingly bad—callow and superficial. These days, his music is more thoughtful, with stronger, deeper bass lines and more measured rhythms that evoke subtle thoughts and feelings. His thunder-rumble score for the recent Dark Knight films reflected Bruce Wayne's underlying fury at all criminals, and Zimmer's creative stylings for "Inception" added a layer of intelligence and intrigue to that film. His work in "Man of Steel" is, once again, fairly understated, and I found that I didn't miss John Williams's iconic score at all.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

a birthday and "Man of Steel"

My buddy Dr. Steve will be arriving at my place of work momentarily, and we'll be off, in a few minutes, to my old friend Mike's house. I'm hoping we can beat the traffic, but there may be a couple accidents on Route 95 that could impede our southward progress.

Once we reach Mike's place—preferably before 6:30PM—we'll all pile into a single car and head out to the local Fredericksburg Muvico(?) movie theater, where we'll be treated to balcony-level plush seating as we goggle at "Man of Steel." Afterward, we may or may not repair to Mike's house to celebrate the final hours of his birthday.

Awesomeness awaits.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Maqz's consolation: a poem

[Drinking-song rhythm. Thump a table while reciting. Shout the refrain.]

the pain of life is painful
it ratchets up a notch
so when you're sad
and feeling bad
just look into my crotch

your days are filled with anguish
upon your soul, a blotch
but when your life
is full of strife
just look into my crotch

existence is a gamble
a weird, perverse hopscotch
but when the crap
falls in your lap
just look into my crotch

your hope, it is receding
'tis now the midnight watch
and when the dark
is fearful stark
just look into my crotch

the danger's all around you
your clothes, a tattered swatch
and when you fear
for those held dear
just look into my crotch

this town, it needs a hero
and not a cruel Sasquatch
do not lose hope
and do not mope
just look into my crotch

my crotch, it is the answer
my crotch, the path to bliss
my crotch can fly


Friday, June 14, 2013

wrong place, right time

It's 11:05PM as I start typing this entry. About 20 minutes ago, I broke up a fight in front of a grocery store in town. That was exciting.

I was coming back from the local Walmart when I realized I'd forgotten to buy blueberries for a parfait I wanted to make for my (and possibly Dr. Steve's) Saturday meal. On the way home was another 24-hour grocery: Martin's. I decided to stop there to get the berries. The main entrance was closed, but an Asian woman, on her way out, called to me: "It's open other side!" I thanked her, went in, bought two boxes of blueberries for five bucks (buy one, get one free), got assistance from a clerk on how to use the damn self-checkout, then lumbered out.

As if on cue, right as I was walking out, two skinny guys—one white, one black—sprinted out of the semidarkness of the parking lot and under the lights of the grocery store's entrance. At first, I thought these were just friends messing with each other, but a second glance showed me their wide eyes and corded necks, and I suddenly knew this was serious. The two guys adopted wide, exaggerated stances and swung wildly at each other, demonstrating total ignorance of any fighting technique, and for a weird moment I was transported back to my days at Bishop O'Connell High School where, because I was one of the larger male teachers, it was often incumbent on me to break up fights, of which I broke up perhaps three or four in my two years there. The most hilarious donnybrook didn't even have a chance to happen: two tiny freshmen, trying to look menacing, were circling each other on the grass in front of the school when I interposed myself, and I had to strain to keep myself from laughing at what might have been. The most serious altercation, by contrast, involved two large seniors at the top of a stairwell; I knew, and liked, one of the seniors. Both guys were sturdy football players; I almost thought twice before stepping into the flurry of punches. Luckily, neither of them hit me, and they both calmed down right away. "Come with me," I said sternly, and led them to the Dean of Discipline's office.

Back to this moment. With my high school days in mind, I barked, "Gentlemen!" The fighters ignored me, of course. Once more, as I stalked toward them: "Gentlemen!" Neither listened. Both guys continued flailing at each other. When I was about three steps away, the black guy wrapped his arms around the waist of the white guy, picked him up, and slammed him hard into the concrete. He leaned over the white guy, ready to keep punching him, and I rushed forward those final steps, looped my arm around the black guy's waist and lifted him bodily, with one arm, away from his downed adversary. "Enough!" I shouted.

Once peeled away from his opponent, the black guy bolted. The white guy—who, upon closer inspection, looked either drunk or high—levered himself into an upright seated position, all gangly knees and elbows. "Fuckin' asshole," he said. He dragged himself up and shouted after the black guy, who got into a white SUV with some of his fellows: "I'll fuckin' kill you next time, motherfucker!" I rolled my eyes and walked away. This was obviously an empty threat, since both guys had fought like candy-ass pussies. My breathing was, surprisingly, steady. I had expected to get the shakes, but my nerves proved solid.

A cautious, paranoid instinct told me that the guys in the SUV might follow me home if I let them, so I drove over to Skyline Drive, then turned around and look a circuitous route home. No idea whether they saw me again.

Well... at least I had my blueberries.


spot the grammatical error

From the article I'd linked to previously:

Ironically, the multiplication of mandates and other regulations in the ACA on both private insurers and government-run programs like Medicare and Medicaid have more doctors opting out of the third-party-payer system altogether.

Ruth and I were just discussing this type of error last night.


feel the hurt


The [2010 Affordable Care Act], known as Obamacare, was passed on promises that premiums would decline by forcing everyone into insurance plans, and that top-down mechanisms like mandates on coverage and the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) would control costs. That hasn’t proven to be the case, and indeed, both premiums and costs are skyrocketing – just as anyone who understood the impact that mandates would have on risk pools and tax hikes on prices predicted.

As the open enrollment period for 2014 approaches, premiums on individual plans in the Obamacare exchanges for California will double, and will increase 80 percent or more in Ohio. At the end of its first decade in force, the ACA will leave more than 30 million Americans without insurance – the driving issue behind health-care reform for at least the last twenty years.

So! How're things?


a weekend of moviegoing

I'll be gorging myself on the rich sap of cinema this weekend. On Saturday, my good buddy Dr. Steve will be trundling down from his palatial estate in Pennsylvania. He'll arrive at YB, my place of work, around 5PM, and will leave his car there. We'll immediately head out together to Fredericksburg, Virginia, home of my buddy Mike (whose birthday also happens to be on Saturday). The plan is to hit Mike's house by 6:30PM, then drive out to a local cinema to see "Man of Steel," for which Mike will have e-reserved us tickets (churlish to force Mike to pay for tickets on his birthday, but I aim to repay him). Ideally, we'll reach the cinema with time to spare, take our luxury seats (this is a luxury cinema), and enjoy watching gods in conflict.

Steve and I will then drive back to YB; we'll pick up Steve's car, and he and I will drive separately to Appalachia, where he'll stay overnight at my place. The following morning, he and I will hit a 10:55AM matinee showing of "Star Trek Into Darkness." I expect the theater to be pretty much empty on Sunday morning, except maybe for a few codgers intent on avoiding those loud, squirmy, night-loving teenagers. After that, I imagine Steve will either head over to his aunt's place, as he often does when he's in town, or he'll head back home. Long drive to Pennsylvania, but at least we'll have caught two flicks.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

T minus 56: once again, I have no class

No Thursday class either today or next Thursday. I've been promised a full schedule once the summer intensive period begins. We'll see. We'll see.

56 days until my final day. Exactly eight weeks to go.



I need to take my Mac in for repairs. The monitor just keeps getting dimmer. I also need to take my car in for stem-to-stern repairs, especially if I'm going to give (well, sell) it to my goddaughter. To accomplish the latter, I may take out another loan, since I have no idea how much the car's repairs will eventually cost. Springleaf Financial Services keeps sending me letters saying I'm pre-approved for a loan of up to $4000. While repayment will increase my debt burden by $175 a month, I can handle this. The only real question is whether Springleaf, upon looking at my current financial profile, will actually consent to give me the loan. They may decide I'm not worth the risk. I'll try to persuade them by noting how much my financial picture will improve in the coming months.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

T minus 59? no: T minus 57

It occurred to me that I won't be teaching Saturdays once the summer intensive period starts. This means that my final day at YB won't be Saturday, August 10: it'll be Thursday, August 8.

So: we're resetting the countdown. 57 days to go.


is Superman a Christ-figure?

Wikipedia notes the religious dimensions of Superman's character, including the possible parallels between Superman and Jesus Christ:

Many have noted the examples of apparent Christian symbolism. [Director Richard] Donner, Tom Mankiewicz and Ilya Salkind have commented on the use of Christian references to discuss the themes of Superman. Mankiewicz deliberately fostered analogies with Jor-El (God) and Kal-El (Jesus). Donner is somewhat skeptical of Mankiewicz' actions, joking "I got enough death threats because of that."

Several concepts and items of imagery have been used in Biblical comparisons. Jor-El casts out General Zod from Krypton, a parallel to the casting out of Satan from Heaven. The spacecraft that brings Kal-El to Earth is in the form of a star (Star of Bethlehem). Kal-El comes to Jonathan and Martha Kent, who are unable to have children. Martha Kent states, "All these years how we've prayed and prayed that the good Lord would see fit to give us a child," which was compared to the Virgin Mary.

Just as little is known about Jesus during his middle years, Clark travels into the wilderness to find out who he is and what he has to do. Jor-El says, "Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and power are needed. But always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El, and they wish to be. They lack only the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son." The theme resembles the Biblical account of God sending his only son Jesus to Earth in hope for the good of mankind. More were seen when Donner was able to complete Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, featuring the fall, resurrection and his battle with evil. Another vision was that of The Creation of Adam.

The Christian imagery in the Reeve films has provoked comment on the Jewish origins of Superman. Rabbi Simcha Weinstein's book Up, Up and Oy Vey: How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero, says that Superman is both a pillar of society and one whose cape conceals a "nebbish", saying "He's a bumbling, nebbish Jewish stereotype. He's Woody Allen." Ironically, it is also in the Reeve films that Clark Kent's persona has the greatest resemblance to Woody Allen, though his conscious model was Cary Grant's character in Bringing up Baby. This same theme is pursued about 1940s superheroes generally in Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero by Danny Fingeroth.

In the scene where Lois Lane interviews Superman on the balcony, Superman replies, "I never lie." Salkind felt this was an important point in the film, since Superman, living under his secret identity as Clark Kent, is "telling the biggest lie of all time." His romance with Lois also leads him to contradict Jor-El's orders to avoid altering human history, time traveling to save her from dying. Superman instead takes the advice of Jonathan Kent, his father on Earth.

In my post "The Tao of Chance," I discussed in some detail my criteria for determining whether a literary or filmic figure was indeed a Christ-figure. I proposed seven criteria for, or characteristics of, Christ-figures, and contended that a character would have to possess "a majority" of those qualities to be considered christic. To recap, those criteria are:

•ability to perform miracles
•self-sacrificing courage
•all-encompassing love for humanity
•messianic (i.e., revolutionary/paradigm-changing/leadership) potential
•a character arc that follows a via dolorosa
•a sense of mission
•resurrection/resuscitation and other prominent tropes (crucifixion/sacrifice, etc.)

Is Superman, then, a Christ-figure? Let's take a brief stroll through the above characteristics and think out loud about this.

1. Superman possesses more powers than just physical strength. He has heat vision, X-ray vision, invulnerability to most forms of attack, the ability to fly (and to spend extended periods under water and in outer space), hyper-acute hearing, hyper-acute sight, and other powers unnamed. I think it's safe to say that Superman is a miracle-performing being. His abilities defy the laws of nature, which is one of the qualities we associate with miracles.

2. Superman has little to be afraid of, which makes the courage question more interesting than it might appear at first blush. It's easy to say Superman possesses super-bravery, but it could simply be that his casual confidence has more to do with his awareness of his own invulnerability than with "being afraid and saddling up, anyway." What could possibly frighten Superman? I'm not talking about Superman's being frightened on behalf of others; I consider that a given, a trait inscribed in his compassionate nature. No—what interests me is what thing or event could possibly instill the sort of atavistic fear that a normal person might feel when confronting a great white shark in the murky deeps. Until I find an answer to this question, I can't comment intelligently on Superman's level of courage.

Joss Whedon may already have explored this issue for me, though. During the writers' strike of several years ago, Whedon gathered a group of stars and created a hilarious musical, "Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog," starring Neil Patrick Harris as Doctor Horrible, a wannabe evil villain, and Nathan Fillion (in self-parodic overdrive) as a conceited superhero named Captain Hammer* who, by the end of the musical, receives his first taste of true pain when Dr. Horrible's superweapon explodes in his hand. The event sends Captain Hammer into a blubbering, regressive spiral; he eventually has to undergo therapy. Up until that catastrophe, Captain Hammer threw himself into danger with aplomb. Once he tasted true danger, however, he went fetal. Would Superman be any different? Whedon's answer might be "no."

3. Superman's love for humanity, and his sense of duty toward it, stems from his childhood. It can never be a love among kindred beings, though, since Superman is an alien. While Superman may be outwardly human, his inner workings are a literally impenetrable mystery. Still, we can note with confidence that Superman's love for humankind is unquestioned. Having been adopted by earthling parents and possessing a human-like emotional makeup, Superman will have grown up feeling a sense of belonging with human beings.

4. Does Superman possess messianic potential? His father Jor-El seems to think so: "[Humans] lack only the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son." The recent trailers for "Man of Steel" contain a Jor-El voiceover (Russell Crowe instead of Marlon Brando) that says something remarkably similar: "You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive for. They will race behind you; they will stumble; they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun." If this doesn't smack of imitatio christi, I don't know what does. Jor-El, at least, sees his son becoming a global leader. It might be interesting to see a film that explores the more political dimensions of Superman's calling. Because he's effectively immortal and practically omnipotent, Superman could easily set himself up as Earth's eternal benevolent dictator (and he could double as the enforcing army!). Jewish messianism also envisions the mashiach as a terrestrial political leader, not as a Jesus-like cosmic being who returns in clouds of glory to institute a greater order.

5. Now we get to a crucial issue: does Superman follow a via dolorosa? I have no idea what the new film might have in store for us, but based on previous films, it's not obvious to me that anything short of kryptonite can cause Superman any hurt or injury. Not knowing the entirety of the Superman mythos, I'll venture a "no" to this question. Superman strikes me as too strong and impervious to suffer as Christ supposedly suffered.

6. Does Superman possess a sense of mission? Oh, yes—as surely as he possesses an all-encompassing compassion for humanity. Jor-El taught his son well: Superman sees himself as all the Avengers wrapped up in one—Earth's mightiest hero.

7. The Wikipedia article, quoted above, makes mention of Superman's "resurrection," but I've never seen this on film, nor in any of the few scattered Superman comics I may have glanced at in my youth. It's hard to imagine Superman dying, much less coming back to life. Frank Miller takes a stab at this notion in his 1980s-era The Dark Knight Returns: Superman is brought low by a Soviet nuke codenamed Coldbringer, which blots out the sun and renders Superman a skeletal weakling. Superman drags himself to an immense jungle and, through some mysterious process, absorbs the solar energy contained within the jungle's biomass, thereby reconstituting himself. (This begs the question of why Superman isn't similarly weakened every single night, since the entire Earth, and not just a fallout-filled sky, blocks Superman from the sun.)

In all, with four out of seven definite "yes"es for the above criteria, I think it's probable that Superman can be read as a Christ-figure, albeit just barely. He lacks the ability to truly suffer or fear or sustain injury, which makes him more of a docetic Christ** than the Christ of traditional mainstream Christianity, but his personal history follows a recognizably christic trajectory. Still, it must be asked... will Superman, can Superman, die for our sins? Fat chance.

*I had originally called him "Hammer Man," but Mike writes in with a "correction": he's actually Captain Hammer. True, but as I point out in the comments, he's addressed as "Hammer Man" by one of the principals ("Thank you, Hammer Man"). Nevertheless, after some thought, I've changed "Hammer Man" to "Captain Hammer" in deference to how the character is listed in the credits.

**The heresy of docetism (which comes from a Greek word meaning "to seem," implying illusion) claims that the Christ did not truly suffer and die on the cross: being purely God, Jesus was incapable of such suffering and death. Whatever corpus was upon the cross was (depending on the form of docetism) either illusory or so utterly divine as to be impervious to suffering. In all probability, docetism was rejected as a heresy because it made a sham of the crucifixion event. Muslim christology might be considered docetic, as Muslims generally maintain that Jesus did not really suffer and die upon the cross, but was "taken up" by God.