Friday, March 31, 2017

economic tragedies

The collapse of Venezuela continues, with Maduro now having dissolved his legislature:

Socialism has ruined Brazil:

21.7K steps

Thursday, March 30, 2017

what is poetry in translation like?

I just reviewed "Paterson," a movie about the poetry that infuses life, even at its most mundane. I mentioned, in my review, how Paterson, the protagonist, finds himself seated next to a Japanese man near the end of the story. This man is visiting Paterson, New Jersey, to find out more about William Carlos Williams, a poet who lived in the city and who wrote an epic poem titled Paterson. The tourist is also himself a poet, it turns out, and he has a copy of Paterson with him. The book contains both the original English and a Japanese translation, to which the man wryly remarks:

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

I suspect this is particularly true when you're translating poetry from a Western language to an Eastern one. It's less true when you are, say, translating a poem from English to French or vice versa: you're helped by the similarities in grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and even cultural assumptions, which very often express themselves in similar idioms (avoir plusieurs fers au feu = a literal translation of "having several irons in the fire," for example; the French idiom means exactly the same thing as the English one). I once translated some Kahlil Gibran into French for my French friends, inviting them to compare my translation to an "official" translation, and my friends said they preferred mine, which was a kind compliment. My translation was, in many respects, merely a word-for-word rendering, however—not hard to do. Translating Gibran into Japanese or Korean would be much more challenging, I suspect, and in the end, after the inevitable semantic distortion, reading Gibran in an Eastern language would probably be very much like showering with a raincoat on.

"Paterson": two-paragraph review

Jim Jarmusch is a director of dramas who hates drama. His latest film, "Paterson," is a quiet exploration of poetic reality infusing prosaic lives. The movie's cast includes Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, William Jackson Harper, Chasten Harmon, Barry Shabaka Henley, Kara Hayward, Masatoshi Nagase, and Method Man (apparently as himself). The movie is recursive and symbolic: for instance, Adam Driver plays a bus driver named Paterson who lives and works in Paterson, New Jersey; Paterson writes poetry in his spare time, and one of his favorite poets is William Carlos Williams, who lived in Paterson and once wrote a massive epic poem titled Paterson. See what I mean about recursive? The fusion of the poetic and the prosaic is the movie's fundamental theme; the narrative is structured like a poem, with many gentle repetitions and recurrences in an otherwise ordinary life. The story has few moments of actual tension and conflict, almost as if Jarmusch were aiming to create the world's first drama-free drama. Stolid, stoic Paterson the bus driver is married to beautiful, sunny Laura (Farahani), an artistic soul who dreams of both running her own cupcake bakery and becoming a country-music star. She's supportive of Paterson's poetry, which he jots into a notebook whenever he has a free moment—poetry that is mainly observations of daily life and the little things. Laura's art, when she's designing curtains or cupcake patterns, tends to be either squiggles or circles: the nonlinear and the cyclical, two major tropes in the film. Eager to see her husband's work published, Laura makes Paterson promise to go to a copy shop and get his notebook of poetry copied—a first step to having the poems published "to share with the world." Paterson's routine varies little from day to day, and we cycle through a week that goes from Monday to Monday: Paterson wakes up next to Laura, eats cereal, arrives early at his bus, scribbles parts of a poem, talks with his beleaguered Indian-American foreman, drives the bus, comes home, walks the dog, visits the local bar during his walk, drinks a single beer, then goes home. I'm still not clear on when he eats dinner, but he somehow manages to squeeze dinner in. Laura is generally a good cook, but sometimes she breaks Paterson's harmonious routine when she introduces some new culinary idea that falls flat, like her cheese-and-Brussels-sprouts pie, which Paterson gamely downs while drinking copious amounts of water. But Laura, as a dreamer, seems on occasion to be a prophet: early on, she tells Paterson that she has dreamed of their children, who will be twins. From then on, Paterson encounters pair after pair of twins: another eruption of the poetic into the prosaic.

I should have liked this film more than I did; the narrative structure alone is fascinating in that, the more you think about it, the more complexity it reveals despite being so deceptively simple on the surface. But that aspect of the film possesses an appeal that is only intellectual, the way I find electronica intellectually interesting (because it's so explicitly mathematical) but ultimately dull and sterile. Director Jarmusch gives us only a few grudging drops of drama: Paterson is in the bar when his lovelorn acquaintance Everett (Harper) pulls out a gun and threatens to kill himself; Paterson grabs the gun and immobilizes Everett, but the gun turns out to be a Nerf-bullet shooter. On another day, Paterson's bus breaks down, but we don't see how the situation is resolved. Any drama in the film is undercut, either through a kind of irony (foam bullets) or through editing (not showing us the bus-breakdown resolution). The film's biggest tragedy occurs when something terrible happens to Paterson's notebook of poetry, but this is followed by a near-mystical scene in which Paterson, sitting on a bench and staring at a waterfall (itself a recurrent trope), meets a Japanese traveler who gives Paterson a gift that compensates, at least partly, for the notebook tragedy. It's all very beautiful, but despite the deft blending of themes and metaphors, despite the excellent acting by all of the cast (Driver and Farahani have a weird but pleasant chemistry), "Paterson" left me rather empty. Oh, I forgot to mention that, whenever Paterson writes poems in his notebook, we see his words on the screen and hear Paterson reciting his verse in voiceover...and the poetry is plain horrible. This may, in fact, have been the film's biggest turn-off. I don't mind that Paterson's poetry is free, blank verse, but Jesus, where's the eloquence?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

them bones

Disappointment and embarrassment as salvage crews and the ROK government announced they had found bones in the now-recovered wreckage of the ferry Sewol... only for the bones to turn out to be porcine. I'm not optimistic that much of anything human is going to be found at this point: it's been three years, and if the current in that part of the ocean is as strong as people say it is, there's little likelihood that human remains will still be around. That's a pity for families looking for some sense of closure.

"A Monster Calls": one-paragraph review

Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?

Why do I do this to myself? I watched "A Monster Calls" last night, and it was godawful depressing, but despite my tears and tight throat, I appreciated the way the movie used symbol and narrative to convey harsh truths about the world. Based on a kids' novel by Patrick Ness, directed by JA Bayona, and starring Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, and Liam Neeson, "A Monster Calls" is the story of a tween boy named Conor (MacDougall) who has a dying mother (Jones), a strict grandmother (Weaver, with an awkwardly muddled British accent), and problems at school in the form of a bully named Harry (James Melville). With his life crashing all around him, Conor mentally conjures a massive, tree-like monster (Neeson) who always appears at exactly seven minutes after midnight. The monster informs Conor that he will relate three tales, after which Conor must tell the monster a fourth tale—one in which Conor faces his recurring nightmare (of losing his mother at a yawning pit that opens up in a graveyard) and utters the truth at the heart of the nightmare. Facing trouble at school, Conor also faces trouble at home with the arrival of his prickly grandmother. He finds some relief when hanging with his visiting father (Toby Kebbell), who now lives in Los Angeles after having divorced Lizzie, Conor's mother. But even the time Conor spends with his father goes sour as the prospect of Lizzie's death approaches. The monster's tales are of little help: they espouse a moral view of the universe in which injustice is the natural way of things: a murderer can get away with his crime and become a good ruler; a selfish apothecary can allow a pastor's daughters to die, yet still be called just; a man considered invisible by those around him can conjure his own monster and turn violent. "A Monster Calls" is about how a boy deals with grief in the face of his mother's terminal illness, which is why I found the film depressing: the story hits close to home. At the same time, I admired the film's lack of coddling: the monster speaks monstrous truths, through his narratives, about the real harshness of the world, and when he finally gets Conor to shout the confession at the heart of his nightmare (I'll let you guess what it is), the moment has the force of a breakthrough during a psychotherapy session. This is, after all, one of the things that the monster symbolizes: it's an ambulatory yew tree—Groot meets Ent—and yews are known for their healing properties. The monster, despite its terrible aspect, brings a boon along with its banes. Its very nature embodies the paradoxes of the truths the monster wishes to convey to Conor—that beauty and horror, good and evil, death and life are all wrapped up in each other. It's a shame that such a well-acted, visually beautiful movie made zero profit at the box office ($43 million budget, $43 million earned worldwide); as morality tales go, it's actually an excellent one for kids to see, assuming they're old and sophisticated enough to begin to understand the issues surrounding death and dying, and how the lessons learned from tragedy can be applied to how one lives.

One-sentence summary:
A troubled boy with a dying mom receives tough-love psychotherapy from an imaginary humanoid tree that simultaneously symbolizes destructive rage and inner healing.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Gord Sellar's "Prodigal": review

Gord Sellar is what I call an "e-friend." This means he and I are friendly acquaintances who have never met face to face, but who know each other through blogs and through occasional online correspondence. Gord is a teacher, but I suspect he'd rather be thought of as a writer first. He blogs—only rarely these days, as he's a husband and dad with a job—at, but he also churns out a variety of works, mostly science fiction, that are often published in magazines and hardcover anthologies. If I'm not mistaken, he's won awards for his writing. I caught a recent announcement on his blog saying that his short story "Prodigal" was now available, at least temporarily, for free as a PDF, so I downloaded it and started reading it last night, just as I was leaving the office.

That was a mistake. I ended up delaying my nighttime walk in order to finish the story, which is perhaps the best compliment I can give any writer. If your story interests me enough to make me put off any important, intended action—like eating dinner or going home—it must be pretty damn good. And Gord is a pretty damn good writer.

"Prodigal" is set in the near future. The main wrinkle is that house pets can undergo a procedure called "sentientization" that alters and enhances their brains and reshapes their speech organs so that they're capable of higher-level cognition and have the ability to express their thoughts as humans do. Tim, our narrator and the family patriarch, relates the story of how he and his wife Jennifer rewired their dog Benji because they couldn't have a child. Benji, surgically and neurochemically enhanced, picks up language at a frightening rate, and things go well with him at first, even after Jennifer surprises Tim with the announcement that she has successfully gotten pregnant with little Martin.

The situation begins to curdle when Benji, whose consciousness is expanding at the same rate as his linguistic ability, comes to realize, and then resent, his standing as a mere house pet—not sharing the same food, not being permitted to use the same facilities, not enjoying the same status and privileges as humans despite becoming more and more human—at least in certain ways—every day. As Gord's story rolls on, this problem becomes increasingly acute, and it turns out that what's happening to Benji is part of a much larger, more sinister picture. I won't spoil the rest; go visit Gord's blog post and download his story while you still can.

Let's get the criticisms out of the way first so we can focus on the many things the story gets right. I found myself disagreeing almost immediately with the term "sentientization" as a descriptor of the procedure that Benji and other pets undergo. There are several competing definitions of sentience—self-awareness is one, and the ability to perceive and feel is another, to name just two—but no matter the definition, cats and dogs are already sentient, as any Buddhist will tell you: they emote, they suffer, they have inner lives. A different term, like "sentience enhancement" (which would also have emphasized the arrogant speciesism inherent in the idea of bringing house pets "up to speed" with humans), might have been better. Then again, it could be that Gord intended the term as a deliberate or even ironic misnomer, one that unpleasantly implies that cats and dogs, before undergoing the enhancement procedure, are non-sentient things.

And while I realize that a short story can engage in only so much world-building, I would have liked to know more about the society that Tim and Jennifer inhabit. It's obviously a world with sapient pets (the tension contained within that two-word phrase is, I think, the central theme of Gord's story: to what extent can something sapient be considered a pet?), and while the multimedia technology confusingly includes DVDs (which, in our world, are rapidly fading into obsolescence), television has evolved into a kind of smell-o-vision, presumably to engage dogs and cats more deeply in the viewing experience. In this world, sapient animals serve as police officers, but strangely, Tim seems surprised by this, just as he's surprised by the canine announcer on TV who speaks perfect, unaccented English. It's almost as if this world of smart animals has suddenly appeared around Tim, catching him off-guard. How could Tim have been unaware of the massive degree to which this technology had changed society? Tim doesn't strike me as a blinkered navel-gazer. This is an aspect of the story's world-building that I'd like to have clarified. I realize it's possible that Tim's awareness of the smart-animal world might have everything to do with taking his own dog in to have the sentientization done (just as, after you buy your own Honda, you're suddenly aware of all the Hondas on the road), but such a rationale feels like a stretch. That said, it's to Gord's credit that he did enough world-building to make me curious to explore his world more deeply.

Perhaps the biggest critique of the story, though, is that it uncomfortably parallels 2011's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." The notion of "lower" life forms medically gaining human-level cognitive abilities (and commensurately sophisticated emotional makeups)—with Benji even having the equivalent of Caesar the ape's iconic "NO!" moment—has been explored before. I came to this insight slowly while I was reading Gord's story. At first, I caught whiffs of "Flowers for Algernon," but then I realized this was really "Planet of the Hounds." Gord's story is clearly beholden to earlier stories that have trod similar paths.

So now, let's focus on what Gord got right. First, there's the matter of the prose, which flows beautifully. Gord is a clear writer; his diction carries a certain dignity that isn't flowery or pretentious. Tim is our narrator, and Gord's writing style allows us to inhabit Tim's headspace quite easily. Gord's rendering of Benji's evolving speaking ability is also a clever device for measuring time throughout the story: you know that months have passed when Benji finally speaks to Tim in startlingly perfect idiomatic English.

Second, there's the story itself. I had the feeling, going into "Prodigal," that this might turn from an idyll into a terror tale, and it did, kind of. I appreciate how Gord structured the plot, giving us an intravenous drip of dawning horror as we begin to see the implications of making your faithful dog too smart for its own good. And here's something I especially enjoyed about the story: Gord managed to avoid the trap that catches many SF writers in that he didn't make this primarily a morality tale about science gone mad. Carl Sagan used to complain that so many "science"-related stories involved mad scientists, to wit: unethical people on an insane quest to develop something that would ultimately destroy the world in a firestorm of egoistic hubris. In the world of Gord's story, we don't learn the history of pet-sentientization: the procedure is simply a given, which means the ethical debate about smartening up your pets is long over and is seen by human society as a net good. All of that history is implied in Gord's story thanks to the givenness of the technology.

Third, there are the fascinatingly meaty themes Gord is tackling. Foremost among these themes is the interrelationship between and among sentience, personhood, and rights. Along those lines, there might almost be a "Battlestar Galactica" parallel: humanity creates a class of beings equal to itself, and that creation has come to rebel against its creators. Pets in Gord's world aren't slaves the way the Cylons were in "Battlestar Galactica," but pets are, at best, second-class citizens who, despite their boosted IQs, still receive humiliating swats on the nose for improper behavior. Gord's story also touches on the theme of family: canine Benji is a surrogate son until human Martin comes along and essentially supplants Benji. Tim and Jennifer try to explain to Benji that Martin has to sleep in a human bed and has to eat human food, but as time goes on, and as Benji hears dissenting rhetoric from other disgruntled dogs, those explanations begin to sound increasingly hollow.

Finally, there's the simple fact that Gord's story is gripping. All my critiques aside, I found "Prodigal" to be engagingly readable, and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in philosophical questions of personhood... or to people who simply like sinister talking dogs. Expertly written, deep without being preachy or ornate, and a real page-turner to boot, "Prodigal" will make you ponder the semantic echoes of its one-word title.

the sign

I love how the sign pictured below starts off with a bit of English as a nod to the foreigners, then neglects to convey the essential information in English. It would have been better not to have any English at all on the sign (although a sunny optimist would take comfort in knowing what the sign was about, if nothing else).

This is emblematic of how Koreans communicate: they love to talk, but with disturbing consistency, they somehow neglect to convey the most essential information. This happens all the time: a loved one has a terminal disease, but the doctor isn't forthright with the patient about his or her condition; a supervisor from another department suddenly tells your department that a project must be completed weeks earlier than first discussed; your monthly pay date gets switched without notification, and it's only when you complain that your supervisor suddenly says, "Whoops, forgot to mention the campus-wide switch in pay dates." Or this one: your date tells you to meet her at Building X, which she says is "right next to" Building Y (where you are), but it turns out that her notion of "next to" really means "you need to walk a quarter mile thataway."*

*You might argue that that last example isn't a case of neglecting essential information, but is instead a case of mistaken or incorrect information. I say that the required info went missing in that case just as much as in the other cases.

Walk Thoughts #19: 20.1K steps

Keeping in mind that my walk with Brian two weekends ago was around 28K steps, all told, tonight's walk, which passed the 20K-step mark, wasn't that much shorter, yet resulted in no toe pain and no blisters. I have a theory as to why.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Walk Thoughts #18: date update

My boss at the Golden Goose is getting antsy about the travel dates for my peninsular walk. I had originally suggested May 8th to the 28th to him, and he hadn't said much except for a vague grunt about those dates' acceptability. Now, several weeks later, the boss has a clearer picture of what lies ahead, publishing-wise, and he wants me back in the office well before the end of May, so the 28th is no longer viable. We renegotiated my walk dates today, and I now have a longer window during which to walk, but the dates have been shifted: April 24 to May 22. This gives me nearly a month to do my walk, which ensures I'll be done with days to spare. Lately, as I stare at the relevant maps, I've been thinking that 23 days won't be enough: 25 days will be closer to what I'll need. Some of those stretches along the Nakdong River, at the very end, look long, indeed, between certification stations. I might be able to straddle such distances in a single day, but at the cost of walking several hours more than anticipated. If at all possible, I don't want to walk more than seven hours per day.

The major problem with starting much earlier is that this cuts down on training time, but I suppose I'll just have to make do. I'm behind on my training, anyway, so I'm already making compromises with the schedule I had laid out.

testing reality in France

If we learned anything from the 2016 election, it's never trust the polls. Polls are saturated with bias that soaks deep into the data-gathering methodology, which is how a site like Nate Silver's could end up so spectacularly wrong about Trumpenhill. But does this hard-won wisdom apply beyond the American situation to places like France? The French can be frustratingly nonlinear and far more exceptionalist than Americans can be, which may itself be a reason not to trust current polling in France. According to many French surveys, Marine Le Pen is en tête de queue for the first round of the French presidential election in April, but those same polls are saying she'll be losing big in the second-round elections in May (by May 7, election day, I'll be a few days into my walk, but I'll try to stay current via cell phone). I really have to wonder how valid the second-round prediction is, especially in the wake of failed predictions about both Brexit and Trump.*

We'll see soon enough. The first round is barely a month away. As the monkey said when it laid its tail across the train tracks: "Won't be long now."

*If you reply that there's also reason to question the validity of the first-round prediction, well, I'd agree. After all, anything goes.

you cannot unsee this

Saw the above image on Gab, with a link to here.

The image was paired with a John Muir quote:

In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.

I suggest you open another tab in your browser, queue up a Byron Talbott cooking video on YouTube, then stare at the above image while listening to Talbott cook.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

goodbye, Rockports

When I bought my Rockports way back in, oh, 2011 or so, they set me back nearly $80. They fit perfectly on the first try and never needed to be broken in. I wore them faithfully for years, and recently, I wrote about getting them repaired.

And now they're gone.

Perhaps this is my fault, but I think the fucker who actually threw my shoes out is more at fault than I am. I had originally brought my New Balance walking shoes to work in a plastic shopping bag in order to take them out to the shoe guy up the street during lunch. While I was with the shoe guy, he insisted on making me wear my New Balances to show me how different they would feel once the insoles had been removed. I had no choice but to take off my Rockports and stuff them into the plastic shopping bag.

I wore my New Balances the rest of the day, and because I had been planning to walk that night, I left my old, battered Rockports—still in the shopping bag—next to my desk, thinking I would take them back home the following day. The next day came... no Rockports. Because I know my memory often plays tricks on me, I sat and thought hard about whether I had perhaps taken my shoes home with me the night before, but that was impossible: I had gone for a walk without the extra encumbrance of those shoes. The only possible explanation for my shoes' disappearance was that the old guy who cleans our office at night had seen the bag next to my desk, assumed it was garbage, and thrown the shoes out.

So I wrote a note in Korean and left it where the cleaning guy would see it. The note basically said, "The shoes you threw away were NOT garbage. If possible, PLEASE get the shoes back to me." I went home and checked around my place to see whether my shoes had somehow ended up in my apartment... nope. Nada. I hadn't hallucinated.

The following morning, I got an apologetic note in return, which somewhat disingenuously said that my shoes had been placed "in the garbage" (which wasn't true), so the guy had thrown the shoes out. The reply note went on to say that the cleaning guy had tried to look for my shoes, but they had already been taken away. The note finished with a promise never to make that mistake again. I bitterly noted that the custodian had misspelled "sorry" ("재송합니다"). A man who can't properly spell "sorry" probably shouldn't be expected to tell garbage from not-garbage. Perhaps this was all my fault, after all.

I'm upset to lose such a nice pair of shoes. Those old Rockports were the right width for my feet, whereas my new Rockports need some stretching. It feels as though nearly a hundred bucks went down the drain, but then again, those shoes were—apologies for the pun—on their last legs. I'm just glad that the guy hadn't thrown away my new pair of Rockports.

Anyway, lesson learned: if I leave an important bag on the floor in my office, I'd better tag it as NOT GARBAGE, or it'll get chucked out by our clueless custodian.


Walk Thoughts #17: all but two

As far as items I can find in Korea go, I have only two things left on my shopping list. Yesterday and today, I got my first-aid kit, a surprisingly cheap tent footprint, a multitool (which I convinced myself I needed to buy, but might not actually need on the trail*), new cell batteries (sold somewhat under the counter), and a portable cell-battery charger that can charge a phone three times before the charger itself needs to be recharged.

The only two items left for me to buy are that damn hanging scale (the scale store was closed today, and I was too late to go there yesterday) and those reflector strips, which proved amazingly hard to find in both the Jongno and Euljiro districts.

One good point about today's shopping trip was that I got discounts. The tent footprint was tagged at W35,000; I got it for a cool W17,000, which is more than reasonable for an item that often retails in the States for anywhere between $30 and $60. The multitool was listed at W45,000, but the seller gave it to me for W40,000. I'm glad I got those discounts because the dude at Jeonja Land gave me no discounts at all for the cell batteries and portable charger.

I may pop out to Jongno early tomorrow morning to visit the scale store before going to work. Whoever runs that store is a lazy bastard: every time I've tried to go there, the store has been closed, either because it was after 4PM or because it was Sunday.

*One guy I spoke with in 2008 told me that, from his outdoors experience, a multitool was more useful to him than a knife was. I had brought a combat knife and a pocketknife along with me in 2008; the combat knife proved utterly useless, but the pocketknife came in handy on multiple occasions. A multitool is like a pocketknife, but its main function is as pliers.

the Styxhexenhammer666 drinking game

If you're a regular viewer of the Styxhexenhammer666 channel, as I seem to have become, you'll have noticed that Styx (whose real name is apparently Tarl) is generally a well-spoken individual, but he's not perfect: among his verbal quirks are (1) a tendency to mispronounce certain words or expressions, and (2) a tendency to overuse—or at least to reuse—certain pet phrases, some of which are rather idiosyncratic. So why not make a drinking game out of these verbal tics, right?


You'll need three degrees of alcohol: beer, some midrange drink, and very high-end booze (i.e., super-strong and super-expensive). Let's call these, from weakest to strongest, First Degree, Second Degree, and Third Degree.

Next, you and your group will need to watch one of Styx's most recent videos so that none of you knows what's going to come out of Styx's mouth. If you go back through Styx's video archive, you might already know the content well enough to know what's going to be said.


Take a drink of First Degree whenever you hear any of the following:

"something like that"
"something along those lines"
"things of that nature"
"how in the hell"
"why in the hell"
"fuck" or "fucking"
"neo-con" or "neo-cons"
"shill," "shills," or "shilling"
any rhetorical question beginning with "What" or "Why" or "Do you (really) think"
any mention of Rand Paul (sometimes mentioned simply as "Rand")
any mention of "John McLame"

Take a drink of Second Degree whenever you hear any of the following:

"overarcing" (when Styx means "overarching")
"the gig is up" (when Styx means "the jig is up")
"Angela Merkel" pronounced incorrectly with a soft "g"
"figger," "figgering," or "figgered" instead of "figure" (dialect)
misusing the word "denigrate" (which means "criticize, belittle, disparage," not "damage" or "undermine," as Styx often uses the word)

Take a drink of Third Degree whenever you hear any of the following:

"a shit-fuck" (do not drink First Degree because of the "fuck" in "shit-fuck")
any moment when Styx says "Mmm" after drinking something on camera

When you finish one video, queue up another and keep playing until one of you vomits and/or faints. This person is the first loser. The winner of the game is the last one not to puke or faint.

(This is all in good fun, Styx. We all have verbal quirks.)

crispy lasagna

I'm not the biggest fan of Byron Talbott and his frou-frou recipes that often seem like the opposite of comfort food, but this looks undeniably good:

I was surprised that the lasagna noodles could withstand the baking and still remain crispy, despite all the sauce and cheese.

(Try not to snicker at the porn music.)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

La belle et la bête

The live-action version of "Beauty and the Beast" is out in Korea, but I have no particular desire to see it. I've heard it's going to crush the American box office, yet somehow, I'm just not interested. I never saw the cartoon version, either, and I can't say that my life has felt incomplete as a result. If I recall correctly, there was once a TV-movie version of the story in which George C. Scott played the Beast, with fangs and a piggy nose. I did see that version, but I no longer remember much of it, except for a moment in which the lady rejects a blue rose offered by the Beast, justifying her objection with the bizarre (for me at the time, before I understood how women can use words to flay and wound) claim that "blue is an ugly color." (For those of us who have forgotten the 70s-era production: YouTube to the rescue.)

Sorry, Emma Watson, but you'll have to soldier on without my patronage. I don't hate you or the story; I'm simply not interested.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Walk Thoughts #16: final purchases

With thanks again to my on-base benefactor Abel Magwitch, I've got two boxes of MREs coming, along with a "map pen" for measuring distances on a map. I've also got one final round of things to buy here in Korea, and those things are:

1. a "footprint" for my bivy sack (I might make one if I can't find a cheap one to buy)
2. a standard first-aid kit, which the local Costco sells (last I checked, anyway)
3. a portable cell-phone charger and 2 cell batteries
4. a hanging scale for luggage
5. a set of reflector strips for safety

I'll stroll through the Jongno/Euljiro districts to see about that footprint. Camp stores in Korea might or might not sell footprints separately, but everything here is far more expensive than in the States. I've seen some sites offering tutorials on DIY footprints, so I might just go that route, or I might simply buy some 6-mil plastic sheeting and cut it to size.

The first-aid kit should be easy to obtain: that's a Costco purchase, unless the kits have rotated out of stock for the season. I don't think they'll have disappeared, though: I've seen trekking poles on the warehouse shelves month after month, regardless of the season, and I think the shelf-logic will extend to other camping/outdoors-related items.

The cell batteries and portable charger will be a Yongsan Jeonja Land purchase. There are apparently service centers, close to where I live, that sell the phone batteries, but I suspect Jeonja Land will be cheaper overall, especially if I buy two batteries plus the charger from the same seller. When you buy several items, negotiating the price downward is a bit easier.

I'm taking a gamble with the hanging scale, as I'm assuming that that scale store—the one that was closed when I learned about it last time—actually has what I'm looking for. I may end up walking away with an analog version of the scale.

Then there are the reflector strips. Where to buy those...? Probably the Jongno/Euljiro area again, but also any of the big stores that have a sports/outdoors section in them: E-Mart, Home Plus, etc. I won't need the strips for walking at night, although nighttime walks are possible if things go terribly awry. No, the reflector strips are more to protect myself whenever I'm inside a tunnel, as I know will happen at several points throughout the walk: some of these tunnels will be bike-only, which isn't so bad, but other tunnels will have cars going through them, and I'm not sure whether those tunnels will also have pedestrian walkways. Here's hoping they do. Or, hey: if a place is selling those nifty reflector triangles, I might slap one or more on my backpack and wear another one on my front, hanging it from a cord like a rapper with his obnoxious bling. Please don't mow me down.

I'll be engaging in this final paroxysm of shopping tomorrow, i.e., Saturday. If I do get the hanging scale, I'll be using it to weigh my fully prepped backpack, at which point I'll have a better idea as to what can stay on the walk and what must go. I'm shooting for a total pack weight of 35 pounds (15.9 kg), not including water, which can be up to another 7 or so pounds (my CamelBak ripoff holds 3.5 liters). Even with the near-gallon of water, the encumbrance is going to be much lighter than the 60 pounds (27.2 kg) I'd carried on my big walk—a reflection of hard lessons learned on the road in 2008.

"break a leg"

Hilarious news from the skating world: ex-Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi tweeted encouragement to fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, ending her tweet with "break a leg," a poor choice of words given the 1994 attack on Kerrigan, in which assailant Shane Stant struck Kerrigan's knee with a police baton. The Twitterverse apparently erupted at Yamaguchi's gaffe, but Yamaguchi hasn't yet deleted her tweet, probably because she and Kerrigan are friends, and Kerrigan is sensible enough to know what Yamaguchi meant.

put your misery in perspective

Think you're having a bad day? Well, toughen up, buttercup. I guarantee that your day wasn't as bad as this poor bastard's.

Pic found here. I've put this up as much for my own benefit as for yours. Very, very little in life is as bad as having a bull's horn shoved up your πρωκτος.

dredging up bad memories

The big news coming out of South Korea is that the Chinese company Shanghai Salvage has raised the remains of the Sewol, the ferry that infamously sank in 2014, killing around 300 people, most of whom were young students. Nine people are still listed as missing from that horrible incident; there may be some hope that their remains will be found in the ship, but I'm not optimistic. The disaster occurred in April, so it's been almost three years, which is plenty of time for a body to disintegrate, especially underwater, with abundant sea life. If remains are found, though, I suppose such a finding might provide a sense of closure, however painful, for families who have waited all this time to learn the fates of their loved ones.

Personally, I'm curious as to why Korea hired out to China to get this salvage done. Does Korea not have its own equipment? Would it have been too expensive for Korea to do its own salvage? This older article talks about the hiring of Shanghai Salvage while skirting the reasons why a Chinese firm was hired in the first place. Interestingly, the article says the salvage company will "give top priority to the complete recovery of the remains of the nine missing passengers." I wish the salvage crew good luck with that.

UPDATE: a possible answer to my question can be found in this article, which notes that who would conduct the salvage was determined through a bidding process that included Korean salvage companies. Judgment criteria included the salvage tech on offer and the salvage company's asking price. Conclusion: this is nothing for me to fret about.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

test lunch 3

Dessert: granola with blueberries and milk. This tasted about as ordinary as it sounds, but I reserve special praise for whatever powdered milk it is that Mountain House uses: it didn't taste like typical powdered milk at all. There was no processed aspect that got in the way of the impression that this was simply granola, blueberries, and natural milk.

test lunch 2

Behold: chicken and noodles. It sure looks as if there's a hell of a lot of chicken, doesn't it? The chicken began life as freeze-dried meat, each chunk light as a feather, so when the hot water hit the package contents, all the chicken pieces floated to the top, obscuring the pasta. After ten minutes' waiting, the chicken-and-noodles dish was ready to go, and it tasted as good as I'd thought it would. A gravy had formed, and the chicken had reconstituted itself to the point where each chunk, when bitten into, felt like natural meat. The pasta was a bit softer than al dente after the ten-minute soak, but still hearty and good. The contours of the bag dovetailed well with my spoon, allowing me to scrape out all the little stray orts of meat and noodle and sauce. Sadly, the whole thing was gone in a few minutes, but the meal left me satiated.

test lunch 1

I have hiking food to spare, so I thought I'd test out some Mountain House freeze-dried today. The prep is easy: a pint of hot water into the chicken and noodles, then stir and seal; a half-cup of cold water into the blueberry granola, then stir and seal. Wait about ten minutes in both cases (depending on the bag, wait time can vary from 8 to 12 minutes; 10 is a good average).

If Mountain House ever asked me to be a paid shill for their food, I'd say yes in a heartbeat, for such is my belief in its quality. I like these meals a hell of a lot more than I like MREs, even though MREs are more filling (1200-1500 calories for a single MRE; about 650 calories for a 2.5-serving pack of Mountain House dinner). My only reproach is that the stated serving sizes are a joke; each 2.5-serving bag holds barely a single serving of food for a growing Kevin. It's enough to quell the hunger pangs, but not enough to put me into digestive slumber.

Each bag of food weighs a bit more or a bit less than 5 ounces (142 g), respectively—easy to carry in a backpack. Water shouldn't be an issue, although there will be many moments when the trail will either go up a mountain or pull away from whatever river it's following.

Am looking forward to lunch. As the package says, I'll be savoring the adventure.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


I guess no one caught the visual pun because no one commented on it:

Bark. Goon. Hay.

A now-ex-president.

(I wondered whether I should've used "gun" instead of "goon.")

More equally awful puns coming soon.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Walk Thoughts #15: gear

With sincere thanks to Abel Magwitch, my benefactor-on-base, for collecting my ordered items, here is the first round of hiking/camping gear that I got from Amazon and REI. Click on the pic to enlarge; right-click and "view image in new tab" to see at full size.

Let's walk through the items you're looking at. Ignore the Costco bag in the back.

Starting from the left:

Dark-grey convertible hiking pants (you can zipper off the legs to make shorts, and the pants' material doesn't darken when wet—one reason why I've long loved this particular brand of hiking pants) sit atop a bucket of scrumptious Mountain House freeze-dried meals. I'll be taking only a few of those meals with me; as you recall, I'll be eating actual, substantive, rib-sticking meals only every other day, and I'll be taking along a combination of MREs, Soylent, Survival Tabs, and Mountain House freeze-dried meals.

Moving rightward and inward:

The large, white box is full of Soylent, and those powder packs are heavy. Each pack weighs nearly a pound (15 ounces, or 425 grams). I don't see myself taking more than one of those bags along with me. Taking two would be insane, especially since MREs are going to be both heavy and bulky. In terms of prandial enjoyment, I rank Survival Tabs lowest (they taste like congealed powdered milk because they're mostly milk solids; I tried some already). Next up the flavor totem pole is Soylent, followed by MREs, which at least have the virtue of being recognizable food. At the top are the Mountain House meals, which are lightweight and, when mealtime comes around, super-easy to prepare. Survival Tabs—I'll take four tablets to replace a single meal—will be what I eat on non-meal days so that I don't simply starve. I'll be taking seven or eight Mountain House meals plus two or three MREs, plus a bag of Soylent and two bags of Survival Tabs. I definitely won't starve.

Moving on:

Next up, we've got my foam roll in the back: that'll be my camp mattress, insulating me from the cold ground, which is what spongy stuff is good for. In front of the foam roll, you see the long, cylindrical Grayl purification system, which I'm eager to try out over at the Yangjae creek in a few days. The large orange cartridges are the filtration system itself: one for the Grayl cup, one as a spare, which I probably won't need to take along with me since a single filter is supposed to last for several hundred French-pressings.* To the right of the orange Grayl filters, you see my super-simple Coleman mess kit, 75% of which I won't even really need: I bought the kit mainly for the covered mini-pot, which holds nearly a pint of water—water that I'll be boiling for my Mountain House meals. That tiny little thing tucked into the corner behind the mess kit is my backpack's rain shroud—nice and compact. My pack is fairly rain resistant, but the shroud offers more protection for when I'm camping and it's raining all night, or for those times when it's just non-stop rain all day long.


The red-and-black bundle is a compression harness holding my el-cheapo sleeping bag. I might not even need a sleeping bag if the weather in May is going to be largely warm and pleasant. The much-smaller gray bundle in front of the sleeping bag is, incredibly, my bivy bag, i.e., my shelter. Pretty tiny, ain't it. It weighs a bit under two pounds (863 grams, to be precise—almost exactly 1.9 pounds), and I can't wait to unfurl it and test it out in the park next door to my building (assuming the crotchety ajeossis who might or might not be supervising the park say it's OK to set up camp for a few minutes). The grayish packet between the sleeping bag and the shelter contains my Survival Tabs. Lastly, the bright-blue box is a box of alcohol wipes, which I'll probably repack into a Ziploc bag for the trail.

Now I need to tally up which of my ordered items have arrived and which haven't. I also need to go out and buy (1) a first-aid kit (which Costco sells), (2) a hanging scale (which I'm hoping that scale shop in Jongno will sell), and (3) cell-phone batteries plus a portable charger (which I'll buy in Yongsan's Jeonja Land, the huge electronic-products complex).

At this point, the heaviest thing in my backpack is looking to be the food. I'm going to have to figure out how I'll be packing that.

And that's all for now. More walk-related thoughts to come.

*There's also the matter of actually, physically obtaining water. I'll be walking close to rivers pretty much the whole time I'm out on the trail, except perhaps for the Saejae section. That said, there's no reason to assume that I'll be able simply to walk up to the riverbank and dip my Grayl into the flowing water. The bank may be much higher than the water; it may be lined with treacherously uneven rocks; there could be other problems that make accessing the water a less-than-straightforward task. I'm thinking the simplest solution to this problem would be something like a gallon jug with the top cut off so that the jug is almost a scoop, with a long cord tied to the jug's handle so that the jug can be thrown or lowered into hard-to-reach water. Dip the jug in, pull a few liters of water out, then run it through the Grayl. It does occur to me that the Saejae part of the trail will require a bit more planning than the other parts, since it's the part most likely to run up and over the Baekdu Daegan range, taking me away from water sources like rivers. There might be creeks or rills along the way uphill, but it's better to trust in Murphy's Law and assume there won't be any convenient succor from Mother Nature.

my hat is off to Ernesto Rodriguez

Here's an inspiring story about a retired US Army veteran, Ernesto Rodriguez. He's walking a symbolic 2200 miles across the mainland US for the sake of suicidal veterans, who kill themselves at the depressing rate of 22 per day. Rodriguez walks 16-20 miles per day with a 60-pound pack on his back and an American flag. He asks for nothing more than a meal and lodging for the night, and he wants no money. Any contributions go straight to the cause of suicidal vets. I wish him a good journey, and I hope he raises awareness of his chosen cause, which is a good one.

NB: other vets have been doing similar walks. See here.

"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them": one-paragraph review

Directed by David Yates (who directed the final four Harry Potter films) and starring Eddie Redmayne, 2016's "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" is a spinoff movie that, like "Rogue One," does much to expand a fictional cinematic universe. The story takes place in Prohibition-era New York, with British magizoologist (JK Rowling's term for a cryptozoologist) Newt Scamander coming to Ellis Island, magical suitcase in hand, with the intention of releasing one of his stored creatures in Arizona. Mayhem ensues when some creatures escape from Scamander's suitcase, and this occurs at a time when Muggle New Yorkers—called "No-Maj"es (no magic) in Yankee parlance—are becoming increasingly aware of the presence of witches and wizards and supernatural powers among them. Scamander's misadventures land him with aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and recently demoted MACUSA Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston at her most winsome).* Meanwhile, a group of "New Salemers," fundamentalist witch-hunters led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton in yet another creepy role) is doing what it can to hunt down witchcraft. One MACUSA director, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell in fine form), suspects that one of Barebones's adopted children is possessed by a powerful Obscurus, a malevolent force that manifests itself in magical folk who try to suppress their magical potential to pass for normal. Graves has secretly enlisted the help of another of Barebones's adoptees, Credence (Ezra Miller), to find the possessed child. Most children who develop an Obscurus die before the age of ten; Graves is looking to find an Obscurus and weaponize it—mainly because Graves is not who he says he is. In a side subplot, Kowalski is wowed by his exposure to Scamander's magical world but is even more wowed by Goldstein's sultry younger sister Queenie, who is also attracted to Kowalski. In the backdrop of all this action, the evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald has disappeared from Europe and has not resurfaced. "Fantastic Beasts" looks and feels consistent with the Potterverse of the previous eight movies, mainly thanks to Yates's capable direction and familiar style. The plot is sufficiently intricate to keep adults interested, and I imagine the creature effects will entertain kids. My problem, though, was that the special effects, which were fairly bog-standard CGI, tended to take me out of the film (the lone exception was Ron Perlman's hilarious bit part: the physically huge Perlman plays a stumpy, deep-voiced goblin running a magical speakeasy). The movie's resolution also felt like a combination of the endings of the 1970s movies "Superman" and "Superman II"; watch "Fantastic Beasts," and you'll know what I mean. Dan Fogler proved to be a revelation for me, though: I knew him mostly as the guy who did a running Sam Kinison impression in "Good Luck Chuck," but he turned out to be a talented, emotional actor who gets what is arguably the movie's most touching scene. The film's various plot strands aren't always tightly intertwined, but somehow, the story coheres better than it has any right to. It's too bad the special effects ended up being such a turn-off for me; had they been more understated, I'd have wanted to recommend this film more strongly. That said, you won't be bored. Just try not to think too hard about the illogicality of magic, e.g., why Scamander arrived in New York by boat and not via magical teleportation (a.k.a. Apparition).

*"MACUSA" stands for "Magical Congress of the United States of America," the US's version of the British Ministry of Magic.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Walk Thoughts #14: I have to walk on that

Weirdly, my left foot hurts just as much but is showing no blistering or purpling. I'm able to walk without limping too overtly, but I don't think I'll be doing my creek walk tonight. Will more likely switch to building-staircase work.

I've had blisters like this before, and I've found the best thing to do is simply to walk on through them. There's a lot of nonsense literature out there about moleskin and so on, but I find that Mother Nature is enough of a self-correcting system that you can just keep on walking whether the blisters pop or not. If they pop, just don't mess with them.

Had you asked me yesterday afternoon whether I'd be able to stand 20-some days in a row of hiking that might produce such blisters, I'd have been tempted to say, "Hell, no." Today, after a day's rest, I can answer in the tentatively affirmative. I might be limping slowly by the end of each day, and a projected six-hour walk might stretch into ten hours (of walking plus taking breaks), but as long as I can rest for most of a day between walks, I think I'll do just fine, and my feet might even toughen up as we go along.

Brian had floated the idea of wearing walking sandals yesterday; it's a thought, especially for my pinky toes, but I'd be concerned about all the grit getting under my feet while on a dirt path (a few stretches, yesterday, were dirt paths); pebbles and grit can produce a much more distracting pain than blisters can.

One project for this week: get my shoes stretched—both my New Balances and my Rockports.

UPDATE, 9PM: I'm walking more or less normally, despite the nasty fellow in the above picture. You can indeed get used to the pain, which dovetails with what I remember from my 900-kilometer walk in 2008.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Walk Thoughts #13: today's long walk

Some estimated stats:

Walk time: approx. 4.75 hours
Walk distance: approx. 14.25 miles/23 km
Total steps: approx. 28,500

Damage report:
      • blisters on the balls of both feet
      • blister on right pinky toe
      • achy feet in general
      • achy lower back
      • raw, sensitive crotch

Things learned:
1. This was a good shakedown cruise during which I learned some of the ins and outs of my CamelBak-knockoff water bladder (a prettier term is hydration system).
2. I absolutely need a new battery for my cell phone: my current ancient battery is in the midst of a cascade failure. I was supposed to go out and buy batteries and a portable charger today, but I collapsed and went to sleep instead.
3. My awesome New Balance walking shoes are perfect for two-hour walks, but they get tight in the toes as my feet swell during longer-than-two-hour walks.
4. We didn't make seven hours today, which had been my goal, but nearly five hours turned out to be quite enough.
5. If my lower back is responding this way to a light encumbrance, I need to be cautious about how I handle heavier encumbrance (35 lbs., 16 kg).
6. For long walks, I definitely need to get back to wearing my Spandex biker shorts to avoid the constant chafing of the inner thighs and nethers.

I began sincerely to wonder whether I'd even have the pain tolerance to withstand 20-some days in a row of this sort of walking. It's funny, too, because today's walk was largely on level ground: hills that stymied me on a bike were barely perceptible as hills when on foot. I suspect I'm going to have to reorient my training program to account for the need to toughen up my feet, and I may have to take my shoes to a shoe guy to get them stretched. Shoe stretching is apparently common and easy to do; there are, in fact, plenty of in-home methods for doing it, but I'd rather get a pro to reshape my footwear.

Brian and I met this morning at National Assembly Station way out in Yeouido, the same station where I get off to do my KMA gigs. My travel companion was as athletic as I expected him to be; I was the slowpoke during our walk, but he politely restrained himself from walking at what I'd guess is close to a natural pace of 4.5 or 5 miles per hour (I mosey along at a human-standard 3 mph, unlike most Koreans, who walk at Brian's speed).

We began at 7AM by walking toward the National Assembly building; the guards there let us through so we could walk across the property and out the back in order to swing by one of those bike-path "certification centers." Sure enough, we found it:

The term "center" seems a bit pretentious for a one-square-meter patch of ground that contains little more than a seedy, phone-booth-like structure. Still, it made for an interesting landmark, after which we continued east along the Han. Brian's vigorous-yet-restrained pace kept him slightly ahead and me slightly out of breath, but it was a good workout. While my phone had power—which came and went the entire hike—I pinged our location a few times to provide some idea of our pace.

Ultimately, as we approached the Jamshil area and my apartment, we decided to change plans and head to my place for a fried-rice lunch (Brian ended up kindly giving me his lunch as well: a Paris Baguette chicken sandwich). I had thought we might eat lunch, then head out and check out the Yangjae-cheon, i.e., my creekside route, but we both ended up too achy and unmotivated to continue. For a flat walk, the experience seemed unwontedly harsh on my feet, which is an indication of which body parts actually require more serious training.

Brian turned out to be a great font of information and an excellent conversationalist, so while we had some moments of silence along the path, there was also plenty of banter. I learned a few things about the local flora and fauna; we both had a chance to look with distaste upon a garbage-strewn grassy area being cleaned by a woefully understaffed team of men, but we also passed by plenty of clean, well-groomed areas. I learned some things about Brian's wife and son; his family leads an interesting life. Here's pic of Brian:

All in all, this was a fun—if exhausting—day. It was good to meet someone that I had known for years only through blogging, and I do believe we'll be meeting up again.

a change in plans

We're going from here back to my place for lunch, then we'll do a bit of my creek walk and call it a day.

Check out my current location in MAPS.ME! ge0://s22Yz5cgx7 or Don't have offline maps? Download here:


Hey, check out my current location in MAPS.ME! ge0://s22YziAL_a or Don't have offline maps? Download here:

here we are

Hey, check out my current location in MAPS.ME! ge0://s22YysTbzK or Don't have offline maps? Download here:

a long walk (scheduled post)

If all has gone well, this post will appear at 6:30AM on Sunday, March 19. I will have gotten up around 5:15AM and skedaddled at 6:00AM, a bit before the time this post ought to be appearing. I'll be meeting teacher and blogger Brian Dean, whom I've "known" for years through blogs and comments, but have never met in the flesh. We're doing a 7-hour walk starting in Yeouido, near one of those TARDIS-like "certification" centers for bikers who are marking their progress along Korea's major bike trails.

Brian, having lived an athletic life, is in far better shape than I am, so I suspect this walk will be easy for him. I've done enough five-hour walks to know what I feel like at the end of those treks; I'm usually tired, parched, and a little achy. Brian and I will be walking east along the Han, essentially following the same path I took during my bike trip last week (my ass-bones still ache slightly, but I'm mostly recovered), going out for about 3.5 hours, eating a simple lunch, then doubling back for a 3.5-hour return walk. This promises to be a great opportunity to meet face-to-face and talk for a few hours.

I doubt we'll get as far out as I did when biking, especially since we'll be starting much farther to the west of where I began my bike ride. It would have been nice to walk all the way out to the Paldang Dam, the first major landmark on my upcoming walk, but I guess that's a feat for another day. (I may rent a bike again and try for the damn dam.)

There may be photos today. Or not. We'll see. I may also ping-and-blog our location periodically, but I won't be doing a pedometer's step count because my phone will be off for most of the walk, given my battery-power issues. (That reminds me... once I'm back from the walk around 2 or 3PM, I need to go get phone batteries and a portable charger.)

Righto... have a good Sunday. More soon.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

PDF: how the French feel about their own safety these days

Here's a link to a PDF of a survey by IFOP-Fiducial that shows the current French mindset and does much to explain why Marine Le Pen is currently so popular.

Of special note: page 8, which shows what the French think about whether the security situation in France has improved or deteriorated: 71% say it has deteriorated; 19% say it has improved; 10% think nothing has changed. Page 10 shows that the French have an overwhelmingly positive view of their own law-enforcement officers; page 13 shows that most French people think Marine Le Pen is, by far, the one most capable of the best security-related solutions or measures.

A summary/interpretation of the data begins on page 18 for those who read French.

"the eyes are dead"

In which I write about ugly double standards and rectal bleeding.

seen on Gab

My buddy Mike suggested I follow a comedian on Gab AI named Bob Kostic (he goes by @causticbob). Kostic churns out tons of short jokes, some of which I've heard before (i.e., they're not original to him), some of which are repeats, some of which are duds. But plenty of Kostic's jokes are funny. Here's one (edited—the man sorely needs a proofreader):

My wife had a go at me asking how come, if a man has sex with a lot of women, he's a legend, yet if a woman has sex with a lot of men, she's a slut.

I told her if a lock gets opened by a lot of keys, it's a shit lock, but if a key opens a lot of locks, it's a master key.

That sounds more like a joke that's been around than a newly minted original, but no matter the provenance, it gave me a chuckle.

Friday, March 17, 2017


An interesting three days at KMA, but I might have to write a "frank" post about it. You know where to look. Right now... I'm off on a creekside walk. Later.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

"Moana": one-paragraph review

"Moana" is a 2016 Disney animated musical-comedy-adventure directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, with a heavily rewritten screenplay by a whole team of writers (Jared Bush gets sole credit for the final draft), and starring Auli'i Cravalho as Polynesian chieftain's daughter Moana, with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the shape-shifting trickster demigod Maui. The story kicks off with the retelling of a primordial legend: the world begins as water, then the goddess Te Fiti bestows life on the world. Maui steals a magical stone that lies in Te Fiti's heart, intending—like Prometheus—to pass along its powers to humanity. The theft causes a plague of darkness to dominate the earth, and Maui is attacked by a demonic laval being named Te Ka. During the fight, Maui loses both the stone and his giant magical weapon, a god-wrought fish hook. Fast-forward a millennium, and little Moana is in love with the ocean. The ocean loves Moana back, as is evidenced by the playful water-tentacles that prod, pat, and carry Moana to and fro along the shore. But Moana, like the rest of the island's people, is forbidden by her chieftain father (Temuera Morrison) from ever swimming or sailing beyond the reef; later in the film, we find out why. The creeping darkness reaches the island and begins killing off the plant life and shooing away the fish, and soon Moana must choose between keeping tradition—she's the next chieftain—or following her "inner voice" to sail afar, find Maui, and take the sacred stone, "the heart of Te Fiti," back to where it belongs. With songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda (of "Hamilton" fame), "Moana" bumps and bops along with stunning visuals, its own brand of feminism, and plenty of Polynesian mythology. I found some of the lyrics unintentionally funny, such as the generally non-rhyming song the islanders sing to explain their own way of life, but other songs proved deeply, and surprisingly, touching. The death of one character hit me a little too close to home for me not to feel a tightening in the throat. One interesting bit of trivia is that, in keeping with the feminist themes, there's an action sequence involving piratical coconuts that is supposed to be a homage to "Mad Max: Fury Road." The Rock, meanwhile, proves capable of holding a tune, and he sings one of the more memorable songs: "You're Welcome," Maui's arrogantly self-directed hymn of praise. The movie features a self-aware joke about Disney princesses and their goofy sidekicks, as well as a gross-by-implication joke about pissing in the water. I was fascinated by all the religious tropes, even though I know next to nothing about Polynesian mythology. I couldn't help thinking, though, that Disney would never dare make a movie like this involving one of the Big Three Abrahamic faiths.* And that's too bad. All in all, "Moana," despite some uncomfortable parallels with "Tangled," is a sprightly tale told briskly. Auli'i Cravalho, with her Hawaiian-Portuguese name, her enormous talent, and her mere sixteen or so years on this earth, is probably set to follow Hailee Steinfeld on a successful career path; it's hard to believe this is Cravalho's cinematic debut.

*Then again, there's "Prince of Egypt." But that's Dreamworks.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

fried rice: finished product

Late last week, I went into a fugue state while standing in front of my open fridge. Nothing happened for a while until several things suddenly collided in my mind, and I realized that I had most of the ingredients for fried rice in my fridge. All I needed were eggs and shiitake mushrooms (called pyogo in Korean).

I began building the fried rice last night, but despite how simple a concept fried rice is, it requires a hell of a lot of chopping, slicing, dicing, and mincing. I didn't finish prep last night, and I was dead tired, so when I woke up early this morning, I continued prep and began cooking, but had to stop cooking once 11AM rolled around, as it was time to get ready for work: my 2PM gig at KMA. Once I got back from KMA, I continued cooking, and now you may behold the fruits (or the meat, starch, and vegetables) of my labor.

Ingredients, in no particular order:

sesame oil
canola oil
powdered garlic
fresh garlic
green chili peppers (gochu)
red and yellow bell peppers
shiitake mushrooms
white onion
jumbo shrimp

This should probably be named "Ironic Fried Rice" because everything except the rice got pan-fried. I have no rice cooker, so I make rice the old-fashioned way: 4 parts water, 3 parts rice in a thick-bottomed pot; bring to a boil, then immediately take to a simmer and leave for twenty minutes. Some nurungji (crispy, burned bottom layer of rice) is possible with this method, but there was almost none in this case. I simply tossed the rice into that giant metal bowl with all the other ingredients, then mixed the hell out of everything. Perfection.

fried rice: the final proteins

Shrimp enter the fray.

fried rice: under construction

Beautiful colors, eh? I have a horizontal version of this pic that might end up becoming my new desktop wallpaper on the office computer. (Those feta-like lumps? Scrambled eggs.)

coming up: 20 hours of KMA

After suffering KMA cancellations twice already this year, I was overjoyed when KMA called and offered me a three-day-long gig totaling twenty hours. I'll be teaching a presentation class—something I've already done many times before, so even though this won't be my own material, it'll be familiar to me. I do four hours on Wednesday, then eight hours each on Thursday and Friday. My boss at the Golden Goose okayed this weeks ago, so we're cool on that front. The end result will be an extra 1.35 million won in the bank for yours truly, which helps to make up for the W780,000 being ripped away from me by the damn tax man. I've got another 1.4 million won coming to me... but I'm not sure I can talk about that too openly here. (Not that the income is illegal or anything, but its provenance may prove a bit awkward if announced. I might have to write a "frank post" about this particular turn of events.)

Earthling Cinema!

The Hidden Meaning of "Dr. Strange"!

I wish I could say this contained religiously astute commentary, but a single reference to a common trope in Hinduism isn't going to cut it. That said, I liked the commentary's focus on time as a theme... although the movie itself kind of clobbers you over the head with temporal imagery. Let's just cut through the bullshit and declare Strange a Timelord.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"Manchester by the Sea": one (two?)-paragraph review

There must be some rule in Hollywood declaring that any film based in modern Boston must include a screenplay filled with Boston Banter: witty and not-so-witty Irish-American repartee that is a mixture of cheerful sarcasm, over-the-top insults, and a good measure of actual venom, all in that classic, much-parodied accent. "Manchester by the Sea," a family drama directed by Kenneth Lonergan, does little to dispel the notion that Boston is a minority-free city filled with quippy Irish-Americans. The film stars native Falmouthian Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler. Somewhat confusingly, it also stars Kyle Chandler as Joe Chandler, Lee's not-so-old older brother, whose life is seen through flashbacks because Joe has died of congestive heart failure. The story is told in a fractured, time-jumping, nonlinear style—albeit not quite as aggressively nonlinear as "Pulp Fiction," so it's possible to put all the pieces together without too much brain strain. With Joe gone, Lee—a janitor and handyman with little income—finds himself taking care of Joe's son Patrick, who has grown into a sullen, smartass teen (Lee is no charmer himself, but it takes the movie some time to show us why) who is popular at his school, involved in many extracurriculars, and dating two girls at once. On top of dealing with his older brother's death and the fallout from that loss, Lee must deal with his own demons as we discover that his negligence caused the deaths of his children in a fire, leading to a bitter divorce. "Manchester by the Sea" is a drama on a small scale; there are no world-threatening problems to contend with. People deal with death, with life, and with each other. There were times when I wanted to punch teenage Patrick's head inside-out for his constant insolence, but that's a testament to actor Lucas Hedges's ability to portray a teen dealing with a father's death in his own way. Hedges (who seems to be channeling young Matt Damon from "Good Will Hunting") and Affleck are standouts in this film, and Michelle Williams, who plays Lee's remarried ex-wife, gets one amazing scene near the end of the film that proves just how talented she is.* I also give the movie credit for not taking the easy route and showing Lee and Patrick punching each other out in paroxysms of maladjusted rage. Both men have a violent streak, but they take out their frustrations on others outside the family, never on each other. The movie comes to no profound conclusions, no emotional crescendos; it merely ends in the everyday, and there's something very Zen about that that appeals to me. Interweaving mordant humor, dysfunction, and tragedy, "Manchester by the Sea" isn't an easy watch, but it's worth your while. Oh, and wait'll you see which actor plays Patrick's ex-alkie mother's second husband. I laughed out loud when he appeared.

*I'm still turning that scene over in my head because something doesn't quite add up. Michelle Williams's Randi ends up tearfully apologizing to Affleck's Lee for the horrible things she said after the children had died, but the movie shows none of this, none of her bitterness and anger toward Lee, so we have no proper context for her guilty feelings. For me as the viewer, it seems that Randi has nothing to apologize for: Lee, through his fatal negligence, is the clear cause of their children's deaths. If anyone had needed to apologize, it should have been Lee. Instead, he's shown providing awkward comfort and even forgiveness in the face of his wife's misery. I'm not saying Randi's misery doesn't make sense; what I'm trying to say is that the cosmic scales of justice are clearly tipped in her favor, and Lee is the one who ought to be on his knees and blubbering, begging Randi for her forgiveness. It's almost as if the movie were making a conscious effort not to give us those emotional peaks found in most other films. Oh, there's screaming and punching and plenty of bile, but never at the most dramatically crucial junctures, and I find that interesting.

one election to rule them all

So it seems the upcoming snap election in May will be to decide a new president—period—and not a president pro tempore to serve out the remaining few months of Park Geun-hye's term. This means I was misled by my own bad sources, and Korea won't be facing two elections this year: there will be only the upcoming election in May. My understanding, from the above-linked Wikipedia article, is that the current acting president, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, will serve out the remainder of Park's term, so the new president will assume his duties next February, per the tradition established with the advent of South Korean democracy.

Korea has proven to be admirable in terms of peaceful demonstrations that have led to a peaceful transfer of power occurring somewhat outside the normal procedures. The United States' tantrum-throwing, campus-trashing left could definitely take several lessons from how a people ought to conduct itself when faced with unsatisfactory political conditions. As momentous as this shift in power has been, I find it nearly miraculous that things haven't been worse in South Korea. While it's unfortunate that the current shift will be away from a hardline stance toward North Korea, one can hope that the next presidential administration will bring with it less historical baggage, less spiritual weirdness, and far less corruption. 2016 and 2017 have proven to be years in which the people's trust in their own electoral systems was badly shaken. May South Korea's next leader prove to be much more trustworthy. It's too much to ask any modern politician to restore honor to politics—we passed that point of no return long ago—so in my case, I'll simply settle for someone less corrupt.

Monday, March 13, 2017

"Hacksaw Ridge": one-paragraph review

"Hacksaw Ridge" is a World War II movie directed by Mel Gibson and starring British-American Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist who, paradoxically, signs up for a US Army combat unit but refuses, because of his religious beliefs, to pick up a rifle, whether in self-defense or in defense of his fellow soldiers. The real Desmond Doss died in 2006; Gibson includes footage of him, his brother Hal, and some other grunts and officers who experienced the hell of Hacksaw Ridge, a Japanese-occupied piece of real estate that the Japanese did not easily give up. As Gibson tells it, the story follows a predictable arc. We get a sequence of scenes from Doss's life: a childhood with an abusive war-vet father (Hugo Weaving), the moment when Desmond realizes he will renounce violence forever, falling in love, enlisting, being rejected by his platoon and the training camp's officers, then proving his bravery on the field of battle by rescuing 75 out of 100 men who had been stranded up on Hacksaw Ridge after the call to retreat, lowering them down a cliff until his hands were bloody. Despite the movie's paint-by-numbers approach to Doss's life, that 75-out-of-100 figure is nothing to sneeze at.* The movie shows several characters telling Doss they were wrong about him, but at film's end, Doss himself says the most rewarding moment during the whole Hacksaw Ridge campaign was when one soldier smiled at him after Doss came to rescue him. Gibson's film often feels as formulaic as a TV movie, but one with "Saving Private Ryan" levels of blood and guts. As a result, I find myself in the strange position of being torn between admiration for Doss himself and discomfiture at Gibson's ham-handed hagiography (watch that very last scene with Andrew Garfield being lowered to the medical tent to see what I mean). The movie is worth watching for the story it tells and the man whose story this is, but Gibson isn't one for subtlety, and you'll immediately feel that, too.

*The exact number rescued is unknown, but 75 is considered a good estimate.

God damn that Joe for tempting us this way

Joe McPherson tells me he's designing a menu for a pub in Seoul. I don't think I'm at liberty to disclose the pub's name—not until Joe's menu is ready to go.

For now, all I can say is... I see sausages.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Walk Thoughts #12: visualized

Not very far, it seems, but here's the path I biked. I took a slightly different way back, but it came out to about the same distance. As you see, if you double the distance, I got tantalizingly close to 30 miles.

Walk Thoughts #11: lessons

So what did I learn during my bike ride yesterday?

I learned that the Paldang Dam, one of the first major landmarks on the trail, is within biking distance if we assume a pain-free biking trip. It would have been nice to make it all the way out to the dam to see what sort of camping facilities might be around it, but I learned enough to know that, once one gets past the densest part of Hanam City, there are plenty of places along the riverside where a tired traveler can plop down, set up a tent, and rest his weary legs. That's important because, depending on the time of day, I might have to do just that: plop down wherever I am and simply set up camp.

Despite my earlier griping about how hilly the trail was, the inclines won't be bad when I'm on foot. I suspect that the first third or half of the trail won't be too much trouble; it's when I reach the Baekdu Daegan mountain range that things will get dicey. By then, though, I'll have eaten my way through about half of my food supplies, so my pack ought to be slightly lighter.

A quick aside about food: I've decided to order everything—all the foods I covered in Walk Thoughts #1. I'll be using a combination of foods—maybe two MREs, seven or eight Mountain House food packs, a bag of Soylent, and several packs' worth of Survival tabs. Most crucial will be water, of course, but I'll be moving alongside rivers for most of the walk—with a Grayl purification system, no less—so this ought not to be a problem. Upshot: I ought to be able to eat something every day of the walk, even if it's just a handful of Survival Tabs.