Monday, July 31, 2017

a gun ad with no guns

Hilarious. Seen on Gab:

My only quibble is that "unarmed" doesn't need a hyphen.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

vocab test: bodily functions

I could immediately figure out 13 of the 17 terms listed in this article.

The ones I missed were deglutition, diaphoresis, pandiculation, and singultus.

"The Raid 2": review

2014's "The Raid 2" stars Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Cok Simbara, Julie Estelle, Alex Abbad, Tio Pakusadewo, Oka Antara, Cecep A. Rahman, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kenichi Endo, and Kazuki Kitamura. It also brings back that incredible martial artist from the first film, Yayan Ruhian, in a very different (and arguably lesser) role. Whereas the first movie had the simplest of plots, "The Raid 2" is so over-plotted as to be hard to follow at times. I found it difficult to keep track of which henchman was working for which crime boss: the movie is all about the taking-down of several major crime families at once, with Rama (Uwais) going undercover as a spy whose job is to gather evidence and certify who is connected to whom, and how.

A one-paragraph summary of the plot might go like this: we begin barely two hours after the first movie ends, and during these two hours, we undo everything that had been established by the end of the first movie. If you saw the first movie, you'll recall that Rama's brother Andi (Donny Alamsyah) elects not to leave his life of crime because he's in his element and feels he can protect Rama; at the same time, Rama is taking the corrupt lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) to justice. When "The Raid 2" begins, Andi is killed by up-and-coming crime boss Bejo (Abbad), and Wahyu is killed on orders from Bunawar (Simbara), a Machiavellian police investigator who roots out police corruption in the manner of internal affairs. Bunawar tells the shocked Rama that there are bigger fish to fry, and that Rama needs to go undercover so that the investigators can take down much larger targets than mere foot soldiers like Wahyu. Rama is placed in prison, where his fighting skills gain him the attention of Uco (pronounced "ooh-cho": the Indonesian "c" is an English "ch") and, eventually, of Uco's crime-boss father, Bangun (Pakusadewo), who thanks Rama for saving his son. Two years pass with Rama in prison before he gets out and has the chance to meet Bangun. Meanwhile, Bunawar has hidden Rama's family to keep them safe; Rama himself has had his history as a policeman expunged to make it easier for him to penetrate the crime families. Bangun's crime family maintains an uneasy truce with a Japanese yakuza faction that has moved into Jakarta; Bangun's son Uco chafes at the need to be respectful around the Japanese, who he feels do not belong in the country. Uco also wants more responsibility, but his father thinks the young man is still too hotheaded and shortsighted to rise in the ranks. Meanwhile, young and ambitious Bejo believes it's time to take down the established families to make room for new blood, and Bejo catches the attention of Reza, a corrupt, high-ranking police official currently in a quiet partnership with the Japanese.

"The Raid 2," like its predecessor, features plenty of hilariously bloody action and violence. It also sports an actual plot, and it even delves into the inner lives of some of the minor characters, like Yayan Ruhian's Prakoso, a heavy who works for Bangun but is estranged from his own wife and son. But for a movie about a massive undercover op, "The Raid 2" is surprisingly short on suspense: I saw several wasted opportunities where Rama could have been discovered, but the criminals weren't savvy enough to suspect him. (The TV series "24" did a much better job of putting Jack Bauer in tense situations where his cover might be blown.) I'm also not sure what to make of the movie's morally ambiguous ending. Without revealing too much, I can say that, by the end of the story, Rama has accomplished only half of Bunawar's mission to take down all the major crime families in Jakarta. There are some major loose ends, which I suppose could be taken care of in a third movie. Finally, I'm ambivalent about sequels that undo much of the work accomplished in previous movies. It was a turn-off in "Alien 3," for example, when Newt and Hicks were killed off at the very beginning, an event that undermined those characters' efforts to survive the extraterrestrial onslaught in "Aliens." For "The Raid 2" to begin with the deaths of Andi and Wahyu, as a way of clearing the board for a new set of allies and antagonists, was a bit frustrating.

All the same, "The Raid 2" proved to be eminently watchable, and I enjoyed it. It's filled with brutal impacts, pulse-pounding chase sequences, loads of fight choreography, and even more gunplay than the first film. For those who came away from the first movie loving the action but wishing there had been a plot, "The Raid 2" makes up for that omission in spades.

Penny the hound

My brother's dog strikes a pose:

"Dunkirk": review

[WARNING: one major spoiler re: artistic approach, but not plot.]

"Dunkirk" is a World War II drama directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, and Tom Hardy. As you probably know from either seeing the movie yourself or reading other reviews, the film involves Nolan's usual nonlinear narrative and depicts the Dunkirk evacuation of late May to early June 1940. The story focuses on three perspectives: land, sea, and air. The land narrative, titled "The Mole," takes place over the course of a week and puts the spotlight on the British soldiers waiting to be evacuated; the sea narrative covers a single day and concentrates on the civilian ships that have been called by the British military to cross the English Channel and aid in the evacuation; the air narrative covers a single hour and shows us what it was like for a handful of British pilots to chase down German warplanes despite dwindling fuel. The story jumps from one perspective to another, thus playing with the viewer's sense of time and perspective, infusing the plot with a sort of unbalanced confusion. Certain events appear in all three narrative strands and arguably happen slightly differently, depending on perspective, thus also cultivating a "fog of war" sensibility.

The film is ably directed and features both beautiful aerial vistas and some truly masterful acting from the normally over-the-top Shakespearean Kenneth Branagh (there's a moment on the Mole where he stoically accepts the prospect of impending death), but I'm going to go against the tide of critical love for this film and confess that it annoyed the hell out of me when it wasn't outright boring me. To be honest, I'm not sure why this movie is now being lauded as one of the greatest war movies of all time, nor do I understand the critics who rave that this is Nolan's best film ever. The score by Hans Zimmer is a recycled mishmash of the basso throbbing you've already heard in the Batman films (with the addition of a tick-tock-like auditory leitmotif to drive home the point that time is of the essence), and Nolan's use of nonlinear narrative is cannibalized—albeit slightly reconfigured—from his earlier work "Memento," a movie with multiple narrative strands that can be broken apart and reassembled into chronologically coherent wholes.

Nolan's film—and this is a major artistic spoiler—is utterly bloodless, like the gun battles on that old TV show "The A-Team," which to me is unforgivable for a war movie ("Dunkirk" is rated PG-13 in the US, for God's sake). It's not that I lust for exposed guts, blown-off limbs, and leaking brains, but one of my criteria for a good war movie is that it should portray the sheer horror of war—the consequences that ensue when masses of humans are pitted against each other. The first twenty minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" left me almost shell-shocked; that was some of the most intense cinema I've ever experienced, and Spielberg set the bar very high for all war films to come after. Nolan, who apparently isn't even interested in Spielberg's bar, doesn't give us horror: if anything, he makes a half-hearted gesture toward suspense, and that's about it. Despite the movie's short running time (only 106 minutes), much of it is filled with long, expansive shots and eloquent silences. There's very little dialogue, but there's enough to make me wonder whether Nolan had been torn between making a talky movie or a completely talk-free one. What we get is a bad compromise between those extremes.

So I side with the complainers who dislike the fact that Nolan reached into his bag of narrative and cinematic tricks, only to show us the same old tricks. Although the cinematography and the acting were on point, the movie felt like Nolan being Nolan, and it didn't take the concept of war particularly seriously. I suspect this is going to be a forgettable movie for me: ask me about it in a year, and I doubt I'll remember many—or any—details.

But, hey: don't trust my review. Everyone else loves this film, so go see it if you want. For me, this was a mixture of recycled tropes and pulled punches: a real bag of mush. And by the way: I think the French who saw "Dunkirk" and complained that France gets short shrift in Nolan's film have a point.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Stefan Molyneux on the Awan family scandal

You need watch only the first ten minutes of this to get an idea of the gravity of the situation:

Friday, July 28, 2017

glitter or Hitler?

Found here:


poetry for assholes

you may be a great man
or great woman
you may be quite obscure
or know fame
but if one truth exists in this wide universe
it's when we fart
our assholes
sound the same

Thursday, July 27, 2017

today's luncheon: a success! (see pics)

Unsurprisingly, my morning was hectic. I had stopped cooking, last night, to get a few hours' shut-eye before continuing at 6:45AM today. The next few hours involved all the non-stop cooking that I probably should have done the night before. I somehow managed to get the Middle Eastern chicken prepped, then I worked on the galbi and got that prepped, too, although I remember wishing I'd had a proper grill. The "searing" on the galbi came from the blackening of the marinade on the frying pan: the first round of meat wasn't seared that much, but the subsequent rounds acquired a sort of artificial sear thanks to the carbonizing sugar in the pan. I finished cooking and still had about thirty minutes in which to shower.

Just as I was about to shower, I got a text message from the building's plumbers, who asked whether it'd be okay to come up to my place to check out my leak problem. I groaned: it was 10:35AM, and I had an 11AM appointment in the lobby with our department's new guy, who had flown in from Maine just yesterday. I texted that the plumbers could come up at exactly 10:55AM. My plan was to finish my shower, get dressed, let the plumbers in, dash downstairs to meet the new guy, then get back upstairs, wait while the plumbers finished their work, then lug my half-ton of food over to the office via cab with the new guy in tow. Luckily, that's approximately how the timing worked out, but that final half-hour before leaving was hectic all the same. Right as the plumbers were leaving, they told me to come back home in the evening, turn my A/C on for an hour, then call their office so they could confirm there was no more leakage from the A/C (the Carrier repairman came the other day and supposedly fixed the leak). They left; I then gathered my stuff and left with the new guy. We went down to the street and got a cab.

I got to the office around 11:40 and began final prep, which involved setting up my huge food containers (plastic buckets, essentially), slicing up some tomatoes, and crumbling some feta cheese. My boss had suggested that we begin our shindig—which the boss described as a goodbye party for our outgoing staffer and a welcoming party for our newbie—at 1PM. A bit after 1:00, everything was ready, and we all gathered for the meal. I explained how to plate, heat, and eat the Middle Eastern chicken, then I explained how to attack the galbi, which I had made expressly for the outgoing staffer, who had told me he liked Korean food.

Here's a pic of the huge plastic containers in which I'd placed my food for ten:

Here's a closeup of my Middle Eastern chicken, which you've seen before:

One of my colleagues has a Lebanese mother, and he told me my food looked and smelled legitimately Middle Eastern, so I'm no longer going to surround the term "Middle Eastern" with scare quotes. I've gotten the official seal of approval.

Below: most of my colleagues, faces mosaicked out, sitting in a spontaneous circle while they noshed. "Food brings people together!" I joked when I walked in and saw this tableau. "And people bring food together!" replied the outgoing staffer.

My Aussie colleague said I should start a restaurant and sell this chicken. He thinks I'd make a killing, which I took as high praise. One of the female staffers muttered, "This is so fuckin' good," which is the first time I've ever heard anyone get sweary over my cooking. I had been very worried that the chicken—which was all breast meat—might have dried out over the course of the morning and early afternoon, but everyone assured me the meat was just fine, and my own plate of chicken wasn't bad at all.

Final shot: digging in. You can see a glimpse of the galbi in the foreground. The sauce next to it is a sweet glaze made from the original marinade plus a hell of a lot more sugar.

As much as people liked the galbi, they liked the chicken way, way better, and that huge bucket of food was nearly totally destroyed by the time everyone had stopped eating. There's enough left for one serving for one person. Where I went wrong, though, was in making way too much rice and couscous. This is a carb-hating office, I've discovered, and I'd say that only a fourth of the carbs got eaten. Astonishing, but also worth noting for future reference: from now on, I'll make only a fraction of what I'd made for today.

That problem aside, the food was a hit. I even got a compliment from the "so fucking good" staffer re: my oi-muchim, which she enjoyed along with her beef. Everything's been stowed in the new, recently upgraded office fridge (we replaced the previous one with a much bigger one), so I have nothing to tote home. I've told the staff that they can take whatever they want from the leftovers and have lunch or dinner with them. I also provided Ziploc bags to people who wanted to bag up some food to take home. My longtime coworker (from before our move to this new building) took home some food for his girlfriend to munch on. He said he's secretly hoping she hates it so that he can eat it himself. And that about says it all.

Remind me to tell you the story of my wild goose chase in quest of cilantro.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

meal prep: progress report

This is a monster prep.

The day before, I made my oi-muchim (see a pic here), but I'm going drain out most of the pickle juice and add shredded apple to it tonight to gentle the taste a bit (it tastes fine right now, but it could use some more tweaking). Yesterday, I made the chicken stock, which I turned into a light gravy meant to be poured over couscous. I also shelled hundreds of pistachios (wrote about that already), prepped my dry chickpeas by soaking and then boiling them—all of which merely gets the chickpeas ready for the actual cooking—and reconstituted a mess of dried figs. Today, I just began marinating the galbi (pic here); it'll be a few hours before I can cook it. I'm sure I'll be cooking until well past midnight tonight.

What's left to do? With the Korean half of the prep mostly done, I have to take care of the Middle Eastern side of things. Some of it can be left until tomorrow morning, e.g., cutting the tomatoes, pulverizing the pistachios, and crumbling the feta. Most of it has to be done tonight, though, and that's going to take a while. I have to make the spiced oil in which I'll be cooking the chicken, squash, and chickpeas; I must then cook the chicken, squash, and chickpeas. I need to chop the parsley and cilantro (found at Garak Market thanks to the advice of the imported-goods lady in the basement of our new building—that's a story in itself), combine it with the chicken-and-veggies mixture, then do whatever little chores are left. Oh, and let's not forget that I have to prep a buttload of couscous and glutinous rice.

Tomorrow morning, I'll be bringing in large plastic tubs of food that hungry people can scoop onto their plates and microwave. Tomorrow night, I'll likely be dead.

the beleaguered Antonia Okafor

It sucks to be black and right-leaning, mainly because such creatures aren't supposed to exist. In actuality, they're everywhere—quite real, with not a single dragon or unicorn gene among them. One such lass is Antonia Okafor, whom I first saw here:

She's also in the news for catching flak about wanting to own and properly use a gun.

[NB: this post replaces a fake-news post that I had slapped up earlier re: Angola banning Islam. Egg on my face, even though I did doubt that news from the beginning. Trust no one.]

first meal prep for a much larger department

We're having a goodbye party this coming Thursday for a staffer who's leaving the R&D Department. I'll be providing the main meal; in the meantime, we've got people working on appetizers (I think), drinks, dessert, and flatware (plates, utensils, etc.). Prep for this is enormous, not to mention expensive, as I'm cooking for ten instead of just for three. I had asked the departing staffer what sort of food he liked. He said Korean food (his Korean wife is a professional chef!); I mentally cringed, as I have only a limited range when it comes to Korean dishes. I asked whether he'd be into budae-jjigae, which I do well, but he grimaced and said that that was the one stew he wasn't a fan of. Dammit.

So here's the plan: I'm going to go with what I know and do two preps: (1) my "Middle Eastern" chicken with couscous and sauce, and (2) some galbi (Korean-style beef short ribs) with my oi-kimchi (more like oi-muchim, really) and sticky white rice. There will be enough galbi for the staffer to eat, but probably not enough for everyone to enjoy large portions, so everyone will have to concentrate on the truckload of "Middle Eastern" chicken and couscous.

I still haven't bought all the ingredients. High Street Market no longer sells fresh vegetables, as I discovered tonight, so I have to hit Haddon Supermarket or some other place to get the cilantro and parsley that are crucial components of this dish. It's going to be a hectic morning tomorrow... and I'm trying to remember whether the guy who runs Haddon said that his store is closed on Wednesdays. If that's the case, then I'll have wasted time on a fruitless pursuit, and I'll need to find—right away—another store that sells what I need.

The items I could buy at High Street proved not to be the most convenient, either: I had looked for canned chickpeas, but all the store had was dried chickpeas, which I'm currently soaking overnight to reconstitute. As before, I also had no choice but to buy High Street's dried figs, which I prepped by boiling for a few minutes. I also spent over an hour shelling hundreds upon hundreds of pistachios—all for a measly yield that's not even two cups' worth. Well, at least I had the chance to get some of the more time-consuming prep work done. There's still a lot to do, but I've given myself some breathing room.

I'm going to be exhausted come Thursday afternoon. Organizing all this has been a major effort, but it's time to show off my cooking skills to a larger audience. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

a conflagration in my hometown

My brother David just linked me to the news that a car recently crashed into a gas station's gas pump in the Mount Vernon area of Alexandria, Virginia, thus engendering a big, smoky conflagration. No one was hurt or killed, but it seems the driver has taken to the hospital just to be on the safe side. Alexandria is where I was born21/.

Interesting that the article notes certain details, such as the likely cost of the damage, but fails to provide us with basic and obvious information, like the sex of the driver.

Monday, July 24, 2017

the wonders of dog meat

I had to lug six days' worth of food to the office today, so I took a cab. The cabbie proved to be a chatty, grandfatherly type, and we somehow ended up on the topic of dog meat. That's when the cabbie made the claim that many doctors recommend eating dog meat immediately after surgery because the meat helps you heal faster.

Never heard that one before, but it's not a surprising claim.

another design element

Here's another design element—not in final form, mind you—that might be making an appearance in the philosophy book I'm working on:

(NB: the wizard's left hand is a completely freehand drawing. The right hand is also freehand, but it's modeled on a photo I took of my own hand doing that "power" gesture.)

ADDENDUM: I've already made some alterations: I evened out the wizard's uneven shoulders, and I widened the wizard's torso and waist so that his meaty arms and hands would make more sense.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

swerving away from "Dunkirk"

I woke up at the ungodly hour of 7AM and decided, "Nah. I want more sleep." And thus did I cancel my trip out to the cinema today to see "Dunkirk." I might see it next weekend, but for whatever reason, all desire to see the movie left me this morning. Meanwhile, I'm reading online that the French are upset about director Christopher Nolan's version of events at Dunkirk: his film apparently writes out the role of thousands of French troops who bravely remained to perform a holding action against the Germans while the British rescued their own.* A further wrinkle to that story is that elements of the British military turned around and rescued as many of the surviving French troops as they could. My understanding is that none of this is portrayed in Nolan's "Dunkirk," and it seems like an agaçante omission to me.

*A quick reading of the Wikipedia entry for this film shows that the French rear guard, as well as its evacuation, is mentioned in the movie, but there's little to nothing else said or shown about the French military, hence the scandalized French reaction.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Local newscaster Jim Vance, a fixture from my childhood, has died at age 75. Not satisfied with this haul, the Grim Reaper has also just claimed actor John Heard, 72, who was at the center of an assault scandal many years ago. I remember Jim Vance with fondness for his stolid-but-kind demeanor, but I lost track of him when the 1990s came around. As for Heard—I vaguely remember watching a video of his performance in 1979's "The Scarlet Letter" back when I was in school. More recently, I recall his guest-starring appearance on "Battlestar Galactica," where he played an engineer who suddenly finds himself the captain of his ship when the previous captain dies. He was a capable actor—never quite the mighty leading man, but appearing in some of the bigger films of recent decades ("Big," "Home Alone," "Awakenings," etc.).

These deaths both come as a surprise, and these days, there must be something wrong if you're dying in your 70s. In the world of old people, seventy-something is young.

on tricksters

The Crash Course YouTube channel continues to put out short videos covering an interesting range of academic topics. I've been watching Crash Course Mythology fairly (ahem) religiously, and I think the latest video might be one that my buddy Charles could take a gander at and offer an opinion on as to how well done it is: it's about trickster figures, and this video (the first of several trickster videos) concentrates on Anansi the spider, whom I know mainly through having read American Gods.

it's all about the power

Last night, around 2AM, my circuit breaker fritzed out on me again, as it did almost exactly a year ago. I schlepped downstairs to the lobby concierge and explained the problem; he phoned an on-call repairman, who showed up within twenty minutes. The repairman quickly determined that there was a small water leak causing water to drip slowly onto the main-switch part of the circuit breaker. He asked me whether I'd had trouble with the circuit breaker before; I told him about last year, so like last time, water leakage was again a problem. The repairman told me he was going to pull the circuit breaker out of its mounting and bring it forward to keep it away from the leaking water. Meanwhile, since something needed to be done about the leak, he said someone would come back to my place on Saturday afternoon.

That guy arrived around 1:30PM. He'd already been informed about the leakage, so he popped open a ceiling panel to look around the narrow crawlspace. His purpose was to check whether the leak was coming from upstairs. His initial check didn't reveal the leak's source, so he moved into my bathroom to check again (my bathroom also has a ceiling panel giving access to the crawlspace). This time, he found something: my air conditioner was leaking water across my ceiling and all the way over to the circuit breaker, which is mounted near my apartment's door. That's a distance of about four meters—a long way for water to crawl. I can only surmise that, when my A/C was originally installed, someone did a shitty job of installation.

And this is where things got complicated. Because this is fundamentally an A/C problem, we had to call the Carrier A/C service center to schedule another repairman to come out and fix the leak. My current repairman spoke with the customer-service rep, then the phone got passed to me, and I spoke with the CSR, who told me they'd be sending someone out to my place in a few days. I advised her not to phone me because I tend not to answer phone calls from unfamiliar numbers, but that text messages would be fine. The repairman gave me some more phone numbers so that I could call for someone to complete the circuit-breaker repairs after the Carrier people had come and gone.

I'm not sure how clear all that is, so let me lay out the chronology in list form:

1. I'm to wait for the Carrier people to come out and repair the A/C's leak. A person or team will be at my place in three to five days.
2. Once Carrier has come and gone, I'm to call my building's repairmen to come and complete the repair of my circuit breaker, which is currently hanging out of the wall while water continues to drip inside the wall.

It's a complicated dance for what seems a straightforward problem, but because the A/C is a Carrier-brand piece of equipment, we have no choice but to involve Carrier in the repairs. Otherwise, there'd be no one but in-house repairmen on the case. For now, I've got power, and that's what matters. The food in my fridge is safe, and I can use the leaky A/C to keep myself alive and sane in this oppressive heat and humidity. In a few days, both the A/C and the circuit breaker ought to be repaired. It'd be nice to get through at least one summer in this apartment building without any circuit-breaker-related problems. The most annoying aspect of last night's fritz is that I had been planning to go see a matinee showing of "Dunkirk" today, but because I had to stay put to wait for the repairman, that wasn't possible. Tomorrow, then.

it's nice to be fondly remembered

My buddy Mike sent me screen shots from Twitter (see below). It seems I'm missed. Twitter had its flaws, but it was a better experience, in many ways, than Gab currently is. Gab has some interesting people, but it's also fairly univocal, and there's a great deal of alt-right racism and antisemitism. Not to say that Twitter was bigotry-free (ha!), but I suppose the darkness is more visible on Gab because it's a self-selecting demographic of similar-minded people. The assholes stand out more clearly because there's less background noise.

Anyway, I do feel sad about abandoning so many Twitter e-friends. They were and are good folks. At the same time, I'm sure they're doing just fine without me.

Friday, July 21, 2017

dinner with the coworkers

Office life has changed completely for me. Whereas life before had been library-quiet, life now is as noisy as a classroom full of caffeinated middle schoolers. Before, I had only one coworker, and he was assigned completely different projects from mine, so we barely talked during the day, except when we'd do our thrice-daily walks. The boss might come in, tell one or several of his many, many fish stories, ask us a few questions about our progress, then lapse into silence along with us. For an introvert like me, this was a good arrangement. Now, though, I work with a cluster of new coworkers who all know each other well, who have already formed strong bonds of collegiality and camaraderie, and who are constantly visiting each other's work stations to ask about something or to teach something. This new group has already grabbed up my coworker and plunged him into one of their projects (the grading of a massive pile of student essays), and they aren't shy about lobbing grammar questions my way, either.

Tonight was our department's first dinner out together (what Koreans call hwaeshik, as I romanize it, or hoesik, as I think it's officially romanized*). We ended up, after much indecision, dining at the local Ho Lee Chow, which I've reviewed here. Dinner was a noisy, random, nonlinear affair, much in the spirit of family dinners at my buddy Mike's house in Virginia: everyone talks at once, trying to get his or her thought-fragment-y point in. Chunks of ideas fly back and forth in no particular direction, and while there's plenty of noise and laughter, it's not something I enjoy very much. Sitting quietly and having a meaningful discussion that smoothly segues from topic to topic, à la "My Dinner with André," is more my style. So after about an hour at Ho Lee Chow, I felt the urge to skedaddle, and that's what I did. No disrespect to my dinner companions: they're all fine people, and I'm happy to have gotten to know them. But social occasions just aren't my thing. I suffer through them as gamely as I can, then I leave when I've had enough.

*I won't blame you for pronouncing hoesik as "hoe sick." I would, too, and that's why I prefer my more transcriptive romanization. The actual Korean sounds a bit like "hweh-sheek," but spelling the Korean that way is a little too out of bounds even for me.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

this day in 1969

John McCain has brain cancer

In about a year, Senator John McCain, who has lately been a major thorn in Donald Trump's side, will no longer be among us: he has been diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressively malignant form of brain tumor there is. GBM took my mother, and before her, it took Senator Ted Kennedy. Median life expectancy after diagnosis is about twelve months; Mom lived nine months, and Kennedy lived fourteen or fifteen. What kills a person in the end isn't so much the tumor itself as the infection that results from a depressed immune system. I don't envy Senator McCain his final ride into the darkness.

John McCain has been a leader of the Republican wing of the Never Trumpers. While I find that his behavior of late has been obnoxiously obstructionist, I can understand, to some extent, his anger at Trump: you may recall the way Trump had declared McCain not to be a war hero (McCain is famous for having been a prisoner of war in Vietnam, during which time he was tortured to the point where he could—and can—no longer raise his hands over his shoulders) because, in Trump's view, war heroes don't get caught by the enemy. McCain had benefited for years from being nearly fetishized for being an ex-POW, and this harsh reality check from the unsubtle Trump was undoubtedly an enormous blow to the ego, and very likely the source of McCain's contrarian behavior over the past year or so. McCain's pettiness at the end of his career and life will not gain him plaudits from historians who review the latter part of his public service, but I suspect it's too late for the senator to change now.

Depending on what happens next with debulking surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy, McCain probably has a few months of functional time remaining to him. After that, the tumor will cross to his other brain hemisphere, and the resulting edema from the inexorable pressure of the ever-growing cancerous tissue will shut down McCain's cognitive functions. There may be seizures; there may even be changes in mood and personality; there will certainly be cognitive impairment. By that point, McCain will already have said goodbye to life as a senator and will have retreated from public view. We'll have silence for a few months before the sudden-but-expected announcement of McCain's passing, unless McCain turns out to be one of the lucky 1-2% of GBM victims who survive long-term after initial first-line therapy.

ADDENDUM: Styx's much harsher take on McCain, whom he hates, is here.


(seen on

We are well beyond Engrish at this point.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

painful to listen to

The Zen Dudes try to talk about meditation in this video, which made me wince:

Some of what the guys say is on the money, e.g., when they talk about "being present" or breath-counting or not judging one's own thoughts as they arise. But too much of what they say is ego-centered, which is not what meditation is about at all. The guys say things like, "I think, 'Today, I'm going to be...'" or "I'll ask myself the question, 'What's it like to be me right now?'" or "It's a great way to practice self-awareness."

On Zen Meditation

tests make you testical if quizzes make you quizzical

I administered my language obstacle course the other day, and while my poor victims were sweating their way through it, I began thinking critically about the test's flaws, and about how I'd change the test if I were ever to write up an improved version. One thing I'd change is the test's focus. It's not a horrible exam, as exams go, but it is a bit all over the place, especially the grammar section at the end, which tests for several things simultaneously, such as knowledge of grammar, knowledge of grammatical terminology, and ability to proofread. That section could use a lot of retooling, and truth be told, the entire test could stand to be revamped, this time while keeping in mind the fundamental question of test design: what are you testing for? If you don't have a clear answer to that question, designing your test will be difficult.

This past weekend found me in the office, toiling away for two full work days to prepare an answer-explanation packet for my charges. I expected griping once I made the exam results known, and I got some griping, but it was all of the low-grade, good-natured, grumbly sort, expressed in the form of jokes and playful jibes, not as passionate accusations or teeth-gnashing. I had been worried that, in giving the test, I would be souring my relationship with a new group of coworkers, but they all turned out to be good sports. They thanked me for the explanation packets, and the few grumblers who did want to pursue a contentious point did so in a non-aggressive way.* To defuse the tension when I was giving out the graded tests, I doled out prizes in the form of candy bars, fruits (those were the consolation prizes), and a large tin of butter cookies. This seemed to be the right way to go, given that no fights broke out.**

The one lady who hadn't shown up last week showed up on Tuesday, and she has to take my test as well. I suppose I'll be administering it to her on Wednesday. I wonder what her reaction will be. One of her coworkers told me she's a big-time descriptivist, which means she'll likely hate the test. Oh, well.

*I got two complaints—one about hyphenation and another about commas between coordinate adjectives. I looked into the hyphenation issue and concluded the complainant had a point, but that there were plenty of authorities who swung my way on the question. As for the comma issue, well... that wasn't even worth discussing.

**The test has four sections, so I gave out prizes to the people who did the best in each section, and I reserved the giant tin of butter cookies for the person who had the highest overall score. The consolation prizes—ripe Korean plums—went to the two lowest scorers, who accepted their awards in a cheerfully sportsmanlike way.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Ave, Justin (again)!

I don't know what it is, but my friend Justin is on a foodblogging kick.

He lives in Thailand. Here are some fusion Tacos de Larb.

Monday, July 17, 2017

David So's discourse on slutty girls

You have to get past So's reflexive Kevin Hart impression, but this video from 2013 is still pretty funny. And there may be a nugget of wisdom in there, for those with ears to hear.


All this time, I've been mispronouncing "Bundaberg," as in the ginger beer that I raved about. I've been defaulting to German and saying "BOON-duh-berg," but my new Aussie coworker tells me it's "BUNN-duh-berg," a town not far from where he was born. I stand corrected!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

cashier bitch

All I want to do, when I go to the grocery, is shop and get outta there. Normally, that's how things work, but every once in a while, I find myself dealing with some cheeky bitch of a cashier who wants to fuck up my day. It's standard procedure for these ladies to ask me whether I want a bag, and if so, what type. I can choose between blue garbage bags (that serve perfectly well as shopping bags, mainly thanks to their handles) and white eMart plastic bags. I always choose the latter because I save the bags and use them for sorting out the recycling. (It's ridiculous, but I have six small garbage cans in my apartment: two are for generic garbage; the other four are for the recycling—paper, glass/aluminum, PET plastic bottles, and plastic bags/wrapping, which Koreans call binil, i.e., "vinyl.")

Today, I asked the lady for two eMart bags. She didn't acknowledge that she had heard me, and she gave me only one bag. "Please give me two bags," I said politely.

"Yes," she responded with obvious irritation, making as if she'd heard me the first time. Had she? If she hadn't heard me the first time, she was being rude by sounding irritated now. If she had heard me the first time, she was being rude by not giving me two bags when I'd asked for them. Either way, she was being rude.

The lady rang up my purchases and shoved a slip of paper in my face: "This is your discount coupon," she began in Korean. "You can use it next week, okay?" She said the "next week" in English, then said "Discount coupon!" in English.

"It's okay to speak to me in Korean," I said with a smile. I often say this to Koreans who automatically assume I can't speak Korean. In the meantime, I was wondering why the lady had begun her coupon spiel in Korean, then switched to English in mid-stream. I can only assume I looked especially stupid to her. Normally, when I admonish cashiers by saying that speaking Korean is fine, they respond with a smile.

"Huh?" grunted the cashier, unsmilingly. What I had said had been perfectly clear, but she was obviously one of those people who, upon seeing a foreign face and hearing understandable Korean, couldn't process how that was possible.

So I spoke more slowly and more loudly: "You can speak Korean to me."

She rose her voice in response: "I can speak Korean to you?" Then she gave me the complete coupon spiel again, this time entirely in Korean. I could have cut her off and said, "You already told me all this," but she was in cunt mode, so I let her ride it out. When she finished, I gathered my bags, thanked her, and left the store with a "Goodbye," to which she did not deign to respond. What a fucking twat.

Just venting, guys. Just venting.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

toilet rules

I think I need to make a coffee-table book devoted to the awesome signs I see inside Korean toilet cubicles. Here's a pic from the new building that I work in:

1 person, 1 session: PLEASE use only 50 cm (using more is a waste)

50 centimeters is about 19.6 inches—slightly more than a biblical cubit.

"South Korea's Brain Drain"

Here's an article about how Korea's "Hell Chosun" atmosphere is driving out its brightest minds. Here's a snippet:

But beneath this veneer of “Gangnam Style” glitz and first-world efficiency lies a different story. Ask most Seoulites in their 20s and 30s about living in Korea, and you’re likely to hear a litany of complaints. This trait is especially acute in the country’s highly educated youths, particularly amongst those who have worked or studied abroad.

The 2016 IMD World Talent report ranked South Korea 46th out of 61 countries on its Brain Drain Index, placing it below less developed nations like India and the Philippines. The same report listed South Korea 47th countries on quality of life, and a pitiful 59th on worker motivation.

In recent years, young South Koreans have begun referring to the country as “Hell Chosun,” a reference to the Chosun Dynasty that lasted on the peninsula for 500 years, until the late 19th century. While “hell” is certainly hyperbole, if not outright offensive to those who live in war zones and abject poverty, the emergence of this phrase provides insight into Korean youths’ perceptions of their society.

Heo Seung-hee left South Korea in 2011 and now works as a registered nurse in Sydney, Australia. Before emigrating, she was employed at one of the most prestigious hospitals in Seoul.

“My strongest motivation to leave was the work culture,” she said. “There was really bad corruption. The doctors and nurses only get jobs because they graduated from a specific university or knew the right people.”

This idea of earning the right credentials and making the right contacts is drilled in from an early age. South Korea places enormous pressure on its youth. From elementary school onward, most students must attend an array of extracurricular cram schools to help them outpace their peers, often working late into the night to complete their assignments. These years of effort have only one goal: to prepare them for the ultra-competitive and life-defining college entrance exam.

After a brief stint of soju-infused bonding at university, the men are sent off for around two years of national service, usually in the military or police. Later, when they begin to look for work, Koreans of both genders must slog through months or years of part time jobs, unpaid internships, and qualifying exams just to enter a workforce that is conservative, as hierarchical as the military, and dominated by men.

“There was really bad gender discrimination,” said Heo. “Anyone that was male would ask me to bring them coffee. When we went to a hoesik [a company dinner], I had to sit next to them and pour alcohol for them. I felt uncomfortable, but it was a very common practice.”

There's much more. Go read the rest.

Friday, July 14, 2017

I had a good laugh

...and I hope you will, too. Who's the most badass of them all?

(seen on

Ave, Justin!

A prize for culinary inventiveness goes to my friend Justin Yoshida.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

moved... sort of

Up to now, I've been working in the Daechi/Mido branch of my company. The main branch of my company, to which R&D is moving, sits just up the street in an old building that recently had almost half of its fourth floor cleared out completely. When I first went over to check out the site, weeks ago, the space was nothing but bare concrete, dangling wires, and limp ventilation pipes. Not even a month later, the space has been miraculously (but also hastily) transformed into a suite of offices, most of which are glass-walled. The makeshift construction-workers' door that had greeted me in June has now been replaced by a sleek, electronic sliding-glass door. Our offices all have doors with electronic keypads, and despite the building's overall decrepitude, our interior space looks quite shiny and new. It also looks a hell of a lot like an aquarium, a fact that many of us remarked upon—not all positively.

I had the chance to meet most of our new coworkers; two were missing today. The ones I met seemed like good folks, all in all. We sat down for coffee at one point, and I got to know a couple of the newbies better than the rest. One gent turns out to have biked the very same Gukto Jongju that I walked; we expressed our mutual respect. All of the newbies are nervous about taking my language obstacle course; I've apologized profusely to them (well, to the ones I've met, anyway), and I've joked that one or more smartasses will probably grumble in disagreement about some of the questions. I think they'll be taking the test tomorrow, which means I'll be grading a batch of tests for a good part of the day.

I left work early today to meet up with my buddy Tom and his friend Patrick, so I ended up saying goodbye to my new coworkers a little before 5PM. Dinner with Tom meant galmaegi, of course. Conversation was hilarious, especially since Tom and Patrick needle each other like an old married couple. While I sat with the guys, I thought about tomorrow. My work station is more-or-less set up, and I heard that the LAN/internet connection was put into place after I had left. But there's more to do, in terms of setup, and I hear we're getting new bookshelves to replace the ones we currently have (which we've already filled with books and other knickknacks). So tomorrow ought to be interesting.

As the boss himself said, things won't begin to smooth out until a couple weeks have passed; there will be some rough patches during this shakedown period. I've already heard complaints from the newbies* about their office chairs, about bookshelf space, and about desk sizes (many of us, especially those of us doing design work, use two monitors side by side). We have other issues to resolve as well, such as whether we're going to consolidate our Dropbox storage space. We three "originals" from R&D also need to sit together and discuss the flow chart of power: am I to become a supervisor or not? I'm hoping not, but that's up in the air.

Exciting times ahead.

*I use the term "newbie" advisedly: some of these people have been at the company longer than I have, but they're all new to the R&D department.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

the internet for dummies

Unfamiliar with terms like "normie," "Pepe," and "Kek"? Roaming Millennial has a primer for you, and it's consumable in under eight minutes!

more proof that central planning sucks

Call it socialism, communism, Kimism, blue-state economics, or whatever: central planning sucks balls. It's why Western Europe's various economies are sagging. It's why oil-rich Venezuela has become a massive shithole. It's why there's no more Soviet Union, and why North Korea lags so far behind South Korea in economic robustness.

And now, this:

Best-Run States Are Low-Tax Republican, Worst-Run Are High-Tax Democratic, Study Finds

Over on, there's a growing movement—patchwork and confused right now, but gaining coherence and momentum—to support Californians who want their state to secede from the Union. Some call it Calexit; others simply say, "Good fucking riddance."

Even better:

And finally, this:

We will know them by their fruits.

"Spider-Man: Homecoming": review

Wanting to avoid the crowds, I went to the 7AM matinee of "Spider-Man: Homecoming" this past Sunday. The theater still had plenty of people in it, even at that time of day, and the movie was, last I checked, raking in over 80% of the ticket shares for all movies in South Korea. Marvel has marketed itself excellently all across the world, and Korean expectations for this film were much higher than they were for the superb "Wonder Woman" (reviewed here).

In this instance, the excitement is justified. "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is a good and worthwhile re-re-reboot of the Spider-Man character. You'll recall that we had a foretaste of Spider-Man in "Captain America: Civil War" (reviewed here), a movie that definitively ushered Spider-Man, now played by young British dancer/acrobat Tom Holland, into the MCU (i.e., the Marvel Cinematic Universe), along with Spider-Man's new, hotter Aunt May, played with winsome, MILF-y charm by Marisa Tomei. In "Homecoming," the movie is largely Spider-Man's, although Tony Stark/Iron Man is a minor-but-significant presence in something of a mentor's role for young Peter Parker.

Directed by Jon Watts and starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Robert Downey, Donald Glover, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, and Tony Revolori, "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is not exactly a rehash of the Spider-Man origin story (already done twice with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield): it's more of a coming-of-age story for Peter Parker (Holland) as he grows into his role as a new superhero. Peter is a sophomore who has a crush on statuesque Liz (Harrier). He's best friends with fellow science geek Ned (Batalon); he and Ned sort-of hang out with weird, stand-offish Michelle (Zendaya), navigating the perilous waters of life in a sci-tech high school. Peter lives in Queens with Aunt May but moonlights as Spider-Man. Ever since his "audition" in Germany (during "Captain America: Civil War"—the airport fight), Peter has been on Tony Stark's radar, and Stark has taken a liking to the kid, to the point where Stark has created a whole new StarkTech Spidey suit for the teen to wear. The suit comes equipped with a dizzying array of features and functions, and much of the movie is about Peter and Ned's discovery of just what the suit is capable of doing (taser webs! web grenades! kill mode and interrogation mode!). The movie does an excellent job of getting us into Peter's headspace so that we can understand what it's like to be a stressed-out high-school student (with the unasked-for gift of amazing superpowers) who must keep his heroic identity a secret from those he's closest to. Like most of the heroes we've come to know, Peter Parker walks the razor's edge of a double life.

The movie's main villain is Adrian Toomes (Keaton), whom we later know as The Vulture. Toomes is the head of a cleanup team that moves in after the Avengers have left a mess. When we first meet Toomes and his team, they are in the midst of cleaning up after the Battle of New York (see the first "Avengers" movie, reviewed here). A federal team, the US Department of Damage Control, suddenly arrives and flatly declares that Toomes's contract is now void, and that Toomes can leave. Seething, Toomes quickly realizes that the USDoDC is Tony Stark's creation. With a family and employees to care for, Toomes is left with nothing but the already-scavenged Chitauri weaponry he has managed to spirit away from the Battle of New York. Noting to his men that times are changing, Toomes concludes that he and his men must change, too, and thus begins the career of The Vulture.

These three parallel tracks, then, are what "Homecoming" runs on: (1) Peter's balancing of high-school and home life with his superhero life, (2) Peter's relationship with Tony Stark, a father figure whom Peter is eager to please (as well as Peter's most direct connection to the Avengers, whom he idolizes), and (3) the Vulture's plans to hijack not just Chitauri leftovers, but also newfangled StarkTech gadgetry as a way to strike at Stark. Once Peter begins tangling with The Vulture, things get interesting when it turns out that Peter and Adrian Toomes are only one degree of separation apart from each other—a fact that Toomes figures out first (thus making him one of the better and smarter MCU villains we've seen).

Overall, I very much enjoyed "Homecoming." Tom Holland is a great choice to play Spider-Man, and Michael Keaton's bizarre trajectory from Batman to Bird Man (briefly reviewed here) to the cold-eyed Vulture shows that Keaton is perfectly comfortable in the world of oversized heroes and villains.

Let's talk about what "Homecoming" gets right and what it gets wrong. We'll begin with the positives. The movie's cast is great; Jacob Batalon is funny and earnest as Peter's friend Ned; Zendaya is convincingly nerdy as the aloof brainiac Michelle; Marisa Tomei, as Aunt May, gets what is arguably the movie's funniest line right as we cut to the ending credits. The story focuses a great deal on character development, which is always a relief to those of us in the audience who are older and grumpier than the kids who are concentrating on the quality of the special effects (more on that below). Director Jon Watts proves to be good at pacing the story more or less evenly, and he doesn't allow "Homecoming" to fall into the trap of becoming another cinematic vehicle for Iron Man. Robert Downey is always a likable and compelling screen presence, but he isn't allowed to overshadow Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, and the rest of the young cast. "Homecoming" is also shot through with plenty of humor, some of which is related to Spider-Man's StarkTech suit. (The "interrogation mode" scene gave me a chuckle, largely thanks to Donald Glover's uncharacteristically deadpan performance.) Peter's school tormentor Flash Thompson (Revolori) isn't a physical bully in "Homecoming" the way Flash was in the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield versions; he's more of a psychological tormentor, and it's not a big spoiler to say that neither Peter Parker nor Spider-Man can quite get the best of him because of the non-physical nature of his harassment. Of the three filmic versions of Spider-Man, "Homecoming" gives us the best glimpse into high-school life (keeping in mind that this isn't a typical high school), and it accomplishes this despite being fairly plot- and characterization-heavy.

"Homecoming" has other pluses in its favor. For example, this version of Spider-Man is shown making rookie mistakes consistent with his rookie-superhero status: at one point, our hero webs a guy to a car, thinking the man is a car thief, but it turns out that the man is indeed the car's owner. Later on, and more seriously, Spider-Man's over-eager attempt to take down The Vulture's crew on the Staten Island Ferry leads to a disaster that could have cost many lives. This is a fallible, gawky, and even clumsy Spider-Man—something we've never seen before.* I also need to heap praise on Michael Keaton: his Vulture is a smart villain, but there's one scene in particular, in which we see Adrian Toomes through a car's rear-view mirror, putting two and two together as he realizes who Spider-Man is. The moment is reminiscent of Willem Dafoe's excellent dinner-table scene in Sam Raimi's first "Spider-Man," when Norman Osborn figures out Spider-Man's identity after he sees the gash on Peter Parker's forearm. For Keaton, this is an excellent bit of acting, all seen through a narrow rectangle that crops out most of the actor's face, and it's one of the artistic highlights of the movie.

Now, let's switch to what the movie doesn't get right. Please keep in mind that, even if I go into some detail on these complaints, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, so whatever minuses I mention need to be put in that perspective. First: tone. We now live in a post-"Deadpool," post-"Logan" era (reviews here and here, respectively). This means blood, guts, swearing, filthy humor, and scary examples of human (or even inhuman) evil. Marvel movies have shown they're now willing to go there, and to my mind, there's no going back. The "Guardians of the Galaxy" films (reviews here and here) dialed back the violence and vulgarity a bit, but they, like "Dr. Strange" (review here) brought their own unique and highly original sense of unself-conscious fun to the mix. "Homecoming" feels like a retreat from all that ramped-up intensity, which is a bit disappointing. Then again, one doesn't go to a "Spider-Man" film looking for blood, gore, and casually lobbed f-bombs, so I admit I may be expecting too much. Spider-Man has generally been a more wholesome hero; he's gone the dark route in the comics on several occasions, but his story is generally the story of a teen who somehow remains cheerfully positive despite crushing adversity.

Another problem I had was with the roping-in of Spider-Man to the MCU. If you were to ask me to rank the three cinematic Spider-Men, I'd probably still put Tobey Maguire's version in first place. Maguire gave us a touching, heartfelt performance that allowed us to feel Spider-Man's humanity and compassion. It was far better than the wisecracking turn that poofy-haired Andrew Garfield gave us, and while Tom Holland handles the role with skill and aplomb, the character is no longer a stand-alone thanks to Tony Stark and the Avengers. While it's true that Iron Man isn't in "Homecoming" for long, his presence is with us more or less constantly thanks to the StarkTech suit that Parker wears for much of the film. With every new StarkTech feature—webwings, enhanced espionage mode, a suit AI that Peter names Karen (voice of Jennifer Connelly!)—we're reminded of the pervasive influence of Iron Man. I understand that Marvel Studios has plans for Spider-Man and the larger MCU universe, but I couldn't help feeling that Spider-Man's frequent dependence on Stark detracted from his character at least a little.

Before watching "Homecoming," I saw some non-spoilery reviews of the movie, and many of the reviewers complained that some of the action sequences were choppily edited, making the action occasionally difficult to follow. I'd have to agree. This wasn't like watching Tim Miller's "Deadpool." Miller (and remember that "Deadpool" is his first-ever major film) is a natural when it comes to directing action. Jon Watts seems to be a bit less comfortable depicting fights and frenetic commotion, although I wouldn't say those scenes were badly filmed. It's simply that, now and again, it's hard to figure out who is doing what, and where.

There's also the issue of special effects, another complaint of mine. Back in 2002, when Sam Raimi's first "Spider-Man" came out, some people griped that the CGI animation for Spider-Man looked far too fake. CGI, when used for animating human motion, can be problematic because people, especially when moving fast, risk looking far too light and plasticky. Since the 2002 film, special-effects crews have tried and tried to animate Spider-Man more realistically, but there's no escaping the uncanny valley, it seems. Even in "Homecoming," there are moments when Spider-Man's movements, especially the ultra-fast ones, simply look fake. Given the widespread nature of the problem, which bedevils all sorts of effects-heavy films, I'm not sure this is a specific complaint against this movie. But like it or not, this movie contains moments where it's hard to suspend disbelief.

And as with other recent films, one of the biggest disappointments for me was, once again, Michael Giacchino's musical score. Giacchino has real talent, and I think he's a musical genius, but his best-ever score was for "The Incredibles" back in 2004, and it's been downhill ever since. As I've noted before, his score for "Star Trek" relied too heavily on a single leitmotif played over and over ad nauseam. Since "Trek," his scores have echoed the music of veterans like Alan Silvestri ("Predator," "Back to the Future," "The Abyss," "Beowulf," "The Avengers," etc.) and, more specifically, Danny Elfman ("Batman," Sam Raimi's first two "Spider-Man" films, etc.). The score for "Homecoming" owes a major debt to Elfman and feels like lazy cribbing. For a while now, I've been under the impression that Giacchino is taking orders from directors and producers and studio bigwigs who are asking him to produce their notion of what's needed for a given film. I suspect that, back when he was scoring "The Incredibles," Giacchino had much more leeway to be independently creative, and he rewarded the studio's and the audience's trust by producing some truly awesome orchestrations.** It really is a shame to see how Giacchino has been domesticated over the years, and I hope, one day, that the man gets mad, hulks out, and breaks free of the uncreative chains currently binding and stultifying him. To be honest, while I don't like the "Homecoming" score that much, I can't honestly blame Giacchino for it because I don't think it's really a reflection of who he is.

Those complaints aside, "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is a very good action film that moves along at a merry clip, leavening the plot with plenty of humor, giving us a dimensional villain, and showcasing yeoman's work from the entire cast. As summer blockbusters go, it's worth your while, and if you're a comic-book nerd, you'll appreciate all the sly and overt references hidden and/or displayed throughout the movie.

*True, in Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man 2," our hero temporarily loses his powers because of a psychological hangup, but that's not the same thing at all. And while Raimi's first "Spider-Man" shows Peter stumbling a bit before finding his feet, that awkward phase is relatively short, whereas in "Homecoming," it's more of a running joke throughout much of the film.

**I could go on and on about how amazing the score for "The Incredibles" is. The movie weaves together the superhero and spy-movie genres, and Giacchino's music is—pardon the pun—an exquisitely pitch-perfect match for the action. It truly is a work of genius, and it helps make the movie. Pixar's film wouldn't be half as good without Giacchino.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

what a liberal, reformist Muslim looks and sounds like

This is must-see viewing as far as I'm concerned: Roaming Millennial interviews Imam Tawhidi of Australia, a Muslim who strongly advocates radical reform of Islam from within:

Of particular note to me is this moment in the interview (starting at approx. 26:08):

ROAMING MILLENNIAL: ...and I think the issue of who has the most legitimate form of Islam is one that is particularly contentious within the Muslim community. You mentioned earlier "my form of Islam," or, you know, "my type—my type of interpretation of Islam." In your opinion, do you think that, when you look at what the Koran actually preaches, do you think that these fundamentalists in some ways have a more true-to-form version of Islam?

IMAM TAWHIDI: When I say "my version of Islam," we need to understand that Islam is not one big school of thought. It's a combination of seventy-three schools of thought. And my school of thought is a minority—a very—probably the smallest school of thought out there. And most of our scholars are being imprisoned and butchered and killed and poisoned and so on by the Iranian regime.

With regards to the Holy Koran, we need to make sure that we treat it as a book. Let's not give it more of time [sic] than it actually deserves. Maybe people want to deal with ISIS, but they point back at the Holy Koran. The Koran is a book. We need to treat it as a book. The human is a human being with a brain. When the human being reads a book and then turns around and kills people, then clearly the problem is with the human being! I mean, I could give you the First Testament.* If you're gonna read that book, and you're gonna go out killing people because of Matthew 10, verse 34, that says that Jesus came with a sword,** and someone's gonna go out there and start killing people! Or if I gave them the Torah, or gave them the Sohof of Abraham and said, "Come"—every book is gonna have verses of defense!

Every book is gonna have something we don't like in it, something we don't see [as] compatible because, obviously, they're over a thousand years old—two thousand, three thousand, four thousand! If we're gonna limit the discussion to a book, then we're not actually gonna go anywhere with reforming Islam.

There's more to Islam and terrorism than just a book because if you say to me, "Imam, what's the main book for your denomination?" I'll say, "The Koran!" You get ISIS, and you say, "What's the main book for your denomination?" They'll say, "The Koran!" So all of these groups, they all read the Koran.

The problem is, we believe that the majority of these statements are actually metaphoric, or symbolic. Other versions of Islam take them to [be] the literal words, literal meaning. So for us, we're very flexible. We're very flexible when viewing the Koran. Because it's a book! It is a book! That's it! It's not like God came down in a form, and we're rejecting God as a being, you know. We're just dealing with the Koran, and we're rejecting all of the Wahabi, Salafi, terrorist, interpretation [sic] of these verses.

I might be in the middle of the road politically—leaning left on some issues and right on others—but when it comes to religion, I'm a flaming religious liberal. This imam is speaking my language, and I think this is the first time I've ever actually heard a liberal Muslim—liberal in the Western sense—speak his mind. As the imam himself notes, his point of view represents a vanishingly small minority in Islam, but he wants to fight to make his perspective more prevalent. A more secular, reformed, Westernized Islam is certainly conceivable, and if it's conceivable, then sociologically speaking, it's a vision that's possible to realize.

That said, the task of cultivating such a version of Islam in today's world is about as herculean as it gets. Part of the problem is that the imam is asking most Muslims to accept heresy. When the imam insists, for example, that the Koran "is a book," he's implying that the Koran is merely a book, i.e., a piece of literature like other pieces of literature. (This is reinforced when, later on, he talks about understanding scripture as having symbolic or metaphorical meaning—something that most practicing Muslims could never countenance.)

As I learned in my own religious-studies courses, the analogue of Jesus the Christ in Islam is not Muhammad—it's the Koran itself. The Koran is understood by Muslims to be the Word of God incarnate in the same way that Christians understand the Christ to be the incarnated Word. Some theologians even coined the Latin term inlibritio (the in-book-ing) as a rough analogue to the Christian incarnatio (the en-flesh-ing). This is why the physical Koran must be treated by Muslims with utmost respect, reverence, and adoration. Proclaiming the Holy Koran to be "[just] a book" isn't merely rude: it's sacrilegious. And with the Koran thus shielded by this strong sense of taboo, how on Earth is this imam ever going to cultivate a less literalist understanding of the holy word?***

There are huge problems for any Muslim liberal who is serious about liberalizing Islam. But what excited me most about this man's discourse was his affirmation of my mantra: religions are as they are practiced. His point about how different types of Muslims all cleave to the same scripture is a beautiful illustration of the point I've been trying over and over to make on this blog (at least back when I used to write more about religious topics): the same scripture can lead to different thoughts and behaviors depending on the approaches taken by the people reading it. It's a matter of perspective and temperament, for you see: it's the people, NOT the doctrines, who make the religion. There is nothing inherent in the scriptures that dooms Islam to manifest in only one way. Islam—or so a Buddhist would say—has no essence. It merely is what it is right now, and there's no cosmically necessary reason for it to remain this way. In fact, if the world teaches anything, it's that everything changes, so Islam will change, too. Because that's the nature of existence. Globally peaceful Islam will only emerge when its practitioners are globally peaceful: that's the long and the short of it. I completely disagree with the people (many of whom are on the right) who insist that Islam is somehow inherently or essentially violent. It isn't. It isn't because—again, as the Buddhists would say—nothing is inherently or essentially anything, for everything is intercausal.

We may not live to see the advent of a globally peaceful Islam that has evolved out of its current benighted state into something more enlightened and civilized. But I trust that the current state of affairs won't last forever: nothing lasts forever.

*The term "First Testament" is in fact used among biblical scholars who wish to avoid whatever supersessionist connotations there might be with the term "Old Testament." In this particular discussion, though, the imam actually intended to cite the Second (i.e., the New) Testament, as the scriptural example he gives refers to Jesus. See next footnote.

**Matthew 10:34: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Many modern liberal Christians are uncomfortable with this seemingly militant Jesus, but I think the larger point the imam is making is one that I've made repeatedly on this blog, to wit: it's possible to reinterpret even the most extreme verses of scripture in an irenic way. See the second footnote in this old entry to learn more about sword imagery in some religions.

***Note, too, that this is exactly the opposite of what Zen Buddhism teaches about its own scripture. While Seon scholar (and former Seon monk) Robert Buswell cautions Westerners about cavalierly labeling Zen as "anti-scriptural," as people with a superficial understanding of Zen are wont to do, it's nevertheless true that Zen itself is comfortable with the idea of using the holy scriptures as toilet paper if that's what upaya (i.e., skillful means) calls for in the present moment. Why? Because the Most Important Thing isn't somehow magically contained within the scriptures: the best the scriptures can do is point to that thing, i.e., to refer beyond themselves to something far greater and deeper, and yet—as both Zennists and Taoists would say—something radically ordinary.

Monday, July 10, 2017

sigh... there's a simple solution

Your reusable water bottle is likely full of harmful bacteria, according to this article.

But thank God you read this blog because I have the solution!


You're welcome.

I knew it

Just got word that our moving day has again been delayed—thanks to rain this time—to Thursday. According to my phone's app, Thursday will be 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius) and partly cloudy. Huzzah! An auspicious day for moving, I say!

This is Korea: nothing ever moves in a straight line, you should never trust what anyone tells you (especially when it comes to plans), and last-minute changes are de rigueur.

NB: the boss just got back into the office, and he's heard nothing about a change in moving date. He's also ticked off that a Korean subordinate found about about this before he did. As he says, Koreans have trouble calling foreigners, even when they speak fluent Korean, which is why the caller called my boss's subordinate instead of calling my boss directly. In any event, we're waiting for confirmation about the date change. It could be that we're still on for Tuesday. In Korea, to stay sane, you must keep an open mind and keep your options equally open. Many Westerners are driven crazy by this because they adopt an inflexible, Stick to the plan! attitude that makes them kick and scream when things go off the rails.

But let me clarify: there are times when it's the Westerner who's inflexible, but there are other times when it's the Korean who's more inflexible. More later, perhaps.

Monday lunch

Today's lunch fest is now over. My stuffed-burger patties weighed in at a full ten ounces (280 g on my kitchen scale) after cooking, so my boss and coworker pronounced themselves defeated and unable to eat the Costco franks after having worked their way through their respective burgers. Below are some pics of my own lunch. Click to enlarge.

Whenever I have a choice between ketchup and BBQ sauce for a burger, I always opt for BBQ sauce (which I also prefer for dipping my french fries). And although I brought onions for my lunch partners, I avoided placing that vile vegetation on my own sacred burger. The second pic allows you to see the Gorgonzola and a little morsel of bacon peeking out. I made the burgers by using a 6-ounce patty on the bottom, which I molded into a bowl shape. I then added the stuffing (cheese + bacon) and topped the bowl with a 4-ounce patty. Next, I pinched and crimped the two patties together to form what turned out to be nearly perfect seals on all six burgers: during the cooking process, I lost only a small drop of Gorgonzola through a tiny, tiny flaw in one burger. That was a proud-dad moment for me. (If the burgers are my children, then I guess I've sent them off to be slaughtered.)

My burger, laid out:

My burger, with a cross-section closeup:

My Costco frank:

Purists will, of course, scream about my having desecrated the frank with ketchup, but know this: I often eat hot dogs with nothing but ketchup on them.


I brought four burgers and four dogs to the office; there's one burger and there are three dogs left. The boss claims he'll be eating a dog later today; my coworker will be taking the remaining burger and two dogs home to share with his girlfriend. Back at my apartment, I've got one more burger patty and maybe eight or nine more Costco franks—plus plenty of burger and dog buns—waiting to be destroyed. I also have three pounds of bacon waiting to be cooked to a crisp, as well as a load of lettuce and tomatoes, so it appears I'll be eating plenty of BLTs this week. One day, I need to try the Englishman's "bacon sarnie"... but where to get brown sauce? Dunno. If I can't find it, I'll have to make it, I suppose.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Darth Vader: Lord of the Chips

when you see the crazy lady, you will believe


the approval of an expert

My brother David works in the creative department of his company—we'll call it Rumpelstiltskin*—in Washington, DC. His company is a PR firm that creates materials for various private and public organizations, including the federal government. This often means creating videos, flyers, and other material meant for broadcast and/or distribution. David is part of a team of "creatives," as they're called; in his case, he's the jack-of-all-trades tech guy, and he has created plenty of videos featuring live action and animation. David selects music tracks, edits video for pacing and logical sequencing, finds actors, adds animation and other special effects, and responds to most of the other technical demands of video-making. David's team includes other creatives who are good at things like art, writing, and graphic design.

One of David's coworkers is a Russian graphic designer named Nat. Over Skype the other night, David told me he had shown Nat the graphic design I had recently blogged (here), and he said she loved it. I told David I was gratified to get validation from a real expert, especially since I'm no pro at design, but I also told David that he should have simply shown Nat the picture without saying it had been done by his brother. That way, she'd have given a more honest opinion. But David reassured me that Nat is actually a fairly blunt sort of person who doesn't pull punches, so the opinion she expressed was sincere. And now that I've been to David's company's website and seen a picture of Nat for myself, I think I'm in love.

Anyway, cool: my design aesthetic makes sense to someone, at least.

*In case you don't remember, Rumpelstiltskin is an imp who helps out a miller's daughter by magically spinning straw into gold to satisfy the cruel king who has imprisoned the girl. This story is probably also the origin of the modern joke about demanding someone's firstborn child in return for a favor or a service. Anyway, just as Rumpelstiltskin magically gets things done for others, David's company also magically gets things done for those it contracts with.

pickles for impatient people

I finally tracked down a recipe that I first saw on a video: it's for "instant" pickles, and it doesn't require a whole week of your time and lots of stress about whether foreign bacteria might mess up the fermentation process. No: this recipe (more technique, really) allows you to make pickles that can be served within thirty minutes. Fuck, yeah! That's my kind of pickle!

Don't be fooled by the many supposedly "quick" pickle recipes out there. Most of those recipes still require you to wait at least a day or two before you can partake of your drunken cukes. Fuck that. Pickles were never meant to suffer for a week in pickling solution, losing their cellular integrity and turning unpleasantly sour. Pickles ought to be bright and fresh and deliciously crunchy, as these Food Lab pickles are.

I'll be making my own batches soon. Very soon.

over the cliff

This coming Tuesday—unless there's another sudden change in plans—we're moving to our new office down the street, which is located in a building that houses what we all call "the main branch" of our company. Monday is our final packing day, and I'm already 80% packed. I just need to label my computer equipment so it doesn't get mixed up or lost. Monday is also "belated Fourth of July party" day: I've bought all the elements for an enormous and extremely unhealthy lunch—stuffed burgers, pornographically huge hot dogs, potato chips, and cookies. (My coworker will take care of the soda situation.) I've nixed the coleslaw for simplicity's sake: it's all about the burgers and dogs.

We'll pack up the rest of our office-related possessions in the morning on Monday, stuff ourselves silly in the afternoon, and if our boss keeps his promise, we'll be leaving the office early. The movers have told us that they'll be barging into our office very early on Tuesday—around 7AM—to take our stuff to the new office, so we can simply go straight to the new office on Tuesday to begin the Great Unpacking. I've seen our new space: it's much larger, mainly because it's going to accommodate eleven people instead of our current three.

The truly interesting bit will be getting to know my new coworkers. The composition of the new crew is a bit confusing, so follow me closely: we're supposed to be taking on eight staffers (six men and two women) who currently work in other departments, thus bringing up to ten the number of people under my current boss. But two of those staffers are at the ends of their contracts and will be moving on to other things, either leaving the country or finding other work. My boss says that we will therefore be hiring two newbies right away. Where the newbies will come from, I can't say; they might come from completely outside the company, or they might be shunted over from different departments. One way or another, the R&D department will have ten employees under one manager—a significant expansion in the size of our department, and a minor victory for our boss, who has wanted to expand for a while.

Originally, there was talk of me becoming a supervisor, but I told my boss quite frankly that I'd rather not supervise anyone and would rather think of myself as a peer of and not a superior to the newcomers. I don't know how this is going to work out; the flow chart of authority still isn't entirely clear to me, and I suspect the boss himself is still thinking things through. First, he needs to figure out what projects the newbies have been working on before being shunted to R&D; next, he needs to find out the newbies' strengths and weaknesses; after that, he needs to see whether I and my coworker actually need to become supervisors.

As for taking the measure of my soon-to-be-coworkers' strengths and weaknesses, my boss wants to inflict my infamous "language obstacle course" on the eight newbies. I now feel very guilty about having created that test. I asked the boss whether he was serious about doing this, and he looked at me as if I were stupid. "I want to find out if these people are any good," he said, "and if they're not, then I'll send them elsewhere." By this, he meant not that he'd fire them if they failed my test, but that he'd shunt them over to different departments if they turned out to be linguistically incompetent. I told the boss that I'd thought the obstacle course had been developed for potential hires, not for people who are merely moving from one department to another, but his feeling is that the test can be applied more universally than that. So at some point soon, I'm going to have to inflict my obstacle course upon my new coworkers. I'm not looking forward to how that's going to affect the office dynamic, but this is not my call. (Sorry, future colleagues. But welcome to R&D, I guess!)

So this coming week will be a time of excitement and upheaval, at least in terms of moving to a new physical space and meeting new coworkers (whom I'll soon be abusing). We're plunging over the cliff, but overall, I find this radical change to be more exciting than worrisome. Perhaps cliff-plunging is the wrong metaphor to describe the situation.