Sunday, December 31, 2017

final approach

The new year is almost upon us here in Seoul: we have a little over an hour to go. Here's a nice, frothy cup of homemade eggnog while we wait.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

come on, 2017—is that all you got?

We need at least one more major celebrity death, or one more major sex-harassment takedown before this year is up—something to screw around with all the year-in-review types who're trying to wrap the past twelve months up. Carrie Fisher kicked us in the teeth with her death last Christmas; surely someone else's number must be up (preferably someone I like less than Fisher—someone on the level of a Weinstein or a Weiner).

Come on, 2017: bring it!

Friday, December 29, 2017

a year in review?

I normally do a year-in-review post right about now, but 2017, for all of its noise and nuttiness and Sturm und Drang, had only one noteworthy occurrence for me, and that was my awesome cross-country walk back during the April-May time frame. I spent 26 days walking about 550 kilometers and lost ten kilos along the way. As of today, I've since gained back about four of those kilos, but I'm currently on a losing track again, so here's hoping I get back down to 115 kg or under. For the asking, I transferred that adventure to this blog.

The walk changed my perspective on my existence in Korea. Now that I'm aware of how gorgeous this land can be, with all that beauty sitting under my nose this entire time, I find I'm no longer motivated to live a cooped-up office existence. I'd rather be out on the paths, walking and taking in the environment. As I alluded in the post right before this one, I'd like a measure of independence, so we'll see, in the coming year, whether something approaching a life of freedom and self-discipline is possible. I'm on contract until August 31, my birthday; at this point, I'd say there's an 80% likelihood that I won't be re-signing for another year. That may change, depending on my financial situation, but for the moment, my plan is to put the Golden Goose behind me as a source of income. I'm thankful to have worked there and to have earned enough to pay down all my major debts, but it's time to move on.

So I guess this is less a post about the past year than it is about the coming year. In 2018, I turn 49, so the end of my forties is now upon me. I suppose we'll soon find out whether it's true that life begins at fifty.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

called into work

There are days when I wish I were my own boss. Today was one of those days: I got a call from my boss, who needed me to come in and resolve a problem of possibly missing files. These files are part of a larger set of "daily tests" given to students who are using the grammar textbook I wrote. The boss said we were missing the tests for units 1-3 of the Level 1A book; I had thought that those tests had been created and filed away, but the boss insisted he couldn't find them. The only thing I could do to help—because I couldn't access the company's servers remotely—was schlep over to the office and do a manual search.

Turned out the files had never been created, so my task then became to sit down for three hours and create the requisite daily tests. This wasn't how I'd hoped to be spending my day today, but there we are. It's frustrating to realize you're on call, like a fireman or a medical professional, but that's how it is when the company owns you.

I need to write a goddamn bestseller and spend the rest of my days living off the royalties.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

"Patriots Day": review

Directed by Peter Berg and starring Berg regular Mark Wahlberg, 2016's "Patriots Day" (yes, it's spelled with no apostrophe) is a film about the Boston Marathon bombing perpetrated by the Tsarnaev brothers, Dzhokhar the younger and Tamerlan the elder, on April 15, 2013. If you're American, the events ought to be fresh enough in your mind that you'll recall the bombing involved the use of two IEDs—improvised explosive devices in the form of shrapnel-filled pressure cookers—to wreak havoc, spread fear, and deliver death among the marathon crowds. Three people were killed and over 260 were injured. You'll also recall that the elder brother ended up being killed during a police shootout following a massive manhunt, and the younger brother was caught hiding inside a boat, after which he was arrested and subsequently sentenced to death by lethal injection (a fact that the movie reminds us of at the very end as part of a series of title cards).

I can't say how faithfully Berg followed the actual turn of events, but it's a sure bet that a good bit of it was dramatized, with dollops of realism reserved for the story's major beats. Berg tells the story via a standard disaster-movie format, beginning with a seemingly random pastiche of unrelated storylines that will all ultimately converge when the bombing occurs. Perhaps the hardest storyline for me to swallow, at first, was that of Chinese college student Dun Meng, who goes about his day in a manner that seems utterly irrelevant to the bombing... until he ends up being carjacked by the Tsarnaev brothers very late in the film.

"Patriots Day" focuses primarily on the Boston police and the FBI's efforts to hunt down the Tsarnaevs. Wahlberg stars as Boston PD Sergeant Tommy Saunders; John Goodman is Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis; Kevin Bacon is FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers, and JK Simmons plays Watertown Police Department Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese. Some of the story also focuses on emergency medical services, as well as on the families and friends of the victims and first-responders.

This was one of the better Berg/Wahlberg efforts I've seen. Maybe it was because this drama dealt with subject matter that hit closer to home, but this film felt much more emotionally compelling than Berg's previous efforts did. Berg has a formula in all these movies: they're usually based on real-life incidents; they all showcase Mark Wahlberg (who's actually a fine actor, especially in this film); and their central theme is everyday heroism, whether we're talking about "Lone Survivor," "Deepwater Horizon," or "Patriots Day." All three of these movies end with title cards explaining the aftermaths of the events depicted, often noting that justice hasn't been completely served. The same is true for "Patriots Day," as the end notes tell us that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is on death row but processing an appeal.

Despite the boilerplate nature of the narrative, the disaster-movie template is appropriate, I think, for this particular story. Some of the scenes involve quick, impressionistic cuts, such as when the camera lingers on the officer who stands vigil over the body of eight-year-old Martin Richard. The movie makes the point that the FBI needed the boy's body to remain in place for evidentiary reasons, a fact that upset Tommy Saunders, who wanted the boy returned to his family. Berg does a good job of weaving these impressions and emotions into the larger tapestry of the tragedy and the ensuing manhunt.

The actors all hit their marks, being dramatic without being overdramatic or melodramatic. Michelle Monaghan, as Tommy Saunders's wife Carol, doesn't get much screen time but makes an impression whenever she's visible. The fine cinematography gives us an eyeful of Boston in all its wounded glory, from major sites like Fenway Park to minor locales like the Watertown neighborhood in which a police shootout occurs. The music is tastefully understated, for which I'm thankful: it would have been easy to turn this story into violence porn. Instead, there's an "Apollo 13"-like ambiance in which we see a group of smart, bickering people come together to solve a deadly problem.

It's worth noting that Wahlberg's character, Sergeant Tommy Saunders, is fictional. This fact has apparently caused some controversy, especially among Bostonians who feel the film could have simply portrayed the real-life heroes involved with this crisis. I can see where those complaints are coming from, but I found the movie watchable and even touching—much more so than either "Lone Survivor" or "Deepwater Horizon." Berg has cemented his reputation as a niche director specializing in real-life disaster films, and "Patriots Day" is, I think, another feather in his cap. Recommended.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

no go

As you may have gathered by now, based on the date/time stamps of my previous blog posts, I'm not walking out to Incheon. This is for several interconnected reasons. First, I simply haven't done much walking for the past two months, which has led to a disappointing amount of weight gain, not to mention radical deterioration in cardio fitness. These days, I'm out of breath after walking up three floors. Second, a major consequence of the lack of exercise is that my feet are in no condition to pound out thirty kilometers a day. I went on a long walk last night, and for a short while, I toyed with the possibility of just strapping on a small backpack the following morning and hiking to Incheon, anyway, but saner voices in my head convinced me otherwise. Third, I've still got that pinched nerve, which means an aching neck and aching elbows and shoulders. While that's not enough to prevent me from walking long distances (as I said, I did a long walk last night), I think it would be a problem over the course of a four-day hike. It's a bit early to say anything definite, but I think the pain is just beginning to recede. I won't consider any long walks until I'm fully (or at least mostly) recovered.

This week, I'm getting back into walking and doing a bit of low-carb dieting to lose a bit of weight and get my heart and lungs back on the path to fitness. Not exciting, but I have to start somewhere. If I do get a chance to do a long walk at some point, I'll be sure to write about it.

Vader vs. Kenobi: reimagined

I've long wanted to see a redo of the rather lame fight between Obi-wan Kenobi and Darth Vader from the first Star Wars movie. My version of the fight would be much faster and more vicious, although not nearly at the athletic level of the three-way fight we get in "The Phantom Menace." The original 1977 fight between Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader was limited in several ways: first, Alec Guinness (Kenobi) was in his sixties; second, George Lucas is on record as not having been all that invested in lightsaber choreography; Lucas felt that these fight scenes amounted to little more than two men waving glowing sticks at each other. I don't think Lucas realized just how primal and iconic the saber battles would become—at least not until he'd had a chance to process fan reactions to "Star Wars: A New Hope," after which the saber choreography was amped up for the next two films, then taken to a whole new level in 1999 when choreographer Nic Gillard was brought on board to introduce a Jedi/Sith fighting style that showcased these warriors in their prime.

Anyway, some fan or group of fans has taken on the task of reimagining the original Kenobi/Vader fight, and while there are flaws in the presentation (e.g., Kenobi's stand-in is obviously not Alec Guinness), the overall fight is glorious to behold and tantalizing in its brevity. Here's the YouTube video:

distributed intelligence

Michael Crichton's novel Prey, which is about swarming nanotechnology gone horribly wrong, is a pretty good primer on the concept of distributed intelligence, i.e., the idea that a corporate entity (e.g., an ant or termite colony) is composed of individuals that are fairly stupid when taken one at a time, but that are quite intelligent when acting in concert, as a whole. In the Joe Rogan video below, we learn about a Japanese experiment that seemingly demonstrated the "intelligence" of a certain fungus. The results are a bit creepy.

While the above interview might seem like cause for nervousness, I don't think that the form of intelligence on display by the fungus was much different from what we've seen happening in the field of artificial intelligence. This fungal feat wasn't on the level of human-fluent natural-language processing (which we don't have yet), nor was it a demonstration of artistic creativity. The fungus, in the tentative-then-relentless way in which it explored the subway network, was doing the organic form of what we see in supercomputers like Watson or Alpha Go: calculating and eliminating possibilities. There's no risk that the fungus will suddenly gain sentience and take over the world: its genetically encoded "algorithms," so to speak, work only for relatively simple tasks that can be addressed with raw processing power.

At the same time, if we stick to a basic definition of intelligence as "problem-solving ability," then we ought to at least respect the fungus for its ability to solve certain types of problems... although there is the question of whether the fungus actually realized it had encountered a problem, and then realized that it had solved it.

Nature is wondrous. Now lay off the psilocybin.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas!

A few pics from last night's Christmas Eve visit:

I gave the kids Christmas presents. For the daughter, MJ, I gave things that were more brain- and thinking-oriented than gifts I've given in the past: this time around, there was a puzzle to help her practice her spatial-relations skills, a "Where's Waldo?" book to teach her the art of disciplined scanning, a hilarious little short-story book about a small fish that stole a hat from a big fish (titled This Is Not My Hat), and finally, two stuffed animals: a flopsy bunny and an arctic fox. For the son, JA, I gave two huge Star Wars tomes: one was a generic Star Wars encyclopedia; the other was specific to "Rogue One." I also got JA a Nerf pistol with an extra pack of thirty Nerf rounds. Sadly, JA's dad, my buddy JW, was a bit of a dick: I had just finished telling the boy never to point and shoot the gun at people, when JW took the already-loaded gun and shot his son with it. This made JW's wife, BH, upset, and I totally agreed with her ire. JW was a bit drunk, so maybe that had something to do with his dickishness.

When things had cooled down a bit, BH thanked me for having gotten all these gifts for the kids. She admonished me not to buy so much for them in the future; JW leaned in and said, "What she really means is: please do keep buying this much stuff for them." BH and the kids gave me my gifts: a lovely pair of knit socks, a very useful and practical neck-warmer, a set of Polo colognes and lotions, and a Minions toy or puzzle of some sort.

I didn't stay much longer after midnight; I left the Hillstate Apartments complex, walked down the street, and took a cab back to my apartment, considerably less weighed down with presents and food. Oh, yes: BH also gifted me with about a pound of homemade bulgogi, which I'll be happily consuming this week. She had laid some bulgogi out for our Christmas Eve meal, and it was truly delicious, so I know I have something good to look forward to soon.

I hope you're having a merry Christmas, whether you're celebrating alone or with friends and/or loved ones. 2017 has proved to be one hell of a year, so it's nice to take a breather and ponder the quiet before the madness of 2018 is upon us.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

roulade: sexed up

The turkey roulade that I'm making tonight is a radically improved version of the roulade I had made for Thanksgiving. The main difference is in the filling; the turkey and prosciutto are still the same (although I used a different brand of prosciutto), but the filling is now a heady mix of American breakfast sausage, ground pine nuts (I used whole nuts last time, per one of the recipes I'd been following), spinach, button and shiitake mushrooms, grated Gran Soresino Grana Padano cheese,* ground garlic, and black pepper. I didn't add salt to the filling because I knew the cheese and the sausage (and the bacon wrapping) would be plenty salty; I did, however, add a few pinches of salt to the kilogram of turkey meat that constitutes the roulade. I also blitzed half of the cooked sausage in my food processor to ensure an even distribution of meat throughout the filling. The other half of the sausage was left crumbled but slightly chunky.

The roulade split across the top. I tried to bandage the rip with some bacon, but as you'll see in the pics below, the bacon ended up shrinking and separating. All in all, though, the roulade smelled magnificent when it came out of the oven. I'm a bit worried about how salty it'll be, given the onslaught of sausage and bacon, but the roulade will be eaten alongside salads and other victuals that ought to blunt the impact of any saltiness.

I've got another hour to go before I head over to JW's place: enough time to pack up the roulade, bag up the food and the Christmas gifts, take a shower, then head out around 9:15PM to JW's posh apartment complex.

Here are two pics of the finished product. Later on, I'll take pics of the cross section.

Out of the oven (see how it split across the top?):

Here's the roulade again, now transferred to one of those pretentious rectangular plates after having been basted in its own lovely juices (notice the enticing sheen?):

*Grana Padano has almost the same consistency as Parmigiano Reggiano, but it has a decidedly subtler, milder taste that isn't nearly as salty as Parm. I like it a lot, and for the moment, my building's grocery is selling wedges for about $8.25 a pop. There's an inedible rind that occupies at least a half-centimeter of the package; that's an unfortunate waste, but I don't mind too much.

when campus faculty members lie

More and more, I feel vindicated in not pursuing a doctorate given the rot that pervades Western academe, especially the humanities. The name "Wilfrid Laurier University" might not be familiar to you at first, but once you start watching the news segment, I suspect you'll remember the incident in question. This video is valuable as a followup to that incident. The idea that campus faculty might be so ideologically biased as to lie in order to conduct a witch hunt isn't particularly surprising, but it is still galling.

Sunday agenda

Saturday, my first day of vacation, came and went with very little done. I did a bit of last-minute shopping, and aside from that, I pretty much rested all day long, though not that comfortably, given my current pain. Sunday's agenda is fairly straightforward:

1. Wrap presents for JW's kids.
2. Prep the turkey roulade.
3. Visit JW and family at 10PM (they're at church until 9PM) and ring in Christmas. As per usual, the kids will unwrap their gifts because they can't wait to see what I've gotten them. This year, though, JW's son knows exactly what he's getting because he saw me buying him some Star Wars encyclopedias after we had seen "The Last Jedi." At the bookstore, we joked that he needs to act surprised for the sake of his mom. We'll see what happens, I guess.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

hmm... might wanna try this

Poor Man's Lobster:

Friday, December 22, 2017

my visit to the haneuiweon

My visit to the haneuiweon (Chinese-medicine clinic) lasted the better part of an hour. It felt a lot like my visit to that clinic in Hayang, back when I had that problem with my hip joint. I secretly snapped a few selfies while I was being treated this evening, so here they are. Look away now if you're unprepared to see me shirtless. I tried to keep the camera at a tasteful angle so as to minimize my pregnant stomach and man-boobs.

First up:

That's me getting the electrified acupuncture.

When I entered the clinic a bit after 6PM, all was quiet. There were no patients, and the lady at the front desk was so unoccupied that she had a sewing machine set up and was doing some seamstress-y work. The lady asked where my pain was; I told her it had started in my neck and had been migrating down my left arm. She noted this, then told me to fill out a patient-registry form: name, ID number, phone number, home address, etc. She called back to the doctor, whom she addressed as weonjangnim, which initially felt incongruous because that's the term we in the language biz use to describe the president of a language institute. I quickly realized, though, that this was a haneuiweon, with that final syllable, weon (pronounce it like "one"), being the same syllable in eohagweon ("aw-hah-gwunn"), i.e., a language institute. The head of any sort of weon is a jang, and out of respect, Koreans add the honorific particle nim, so of course the manager of a Chinese-medicine clinic would also be a weonjangnim.

The witch doctor, who was youngish and in his early fifties, ended up looking like a regular doctor, white lab coat and everything. He wore a face mask that, at that moment, covered his chin and exposed his facial features; that was about the only strange aspect of his apparel. He interviewed me about my pain and ended up telling me that I apparently have two problems: one related to my neck vertebrae (specifically, the disks) and one related to my shoulder. Not long after his explanation, he began the acupuncture, gently sticking pins into my skin. The pins generally didn't sink very deep, but there was one pin in particular that, when he stuck it into my skin, caused the muscles along my trapezius to spasm repeatedly and uncontrollably. The situation was hilarious in spite of the pain, and the doc said, "See? That's where the main pain is." Yup, pretty much. In that moment, I became convinced that those martial arts that teach one how to strike vital pressure (or nerve) points on the human body might really be on to something. It wouldn't have taken much to ratchet the pain up to blinding levels.

After sticking pins along the left side of my body, from my neck to my left wrist, the doc told the lady (who, when she wasn't sewing, doubled as a nurse/assistant) to hook up two or three of the pins to a machine that generated a gentle electric current. That's what you see happening in the above photo. I sat patiently for several minutes while the current made my skin tingle; there were a few moments during which I stopped feeling anything, so I called the lady in to ask her whether a needle might have fallen out. She said the loss of sensation was normal, but she cranked the machine up slightly so that I could feel a tingle again.

After a few minutes, the lady removed the alligator-clipped wires, pulled out all my pins, then brought out a new bit of equipment to run yet more electric current through my body. This machine was exactly like the one I had experienced in Hayang: it had wires and suckers, and it ran the current through me more strongly than the previous machine did. These machines always make me feel as if I'm being attacked by an octopus. See the photo below:

I sat with those suckers on both sides of my body (I had noted to the doc that the pain had migrated to my right shoulder) for about ten minutes, contemplating my involuntarily twitching muscles. The lady came in, took off the suckers, and said something like, "I'm going to remove some blood now," after which she took out a pistol-like device that gently punched tiny holes in the skin over my left trapezius; the procedure felt like a series of very quick pinpricks, and it wasn't painful at all. With my skin now slightly punctured, the lady brought out a mean-looking suction cup that she placed over the punctured area. I sat with that damn thing sucking the life out of me like an alien beast from Star Trek:

—and then it was over. The lady removed the vampiric suction cup after a few minutes, then placed a hot compress on my shoulder. She told me the "therapy" would be over once the hot compress was removed, so I waited patiently (I was a patient, after all) another five minutes. The compress came off, and the lady told me I could dress again.

Here I am with the hot compress, which smelled weirdly of stale chocolate cake:

I wasn't all that impressed with the clinic's infection-control procedures. The bed on whose edge I sat was covered with something that was halfway between a large towel and a thin blanket; this piece of cloth had obviously never been changed while patient after patient used it day after day. This is a far cry from the disposable-paper surfaces that you find in American medical facilities—surfaces that get changed out with every patient. It didn't help matters that the bed was heated: I imagined billions of bacteria happily multiplying inside the bed's warm covering. I don't consider myself a neurotic germophobe (that's my brother David), but I came away thinking the clinic was filthy. Was Madame Seamstress giving the various machines she used a good swabbing or wipe-down with disinfectant? Probably not.

I ended up paying W11,900 for the visit—about $11, US. The doc told me I should come back if I still felt pain; I nodded politely, but in truth, I probably won't go back. At the end of the session, despite all the needles and the electricity and the blood-sucking and the heating pads and the pestilential mattresses, I came away feeling pretty much unchanged. When I walked across the street and got back into my company's office, I told the boss that I felt this had been a waste of time, and he said that such treatments usually require several sessions. My boss is a believer, you see, but he was tolerant of my skepticism.

And that was that. I did note, upon reflection, that the doc never once used the spooky language of ki or meridians or balance or blockage in describing my medical condition. He used only terminology that would have been recognizable to a doctor trained in Western medicine. It was simply the treatment that was alien to me, not the rhetoric. But the treatment was alien enough that I'm not motivated to go back for more.

the punch in the nose

Word is out that the Trump administration may be planning a "punch in the nose" offensive strike against North Korea as a way to show how serious the US is in its commitment to a non-nuclear Korean peninsula. This is, of course, ridiculous on at least two fronts: first, North Korea is already a nuclear-armed state, and that's not about to change; second, you can't spend decades appeasing North Korea, then suddenly turn around and strike it while expecting that the Kim regime will take the strike as a sign of resolve, as opposed to taking the strike as a sign of the recommencement of all-out war. Imagine training a dog that way: allow it every indulgence for years, then one day declare most of those indulgences off limits, swatting it with a rolled-up magazine if it tries to transgress your new rules. How do you think the dog will react?

There is always, of course, the chance that Trump is once again engaging in the so-called "4-D chess" that his defenders like to talk about. I think his previous rhetoric against North Korea did indeed constitute a psychologically valid approach to facing down Kim. Perhaps Trump is now counting on leaks to spread the word about a potential attack: that way, he can roll back the bellicosity and play both roles as bad cop and good cop. Who knows?

An actual strike into the North Korean interior would certainly be interpreted as the restart of the shooting war (the peninsula has technically been at war since 1953, which makes all of North Korea's numerous "This is an act of war!" denunciations ridiculous). If Trump wants to strike North Korea while leaving the situation tense but ambiguous, he could hit some stray naval vessels or plunk some ordnance into North Korean waters—the equivalent of a younger brother constantly poking an older brother in the ribs for the sole purpose of annoying him. Such irritations would cause the North to ramp up its defensive/offensive posture, thus making it expend more energy in useless saber-rattling. That was basically what Reagan did back in the 1980s: stir the USSR up with his crazy-old-man routine until the big bear spent itself into exhaustion, thus proving itself to be more of a paper tiger than an actual bear.

So without knowing more information, my take is this: if Trump is seriously considering an actual strike against weapons facilities within North Korea proper, then that's insane. If, however, he's deliberately telegraphing bellicosity for the purpose of whipping the North into a spend-it-all tizzy, then I'm all for this strategy. Being a resident of South Korea, I'm obviously not all that enthused about the breakout of actual war. I'm sure you understand.

it happens at 6PM

I'll be hitting the witch doctor at 6PM today, probably burning a few comp hours to get out of work early and begin my much-needed vacation. Depending on my pain levels after I'm done with the witch doctor, I'll make a decision as to whether I'll be doing the Incheon walk, but right now, to be honest, signs are pointing toward no. I'm out of shape and severely lacking in decent sleep. I haven't done any long-distance practice walks (usually around five hours in length) to get my feet ready for the pressures of daily 8- and 9-hour schleps. With all that going against me, I'm thinking it's probably unwise to just traipse on out the door and try to hike thirty kilometers a day for four days. Not to worry: if I do decide to cancel the walk, I have other ways to occupy my time. Plenty of projects await.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

witchcraft delayed

How fucking random is it that the Chinese-medicine clinic is closed on Thursdays? I guess that's why we should always call ahead, Poison Girls. So I won't be visiting the clinic until tomorrow. Merde de putain de bordel de chie...

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

challenging my own skepticism

Tomorrow morning, for the first time ever, I'll be visiting a haneuiweon (pronounce it "hah knee one," with the accent on the "hah"—same rhythm as "honeybun"), i.e., a Chinese-medicine clinic. For the past three or so weeks, I've had a steadily worsening ache that started in the left side of my neck but is now radiating outward and down my left arm, with a good deal of pain in my left deltoid. At first, when the pain was localized to my neck, I tried sleeping on my left side (I usually sleep on my back or on my right side) with a stack of pillows so as to stretch my neck vertebrae and un-pinch what I assumed was a pinched nerve. That didn't do anything. Alas, I didn't think much of the problem at the outset: I've gotten cricks in my neck before, and the pain usually fades after a few days. This time, though, things have only gotten worse, and I'm at a point where words like fibromyalgia are floating around in my brain. I'm due to see my regular doc in the next week or so, but in the meantime, I thought I might as well try the local witch doctor. There's little scientific reason to think that Eastern medicine is effective, but there's enough anecdotal evidence, in the form of testimony from people I know, that I've thought to myself, "Hell—couldn't hurt."

I expect I'll get some sort of acupuncture/acupressure treatment, and hey—if I come out of the clinic feeling better than I've felt for the past few weeks, I'll consider lowering my guard a bit when it comes to Chinese-style medicine. If the witch doctor can unblock my ki flow and restore proper balance in my body, then Bob's your uncle, as my Kiwi buddy might say.

To be honest, I'm not expecting any results. What I'd really like is a garbage bag full of ibuprofen tablets and maybe some corticosteroids (on the assumption that there may be some inflammation happening)—at least something to help me sleep peacefully again. Trying to sleep while in pain sucks.

Tomorrow, I'll give you a report on how it goes.

Korean healthcare still sucks

Disturbing news from Ewha Women's* University Medical Center: four newborns—unrelated, I surmise, although the article doesn't make this explicit—have died within two hours of each other, all of cardiac arrest. I originally saw this news over at the typo-prone ROK Drop (where "Due" has finally been corrected to "Die" in the blog post's headline, but "Ewha" is still written as "Ewa"); I clicked the link and read the full article over at the English edition of the Joongang Ilbo. The hospital director has made apologetic noises; the article notes that other neonates have been shunted to different hospitals (ostensibly as an infection-control precaution), and that an investigation is under way.

Authorities requested the National Forensic Service conduct autopsies on the four dead infants to find out the cause of their deaths. The autopsies are scheduled to be held Monday morning.

The public health center of Yangcheon District, western Seoul, where the hospital is located, began an epidemiological investigation of the deaths Sunday morning.

Some of the possibilities for the deaths being discussed by some experts include lung conditions, necrotizing enterocolitis - an intestinal infection that is known to be fatal to prematurely-born infants - bacterial infection at the intensive care unit, or failure of medical equipment at the unit.

All four infants were born prematurely and were being treated at the intensive care unit for underlying illnesses, the hospital said.

If I'm reading the above correctly, the babies in question were already suffering from "underlying illnesses" before the cardiac arrests occurred. Assuming I'm right, and the infants were unrelated, we can probably rule out genetic factors in the babies' deaths. That pretty much leaves us with extremely shoddy hospital care as the culprit, although there are, admittedly, other possibilities to consider. That said, think about it: four different children of completely different backgrounds all die of cardiac arrest within two hours of each other? I'll be curious to see what, if anything, the investigation turns up. Alas, my inner cynic doesn't trust that the investigation will be run any more competently than EWU's hospital apparently is. It'll be a surprise if a definite cause is found in a timely manner. Personally, I'm betting on ambiguity, obfuscation, finger-pointing, and an aversion to taking responsibility for this tragedy. And none of this does anything to reassure me that Korean healthcare has improved over the past few years. Meantime, I'm betting on MRSAnosocomial infection—as the killer in this sad and sordid mystery.

*Ungrammatically written as "Ewha Womans University." There's supposedly a historical reason for this allegedly deliberate misspelling, but it's still a painful misspelling to behold.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

speaking truth to power

Just as the only way to change Islam is through the action of Muslims, the only way to reorient the black perspective in the United States is to hear wisdom from within that community:

Louder and stronger, again and again, until people listen.

Monday, December 18, 2017

"the Last Jedi": a video review with spoilers

Jeremy Jahns reviews "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" more fully than he did previously:

My own review will be up in the next few days.

Ave, John Lee!

It's been a while since blogger John Lee has posted, but his latest post is worth a read. Lee confirms my suspicion that Moon Jae-in is an idiot on the global stage. An excerpt:

Moon Jae-in irresponsibly declared that he has no intentions of deploying nuclear weapons in South Korea. He said that such a move could “lead to a nuclear arms race in northeast Asia.” Never mind that there already is a nuclear race in East Asia and that it was initiated by North Korea. By siding with Xi Jinping’s Four Principles, Moon Jae-in further undermined South Korea’s sovereignty and ability to defend itself.

Lee also confirms something I've long said on this blog, even back as far as the blog's inception in 2003: China will always, always be a harsher mistress to South Korea than the United States ever will. Until South Korea gets that fact through its thick head, it can count on suffering yet more abuse at the hands of both China and North Korea.

China also clearly does not take South Korea itself seriously. Not only did China refuse to issue a joint press statement with Moon Jae-in - had Moon Jae-in had any self-respect, he would have shelved his decision to visit China on that basis alone - Moon Jae-in did not even get to have a meal with Xi Jinping. In fact, the President of the Republic of Korea - the person who at least according to the South Korean Constitution represents the entire Korean peninsula - had to eat in a common restaurant.

Ceremony is important in politics. It is even more important in East Asia where saving face is a vital part of politics. The insufficient level of protocol shown by the Chinese was deliberate and its intentions were as clear as day.

Furthermore, no Chinese official has offered any apology when Chinese security officials assaulted Korean journalists. Those journalists who were assaulted were members of the official press corps that was accompanying Moon Jae-in.

Thus far, all that the Chinese have done is to start an investigation.

If that doesn’t show how China views South Korea, then I don’t know what does.

Ave, Charles!

Charles reflects on five things he'll miss about life in Cambridge, Mass., and five things he's looking forward to about returning to Korea in a week or so.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

final stretch before a brief vacation

I'm looking forward to being on vacation from December 23 (Saturday) through January 1 (Monday). The boss heard me say I'd be coming into the office on Sunday (which I did, after having seen "The Last Jedi" a second time: I'm in the office and pounding out this blog post this now, right before I head back to my apartment), so he told me to "get a life"—something I'd gladly do if I didn't have so much damn work to do. It's depressing to realize that the workload is going to be twice as bad this coming January and February, then it'll be back at this level during the April-May time frame. A grueling 2018 lies ahead.

Anyway, once I'm through the next five days, I can focus on spending Christmas Eve with my Korean buddy and his family, then walking to Incheon and back from the 26th to the 29th. I confess I haven't trained very hard; if anything, I'm morbidly curious as to how the deep cold will affect my feet, which normally get very achy after eight or nine hours' walking. This hike is happening under very tenuous conditions: if there's any snow or rain-plus-freeze at any point before or during the trek, I'm canceling immediately and heading back to Seoul by rail or taxi or whatever's available. That'll suck, but I do have other things to take care of during vacation. Too bad the vacation is so brief, but at some point in the near future, I'll be back to university teaching and four months a year off, so I can really travel.

Oh, one last announcement: I sent home a few extra thousand dollars this month to begin paying down my fourth and final major debt—the largest of the bunch. That feels unimaginably good, knowing that I've taken the first sword stroke to fell the foulest of my personal financial demons. I also feel some grim satisfaction in discovering that a video by a financial advisor counsels people to handle major debts exactly the way I did: by starting with the smallest debt and working up to the biggest. This strategy simply made sense to me because it created a snowball effect (a term that the financial advisor also uses): over the past couple of years, I've steadily freed up more and more cash, developing a debt-paying momentum. A few years back, I was sending home around $2000—most of my salary—to pay down debts. Now, I send home barely $500 while making more than I used to, which is allowing me to save up a bundle. 2018 should, in theory, be the year I pay off my last debt, so next Christmas is going to be very merry, indeed.

But first things first: survive the week, then enjoy vacation.

sad but... sad.

The free-speech irony bomb at the end is a nice touch.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi": one-paragraph "pre"-review
(no spoilers)

I'm planning on watching "The Last Jedi" again because there's a ton of information to process, so I'm writing this very vague, spoiler-free review that will give you a general idea of my emotional reaction to certain aspects of the film. Expect a "real," full-scale review soon. First and foremost: is the movie worth seeing again? Even though the film is highly frustrating, I'd say the answer is yes, and the YouTube-based reviewers I've watched (I just binge-watched a slew of spoiler-filled reviews) also seem to think that the film really needs to be seen at least twice before a person can come to any firm conclusions about what works and what doesn't work. As I wrote above, the film was frustrating on some levels, mainly as relates to what the movie's preview trailers led us to believe about Rey's training under Luke versus what the movie actually delivers. As to the question of whether "The Last Jedi" falls into the trap of recapitulating "The Empire Strikes Back": the answer to that is "yes and no": there are definite (and probably deliberate) visual callbacks to "Empire," and certain plot elements also hark back to the 1980 film. The movie does deliver on the space battles; there's also a lightsaber-combat scene that deserves special mention, occurring right after the surprise death of a major character who, it turns out, may have been more of a MacGuffin than anything else. "Last Jedi" is laced with humor and even some sentimentality. As for the much-ballyhooed expansion of the theology of the Force: oh, hell, yes: there's a lot to talk about there, and I'll definitely do so when I write a more detailed, spoiler-filled review in a few days. And about those porgs: not to worry. They're little more than a punctuation mark in the film, little beasts whose only role seems to be comic relief. I didn't mind them one bit. So overall, I'd recommend seeing "The Last Jedi" at least once. You might think a single viewing is enough to gain a firm impression of the movie, but for me and, apparently, for a host of other people, it's going to take at least two viewings to form anything approaching a coherent opinion.

Friday, December 15, 2017

gearing up for "La guerre des étoiles: les derniers Jedi"

I'll be seeing the new Star Wars movie, "The Last Jedi," tomorrow afternoon with my Korean buddy JW and his Star Wars-loving boy. I used to be quite the Star Wars fan, but these days, it's more about watching my friend's son's delight as he enjoys the adventure playing out on screen. JW once confided in me that he was worried that his son was a little too obsessed with the franchise; I told him not to worry: the obsession would end once the boy discovered girls.

Preliminary, non-spoiler reviews for the movie have been generally positive; some reviews have noted that one storyline does seem to drag, but that the movie otherwise presents a fairly original vision of a venerable tale. Director Rian Johnson has placed his unique stamp on this trilogy, and rumor has it that the studio loved Johnson's work so much that they've handed him an entire Star Wars trilogy of his own to work on, Peter Jackson-style, with a whole new set of plots and characters, situated in a wholly different part of the mysterious galaxy that existed long ago and far away. Several of the reviewers I watched on YouTube noted that this new movie adds to the theology of the Force in a new way (of interest to us religious-studies nerds), and even better, the lightsaber-fight choreography is supposed to be quite something. People use the Force in ways we haven't seen before, the reviewers say, so that's got me drooling. Other aspects of the film that have been praised include the acting by all the principals, especially Mark Hamill and, sadly, the late Carrie Fisher, both of whom are said to give some of their best-ever performances. The newbies (i.e., John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Laura Dern, and Benicio Del Toro) fare well, too, and the movie sets the stage for a smash-bang conclusion, which I think will be directed by JJ Abrams again.

Rian Johnson directed "Looper" (reviewed here), among other films, and film geeks are saying that his love for the Star Wars franchise shines through, so I'm fairly confident that we're in for a good ride. I've got my fingers and tentacles crossed.

UPDATE: while you wait for my review, entertain yourselves by watching this hilarious YouTube video that subtracts John Williams's music from the medal ceremony in "Star Wars." I never knew Chewbacca could be so damn funny.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

seen on Gab

From humorist Bob Kostic:

Vegetarian: I refuse to eat meat because I'm at one with Mother Nature and believe the slaughtering of innocent animals purely for food or pleasure is morally wrong.

Yeah? Well, let's put you in a cage with a tiger and see if Mother Nature agrees with you...

I hate workshops

Much to vent about.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Ave, Oglaf!

The latest Oglaf sex comic gave me a chuckle (adults only, please).

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

deli sandwich: success

Not that I can attribute today's lunch success to my culinary acumen: all I did was slap a bunch of ingredients together to make sandwiches, but everyone loved the meal. A few people put in a "special order" because they hated olives, but that was fine by me: I simply slathered pesto onto both sides of their burger buns. Everyone else enjoyed the olive tapenade, and I for one now have a new favorite brand for salami and shaved ham: Citterio, which is sold at the horribly overpriced High Street Market and not at Costco. This brand is so much better than the equivalent meats sold at Costco.

A few folks requested a second sandwich, which was cool. I made a couple; later in the day, a few people made their own. All in all, today was another win.


I didn't realize this, but old, leathery Johnny Hallyday, France's biggest rocker (and an Americaphile to boot, with his love of leather jackets, Harleys, long roads, and the big sky), passed away this past December 6, at the tender age of 74, from complications related to metastatic lung cancer.

Somewhat in vain, Johnny tried reassuring his fans about his health this past March 8, when he released the following message on Facebook:

Translation of what Johnny wrote and what two commenters added:

Hello, all—

The throng of lies swirling around the state of my health shocks me deeply. The alarmist news being spread around by certain media and social networks is erroneous, troubling, and unworthy.

Modesty and discretion ought to be the order of the day in these matters, if only out of respect for those close to me.

So I assure you I'm doing very well and am in good physical health. Several months ago, some cancer cells were detected, for which I'm currently being treated. I'm being looked after by excellent doctors in whom I have total confidence. As of today, my life is in no danger.

This is a fight that I proudly engage in with my wife Laeticia and my loved ones. I'll go all-out for those who love me.

See you soon on stage.

COMMENT 1: A good recovery to you, Johnny, we love you, and we're waiting to see you on stage in June at Nîmes. You're a phoenix, and the doomsayers will get theirs.

COMMENT 2: There's medicine... and there's love!! —the two ingredients together are a middle finger to sickness. Johnny, you have both, so everything's rollin'! WE LOVE YOU ALL! Kisses to the whole family.

I read some French articles that talked about what a furiously dedicated smoker Hallyday was, so I suppose his death was written in his habits.

My own encounter with Hallyday's music began when I was in France in the mid-1980s, then continued when I lived in Switzerland from 1989 to 1990. Once I was back in the States, I followed his career only sporadically, but I've always enjoyed his music, which is a sort of French-tinged American rock combining grit and romance, deeply rooted in the old school. As with many musicians who enjoy a long career, Hallyday dabbled in different genres, but rock and roll was his mainstay, the thing he always came back to. American journalists who have written on Hallyday almost always call him "the most famous rock singer you never knew": he was huge in France and in a few other countries, but despite his love for America and Americana, he never made it big in the States. That's unfortunate.

As is also true with big-time musicians, Hallyday tried his hand at acting and actually did quite well for himself, starring in one of my favorite modern French movies, "L'homme du train," a thoughtful metaphysical drama about two old men—one a hardened bank robber, the other a contemplative teacher of poetry—who imagine what it's like to live each other's lives, developing a strange-but-warm friendship through this exercise in empathy.

So it saddens me to know Johnny Hallyday is dead. The world's a bit darker, but I suppose that, given the upheavals we've had this year, it's only condign for 2017 to end on a somber note. I'll leave you with a video of a live performance of Hallyday's "Seul," which I've written about here before:


My not-quite-a-muffuletta:

This is not
The greatest 'wich in the world:
This is just a tribute...

—apologies to Tenacious D

The muffuletta is a sandwich invented over a hundred years ago by an Italian immigrant, Salvatore Lupo ("Savior Wolf"—ha!), who worked in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The sandwich is named after the Sicilian bread that forms the sandwich's backbone: a large, sesame-covered loaf that is round when viewed from the top, and something like a pressed-down pain de campagne when viewed from the side. The loaf weighs about a pound and is roughly a foot wide. A single muffuletta sandwich is normally cut into quarters to yield four normal-sized wedge sandwiches.

Aside from the bread, a muffuletta normally has the following ingredients: olive salad, salami, ham, mortadella, Swiss cheese (i.e., Emmenthaler), and provolone. This places it squarely in the realm of American deli sandwiches, but instead of mayonnaise or mustard, the principal condiment is the olive salad. There are various takes on how to assemble the sandwich: for one thing, the composition of the olive salad seems to vary wildly. Some versions of the sandwich require that you dig out part of the bread so you can slop in a frightening amount of the salad; other versions do nothing more than slice the bread into two halves as with a standard sandwich. Some folks slap olive salad on just one slice of bread; still others load the salad onto both slices. Upshot: along with the bread, the salad is part of the sandwich's essence.

What you see above, Dear Reader, is at best a shadow, a faint echo, of a true muffuletta. At this point, I'd call what I made a mere "deli sandwich," or perhaps a "muffuletta-inspired deli sandwich." I don't know where, in this country, I can find the original Sicilian bread, so I've used Korean-made hamburger buns purchased at Costco. Instead of the essential olive salad, I made an olive tapenade as a spread for one slice of bread, and I made pesto for the other slice of bread (I think you can see both in the above photo). As for the meats: I found all three essentials—salami, ham, and mortadella—but I added pepperoni to the mix for a bit of extra flavor. I was unable to locate provolone and proper sliced Swiss, so I went with a block of Emmenthaler (which is the specific cheese from Switzerland that Americans mean when they talk about "Swiss cheese") and a Gouda-like Italian cheese called Fontal.

The sandwich I made tasted good. As I hoped, the olive spread didn't dominate the mix, which was my fear with the traditional olive salad (to be frank, that salad looks obnoxious to me). The pesto balanced out the mix, adding an unctuous aspect that counteracted the acidity of the tapenade. I'll be springing this sandwich on my coworkers on Tuesday for lunch. We'll see how well it's received. Fingers crossed.

Monday, December 11, 2017

another day off

Today, Monday, ended up being a day off as a way to burn off a few comp hours. I had 88 hours to burn; I'll be burning most of those hours for my Christmas vacation, but today, I burned off the eight hours I had accrued from working this past Saturday. I went shopping for muffuletta ingredients, but as it turns out, the usual places are no longer stocking the ingredients I need to make a true muffuletta: I can't find muffuletta bread anywhere; the local Costco no longer has provolone or sliced Emmenthal (neither does High Street Market), and the spreads I'll be using on the sandwich aren't true to a real muffuletta, which normally has only "olive salad" on it. I'll be using pesto on one slice of bread and olive tapenade on the other. So, no: this is by no means a true muffuletta (a sandwich named after the bread it's made with), so I'm dropping the term and just calling this a twist on a deli sandwich. It's still going to be damn good, but it just won't be The Real Thing.

Photos to follow, I'm sure.

"Jurassic World": review

"Jurassic World" (2015) stars Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of Ron), Chris Pratt, Vincent D'Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy (a French actor whose English was better than I thought it would be), BD Wong, and Irrfan Khan. The movie is based on the world's stupidest premise, which was apparently put forth as a suggestion by Steven Spielberg: what if Jurassic Park failed in the 1990s, but a functional dinosaur park/preserve arose in its place? For this premise to work, everyone within the Jurassic Park universe would have to have amnesia about the moral and practical lessons learned during the events of Crichton's two novels, Jurassic Park and The Lost World. But if you're willing to put that tiny issue aside, "Jurassic World" is a fun, often-hilarious thrill ride that trades depth for spectacle.

Claire Dearing (Howard) is an upper-level manager of Jurassic World, the megapark on Isla Nublar (where "Jurassic Park" first took place). She's all business, and when her two young nephews, Gray and Zach (Simpkins and Robinson), come to visit, she doesn't have any time to spare for them, so she hands their care over to her exasperated British assistant, Zara (Katie McGrath). Elsewhere on the island, Navy veteran Owen Grady (Pratt) is training deadly, irascible velociraptors to obey commands while InGen representative Vic Hoskins (D'Onofrio) looks on avidly and talks about weaponizing the animals. Owen and his assistant Barry (Sy) have developed something of a rapport with the current clutch of raptors; both of them know that Hoskins's idea will never work.

This is about all the setup you need. From here on in, you can predict how the rest of the movie will unfold. For example: because this is a Jurassic Park film, all hell is going to break loose, and humanity will once again be taught the lesson that nature is brutal and clever and quite beyond human control. You can also predict that Owen is going to run into Claire, which will lead to a romantic storyline. The two grownups will inevitably meet up with the two kids, but not before the kids are put in mortal danger in a repeat of the original T. rex attack from the first movie—but this time involving a genetically engineered Indominus rex, a freakish hybrid spliced together from the genes of all sorts of dinosaurs, making it into a killing machine that can change color to camouflage itself, mask its own heat signature from infrared surveillance, fool humans with diversions, and worst of all, gain the allegiance of the heretofore loyal-to-Owen velociraptors. People will die, but mostly the bad ones. One or two good folks will bite it, and plenty of unnamed extras will also perish.

Pratt, Howard, and the other leads are all good in their roles. Irrfan Khan, in particular, finally looks as if he's having fun in his role: the man normally plays sad, somber characters. The director, Colin Trevorrow, helms the film in an essentially Spielbergian manner (Spielberg was a producer), and the result is a light-hearted movie with a few attempts at jump scares (all predictable) but otherwise very little in the way of suspense. The dino effects are great but somewhat bland, given how chary the movie is about showing actual gore (quite unlike Crichton's novels; had Spielberg been more faithful to the books, the films would all have been labeled horror movies).

I found the film watchable and fun, but its lack of substance made it less of a rib-sticking stew and more like cotton candy: there and gone. The themes and issues explored in "Jurassic World"—human arrogance in the face of nature—haven't changed since the 1993 film, so there's nothing new here, except maybe for the idea that velociraptors and tyrannosaurs have the potential to be cute. I will, however, applaud the fact that this movie is smart enough to have a ready response to complaints that the dinosaurs don't look realistic: geneticist Dr. Wu (Wong) tells park CEO Simon Masrani (Khan) that all of the creatures on the island have been genetically engineered, with frog DNA filling in whatever gaps there are in their genome. Not a single dino is a true-to-life recreation. The movie gets points for making that clear. Meanwhile, probably the best dynamic in the whole movie is the evolving relationship between big, bad Owen and the boys: at one point, when Owen is tearing off into the jungle with his pack of raptors, one of the boys turns to Claire and intones respectfully, "Your boyfriend is a badass." Claire smiles quietly, not denying that Owen is her boyfriend.

So, yes: watch "Jurassic World" and have fun, but don't think too hard about the movie's fundamentally flawed premise, which is the equivalent of a prison warden saying, "You know what? Those cells are too confining! Let's open 'em up and keep 'em open!"—then, twenty-some years later, doing exactly the same thing.

'tis the season

bullshit is the world we live in

The latest attempt by CNN and the mainstream media to dethrone the current president has once again met with disaster. Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit:

GLENN GREENWALD: The U.S. Media Yesterday Suffered its Most Humiliating Debacle in Ages: Now Refuses All Transparency Over What Happened. “Friday was one of the most embarrassing days for the U.S. media in quite a long time. The humiliation orgy was kicked off by CNN, with MSNBC and CBS close behind, with countless pundits, commentators and operatives joining the party throughout the day. By the end of the day, it was clear that several of the nation’s largest and most influential news outlets had spread an explosive but completely false news story to millions of people, while refusing to provide any explanation of how it happened.”

In attempting to “denormalize” Trump, they’ve denormalized themselves. If they simply reported fairly and accurately, without their screamingly obvious bias, they’d be able to do him much more damage. But they can’t help themselves.

"They can't help themselves" is pretty much the royal road for Trump to a 2020 electoral victory. No lessons learned, no soul-searching, nothing—nothing but seething, irrational hatred, and an apparent desire for a civil war that, if it ever became a real, physical war, the left can never win. Why? Because the right bought up all the guns!

And in other bullshit-related news: London's top-rated restaurant on Trip Advisor doesn't exist. This has to be one of the most hilarious punkings I've read about in a long, long time. Oobah Butler, a serial online prankster, creates a fictional restaurant and shows how it's possible to flim-flam one's way to the top:

“One day, sitting in the shed I live in, I had a revelation: within the current climate of misinformation, and society’s willingness to believe absolute bulls–t, maybe a fake restaurant is possible? Maybe it’s exactly the kind of place that could be a hit?”

“In that moment, it became my mission. With the help of fake reviews, mystique, and nonsense, I was going to do it: turn my shed into London’s top-rated restaurant on TripAdvisor.”

"Society's willingness to believe in absolute bullshit" is precisely today's news organizations' stock in trade.

Over on YouTube, Styxhexenhammer666 rhetorically asks how it can be that the media constantly shovel us fake news, then wonder why we viewers have trust issues. On a related note: "Big Media Is Circling the Bowl." I'm not convinced that Big Media will die anytime soon, but it's certainly taking hits below the waterline, especially from alt media.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

I'm surprised this is a Ted Rall cartoon

Courtesy of King Baeksu via email:

What could be Rall's motivation for drawing this toon? The man is a diehard leftie. Is Rall a BernieBro? Is that what this is about? "In December 2016, Rall presented what he called a 'manifesto' to 'topple Trumpism.'" (Here.)

Ave, Ed Driscoll!

Bloggers in my ambit, and now biggies like Instapundit, are commenting on the Orwellian "unpersoning" of author and raconteur Garrison Keillor, one of the most recent liberal éminences grises to be accused of sexual harassment. I normally don't like the typo-ridden Instapundit posts written by the fumble-fingered Ed Driscoll, but Driscoll's latest post on Keillor's disappearance as an online presence on the website of Minnesota Public Radio is a good one to read, especially as it mulls over the long-held rightie belief that the left has totalitarian leanings (see first link, above, for more on this topic).

seen on the way home

Saturday, December 09, 2017

my buddy sings

At my Korean buddy JW's invitation, I attended a winter concert put on by a men's choir of which JW is a member. Here are a few photos of JW's solo and the concert's aftermath. I walked home in the 20-some-degree freezing cold after the event; that took about 90 minutes.

It was a great little concert at Cheongdam Catholic Cathedral, which is also JW's church. I don't recall the name of the song my friend sang, but JW said the group would be posting everything online (I'd have had this info if only I had grabbed a program).

Sorry for the blurry images. My cell-phone camera is temperamental, and while I hate to admit it, I generally suck as a photographer.

Let's start with the poster that JW texted me as an invitation:

Below is the only photo I really wanted to take: JW doing his solo. He said, afterward, that he was really nervous; I told him I didn't blame him, as I've performed for church audiences myself (drama, not music, in my case, as well as myriad other instances of public speaking).

I sat in the pews with JW's parents, as well as with his daughter MJ, who was being doted on by her grandmother. MJ didn't recognize me at first, which I found hilarious. She's a forgetful kid: last Christmas, she whispered a question to her mother: "How does Kevin know how to speak Korean?" I loudly and humorously boomed to MJ that that was the exact same question she had asked the previous year. In one ear, out the other. Anyway, by the end of the evening, MJ had remembered who I was—the guy who had gifted her with a pile of Christmas gifts like Barbie dolls and fun kids' games. To be fair, the girl sees me only once or twice a year; at best, I'm a vague, peripheral, almost-not-a-presence in her life.

Below, a glimpse of religious symbolism. JW's dad humorously wondered aloud as to why the cathedral felt the need to have a wall with two crosses on it. (Technically, and more specifically, one is a crucifix because it has a corpus.)

A blurry shot of the fam:

Next up, a not-so-blurry shot (taken by JW's wife) of the fam plus yours truly. JW's mother, who hadn't seen me in years, said I looked good. I patted my stomach and said, "Still fat," and she replied, "But not so much." I like JW's mother a lot. She used to be a professor of English at Sookmyung Women's University, where I taught from 2005 to 2008. Back in the day, when we all talked more frequently, she would pepper me with questions about how to interpret this or that poem, or how to approach such-and-such work of literature. I found this intimidating because she obviously knew a hell of a lot more about my own culture's literature than I did.

Choir, clergy, and the retinue:

JW, far right with flowers, looking stiff as a soldier for some odd reason:

It was nice to get out of the office and do something cultural for a change. The cathedral was redolent with the stereotypical incense that pervades most Catholic churches. I had fun looking at the statues in the niches, as well as at the Stations of the Cross (only fourteen in this church, not fifteen). I'm not a very "churchy" person, especially since my own mother's passing, but I do occasionally enjoy and appreciate the ambiance one encounters when inside the bounds of a holy place.

JW didn't walk out with his family: he said he needed to hang back with the other singers and help clean the place up. I walked out with the grandparents and JW's wife and kids. We talked about the upcoming Star Wars film, which JW's son JA is looking forward to seeing with me. I then checked my phone to see which direction I needed to walk in, and we all parted company in the below-freezing night. It was a bracingly cold but good walk back to my apartment. When I got back, I saw that JW's wife had texted me: "Where are you? Still walking??"; I had promised to send her my pics via text, so I did that. I also noted with satisfaction that my walk had taken me slightly over the 20K-step threshold on my pedometer, so that was another little bit of good karma.

A fine time, all in all. Such things need to happen more often.

Friday, December 08, 2017

ugh. work.

The last few weeks have been a nightmare of work, work, work. Last night and the night before, I was in the office until 1AM and beyond, so I'm fairly cross-eyed at the moment. In terms of workload, things ought to clear up around Christmastime, but if the gods of weather are merciful, I'll be doing a round-trip walk to Incheon and back from December 26 to 29, so once again, I won't have the mental or physical energy I need to engage in other projects, e.g., reading through a good friend's manuscript (which I've neglected for several months, now—this friend has the patience of a saint).

Anyway, I've piled up 80 comp hours thanks to all the late nights and weekends; the boss, getting antsy about my having so many comp hours, has declared he'll put me in for thirty hours' overtime pay (which won't be much: maybe W25,000 per hour, which is insultingly low; in Korea, overtime pay isn't time-and-a-half the way it is in the States, but I guess something is better than nothing), then he'll be letting me take the week between Christmas and New Year's off, plus the Monday of January 1 itself. That's another 48 hours' comp time accounted for: 78 hours total, which eats up most of my outstanding comp time.

The schedule that our R&D department has been put on has been fairly grueling since October. The idea was to complete several dozen(!) projects by early December, doing the bulk of the work in October and November. This is therefore crunch time, so everyone's putting in extra hours, even the laziest workers among us who are normally out like a shot at exactly 5PM. When we had a meeting a couple months back, the boss laid out the grand plan through summer of next year, and it appears that this project/deadline pressure won't be letting up for the next six or seven months. We'll be crunching during the Jan-Feb period, with projects due in March; we'll be crunching again during the Apr-May period, with projects due in June.

My personal workload for early next year is going to be double my current workload (twice the number of projects), and there are a few projects that might be added to the docket if the higher-ups give us the go-ahead. So we're all swamped, and it's going to be like this until June 2018, if not beyond. Not much time for personal projects, and plenty of lost weekends. Yeah... it's quite likely that I won't be signing on for another year at the Golden Goose, which has been somewhat golden in terms of pay, but not in terms of much else.

PJW vs. Meryl Streep (and more on James Levine)

I think Meryl Streep is a terrific actress, unlike PJW, who uncharitably calls her "overrated" in his latest rant. That said, I think PJW validly points out Streep's current hypocrisy.

While we're on the topic of sexual assault: my brother Sean emailed me an anecdote regarding accused New York Met conductor James Levine, about whom I recently blogged. Sean writes (somewhat redacted for privacy's sake and edited for form and flow):

An anecdote posted by an older musician friend about Levine:

So my wife Susan's friend and fellow member of the [redacted: orchestra name], a bassoonist named [redacted: bassoonist's name], passed away a few years ago, to everyone's great sadness, as he was a wonderful musician, incredibly funny, and a fine human to be around. He [once told me] a story of being backstage at Carnegie Hall as a student, and Bernstein and Levine were both conducting an orchestra in which he was playing. Apparently, [the bassoonist] was backstage watching the proceedings, waiting for his particular piece, and [he] was approached by both Levine, who was about to go onstage, and Bernstein, who was waiting his turn. When Levine went onstage, Bernstein turned to [the bassoonist] and said, "To err is human—to post bail, Levine."

It sounds as though Levine, like many of the predatory people now cringing in the public spotlight, has been a known quantity for a long time. How unfortunate.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Pepple, Pepple, and more Pepple

Avowed leftist Dr. John Pepple, curator of I Want a New Left, a blog that is critical of where American leftism has gone in recent decades, has written a few posts of late that deserve linkage. Here's a short list of the professor's latest.

An Interesting Quote on the Millennials

Trump’s Alleged Insanity

Hey, Democrats, You Can Always Move To Canada, But Where Can I Move?

About that third link: people on both the left and the right have loudly claimed that they'd renounce their citizenship and abandon America if X ever became president. As Pepple notes, these people almost never make good on their threats, although Pepple does link to an article in which it's claimed that quite a few people renounced their US citizenship when Obama came into power. I've always found the threat to leave one's country to be a cowardly one. Stay and fight, I say: if you and your spouse had a nasty spat, would you just walk out on your marriage and family? How stupid would that be? I have to chuckle, too, at the idea that, when people threaten to leave, they name destinations like Canada, France, and Australia—never places like Somalia or Honduras—or even nearby Cuba, that worker's paradise. The subtext is that, even if the people threatening to move have certain political leanings, their desired destinations reveal prejudices to which they'd never admit. So: cowardly and prejudiced!

And you know what? Now that I think of it, maybe it is better for such people to leave my country. Good fucking riddance.

geekery mashup

If you liked "Kung Fury," you'll enjoy "Battle of the Geeks."

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

what I think about when I'm hungry

Below: partway through the making of a huge batch of shrimp fried rice.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

how deep does the rot go? (an exchange with my brother)

I was bowled over, yesterday, when I learned that conductor James Levine, who heads up the New York Met and is a fixture from my childhood, has become the latest to stand accused of sexual harassment and/or assault. My brother Sean is a professional cellist, so I immediately wrote him to ask how bad this problem is in the music world. Below, I'm publishing both the email I sent Sean and Sean's reply.

[my email to Sean]


The name "James Levine" has been a fixture since my childhood, and it now appears he's the latest to be accused in the current wave of sexual-harassment allegations that are sweeping the country and the world. This would be funny if it weren't horrific.

I just about shat my pants when I saw that headline. James Fucking Levine!

So, a question: it doesn't surprise me at all that this sort of rape-iness has been a part of Hollywood culture since forever (viz. the "casting couch")... but how deep does the rot go in the music world? Is it anything like Hollywood in extremity?

[Sean's reply to me]

Yes, I've heard about this and have heard whispering about him and his disgusting habits for years. I've never actually met the guy personally.

I don't think that this kind of rape-iness is restricted to Hollywood, or the music world, or politics for that matter. I think the rot goes deep in all worlds.

Being a gay man often times means being a confidant to women in a unique sort of way. We're not threatening to women because there's absolutely zero sexual dynamic to our relationships, and we're also not women who may scrutinize or judge. Because of this special status to women, I (and most of my gay male friends) have been told many stories over the years of these experiences of sexual harassment from female friends in all fields. It seems to me that performing arts and politics are highly visible fields when compared to something like accountants, or other typical office-type jobs, which may be why they're getting the most attention right now.

In any event, I'm happy to see this kind of thing come to light, and I'm glad that some of these disgusting predators are getting their long-overdue skewering.

So there you have it. I think it's fair to point out that some fields are more visible/prominent than others, but that the rot extends to all fields. This dovetails with what I wrote earlier regarding how the problem is fundamentally one of maleness and authority (although, as I also mentioned, women are perfectly capable of abusing their authority, too).