Saturday, March 31, 2018

wut hee sed

I'm not always a fan of nitpicking, but in this case, it might be warranted as a way to avoid an illicit, pernicious conflation of two distinct ideas. Here's John Pepple writing about the two antisemitisms that Jews in Europe have faced, one of which is steadily eroding Europe's Jewish population in places like France today.


I haven't yet talked about pixie-ish, plectrum-faced David Hogg, the high-schooler who purportedly survived the Parkland school shooting and became a strident national voice for gun control. One is apparently not supposed to talk trash about the kids who survived that tragedy because to do so is to brand oneself as a piece-of-shit garbage person who hates kids, blames victims, and eats babies. That said, Hogg and his sanctimony annoy the living fuck out of me. He's said a number of stupid and hypocritical things (plenty of Hoggisms here—just keep scrolling down), all while ducking the chance publicly to debate several students who have challenged him. He's a hypocrite and a pussy, as far as I'm concerned, and I'll be happy when his fifteen minutes are up.

So it warms the cockles of my heart to hear, from Hogg's own mouth, that he's having trouble getting accepted into college: he's been rejected by several prominent institutions so far, despite having a magnificent 4-point-something GPA (4.2-ish...?). I suspect the problem might be (1) the schools he's applied to have high entry standards and plenty of competition to get in, and (2) his SAT score, which is apparently 1270, doesn't quite cut the mustard. Remember: the new SAT (new as of 2016) is once again a two-part test (down from three parts), each section of which can be scored from 200 to 800 points, just as it was when I was in school along with my ancient velociraptor classmates. According to this site, a 1270 puts someone at roughly an 80-somethingth percentile, which isn't all that high when you're trying to enter a very competitive school: at the very least, you ought to be in the 90s, which means scoring over 700 in each major section of the SAT.

Here's hoping that Hogg is eventually rejected by all the schools he's applied to, but I doubt that'll happen. A man can dream, though, right?

NB: one's SAT score correlates closely with one's IQ. Jordan Peterson confirmed this in one of his videos: the SAT is basically an IQ test. This doesn't speak well of David Hogg, who will never be more than second-rate with his limp and floppy 1270. Then again, one's success in life doesn't correlate with one's IQ, and as my old high-school biology teacher once noted, there's the Law of the Septic Tank: the biggest pieces rise to the top. This explains much in American society, and it certainly explains the David Hoggs of the world.

Friday, March 30, 2018

moi, je dis non

LA Times:

EPA poised to scrap fuel economy targets that are key to curbing global warming — setting up clash with California

The Trump administration is poised to abandon America's pioneering fuel economy targets for cars and SUVs, a move that would undermine one of the world's most aggressive programs to confront climate change and invite another major confrontation with California.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce in the coming days that it will scrap mileage targets the Obama administration drafted in tandem with California that aim to boost average fuel economy for passenger cars and SUVs to 55 miles per gallon by 2025, according to people familiar with the plans.

The agency plans to replace those targets with a weaker standard that will be unveiled soon, according to the people, who did not want to be identified discussing the plan before it was announced.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said a draft determination was undergoing interagency review and a final decision would be made by Sunday.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt has previously suggested that he thinks the targets are too onerous for manufacturers and inhibit them from selling the vehicles most popular with Americans. A climate skeptic, Pruitt has questioned mainstream science on the warming caused by greenhouse gases such as auto emissions.

Whether Pruitt can weaken the rules for the entire country is an open question. California, with its history of smog problems and heightened vulnerability to climate change, has unique authority under the Clean Air Act to impose its own standard. The act also permits other states to adopt the California rules, and a dozen have.

Over the last decade, the federal government has worked with California to keep mileage targets uniform nationwide, folding the state's aggressive smog and anti-pollution goals into the national program. A single standard is crucial to automakers who don't want to contend with multiple production lines to comply with conflicting rules in states, particularly one as important to car sales as California.

It seems to me that car manufacturers can simply continue to make their cars according to current emissions standards. But personally, I'm against the removal of such standards for vehicles manufactured on American soil, as well as vehicles imported into the country. I may not come off as all that "green" to my readers, but I do subscribe to the basic tenet that it's better to live somewhere clean than somewhere dirty. Here in Korea, we've had horrific air quality for the past several days, despite how bright and beautiful the early spring has been. But when you're in a country where the simple of act of breathing now requires procedures like wearing a filter mask, you have to acknowledge that something is seriously wrong. Slacking off on emissions standards isn't going to help that situation at all. I think this is a mistake by the Trump administration.

I need to reread the article more carefully, but on a first read, it doesn't seem to make clear the connection between fuel economy and pollution. The connection appears to be assumed by the author. I'll check again and make an update later, if necessary.

"Ready Player One": review

[NB: a minor spoiler or two—nothing big.]

2018's "Ready Player One" is many things, but despite being an action-adventure that takes place primarily in the digital world, it utterly lacks that sleek, hipster cyberpunk feel. Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, TJ Miller, Simon Pegg, and Mark Rylance, "Ready Player One," adapted from a 2011 young-adult novel by Ernest Cline—who also co-wrote the screenplay—is a story taking place in the near future of 2045. Columbus, Ohio, has become the fastest-growing city in the world, and like all big cities, it's a mishmash of rich, middle-class, and poor neighborhoods. Somewhere toward the poorer end of the spectrum is the district nicknamed "The Stacks," essentially a trailer park gone vertical (imagine trailers stacked atop each other with crude metal scaffolding) and sitting amid huge, random piles of trash. This is the near future after global warming and a series of human crises have all had their way with the planet. Humanity has mostly retreated into the lotus-eating comfort of the Oasis: a cyberspace wonderland, brainchild of James Halliday (Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (Pegg), offering varying delights for varying tastes. Some regions of the Oasis (the word is actually an acronym: OASIS = Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) are labeled "planets," but it's possible for anyone inside the realm to navigate from planet to planet with ease. "Coins" are the means by which to gain fuel for your virtual vehicle, acquire the ability to buy (and then conjure) weaponry, and to navigate the various precincts of the Oasis. A person inside the Oasis—an "avatar"—can earn coins in various ways, including by "killing" other avatars. An avatar that is killed is "zeroed out," and the human player controlling the avatar may "respawn," i.e., resurrect, but must re-earn coins from square one.

Our hero, Wade Watts (Sheridan), lives in the Stacks and spends his time in the Oasis, using his avatar Parzival (yes, based on the Round Table knight who, in one version of the story, finds the Holy Grail) to have adventures, earn coins, and make friends. Like most of the people inside the Oasis, Wade/Parzival has been engaged in a particular adventure that Halliday set up before he died: Anorak's Quest, where the object of the quest is to find three sets of magical keys and clues in sequence, culminating in finding the hidden "Easter egg," which grants the finder half a trillion dollars and total ownership and control of the Oasis. When the movie begins, we're told that "Gunters"—egg hunters—have been trying for five years to find the first key and clue, but thus far, no one has succeeded. Parzival, along with his best friend Aech (Lena Waithe; the moniker is pronounced like the letter "H") and his new rival/friend Art3mis (Cooke), spend the rest of the movie tracking down clues, using what they know of Halliday and Morrow's past to figure out where to go next. In hot pursuit is IOI (pronounced "eye-oh-eye," not "one-oh-one"; it stands for "Innovative Online Industries"), the menacing corporate entity that wants control of the Oasis so as to further monetize it, filling the realm with ads for various products. IOI is led by the sinister Nolan Sorrento (Mendelsohn), and after Parzival finds the first key and clue, Sorrento—dismissive of Parzival at first—eventually makes it his mission in life to take the young Gunter down.

Despite the visual torrent of old-school cultural and video-game references from the 80s, the 90s, and even before (not to mention references from our own century), "Ready Player One" is actually very easy to follow. The story is clearly structured and moves at a brisk pace, lagging in only a few sections, and while the ending is easy enough to predict, there are a few small surprises along the way. Spielberg provides us with an incredible racing scene at the beginning, one that involves all the traps and dangers normally associated with 3-D racing games, but amped up to ridiculous levels: when a tyrannosaur and King Kong both make an appearance, you know that shit just got real.

Of course, none of the Oasis is real in a tangible sense, although there are real-life benefits to earning coins, just as is true with today's massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Wade earns a mess of coins at one point, thus enabling him to upgrade his haptic interface by switching from a mere visor-and-gloves setup to a full-body cyber-suit that provides a wider spectrum of sensation and movement capability. In fact, the movie does little to explore the philosophical issue of real-versus-simulated. There's one surprise at the very end of the movie that hints at a greater ontological mystery, but that's about it. "Ready Player One" has little interest in treading the same metaphysical territory as "The Matrix" or "ExistenZ." Its major themes are adventure, friendship, over-dependence on online life, and liberation from corporate oppression.

Since CGI is such a huge part of this film, I should spend some time talking about the good and the bad of such an effects-heavy movie. One problem with CGI adventures is that there's no sense of real danger, and when "Ready Player One" does serve up a helping of real danger by threatening Wade's trailer-trash aunt and her abusive boyfriend, the danger feels distant and half-hearted at best, despite the tragedy that ensues: Wade simply shakes off what befalls his family, almost as if nothing has happened. In the Oasis, meanwhile, that massive car race at the beginning of the film is an incredible spectacle, but it does suffer from that same underlying lack of suspense: you know that anyone who "dies" on the track doesn't die in the real world: he or she simply "zeroes out" and has the option to "respawn" with no coins. I was thankful, though, that Spielberg didn't opt to situate the film in the uncanny valley: he kept it obvious that everything in the Oasis, from the avatars on down, looked like CGI. I'm glad he took that route, to be honest; the movie would have felt creepy otherwise. And while the CGI removes any fundamental suspense, it does provide a greater sense of spectacle, especially in the later battle scenes involving characters from all over the video-game and pop-culture spectrum. It also allows for some gory comedy, from a quick scene involving Goro (the four-armed villain from the fighting game Mortal Kombat) plus a chest-bursting alien (from the movie "Alien") to an absolutely incredible re-creation of the massive ski-lodge-cum-hotel from Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining"—a set piece that took my breath away, leaving me unsure whether I was looking at a mere digital rendering of the old movie set or a real, physical rebuild. That "Shining" sequence, more than any other pop-culture reference in the film, succeeded in actually taking me back to an earlier period in my life. For my money, that was the most emotionally powerful scene in the film, and I'd bet that the filmmakers didn't intend it to be so.

The movie had problems, though. One major problem, aside from Wade's bizarre indifference to his family's fate (I use the term "family" loosely: Wade's aunt, who has taken care of Wade since he lost his parents, has had a succession of abusive boyfriends; it's doubtful that Wade sees the boyfriends as family), was how quickly the boy seemed to fall in love with Art3mis. One reviewer on YouTube suggested that this may actually be a commentary on modern youth and the social awkwardness that comes of spending too much time in cyberspace and not enough time in the real world. When your life is mostly lived as if you were in a cartoon, real emotions like actual love can't manifest themselves in a natural way. (We see that sort of social awkwardness here in Korea, where gaming-nerd teens have little idea how to interact with those around them except in artificially prescribed ways.)

A second problem, noted by other reviewers, was the movie's talkiness: for such a visual movie, too much time was wasted on narration and expository dialogue. I assume the dialogue was there to help us old fogies follow the action, but even if it was, it was just too much. A third problem, for me, was the nature of the haptic interface. "Haptic" come from the Greek haptein and haptikos, referring to touch, so a haptic interface works via touch. We already have virtual-reality devices—gloves and wands and such—that allow our virtual characters to navigate the virtual space of a 3-D game; "Ready Player One" shows us more advanced versions of that equipment. People with little money enter the Oasis by using gloves and visors; people with more coins have access to omnidirectional treadmills, wire-suspension systems, full-body suits, and even—in the case of corporate baddie Nolan Sorrento—an egg-shaped couch with powerful in-world capabilities. I had trouble understanding, though, how the interfaces allowed people to move in the virtual world of the Oasis. There's a 3-D floating dance hall, for example; how do people with only the glove-and-visor kit move around in that space? How do avatars throw jumping, turning kicks like martial-arts pros? How was Sorrento, nestled inside his cocoon-like egg-seat, able to walk around in the Oasis without needing Wade's omni-treadmill?

A fourth problem: Wade (who also provides voiceover narration) tells us that what goes on in the Oasis is limited only by the imagination, but from what I saw, the avatars inside the Oasis exhibited no creativity at all: they contented themselves with playing around in worlds created by other people, presumably programmers in the real world who simply uploaded their creations into the Oasis, adding yet more playgrounds for avatars—who are essentially consumers of culture, not producers—to play around in. The only act of real creativity that I can remember involves the above-mentioned Goro/chestburster joke. Everything else is just a matter of selecting from a drop-down menu, and that includes conjuring guns.

A final problem is in the movie's portrayal of the hoi polloi: pretty much everyone is wearing a headset in 2045, even when walking down the street, so these folks, when we see them, seem to be engaged in business within the Oasis, but they also seem to be on their way somewhere in the real world—going shopping or something like that. It's never made clear just what, exactly, these good folks are doing, nor is it clear how they're able to navigate both the virtual world and the real world at the same time while walking somewhere physical. At one point, we see a group of passersby break into a run; we cut to their Master Chief avatars (from the game Halo) also running toward a battle happening in the Oasis. How does that work, exactly? We're back to the interface problem again.

I saw "Ready Player One" as following the template of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Wade/Parzival is Indy; Samantha/Art3mis is Marion Ravenwood; James Halliday is Marion's father Abner Ravenwood; Nolan Sorrento is Belloq. The object of the game is to grab the golden egg, which stands in for the Ark of the Covenant, and both items confer enormous power on those who find them, thus necessitating a renunciation of the power... but to pursue that line of thinking would take us deep into spoiler territory. Some of the puzzle-solving was similar to that found in Spielberg's other opus, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," so the new film is retro in more ways than one. You could counterargue that "Ready Player One" follows an action-movie template that dates back long before "Raiders" ever appeared on the scene, and I'd agree, but the 2018 film often felt like an allegory of the 1981 film.

Another comparison that's tempting to make is between "Ready Player One" and "The Matrix," but as I mentioned above, "Ready" has little interest in the philosophical and religious questions brought up in the Wachowski Brothers' film: for Spielberg, it's all about the chase. The two movies can, however, be compared in other ways, e.g., in terms of how one accesses the online world. In "The Matrix," the process is invasive, bordering on a form of rape: a phallic, probe-like device is inserted deep into the user's brain, providing direct contact with the world of the Matrix such that everything one experiences in that green-tinged world feels absolutely real. That was one of the central concepts in "The Matrix": one's experience of the virtual world is so real that, with the exception of a small group of enlightened people, it's impossible to realize that one has been enslaved by the machine intelligence currently at war with humanity centuries in the future. "Ready Player One," meanwhile, takes place in 2045, i.e., in the near future, so interfacing with virtual reality isn't quite that invasive or technically advanced. Another point of comparison involves the theme of liberation: IOI isn't evil simply because it wants to slap ads everywhere: it's evil because, when people in the Oasis end up incurring debts they can't pay off, they become effectively indentured servants of IOI known as "Sixers" for their six-digit ID codes. Once pressed into service for IOI, the Sixers are forced to take part in Anorak's Quest in a bid to help IOI gain control of the entire Oasis. In "The Matrix," it's the Matrix itself that is the enslaving entity, with Neo and his crew doing what they can to free humanity from machine tyranny.

In the end, I found "Ready Player One" to be entertaining fluff. It was a callback to the Spielberg of old, full of well-directed chase scenes and infused with a sense of adventure. At the same time, the CGI and the characterizations kept me from being too emotionally engaged in the proceedings. Wade falls in love far too quickly for my taste, and when tragedy befalls his folks, there's no emotional aftermath. Certain aspects of the haptic tech didn't add up for me, and the lack of any philosophical underpinning for the story also made things feel a bit empty. A writer for Time Magazine once critiqued George Lucas by saying that Lucas's films "affected the heart rate but not the heart," which is, strangely enough, a criticism that also applies to "Ready Player One." It's not a bad film at all, but like the virtual images themselves, it's has all the heft and substance of cotton candy. If I have any desire to re-watch the movie, it's because the movie contains so many damn references that I'd like the chance to pause the film every few seconds just to catch what I had barely seen out of the corner of my eye.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Paglia defends Peterson

Seen on Instapundit:

Jordan Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist, professor, writer, and now cultural commentator, gained infamy when he loudly announced his refusal to bow to linguistic tyranny by using newly invented and politically correct gendered pronouns (like "zyr") to refer to people who see themselves as sitting along some sort of gender spectrum. Since then, Peterson has become a ubiquitous talking head, appearing on TV and YouTube interviews everywhere. Many of those interviews are civil and enlightening; some are downright confrontational. In the midst of all the tumult, Peterson found the time to write his second book, the bestselling 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, which I'm currently reading, along with millions of other English-speaking folks across the world. (Peterson, who likes to refer to Jung, wrote the 1999 Maps of Meaning, a book I'm now interested in purchasing.)

In the above statement, Camille Paglia, herself a cultural commentator and an author several times over (as well as my favorite feminist), defends Peterson in the wake of a hit piece titled "Jordan Peterson and Fascist Mysticism" found in The New York Review of Books. Paglia and Peterson recently engaged in a lengthy dialogue that can be found on YouTube for those willing to spend the time (1:43:00) to watch it. Although Paglia can be a narcissistic blowhard (just read the above statement to see what I mean), she's sharp and she hits hard, never suffering fools gladly. In the battleground of ideas, I'd want ol' Camille in the foxhole with me. She can be daffy in her arguments on occasion, but her heart is always in the right place, and I think she's fundamentally correct on those matters that matter.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

"Last Jedi" humor

Because all we can do is laugh through the pain...

Screen Junkies' Serious Questions—"Star Wars: The Last Jedi"

Screen Junkies' Honest Trailers—"Star Wars: The Last Jedi"

time for a binge?

Our family used to have a media-related Easter tradition: since Christian Easter, for most of Christendom, coincides with Jewish Passover, we would always sit down to watch "The Ten Commandments," starring Charlton Heston—an epic that would show up, without fail, every Passover. (We would only occasionally watch "The Greatest Story Ever Told.") It's been years since I engaged in that family ritual, but I'm thinking the time has come to replace "The Ten Commandments" with a nine-hour binge-watch of Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Hey, it's still an epic about some lord or other, right?

one last kick from the dying mule

John McCain is about to release a supposedly "no holds barred" memoir that will be, unsurprisingly, highly critical of President Donald Trump. McCain has wasted a lot of time, in his twilight year [sic], being obstructionist instead of helping to forward Trump's agenda; personally, I'll be relieved when he and fellow thorns-in-the-side Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell finally quit the scene. McCain was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, the same cancer my mother had, around the middle of last year, so I'm fairly sure the old hoss won't be around come Christmas. This book is his final kick at a president who, during the campaign, insulted McCain by saying his POW status did not make him a war hero. I can see that particular issue both ways: on one hand, Trump has a right to his opinion, and McCain had probably gotten used to being fawned over for something that happened in the long-ago past; on the other hand, Trump's dig against a veteran who had bravely served his country while suffering years of excruciating torture was, to put it politely, a very low blow, not to mention a heads-up as to Trump's attitude toward other POWs.

It's a shame, though, that McCain has become so obsessively against Donald Trump during his final year of life. I can understand the urge, after being deeply and publicly insulted, to want to take down the insulter, but surely there are better, more constructive ways for the old senator to spend his final functional months on this plane of existence. Then again, when I listen to people like Styx, I sense no compassion for McCain: "good fucking riddance" is the attitude, mainly because Styx and people of a similar bent see McCain as a warmongering neocon (you'll recall McCain's joking "Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran" in 2007, which lines up with Hillary Clinton's own stated willingness to attack that country) in the pocket of corporate interests, and not the "maverick" that McCain makes himself out to be. Be that is it may, it's still a shame to see the dying John McCain so obsessively focused on Donald Trump instead of concentrating more on his duties as a senator.

the early bird gets the worm

Goddamn taxis. Normally, the very moment I step outside of my building, there's a taxi pulling up next to it. Here in the Daecheong Station neighborhood, we're close enough to high-traffic Jamshil for taxis to be plentiful. But today, for some reason, there were none to greet me. I waited... and waited... and waited... but nothing. Oh, a few cabs did pass me, but they were all going in the wrong direction, as Murphy's Law would have it. Normally, for a 9AM movie, stepping out of my apartment at 8:25 is plenty of time to take the elevator to the lobby, walk out the side of the building, and instantly flag a cab that can get me to the mall by 8:50AM, which gives me enough time to walk to the cinema, buy a ticket, and walk right to my seat without having to wait. Not today, though: I waited until 8:40AM for a cab and decided that that was the cutoff point: it wouldn't be worth jumping into a taxi after that time, only to arrive late to the movie.

So I'm not seeing the 9AM showing of "Ready Player One" this morning, and it pisses me off because I normally don't wake up this early. I'm debating going to work and finishing the day early. That, or I might take a nap. I doubt I'll be seeing the movie tonight, so I guess I'll try again tomorrow morning. There's another 9AM show then. I reckon I'll just have to be out on the street a lot earlier if I hope to catch a cab.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Readying myself

Steven Spielberg's "Ready Player One" comes out in Korea tomorrow; I'll be hitting the early matinee, which actually looks to be starting somewhat late (9AM). Expect a review soon.

2 movies I just gotta see

Here's a great review for "You Were Never Really Here," starring Joaquin Phoenix.

"Why I Left Both Koreas," a documentary by Steve Choi, who went to Europe and interviewed North Korean defectors who had left South Korea for greener pastures.

Ave, Jeff!

Jeff Hodges writes on the phenomenon of Muslims who are leaving Islam because of Islamism. This is welcome news to me. People have long argued that, if Islam is to change into something less radical and more peaceable, reform needs to come from within. Perhaps we're seeing something like that here: it's not reform in the classical sense, but if Muslims are leaving Islam because of their disenchantment with Islamism, then perhaps the Muslims who remain within the faith will see this as a sign that things must change.

It's no small thing for a Muslim to quit Islam; many strains of Islam view such a move as apostasy, and a large subset of those with that view also think apostasy is punishable by death. If we're seeing the beginning of a snowballing trend (and I can only hope that we are), this might lead to a sea change fifteen or twenty years down the line as more and more people lose their fear of punishment and throw off the yoke of religious oppression.

all storms eventually pass, but some pass sooner than others

Philip DeFranco's most recent video confirms what I wrote yesterday re: how the CBS Stormy Daniels interview adds nothing new to the discussion. The interview did, however, get over 22 million views, making it a ratings coup for 60 Minutes, so on some level, it probably had a temporary impact. That said, the American public, like publics everywhere, has a short memory, so I don't expect the interview itself to have much of a ripple effect.

Adding to the insignificance is the amusing fact—pointed out by Gateway Pundit and others—that Stormy Daniels had hugely dilated pupils during the interview (I didn't notice), indicating that she was very likely high. There are other reasons one's pupils can be dilated, of course—fear, for instance—but most online speculation is focusing on the idea that ol' Uncle Stormy was drugged to the gills, maybe as a way to keep herself from freaking out during her interview. The woman has a lot to stress about: she's facing a potential $20 million lawsuit from Trump's lawyers for breaking her nondisclosure agreement.

So it seems that Stormy Daniels is already beginning to self-destruct, yet another example of The Trump Effect in action. There could be implications regarding campaign-finance law, but I expect Trump's army of lawyers to circle the wagons and protect their master from deep harm. By November, it'll be, "Stormy who? Oh, yeah—that one. Heh."

UPDATE: independent confirmation that Stormy Daniels is basically doing herself in.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Styx on Stormy

It's all tabloid sleaze:

UPDATE: Styx again: "The USA Doesn't Have a Gun Problem: It Has an Inner City Gang and Suicide Problem."

Styx is saying much the same thing as I'm pointing out in the comment thread of this post: gun ownership is trending upward while gun violence rates are trending down.

CJ Pearson: gutsy kid

CJ Pearson is all of fifteen years old, but he's got an opinion on the Second Amendment and the March for Our Lives. I'm not normally a reader of Gateway Pundit, but this particular post is trending all over Gab right now, so I couldn't help but notice it. Give it a read.

it's gettin' Stormy

The CBS interview with Anderson Cooper and Stormy Daniels (a.k.a. Stephanie Clifford) has been transcripted for your delectation. If you're a liberal, you'll come away from the interview with a feeling of grim triumph, along with a sense that, maybe this time, we've got President Trump by his tiny little balls. If you're a conservative, you'll come away disappointed that the interview wasn't juicier.

I mentioned previously that Daniels, in order to be cogent and taken seriously, would need to provide more than allegations, but allegations are mostly what her story is filled with. One of the more bizarre things Daniels said was that she wasn't attracted to Trump even a bit, that she had absolutely no desire to have sex with him, but she did it anyway.

Cooper: What happened next?

Daniels: I asked him if I could use his restroom and he said, "Yes, you know, it's through those-- through the bedroom, you'll see it." So I-- I excused myself and I went to the-- the restroom. You know, I was in there for a little bit and came out and he was sitting, you know, on the edge of the bed when I walked out, perched.

Cooper: And when you saw that, what went through your mind?

Daniels: I realized exactly what I'd gotten myself into. And I was like, "Ugh, here we go." (LAUGH) And I just felt like maybe-- (LAUGH) it was sort of-- I had it coming for making a bad decision for going to someone's room alone and I just heard the voice in my head, "well, you put yourself in a bad situation and bad things happen, so you deserve this."

Cooper: And you had sex with him.

Daniels: Yes.

Cooper: You were 27, he was 60. Were you physically attracted to him?

Daniels: No.

Cooper: Not at all?

Daniels: No.

Cooper: Did you want to have sex with him?

Daniels: No. But I didn't-- I didn't say no. I'm not a victim, I'm not--

Cooper: It was entirely consensual.

Daniels: Oh, yes, yes.

I'm trying to make sense of how Daniels didn't want to have sex with Trump, but the sex was still consensual. I suppose I'm just unschooled in the illogicality of the female mind because to me, if she didn't want sex, but sex occurred, that sounds an awful lot like rape.

When Daniels says, "...well, you put yourself in a bad situation and bad things happen, so you deserve this," this sounds like a lie, like spin. I don't doubt she was a greedy whore seeking status and privilege by having sex with Trump. On some level, perhaps not the level of attraction, she likely wanted this night to happen. But that's just my conjecture; I'm psychologizing, and I normally warn people away from doing that.

More serious, though, is Daniels's assertion that she was physically threatened as a way to prevent her from talking about the one-night stand (given that the two apparently had sex only once, this is more of a one-night stand than a full-blown affair):

Stormy Daniels: I was in a parking lot, going to a fitness class with my infant daughter. T-- taking, you know, the seats facing backwards in the backseat, diaper bag, you know, gettin' all the stuff out. And a guy walked up on me and said to me, "Leave Trump alone. Forget the story." And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, "That's a beautiful little girl. It'd be a shame if something happened to her mom." And then he was gone.

Cooper: You took it as a direct threat?

Daniels: Absolutely. I was rattled. I remember going into the workout class. And my hands are shaking so much, I was afraid I was gonna-- drop her.

Cooper: Did you ever see that person again?

Daniels: No. But I-- if I did, I would know it right away.

Cooper: You'd be able to-- you'd be able to recognize that person?

Daniels: 100%. Even now, all these years later. If he walked in this door right now, I would instantly know.

Cooper: Did you go to the police?

Daniels: No.

Cooper: Why?

Daniels: Because I was scared.

Again, this amounts to little more than an allegation. Pretty much all of the Daniels interview is mere fluff, generally unsupported by actual evidence. The meaty stuff occurs after Anderson Cooper turns his attention to Trevor Potter:

What makes the dispute between Stormy Daniels and the president more than a high-profile tabloid scandal is that her silence was purchased eleven days before the presidential election, which may run afoul of campaign finance laws. The president's long-time lawyer Michael Cohen says he used $130,000 of his own money to pay Stormy Daniels. Cohen has said the money was not a campaign contribution. But Trevor Potter, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission appointed by President George H.W. Bush, told us he doesn't agree.

Trevor Potter: The payment of the money just creates an enormous legal mess for I think Trump, for Cohen and anyone else who was involved in this in the campaign.

Anderson Cooper: Are you saying that can be seen as a contribution to benefit a campaign?

Trevor Potter: I am. It's a $130,000 in-kind contribution by Cohen to the Trump campaign, which is about $126,500 above what he's allowed to give. And if he does this on behalf of his client, the candidate, that is a coordinated, illegal, in-kind contribution by Cohen for the purpose of influencing the election, of benefiting the candidate by keeping this secret.

Does this spell more trouble for Trump? In some measure, perhaps, but the billionaire has a veritable army of lawyers who will do their best to keep these problems at bay. One does have to wonder, though, how Melania and the children are taking all this. A wife's patience and forgiveness aren't infinite, and Donald Trump has a randy reputation that just won't die. He might not suffer as the president, but he might end up suffering as a husband and a father.

In all, I didn't come away from this interview having learned anything more than I already knew: allegations of sex, threats, and payment had already been aired long before the interview itself. To me, the whole thing is a yawner, but I think the financial angle has the potential to turn into something.

Ave, Steve!

Steve Honeywell, whose movie-nerd site I read religiously, offers his review of "Black Panther." Steel yourself for the Tolkien joke.

"True Detective," Season 1: review

[NB: spoilers ahead.]

"True Detective" is the brainchild of series creator and screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto. All eight episodes of Season 1, which debuted in January of 2014, are directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. The series stars Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as detectives Martin Hart and Rustin Cohle, respectively. In a moment evoking any number of serial-killer movies and TV dramas, Marty and Rust are given the case of Dora Lange, a young prostitute found murdered and left exposed to the elements in a ritualistic manner back in 1995: she's found bound and naked, riddled with stab wounds indicating torture, crowned with antlers, and defiled with some sort of unholy graffiti, including a spiral that will, along with the antlers and a weird, evil pyramid made of twigs, be a recurrent trope throughout the series.

Season 1 time-jumps between 1995, 2002, and 2012 as the story covers the supposed "solving" of the case, followed by the case's reopening when the killings are shown to have continued all along the Louisiana coast. The series spends time on the rocky relationship between Rust and Marty, as well as on their personal lives away from each other. Marty is married to Maggie (Michelle Monaghan) and has two daughters; Rust was once married, but divorced after the death of his two-year-old daughter. Rust is the intellectual one with a special insight into the mind of a serial killer; Marty prefers to go on instinct and isn't the bookish type. He sees Rust Cohle as an overthinking, self-torturing, cynical soul, but he respects Cohle's methods and intuitions. Marty's own sense of ethics is fairly strangely wired; he's got a soft spot for kids and shows occasional compassion to certain criminals, but he's also a serial adulterer who doesn't realize he's running his family into the ground.

The depositions that Rust and Marty give in 2012, with lengthy flashbacks to 1995, are largely what drive the plot, along with the deepening mystery of who the real killer is and what his connection with local Louisiana religion and politics might be (as it turns out, it's all about family). Sometimes, the narratives we hear in the detectives' separate depositions match the content of the flashbacks; sometimes, it's obvious the depositions are lies that don't match the flashbacks at all. While all the time-jumping might seem nonlinear at first, the story is actually very easy to follow: the passage of time is often made clear by facial hair, head hair, clothing styles, and types of cell phones in use at the time.

Season 1 benefited, I think, from having a single director direct all eight episodes. This allowed for a consistency of style and story that gave the plot a smooth arc. The plot was also extremely well constructed, with converging lines of evidence that eventually led to a horrific conclusion. In terms of tone, the series was brooding and philosophical—a touch of "Silence of the Lambs" and "Se7en" and the slow, drawly, meditative style of Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line," mainly thanks to Matthew McConaughey's spookily cosmic discourses while he's giving his deposition. There was one moment, during those discourses, when McConaughey's Rust talks about time and space as seen from a fourth-dimensional perspective—the perspective of eternity—that threw me out of the series and back into "Interstellar," which featured McConaughey on a journey into the fifth-dimensional recesses of an engineered black hole.

But the best thing about the story's structure was how it subverted the usual expectation that the protagonists might make it out of the story alive. You see, the series's "present" is 2012, and the depositions that take place in 2012 actually end before the season itself draws to a close, leaving us an extra episode or two in which to take the story to its real conclusion. Normally, when stories are told in flashback, we assume the tellers of the story have survived the adventure. When Rust and Marty's depositions are finished, we're only at episodes 6 or 7. Rust tracks Marty down, near the end, telling him there's still unfinished business with the old 1995 Dora Lange case, and the two go back in pursuit of the real killer. This story structure—giving us an epilogue after the main story has been told—adds a delicious and unexpected layer of suspense to the proceedings. Bravo for good writing.

I had seen scuttlebutt, early on, that Season 1 of "True Detective" contained "supernatural" elements in it, and that's worth discussing, but just to warn you, Dear Reader, it's going to be a spoilery discussion. A few episodes into Season 1, we find out that Rust Cohle worked undercover narcotics for four years, which is apparently far longer than most UC cops work: most UCs rotate out after eleven months. During that time, Cohle did plenty of drugs, and they began messing with his head, leaving him prone to "visions." In the season finale, Cohle pursues the killer, known throughout the story as "the Yellow King"—which is a reference to The King in Yellow, a collection of 1895-era stories by Robert Chambers—down into a fortress-like structure that the killer calls "Carcosa," a reference to an image from "Cassilda's Song" in The King in Yellow. ("Carcosa" may itself be a derivative of the name of the old French fortress city of Carcassonne.) The killer seems to be the leader of a cult that tortures and kills children and teens, many of whose bodies end up mummified inside the confines of Carcosa, which is itself something of an evil temple. When Rust, pursuing the killer, enters the temple's sanctum, he looks up and sees what I can only describe as a wormhole composed of a cloud of swirling stars. The vision lasts only a moment before the killer rushes out of the dark to attack Rust, and we viewers are left to wonder whether what we saw was a frightening glimpse of some other reality peeking into our world, or a mere artifact of Rust's drug-addled brain. I tend toward the latter view: the cosmic whorl doesn't play any other role in the plot: by the time the killer attacks Rust (and soon after, Marty), the case has effectively been solved. The weird vision adds almost nothing to the story... except one thing: the cloudy spiral is a reflection of the spiral symbol seen on many of the victims' backs. So we're back to wondering whether Rust's vision was merely a head-trip or an objective hierophany.

I'm not sure why, but this supernatural moment disappointed me: I guess I had been expecting something freakier, like a manifestation of Cernunnos, the antlered Celtic god of life and nature to whom the series keeps coyly referring—but always in the context of the evil and the infernal (which is, as far as I can tell, a misinterpretation of who Cernunnos was; he might have been spun as satanic by the Christian Church as a way of turning the locals away from paganism). The survivors of the Yellow King seemed freaked out by his appearance; one survivor remembered being chased through the woods by a "green-eared spaghetti monster"; many other would-be victims recalled seeing a tall man with distinctive scarring that ran all along the bottom of his face. Drawings found at several important sites showed shadowy depictions of a Cernunnos-like being: a human body with antlers. All of this led me to believe that, if we were in for a supernatural manifestation, it would be along the lines of some sort of antlered, bloodthirsty being not of this world. Instead, we got a wormhole.

Also disappointing was how the series hinted at Louisiana's long history with Vodoun and Santeria without ever really delving into that part of the state's culture. (This story was many things, but a tourism advert for a not-at-all-creepy coastal Louisiana it wasn't.) What was shown was the weird interaction between the Yellow King cult and the local churches, with the Christians sometimes being weirdly syncretic between Protestantism and Catholicism (we see a tent-revival preacher make the sign of the Cross at one point). Moments like this offered us a tantalizing glimpse into something potentially deep and dark, and it might have been nice to explore that for a while, given how meandering the season's plot already was. Alas, all we ever got was a taste, and while this didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the series, it was still a bit disappointing.

The series's other major flaw was the self-consciously writerly dialogue, which did, unfortunately, remind me in some instances of the stilted dialogue from the TV series "Hannibal." That said, "True Detective" was far, far better written than that other show, and even with the pretentious-sounding way that some of the characters (especially Cohle) spoke, the story generally felt unforced and emotionally authentic. I should also note that the dialogue contained some absolutely hilarious, and absolutely profound, quips and one-liners, many of which ought to be slapped onto bumper stickers and sold for a healthy profit. The show contained a good measure of wit.

"True Detective," Season 1, is stocked with great actors giving great performances. Michelle Monaghan does a fine job as a put-upon wife and mother who reaches her breaking point; Harrelson and McConaughey play extremely well off each other, taking the odd-couple-cop cliché and breathing fresh life into the partnership. I actually appreciated how the story took time to step away from the murder case to focus on all these relationships; the characterization is, in my opinion, what makes the season work as well as it does. Fukunaga's direction is calm and assured, giving us a nonlinear-yet-linear narrative to follow. All in all, "True Detective" makes for a great binge-watching session, and I'm kind of sorry it's all over. Luckily, I now own Season 1, so I can watch it again at my leisure.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Styx on March for Our Lives


a deleted scene from "The Battle of the Five Armies"

Stumbled upon this on YouTube: a deleted scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." I can see why the scene was deleted; there was too much Marvel-style humor, I think, and it didn't quite fit the increasingly tragic tone of a battle that would eventually culminate in the death of Thorin Oakenshield. Also, the use of Alfrid as a comical deus ex machina who inadvertently "saves" Gandalf from a troll seems like a pretty radical departure from Tolkien's original sensibilities. Personally, I didn't like the notion of Gandalf suffering the Middle Earth equivalent of a gun that's constantly jamming. It's funny, kind of, for the first jam, but repeating the joke leads to quickly diminishing returns, humor-wise. Besides, is there any precedent for a magical item failing in that way?

Saturday, March 24, 2018

what red-pilling looks like

Sometimes, the only way to encourage people to leave the comfortable precincts of their ill-considered perspectives is to lure them out. While I'm not the biggest fan of "gotcha" moments, I did feel a measure of satisfaction at watching some folks wake up to the fact that there are at least two sides to any complicated issue.

If you'd rather not follow the link, here's the vid in question:

In the interest of fairness, I should note that the folks who get red-pilled in the video are civil, rational, and open-minded enough to admit they may need to do further reading and research before blindly choosing a side. I'm in favor of calm, reasoned discussion, especially in today's climate, where it seems no one is interested in discussing anything anymore.

meat redux

Here: to make up for that blurry shot:

"True Detective": the binge-watch

I'm wasting my weekend by bingeing on Season 1 of HBO's "True Detective" series—the season starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. It's been pretty gripping thus far; I plan to write a review of the whole season once I'm done with it. Up to now, I see the show as primarily a character study and a format for the discussion of Big Ideas About Human Nature. I also think that its treatment of the murder that's driving the plot is far more intelligent than the nonsense we got from "Hannibal," which you'll recall I seriously disliked.

More on this show later.

red in tooth and claw

Here's one of several "fox catches squirrel" videos on YouTube:

Squirrel had it comin', turning its back on a predator like that.

Friday, March 23, 2018

let's talk about guns and marches and kids

Colion Noir is a rare creature: a black defender of the Second Amendment. Guns are his thing; much of his YouTube channel is devoted to testing, and talking about, new guns. Mr. Noir is also dead serious about social issues surrounding guns, and he's been particularly vocal ever since the recent Parkland massacre, talking about what he sees as a deeply misguided reaction by some of the high-school youths who survived that shooting, and who have since become prominent faces and voices at the national level.

The following video features several things: on-the-street interviews, a one-on-one chat with one of Colion's close friends, and Colion himself speaking directly to the camera. I found it impossible to turn away, and while I'm not sure I'm totally on board with all of Mr. Noir's agenda, I can see where he's coming from (because, thankfully, he's crystal-clear about his own position), and I can respect his logic. Some of Mr. Noir's language is exaggerated and polemical, designed more for the pro-2A crowd who already agrees with him than for the anti-gun crowd who disagrees with him. Despite the polemics, though, I ended up with a few points worth considering, which is all one can ask for when a video is about a touchy subject like gun control. I've also subscribed to Mr. Noir's YouTube channel.

UPDATE: this video appears to have been yanked by YouTube, which has gone on a frenzy of repression of right-leaning perspectives of late. Mr. Noir seems to be republishing that video in little pieces, showing short clips here and there. Visit his channel to see more.

UPDATE 2: the vid seems to be back. For now.

I have no words.

Just wow.

(And somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm wondering whether I'm being punked by reading this. Truth is hard to find; the simulacra will eat us all eventually.)

today's luncheon

Per the threat or promise I had made to my coworkers, I served gyros for our monthly luncheon today. Most of this lunch was not homemade; the only things I made from scratch were the meat and the tzatziki, both of which I can easily do from memory. Otherwise, I pan-fried the naan I had bought earlier in the week, using a mixture of oil, butter, and powdered garlic, gently painted onto one side of each flatbread. Everything else was simply a matter of breaking down: I crumbled the feta, sliced the olives and onions (not for me: I can't stand onions on sandwiches, but I knew there were onion-eaters in the office), chopped the lettuce, and halved the teeny cherry tomatoes that I always buy when I'm feeling lazy about slicing tomatoes. Some pics of the luncheon are below; my apologies for the blurry meat.

Overhead view:

Naan, standing in for pita, but just as tasty:

Blurry meat (sorry):

A shot of my gyro:

The meat got many compliments, as did the tzatziki, for which I was grateful, given that most of my prep efforts went into the meat and the sauce. Personally, I thought the meat had dried a bit too much, but it was still tasty and edible. As I told one coworker, I regretted not being able to serve the meat straight off the pan, still sizzling: the beef-lamb mix was a thing of beauty right at the moment it was lifted from the heat, and the aroma was incredible. I need to make gyros for my personal circle of friends; the Greekwiches are guaranteed to be a hit.

On a technical note: grinding the meat in my tiny, inadequate food processor was a bit of a chore. The goal was to take meat that had already been roughly ground—lamb and beef—and to grind it down to something approaching a smooth paste, similar to the meat used by Greek-American fast-food joints. (Such meat arrives at each restaurant in frozen, rotisserie-friendly "logs" that get placed on the spit, heated until browned on the outside, then sliced and whittled down to nothing throughout the day. The reason the meat looks so solid and homogeneous is that it's a paste when it gets molded into "logs.") I thought I was only partially successful in fine-grinding the meat: after about thirty seconds in my food processor, the meat would tend to gather itself into a ball that got kicked around and around inside the processor, with very little actual grinding happening. I would have to stop the machine, tamp the meat back down so that more of it was level with the blades, then restart the grinding. Somehow, I managed to produce something that, while not quite a paste, ended up being passably smooth and homogeneous when sliced. So... yay, me. Or more precisely: yay, meat.

Oh, yeah: everyone in the office went for seconds. Always a good sign.

Styx on Stormy

Styx weighs in on "tabloid stuff":

Thursday, March 22, 2018

time to bring out the popcorn?

As I noted in my "Donald Trump, One Year On" post, President Trump currently stands accused of sexual impropriety by no fewer than nineteen women. Bill Cosby's stack of accusers puts this number to shame, but it's still cause for shame for any decent human being with a conscience. I don't know what the status is of those various accusations against Trump, but they don't seem to be making much news these days, despite the gravity of the claims against him. Viewed in this way—call it the "Teflon perspective"—the upcoming Stormy Daniels interview on CBS is merely one more log on an already-large woodpile.

Stormy Daniels is a porn star who claims to have had an affair with Donald Trump in 2006. Ten years later, in 2016, Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 as part of a nondisclosure agreement to keep the affair hushed up. In January of this year, this payment was reported in the Wall Street Journal. There is an implication that the payment, given the closeness (to Trump) of the people involved and the timing of the payment itself, may represent a violation of campaign-finance law. Daniels is scheduled to air a purportedly tell-all interview with CBS on Sunday, March 25.

Trump supporters no doubt dismiss Daniels out of hand, already sure of what she's going to say, and confident that nothing she'll say will rise to the level of a provable, damning assertion. But is such dismissiveness warranted? At the very least, if I were Trump and his team of lawyers, I'd be worried that Daniels might reveal physical details about Trump that only Melania Trump can confirm ("Yup, he does have a mole right there, and his semen does, in fact, taste like rosewater"). This, at least, would establish that an affair really happened. Add to that any confirmatory paperwork ("We stayed at hotel X on night Y; here are the receipts"), and the makings of a narrative begin to emerge—a narrative whose details can be independently verified. For Trump, I'd say, caution is paramount.

At the same time, we can look at how a mountain of evidence against Bill Clinton failed to bring that president down. In Clinton's case, there was even a semen-stained dress, which I suppose helped nudge the lecher to the grudging admission of an "inappropriate relationship" with Monica Lewinsky. Clinton, to be sure, was impeached for lying under oath, not for a sexual dalliance that was—until Lewinsky changed her story very recently—considered consensual. Trump and his legal team have apparently been trying to strong-arm Daniels (real name: Stephanie Clifford), a fact that can be used against them. At the same time, Trump—perhaps aware of the Streisand Effect—hasn't been at his most aggressive in trying to suppress Daniels's testimony; it looks as though the CBS interview is going to go full steam ahead.

I'm withholding any further judgment until after the interview has aired and been analyzed by some of the talking heads. Trump's womanizing ways are already well known, so there's a chance that his randy reputation will preemptively blunt the impact of this scandal. At the same time, I'm pretty sure his enemies across the ideological aisle will watch the interview with relish, looking for clues that, yes, this time, Trump will be cast down, and his downfall will come at the hands of a woman. YouTube will soon be filled with interview-analysis videos, some of which I'll watch. That said, I often think the left is like Charlie Brown running at that football, forever hopeful that this time, it's going to be different. Trump, meanwhile, is like Lucy, yanking the football away again and again. In truth, we won't know the fallout of the Daniels interview until a couple months from now. If it's serious, then it might have implications for the midterm elections in November. If it's not, then that's another strike against the "blue wave."

meat in da heat

I've got a beef-lamb mixture baking in my oven right now, in preparation for tomorrow's gyrofest. I'm regretting doing this, though, because when I slice the baked loaves of meat, they're not going to slice smoothly,* despite my having attempted a fine grind of the meat in my teeny food processor. In retrospect, what I should've done was to knead the meat, herbs, spices, and seasonings, then freeze the whole thing, then shave off slices to pan-fry, thus obviating the need for baking at all. Ah, well. Live and learn. On the bright side: it's still gonna taste good when we all sit down to eat.

Also made a huge batch of tzatziki with Greek yogurt. Not bad, I must say, and probably even better now, as the sauce has had a chance to marry its many fresh flavors overnight. Expect photos of gyro-ness tomorrow.

*UPDATE, 10:06PM: the meat, now cooled, does slice smoothly. Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

on Dune

Frank Herbert published the science-fiction novel Dune in 1965. During the 1970s, Alejandro Jodorowsky tried and failed to put together his own version of Dune, an effort that was recently recounted in the documentary "Jodorowsky's Dune." David Lynch released his controversial filmic interpretation of Dune in 1984. Years later, after a devastating critical panning, Lynch released a director's cut that did much to plug some major story holes in the original theatrical release. The SyFy channel, meanwhile, released a three-part TV-movie adaptation of "Dune" in 2000 (with "Children of Dune" being released in 2003). And now... Denis Villeneuve, coming off the artistic triumphs of "Arrival" and "Blade Runner 2049" (a critical hit but a financial failure), will be scripting and helming a new adaptation of Herbert's Dune, a version that Villeneuve says will be faithful to the original novel.

Here's Villeneuve talking a bit (cagily) about his approach to "Dune":

And here's an interview with Frank Herbert before Lynch's "Dune" came out:

It's just my opinion, but Herbert sure looks a lot like an older Robin Williams while sounding a bit like George RR Martin. I'm actually eager to see Villeneuve's version of Dune; the novel contains many Villeneuve-friendly elements like philosophy, religion, and major events that build to some sort of shattering fulfillment. Will Villeneuve include a massive battle at the end of the story, the way Lynch did? (The novel ends with the same sandworm assault depicted in Lynch's movie.) Will he go on to make sequels based on Herbert's other novels, or will "Dune" be a one-off production? No matter how you cut it, a Villeneuve version of "Dune" ought to be visually spectacular and heavily thought-provoking.

Ave, ROK Drop!

Very interesting post over at ROK Drop: an embedded tweet with a before/after composite photo of a North Korean reforestation project showing some impressive arboreal growth—apparently part of a reforestation project.

If there's one metric in which North Korea beats South Korea, it's lack of pollution. True, the relative cleanliness of North Korea has much to do with the inhumanly repressive government and economy: poor people aren't likely to own contraptions that sully the atmosphere or fill the night sky with light pollution. But I have to wonder to what extent regular North Korean citizens—when they're not worrying about surviving in that hellhole from day to day—have a sense of duty toward the environment and are sensitive to how human activity can affect the soil, the water, and the air. If the two Koreas were to unify, would northerners bring with them a more acute eco-consciousness than southerners possess? This makes for an interesting question. I suspect that North Korea's cleanliness is more like an unintended side-effect of its government's repressive policies than the result of a proactive eco-sensibility, but it's also possible that a severely oppressed people might develop a poignant aesthetic sense when it comes to the preservation of natural surroundings: in the midst of all the terror, it's important to cling to whatever beauty one can find.

If North Koreans are, in fact, acutely eco-conscious—and consequently appreciative of their clean roads, unlittered cities, and unpolluted night skies—it might behoove South Koreans to employ North Koreans, post-reunification, in jobs that involve repairing all the damage that South Koreans have done to their own land. But are there North Koreans who have a background in environmental science? And would they feel at all motivated to help save their southern brothers from themselves?

Now I'm interested in finding out what literature exists on the topic of North Korea and environmentalism. There must be some papers or monographs out there, right?

NB: the ROK Drop post links to this well-researched article that answers some, but by no means all, of my questions.

building a life-sized Vader

If I ever bought one of these collectibles, I'd never be able to look at myself in the mirror again: nothing would justify such an extravagant expense, no matter how much I might like the Star Wars franchise. But I'll admit that watching these dudes assemble their purchase did give me a certain measure of vicarious satisfaction—like Schadenfreude, but positive. Call it Auspackenfreude. Yeah, I just made that up.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

the killer robots have arrived

A driverless car in the service of Uber has, in a global first, killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona. The woman had been crossing the street at night when she was hit. Uber has since suspended its driverless-car service pending an investigation into the causes of the crash.

The Governors Highway Safety Association estimates that there were about 5,984 pedestrian fatalities in 2017, and none have been publicly linked to an autonomous vehicle, but crash-reporting standards for incidents involving autonomous vehicles are still evolving.

There was a vehicle operator in the car but no passengers at the time of the accident, according to Tempe police, which responded to the scene at around 10 p.m. on Sunday. The 49-year-old victim died after being transported to a local hospital, police said.

What must it have been like to be the vehicle operator when the accident occurred? If the person is being described as an "operator," does this mean he or she could have done something to stop the marauding car? I have nothing but questions.

This is, of course, not the first time that people have been killed by unthinking machines. Accidents occur in factories all the time, and we hear the occasional tragic story about some homeowner who gets skull-bashed by the garage door. And even before cars went driverless, we've had incidents (I think with Audis) in which cars have revved up seemingly on their own and struck people in the driveway. So yes, this is a new era in which an "autonomous" machine has mowed someone down, but at the same time, this is the same old business of risking one's life when working with large, dangerous machines.

One of my worries is about how hackable a driverless car might be. Imagine a terrorist's glee at knowing he won't have to sacrifice his own life if all he has to do is hack, and then remote-pilot, a driverless car into an unsuspecting crowd. Scary.

Monday, March 19, 2018

eef you speakah zee Fraintch, zen zees eez pweetee fawnee

Seen at Costco.

excellent nerd adventure

The punchline of this hilariously nerdy video comes at the end when you see who directed it:

And just in case you missed this other tribute to Stephen Hawking:

Sunday, March 18, 2018

tyke versus trolley

Here's a hilarious video titled "A Two-year-old's Solution to the Trolley Problem":

You'll recall that the "Trolley Problem" is a fairly standard hypothetical when discussing ethics: a trolley is barreling down a track that will soon fork two ways, A and B. Down Fork A is a group of people milling about on the track, unaware of the danger. Down Fork B is a single person, also on the track and unable to move off. As the switch controller, you must make a choice as to which track the trolley will roll onto—the one with a group of people, or the one with a single person. Making this choice—especially if you believe even a single human life is precious—is painful. The nature of the choice, and one's reasons for making it, can lead to a deeper discussion: is it more ethical to save a greater number of people, and if so, does this mean the worth of human lives can be discussed in terms of numbers?

Other versions of the trolley problem pit one unfamiliar person versus your own pet, a group of important scientists versus your mother, and so on.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

emotional vampires

Throughout high school and college, I met a lot of women who revealed themselves to be emotional vampires: they fed on the validation they received from the opposite sex, and they defined themselves according to the level of that validation. A vampiric woman adored by many guys is happy to the extent that she has options, socially speaking. Such women lead charmed lives, never once earning their social status through strength of character or through achievements that hint at hard work and deeply held values.

The problem, of course, is that when you define yourself by what others think of you,* you become dependent—a slave to others' opinions. I have no respect for such people. At my most compassionate, I pity them, for they seem unable to see the marionette strings that force them into their puppet-dance. At my least compassionate, I simply despise folks who define themselves only in terms of others.

If you want to live an authentic life, don't be a slave to the thoughts, opinions, adoration, adulation, and validation of other people. I'm not saying you should become a chest-beating egomaniac, but at the very least, develop the ability to function independently. Don't say, "I'm nothing without someone else." That's bullshit. Then, having developed a foundation of confident independence, if you do meet someone and decide to become life-partners, the person you meet will respect your inner strength and autonomy, and you'll respect that person's in return. That's the healthiest sort of relationship: a bond between two strong people who, if need be, can function perfectly well alone and apart.

Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

—Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Love is born of strength, not weakness—of independence, not slavish dependence. First function alone and find your strength. It's when you stop seeking in a needy way that the right person will come along. Got that, lady vampires (and guy vampires, too)? You can't coast through life on charm and beauty; these things don't last. Orient yourself to what does last, and you'll lead a deeper, more fulfilling life.

Oh, and Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

*Here in Korea, this is how millions of Koreans live their lives: defined and confined by others' opinions. I can't tell you how many young, beautiful, talented female TV stars have committed suicide because they got swamped by a wave of online hate after making some moral mistake like cheating on a boyfriend or engaging in a racy photo shoot. In theory, such successful women ought to hold enormous social power, but instead they see themselves as prisoners of public opinion. And because a Korean sees him- or herself as a nexus of relationships and not as a monadic individual, once cut out of the network of relationships, that Korean is cast adrift and has nothing to live for. Reduced to nothing by social rejection, a Korean is left desolate, unmoored, and unable to find purpose or self-affirmation. This is what leads to suicide. Otto Rank and one of his disciples, Ernest Becker, theorized that suicide is the result of losing the conviction that you are the hero of your own personal life-narrative. All it takes, for a Korean, to lose that heroic status is to suffer mass rejection—or even just the rejection of immediate family: look at high-school students who throw themselves off apartment-building balconies in despair because they're convinced they've done poorly on a college-entrance exam. Allowing oneself to be so weak and dependent is the royal road to crafting a fragile life, one that is easily shattered, wasted, and lost.

Friday, March 16, 2018

don't try this at home

Last week (from Sunday, March 4, to Friday, March 9), I ate almost no solid food as a response to my shock at how much weight I've regained. I lost a few kilos, but apparently, I ate and drank so much over the weekend—when I was making my seitan gyros—that I canceled out whatever weight loss I had incurred. This week, from Sunday the 11th to this very morning (Friday the 16th), I doubled down and starved myself pretty much wholesale. Whereas I cheated a bit on the "no solid food" rule last week (I had yogurt one day and ice cream on another—technically not solid food, but not exactly full-on liquid, either*), I had nothing but non-sugary drinks this week and absolutely no food that was even remotely solid.

The experience wasn't bad at first. There was some hunger at the beginning, and I spent a lot of my time torturing myself by watching YouTube videos about hamburgers and pizzas (there's a "Chicago's Best" series that might be to your liking). Otherwise, everything was fine: as I reported the previous week, I actually felt more energetic and more mentally focused as a result of not taking in the usual toxins—mostly sugar and other carbs—that are part of my regular, not-so-disciplined diet.

Then came the crash. This started Thursday evening, while I was still at the office. I began to feel sick, and I ended up going home about an hour early. That night, as I was taking a handful of my pills, my gag reflex kicked in, and I almost didn't get the pills down. That's never happened to me before, and I took note of the peristaltic hitch. This morning, i.e., Friday morning, was even worse: when I woke up, I had zero energy, and my mind was muddled and cloudy, such that the mere act of thinking felt like navigating through a thick fog. That, too, was clinically interesting, but it was also somewhat alarming. I knew I'd be seeing the doctor later that morning, after which I planned to break my fast and get some nutrition into my body. The need to do that suddenly seemed more acute, given my physical weakness and muzzy-headedness.

Showering and dressing proved to be a chore. My shoulders ached from the mere act of lifting my arms up, and I found myself out of breath after every exertion—after toweling myself off, after putting on my clothes, and even after shouldering my shoulder bag. In every case, I'd make an exertion, then pause, then cautiously move on to the next activity. I began to wonder whether I'd even be able to make it to the doctor's office without fainting. I walked down the hallway to the elevators, got down to the lobby, and ended up taking a cab to the Mido building, which is where my doctor's office is. Weak and lethargic, I thanked the cabbie and somehow slid out of the car, then managed to walk across the street and up to the doctor's office without collapsing in a breathless heap. This was not the condition in which I wanted to see the doc: I had wanted to be alert and chipper, and to see some much-improved numbers thanks to all the fasting I had done.

Well, the numbers turned out to be a mixed bag. My blood-sugar test—one of those quickie diabetes things where they prick your finger and use a tiny device—came back with a result of 150, which isn't horrible for a pre-diabetic. My HbA1c level, however, was still frighteningly high at 8.3: this reading represents your blood-glucose level over the course of three months, so two weeks of fasting didn't do much to reduce that number. My blood pressure wasn't bad at 130/80 (although I hear that that level is now considered hypertensive, as the medical community recently readjusted its standards), and I no longer suffer from a Vitamin D deficiency (I took extra supplements). I do, however, have high cholesterol, so the doc tweaked my meds slightly, explaining what he was doing as he tapped away at his keyboard. I nodded tiredly, vaguely surprised the doc didn't notice my lethargy. Either I'm a great actor, or the doc needs to be more observant. Revised prescription in hand, I left the second-floor office to go to the first-floor pharmacy, where I picked up my $90 of medication—two months' worth.

After getting my new batch of meds, I groaned at the thought of walking the ten-minute stretch from the Mido building to the Cheongshil building, where I currently work. Somehow, I managed to do the walk despite being weak and dizzy. Along the way, I stopped by a Paris Baguette and got myself a salad, a bit of bread, and two tiny-but-expensive bottles of designer juice. I schlepped the rest of the way to the office and retreated to my work station. After a few minutes, I pulled out my food and, very unwisely, decided to start by eating some salad.

Bad move. I should have started with the juice, as it turned out: my stomach must have shrunk or something over the course of the week, and the moment I stuck chunks of chicken and cherry tomato into my mouth, my gag reflex awoke, and I nearly vomited right then and there. I held myself perfectly still for the next five or ten minutes, desperately wondering what was going to happen next. I was sweating; my breath was coming in shallow, quiet gasps, and my mind frantically planned what to do should I actually need to vomit. The plastic Paris Baguette bag was next to me, so I resolved to grab it and use it as a barf bag if necessary. Several minutes later, though, I felt a spasm in my stomach, which was followed by a belch... and that was it. The nausea went away, and I began to sip at one of my bottles of juice. With the juice in my stomach, it was now safe to begin eating, but I didn't—couldn't—gobble. Over the course of the next three hours, I slowly, slowly ate my meal. A coworker of mine, who had told me about a new sandwich that the local bakery was selling, came by my work station and handed me the sandwich in question, which was very thoughtful. I couldn't eat it at first, though; I had to wait an hour or two before that was possible. It proved quite tasty.

When the boss came in, he could see right away that something was wrong with me. After he arrived, I got up and went down to the basement grocery to get more juice, which proved to be the best thing for me. I also bought some dried fruit and some mixed nuts, and these went down without triggering the gag reflex. I ended up leaving work four hours early (using some of my comp hours to do so), and once I got home, I had a session on the loo, then I slipped into bed and didn't move for several hours. Now here I am, awake and typing this entry, and I'm feeling much better, given all the nutrition now coursing through my veins.

I once did a hard-core fast in high school. Can't remember the reason. I ate zilch for a week, coming out of the ordeal a bit tired, but otherwise okay. Now that I'm almost 49, I can say that repeating such an experience, at my age, isn't a good idea at all. Sure, you can lose weight like a wrestler trying to move down a weight class, but the process fucks with your brain and body. Not recommended. Or if you do fast, don't do it for more than 72 hours. You really don't want to be where I was on Friday morning.

*I'm speaking dietetically, not in terms of the technical definition of a liquid.

from 126 to 118.6

I dropped a lot of weight this week thanks to my starvation regimen. On Sunday, I was right around 126 kg after my seitan-gyro fest (despite having fasted during the week before the fest); this morning, my scale tells me I'm at 118.6 kg, for a loss of a little over 7 kilos (mostly water, I'm sure). I've paid a price for this, though: I'm weak and fairly dizzy, and I'm wondering whether I'm going to faint after I take my blood-pressure meds this morning. We'll see, I suppose, but the good news is that, once my doctor's checkup is done, I'll go back to eating later today. I had originally thought of pigging out, but I'm in such a delicate condition that I think I'm going to start with something modest like fruit, yogurt, and some juice.

More news later.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Paris au fil des années

Here's a fascinating video showing the evolution of Paris from ancient times through the 1800s, when the Eiffel Tower's construction began. I'd embed the video if I could, but embedding of this video is forbidden, hélas. So go old school, cliquez, and enjoy.

what if the DNA test doesn't even matter?

Here's John Pepple on the question of Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren—who claims American Indian heritage, but without any real evidence—and that damn DNA test that she refuses to take. It could be that the test is irrelevant.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

seen on Gab

Here's how the media will spin Hillary Clinton's recent stumble (she stumbled twice, as you'll see if you watch the video) while walking down some steps in India:

In the video, Clinton's left foot seems to skitter out from under her as she's gingerly making her way down the steps. That looks to me like a nerve that's firing on its own when it shouldn't be firing. Something's definitely going on in her brain.


Physicist Stephen Hawking, popularizer of black-hole science and cosmology, author of A Brief History of Time, and a voice of caution regarding intelligent alien life, has died at the age of 76. While his ALS deprived him of much of a physical life, Hawking enjoyed an immensely rich inner life, often expressed in his many publications. I've read A Brief History of Time at least twice, but I can't claim to understand it, this despite Hawking's best efforts to keep math out of his explanations of cosmology. I think the phrase "thermodynamic arrow" makes an appearance in the book, and the concept is used in conjunction with the notion of why time (and cause-effect along with it) flows in a particular direction. Beyond that, I recall having a feeling that the ideas in History were simultaneously too big and too subtle for me to grasp.

Hawking was more than a scientist: he was a pop-culture icon. I fondly recall Hawking's brief appearance as himself during a holodeck scene involving poker in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (here's the scene in question). I remember watching Eddie Redmayne's performance as Hawking in "The Theory of Everything," which offered some insights into the man's personal life. Hawking's passing is a real blow; the world is a bit dimmer today. I offer my condolences to Hawking's loved ones and inner circle, and I wish the good professor godspeed as he takes his place in the firmament of great scientific minds.

RIP, Dr. Hawking.

attempt 2 coming soon

This weekend, I have to be in the office to finish up a project whose deadline is fast approaching, but for at least part of my Saturday, I'm going to shop for the components I'll need to make gyros for my coworkers. Some of this shopping will, alas, take me into Itaewon: High Street Market sells ground lamb, which I'll be combining with ground beef to make that lurvely, funky meat. If I'm lazy, I'll also try to find and buy naan somewhere in Itaewon (sometimes High Street has it, but sometimes High Street doesn't, so I may have to go strolling around le quartier). If I'm not lazy, I'll find a naan or pita recipe online and try to make my own. I normally use naan in place of pita because it's hard to find the exact Greek pita that Greek-American fast-food joints use when serving their gyros (the pita I want looks like this and doesn't flare into pockets). I don't want the "pocket bread" that has the thin sides; I'm looking for something thick, soft, and robust for rib-sticking gyros.

Meanwhile, I've ordered liquid smoke and liquid aminos, both of which will likely arrive either late this week or early next week. Once I have those magical reagents in hand, I'll try a different seitan lamb recipe, and if it works out, I might spring it on my unsuspecting colleagues. If it tastes or smells funny, though, I'll eat it all myself as punishment.

Speaking of punishment: I ate the rest of my first batch of seitan, which was a less-than-ideal experience. Once it was buried inside a gyro, it was somewhat palatable, but it still suffered from a certain wrongness that was initially hard to pinpoint. I did, however, finally figure out what was wrong with the previous batch of seitan. I was washing dishes the other night when the thought occurred to me: my seitan smelled just like dog food. Apparently, the herb/spice/seasoning combo I had used in my first attempt at seitan—which was close to what I usually use when making beef/lamb gyro meat—was exactly the wrong combination to use with vital wheat gluten and nutritional yeast. Given how funky that yeast is, I might also dial down the yeast/gluten proportion in future recipes. We'll see how that goes. I'm by no means finished with exploring the possibilities of seitan: I'll be attempting fake chicken, fake pepperoni, and those amazing-looking barbecue ribs sometime in the near future.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

the England flap

Some videos on the recent detention by London authorities of three right-leaning public figures. I doubt you're hearing much about this on the mainstream news.


Paul Joseph Watson:

Phil DeFranco (just the first few minutes of this video):

Asian Americans who vote Democrat

"Why do Asian Americans continue to support liberal candidates and policies?" asks Dr. V. The answer, according to an article by a conservative Chinese-American woman to whom Dr. V links, is threefold: (1) Asians tend to congregate in big cities, which already skew ambiently liberal; (2) Confucian values lead Asians to look at the state as a benevolent, paternalistic entity; and (3) Democrats have done a better job of spinning their party as the "big tent," whereas Republicans have marketed poorly, when they pay attention to Asians at all.

It's an interesting article. I'm still digesting it. I, too, have often wondered why so many Asian Americans vote Democrat. You'd think the Republican/conservative message of hard work and being the captain of your own future would resonate with Asians, but maybe point (3) above is correct, and the GOP has done a poor job of marketing itself to that demographic. It could also be that first-generation Asians, coming from a more collectivist cultural mentality, find appeal in liberal identity politics and the emphasis on systems, not individuals. Here in Korea, society tends to shy away from any notions of personal responsibility; the only time someone shoulders blame and apologizes is when he or she has been caught red-handed, thus besmirching his or her "honor"—a notion tied to shame (a public emotion, as opposed to guilt) and having nothing to do with internal integrity.

But what do I know? I haven't studied the issue in any depth.