Monday, April 30, 2018

Gino's vs. Brick Oven

Yesterday, after the movie, JW, the boy, and I cabbed over to Brick Oven Pizzeria for dinner after our long walk from Apgujeong to my apartment at Daecheong Station. JW had left it up to me to determine what we were going to do for dinner, and since I didn't shop for hamburger components, I suggested we hit Brick Oven, which had been recommended to me by a coworker. There may be more than one branch of Brick Oven in Seoul, but the one we went to was close to Gangnam Station. While in the taxi, JW looked the restaurant up on his phone and saw it had been widely complimented by visitors both Korean and foreign, which I took to be a good sign. "Authentic New York pizza," the reviews said.

The pizzeria turned out to be tucked in a neighborhood that was a few side streets away from the main street. We left the taxi, walked a few meters over to the entrance, and went up to the second floor. The welcoming smell of pizza crust and tomato sauce hit me immediately, and I was encouraged: things did indeed smell authentic. An Indian girl at the front spoke to us in perfect Korean, telling us we could sit wherever we wanted. We found a four-top and sat down at it, and our server came over and took our order: a half-and-half that was a Margherita on one side and a New Yorker combo special on the other. I planned to concentrate on the Margherita because it had no onions. We also ordered an appetizer of garlic-Romano fries.

The place had a good, relaxed atmosphere; the table's surface was a bit grungy and sticky, but that added to the hole-in-the-wall effect as far as I was concerned. When our food arrived, I was amused to see that the pizza had been taken out of the oven and placed on a special black-plastic pizza pan whose bottom was filled with raised bumps that made the pizza easier to lift off the surface. Smart design. The fries arrived after the pizza (the server had warned us that the kitchen was in the midst of changing out its fryer's oil, so the fries would take a while), and despite their tardiness, they were as wonderful as I had thought they would be: crispy, crunchy, herby, garlicky, and covered in flecks of hard Romano, with a white dipping sauce that might have been ranch dressing.

We grabbed at the pizza; my first slice was a Margherita. The crust was indeed New York style: those tiny bubbles on the surface of the dough told me everything I needed to know, and when I folded the slice in half, the beautiful sound of cracking bread was music to my ears. The cheese and basil were both fresh and good; the mozzarella, in particular, was hot and stringy, as God intended. I ate my slice slowly; we had ordered only a single pizza, so we'd each have only two slices. Since I didn't want to hog the Margherita, which the boy had wanted because it was his favorite, I reluctantly turned to the combo side and plopped a slice on my plate. It smelled great, and when I plucked a hunk of sausage off the slice, the meat was amazing. Alas, I was forced to dig around to extract all the insidious, slimy bits of onion hiding inside the cheese; JW demanded those bits for himself, so I dutifully tossed them over to him. When I was sure the coast was clear, I bit into the combo slice, and it was quite delicious. If I find myself at Brick Oven again, I'll definitely order a combo, but with no onions. Unless they've got a meat-lover's pizza. I'm all about the meat.

JW noted that I wasn't eating much. Part of the reason for my seeming lack of appetite was that we had ordered only enough pizza to have two slices per person. Part of the reason was also that I was tired from our walk and not as hungry as I'd thought I'd be. But I had a good time, and the pizza was indeed excellent.

The real question, though, is whether the pizza at Brick Oven is better than the pizza at Gino's, which I've written up here. The answer isn't so simple. I think Gino's and Brick Oven have equally good crusts—crackly, bubbly, and delicious. I think Gino's pepperoni and tomato sauce take the win over Brick Oven, but Brick Oven's huge and flavorful chunks of sausage definitely beat the sausage at Gino's. In the end, Gino's squeaks by with the win for me, mainly because Brick Oven's tomato sauce, while flavorful, commits the unforgivable sin of being too watery. To be sure, I'll need to go back there a few more times to see whether our pizza might have been a fluke, but as a random sample, that pizza's sauce was a bit disappointing, especially given the important role a decent sauce plays on a pizza. That complaint aside, Brick Oven has a lot going for it, and it's definitely a very good, quite authentic pizza. If the other appetizers on the menu are of the same quality (I saw calamari fritti!), I'll be back for certain.

the prom-dress kerfuffle

People will latch on to any little thing to complain about, and for the PC crowd, that means screaming about cultural appropriation. Over at Twitchy, folks are talking about a photo that appeared on Twitter: a young lady—presumably white, but that's not obvious to me—is shown in a Chinese-style dress that she wore for prom. Upon tweeting the image, she (or whoever originally uploaded the pic) was immediately beset by idiots blaring "THE WHITES ARE AT IT AGAIN" and one miffed, Chinese-seeming guy named Jeremy Lam who angrily wrote, "My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress." So says the Chinese guy with the Anglo name of "Jeremy" who dares to write in English instead of in "his own" language.

Mr. Lam: fuck you.

First, the young lady looks gorgeous in her dress. Where's the sin in looking gorgeous? Second, this whole cultural-appropriation thing is one big, hypocritical scam. (I've written obliquely about appropriation here; it's just a sociological fact of life, neither good nor bad.) As IowaHawk points out in yet another poorly punctuated tweet:

David Burge, a.k.a. IowaHawk, may be a horrible writer, but he's making a good point, here. This sort of virtue-signaling always works in only one direction, and it's never to the benefit of white Westerners who are, in the PC cosmology, the root of all evil.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

"Avengers: Infinity War": the no-spoiler, two-paragraph review

By this point, I think I can assume that steady readers of this blog will have read my other Marvel reviews and will know who the main cast members of the various Avengers and Avengers-related movies are—which actors play which characters, etc. Of note this time around, however, is that the Russo Brothers direct 2018's "Avengers: Infinity War," and that Josh Brolin takes the lead as main baddie Thanos, whose presence and significance have been teased since at least the first Avengers movie (reviewed here; the second was reviewed here). The Russos, meanwhile, are your go-to directors when you need to helm a film with long, complex storylines like "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "Captain America: Civil War." "Infinity War" is complex insofar as there are several separate-but-converging plot lines to follow, but the overall plot is rather simple: Thanos, the purple giant who has lurked in the background for several movies, finally reveals his plan to collect all six Infinity Stones, described by the Collector in "Guardians of the Galaxy" as "six singularities" that were "forged into concentrated ingots," each representing some fundamental aspect of this universe: soul, mind, power, reality, space, and time. "Infinity War" is essentially a giant version of Pokémon Go, with Thanos portal-jumping from locale to locale to pick up Infinity Stones where he can, or sending his minions—the Black Order consisting of warrior Corvus Glaive, bruiser Cull Obsidian, dervish Proxima Midnight, and wizard Ebony Maw—to do his dirty work for him. The Avengers, no longer a functioning team since the events of "Civil War," must somehow reassemble (see what I did there?) and fight back once word of Thanos comes their way.

For the rest of this spoiler-free review, I'd like to focus more on my impressions than on the actual plot. There's a lot the movie gets right in terms of shifting its often-humorous tone as it switches its focus from one group to another. There are also plenty of interesting mix-and-match moments as, for example, when the arrogant Tony Stark meets the equally arrogant Steven Strange (you'll recall that the movie "Dr. Strange" was criticized as a shameless retread of "Iron Man," and in the comics, there's a "facial-hair bros" moment between Strange and Stark, all of which shows these two are karmically linked), or even better, when Thor meets up with the Guardians of the Galaxy (not a spoiler! that's in the preview trailers!). We viewers were warned that the overall tone of "Infinity War" would be darker, but that's no surprise given that this movie is the first part of a two-part story. It's also no surprise that the movie ends on a very dark note, but there are hints laced throughout the film that make it fairly obvious that most of the damage we see will be undone by the end of the second movie. This point is worth focusing on because I've seen plenty of critics use the phrase "gut punch" to describe how "Infinity War" ends, and... I have to be honest: it was no gut punch to me. First, there's the fact that, in sci-fi and superhero movies, the dead never stay dead; next, there's the very structure of the plot of "Infinity War," which hints at the scales' tipping one way, then tipping the other. I hate to say it, but all this spectacle, while a treat for the eyes, is moving in a rather predictable dramatic direction. In terms of things I didn't like: I can't reveal details, but there are two aspects of Thor's plotline that I thought undid a great deal of the Asgardian theology established in "Thor: Ragnarok." (You'll know what I mean when you see the scenes in question.) And as with other Marvel movies, I don't think the screenwriters really took the time to work out the metaphysics (shouldn't it be enough to possess the Reality Stone to control reality?)—or even the physics: how can one super-being withstand a stellar maelstrom while a similar super-being can have his neck snapped with a mere squeeze of the hand? That said, taken as a whole, "Avengers: Infinity War" was a treat to watch. It's a worthy member of this year's pantheon of big, dumb summer movies, and may even be worth a rewatch or two, given the multiplicity of storylines and a plot that ricochets across the galaxy.

Ave, Young!

My friend Young Chun has put out his latest book, which is a guide to student errors for EFL teachers in Korea. Young describes the book as a collection of student gaffes he has encountered over the years. He thought it would be helpful to create a book that lists the most common of those mistakes, along with explanations as to why they happen, and suggestions for more natural speech. In the above-linked blog post, Young provides a sample of how his book tackles these problems; it makes for interesting reading.

I wish Young the best. He admits that the market for such a book is relatively small and restricted, given that it's for EFL teachers in Korea, and he says he'll be glad to sell even twenty copies. I'll certainly be buying a copy, so make that nineteen.

today, we watch the "Infinity War"

Whenever there's a big movie event, the son of JW, my Korean buddy, always wants to rope me in to see the movie with him. This has become something of a tradition over the past few years: JW, the boy, and I have seen "The Force Awakens," "Rogue One," and "The Last Jedi" together. These are December films, but this year, in April, Marvel has put out "Avengers: Infinity War," the tentpole film to end all tentpole films, apparently—at least until the movie's continuation comes out next year. JW's boy was on the phone with me last night, talking excitedly about the movie. I had to cut him off several times because he's already heard all the spoilers from his classmates, who had, of course, seen the movie when it first came out in the middle of last week. I've tried to stay spoiler-free for the past month, which has proven to be more difficult than I thought it would be.

The plan is to meet JW and the boy at 2PM in Apgujeong today. We'll watch the movie, then JW has this idea that we're going to walk from the movie theater all the way back to my apartment, after which we'll seek dinner. The walk is less than 12 kilometers, according to Naver Map, so I don't think this will be a problem for me, but it might be a problem for the boy, who has proved to be a bit whiny on previous walks. When the boy passed the phone to his father, I asked JW whether his son would be all right with such a long walk, and JW said, "I'm doing this to test the limit of his patience," i.e., to see how much he's grown up since that last long walk over a year ago.

I'm thinking of sweetening the deal for the boy by serving dinner at my place instead of going out to a restaurant: I might go grab some beef at Costco, plus some trimmings, and we'll do burgers, which I've done before with this crowd, and which were a hit last time. Or, if I'm feeling lazy, I'll suggest that we mosey over to the local Brick Oven Pizzeria, which a coworker recommended to me last year.

In the meantime, you can expect a movie review from me, probably later today.

silly, gross, funny, and pointless

Saturday, April 28, 2018

one of many last hurrahs for Mr. McCrarey

I met my friend John McCrarey (who blogs here) this morning for a hike up Namsan—something I haven't done for a couple of years—followed by a rib-sticking lunch in Itaewon. I don't have any pics of our meal at Tabom Brazil, but here are a few images from the hike:

In less than two weeks, John is leaving behind a well-established life in Korea to begin anew in the Philippines. His blog has been a frank, and often hilarious, chronicle of his life here on the peninsula, peppered with many a confessional post about the rocky road he has walked in terms of human relationships. There's been enough pain here to motivate John to leave and start again somewhere else, and since he's already an old hand at navigating the perils of being an expat in "the PI," he moving to Southeast Asia, thereby pretty much cutting people like me out of his life permanently, as I have no desire to visit hot, humid regions of the world like Southeast Asia and South Asia.

For today's hike, I had asked John, who has thoroughly explored Namsan's many paths (see his blog for evidence of that), to take me up an unfamiliar trail to the top. True to form, John did exactly that, proving along the way that he is now light years from the gasping fellow who could barely make it up a single hill a few years back. Yes, I'm both happy and ashamed to report that I was the one who requested that we pause—several times—on our way up to the summit. John is easily fit enough to hike to the top of Namsan without stopping.

The path we took wended and wove, snaking up and down at points, occasionally providing the false hope that this, at last, would be the final hill. It reminded me a bit of the path up Daemosan, in fact. There were a few brutal staircases along the way, but the rougher portions of the path were also—at least to me—fairly brutal as well. During our hike, John walked and talked without once sounding out of breath, all while I heaved and gasped several feet behind him. We eventually reached the top of the little mountain and had no choice but to merge with all the Chinese tourists, honking nasally like geese, as we walked the final, steep stretch. I took a few pics once we were at the top, and when we finally started back down (after we'd bought some water), we encountered the weird bit of litter that you see in the final photo above: someone had tried to keep that little foil wrapper off the ground, but had been too damn lazy to cart the trash out of the forest park. John jokingly wondered aloud as to what the trash "meant," and I tentatively concluded it had value as modern art before I snapped the shot.

Once down from the mountain, we realized we still had over an hour before the restaurants in Itaewon would be open, so John proposed that we meander over to his hotel and his car so that he could give me a parting gift (he humorously confessed it was a regift), which turned out to be a very nice bag of Himalayan pink salt. John asked me how one uses such salt, and I told him I'd have to look that up. I mentioned having seen chefs on TV who cook on large blocks of pink salt, heating the blocks up and placing raw beef or shrimp directly on the salt's surface to cook the proteins.

John's path to his car was, as he described it, "the long way," which indeed it was. I hadn't realized how hilly the back end of Itaewon was (by which I mean the part of Itaewon that lies south of the main drag), but it was hilly enough to give me a second workout. John's hotel was a nice one, and we both appreciated the scent of fresh seafood when our elevator's door opened onto the second-floor banquet hall, where a wedding banquet was in progress.

Now armed with pink salt, I walked out with John along the shorter route back into town, visited a restroom, and found blessed relief while John worked on his cell phone outside. We finally headed over to Tabom, where we had a fantastic meal of the huge-meat-on-huge-skewers variety. This culminated in Tabom's famous grilled-and-sugared pineapple, which was a bit like eating sweet, juicy steak made of fruit. I marveled at how the cooks had contrived to keep the pineapple's cinnamon-and-sugar surface perfectly dry while also preserving the pineapple's inherent juiciness. I need to learn that trick.

John is in the midst of a long series of last hurrahs, which is one of the reasons he's back in Seoul. He's been living in the Anjeong-ri/Pyeongtaek area, close to Camp Humphreys, for the last little while, but Seoul was his home for years, and this is where many of his friends and acquaintances live. After he and I parted ways, John went off to go play darts—one final championship for him. He jokes that he'll likely be pretty drunk come the evening; I'm glad I met him while he was sober. All in all, it was a great hike, a great lunch, and a sad thing to say farewell to one of my few expat friends in South Korea. I wish John the best as he transitions over to the Philippines; God knows I won't ever be visiting him there, so I'll have to wait for whenever he comes back to our humble peninsula if I want to see him again.

Have a good life, Herr McCrarey! Happy trails.

Friday, April 27, 2018

peace on the peninsula?

Around 6:20PM, some of us started getting the news that the two Koreas are preparing to sign a peace treaty—not an armistice, not a cease-fire, but a bona fide peace treaty signifying the end of a state of war that has existed since 1950. If so, this is revolutionary news, but (1) none of us knows exactly what the peace treaty implies and entails, and (2) we definitely need to wait and see how real any of this is. I looked out the office's window and didn't see orgies in the streets, so I suspect the South Korean population as a whole is just as circumspect as I am.

More here:

The leaders of North Korea and South Korea have vowed to finally end the Korean conflict, which has been merely dormant since the two sides ended outright war with an armistice 65 years ago.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un crossed the border into the south side of the demilitarized zone on Friday morning for a historic meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. In the afternoon, local time, the two issued a joint statement in which they said they would hold talks on establishing a formal peace treaty.

The countries will work towards ridding the peninsula of nuclear weapons, and the border area will become a “peace zone,” the leaders said.

“We hope we will not repeat our mistake of the past,” said Kim. “I hope this will be an opportunity for the two Korean peoples to move freely from North to South. We need to take responsibility for our own history.”

I tend to see unification as a separate question. Assuming reunification under a Southern banner, there is much in North Korea that would need to be undone—deep, systemic problems that would need to be resolved. In today's North Korea, for example, citizens aren't permitted to move from town to town without filling out special forms that allow the government to track their movements. Free speech is nonexistent, and all citizens are members of an enormous cult of personality that venerates the Kim family as divine beings. As with East Germany, North Korean workers have little actual work ethic; the work they do is based more on fear (fear of punishment, fear of starvation, etc.) than on an earnest desire to progress in life. Reunification, even of the nonviolent sort, would also be an economic nightmare for the South: the peninsula as a whole would be taking several steps back, for decades, before the newly reunited country could once again stride forward as a major economic, technological, and military power. At the same time, there are large South Korean companies that are waiting to pounce on the opportunity to invade and explore the North Korean market, and subsuming North Korea into South Korea would mean gaining access to precious rare-earth minerals that are needed for computers, cell phones, and other technologies. Eventually, if Southern-style reunification did occur, the older generations would die out, leaving young, hungry, future-oriented generations ready to rebuild the new nation.

But I doubt these are issues that concern the current leadership of both the North and the South. Right now, it's a matter of baby steps: a peace treaty first, possible denuclearization next, and perhaps the opening of trade routes and markets that might eventually benefit North Korean citizens. My worry is that, with President Moon Jae-in at the helm, South Korea will end up once again giving away the store while receiving nothing significant in return. This could end up being Kim Dae Jung's Hyundai scandal writ large (President Kim won a Nobel Peace Prize, but it was discovered that he had surreptitiously slipped half a billion dollars, via Hyundai, to North Korea to forward his "Sunshine Policy"). It's possible that the specter of Donald Trump might prompt North Korea to behave better at the negotiating table, but as I discussed earlier, there's a chance that Trump himself might get played. Suffice it to say that I have my doubts about there being any peace treaty. Many doubts.

We'll see, though: it could be that this truly is the beginning of a new, peaceful era on the Korean peninsula. If it is, if the guns are finally being lowered, and the Mexican standoff has come to an end, then I only wish my mother could have seen this.

ADDENDUM: Styx is all sunny optimism. See below:

stupid, useless, time-wasting tests... but Oh So Korean

Our office, this company's R&D department, is essentially a glass-walled aquarium on a floor with five other similarly glass-walled aquariums. Including our boss, the R&D staff numbers eight people, all expats except for one Korean graphic designer. Not long after we all moved into this space, the higher-ups decided to dump four extra teachers on us because there was no office space for them anywhere else. Over time, those teachers have become a fixture here, but in general, there's very little direct interaction between R&D and these native-speaker instructors (or just "native instructors," in our parlance). The composition of the teaching staff has changed, during the past year, as people have been shunted out and transferred in. Only one teacher has been here the entire time; otherwise, it's a rotating cast of characters.

The above is merely background for an interesting exchange I had with one of the native instructors, a bright-eyed half-Korean young'n from my home town of Alexandria. She and her coworker have been working on testing hundreds, if not thousands, of students at our institute for the past month. Testing will be over this week, but it will start up again in the summer, and there will be even more students to test then. I asked the teacher how the testing had been going; she rolled her eyes and sighed, which told me much. She said that testing was tiring because it involved listening to the same thing, over and over, hundreds of times. I got curious and asked her what, exactly, the testing involved, and this is when things got interesting.

The native instructor said that the Korean teachers of English* had given the students chunks of text in English; it was the students' job to memorize the text, approach a native instructor, and recite the text perfectly. My interlocutor also noted that each student had a Korean translation of the text so that he or she could understand the text's meaning. If a student failed to recite the text perfectly in front of the native instructor, he or she would have to go to the back of the queue and try again in a few minutes. Some students apparently fail several times before they can finally go home, which is why some students stay until after 10PM.

I was flabbergasted for a microsecond before my cynicism reasserted itself: in reality, this sort of testing isn't—shouldn't be—a surprise, for this is the essence of education in East Asia: it's all about memorization, not actual thinking. Putting students in a creative, unpredictable social context, like a real conversation with a teacher, would be unfathomable from the Korean point of view, possibly because such testing would expose the students' linguistic incompetence, which wouldn't be the students' fault, to be sure, but the fault of the gimpy, retarded education system in which the students are all trapped. I shake my head every time I see an article in an American magazine that praises the Asian education system.

Since olden times, and thanks to widespread Chinese influence in the region, the style of testing in East Asia has long been of the "memorize a ton of information" variety. The prime example of this is the old Chinese civil-service exam, which evolved over the centuries after Confucius into a test that focused on a demonstration of one's ability to memorize long tracts of the Chinese classics. The exam, at some points in history, had an interview component, which might have represented a creative or spontaneous element, but over the years, the style and structure of the exam became much more rigid and standardized, to the point where some blamed the exam for creating a national culture that was so stultified it was vulnerable to attack by foreign powers. What's the price you pay when you corral everyone into thinking and acting the same way through ruthless standardization?

Anyway, echoes of that lockstep mentality reverberate strongly in modern Korean culture. Thanks to laziness and mental inertia, Korean educators are generally unwilling to move beyond the old ways to embrace an actual twenty-first-century, forward-thinking mentality.** It was sad to hear the native instructor tell her tale of woe, and it was sad to hear that the students she had been asked to rate were being given an absolutely garbage test. But there we are: a lot of effort is being expended on an exam that seems to test nothing more than whether a student is capable of imitating an actor who has to memorize lines in a foreign language. Such a test has no pedagogical value; it's not testing for any actual, practical linguistic skills. I'm reminded of the non-Arab Muslims who go to their madrassa to learn Koranic verses about whose meaning they have no clue because the scriptures are in classical Arabic. In such countries, there's a belief that the holy Word contains an inherent, occult power, and that this power is sufficient unto the day. Can the same be said for a snatch of text in modern English?

*In many Korean hagweons ("cram"-style extracurricular schools) devoted to teaching English, native-speaker (expat) teachers are often paired with native-Korean instructors. Kids move from the foreigner's class to the Korean instructor's class and back again, and the style of education between the two sets of teachers is utterly different. The foreign instructors generally encourage students to talk and think in the target language, but the Korean teachers, having never evolved beyond the 1950s, basically lecture the students about English, but 90% in Korean—a pedagogical strategy that I find utterly useless. Koreans still cling to this method in part because they can't bring themselves to trust the foreign teachers to handle things independently. There may also be a question of honor and face: handing English education over to foreigners who are more competent, pedagogically speaking, would be an admission of failure or inferiority (but at the same time, and in fairness, we need to keep in mind that there are plenty of incompetent foreigners teaching English in Korea as well).

**There are notable exceptions, like KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology), the university where students learn engineering and robotics. As I've mentioned before, it was a KAIST team that won the DARPA robotics challenge a few years back, along with a $2 million prize. I can't think of a better example of out-of-the-box creativity. Now if only something of that mentality could radiate outward to other areas in Korean academe...

the #MeToo beast takes its first real bite

Writer, actor, comedian, and "America's dad" Bill Cosby has just been sentenced to prison after having been convicted of three counts of "aggravated indecent assault" against one of his many accusers, Andrea Constand, now 45 years old. Each count carries a maximum penalty of ten years' prison time; Cosby is 80 years old. Some are speculating that, whatever the sentence, Cosby won't actually spend that much actual time in prison, but even if it's only a year or two, that's a hell of a way to spend the twilight years. Cosby's punishment might be even lighter than that, though:

[Retired NJ supreme-court judge Michael] Donio said an average person with no prior criminal record would likely get five years in the case. However, extenuating circumstances affect the Cosby sentencing. Donio said Cosby's lawyers, who've promised to appeal, likely will argue a prison will be unable to take care of Cosby, who has said he is completely blind. If they can successfully argue this position, and a jail assessment agrees, Cosby could get house arrest or probation.

We're starting to see the axe fall on the men who stand accused in the face of the #MeToo movement that has swept the country and the globe. Bill Cosby is a pretty big fish; it could be that others of his stature, or greater, will be next.

Meanwhile, I'm reading news that NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw stands accused, by two women, of sexual harassment. Where does this end? How hard is it not to be handsy around the womenfolk?

This is a weird period in history, though, because the #MeToo movement—which began as a social-media-fueled response to sexual harassment, especially in Hollywood—has swollen into something so colossal that all of its parts are no longer evolving in the same way. There are parts of the movement that have become, as some feared, a witch hunt that is taking down men who have done nothing particularly wrong. Other parts of the movement have become a joke, thus opening themselves to satire. Yet other parts of the movement seem to be altering the national tenor of sexual politics to the point where some men feel it's now impossible to have anything like a normal relationship with a woman, and at the same time, some women—now armored in the righteous anger of the movement—are beginning to feel an overinflated sense of power and entitlement. (There is, as you can imagine, a great deal of overlap between and among these parts.) It's not the best time to be a heterosexual man, it seems.

good Lord—those pupils!

Watch a cat as it watches a crucial moment in "Psycho":

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Trump calls Kim Jeong-eun "very honorable"

Kim Jeong-eun is a mass-murdering sack of salted pork who only a few months ago executed six people for treason. For Donald Trump to call this creature "very honorable" is a travesty. I get that Trump is trying to accomplish something that previous administrations have been unable to accomplish, but there's no justification for going overboard with the praise. (Styx, meanwhile, predicts that Trump and Kim will get along perfectly, acting buddy-buddy and perhaps even hitting the links together.)

I remain pessimistic about the upcoming summit, which may or may not happen. People like Scott Adams seem to think Trump has much voodoo when it comes to understanding and manipulating human psychology, but I think the same is true of the North Korean administration, which has successfully aikido'ed several global powers such that they stumble in each other's way rather than focusing on North Korea itself. As a friend just noted to me in an email, "my concern is that [KJU] is going to play [Trump] like a fiddle. The optimistic view would be to say, 'Hey, maybe Trump's approach is the right one, and the DPRK really is going to decide to play nice and sit at the grown-ups' table.' But it seems like the realistic view is that [KJU] has Trump's number and knows exactly what he needs to say and do to get on his good side." Until I'm shown otherwise, I incline toward this friend's view of the situation. If Trump proves successful in negotiating something substantive, I'll gladly declare I was wrong and congratulate President Stands With His Hair on accomplishing something that no president before him ever managed to accomplish. We need to keep in mind, though, that the proof of the pudding won't manifest itself until many months, or even a few years, after these negotiations. If the goal is peninsular peace and denuclearization, then everything hinges on true verifiability, and not just verifiability of the Hans Blix variety.

ASIDE: this is going to sound nuts to the pro-disarmament crowd, but I actually think that countries like Iran and North Korea have the right to full sovereignty, which means they are free to act in their own national self-interest. The corollary is that I think these countries have a right to whatever weapons they deem necessary for national defense. If I were in a position of influence, I'd argue that we should focus on getting South Korea—and probably Japan, too—equivalently armed. I think that full verification of North Korea's compliance with any denuclearization deal is impossible; the government can keep shifting weaponry from depot to depot as the tiny team of inspectors wends its way throughout the country—all of which makes verification a travesty, a sort of "security theater" writ large. Far better to declare that there will be dire and devastating consequences for unleashing nukes on the peninsula or at other countries; we should leave the entire region better armed than it currently is and rely on the principle of mutually assured destruction to do the rest. Kim isn't crazy, nor is he suicidal; he, his forebears, and his government have proven, over the years, to be rational actors. They know what a single nuclear strike would bring upon them.

"Venom" is coming soon

I'm not all that excited about the new "Venom" movie, despite the presence of the great Tom Hardy. I saw the latest trailer, and I thought it made the Venom character look like a ripoff of the dude in that other new movie, "Upgrade." I'm sure I'll see both "Venom" and "Upgrade" when they come out, but "Venom" isn't a must-see for me. If I miss it in theaters, I won't get exercised; I'll just see it on home video, no sweat.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

gauche gesture... or more psy-ops?

I don't know what it is between French president Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump, but there seems to be an ongoing pissing contest between them. You may remember back to a year ago when Macron initially met Trump and, having prepared for the moment, out-wrestled the older man with a white-knuckled handshake meant to assert dominance. Trump, having a long memory for those moments when the size of his manhood is questioned, apparently struck back just the other day when Macron was in the Oval Office on an official state visit: right before a formal photo op, Trump reached over to Macron and made a show of brushing dandruff off the younger man's suit as a way of making him "impeccable" (the French rendering of what Trump said) for the cameras. French news outlets are reporting that Macron seemed a bit bothered or embarrassed by the gesture, and I suspect that that's exactly what Trump was going for. The gesture was rude, beyond gauche, but it had the odor of a calculated move designed to keep one's friendly adversary off-balance.

A toi, Manu!

AMUSING TRIVIA: the plural noun des pellicules is the French way to say "dandruff." This comes from the Latin pellicula, meaning "thin film." The French singular noun une pellicule refers to "a roll of film," as for a camera. notes that pellicula is a diminutive of pellis, which means "skin." In modern French, the word for "skin" is peau, which is an obvious descendant of pellis. Meanwhile, in Spanish, "a movie" is called una película because, at least until recently, movies were recorded on the medium of film. At a guess, the French word for "dandruff" relies on the idea that each flake of dandruff is thin and film-like. The French word for "flake," as it turns out, is flocon, and some French speakers refer to des flocons dans les cheveux, i.e., "flakes in the hair."

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Jordan Peterson on the flak he deals with

Ignore the misleading title of the following embedded video, which has little to do with what most of the video is about. What the video actually gives us is a glimpse of the embattled Jordan Peterson's view of the people aligned against him ever since he rose to media prominence. Peterson is the author of the tough-love self-help book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, which I'm currently reading.

I don't doubt Peterson when he says he's no right-winger, but it's obvious he's also no friend of the left, especially when it comes to leftist academe.

surreal but funny

Watch two chat bots go at it in a surreal exchange:

Why are they both so snotty?

Monday, April 23, 2018

PJW on Kanye West's praise for Candace Owens

Background: Candace Owens is a right-leaning African-American commentator. Often mislabeled as far-right or alt-right, Owens is vocal on issues of black empowerment. Her philosophy is that blacks need to stop looking to the past and dwelling in a grievance culture; instead, they need to look forward to the future and begin to believe in their own ability to achieve goals and accomplish objectives on the road to true fulfillment. Instead of demanding reparations and acting wounded, blacks ought to gather up their dignity and move forward, thereby personally and collectively improving their lot. This message has resulted in all the usual racism from elements on the left* who see Owens as a race-traitor, the same way these elements dismiss black Republicans in general, as well as dismissing other black figureheads like NRA spokesman Colion Noir (who says he is constantly derided by certain lefties as a "coon" and an "Uncle Tom" for his views). Black conservatives label the totality of this leftist racism as a "stay on the plantation" attitude, i.e., blacks have no right to think for themselves and must only internalize the left/liberal party line.

Enter rapper Kanye West. During Hurricane Katrina (2005), West made a name for himself by angrily blurting out that "George (W.) Bush does not care about black people." At the time, he was on a live feed and standing next to actor-comedian Mike Myers (of Austin Powers fame). Myers, visibly shaken, did his best to move forward with the teleprompter's message, but the PR damage was done, and the camera cut away from Myers and West as soon as it was tasteful to do so. West seems to have changed his tune over recent years, however, to the point where he actually took a meeting with Republican president Donald Trump to discuss issues including black-on-black violence. West tweeted cautious praise of Trump, but ended up deleting those tweets in the face of fan backlash. He still continued, however, to rant in a seemingly conservative vein during some of his concerts, and his latest controversial deed was to tweet praise of Candace Owens: "I love the way Candace Owens thinks." Owens caught wind of the tweet and was flustered to be name-dropped by such a huge rapper; she ended up asking West whether they could meet, and that's where things stand for the moment.

In the meantime, West once again finds himself at the storm front of another fan backlash against his views, and this is where YouTube talking head Paul Joseph Watson comes in. Here's Watson's video on the Kanye West flap:

I found this video odd because Watson is normally an enemy of rappers. I also think it's premature for a rightie like Watson to lavish praise on someone as volatile and erratic as Kanye West. West's "George Bush doesn't care about black people" moment wasn't really that long ago (at least in my memory), and given that West deleted his positive tweets about his meeting with Donald Trump, there's a good chance he might not be entirely on board with the rightie agenda. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a honeymoon period between him and Candace Owens, followed soon after by a sudden rift once they realize they're really not on the same page. But who knows? I've been wrong before, and these days, I'm getting used to being wrong pretty much all the time.

*I'm trying to be careful with my language, here, because there are plenty of lefties who are perfectly fine with blacks' thinking independently. Being leftists, they might not agree with black conservatism, but they do respect any person's right to hold whatever views they please.

UPDATE: good article on Owens here. A quote from the article:

That [tweet by Kanye] caused the Left to go insane. Most of our readers (like me) probably know little about West, but he is highly influential among a broad segment of African-Americans and young people generally. His apostasy could not go unpunished. Reportedly, Adidas is contemplating canceling West’s shoe contract. But to his credit, West hasn’t backed down.

And here's Candace Owens in her own words:

Kanye West tweets 7 words and leftists rush to smear me as far-right & anti-LGBT. So what terrified them? The truth did. The left is losing control of their blacks. Ready to be awakened? [tweet 1]

Racist. White Supremacist. Homophobe. Alt-Right. Sexist. Misogynist. Crazy

Your words aren’t strong enough.

Buzzfeed. The Wrap. DailyMail. Mediaite. Complex. Twitter. Yahoo

Your whips aren’t long enough. #MindUnleashed [tweet 2]

Far right? Allow me to clarify: I believe the black community can do it without hand-outs. I believe the Democrats have strapped us to our past to prevent us from our futures. And I won’t stop fighting until all black Americans see that.

I’m not far right—I’m free. [tweet 3]

The more I learn about strong women like Candace Owens and Antonia Okafor, the more respect I have for them. In a climate in which millions of people find it impossible to imagine a black or gay conservative, it takes true balls to stand against that crowd and declare Hier stehe ich—ich kann nicht anders. And if it's true—if—that Kanye West has had his metanoia and has chosen to take a stand with these brave ladies, then I give him my respect as well.

why we need Mr. Fusion right quick

As if that mass of plastic supposedly floating out in the ocean weren't bad enough, we've now got news of a river in Indonesia that is positively clogged with plastic. Have a look.

It'd be nice to have Mr. Fusion-style reactors that produce energy by gobbling anything and everything that can fit into the device's aperture. We'd clean up the world in a jiffy.

Of course... there'd be other problems, such as how all that "digested" waste matter isn't coming back as anything other than energy to supply electric or reactor-driven devices. We'd be eating the earth itself, in effect, to the point where we'd have to lasso some asteroids to provide extra matter for the ravenous reactors to consume.

Such reactors, assuming they're 100% efficient and thus waste-free, would also turn out to be great dumping grounds for, say, criminals intent on destroying evidence of crimes: fingerprint-covered murder weapons, dead bodies, documents that no one should see, you name it. Students would no longer need to blame their dogs when it comes to missing homework. Hmmm... maybe Mr. Fusion isn't the best idea after all.


The funny people are dropping like flies. On April 16, Harry Anderson, the magician-turned-actor arguably most famous for his role as Judge Harry Stone on the 1980s sitcom "Night Court," died suddenly at the age of 65.

Two days ago, on April 21, Verne Troyer, who famously played Mini Me in the Austin Powers movies, died at the young age of 49. I had no idea he and I shared the same birth year.

Who's next, 2018? I'm afraid to ask.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

exactly one year ago today

On April 22, 2017, I stepped out the door a bit after 5AM and began to make my way along the local bike route toward the Han River on what was to become a 26-day trek from my apartment in Seoul to the Nakdong River Estuary in Busan. The walk, because it didn't start way west in Incheon, was only 550 kilometers (about 340 miles) and not the full 630-some. The terrain was largely flat, but there were enough steep hills to give me an occasional workout. The riverland countryside that I passed along the way was unspeakably beautiful, and even now, a year later, I think I'd like to spend the rest of my life out on the trail... if I could find a way to make that feasible.

I wish I could do that walk every year, but ever since the R&D department moved to a new building and increased in size, it's been impossible to take such a long break. I used to work in a closed-off room at the end of a dark hallway—a place with opaque walls and few visitors; my absence was never noticed. These days, I work in a glassed-in aquarium: any prolonged absence would be noticed, and my boss would be put on the spot with a barrage of "Where has Kevin been all this time?" questions. I've thought about clever ways to get around that, but in the end, I think the only way to keep hiking during the April-May season is to quit my job, earn a ton of money writing books, and then devote my time to cross-country trekking.

The trail is always calling. A year has gone by, but the impulse to get back out there remains. I'm going to visit the US and France this year, though, so any plans to go hiking will have to wait until 2019, the year I turn fifty. Part of me wants to re-walk the Gukto Jongju that I walked last year; part of me wants to explore the recently completed east-coast path, which stretches from Gangneung in the northeast all the way down to Busan in the southeast. We'll see, in a year, what's possible and what isn't.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

"Rampage": review

[WARNING: Spoilers!]

I knew, going into "Rampage," that this movie was going to be stupid as hell. With the bar of my expectations set so low, I wasn't disappointed. I was also as entertained as I thought I was going to be: "Rampage" can be summed by the cliché "good, stupid fun"—because that's exactly what it is. This is a turn-your-brain-off-and-enjoy kind of movie.

Directed by Brad Peyton and starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, 2018's "Rampage" is yet another in a long line of action films based on video games. Johnson has gone this route before: you may recall he starred in the filmic version of "Doom" some years back. In "Rampage" the movie, we've got an evil corporation called Energyne (pronounced "enner-jean," perhaps to avoid phonetic associations with "vagina") that has been creating genetically edited freaks based on CRISPR/Cas9 tech in an effort dubbed Project Rampage. Energyne is at a stage where it has created a pathogen that acts as a mutagen on animal subjects.

When the movie begins, we find ourselves in an orbiting space station whose crew has been wiped out by a giant mutant rat. The station is in its death throes, sliding inexorably into the planet's atmosphere, and the lone female scientist is desperate to climb into an escape pod and head back to Earth, leaving the giant rat behind.* Mission control, based at Energyne HQ and managed by head honcho Claire Wyden (Malin Åkerman in full Evil White Woman mode), cruelly refuses to remotely open the door to the escape pod until the scientist has collected samples of the mutagen to take back to Earth with her. With the samples collected, the scientist boards the pod, but not before the mutant rat attacks and cracks one of the pod's reinforced windows. The window fails and shatters during reentry, killing the scientist, and the pod's (along with the space station's) debris field spreads across the entire mainland United States, with damaged mutagen containers landing in California, Wyoming, and Florida. In Wyoming, a wolf encounters the broken container and gets infected; in the Everglades, a gator swallows a mutagen container whole; in California, an albino gorilla named George, currently living in a San Diego wildlife preserve, comes upon a container and gets infected when it pops and sprays him.

Primatologist Davis Okoye (Johnson) has established a loving relationship with the great apes under his care at the San Diego preserve; his team understands that Okoye, a loner, has a better relationship with animals than with people. One of the team comes to Okoye with bad news: George has broken into the bear paddock and killed a grizzly, getting clawed in the process. When Okoye finds George, the gorilla is hiding in a cave, and he's also twenty percent larger than he had been the previous day. Former Energyne scientist Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) tracks Okoye down and tells him about the Energyne mutagen, which is based on her work—research she had done for benign purposes, but which Energyne repurposed for weapons development. The mutagen, we learn, supercharges an animal's bodily growth, heightens its natural abilities (senses, strength, agility, etc.), and multiplies its aggressiveness to frighteningly unnatural levels. Accompanying this freakish growth is, naturally, a burning desire to eat.

Energyne sends a paramilitary team out to deal with the wolf—now named "Ralph" by Internet nuts—but the wolf ends up wiping out the entire team, leaving only helmet-cam video behind to tell the tale. No one seems to notice the giant gator, which has over 700 square miles of Everglades to play around in. George, meanwhile, escapes the containment facility he has been placed in before being recaptured by government operatives led by the smug, cowboyish Agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, lately of "Walking Dead" fame). George escapes a second time while being airlifted: when Energyne broadcasts a signal that the animals are programmed to respond to, George wrecks the plane in midair, survives the crash, and heads to Chicago—the source of the signal—along with Ralph the giant wolf. The gator also swerves and makes a beeline for the metropolis, prompting the US military to go on high alert and begin the massive evacuation of a major US city. This is a pretty long and elaborate setup for what is essentially twenty minutes of video-game punchline. The thing we've all come to see happens during the final fifth of the movie: monsters massively fucking shit up.

"Rampage" takes its sweet time getting us to the real monster-movie portion of the story, but while I was watching the film, I thought it was a fun ride getting there. With just over 100 minutes of run time, "Rampage" is too short to wear out its welcome. Whatever the movie's many flaws—and we'll talk about those in a moment—no one can call this film boring. My hat is off to director Brad Peyton for, if nothing else, having a very good notion of how to pace an action film. Peyton keeps the energy level up.

Let's get the complaints out of the way first. I wasn't kidding when I said this is a turn-your-brain-off movie: "Rampage" has some big problems in terms of dialogue and story logic. The dialogue is some of the worst I've ever heard that wasn't written by George Lucas. Some of it is cringe-inducingly corny; some of it, like the line about there being no submarines in the Chicago area—is just plain dumb. Early on, for example, when George gets loose, Okoye yells, "Call 911!" to no one in particular. Then, when the police arrive, Okoye seems surprised that the cops are drawing their guns on the huge and growing ape. What the hell did he expect the cops to do in that situation? While we're at it: why did the astronaut-scientist need permission from the ground to enter an escape pod whose access door was remotely controlled?

But there's more. One huge plot hole is that the mutagen affects George differently from the way it affects Ralph the wolf and Lizzie** the alligator: Ralph and Lizzie gain extra body parts and abilities, but George simply grows bigger and angrier. This disparity is never adequately explained. If we focus specifically on Ralph the wolf, one question that pops up is why we know, early on, that the wolf can fly, but we don't see his flying-squirrel wings until very, very late in the movie. The membranes just magically appear out of nowhere—after several scenes in which the wolf leaps from skyscraper to skyscraper. Another problem, with both dialogue and story logic, arises at the end when the main human characters thank George—who gets an antidote that fails to shrink him but does return him to his normal kindly temperament—for saving so many lives after George turns against the other two monsters. It's as if the characters have forgotten that, only minutes before, that selfsame gorilla had been throwing around cars and stomping on people on his way to answer that radio signal. A bit like in "Man of Steel," massive loss of life in the city doesn't seem to matter much to the plot.

But the movie's virtues outweigh its faults, in my opinion, especially when it comes to humor. There's one moment, during the plane-crash scene, when Okoye saves the life of Agent Russell. Russell, who had been knocked out, wakes up to find himself having safely parachuted to the ground. He sees the plane's flaming wreckage, notes that he's still alive, and cries, "Holy shit!"—to which Okoye shouts back, "You're welcome," which had to be a callback to the "You're Welcome" song—sung by the Rock in his role as the trickster god Maui—in "Moana." Johnson also gets to utter a series of snappy one-liners that will remind older viewers of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his heyday.

In terms of characterization, one thing the movie does very well is establish, at the beginning, the warm, familial relationship between Okoye and George the gorilla, who knows sign language (including, hilariously, a whole set of vulgar gestures that the ape delivers with exquisite comic timing). The movie also imbues George with a lively, charming, believably simian personality that makes him arguably the most sympathetic character in the film. It would have been nice for some of the other supporting characters to have been as generously fleshed out, but the screenwriter apparently didn't feel it necessary to do so. As a result, we're left with a lady scientist (Harris) who comes off as a nagging feminist, forever rolling her eyes at all the macho posturing going on around her; a purely evil ice-queen antagonist (Åkerman) who is part of the corporate machine; her whiny little brother Brett (Jake Lacey), whose dialogue basically switches back and forth between "We're screwed!" and "Whadda we do now?"; and a US Army colonel who was borrowed straight from Central Casting. Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Agent Harris, while saddled with some of the corniest lines in the movie, is one of the few supporting characters whose arc at least slightly defies expectations.

As a spectacle, "Rampage" delivers, especially in those final twenty minutes. During the climax, I laughed and laughed until I'm pretty sure the other people in the theater thought I was nuts. There's the scene in which Ralph the wolf comes bursting through an entire building and leaps at his prey, wing membranes billowing. Those same wings provide a comic moment in which the wolf leaps away, then suddenly swoops back in a tight turn to continue the fight. The sight of all three mutant creatures climbing up the Energyne building was awesome in its ridiculousness, and the various copter-tossing homages to King Kong—of which there were many—were all worth some mad chortling. My only complaint, during these scenes, comes from the way the A-10 Warthog proves so ineffectual. In real life, an A-10 sports a 30-millimeter cannon with such a rapid rate of fire that it can split a tank in two on a single pass, as if the tank were butter. When the A-10 appeared in the movie, it should have sheared off some limbs. Then again, the movie explains that the mutagen gives an infected animal Wolverine-like self-healing abilities, so perhaps this is why the A-10 proved ineffective. I don't know. As I said: turn your brain off.

Viewers who saw "Jurassic World" will inevitably see parallels between Chris Pratt's Owen Grady and Dwayne Johnson's Davis Okoye, two ex-military men who are comfortable around dangerous beasts. "Rampage" has plenty of other derivative, formulaic, and predictable elements as well. But you know what? I didn't care. The movie was good, corny, silly fun. I enjoyed watching the monsters clobber each other in this movie much more than I enjoyed the kaiju-versus-mecha action in "Pacific Rim." "Rampage" is part "Jurassic Park," part "King Kong," and part everything else. As a video-game adaptation, it's one of the better ones, but don't expect it to win any Oscars or spark any profound thoughts. If you go see this movie, it's probably because you have fond memories of the original game (as I do) and because you're in the mood to watch Chicago's downtown get torn to rubble.

*I didn't know this, but Wikipedia trivia notes that a rat character—named Larry—did appear in an Atari Lynx version of the original video game. Other interesting trivia: the wolf character in the game is named Ralph, and that was the basis for the name Ralph in the movie "Wreck-It Ralph." How intertextual our world is!

**I don't recall whether Lizzie's name is ever mentioned in the movie, but the gator character in the video game is named Lizzie.

goin' on a rampage

I'll be seeing Dwayne Johnson's hilariously over-the-top action movie "Rampage," which is loosely based on the old arcade video game in which a bunch of giant animals basically spend all day smashing buildings. The moment I saw the trailer, I knew I'd have to see the movie, no matter how bad it might be. This is a throwback to my younger self, so a visit to the local cinema will feel more like a pilgrimage. Here's one of the preview trailers:

I admit I laughed out loud when the giant wolf (with flying-squirrel wings, no less) came bursting through that one building. And I laughed again when George the giant gorilla smashed a giant crocodile gator across the face with a hunk of metal.

This looks to be good, stupid fun. Expect a review.

Friday, April 20, 2018

that special day has come again


Seen here, with thanks to Bill Keezer:

Thursday, April 19, 2018

149 minutes, not 156

The vlogger Charlie over at the YouTube cinema/TV/comics-nerd channel Emergency Awesome broadcast a warning that, in some censorious countries, seven minutes of "Avengers: Infinity War" were going to be lopped off the film. According to Charlie, the uncut version of the film runs 156 minutes. When I checked the local listing for "Infinity War," I saw with disappointment that the run time had been trimmed to 149 minutes—the selfsame seven minutes that Charlie had referred to. This is frustrating and infuriating: I had begun to think of Korea as a less prudish, slightly more liberal country than it used to be, but we're apparently still stuck in the 1980s, the era of dictators.

The Russo Brothers, who directed "Infinity War," are reportedly incensed that certain countries are censoring parts of their movie. If it's any comfort to them, I feel all the more motivated to buy the movie when it comes out on home video later this year, just so I can see the full, uncensored version. Take that, Korea.

is Styx waxing Panglossian?

This has to be the most triumphalist Styx video I've ever watched. Such relentlessly positive news usually feels to me like the return of Baghdad Bob, but I guess there's always the chance that the man-weasel is right. If nothing else, this video is quite entertaining. Here you go:

in which I curb-stomp a woman's soul

You'll recall my posts from a while back in which I wrote about the "language obstacle course" that I had been commissioned to create for my boss. The test was and is meant to act as a way to screen potential hires, separating the wheat from the chaff in terms of linguistic competence—difficult, but not impossible, as nearly thirty people can attest. We recently screened a young lady from Yale; she scored a 79 on the test, which is a passing grade given that we had lowered the passing threshold to 70 a year or so ago. I was especially impressed by how she handled the paraphrasing section of the test. Alas, this young lady won't be working with us; she had been looking at several potential employers, and I'm pretty sure she selected a company that's offering better pay and benefits. Can't say I blame her.

Then, just yesterday, a Komerican lady with a pinched, unhappy expression arrived ten minutes late for her interview—not a good first impression. She blabbed that she had gone to the wrong branch of our institute (we have several branches in about four different buildings in the Daechi neighborhood)—which is also not a good way to make a good first impression. With two strikes against her, she sat down to take my test, which was proctored by one of my coworkers. She got through three of the four parts, but during the final part, which is the bugbearish grammar section, she suddenly stopped partway through, stood up, and told my coworker that she hadn't expected the test to be "this intense." Basically, she folded and gave up, utterly intimidated by the test.

I saw the moment this lady got up, but I didn't realize she had stood up in medias res: I thought she had finished the test and was so frazzled that she'd decided to leave. Nope: she simply stopped partway through the fourth section, unable to take any more. Wow.

I left the office to hit the restroom, and when I came back, the lady was gone and the office was in an uproar. My coworker, who was talking loudly to all our other coworkers about what had happened, was flabbergasted: this was something of a red-letter day. No one just walks away from a test. The moment I walked back in on all the noise, people began sarcastically applauding and congratulating me on having designed a test that had finally scared someone away. I grimaced, initially guilty, then I raised my hands in the air like a bloody-but-victorious boxer. My coworker, perhaps realizing that talking so loudly about this poor woman was probably in bad form, jokingly said, "What gossipy people we are!"—to which another coworker shouted, "Yeah, but you started it!"

In truth, it was bad form to rake this lady over the coals in absentia. At the same time, she had to have known something about the test, given that she had spoken with my boss over the phone to arrange the interview. She also had to have known why we test people this way: because they're going to work in a job in which language matters. We do, in fact, talk the lingo of editing and proofreading in our office, so yes, the test is designed to measure a person's competence in those areas.

For his part, the boss was initially angry at the woman's embarrassingly defeatist attitude, but he was eventually glad to see her go. I noted that, even though she didn't finish the test, we all learned something about her character. "Yeah," said the boss: "she gives up when there's pressure. We don't need people like her, not when we work on deadlines." I agree.

That said, I do feel a bit guilty for being the cause of this woman's freakout. While I take grim satisfaction in knowing that my test can actually strike fear into some weaker hearts, I'm not the type to dwell on—or to revel in—my own potential for cruelty. Here's hoping that this trepidatious Komerican is the last such person to cross our threshold. I'm not sure I want to be applauded a second time for my ability to crush souls.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

why California sucks balls

As a proud, loyal East Coaster, I already know that California sucks, but here's a list of 55 reasons that justify my sentiment. Some of the juicier ones:

1. One survey of business executives has ranked California as the worst state in America to do business for 8 years in a row.

9. California is tied with New York for the highest gasoline tax rate in the country.

12. As of October, only Nevada and Rhode Island had higher unemployment rates than California.

15. California teachers are the highest paid in the nation, but California students rank 48th in math and 49th in reading.

23. Since 2007, the number of children living in poverty in the state of California has increased by 30 percent.

30. Residential customers in California pay about 29 percent more for electricity than the national average.

42. Just recently, the city attorney of San Bernardino, California told citizens to “lock their doors and load their guns” because there is not enough money to pay for adequate police protection any longer.

55. Overall, the state of California has experienced a net loss of about four million residents to other states over the past 20 years.

With piles of human shit and random syringes strewn about the sidewalks of San Francisco—a city that used to be decent—I'm in no hurry to visit. Same goes for L.A., and pretty much anywhere else in southern California.


Barbara Bush, wife of President George Herbert Walker Bush, passed away on Tuesday, April 17, at the age of 92. She is survived by her husband, who is 93. Mrs. Bush always seemed incongruously older-looking than her husband, even back in the 1990s. I suppose what this really means is that she wasn't afraid to present herself as she was, which is an admirable trait: here in Korea, you'll see stooped-over octogenarian women (and men) shuffling down the street with perfectly black hair, a sign of lingering vanity and, perhaps, a superstitious attempt to fend off the Reaper who comes for us all.

Mrs. Bush didn't really impinge upon my life, but I pass my condolences along to the Bush family, which has lost its matriarch.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"12 Strong": review

On September 11, 2001, America suffered a catastrophic loss of life as almost 3000 citizens were killed in a multipronged attack by the forces of Al Qaeda, directed by Osama bin Laden. One of the US's earliest responses was to send US Army Special Forces into Afghanistan to help local warlords retake towns and villages from Al Qaeda, and to begin to push back against both Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Controversially known as "the graveyard of empires," Afghanistan had gone from being a Russian problem to being an American one. Among the first Special Forces to go in were the men of Operational Detachment Alpha 595 (ODA-595)—specifically, twelve men led by Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth). Their mission was to meet up with local Afghan general Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban, who had a role in TV's "24") and cooperate with the general in a campaign that would push through several villages on the way to a Taliban stronghold in Mazar-i-Sharif. While the movie features plenty of battle scenes, much of the story's focus is on Nelson and Dostum: Dostum is an older, grizzled commander who hates the Taliban and is fiercely loyal to his country; he has trouble respecting the young, fresh-faced Nelson, who has the trust and loyalty of his Special Forces team but has never seen combat. At one point, Dostum, in looking over Nelson's team, notes that all of Nelson's men have "killer's eyes" except for Nelson himself.

This movie, recently out on home video, humorously features an "enthusiasm gap" (a term first mentioned on this blog here): the critics hated the film, but regular audiences loved it. I can see why: the film is far too pro-American and un-cynical for left-leaning critical tastes: critics probably saw the film as one-dimensional and jingoistic. Even though there are scenes in which the Afghans denigrate American naiveté, this is probably not enough to satisfy the critics' need to see America pilloried for its many sins abroad. The enthusiasm gap notwithstanding, what drives the film is the arc of the relationship between Nelson and Dostum, who eventually forge a bond of mutual respect, especially once Nelson makes his bones and becomes a true combat veteran—not just a soldier, but a warrior in full.

Overall, I enjoyed the film, which didn't get overly bloody, but did manage to generate a certain level of suspense. The bad guys in this movie, especially Numan Acar as Mullah Razzan, tended to be held at a distance from the viewer and were generally flat characters. The other actors portraying Special Forces soldiers, including Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, and Trevante Rhodes, do the best they can with the meager characterization they get. This isn't the sort of movie that wins Oscars, BAFTAs, or other plaudits, but Danish director Nicolai Fuglsig is out to create a sort of tribute, in the spirit and style of Peter Berg and his films, for a moment in American military history when a few brave men came together and did some good. Not lasting good, perhaps, but still something. The film ends on an interesting footnote: a title card tells us that General Dostum (who is Uzbek, and who looks absolutely nothing like the actor who portrays him) eventually became vice president of Afghanistan, and that Mitch Nelson remains a close friend.

PJW on yet more unnecessary PC prudery

It's hard to believe that the article PJW is attacking isn't actually a parody:

I doubt we're getting the whole story on John McCain.

Back when my mother was dying of brain cancer (glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM), Ted Kennedy died of the same cancer in 2009, just six days before my fortieth birthday. He had been diagnosed with brain cancer in May of 2008. Upon Kennedy's death, I wrote a blog post on my other blog regarding how the media had treated Kennedy's illness with kid gloves to the extent that they were actually distorting the truth. Of course, these days, many if not most Americans are thoroughly cynical when it comes to media truthfulness, so when an article comes out about John McCain's recent intestinal surgery, I'm openly skeptical.

John McCain was diagnosed with GBM last July. The above-linked article references McCain's daughter Meghan, who apparently "expressed optimism in March that her father would be back in the Senate by the summer." It could be that Meghan really thinks her father might be back and working in Washington, but it's far more likely that this sentiment, sincere or not, was tailored "for the troops," so to speak, to provide encouragement to those around her father who might need some cheering up. If John McCain really is in good enough health, by this summer, to continue working in DC, I'll eat my hat. By the one-year mark, a GBM tumor has usually begun to spread across the brain from one hemisphere to another; by this point, first-line therapies have failed, and the family has made a choice to move on to more innovative—and more desperate—second-line therapies. The story arc is the same for well over 90% of GBM patients: life expectancy after diagnosis is 11 to 13 months. Ted Kennedy was just over that range, at 15 months; my mother was just under that range, at 9 months. Kennedy had, as I noted on the other blog, all the king's horses and all the king's men at his disposal, and he still failed to break the statistical curve.

So if Senator McCain is truly functional enough to get back to work this coming summer, I'll tip my hat to the team of doctors currently caring for him (after which I'll eat that hat). In the meantime, we're getting no specifics about the senator's treatment regimen. Did he go through debulking surgery at the beginning (which often excises a large amount of healthy brain matter along with the cancerous tissue)? Has he indeed been on the standard chemo-radio regimen? What do his brain scans currently show happening inside his head? How is McCain, clinically speaking? How's he functioning in his day-to-day life? The media won't be providing any answers anytime soon. Perhaps that's partly out of a rare respect for someone's privacy; perhaps that's because When in doubt, black it out. One way or another, I'm skeptical. And if McCain's not back in DC by August, I think we'll all have a much clearer picture of how he's really doing. Personally, I don't expect him to make it to Christmas.

choices, choices...

I finally made good on my long-ago threat to visit the local gym and see about personal training. The gym is named something like Fitness 2.0, and it's located in the basement of a building that's just across a parking lot from the building I work in. In other words, the gym is less than a hundred meters away, so it's very easy to get to.

When I got to the gym, I was greeted by an amazingly beautiful young woman who asked if I needed assistance. I told her I was there to talk with someone about personal training, so she seated me at an interview table and went off to find someone. The young guy who came out was freakishly tall for a Korean and covered in Chris Hemsworth-style muscles, but he was friendly and solicitous, not to mention surprised I was speaking to him in Korean.

We went over my questions, and the young man (who turned out to be the gym's manager) answered in detail. I asked about the training schedule; he said that was up to me. I got the impression that most people went for a Mon-Wed-Fri or Tue-Thu-Sat regimen; my own preference would be for MWF. I asked about time of day, and he asked me about my work schedule (roughly noon to 9PM). I told him I'd prefer to train in the morning; he said the gym opened at 8AM, which is actually fairly late for most of the local gyms, which normally open around 6AM and close around 11PM or midnight. I asked how long a typical training session was; surprisingly, he said fifty minutes, which seemed kind of short, but which also made me sigh inwardly with relief: I wouldn't have to endure a full hour of torture. (Then again, I know that an intense trainer can make fifty minutes feel like five hours if s/he wants to.) The manager said that I'd be tested on my first day at the gym to determine my baselines; I joked that I'd be below zero on all of them. He laughed the indulgent, self-confident laugh of the extremely fit and muscular. He mentioned that, on the second session, we'd talk diet, and I'd be put on a special dieting program.

Finally, we got around to talking price. The manager walked away to fetch a pricing chart, and it turned out to be about what I expected: personal training isn't cheap, and I live in the Gangnam district, so these would be Gangnam prices. Emphasizing that what I was seeing was at a discount, the manager pointed out the prices for a 10-session block, a 20-session block, and a 30-session block. I focused on the 20-session block because ten sessions would go by in a flash, and thirty sessions would require more commitment than I was willing to give. The price for twenty sessions: W1,320,000. Yikes. That would be only six or seven weeks' training, or about a month and a half. Over the course of a year, I'd be paying through the nose, and I'm not that rich yet—not by a long shot. The manager further noted there'd be a W60,000 discount were I to pay the fee in cash. To sweeten the deal, he also said that, on my off-days, I could visit the gym and use the equipment for free.

I was then taken on a quick tour of the facilities: the gym itself, the lockers lining one wall, and the fully equipped shower area, which had shampoo, towels, and everything else. Everything looked modern and high-tech, but there wasn't much equipment there. I thanked the manager for his time and his detailed explanations; he encouraged me—without being overly pushy—to make a decision soon. With that, I left the gym and walked back to my apartment.

In talking with a coworker today, though, I wrestled with the question of whether all this was worth it, especially at that price. My coworker was of the opinion that I could either go it alone and not dump that much cash, or I could find a better gym at a better price. He was fairly certain that Fitness 2.0 was not the gym for me. I don't know. Do I take this path? Do I try going it alone, a strategy that hasn't worked well for me in the past? I'm still carefully thinking things over, but if you have an opinion, please leave it in the comments. I'll add your voice to the cacophony of voices already in my head.

Monday, April 16, 2018


R. Lee "Gunny" Ermey, shown above wearing his Marine gunnery-sergeant stripes, has died at the tender age of 74 due to complications from pneumonia. In the end, it wasn't the big things of the world that took the tough old bird down: it was the concerted effort of the little things.

Ermey came into the public consciousness thanks to his breakout role as the terrifying drill sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick's 1987 Vietnam film "Full Metal Jacket." The role would come to define Ermey's public persona: a profanity-spewing, no-nonsense ball-buster capable of driving his boot straight up your ass and out your mouth. Off camera, Ermey was known as polite and kind. He snagged many acting gigs aside from military roles, and he was active with veterans' causes. I, for one, will miss his blustery, blistering presence.

RIP, Gunny.

seafood dinner (Sunday)

I had a huge mess of clams that didn't go into the chowder I'd made for Friday's office luncheon, so I decided, given how big and beautiful they were, that they'd work great as fried clams. I also elected to fry up some hush puppies as a side.

The series of pics below will take you through a clam's anatomy and give you an idea of why I was suspicious of what initially appeared to be grit inside the clam's main body. Whatever it was, it turned out not to wash away, so I concluded that, even though it looked like grit, it was actually part of the clam's body.

Those pics:

Above, you see the clams and hush puppies, plus some homemade cocktail sauce and homemade tartar sauce. To be honest, I ended up liking the hush puppies a lot more than I liked the clams, whose funky taste proved to be more appropriate for a Korean jjigae than for fried clams. Too bad. All that effort and expense gone to waste. I'm wondering if there's a way to recycle the clams into a po' boy sandwich or something...

breffus fer dinner (Saturday)

Pancakes (done in bacon fat), eggs, and bacon for dinner Saturday evening. This'll be the last time for a long time that I'll be doing something so decadent: