Thursday, December 31, 2020

my French bro sends a family pic

In reply to a belated "Merry Christmas!" email I had sent, my French "brother" Dominique sent his own email and a family photo.  The pic shows Dom (front, left) with his wife Véronique (in the back), plus their four kids:  Timothé (back row, behind Dom), Héloïse (front row, second from the left), Joséphine (front row, second from the right), and Augustin (front row, right, with beard).  But who the hell is the dude in the glasses directly behind Joséphine?  The Ducoulombier family is huge, so this is probably some cousin or other (unless he's the boyfriend of one of the girls) whose name and face I really ought to remember.  But I don't, alas.  The ravages of old age.  We're all slowly Bidening.

UPDATE:  Dominique wrote me back quickly after I asked him who the dude was.  It's Hugo—Joséphine's boyfriend.  She's living in sin with him in the city of Dijon while she works as a speech therapist (called une orthophoniste in French, ortho being the Greek root for "right" or "correct").  I joked that Hugo looked pretty American.  Dom wrote back that people around him think he looks Irish, but no—he's just French.



final dinner of 2020

Nothing like a little breakfast for dinner:

Bloob syrup's a little thin because I'd just made it, so it's warm.  Once it cooled to room temperature, it ran like regular syrup.



your final bad joke of the year

mandu + DeLorean = Mandu-lorian



2020: the year in review

Here's 2020 in a nutshell.

January:

February:

March:

April:

May:

June:

July:

August:

September:

October:

November:

December:

At least I had the chance to walk across South Korea again.



am hearing good things about "The Father"

"The Father" is a 2020 film starring Anthony Hopkins as an old father plunging ever deeper into dementia.  According to the critics I've listened to, Hopkins gives an amazing, Oscar-worthy performance.  "The Father" is adapted from a French play titled Le père by Florian Zeller, who also directed this English-language version of his play (translated by British director-playwright Christopher Hampton).

One cynical reason why I want to see this film, which has been described as "an exploration of dementia from the inside," is that I'm looking for a way to examine Joe Biden's deteriorating consciousness, and this film seems like the short route to doing that.  Biden or not, I'm always up for a good Anthony Hopkins performance, and since the film also stars Rufus Sewell—of whom I am a big fan—there's yet another reason to see "The Father."



"Harriet": review

"Harriet" is a 2019 dramatic biopic directed by Kasi Lemmons and starring British actress Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman, the film's central figure.  Americans will have grown up learning about Tubman and her involvement in the Underground Railroad.  Tubman, a slave who escaped north, managed to bring around 70 slaves to freedom with her via the Railroad, making her a "conductor."  Later in life, during the Civil War, she led a military expedition in 1863 that liberated 750 slaves.  The film notes, at the end, that Tubman was and remains one of the few women ever to lead a US military expedition.

I don't know enough about the biography of the real Harriet Tubman to comment on what the film got right and wrong about her particulars.  I did do a bit of superficial reading, though, and the main points of her life seem to have been portrayed faithfully.  Some critics generally praised "Harriet" for the story it tells while also complaining that the story arc is "formulaic."  Assuming the movie follows Tubman's life fairly faithfully, though, maybe a formulaic telling is also a truthful one.

The film begins with Araminta "Minty" Ross having a "spell" and being found by her new husband, John Tubman (Zackary Momoh), a freedman.  Minty has been having these spells, which contain visions she interprets as prophetic, ever since having been struck in the head by a slave-master who had been trying to hit another slave.  We learn a bit about life under the Brodess family, which cruelly forbids the freeing of Minty's mother per the wishes of the now-dead Brodess patriarch.  The current patriarch, Edward Brodess (Mike Marunde), tears up the lawyer's writ affirming freedom for the Ross family.  Eventually, Minty, guided by her visions, decides to escape, but insists that her husband stay behind:  he is a freedman who might lose his freedom if caught abetting an escaped slave.  Minty is pursued by the Brodess cohort, which includes Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn), who is close to Minty's age.

Minty leaps off a bridge to evade pursuit, and she is declared dead by her pursuers.  Minty survives the fall, however, and makes her way from slave-holding Maryland to abolitionist Pennsylvania, where she meets antislavery crusader William Still (Leslie Odom, Jr.) and becomes acquainted with the already-existent Underground Railroad, a network of people who help conduct escaped slaves to freedom in the North.  Still asks Minty whether she would like to take a freedwoman's name; she chooses "Harriet" after her mother, and "Tubman" after her husband John, whom she had left behind.  Prompted by a vision to go back and rescue John, Harriet discovers that John presumed his wife dead, and he has remarried.  Harriet is crushed, but while still in Maryland, she realizes that she can rescue other friends and family members, and she does so, much to the amazement of William Still, who had been worried Harriet would not be up to the task.  Harriet makes repeated trips to Maryland to free even more slaves, earning her the respect of other Railroad members, as well as the nickname "Moses" among the people in the South—both slaves and slaveholders—who hear of her accomplishments.  The movie leaps forward in time to give us a glimpse of the 1863 Combahee River Raid in South Carolina, during which over 750 slaves were sent North.  (Trivia:  many of those newly freed slaves joined the Union Army to fight the final years of the Civil War.)  

Overall, "Harriet" was a compellingly watchable film.  Harriet Tubman is, without a doubt, a towering figure in American history, which probably made it inevitable that the movie would come off as a hagiography.  Some critics have complained that the movie engages in magical realism by taking Harriet's visions too literally, but whether or not the visions themselves had the significance they seemed to have, it's true that Harriet was given to "spells," and that she acted according to the dictates of the visions she received.  When William Still first meets Harriet and takes down her biographical information, he hears her story of being struck in the head as a child and quietly writes in his notes, Possible brain damage.  So the movie provides at least a little skepticism about the veracity of Harriet's visions.

Other elements of the movie deserve mention.  Kasi Lemmons's understated direction gives the film a decent pace and allows her actors room to breathe.  Lemmons, despite perhaps being guilty of making Tubman into a saint (but wasn't she, though?), never over-sentimentalizes slavery or Harriet's personal situation.  Harriet Tubman is shown as having a soldier's heart, a true sense of mission, and a Moses-like desire to see all of her people freed.  Cynthia Erivo's costars also do admirable work.  Zackary Momoh as John Tubman exudes warmth, pain, and sentimentality.  Vondie Curtis Hall, in the role of subversive freedman preacher Samuel Green, does an excellent job of showing the lengths to which one had to go to fight slavery right under the noses of the white slave-masters.  Leslie Odom, Jr., also does yeoman's work in the role of William Still, a driven intellectual who is sometimes overcautious.  Clarke Peters, as Harriet's father Ben, evokes love and sympathy as a man who wants to stay behind so that others may be freed in his place.  Lastly, Janelle Monáe is all elegance, sophistication, and fighting spirit as Marie Buchanon, a black woman born free, but who comes to appreciate the horrific plight of the slaves.

Let's talk a moment about the elements that contributed to the film's atmosphere.  The musical soundtrack for "Harriet" occasionally evoked John Barry's grand, sweeping work on "Dances with Wolves," but it also occasionally strayed into corny, TV-movie territory; I would have liked a little more artistic consistency.  The film was shot mostly in my home state of Virginia, and the cinematography was generally lush and beautiful.  Sets and costumes effectively evoked life in the pre-war and Civil War era.  Most of these elements helped make the film convincingly immersive.

Overall, at biopics go, "Harriet" made for a good watch, bringing the story of one of America's greatest heroines to life in a way that was accessible and relatable without being overly treacly or pompous.  Recommended.



our dicks are what get us into trouble

Bill Burr gives sage advice to a horny 23-year-old guy who has been flirting with a coworker in his office.  This coworker—not beautiful, but charming and passably cute—seriously wants to bang the young man, but she's also got a boyfriend she claims to love, and she says she and her beau plan to move in together and eventually get married.  Burr's wisdom on how our dicks are what get us into trouble is priceless.

My own advice to the kid wouldn't be all that different from Burr's.  Avoid complications by avoiding sex with this chick.  This is a trap; she's obviously not in love with her beau if she's contemplating sex with you, and if you were thinking with your brain and not your dick, you'd immediately recognize all that.  Most sane guys would.  But some of us can't control our urges, so we waste precious time and life not learning from our mistakes.  Karma, of course, doesn't give a fuck whether you learn from your mistakes.  Karma is, as they say, a bitch, and with good reason.  If you repeatedly stick your hand in a flame and don't learn anything from that experience, don't sit around wondering why life keeps treating you so badly, genius.  I have some indiscretions from my past that I'd love to undo if I had the chance (and no, I won't ever talk about them here), and I imagine that, if you're a man who still has a dick and balls, you've got some indiscretions you regret, too.



Wednesday, December 30, 2020

your serving of cinematic silliness for today

Here's a hilarious film theory: Leonardo DiCaprio's Jack, in "Titanic," was actually a time traveller trying to ensure that the Titanic sank, thereby saving up to a million lives!





now's the time to get sick, I suppose

I've been in bed all day.  Ever since coming back from my two-day-long, 52K(-ish) walk along the east coast, I've been an achy, ailing mess.  I have no idea why my muscles are reacting this way to what was, after all, a fairly modest stroll by the standards of a trans-Korea walk, but I'm a mass of aches and muscle stiffness.  My right eye also seems to have gotten infected; I'm using my ointment and eyedrops to combat that problem.  At a guess, the places where I slept along the coast weren't always the most sanitary.  (I can eliminate my own pillowcases as a source of infection:  I had washed them only a couple days before the walk.)  Anyway, since I'm on vacation until I return to work on Monday, January 4, this is probably the best time to get sick.  And, no:  it's not COVID, for God's sake.  There's no fever, no dry cough, no loss of taste.  I'm fine.  In fact, as I type this, I'm actually feeling pretty good.

So tonight, I won't do much more than watch a movie or two (I have so, so many movies to watch and review that the list is kind of daunting), then figure out how I plan to spend the rollover to the new year.  I'd still like to eat at an expensive restaurant somewhere; Seoul has plenty of obnoxiously decadent buffets, so maybe I'll go and visit one.  Assuming buffets are open in a pandemic.



Styx on Chinese imperialism

I've said before that, if you want to see real imperialism at work, stop hectoring the US and look at China.  Styx seems to agree:

I've also noted that South Korea is in an uncomfortable position: the world generally wants to pivot away from China (although the US, under Biden, will likely cozy up to it again), but China is South Korea's largest trading partner, so a divorce from China would be awkward indeed.  Korea used to be a vassal state of China; history might not repeat, but it rhymes.



the slide show is ready

Go visit the KW5 blog to see nearly 700 pictures from my abortive excursion out east.



Tuesday, December 29, 2020

téléchargement en cours

The upload of my coastal-walk photos is in progress.  Stay tuned.  I'll announce when all the pics have been uploaded, but if you're impatient, you can check my Kevin's Walk 5 blog and see the first two out of three days' worth of pics now.  Check here for December 26 photos (scroll down to the newly added "Photo Essay" section), and here for the December 27 photos.



Monday, December 28, 2020

ululate! 2020 celebrity deaths I didn't know about

I love actor Irrfan Khan, and it was while I was watching a Watch Mojo video on YouTube that I learned Khan had died this year of "a rare neuroendocrine tumor" that appeared two years ago, followed by a serious infection this year.  I saw Khan's performances in "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Jurassic World," but for my money, his strongest and sweetest performance was in "The Lunchbox," an understated romantic dramedy about a lonely man who, through an accident, begins a note-passing relationship with the woman who prepares his delivered lunch.  I still haven't reviewed this movie, for some reason; I ought to rewatch the film and write a review so as to pay tribute to Khan, who was taken from this world far too soon.

Another shocker was the news that young, talented, and sexy actress Naya Rivera, notable for her role as Santana López in "Glee," had died this past July in what appeared to be a case of accidental drowning.  Rivera had been out boating and swimming with her son when something caused her to urge her boy (age 4) back onto the boat.  Police hypothesize that Rivera had felt a rip current, and while she managed to get her son aboard the boat, she was unable to save herself.  Her body was recovered sometime later.  The show "Glee" seems to have a curse on it:  three of its young cast members have now died.  Corey Monteith, who played Finn, died of a drug overdose; Mark Salling, who played Puck, committed suicide in the wake of a scandal involving a child-pornography collection.  Rivera was a fantastic singer and actress; she'd had her whole life ahead of her.

The above-linked Watch Mojo video notes a ton of other 2020 celebrity deaths; one other shock was the lovely Kelly Preston—John Travolta's wife—who died of breast cancer after having kept her illness out of the public eye.  I remember Preston best as Marnie in 1988's "Twins," starring opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger.



server issues

Well, I'm back early from my reconnoiter out on South Korea's east coast.  I'll be talking about why this happened over at the Kevin's Walk 5 blog, so take a gander over there in the next day or so.  Right now, though, I'm dealing with server-related problems:  Blogger isn't allowing me to upload images stored on my phone, and I don't know why.  This problem started late last week, and I was hoping it was only temporary, but it's continued up to now, and I'm starting to get pissed off.

The procedure to upload an image is several steps long:

1. Hit the "upload image" icon on the toolbar of the Blogger edit window.
2. Click "Upload from computer."
3. Click "Choose files."
4. On your Android phone, click "Documents."
5. Click "Gallery."
6. Click the folder in which your photo is located.
7. Click the photo you want to upload.

At that point, the photo ought to upload, but what's now happening is that I get an "X" of rejection, plus the message "Upload failed—server rejected."  I can only assume this is Blogger's own server that's rejecting the upload.  I'm about to find out whether this problem has also affected my desktop.

Here goes:

Well... the problem doesn't seem to have affected my computer, which makes me wonder whether this really is a problem with Blogger's own server.

On a practical level, this means that, in order for me to upload photos from my east-coast walk, I need to transfer all my files to my laptop or to Google Drive, then upload to my blog from there.  A pain in the ass, that, but what's a man to do?

Stay tuned.  I doubt I'm the only person experiencing the "server rejected" problem, so I'll see what I can find out about this problem through online research.  More soon.



Saturday, December 26, 2020

c'est parti

And we're off! Refer to my new walk blog for the next few days. Later! 



Friday, December 25, 2020

off to the east coast tomorrow

It's a bit after 10 p.m. on Christmas Day.  I hope you've had a merry Christmas.  Mine was pretty quiet and involved little more than eating shrimp in creamy wine sauce that was left over from the office luncheon.  I'm just taking it easy, and I'll finish the evening by doing some laundry and prepping partway for my trip out to the east coast.  I've reserved my first night out at a pension called Haedanghwa, three kilometers north of the east-coast bike path's official starting point; at W70,000, it's not very cheap, and from what I've seen, it's going to be mostly pensions all the way down the east coast.  That's something to consider.

The plan is to walk along the east coast for three days.  The weather forecast has been very fickle; sometimes I see rain in my future, sometimes not.  The temperature is also going to be unseasonably warm:  around 50º Fahrenheit (10º C) for at least two of my three walking days—almost enough for me to be in short sleeves.  Currently, I'm seeing "PM showers" forecast for the third and final day of my walk, but that's going to be a problem only if I arrive at my endpoint very late that day, I think.  The three-day walk will require five calendar days to complete:  I'm going out to the east coast tomorrow, but because I'm staying overnight in a pension, I won't be starting until the morning of the following day.  Then, after the third day of walking, I'll be staying overnight once more and walking 8 km to the nearby intercity bus terminal the following morning (the 30th).  Five calendar days.

I have high hopes that I'll make some interesting discoveries.  Stay tuned for pictures; I'm sure there'll be plenty to see along South Korea's east coast.



Merry Christmas!

I visited my buddy JW's place on Christmas Eve.  Here are some pics from Christmas dinner and our subsequent gift exchange.  JW was held up in traffic, on his way home from a Christmas Eve session of golf with his fellow managers and a hugely filling Christmas dinner that was offered for free... as long as the diners sat in on a lecture about a medical service they could sign up for.  Despite JW's absence, the lady of the house, BH, insisted that we sit down to eat.  First pic (L: brother Jiahn; R: sister Minji):

JW eventually made it:

We've eaten dinner, and it's almost time for me to leave.  This is the moment to exchange gifts, so I brought out my Santa's bag, and the family brought our theirs.  Below, Minji is about to discover the tee shirts I'd made for her and her brother Jiahn:

Jiahn had asked for protein powder.  He's apparently going to start a weightlifting regimen in the coming year.  Turns out his mom had bought him some coffee-flavored powder; I got the giant, chocolate-flavored Weider set from Costco, so he can now make mocha if he wants:

The kids eagerly and proudly don their tees:

The presentation of my plaque to JW was marred by the way JW sang the praises of the walking trails down in Jeju Island.  "A hundred times better than these bike trails!" he claimed.  My heart sank when he said that because it seemed to devalue all the walking we'd done locally.  (JW took a trip to Jeju with his family a couple weekends ago, partly to explore the walking trails, and partly to take advantage of the low prices courtesy of the winter weather and the pandemic, which meant Jeju wasn't getting much tourism.)  I gave JW the plaque, anyway, and he seemed appreciative, but I think he now has an over-romanticized idea in his head about what counts as a "perfect" walking trail.  For him, after Jeju, it's now all about scenic vistas, grand waterfalls, mountains, canyons, and the ocean.  I'm not against any of that, but he has to realize that, in better weather, Jeju will be overrun with tourists, and all those beautiful vistas will be little more than vulgar commodities to be photographed.  JW wants me to go with him on a hiking trip down to Jeju, and while I'm not against it, I can't help feeling he may have missed the point about the Four Rivers trail and why I appreciate it the way I do.

Below, you get a good view of Jiahn's tee shirt's back:

Little Minji presented me with a portrait of me that she'd made based on a photo of me hiking with Jiahn, an eternity ago, back when the pandemic was young.  The portrait is... how shall I put this... embarrassingly accurate in its portrayal of my form.

Don't forget to smile.

And lastly, a closer look:

So that's how I spent part of Christmas Eve.  I hope Christmas Day finds you hale and whole.  Much joy, much peace, and many blessings to all the readers who haven't abandoned me because they somehow think I've become a racist, Trump-loving Nazi fascist who eats babies.  (I guess wanting less government involvement makes you a fascist.  Oh, well.)

Merry Christmas!





Thursday, December 24, 2020

errands

It's Christmas Eve, and I'm off today, thanks to our boss's clemency.  (He just signed a contract to renew his employment at our company, so in celebration, he shared his joy by giving us time off.)  Not much to do today other than buy some wrapping paper, wrap some presents for JW's family, then visit the family tonight a bit after dinnertime to hang out, unwrap presents (the kids are too impatient to wait until Christmas morning), and maybe share some Yuletide desserts.  I won't eat much while I'm there; I plan to go walking out to the Jamshil Bridge tonight.

So I'm off to do some errands.  If, later this evening, I can get a shot of JW proudly holding up his award plaque, I'll be sure to slap that up on the blog.



Wednesday, December 23, 2020

award plaque: the sexy reveal

So!  I think the award-plaque makers dragged their feet and took their sweet time, but I generally like the final product.  I got a text message earlier today saying the plaque had been finished, so I texted back that I'd be there around 7 p.m. to pick it up and pay for it.  The shop is in a tucked-away part of the Jongno neighborhood, so I had to use Naver Map to navigate my way through the back alleys to find the place again.  The older lady who had spoken with me last time greeted me again this time.  She made a special point of telling me that they had tried out two different designs—the one with the white background and the one meant to be on a black surface—and in the end, they agreed that the black-surface plaque won out.  I saw the plaque and was delighted.  There were a few things I would have wanted, like engraved lettering and a gold-colored font and dragon, but overall, I was happy with the end product, and I think my buddy JW will appreciate it, too.

So here's the slow, sexy reveal of the plaque, done up as a blogged version of a YouTube "unboxing" video (I don't know why those are so popular; maybe it's because they're the nerd's version of a striptease).  Enjoy the following parade of images.

The staff had promised me they'd have the plaque all done up as a gift.  They weren't kidding.  Here's the plaque inside the cute little bag they gave me:

Excitement builds.  Below is the plaque, now outside of its bag, but still encased in its box-within-a-box (the outer box is more like a sleeve, I think):

Here is the velvet-surfaced box, fairly standard for this sort of award:

The box is open!  What—oh, what—could possibly be inside?

At long last:  the reveal!

And just to gild the lily, a porn-y closeup:

Below:  one last look.  The above two photos unfortunately reflect the bubble wrap in the plaque's top fourth, so I'm providing a different angle to allow you to appreciate the shiny blackness of the plaque's surface:

And there we are.  I hope my friend appreciates his prize.  There's nothing official or authoritative about it; it's merely a gesture of friendship and respect.  Walking 120 kilometers, even in a haphazard way, is nothing to sneeze at, and as is often the case with many such awards, this only signifies the beginning of what I hope will be a long, long walking career.



more pussy-slappin'

Because you know you can't get enough:





what you didn't have for lunch today

It's the 23rd:  Christmas Eve's Eve, and the boss is giving us Christmas Eve off, so we had another little food festival to kick off what will be, for me, a vacation that will last through New Year's.  You'll recall that we recently enjoyed the beef on Weck that my coworker's wife had made; she had apparently intended to pack some stuffed baked potatoes to go with the sandwiches, but she wasn't able to prep the taters in time for the Monday meal, so my coworker told us we'd eat the potatoes on Wednesday.  I said I'd bring a main course for which the potatoes could act as a side, so I prepped my coquilles St. Jacques aux pleurotes plus an incredible set of green beans with bacon and almonds, made from a recipe I'd found online.

Here are some shots for your delectation:

A closeup of a scallop:

The green beans were a revelation.  I would never have thought that you could combine Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce to create something harmonious, but with the addition of butter and brown sugar (shades of Bananas Foster), plus the crispy bacon and the toasted almonds, the whole thing makes sense once you heat the mixture up and get it bubbling.  I'll be making this side again soon:  it's very easy to make, and a great yield—taste-wise—for relatively little effort.

The overall luncheon was quite delicious; the scallops cooked slowly in the velouté, reaching a perfect state of doneness; they weren't rubbery at all.  I served the scallops in little ramekins, coating their tops with toasted, buttered bread crumbs since I couldn't finish the dish in a broiler.  Everyone gave the seafood a thumbs-up, and for my part, I saluted the potatoes done by the Missus.  In fact, I'm taking some of her taters home with me tonight.

So that was today's pre-Christmas luncheon.  I'm off until the new year, using up the rest of my comp hours, although I think my coworkers will be coming in next week.



shitty products: another reason to abandon China

Just watch:

We need to divorce China and pivot toward India.  Alas, with Mr. Biden—nicknamed "Beijing Biden" in some quarters—at the helm, a divorce from China isn't likely.


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

where to from here?

I am now free of scholastic debt. I spent a lot of time, last night, just sitting in my darkened apartment, shaking my head in happy wonder at the fact that I'm now liberated from a twenty-year-long imprisonment. Not entirely trusting the idea that I really am free of this debt, I just signed in to Navient once again, specifically to look up the big "What happens now?" section of the FAQ. Here's what I discovered:

Loans Paid in Full

Once a loan is paid in full, consolidated, sold, or transferred, the loan's status is reported to consumer reporting agencies.

Note that for 30 and up to 60 days after a loan is paid in full, the status may continue to reflect "In Repayment" online.

The credit-reporting agency that tells me my credit-rating status recently said my rating had dropped, probably because my credit card, with its limit of almost $10,000, is getting close to 80% capacity. That doesn't alarm me; paying back the almost-$8000 balance will be a breeze, and psychologically speaking, it's nothing like the emotional burden that came with being saddled with massive scholastic debt. Still, it disturbed me that the credit agency hadn't been factoring in how close I was to zeroing out my debt, so I felt a bit scandalized when, around two weeks ago, I got the notice saying my credit rating had dropped a bit. Well... according to the above FAQ response on the Navient site, Navient won't report my paid-in-full status for up to 30-60 days. In other words, my credit rating ought to shoot up significantly in about two months.  I fully expect to be over a score of 800 (the max is 850), especially once I start paying down my credit-card debt over the next few months.

What to do after that?  Well, people are telling me to get investing, but before I can get investing, I need to get saving:  that's Priority Number One.  Once I have a few thousand to play with, two things need to happen:  (1) I need to keep on saving enough money for my emergency-funds account, which is supposed to have 3-4 months' worth of my salary in it to tide me over in case of huge, life-changing events, and (2) I need to be investing in safe-bet alternatives like index funds, which I've seen several online investment gurus talk about.  I kind of wish my friend Kent Davy were still alive; he was a career investor, and his financial advice could have served me well.

My emergency-funds account will need to be at around $20,000, I think; that's a rough reflection of four months' pay.  As for investing... the scrupulous financial advisors warn that money doesn't appear instantaneously; it has to snowball slowly, and you need to be constantly curating your investments and not merely trusting that passive income will roll your way in a happy torrent.  I've seen some gurus talk about real-estate-related investments, but those seem like a hassle—possibly even a hustle.  Index funds seem more doable; I'll do more research and report what I've learned once I've learned it.  Like it or not, the old dog is going to have to learn some very new tricks.  More later.



slay the fatted calf!

I just checked my Navient account, and...



More later.  I'm off to bed.



Monday, December 21, 2020

Ave, Charles!

My buddy Charles has been experimenting on himself.  If I'm not mistaken, this experiment is still ongoing.  It seems to involve a combination of intermittent fasting, a concomitant change in Charles's morning routine, and the re-addition of HIIT to his exercise regimen.

Some of Charles's experiences dovetail with things I experienced while on my walk, such as when Charles writes about dealing with the sensation of hunger.  I can relate, although my own situation—being on the trail—meant that I had little choice but to cope with hunger pangs by simply taking hunger to be a brute fact of existence and soldiering onward until the day was ended, and I could finally eat a decent meal and grab some snacks.

My long walk, and my habit of eating only once per day during the trek, essentially put me on an intermittent-fasting regimen.  Again, though, I should note that this regimen was a necessary consequence of the strictures of the walk, not the result of a voluntary choice to engage in intermittent fasting.  Charles's way requires more willpower.



California, the sick man of America

Get the fuck out, Gavin Newsom:

"The red states would be a third-world country without the blue states." Yeah. Right.  I think you've got it exactly backward, genius.  Can you big-city morons survive without the farmers, the laborers, the people doing real work?  Have fun inside your masturbatory fantasy.



"beef on Weck"

The New York sandwich known as the beef on Weck—beloved of the working class, especially around the Buffalo area—was what we got served today in a surprise pre-Christmas luncheon.  My coworker's chef of a wife, apparently feeling festive, made the sandwich elements, and my coworker carted them to the office.  The "Weck" refers to the Kummelweck bread, a large bun or dinner roll (or, in our case, a slider roll) topped with caraway seeds (the seeds that give rye bread its distinctive flavor) and flaky salt.  The beef itself is to be sliced thin and served fairly rare; as with a French dip, there's supposed to be an au jus on the side for you to dip your sandwich into.  Condiments for the sandwich include horseradish (obligatory, according to the lore) and mayonnaise (optional).  Some folks add trimmings like sliced pickles, although based on my experience today, I'd say that I'd go no further than sliced cucumbers:  pickles, with their sour punch, would unnecessarily compete with the horseradish for dominance inside my mouth, and I can tell you right now that beef plus Weck plus horseradish and mayo makes for a harmonious, self-complete combination of flavors.

We didn't have any au jus with our sandwiches today, but that didn't matter:  they were damn good just as they were.  The Missus cooked the beef to a super-tender state, so my coworker apologized because he didn't think the beef was rare enough.  I was fine with the beef, which was succulent; the Missus has good intuitions when cooking Western food, which can be hard to find among Koreans, who are often prone to losing much in translation when they attempt to make Western fare.  I ate my four sliders too fast to think about photographing them, so please click on the above links to see what a classic beef on Weck is supposed to look like, or just hit this Google Images link.  Even better, Chef John has a two-part video to show you how to make your own Kummelweck rolls and how to prep your beef and make the whole sandwich, sides and all.  To wit:

So that's what I enjoyed for lunch today, and it was glorious.  I'm not sure that I've ever had the beef-plus horseradish combination before, but I'm sure I've had dishes that are fairly close in terms of flavor harmony and contrast (e.g., galmaegi-sal with spicy soy-wasabi dip).  I'll have to try making these sandwiches on my own at some point.  Another dish for my ever-lengthening list of things to try before I die.



"Speed Racer": review

I grew up watching "Speed Racer," the Japanese animé series, as a kid in the 1970s.  When the Wachowskis, fresh off their Matrix trilogy, decided to film a live-action-ish version of the cartoon, I was genuinely confused as to why.  The Wachowskis tended to be cerebral types, not unlike the Coen brothers.  They enjoyed deep themes and intriguing issues—ethical dilemmas and philosophical posers—so why on Earth would they want to focus their creative energies on a kids' cartoon?  I obviously didn't and don't understand the Wachowskis; they move to the beat of their own drummer, and in 2008, "Speed Racer" was the result of their creative impulses, like it or not.  Now that I've seen the movie, I vote not.

2008's "Speed Racer" is directed by the duo now known only as The Wachowskis.*  (They used to be The Wachowski Brothers, Larry and Andy.  They are now trans women:  Lana and Lilly.)  It stars Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox, Roger Allam, Benno Fürmann, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rain, and Richard Roundtree.  The basic story revolves around the Racer family, led by Pops (Goodman), who have devoted their lives to auto racing.  The Racer family runs its own independent outfit, not reliant on any corporate sponsorship, but when teenaged Speed Racer (Hirsch) is approached by mega-tycoon EP Arnold Royalton (Allam) and tempted with riches beyond his wildest imaginings, Speed declines Royalton's offer, thus earning the mogul's enmity.  A strongly anti-corporatist theme runs throughout the movie:  rich people and their corporations are the Devil, and money has sucked all the purity and fun out of racing, turning it into a dirty business where bribes are made, families are threatened, and outcomes are rigged well in advance.

Speed is shown to have a history:  as a kid, he worshiped his older brother Rex (initially played by Scott Porter), a world-class driver.  When Rex apparently dies in a crash during a cross-country event, the Racer family is plunged into depression, but Pops eventually snaps out of it when he rewatches old footage of a former racing champion, Ben Burns (Roundtree), during the '43 Grand Prix.  Inspired by Burns's victory, Pops gets back to work designing cars, and Speed spends his days essentially chasing after the ghost of his big brother.  Speed gets help from Mom (Sarandon), his little brother Spritle (Paulie Litt), his girlfriend-since-boyhood Trixie (Ricci), and even a chimpanzee named Chim-Chim.  A mysterious driver nicknamed Racer X (Fox) appears and helps the Racer family deal with the wrath of Royalton, and Speed starts to suspect that Racer X is actually his older brother Rex.  A side story involving a rich Japanese racing family allows the movie to bring in ninjas, martial arts, and a convoluted plot.

"Speed Racer" proved disappointing, off-putting, and even boring.  One essential problem for me was the way in which the main ethical dilemma of the movie wasn't a dilemma at all:  Speed's temptation by Royalton to rake in millions as part of a huge, soulless corporation.  Speed proved to be too pure and honorable to accept Royalton's offer, and Royalton, in turn, proved to be a flat character:  obviously evil from the outset, showing his true colors to Speed the very moment that Speed refused to sign Royalton's contract.  Another problem was how insanely CGI-driven the effects were:  images come at you in a full-frontal assault, with constantly whipping camera angles and overly stylish smash cuts from one character to the next, all attempting to reflect the spirit of the original animé.  A movie this cartoonish might be great fun for kids (and this is, undoubtedly, a kids' movie first and foremost), but the lack of real suspense is going to leave the adults in the audience feeling empty.  The film's flashy, cotton-candy palette emphasized the style-over-substance nature of the story, and the painfully corny dialogue, which tried so hard to be funny, constantly fell flat.  The result was an insipid narrative gruel.  I found it very hard to care for any of the main characters, and that's entirely the fault of the flaccid script, which wanted to devote more time to racing than to character development.  A shame, that:  intra-familial conflict would have added depth to the story; Royalton could have been the source of a rift between Speed and his father, but instead, the dad/son conflict came via the contrived subplot involving the Japanese racing family, the strangely surnamed Togokahns.  (Note:  Korean actor-singer Rain plays scion Taejo Togokahn; when the Togokahn logo is shown, the script under the logo is Korean, not Japanese.  Note, too, that Togokahn isn't a plausibly Japanese surname.)

The acting wasn't always on point, either.  John Goodman and Susan Sarandon did the best they could with the lines they were given, but Emile Hirsch—whom I consider a fine actor—came off as a discount Hayden Christensen in this movie:  wooden and unapproachable.  Rain's Taejo was fairly poorly acted, and Paulie Litt as Spritle was, alas, positively awful as child actors go.  Only Roger Allam, as the evil Royalton, seemed to be having any fun in his role; Allam has been quoted as saying he modeled his performance on the behavior of thinker and cultural critic Christopher Hitchens at his most pugnacious.  (There's even a physical resemblance between Allam and Hitchens, pre-cancer.  To be honest, I would never have made the Allam-Hitchens connection had I not stumbled upon that interview quote, but once that connection was made known, it was impossible to un-see.)  Part of the problem with the acting might not have been the actors so much as the directors, who I gather were aiming for something deliberately overwrought and corny.  For the kids, you see.

A better story, a real sense of danger, and more fleshed-out characters (I feel especially sorry for Ricci's Trixie) would have made this a much better movie.  I've heard that, over the years since 2008, "Speed Racer" has gone from being considered a box-office turd to being praised as a cult classic, but to be honest, I just don't see it.  It strikes me as the kind of movie you enjoy when you're maybe six years old, then you cringe at the memory of liking it when you're sixteen.  All in all, "Speed Racer" felt like a race car uselessly spinning its wheels.


*It's pronounced "wuh-CHOW-skee," not "wuh-KOW-skee."



Sunday, December 20, 2020

did Russia do it?

Styx takes on the claim that Russia was, recently, the perpetrator of a giant hack:

Upshot: don't be naive, Trump-hater. Focus on China, not Russia.



Tim Pool, on a tear

Oh, noes!  Mitch McConnell won because of fraud!

Trump gives a call to action, but it's probably too late:




the answer to a burning question

Below is a video that goes over the filthy reality of public restrooms.  Among several nasty aspects of public bathroom stalls, the vid focuses on the question of door height:  why do US stalls have doors that don't go all the way to the floor?

Here in South Korea, public-restroom stalls are the way they are in Europe:  the doors go down to the floor, and they don't have huge gaps on the side to allow poop-fetish people to peek in while you're squeezing one out.  I prefer this gaplessness as a matter of privacy.  The best stalls have little outward-facing indicators to tell others whether your particular stall is occupied.  This eliminates the dreaded knock-knock phenomenon.

If I learned anything from the video, it's that washing your hands before exiting the restroom is not the end of the story:  you really need to figure out a way to either re-wash your hands once you've left the bathroom, or to exit the bathroom without touching any of its germ-ridden surfaces.  Good luck as you puzzle that one out.



Saturday, December 19, 2020

the 34-cent frustration

Good Christ.

So almost a week ago, I auto-scheduled my final payment to Navient, the company that's managing my scholastic debt.  The final payment amount, according to the site, was $1,120.63.  I dutifully scheduled a payment for exactly that amount, and when I checked my Navient account today, I saw the payment had cleared... but that I still owed 34 cents.  I sighed.  I've been through bullshit like this before:  you're constantly accruing interest, so even though you think you've paid the correct amount, time has passed since you scheduled your payment, so you actually owe just a wee bit more.  If I recall correctly, the last time this sort of thing happened to me for a different loan, I ended up having to call the loan manager to settle the issue; otherwise, I would have been paying in pennies forever.  It's a bit like using a dustpan to try to sweep up a bunch of sawdust, but you can never quite sweep up that last bit of dust that accumulates at the edge of the dustpan.  (I've written about remainders before.  This sort of thing is a law of nature.)

Again, if I recall correctly, I called the loan manager, last time, because had I tried scheduling a payment for the tiny remainder, and another remainder had popped up.  This time around, I've scheduled a 34-cent payment with Navient that is to be processed today, i.e., the 19th of December.  The Navient site wouldn't allow me to overpay, e.g., by scheduling a whole dollar so as to cover any further accruals.  So I'm going to check on Monday or Tuesday to see whether the 34-cent payment has processed through, and if it has, and if my account is definitively at zero, I'll break out the bubbly.  If not, well... I guess I'm going to have to give Navient a fookin' call.



some memes








So tell me:  how effective are these measures, again?





a personal look at the havoc Gavin Newsom has already wreaked

I watch Sam the Cooking Guy regularly.  Sam owns two restaurants in Little Italy in San Diego; in the following video clip, he gets interviewed, and he has some choice words for California governor Gavin Newsom.  The reporter interviewing Sam also puts aside any pretense at objectivity to express his own anger and disappointment with Newsom's unreasonable and draconian measures:





Friday, December 18, 2020

Kevin's Walk 5 is now online!

You can never start too early with the planning, especially when you're going to be walking a longer trail (longer by 90 km) that will be radically different from the trail you're familiar with.

Kevin's Walk 5



the 2020 election and terminal illness

Over the course of a terminal illness, crucial decisions have to be made—decisions very much rooted in a person's values.  In many cases, people have no idea what their own values are until they find themselves in extreme situations:  that's when true character reveals itself.  There's no objective goodness or badness to this "true character"; if, for example, someone decides to yield gracefully to his disease and die with dignity, how is this better or worse than another person's decision to fight his disease until the bitter end—to go down kicking and screaming as opposed to going "gently into that good night"?  Which option manifests the greater dignity?  Which option reveals greater courage?

Right now, if the comment threads at Instapundit are a reliable core sample of what's happening on the right (or the Trumpian non-left, if you will), a huge debate is raging over whether we should simply bow to the reality of a Joe Biden presidency or fight to the bitter end.  Go gently into that good night, or rage against the dying of the light?  "Trump isn't giving up.  Why should you?"

Some might say that the analogy with terminal illness is flawed:  a terminal illness leads to death, but a Joe Biden presidency, while a setback to Trumpians, is not the end of the story for American politics, nor is it the end for America as a country.  If it's true that the 2020 election and terminal illness are disanalogous, then there's probably less reason to submit meekly to fate and accept a Joe Biden presidency:  the fight goes on, even with Biden in the Oval Office.  But is terminal illness really the wrong image?

Think about how the left tends to view the right in apocalyptic terms.  From the modern left's point of view, everything is a mad Darwinian struggle for survival and power.  This why every Republican who gains the White House is immediately cast as Hitler:  this Hitlerizing drives home the point that the fight against the right is urgent to the point of being existentially significant:  the left's very survival is at stake.  From that perspective, an electoral loss is a kind of death.  The reality, of course, is much less dramatic, but lefties are known for being hyperventilating drama queens:  every molehill becomes a mountain for them.  This doesn't absolve the right, however, because the right can be just as queeny when it wants to be.  Is the nation really on the brink of self-destruction, as many on the right contend, or are we simply riding an enormous pendulum back and forth, like a cosmic Miley Cyrus on a planet-sized wrecking ball?  Maybe we're living that story about the poor old man and the horse.  Maybe history is less linear and more sinusoidal.

I think the analogy with terminal illness holds true.  As with actual terminal illness, we see people in this knock-down, drag-out election cycle who are in denial, people who think a miracle will occur, even when the odds are plainly against such miracles happening.  I see people who—like those who cope with terminal illness—steel themselves for the inevitable disaster, but who, in bracing for impact, ready themselves in a healthy way to deal with the tragic aftermath and find something constructive from the experience.  Death is an ending, but it is always also a beginning.  Either way, whether one goes gently or rages, there are reasons to live and act with hope for the future.



Thursday, December 17, 2020

why I'll miss YouTube

Yes, I am seriously contemplating departing YouTube, but I'd be lying if I claimed I wouldn't miss it. Here's one reason why: an audio clip of Tom Cruise going ballistic about crew on the set of the new "Mission: Impossible" movie who had violated pandemic protocol:





"Primal," Season 1: review

Genndy Tartakovsky's 2019 "Primal" is an animated TV series (for the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim time slot) about a bereaved cave man who befriends an equally bereaved dinosaur.  I know:  cave men and dinosaurs didn't live in the same epoch.  The series understands this, and it completely does away with any and all vérité elements.  That said, the world of "Primal" is as primal as the series title—full of danger in the form of anachronistic predators, black magic, and primitive societies that would be more at home in a Dungeons & Dragons setting than in the real world.  This is full-on fantasy—less Michael Crichton and more Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Our protagonist, called Spear in the credits, is a grunting but smart and capable cave man who loses his family to a pack of ravenous dinosaurs.  Initially contemplating suicide, Spear decides to soldier on, and he encounters Fang, a tyrannosaur who loses her hatchlings to the same dinosaurs that killed Spear's family.  In the first episode of Season 1, Spear sees the nasty dinosaurs attacking Fang's brood, and he does what he can to help, but he is unable to save Fang's offspring.  As he leaves the scene of the battle, Spear hears huge footsteps behind him.  He turns around and sees Fang, also bereaved and desolate, sadly following him.  She recognizes that Spear had tried to help her, and with no children to care for, she has nothing else to live for.  The episode ends with Spear triumphantly mounting Fang like a horse and roaring at the sky, now ready to take on the world.  

The rest of the season explores the nature of the duo's relationship.  At first, Fang treats the partnership as a competition, and she easily out-hunts Spear, who is only man-sized, after all.  Eventually, though, Fang learns that Spear's human ingenuity makes it better for her to treat him as an equal than as an inferior rival, and the two form a bond of friendship and care, helping each other out of a series of perilous situations.  

Most of "Primal" is without dialogue, unless roaring and grunting can be considered dialogue.  In the final episode of Season 1, Spear and Fang encounter an escaped slave woman who names herself Mira, and this is the first time, in ten episodes, that we hear spoken words.  Mira speaks in some sort of ancient tongue (at a guess, it's based on an actual language*); she also seems to worship the moon, and she has a scorpion tattooed on the back of her shaven head.  The episode ends on a cliffhanger note, causing Spear to utter his first word:  "Mira."  I imagine that Season 2 will explore the sex/gender politics of adding Mira to the Spear/Fang mix:  Fang might feel jealous now that Mira is a potential object for Spear's affections.

The series's world-building is, as I noted, utterly unrealistic, but it retains a feeling of authenticity:  this is a place where everything is out to kill you—a harsh world with predators around every corner.  Only the clever, the vigilant, and the cooperative can survive.  Tartakovsky, who worked on "Samurai Jack" among other cartoons, offers a lush color palette coupled with a chunky way of drawing the protags and the side characters that reminds me of the blocky superheroes in Frank Miller's graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns.  Although filled with anachronisms and implausibilities, this world feels convincingly dangerous, and it's the perfect crucible for the character-building that happens in both Spear and Fang.

Overall, "Primal" makes for compelling viewing.  With all of its blood and gore, it's adult animation for certain, but the visceral moments are balanced by more thoughtful, sentimental ones.  Highly recommended.


*If you want to hear a funky alien tongue, listen to the language spoken by the Nelvaan rodent-people in Chapter 24 of the 2003 "Clone Wars" cartoon (also a Tartakovsky creation).



note to self re: bike-route certification centers

Note to self:

A good website listing the names of Korean bike-route certification centers and their addresses can be found here.  Use this info to build a walking route for the 2021 hike.



Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Step 1: done

Well... I just wired $2500 to my US account. I've already auto-scheduled my Navient and credit-card payments, so those will begin processing on the 18th.  I don't expect to see changes in either balance until about next Tuesday, so it'll be a few days before I start celebrating.  In the meantime, I need to plot out a four-day walk along the east-coast trail.  Weather permitting, I'll walk the first four legs of what will ultimately be a 720-kilometer hike down the east coast to Busan.  This hike is merely a reconnoiter, so if the weather goes sour, I'll cut the walk short and go home right away.  No need to risk my neck unnecessarily.




Tuesday, December 15, 2020

nip-shatteringly cold

It's 18 degrees Fahrenheit outside right now (-7.8 Celsius), and the wind chill makes it feel like 12 degrees (-11.1 Celsius).  That's cold for us Virginians.

I guess winter is finally here, and tonight is a walking night for me.  Can't say as I'm looking forward to being out on the windy south bank of the Han River, but my walk takes me to Jamshil Bridge and back, so I have no choice but to get out there and hoof it.  I've got my regular face mask plus my winter face mask to keep my face warm; I've got a knitted cap plus my windbreaker's hood to keep my skull from freezing; I've got my coat and my windbreaker to keep my torso from icing up.  My legs aren't protected, though:  I'm wearing the same hiking pants I wore during my walk—the pants with the super-thin fabric that dries quickly after being drenched in a summer rain.  We'll see how well the walk goes, I guess; I kind of miss not having my scarf with me, but I've got one of those foreskin-like neck gaiters, which I hope will be a satisfactory stand-in for my usual scarf.

Here goes nuthin'.




just three more steps, and I'm free of scholastic debt

I get paid tomorrow, so I'll be sending home $2500 via international wire transfer.  About $1200 of that will go toward zeroing out my scholastic debt; about $500 will sit in my bank account to take care of automatic debits, e.g., for the public storage I've been renting out for several years.  The remainder—about $800—will go toward paying down my poor, overloaded credit card, which is the next (very minor) debt that I need to tame.  Taking care of the credit card will be easy compared to spending twenty years chipping away at my scholastic debt.  

But first things first.  I have three steps to get through:

1.  Get paid and send $2500 to my PNC Bank account.

2.  After verification that my wire transfer has gone through, send final payment to Navient.

3.  Await confirmation from Navient that my debt is now zero.  Celebrate!

That last act—awaiting confirmation of zero debt—probably won't be very dramatic.  If it's anything like when I paid down my OneMain Financial loan years ago, I'll simply log on to my account, check my outstanding balance, see a big, fat zero, and that'll be that.  I'm not sure whether Navient will then close out the account or just leave it hanging in space.  I suppose I could call a Navient rep and find out.

Laid out as a timeline, the three steps look like this:

1.  12/16/20 (W):  wire $2500 to US acct

2.  12/17/20 (R):  schedule final Navient payment

3.  12/21/20 (M):  confirm Navient debt = $0.00

I say "12/21/20" above because I'm brushing up against a weekend, and if Navient takes, say, three business days to handle my final payment, I don't think that that payment will show up as processed until the following Monday, or possibly even the following Tuesday (12/22).  I do realize that I don't actually have to wait until the 17th to schedule my Navient payment:  I could schedule it now on the assumption that money will be in my US bank account on the day my final payment is debited.  (I could also, in theory, do the same for the $800 I plan to send to Chase to start paying down my credit card.)

Normally, Navient automatically sends a "thank you for your payment" email.  I wonder whether the company will send a "Congratulations!  You're zeroed out!" email once I make my last payment.  I'd like to think so, but as I noted above, I don't think there'll be any fanfare.  That said, I can't officially start celebrating until I see that "$0.00" on my Navient account, so it'll be a few days before I go nucking futs.



time to diaper up!

A stray comment seen over at ROK Drop led me to a bizarre news item:  Chinese airlines are asking (or, depending on the article, urging) their flight attendants to wear diapers during long flights so as to avoid using the lavatories, which are presumably a SARS-CoV-2 infection risk.  I suppose it's fine, by contrast, to run the risk of urinary-tract infections.

I was 7 and 10 years old when my little brothers David and Sean were born, so from a very young age, I learned the harsh realities of cleaning up someone else's puke, piss, and shit.  From what I recall, diapers aren't very good at preventing smells from emanating into the public realm, so if you'll pardon the airline pun, I don't see how this policy is going to fly.

If a person is old enough to have to contend with age-related incontinence, that's one thing, and I pass no judgment on people who must simply respond to a particular need (lookin' at you, Biden!).  But asking or demanding that younger people pad up and "go" while working strikes me as an unnecessary indignity.

Diapers.  Really.



"Fatman": review

[NB:  spoilers.]

"Fatman" is a 2020 black comedy starring Mel Gibson, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Walton Goggins, Chance Hurstfield, Deborah Grover, Eric Woolfe, and Robert Bockstael.  Somewhere in or near the Arctic Circle town of North Peak, Alaska, Chris Cringle (Gibson) lives and works with his wife Ruth (Jean-Baptiste).  Together, they are Santa and Mrs. Claus, working with a team of elves led by a foreman named Seven (Woolfe).  Unfortunately, kids over the years have become meaner and viler, which means that Cringle is getting less and less business.  The US Army, in the person of Captain Jacobs (Bockstael), comes to Cringle with a proposal:  a lucrative two-month contract to be fulfilled in the non-Christmas portion of the year, during which Cringle's elves will devote themselves to producing weapons-guidance systems for a new line of fighter jets.  (Why the US Army is proposing a contract that benefits the US Air Force is never made clear.)  Cringle has misgivings; he's a proud man who doesn't want to compromise his morals just to be able to make ends meet, but his wife, ever the pragmatist, gently persuades Chris to accept the contract.  Meanwhile, Cringle sends out his usual gifts and lumps of coal for Christmas, but when rich, spoiled Billy Wenan (Hurstfield) receives a lump of coal for having been a bad boy (remember:  Santa sees all), Wenan orders his family's personal hitman, Jonathan Miller (Goggins), to kill Santa Claus.

Such is the setup for a strange and often frustrating black comedy.  I can't say that I laughed all that often while watching the movie, but at the same time, the story was weirdly compelling, mainly for what it was hinting at rather than for what it was actually showing us.  Tone and character development were uneven, and the writers didn't know what to do about old Santa himself:  was he an immortal, metaphysical, near-omniscient being gifted with tremendous strength, or a mere mortal who could grow fat from eating too many of Mrs. Claus's cookies, and who could be wounded by regular bullets?  Was Santa a moral paragon, or did he whore himself out to the US government just to get some extra cash?  And if Santa had been morally compromised, what leg did he have to stand on when he gave that angry speech to nasty little Billy at the end of the movie?

So the main problem with "Fatman" is definitely the writing.  Ideas are put out there for us to chew on, and some are, frankly, brilliant.  The problem, though, is the execution:  none of these ideas is developed into anything satisfactory—except, perhaps, for Chris's relationship with his long-suffering but tough-minded wife Ruth.  We get a scene in which Chris is talking with his foreman, Seven, and we can tell that Seven is super-competent at his job.  We can also see that Seven and Chris have worked together for a long time, and they've reached a point where each can read the other's mind.  I would have liked to see that rapport—which felt like a true friendship—developed more fully.  It would also have been nice to flesh out the elves, who are presented to us as both traditionally magical and decidedly mundane.  (We never see them working on those high-tech guidance systems, but Captain Jacobs pronounces himself impressed with the elves' work.)  The movie has a hard time trying to figure out whether to portray the elves in a comical light or in a dead-serious fashion.  I was glad to see that Walton Goggins's assassin is given a personal motive for wanting to kill Santa, but when he and Cringle confront each other, Jonathan Miller's ugly past is only hinted at and glossed over, not presented with any detail.  That's a shame:  Goggins is a fine actor, and he could have used his skill to convey the pain, anger, and grief that gnaw at his character's heart.

On the brighter side, Mel Gibson makes for a likable, almost believable Santa—one who has become wearied and saddened and cynical over the centuries.  Marianne Jean-Baptiste feels absolutely natural in her role as Mrs. Cringle, who plays a decisive role in the final confrontation between her husband and Miller the Killer.  Walton Goggins does the best he can in a strange, strange role:  like those elves, his Jonathan Miller also waffles between comedic exaggeration and lugubrious gravitas.  Overall, whatever the script's many flaws, the actors are the best thing about the story.

But as I said earlier, too many good ideas go undeveloped, and ultimately, that proves to be the movie's downfall.  For a black comedy, "Fatman" isn't particularly funny, and it isn't even as grim as many black comedies can be.  There were many opportunities to go in a "Fargo"-esque direction, or to ratchet up the tension in Grand Guignol Tarantino-style.  In the end, the screenplay proves too confused and too timid, and the result is a mushy hodgepodge only partially redeemed by the actors' collective talent.  Ah, well.