Tuesday, November 30, 2021

what the hell?

Sunday afternoon. I'm in bed, having a slow-ass day, when a text message suddenly appears with a bright and cheery "Hi, Kevin!" (in Korean) from a student who hasn't written me since 2015. She goes on to send me a photo of an old Bodhidharma drawing (brush art) that I'd done for her way back when; she recently found the drawing, which prompted her to text me, I guess. She asks how I've been. I text back, "Fine. And you?" I'm groggy and not in the mood for small talk with half-remembered former students who suddenly pop up out of the blue. She says she's doing really well, whatever that means. I'm in my usual introvert mode, so I don't ask whether she got married and has kids now. Last I spoke with her, years ago, she had a boyfriend. Can't say I'm curious as to how that turned out. I tell my student I'm glad she's doing well. She says she wishes me all the best, so I wish her the same to be polite.

And that's it. No goodbye, nothing. She's gone. Poof. I probably won't hear from her for another five years. I remember she was kind of cute, but she also tended to use lower-register Korean with me, as if she were the same age as I am, and I always resented that on some level. She was no different during our text exchange this past Sunday; some of the old resentfulness resurfaced, but only a little. I honestly couldn't be bothered to care that much.

So weird. So random.

ADDENDUM: I found an old 2015 post with pics of my former student, Da-jeong, in it.

off to la migra

I'm off to Immigration this morning to get my F4 visa renewed. This happens once every three years. I hope I have all the requisite paperwork, and that the process is fairly painless. I think I have to drop my alien-registration card off and pick it up again in a day or two, but pick-up, if I recall correctly, is just a matter of zooming in and out. More soon.

ADDENDUM: and as Murphy's Law would have it, it's pissing down rain. Terrific. Hope that's not an omen for the rest of my day.

ADDENDUM 2: done at about noon. The whole thing was done directly by the clerk who saw me, so there's nothing for me to pick up. There was still a bit of bureaucratic bullshit, though: the clerk at the first window I went to, to get my numbered ticket, said I'd filled out the wrong form; there was a specific "F4 extension" form for people in my situation, so the generic form was unacceptable, although God knows why. The clerk gave me the correct F4-extension form, then also gave me a three-page income declaration to fill out. I saw that I'd have plenty of time to fill out both forms and get my W60,000 certification stamp, so I dutifully filled out the paperwork (which didn't take long), got my stamp at a separate window, then spent a long time just waiting for my number to be called. Number 433 was called a few minutes before the staff was to go on lunch break; I handed over my paperwork, and the lady asked me questions about my mother's citizenship status for some reason. I told her that none of this was a problem when I originally got the F4, and she agreed. A few minutes of her typing, photocopying, and card-scanning later, and I had my visa card back in hand with the updated validity date. So I'm good for another three years. Could've been worse, I guess. It's still raining out, but the rain's supposed to stop soon. Good. 

ass blaster!

How on earth did I stumble upon this channel? This is hilarious.

Monday, November 29, 2021

two senses of "ethical"

1. That is an ethical question best dealt with in a philosophy class.

2. He is the most ethical person I know.

In the first sentence, the term ethical means "about the topic of ethics." Ethical here refers to the type or category of question. In the second sentence, ethical means something closer to "right, moral, principled." Some philosophers contend there is a distinction between ethics and morals; others use the two terms interchangeably. I side with the latter school and find ethical/moral hairsplitting pedantic.

images from the PowerLine Week in Pictures

This was a pretty good crop of memes and images:

planned obsolescence

I've known about planned obsolescence for decades, but I had no idea how deep the problem actually went. Here's Brenda Carr on the topic:

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Engrishie pribilejee

a good read

"How We Un-canceled Jordan Peterson."

"Dune" (1984): review

[WARNING: some spoilers for a 37-year-old movie.]

After watching Denis Villeneuve's version of "Dune," I went back to the 1965 Frank Herbert novel upon which it was based and reread it, then I sat down and re-watched David Lynch's 1984 cinematic version of the story, which pales in comparison to Villeneuve's only half-realized version. From what I understand, Lynch is on record saying he had creative differences with the studio, which he felt placed unfair demands on him. Several versions of Lynch's "Dune" exist; Lynch has disowned most of them.

While I gave a quick summary of the basic story in my review of Villeneuve's "Dune," I'll offer a summary here for those who didn't read that review. The basic story takes place some ten thousand years in the future; the galaxy has been organized into an empire, with Shaddam IV at the helm. Interstellar travel is possible thanks in part to the spice, which comes exclusively from the planet Arrakis, also known as Dune. Of the many great Houses in the empire, House Harkonnen has managed spice production on Arrakis for decades, but the Harkonnens are now leaving, to be replaced by the Atreides family. Where Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is barbarous, Duke Leto Atreides is dignified and honorable, but Leto doesn't know that the Emperor and the Harkonnens have a secret arrangement that will bring down House Atreides and restore the Harkonnens to the management of Arrakis. Leto's son Paul is central to the story, which focuses on his journey of self-discovery and his eventual union with the fierce warrior-people of Arrakis, the Fremen. Paul's mother Jessica, concubine to Leto and not his wife, is a formidable member of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, which has been clandestinely guiding galactic history for centuries. Jessica's choice to bear a son, Paul, has thrown a monkey wrench in the Bene Gesserit plan, but Paul may turn out to be a messianic figure called by various names: Lisan al-Gaib and Kwisatz Haderach. Paul himself has visions of a potential destiny in which he leads a bloody jihad across the galaxy, and because the Bene Gesserit order long ago planted the seeds of prophecy and legend among the Fremen as part of their Missionaria Protectiva (a measure to help preserve the lives of any stranded Bene Gesserits), the Fremen view Paul as a mystical figure and leader. Paul himself cringes at this worship but sees no way to stop the coming jihad.

That's the background of Frank Herbert's universe. As with several other seminal works of science fiction, Herbert's novel Dune is said to have inspired movies like "Star Wars." 1984's "Dune" offers bits and pieces of the background I described above (and I left out many other details; it's a rich and complex world that Herbert created), often through loads of expository dialogue and, on top of that, voiceover narration giving us various characters' inner thoughts as well as Princess Irulan's insights (Irulan is daughter of Emperor Shaddam). A person who knows nothing of Herbert's novel might be forgiven for coming into Lynch's "Dune" cold and not understanding a damn thing.

"Dune" nevertheless has some positive qualities. Believe it or not, Lynch's movie actually contains faithful recreations of many story beats from the novel, including lines from the novel that have been reproduced word-for-word in the dialogue we hear. "Dune" also features some ambitious sets and costume designs, and the sandworms—which play a huge role in all versions of this story—aren't too bad-looking for 1984-era special effects. "Dune," despite its poor reputation, also contains plenty of iconic moments—images that the viewer will retain long after the movie has ended. One of the creepier images has Paul's little baby sister Alia standing victoriously on the field of battle, holding a knife and smiling while the wind whips around her in slow motion, making her look like a four-year-old Santa Muerte. The ensemble cast for the film is also fairly impressive. Kyle MacLachlan plays Paul Atreides; Jürgen Prochnow is Duke Leto Atreides; Francesca Annis is Lady Jessica; Kenneth McMillan is Baron Harkonnen; Patrick Stewart is Gurney Halleck; José Ferrer is Emperor Shaddam IV; Siân Phillips is the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam; Sean Young is Chani; Dean Stockwell is traitorous Doctor Wellington Yueh; Max von Sydow is Dr. Kynes, also known as Liet; Alicia Witt is Alia. It's a talented cast, and I've named only a fraction of the people involved.

But "Dune" fails for multiple reasons, and while there's a part of me that views the film as a guilty pleasure, that's primarily the thing I want to talk about in this review—all the aspects that didn't work, and there were many. 

We'll begin with costume design, which was generally good for most of the roles, but absurd when it came to the emperor's elite shock troops, the Sardaukar. Dressed in uniforms that resemble a fusion of a welder's getup and a bulky space suit, the Sardaukar are hard to take seriously. In the novel, the Sardaukar are feared because they are recruited from the harsh world of Salusa Secundus, the emperor's prison planet, and trained to be among the deadliest of fighting forces in the galaxy. For Lynch, the Sardaukar are little more than anonymous cannon fodder—people in cumbersome suits with vision-restricting rectangular visors who do little more than die at the hands of Paul Atreides's Fremen.

Another aspect of the film that fell flat was the musical soundtrack. The 80s band Toto is credited with much of the music; it would have been better to rely on John Williams or James Horner, two composers who excel at composing grandiose scores. (Horner died in 2015.) Instead, "Dune" ended up with electric guitars attempting to carry the film's profoundest moments. The non-Toto bits of the score were created by Brian Eno, who apparently styles himself a "non-musician." He wouldn't have been my first choice for the score.

While I praised the talent of the ensemble of actors, I have to note that many of the actors were directed to say their lines with over-the-top Shatnerian energy. Francesca Annis, as Lady Jessica, looks fantastic (I had a crush on her in the 80s and still think her Jessica looks damn sexy) but over-emotes, screaming and crying and gesturing dramatically at inappropriate moments. Annis's Jessica bears little resemblance to the internally strong, self-possessed Jessica we meet in Herbert's novel. Kenneth McMillan, as Baron Harkonnen, dials his performance way past 10, offering us a deranged antagonist who is also a sharp contrast with the wily, scheming baron depicted in the novel. Covered in boils that are lovingly drained by his perverse doctor, Baron Harkonnen checks all the boxes of the typically out-there Lynchian character. The same goes for Brad Dourif's Piter DeVries, the bizarre, twisted Mentat who serves the evil baron. (Mentats are super-logicians who take the place of computers because AI has been abolished in the Dune universe after an AI rebellion—the Butlerian Jihad—devastated humanity.) Dourif, often typecast as the oddball, invests the role with all sorts of tics and weird gestures. Sean Young, a strong feminist in real life, isn't given much to do as Chani, Paul Atreides's love interest. She gets one halfway badass moment when we first meet her, but after that, she's all solicitude and submissiveness. Most of these problems are not the fault of the actors, but of the director, who apparently felt he needed to wring maximum emotion out of every scene instead of following the cooler, more cerebral tone of the novel.

And while I praised the special effects for the sandworms a few paragraphs ago, I have to say that the rest of the special effects for the movie were embarrassingly bad. "Dune" came out in 1984, a year after "Return of the Jedi" showed us what was possible with special effects back in that era. "Dune" makes no effort to hide its obvious use of models and miniatures; the mismatched lighting of the blue-screen effects is obvious to 2021-era eyes; the poor quality of most of the effects sucks away the dignity of certain scenes that should have been ponderous or ominous. Lynch also introduces things not found in the original novel, such as the "weirding modules" and the way the Guild Navigators affect space to travel among the stars. If ever there were a movie in need of a George Lucas-style special-effects remake, David Lynch's "Dune" would be it. If someone were to go back and redo all the special effects using current technology, the movie's quality would improve radically.

And that's the thought that dogs me most when I think about this movie: if there were some way to redo major aspects of it—the overacting, the special effects, the music—the movie might almost be salvageable. But such a thing can never be, so the best we've got now is Denis Villeneuve's "Dune: Part I." We'd also need to change Lynch's ending, which is a radical departure from the novel. The novel ends soon after Paul kills the Harkonnen pretender Feyd-Rautha, with Paul now betrothed to Princess Irulan while keeping Chani as his beloved concubine. Jessica reassures Chani that the concubines of this new dynasty will be known by historians as wives, while Princess Irulan herself will receive nothing from Paul—not his love, not his respect, not his inner self. She will be technically married to Paul, but the marriage will be little more than a pact made for political convenience. In the movie, though, Paul kills Feyd and calls himself an instrument of God, then it rains on Arrakis. Remember, in the novel, Arrakis is a desert planet, and while the Fremen have labored long to create vast caches of water all over the globe via their wind traps, none of that water ever sees the sky. Arrakis has static-lightning, windstorms, and sandstorms, but no rain. The planetologist Liet-Kynes instilled in the Fremen people a vision of the future—of a planet lush with greenery, with water falling out of the sky. But this vision was always eschatological; it was never meant to be realized too quickly, and certainly not by magical or miraculous means. I haven't read the later Dune novels, but I don't think Paul's special gifts include the power to create rain ex nihilo. The movie shows this miracle as Paul assumes power, but the novel does nothing like this.

I still wonder how it was that Lynch, of all people, was given the job of trying to make a movie from what was long thought to be an unfilmable novel. Lynch is at his best as an arthouse director, creating and handling fucked-up characters who are put through weird, convoluted, twisted scenarios. In true Lynchian fashion, he seized the opportunity to people his "Dune" with bizarre denizens (he even managed to squeeze in two fetus scenes reminiscent of his work on "Eraserhead"—recall the foam-spewing alien baby), but his insistence on cranking the actors' intensity up to the maximum resulted in some unintentionally funny, corny moments, all of which drained away the majesty of the original story. To be fair, Herbert's novel is aggressively third-person omniscient: we, the readers, are privy to the private thoughts of most of the characters we meet, and Lynch opted to reflect that in his movie via overdramatically whispered voiceover. It was the wrong choice in a story that cried out for the rule of "Show, don't tell." Villeneuve's version cleaves more faithfully to that rule, keeping exposition to a minimum and making it integral to the plot when it has to be there.

David Lynch's "Dune" has some good points, but it's so embarrassingly cringe-y that it's hard to like wholeheartedly. Some call the Lynch version a cult classic, but that term sometimes merely means "so bad it's good," the way the term rustic is used jokingly by cooks when a dish comes out looking rough and sloppy. If you're new to the Duniverse, I'd suggest reading the novel before you try to watch Lynch's film, which is a disjointed flurry of unfamiliar names and terms and situations (when Paul insists to Chani that he must drink the Water of Life, the viewer is left to wonder why). But try to remain open to the good qualities of Lynch's effort—the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which he has attempted to be faithful to the novel (for example, the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam is described as having metal teeth, and this detail actually makes it into the movie). Overall, "Dune" is pretty awful, but for all that, it still possesses a few redeeming qualities.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

a very handy man

I watch vids like this and wonder what I've been doing with my life:

possessive apostrophes and names ending in "s"

The question came up recently over at Jeff Hodges's blog: Hodges' or Hodges's? I gave Jeff the following rule, which I had to look up myself long ago:

Add apostrophe-s to modern names ending in -s, and add just an apostrophe to ancient names ending in -s.

Examples of modern names might be:

Jeff Hodges's blog
the Williams's cat
Gus's problem

For ancient names:

Moses' precepts
Jesus' disciples
Xerxes' armies

Neat, clear, sensible. I told Jeff that I thought CMOS (The Chicago Manual of Style) would back me up on this, but that I'd have to check. It took a while, but I finally did check, and CMOS backs me up only partially. Here's what it says (in part):

7.19Possessive of names like “Euripides”

Classical proper names of two or more syllables that end in an eez sound form the possessive in the usual way (though when these forms are spoken, the additional s is generally not pronounced).

Euripides’s tragedies
the Ganges’s source
Xerxes’s armies

Note the above is useless for determining what to do with an ancient name like Tacitus. Anyway, for modern names, CMOS agrees with what I said. But regarding ancient names, this is not what I told Jeff. This got me wondering whether I had hallucinated the rule, so I did a wee bit of digging to see whether I had simply pulled the rule out of my ass. Fortunately, I discovered that the rule I'd cited can be found all over the place, so I'm not crazy. Look up "possessives with ancient names" on Google, and you get these results. Note how many agree, just in the top ten search results, that you use an apostrophe only, not apostrophe-s.

So I was wrong to think CMOS would back me up on this, but the rule does exist and is cited on many sites online. So which style guide are you a partisan of? Because that's what this may come down to: the style guide you trust the most.

Over at Jeff's blog, commenter Carter Kaplan weighed in, flippantly noting, "I haven't looked it up, but in English we do what we want to do." Painfully, I have to admit there's some truth to this, and the result is almost inevitably sloppy, stupid-looking English. When a body has no skeleton, it is mush. Structure matters, like it or not, and while I grant the structure of any given language is always changing over time, just as creatures evolve over time, there is nevertheless something that perdures, giving the language shape and coherence. So you can't just do whatever you want to do, linguistically speaking. Kaplan also seems to lean toward Hodges' as the correct possessive, based on his notion of euphony, but CMOS begs to differ here, too (as do I), suggesting that adding apostrophe-s covers most cases: hence Hodges's. Meanwhile, if a name—usually French—ends in a silent "s," then you're still supposed to add apostrophe-s, but you pronounce only one of the two final "s"es. Example: Descartes's philosophy. Pronounce the possessive \deɪˈkarts\.

So: I stand by the rule I cited, but I was wrong to think CMOS would support me.

out for a stroll, then off to the office

I'm going out for my long walk a bit earlier than usual today so I can hop over to the office and work on some stuff for our new project. More soon.

this is pretty nifty

Taking Rube Goldberg to new heights:

Friday, November 26, 2021

"Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings"
and "Venom": two-fer review

"Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," a 2021 action film directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, tells the story of "Shaun" Shang Chi (Simu Liu), a man who's been trying to escape from his past. He currently works as a valet, but in his youth, he was trained by his father Wenwu (Tony Leung) to be a top assassin. Wenwu possesses the mystical Ten Rings, which grant him enormous powers, and he has been on a quest to enter the magical village of Ta Lo, where he is convinced he can reunite with his dead wife (Fala Chen), a former guardian of Ta Lo and mother of Shang Chi and his sister Xialing (Meng'er Zhang). What Wenwu doesn't know is that the voice he hears calling him from the beyond isn't that of his wife, but rather that of the Dweller in the Darkness, a trapped soul-eater looking to be released into our universe to wreak havoc. Shang Chi's friend Katy (Awkwafina) comes along for the ride as Shang Chi is forced to confront his past, his family, and a great cosmic danger.

Overall, "Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" wasn't horrible, but it also didn't cohere well as a story, and it was actually hard to figure out what the film's central conflict was. Was it Shang Chi versus his past? Shang Chi versus his father? Shang Chi versus the Dweller in the Darkness? Was the film's emphasis supposed to be on how Shang Chi was trying to find his own identity? Was it a parody of or commentary on Asian parenting, with the heavy expectations that Asian parents often foist onto their children? Hard to say. While often visually pretty, "Shang Chi" engaged in far too many CGI fight scenes for my taste while leaving undeveloped any number of potentially rich storylines. And some plot points were ridiculously implausible, such as the idea that Shang Chi's little sister, barred by sexism from being trained alongside Shang Chi, could secretly train herself to be as good as, if not better than, her brother. The movie often felt like a college try at world-building without anything coalescing into a coherent world. In the end, the film was substance-free and not too compelling, but it worked on the turn-your-brain-off level of much Marvel entertainment.

2021's "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" has the distinction of being directed by Andy Serkis, who knows a thing or two about motion-capture characters. The story continues to explore the relationship between reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and his alien symbiote Venom (also Hardy, but with an altered voice), who needs to survive on a particular chemical found in chocolate, but in even greater quantities inside human brains. Venom manifests in several ways, often taking Brock over and making him do things he couldn't otherwise do: he can appear as a muscular humanoid around Eddie, almost like a suit of armor, or he can appear as one or more flexible tentacles, or even as a head attached to a long, rippling neck so he can converse with Eddie directly. Eddie becomes the focus of serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), who manages to bite Eddie at one point, allowing him to absorb a bit of Venom into him. This bit of alien tissue becomes Carnage, who has no compunctions about eating human brains (Venom has agreed to eat only the brains of bad people; Carnage follows no such rules). Carnage helps Cletus escape Death Row and go in search of Cletus's old girlfriend, a mutant nicknamed Shriek (Naomie Harris), whose ear-splitting screams can cause physical injury. Unfortunately, these alien symbiotes have two weaknesses: fire and loud noises, and this means that, while Carnage is happy to help Cletus find Shriek, the alien can't stand it when Shriek uses her power.

I didn't feel that the plot of "Let There Be Carnage" was really leading up to much of anything; nothing about the network of conflicts felt inevitable, necessary, or even urgent. Cletus Kasady sees himself as a serial killer who is unjustly misunderstood, and later, he tells Eddie he simply wants Eddie as a friend. Eddie is still trying to move on from his relationship with Anne (Michelle Williams), and he's having trouble in his weird relationship with Venom. The movie felt disjointed and directionless at times, which may be more of a problem with the scriptwriting than with the direction. I still have trouble understanding the rules by which the alien symbiotes operate. In 2007's "Spider-Man 3," directed by Sam Raimi, it was established that the symbiote was specifically affected by resonant noises. In "Let There Be Carnage," however, the symbiotes are hurt by loud, sharp noises of any kind, which is why Carnage can't stand it when Shriek uses her power to get the bad guys out of a jam. If the aliens can't tolerate noise, why does Venom appear in a loud nightclub, and how is it that Carnage can let out a deafening roar without damaging himself? Also: why do Eddie and police detective Patrick Mulligan (Stephen Graham) both speak with New York-ish accents despite being West Coasters (the actors in both roles are English, by the way)? None of this makes any sense, and when a film fails in its basic logic, it'll also fail to pull the viewer in. That said, I found some of the dialogue uproariously funny, and Venom's line right before Cletus Kasady meets his fate was golden. Overall, "Venom: Let There be Carnage" was sporadically entertaining, but with a good bit of script-doctoring, it could have been much better. 

no measurements this weekend: why bother?

I'm not a bulimic who binges and purges; I just binge and then fast. And I'll be doing a lot of fasting after yesterday's orgy of food. This weekend, though, I won't be doing my usual gathering of data because, frankly, I already know the numbers are going to be bad. I doubtless gained a couple kilos yesterday; my blood sugar is almost certainly through the roof, and I didn't have a chance, yet, to do my stair work properly (I did 0.5 staircases this past Tuesday, and this is the week I'm supposed to graduate to 2.5 staircases), so my BP, which is already high, probably went even higher. 

Now, we're in the penance phase, and I have exactly three weeks, including today, to get my numbers back down to something sane. Not much I can do about my A1c in three weeks: that's a three-month average, but I'll trust that, over the past three months, I didn't fall too far off the wagon. I have a specific plan for the next three weeks, but for you, I'll say vaguely that it's going to involve carnivore plus fasting. No more cheats until after my doctor's appointment on December 16. Expect numbers again starting next week.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving! (pass in review)

Some pics of today's meal!

Overall, it turned out great. One minor complaint would be the ham, which started off moist and fatty, but which dried out, despite the glaze, after all the pan-frying. Next time, I'll just give the ham a quick sear, as I did with the turkey. The turkey turned out fine; it stayed moist. Cream corn and sweet-potato pie were great-tasting and the perfect texture; the gravy provided the right accent (although my boss complained about it being white and not brown). The stuffing was amazing, and the two desserts—apple pie and apple crumble—turned out perfectly. No burned bottoms, and nothing undercooked. I wish I could take credit for that; the results were more of a happy accident than anything planned. I apparently still have a lot to learn about my oven.

Alas, it was just me and my boss eating today; my American coworker was showing signs of being sick yesterday, and he took off work today thanks to a full-blown fever. I don't think it's COVID, though: the guy was sneezing and had a runny nose yesterday, and those aren't COVID symptoms. I think it's just a good old cold because the weather's transitioning into winter. I'm surprised I haven't caught a cold myself yet. Upshot: the boss joked there was "more for us" to eat today, and there are plenty of leftovers for when my coworker comes back tomorrow or Monday. My Korean coworker, our designer-in-residence, is also absent: his daughter got COVID, and the whole family is in isolation; our designer won't be back until December 6 at the earliest. In the meantime, some photos:

Sweet-potato casserole and cream corn:

Stuffing, mashed potatoes, peas & carrots, turkey, and cranberry sauce on the margin:

Another look at the ham, which I'll treat with more respect next time:

The gravy, heated up:

First pic of my plate:

Second pic of my plate:

Third pic of my plate, with the meat in the foreground. Ironically, I didn't put any gravy atop my turkey, which was the whole point of making the gravy. When I eat some leftovers this evening, I'll remember to do that:

The old "one piece missing" shot of the pie. You can see, I think, that the bottom crust came out okay despite my fears:

The crumble was awesome as well:

Dessert on my plate:

And à la mode:

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers. I now have three weeks before my doctor's appointment—three weeks to get my numbers back in shape. This may require some extreme measures after today's indulgences, but I think it's doable. Today, though, I'm letting myself go with no regrets. Enjoy your own regret-free holiday, wherever you are. American Thanksgiving isn't celebrated in Korea, obviously, but as they say about Christmas, you can keep it in your heart. I think my meal brought a bit of the Thanksgiving spirit to our tiny office, even if it was just me and my boss keeping the flame alive. 

My boss is a collector of Korean art and antiquities, and he can wax rhapsodic about this or that Joseon-era tchotchke, but when it comes to food, he loses his articulateness and merely grunts "It's good" at the end of a meal. But he cleaned his plate, then he had himself a slice of pie with ice cream, so despite his complaint about the gravy, I think he enjoyed himself just fine. You have fun, too. Eat hearty!

Thanksgiving luncheon: the final elements

All prepped, I think.

Tonight, I cooked up my peas and carrots; I pan-fried some remarkable* ham steaks, seared up some thick slices of turkey breast, bought some ice cream for the pie and cobbler, and tried a bit of turkey with my gravy to see whether I needed to tweak anything in the gravy. Verdict: the gravy doesn't need any more bouillon: I simply have to be conservative when adding milk to thin the sauce out. Otherwise, the gravy does what it's supposed to: it elevates the bland turkey-breast meat by adding creaminess plus the texture of bacon bits and mushrooms. All in all, I'm pleased with how tonight's prep went, especially compared with last year's prep, which was a bit creatively bankrupt. Some pics from tonight follow.

Peas and carrots, heavily buttered, with salt and pepper:

These ham steaks, below, started off steak-like, but they were shot through with fat, so I ended up cutting the meat along the "seams" of fat to produce unevenly sized chunks of ham (I had originally wanted to cut the steaks into even quarters, but I quickly realized this was unrealistic given how the fat was distributed throughout the meat). 

The ham now sits soaking in my tasty glaze:

I seared up the turkey breast in a mix of butter, olive oil, salt, and pepper. The meat was already fully cooked, so this was only about instigating a little Maillard reaction to add a bit of flavor; overcooking already-cooked meat can dry it out, so I ended up doing 90 seconds on one side of each "turkey steak," and 45 seconds on the other side—enough for a kind-of sear:

With that, I think we're ready for tomorrow. I've hung a final checklist on my front door to make sure I don't forget anything on my way out. Expect photos from the feast itself!


*I bought the ham steaks at the local John Cook Deli Meats outlet. They were thinner than the Costco ham steaks I used to worship, and that was, initially, disappointing. These ham steaks were also quite expensive at W15,000 per large, steak-like slice, so that hurt, too. What I belatedly noticed, though, was how French the cut of ham was for each steak: in the States, we generally like our ham to be juicy but to have a minimum of fat. American ham also tends to be roughly the same pinkish hue all the way through; just look at a spiral-cut, honey-glazed ham to see what I mean. These John Cook ham steaks, which were even labeled French-style as jambon (French for ham), were definitely French cuts of pig; they brought back European memories as I looked at them. With this cut (and I wish I'd taken a picture before I pan-fried the bastards), the meat had some pink in it, but in moving outward toward the fat cap (another difference between this cut and many prepped American hams is the presence of a significant fat cap with the French cut), the meat became ghostly white to the point where it was hard to tell where the meat ended and the fat began. And the French cut, being so fatty, fried up like bacon—at which point it started to look more like an American ham. No matter: the smell was delicious, and my glaze made the whole thing even better. I think the troops will enjoy the ham, maybe more than they'll enjoy the turkey.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

what's left to do

For my Thanksgiving luncheon prep, there's just a little more left to do. Tonight, I'll chop up the carrots and boil them until soft, then add the frozen peas and finish everything off. Drain, add salt, pepper, and butter—voilà. Peas and carrots. Containerize. For the proteins: the turkey I bought is already fully cooked; it merely needs to be cut to size and gently reheated, which I'll do in a mixture of butter, salt, and pepper. Box that up, too. The gravy needs some milk added to it, but I'll do that on Thursday, right before we eat. The ham steaks are a bit fatty; I plan to fry the steaks up first without adding anything, then I'll drown all the steaks at once in my lovely glaze and containerize everything.

I've got so much food that I've been bringing it to the office in batches. Today, I brought along my stuffing (two containers), the apple pie, and the apple crumble. This was a lighter load than yesterday's, which included mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet-potato casserole, and cream corn. With only one good arm to hold stuff, I lopsidedly lugged my Costco-sized bag of goodies to the office yesterday and stuck everything in the office fridge. Did that today as well; the fridge is now looking well stocked. Tomorrow, I'll bring in the gravy, the proteins, and the veggies. It's going to be epic, as it is every year I do this.

I guess the easiest way to serve the food, tomorrow, will be to present it cold and to let everyone use the lone microwave to heat their individual plates—except for the cranberry sauce, which they'll have to come back for, unless they want a red, bloody ocean of sauce to surround islands of other food. Reheating all the food in advance, with only one microwave to do so, would be too much of a chore. Individual plating and heating is the better option. I do have a gas range and bokkeum pan, which I'll use for reheating and thinning out the gravy, but that's all it'll be used for. Tomorrow, I don't want there to be much to do when it's time for lunch. Just serve, eat, and enjoy.*

High hopes that tomorrow's meal will be a hit. I'm morbidly curious as to how dessert turned out (oh, and maybe I should buy some vanilla ice cream to go with the pie and crumble), but it's too late to worry now: we're committed.


*There are persistent rumors that we'll be moving to a new, possibly bigger office, maybe across the way in the Songpa district, close to where my relatives live. If so, I'd say we need our own fridge, microwave, and oven (at least a toaster oven). And I might start moving certain aspects of my kitchen back into the office, depending on how big the new space is. But will the new space have a kitchenette somewhere so I can wash dishes without having to do so in the men's room? We had to suffer that indignity when we were in the Cheongshil Building.

PJW on the stats: vaxxed vs. unvaxxed

It's a short video—even shorter if you watch at 1.75X speed:

Money quote from the video: "The unvaccinated now represent a tyrannized minority that face institutionalized oppression. And it's all founded on claims that are simply not true, having been disproved by the official data."

zee apple pie's brozair

And here's the apple pie's brother: the apple crumble. I'm terrified that the bottom crust has burned, and there's no way to know until we all try the dessert together on Thursday. But the top looks passably good:

Food-porn angle:

A lot of the "ruined" pie dough was raw after its initial par-bake (during which it collapsed, which is why I say it was ruined*). But I had made such an awesome dough that I didn't want to waste it, hence the shift to Plan B with the apple crumble. I have to say that nothing smells burned, so maybe that's a good sign. Expect photos on Thanksgiving Day.

I think I know what I want for Christmas: transparent glass bakeware. I'm sick of guessing.


*To be clear, I once again tried blind baking for no good reason. I'm still kicking myself for being so stupid, but I think I may have salvaged this crust and made something beautiful.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

eppel peh

Could have been worse, I guess:

Food-porn angle:

I had made a nice circumference of neat little crimps all around the edge of the pie, but the crust was too puffy, I guess, so it inflated, and the crimps lost almost all definition (they're still barely visible). I also suspect the pie actually needs to bake a few minutes longer, but I need to let it cool down before I can verify that.

Apple crumble is now baking. It's how I'm salvaging the "ruined" pie crust and the extra pie filling. I'm also using up the last of some rolled oats. Results pending. Stay tuned. 

apple pie: disaster and potential recovery

Pie-making isn't without its setbacks. I suffered a pie-shell-related disaster, but since it didn't affect the pie filling, it wasn't a complete fiasco. I used my remaining pie dough to make a (very pretty, in my opinion) new pie shell; it was smaller than the original pie shell, but that was fine. I scooped as much pie filling into it as I could (a bit more than half), closed the pie with the dough covering, cut vents, egg-washed the pie surface, sprinkled turbinado sugar over the whole thing, and now, my baby is baking away. (Maybe I should rephrase that less morbidly.) The remaining pie filling will be made into an apple cobbler, so I'm working on that now. Waste not, want not, right? Photos to follow soon, assuming all goes well, and things don't scorch too much. I remember that line from Juzo Itami's "Tampopo," where one Japanese guy says, about French cooking, that it's "a constant battle with burns." He could have said that about much Western cooking in general: there's always a fear that something, somewhere, is going to end up overcooked. More soon.

ADDENDUM: I still have the wrecked pie shell, which tastes delicious but is semi-raw. I'm going to bake it a bit further, then serve it on the side as a sort of 못나니 (ugly, misbegotten) dessert. Should I make some sort of dipping sauce?

Shawn Baker on carnivore

Dr. Shawn Baker is a popular speaker who is a staunch advocate of the carnivore diet. In the video below, he gives a presentation where he begins to lay out a case for the carnivorous lifestyle. I'd heard of Dr. Baker from several sources; this was my first time watching him: 

Andrew Cuomo, scumbag

I don't normally like reading the Victory Girls blog, which is written in overly breathless prose, but I'll make an exception for this article about Andrew Cuomo, ex-governor of New York, who resigned his office after multiple sexual-harassment charges were made against him. A lot of people on the right marveled that he hadn't been done in by all the nursing-home deaths he'd caused through his, frankly, evil policies of shunting COVID victims into elder-care facilities, causing the deaths of thousands of the elderly and infirm, but no—it was #MeToo that ultimately brought Cuomo down.

However, the blog post notes that the New York state assembly has just released its investigative report on Cuomo, and the report includes mention of nursing-home deaths, as well as the fact that Cuomo's self-congratulatory memoir about his stellar leadership during the pandemic had been ghost-written by staffers who did not volunteer to do such work, and who did it during normal work hours—a gross ethics violation on several levels.

By my lights, Andrew Cuomo is a mass-murderer who also happens to be a sexual predator. He deserves a long, slow, painful death, but it's doubtful that he'll get one. The big fish always manages to wriggle free, for such is the nature of justice in today's America.

all the Korean I never learned

Found this page on nasty Korean slang. Very useful. Wikipedia also has a page devoted to Korean profanity: see here. I should study this. Not that it'll help much with understanding more practical Korean, but Korean slang is something I never really learned, maybe because I initially started learning a little Korean from Mom, who wasn't inclined to use swear words (except maybe for "fart," if that even qualifies as swearing).


In my earlier post, I think I forgot to mention apples as one of the ingredients of this stuffing. Silly me. I also didn't mention that I decided to go the custard route this time, which is something I normally don't do. But given how one of my batches turned out (the other batch was still baking when I took a nibble from the first batch), I might just be a convert. Everyone's custard is just a little different; some mix eggs and chicken stock, but in my case, it was a savory mix of eggs, heavy cream, milk, and a bit of chicken bouillon. I eyeballed how much custard to make and add to the stuffing, and I think the proportion ended up more or less correct. Victory! Seven eggs well used. And it's a lot of stuffing, which I'll have to give away since I can't eat it after my cheat day.

What follows are a few photos from tonight's stuffing-making. Enjoy the tour.

We start with an irrelevancy, as far as stuffing goes: a photo of the orange-fleshed goguma I talked about before. From now on, I'll be on the lookout for this species:

Some elements of the stuffing piled together:

Raw shrooms and celery ready to be fried up and tossed into the mix:

Some ugly-looking chestnuts, boiled for ten minutes to soften them. They eventually got crushed with a potato masher and dusted over the stuffing for added texture:

Stuffing, raw, with custard added:

The first batch, out of the oven:

The first batch was in a deeper dish, so it came out perfectly: it's crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, like a good bread pudding (adding custard to the stuffing moves it closer along the spectrum to stand with full-on bread puddings). I enjoy textural contrasts. Alas, the crispy bread won't be crispy on Thursday, which is too bad (and we have no oven on site to reheat the stuffing properly—just a microwave), but I think the troops will enjoy the stuffing all the same. The second batch was in a smaller tray and was spread out more thinly; that's the tray from which I ate a sample of stuffing tonight. A wee bit dry, but dump some gravy on it, and it's just fine. I won't be taking this second batch to the office, though, so dryness won't be an issue for the office luncheon.

Anyway, right when the stuffing came out of the oven, I plucked a crouton and bit into it, enjoying the simultaneous crispiness of the crouton's outer layer and the butter that oozed out of it as my teeth closed down on the crunchy bread. Heavenly. Stuffing is arguably the star of the show at Thanksgiving—at least for me. I'm glad this came out as well as it did. I'll be taking the stuffing to work in the morning; it'll sit in the office fridge until Thursday, then probably get microwaved as the luncheon begins. As I said, that likely means the crispy bits won't be crispy, but I think the taste will make up for it. We'll see.

Monday, November 22, 2021

things that kill 300,000 people a year

So the news is that the coronavirus has killed more Americans this year than last year, despite a massive vaccination campaign. Both last year and this year to date, over 300,000 people have died due to the virus. How serious is that number? Are there other things that kill 300,000 people a year that we, as a nation, don't fret about? This made me curious, so I focused on the question: what else kills 300,000-ish people (Americans or not) per year? A simple Google search turns up these results (keep in mind these are claims found after a quick Google search for "kills 300,000 people a year," not scientifically rigorous data):

1. SARS-CoV-2 (USA)

2. obesity (USA)

3. air pollution (Europe, not America)

4. sudden cardiac death (USA)

5. cancer (USA?)

6. schistosomiasis (blood-fluke disease—worldwide, not just America)

7. tuberculosis (in India)

8. effects of climate change (worldwide, supposedly)

So the coronavirus is apparently in good company. Should I be paralyzed with worry about these other problems the way some people are paralyzed with fear about COVID?

From this article:

Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins’ case-to-fatality ratio for the U.S. suggests COVID-19, the illness caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, has an approximately 99 percent survival rate. Meanwhile, it’s likely that the number of COVID-19 cases reported to the CDC—which now stands at 47 million in the United States—is likely undercounted as not everyone has engaged in routine COVID-19 testing.

Yes, I'd be more focused on case-to-fatality if I were in charge of policy. 99% survival means the disease is a goddamn joke for most of us. Even those of us in the danger demographics, like old and fat Donald Trump, get COVID and are fine a week or so later. Riddle me that.

tonight, my love, we stuff

If you had a chance to read my previous cooking-related post, then you know tonight is Stuffing Night. Call it "dressing" if you want, but as I've contended in the past, it's "toothpaste" whether it's inside or outside the tube, so by that logic, it's "stuffing" whether it's inside or outside the bird (because, after all, you could still stuff the bird, post hoc, with your "dressing," right?), and since one of my favorite YouTube chefs recently made "dressing" but called it "stuffing," I feel safe sticking with "stuffing" as the go-to term. I've never consciously called it "dressing"; I grew up hearing only "stuffing." Does this make me a bad language Nazi for not cleaving to a pedantic distinction? Maybe. Think what you will.

My stuffing tends to vary, especially when it comes to the bread I use. Some years, I use corn bread. This year, I'm back to good old white bread. While I love the baguette-like, gossamer texture of Korean milk bread (yes, also made in Japan and China; you all can fight over who did milk bread first, but I think Japan wins), it's too soft for crouton-making. My grocery doesn't sell anything like Wonder Bread, but they do sell their own version of generic white bread, albeit in half-loaves because everything has to be smaller in Korea. So this year, white bread is my base. I made croutons and sage-y, maple-y breakfast sausage last night; tonight, I sauté some diced mushrooms and celery, cook down some diced apples (no cinnamon and sugar this year; last year, that seemed overpowering), boil and crumble a mess of chestnuts, add raisins, then herb the whole thing up with sage, rosemary, and thyme (parsley made it into the song, but it rarely makes it into stuffing). Expect pictures tonight.

Tomorrow: eppel peh, as Cartman would say. Apple pie.

ADDENDUM: Adam Ragusea on stuffing versus dressing. I think, overall, he sides with me.

results from a day of cooking

I probably ought to attend a cooking school and really learn how to cook because, let's face it, I'm one slow motherfucker when I'm in the kitchen, especially when I have a project involving several dishes. Sunday, I managed to do everything on the agenda plus a little extra: I made a beautiful gravy for the turkey; I created a maple-mustard-brown-sugar sauce for the ham steak; I made both mashed potatoes and sweet-potato casserole (all the grocery store had was large marshmallows); I cooked up some awesome cream corn (not my recipe); and in terms of extra stuff, I made and cooked up some sage-y breakfast sausage as well as the croutons that will be part of the stuffing I'll be completing Monday night. I started cooking in the early afternoon and went all day. Below are the fruits of my labor. 

The ham glaze, which is made of maple syrup, mustard, cloves, brown sugar, and apple juice:

The turkey gravy, which contains both chicken bouillon and bacon grease as part of the roux, as well as mushrooms and bits of bacon for texture. Here it is containerized:

I stirred the gravy up to reveal some of the texture (will thin it out with milk when I serve it):

My boss gifted me with a potato ricer a while back, and this was my first-ever chance to use it. The taters came out awesome. I added salt, pepper, butter, heavy cream, cream cheese, onion powder, and garlic powder. Nothing fancy or special, but the taters taste damn good:

Riced taters:

And here's the sweet-potato casserole, with marshmallows. Too bad I couldn't get the mini marshmallows, but I worked with what I had:

Interesting note: I didn't know, until I bought this batch of Korean goguma (sweet potatoes), that Korea grew goguma with orange flesh. All I'd ever seen, before, was the gray-fleshed goguma, which tastes like sweet potato but looks cadaverous, so in times past, when I'd make a sweet-potato casserole, I'd add carrot to change the color to orange (carrot doesn't affect the taste very much). I bought carrots this time as well, thinking I'd be dealing with the usual gray-fleshed sweet potato, but the moment I started peeling off that skin, I realized my mistake. So from now on, now that I know what to look for, I'll buy this variety of goguma whenever I want to make sweet-potato casserole.

Below: only lightly browned in the oven because I was afraid of burning everything to a crisp. The cracked and crumbled bits occurred when the marshmallows puffed up and boiled over, and after everything had cooled and hardened a bit, I had to use a knife to separate the two glass baking dishes:

Lovely cream corn. It's got a milk-based Bechamel plus heavy cream. The recipe also calls for grated Parmigiano, but I opted for Comté, the French cousin of Gruyère. Behold:

And before I forget, a shot of the completed mashed potatoes:

Below is a berry sauce that's mostly cranberry, but it also includes strawberries and blueberries, which have been sitting in my freezer, looking to be used. There's brown sugar, turbinado, and muscovado sugar in the mix, as well as cinnamon and lemon juice. Behold:

The sausage for the stuffing, homemade. Very sage-y, with some maple syrup to give it that sweet, breakfast-sausage edge:


Croutons, early stage (cubed bread):

Oiled, buttered, herbed, and seasoned:

Final result (half of the whole batch):

So that's Stage One done. I need to make the rest of the stuffing Monday night, an apple pie Tuesday night, and the rest of everything Wednesday night and Thursday morning. More pics on the way. Stay tuned.