Wednesday, May 12, 2021

hiccups

Why, Lord?

For most of yesterday and some of this morning, I've been afflicted with hiccups.  What made the past 36 hours any different from any other time?  Dunno, but I had to work while hiccuping yesterday.  My American coworker started laughing at one point, and while I didn't like being laughed at, I could understand why someone might find the situation funny.  I left work early and went home, where I had several more hiccup attacks.  Right now, everything's fine, but life offers no guarantees.  We'll see whether this is just a passing phase or my new normal.  If I can get through today without hiccuping, that'll be nice.  I did notice that some attacks seemed to be associated with eating and drinking, so maybe I've finally found a diet that works. 



Tuesday, May 11, 2021

yikes

Couldn't sleep last night.  Probably gonna leave work early, go home, and get some shut-eye.  Can't say I care about my hits until the end of the month:  I need to average 300/day to hit 20,000 for this month, and I got 666 hits yesterday (Satan is with me).  If I get only 200 hits today, it's all good.  All I want, right now, is sleep.  See you all tomorrow.



you think I'm harsh?

Seen over at Michael Gilleland's blog:

Competent writers always examine what they have put down. Better than competent writers—good writers—examine their effects before they put them down: they think that way all the time. Bad writers never examine anything. Their inattentiveness to the detail of their prose is part and parcel of their inattentiveness to the detail of the outside world. 


—Clive James (1939-2019), "Georg Christoph Lichtenberg," Cultural Amnesia (2007; rpt. London: Picador, 2012), pp. 379-405.

There's truth to the above, and it's one way for me to know whether I'm looking at good writing.  Does it show mastery of (i.e., attentiveness to) language?  Or is there a "can't be bothered" aspect to what I'm reading?  Some think it's a mistake to assess someone's mind through their writing; this is the same crowd that thinks an attempt to correct mistakes is "missing the point."  There may be some truth to that point of view (Dr. V makes typos all the time, but would I ever question his intelligence?), but I normally see that perspective as the last refuge of the mentally lazy.  If you care, you'll learn the rules and minimize errors.  You'll try to engage in the art of writing.  If you care about anything, you'll make time for it and master it.  If you don't, then you won't.  Simple.



Styx on progressive sellouts





your dose of humor

The Blobs sing the Halo theme:

"The Three Little Pigs Learn About Gun Control":





news from the world of science

Using mushrooms to make everything from fake bacon to packing material:

Using kites to generate power:

Like most sane people, I'm not actually against green solutions.  Just show me how they can be economically viable, and I'm in.  I'm very easy to please.  If, however, your model is a money pit, then forget it.  I don't care how nifty it looks:  it's only going to increase human misery, not alleviate it.  Look at high-speed rail:





could Gina Carano be coming back to the Mandalorian?

Disney has an opportunity to show some spine, for once, instead of being what it normally is:  the money-hungry corporate monster that kowtows to the woke crowd:

These still feel more like rumors than reality, but there's reason to hope.  Would Carano's return be reason enough for me to watch Season 3 of "The Mandalorian"?  For now, I'd say it's a definite maybe, but Disney has proven to be far worse than previously believed.  The problem extends well beyond Gina Carano.



could DC become the 51st state?





Monday, May 10, 2021

back to normal

Today, it's been several hours, and I haven't picked up even 200 visitors.  

We're back to normal.


 

this almost made me cry right here in the office

Courtesy of Dr. V comes this link to a heart-wrenching letter written by a woman, Vilma Grünwald, in a concentration camp during the Holocaust.  The letter is to her husband Kurt, from whom she has been separated.  The couple have two sons; Vilma is with the couple's eldest son John; Kurt is elsewhere with younger son Misa (later called Frank).  John has been directed to the gas chambers for execution because he walks with a limp.  Vilma, unable to part from her son, elects to join him, but she first writes a letter to her husband to say one final goodbye.  The letter she writes is... well, it's very hard to read.  Click the above link and get the whole story.



"Minari": review


[WARNING:  Spoilers.]

Released in January 2020 at the Sundance Festival, then released to the general public earlier this year, "Minari" is a film directed by Lee Isaac Chung and is, to some extent, a reflection of Chung's own life.  It stars Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung (who won an Oscar for her role), Will Patton, Scott Haze, and Jacob Wade.  It is the story of an immigrant Korean family who have moved from California to Arkansas in search of a better life through farming.  

The film's plot, such as it is, can be summarized in a paragraph:  Jacob Yi (Yeun), a chicken-sexer by trade, has dreams of becoming a vegetable farmer who caters to fellow Korean immigrants by growing and selling Korean vegetables that will benefit from the rich Arkansan soil.  Jacob's wife Monica (Han) has no faith that this effort will pan out, and she views the proceedings with tight-lipped disapproval.  Partially to relieve her own stress and to make sure her children are watched over, Monica has her mother Soon-ja (Youn) come to the States from Korea.  Monica's son David (Kim) takes an immediate dislike to Soon-ja, who "smells like Korea," swears, and is unable to do any of the things that David—who is thoroughly Americanized—thinks a proper grandmother should do, like bake cookies for the kids.  David's big sister Anne does what she can to look after David, who has a heart condition that prevents him from exerting himself too much.  A friendly, eccentric American neighbor who is also a charismatic Christian, Paul (Patton), helps Jacob with the farm, and the rest of the film deals with how the family members interact with each other, whether the farm can succeed, and how everyone handles sudden crises.

As stories go, this is a slow, plodding, deliberate one, but the deliberateness works.  The lush cinematography effectively evokes 1980s-era rural Arkansas—the big sky, the farmland, the moist furrows in the ground, the nearby trees and streams.  Oklahoma apparently doubled for Arkansas (filming was in the Tulsa area), but for the purposes of this story, it makes for a decent double—at least to us non-Arkansans with little knowledge of that part of the country.

The film also gently and humorously approaches the issue of how Korean newbies deal with their white neighbors.  Paul is a hard worker, but he's also liable to break into loud prayer, speak in tongues (a sure sign of charismatic Christianity), and make pronouncements based on no evidence but his own idiosyncratic faith.  Jacob sometimes isn't sure how to deal with Paul, but they make for a companionable duo.  Later in the film, when the Korean family decides to attend a service at a non-Korean church, Soon-ja crassly observes that almost all the adults are fat.  A white kid (Wade) comes up to David and asks, with the rudeness of children everywhere, "Why is your face so flat?"  David can only lamely respond, "It's not."

I think director Chung has tried his best to avoid overt caricature in his portrayal of the local white folks.  Paul the charismatic might have his quirks, but he is shown to be a hard worker who takes a sincere liking to the Yi family.  There's a moment in the film in which the church bus passes Paul on a long road.  The kids in the bus sneer at Paul, who is carrying/dragging a huge wooden cross, Simon of Cyrene-style, as an expression of his faith.  "I heard he shits in a bucket," one kid jeers.  Paul, unaware of the kids' scorn, simply smiles and waves as the church bus passes.  The moment builds sympathy for Paul; a man doing his Christian duty doesn't seem like such a crazy thing out there in the sticks.  When we meet the laity at the church that the Yi family goes to, the story doesn't lay it on thick, making the people out to be nutty Jesus freaks.  Instead, what we see is just folks.  I appreciated Chung's sense of balance in trying to portray life from an immigrant's perspective.  He didn't succumb to the temptation to go a more comedic or parodic route.

So despite the slow, simple plot, the film contains plenty of depth:  still waters run deep.  The camera lingers on certain visuals, allowing us to drink in the progress of Jacob's crops, or the interminable reality of chicken-sexing at a local facility, or the quiet terror of the kids when their parents are loudly fighting about the family's future.  Soon-ja goes to the nearby creek with David, and she plants minari—a kind of dropwort—at a promising spot in the hopes that it will take root and grow plentifully.

Life can't be easy when English isn't your first language.  Jacob and Monica do speak enough English to get by; their kids are English-fluent, but Soon-ja knows only a few random words—enough to get her in hilarious trouble on at least one occasion when she tries to tell an American kid that David can't stay overnight at his house because David is a bed-wetter.  "Ding-dong broken!" she loudly declares, leaving David mortified because he was the one who had taught Soon-ja to say "ding-dong" instead of "penis."

The film concentrates on the intra-family dynamic.  Soon-ja may be loud and obnoxious in the stereotypical tradition of Korean women who no longer give a damn about social niceties, but she is also the one most likely to act as a peacemaker, or to contradict her daughter Monica's overprotective impulses when it comes to shielding David from the dangers of over-exertion.  Monica, by contrast, is the primary source of most of the familial tension because she's the one who thinks moving to Arkansas was a terrible idea.  Monica spends very little time looking happy; we mostly see her with furrowed brows and a troubled mien.  Jacob, meanwhile, is constantly tired but quietly hopeful.  He tries to dig a well to obtain free water for his crops so that he doesn't have to pay for county water; when his well dries up, it merely confirms Monica's suspicions that the entire effort is destined to end badly, and she mentally links the failure of the farm with the potential collapse of her marriage to Jacob.  All Jacob wants, meanwhile, is a little faith and positivity from Monica, but most of the faith and positivity come from Paul—a fact that Jacob might find discomfiting.  The story leaves it up to the viewer to decide whether Monica is being unnecessarily pessimistic or merely realistic.

Some moments in the plot play out like isolated vignettes, such as when David pulls a nasty prank on his grandmother by urinating into a teacup and leaving it for her to drink.  He waits around long enough to see his grandmother sip at the cup, and right as she starts sputtering and yelling, he giggles and bolts out of the family home.  Later on, Jacob sternly demands that David go out and fetch a stick to use as a switch for spanking; Soon-ja protests that David shouldn't be punished.  David, meanwhile, returns with a reedy, broken twig, causing Soon-ja to laugh and declare that David has won the contest between him and his father.  (I admit I probably would've thrashed the boy, heart problem or not, for disrespecting his grandmother in such a vulgar way.)

The family home itself makes for an interesting topic.  It's a simple trailer, such as what you'd find in a typical trailer park.  Early on, director Chung uses the home as a clever indicator of the passage of time:  when the family first arrives at the property and sees the trailer sitting there, the kids are delighted to see the trailer has wheels.  With the home seated high above the ground, Jacob and Monica have to lever themselves up at first to get in the door, but as time goes on, we see a set of boxes that function as makeshift stairs, then actual stairs leading up to the trailer's main door.

These are all simple things—little and mundane.  But the movie also gives us a few crises.  First is the crisis of Jacob and Monica's increasingly fragile marriage.  Monica sees Jacob as prioritizing the farm over the family while Jacob sees the farm as the thing that will provide the family its security.  But two other crises arrive in rapid succession:  Soon-ja has a stroke, and while she's recovering, she accidentally sets the barn storing the farm's vegetables on fire.  Miserable and guilty, Soon-ja shambles away from the farm into the night, but it's David—with his weak heart—who gains the courage to sprint after his grandmother.  Along with his sister Anne, David turns Soon-ja back to the homestead.  Meanwhile, Jacob and Monica desperately try to rescue what vegetables they can, but it's a lost cause:  even the vegetables untouched by the flames have been cooked by the fire's heat.  In the end, having lost each other in the growing blaze, Jacob and Monica find each other and pull each other out of the barn, thus fulfilling a mutual promise the two had made back when they'd arrived in California:  that one day, they would save each other.  This is a spooky, prophecy-fulfilling moment that blends nicely into the Christian background of the Arkansan countryside.

The story ends quietly, with many loose ends left unaddressed.  In the aftermath of the fire, we see Jacob and Monica walking with a water-witcher—Jacob had earlier rejected the use of dowsing as a way to find water—and we also see Jacob and David at the creek where Soon-ja had planted her minari.  The plants have grown plentifully, and Jacob tells David that Grandma had found an excellent spot.  With that, he begins harvesting the full-grown plants, and that's how the story ends.

For such a slow film, the ending feels almost hasty.  I was left with several questions and quibbles.  What has become of Soon-ja in the aftermath of the fire?  Crippled by her stroke, she is no longer a caretaker for the kids, but has become someone requiring care.  What of the family's financial condition?  Much of the plot is devoted to showing how, at almost every step, the family has dug itself ever deeper into debt.  The film ends on a note of hope, of course, so maybe we're supposed to assume that everything will end positively, but this isn't obvious, especially with Soon-ja needing extra care.  It's safe to assume that the disaster of the barn fire has brought Jacob and Monica closer together, but Monica's presence near the water-witcher, at the end of the film, also shows that she now actively supports Jacob's efforts at farming.  How did this turnaround happen?  More time should have been spent examining that question.  As for quibbles, I found it ironic that the film's title is minari, but we never once see the plant up close.  I also felt that the in-law relationship between Jacob and Soon-ja isn't developed as deeply as it could have been; their one true interaction is during the scene when Jacob wants to spank David.  This seems like a missed opportunity, especially in a film that pays close attention to how the family members interact with each other.  Come to think of it, poor little Anne, David's big sister, isn't given much to do; it's obvious that she's the hyo-nyeo, i.e., the filial daughter who acts in a dutiful way, but while the film focuses so much on David, there's disturbingly little focus on Anne.  She ends up being a fifth wheel to the plot.

A humorous thought did burble to the surface of my mind as I was watching "Minari," though:  this film serves as a good introduction to Korean TV dramas:  the screaming and yelling, the tears, the sad and tragic sensibility.  The Korean self-conception—or, to borrow from postmodernism, the Korean metanarrative—is that Koreans are bounded by and victims of strife-filled circumstance.  There's no easy way out of one's miserable situation, and everything requires hard effort.  But this is not a per ardua ad astra dynamic:  in the Korean way of thinking, arduous effort doesn't lead to the stars; it leads only to more misery.  Koreans who've grown up in the States can't be expected to understand the hardship endured by older generations who went through the Korean War (my own mother was a Korean War survivor, having lived a refugee's life at one point), so there is something of a generation gap.  However, when it comes to the TV dramas, the sadness and hopelessness of the previous generation somehow always leaches into the consciousness of the younger generation.  Far from being like forward-thinking, future-oriented Americans, young Koreans find themselves saddled with their own allotment of misery, which is why the current generation bemoans Korea as a sort of "Hell Joseon."  Instead of focusing on the many accomplishments of several generations of hard-working citizens, Koreans seem almost to cherish their misery, perhaps because it helps them make sense of the cosmos.  "Minari" makes sure to lace its narrative with elements of that metanarrative, and so we get tears, marital strife, crippling debt, a stroke, and a burning barn.  If I sound as if I'm complaining, well, I suppose I am.  My problem isn't with whether there's any truth to the metanarrative; I fully grant that older Koreans have every right to resonate with past misery resulting from a devastating war.  My problem with "Minari" is that it's simply carrying along the same tropes as can be found on Korean TV.  When misery is commodified as a trope, it touches the heart far less, and when I watched "Minari," there were moments when I felt I could identify these tropes, like a food taster analyzing the ingredients of an overly familiar dish for the umpteenth time.

The end result is that I didn't come away from the film as blown away by it as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was.  If anything, I felt the way I feel whenever non-Koreans "discover" Korean food.  "Wow—so new!  So exotic!" they coo.  But for me, having grown up with Korean food, it's just plain old food to me.

To be clear, I think "Minari" is a very well-made film, with a splendid cast of talented actors.  As I've written above, I also think it gets a lot right in terms of its careful, balanced portrayal of immigrant life in 1980s Arkansas.  It doesn't preach or over-politicize; it's not meant to be a jeremiad about the sacrality of immigrants.  The story is simple and stripped down, and overall, that's a good thing.  My complaints have to do with the porting-in of old, familiar tropes that anyone who has endured screamy, weepy Korean TV dramas has already seen in spades.  I realize that, in saying this, I risk sounding like the pampered fool from a younger generation who doesn't understand the history of misery and hardship that so influences Korean drama.  I'll take that risk.  I think Koreans can afford to be more forward-looking, these days, and far less tragic in their outlook.  The country is prosperous and strong, both monetarily and militarily.  True, it's dealing with the highest suicide rate among the OECD countries, but again, this is the result of the constant retreat toward a tragic metanarrative.  Why not be more like France, which suffered under Hitler's boot but is now prosperous and generally mentally healthy?  I'm not saying that Korean or Korean-American filmmakers should forever stop focusing on Korea's tragic history, but they ought to think about focusing on the more positive aspects of modern Korea.  It's not all shouting and tears.

So—"Minari."  To recommend, or not to recommend?  I recommend it, advisedly, but I also think your mileage may vary.  Of the various "Asian experience" films I've seen over the years, e.g., "The Farewell," "Crazy Rich Asians," "The Joy Luck Club," etc., "Minari" didn't touch me as deeply as I'd thought it might.  "The Joy Luck Club" affected me more deeply.  You, Dear Reader, might come away with a very different impression, and that's fine.

ADDENDUM:  I've heard and read certain Korean-fluent critics' remarks about Steven Yeun's gyopo accent.  Yeun was born in Seoul but grew up in Canada and the States from the age of five; he isn't a natively fluent speaker of Korean, and I could hear the gyopo-ness of his speech myself (to be sure, he speaks Korean a hell of a lot better than I do!).  In the end, my assumption was that the character he's playing is supposed to be a fresh-off-the-boat Korean, so I went along with that.  Some critics think that Yeun's gyopo accent is actually relevant to the story, making the character of Jacob somehow "less" of an immigrant than Monica (who is obviously Korean through and through).  That doesn't make sense to me, especially given the nature of the husband-wife dialogue throughout the film.  There's no mention by Jacob that he had somehow gotten to America first and lived there long enough to lose his native Korean accent.  Adding that information to the plot would've been, frankly, weird.



Sunday, May 09, 2021

itching to tell you

I recently had an epiphany regarding a new book idea.  I have several book projects on my agenda already, but this new idea might have to be moved up to #2 (once I finish my movie-review compilation).  I also have to privately contact some people who know more about the book's topic than I do.  I already know a lot about the topic, but I'm lacking certain insider knowledge because, although I've studied the topic "from the outside," so to speak, I've never actually done the thing myself.

Sorry to be vague.  I'll say more later, but I think this could be an awesome book idea.



Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there.  Here's a scrap of paper I found after my own mom passed away in 2010.  I'm sure she meant this as a gentle dig at Dad, but it was consistent with Mom's underlying awareness that Dad was, quite often, full of shit and utterly lacking in common sense:

Miss you, Mom.



my blog stats: past the inflection point

We're coming down from our statistical high, now.  Yesterday's stats crested at an amazing (to me) 4,176 unique visits.  I was pretty sure, when I saw that stat, that there would be no way to beat it, and I think I was right.  Today, I'm currently at slightly over 1,100 visits, and at that rate, I'll finish the day with barely over 2,000.  So we're over the crest of the wave and headed back down to my normal range, i.e., about 400-700 visits per day.

Assume 30 days per month.  For me to beat the 20,000-visit mark every month, I need to average around 700 visits per day.  In previous months, I've come very close to 20K, but not by having a steady visitor rate:  instead, after a slew of under-700 days, some anomaly occurs in the middle of the month, and my numbers get boosted.  In previous months, the anomalies resulted in one-off daily totals of 1,000-2,000 visits.  This month was strange, though, with a veritable tidal wave of visits.  While I'm happy that it happened because my ego is, to some small degree, attached to numbers, I have no idea why it happened, and I don't see the sudden surge as any sort of testament about how suddenly awesome my blog is.  If I link the surge to awesomeness, then the current abatement must mean the blog is no longer awesome.

So I'll just take the surge for what it is, and I'll await the next surge with curiosity.

UPDATE: we won't even be hitting 2,000.



"Invincible," Season 1: review

Omni-Man (voiced by JK Simmons) demonstrates what I look like when I find onions
in my Whopper after having specifically asked for no onions

[WARNING:  Spoilers.]

I haven't seen Zack Snyder's revised "Justice League," but I did see the 2017 film.  In that version of the story, the heroes have revived Superman (who had died in "Batman v. Superman"), but Superman, only recently resuscitated, is—to put it mildly—not quite himself, and he gets into a fight with Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Aquaman, and the Flash, all of whom (except maybe for Wonder Woman) are more or less terrified of Superman, who is a far more powerful being than any of the rest of them.  The fight is impressive but fairly bloodless, as befits a film with a PG-13 rating.

Now imagine that same scene again, but it's the R-rated version.  Skulls get smashed; wet chunks of brain matter are flung through the air; pools, droplets, and rivulets of blood decorate the scene of the fight.  Similar to "Justice League," the fight is between one extremely powerful, Superman-like being and a league whose members call themselves The Guardians of the Globe.  The Guardians have the equivalent of The Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Batman, plus a shape-shifting Martian superhero who is a little bit like the shape-shifting Cyborg from DC Comics.  By the end of the fight, the treacherous Superman analogue, here named Omni-Man, stands among the corpses of his former friends, but he's severely injured.

Omni-Man's massacre of the Guardians is our introduction to the world of the animated TV series "Invincible," and it's not a spoiler at all:  it's the seminal event that becomes the central mystery of Season 1 because Omni-Man (JK Simmons) made sure that no cameras or bystanders were around to witness and record the carnage.  Omni-Man goes by the nondescript Terran name Nolan Grayson.  He is, like Superman, an alien from another planet—the planet Viltrum, which is populated by Viltrumites who are all easily as powerful as Nolan, if not more powerful.  Nolan arrived on Earth in the 1980s; he settled in, fell in love with a Korean-American Earthling named Debbie (Sandra Oh).  Together, they had a half-Viltrumite (and half-Korean!) son named Mark (Steven Yeun).

The series has several interwoven subplots.  We learn that American superheroes generally work with a governmental organization called the GDA, or Global Defense Agency, which is headed by the always-cool Cecil Stedman (Walton Goggins, doing his best Billy-Bob Thornton impression).  The GDA is aware of all sorts of threats to the planet, and it's used the alien technology it's encountered to clandestinely shore up Earth's defenses.  Omni-Man, who is a renegade by nature, has only a tenuous connection to the GDA and has never formally joined the now-defunct Guardians of the Globe.  He has a prickly relationship with Cecil—a relationship that only worsens as Season 1 progresses.  Along with learning about the GDA, we see that young Mark, a high-schooler, is having relationship issues at school, somewhat in the manner of Peter Parker.  As Episode 1 begins, Mark still hasn't acquired his Viltrumite powers.  Despite being so mundane, he catches the attention of the beautiful Amber (Zazie Beetz), and they begin, awkwardly, to date.  When Mark does finally manifest his superpowers, he also makes the acquaintance of cute fellow student Samantha Eve Wilkins, nicknamed Eve, who goes by the superhero moniker Atom Eve (Gillian Jacobs).  Eve has the near-godlike power to rearrange the atoms and molecules of inanimate objects; a corollary of her power is that she can fly like a Viltrumite.  Atom Eve is a member of Teen Team, and she eventually becomes a member of the New Guardians once the deaths of the former Guardians come to light.  Eve is dating the snotty pyrokinetic hero Rex Splode (Jason Mantzoukas), whose talent is—you guessed it—the ability to make things explode like tossed grenades.  Rex is mouthy, selfish, and arrogant, thus setting up a subplot in which Eve—who is a kind soul—must pull herself away from the bad boy on the team.  Eve finds herself attracted to Mark, but Mark is with Amber.  Other members of the New Guardians include Robot (Zachary Quinto, doing his Spock voice), a robot drone piloted by a deformed human named Rudy Connors (Ross Marquand); Kate Cha/Dupli-Kate (Malese Jow), who can multiply her own bodies; Amanda/Monster Girl (Grey Griffin), a Hulk-style human girl who turns into a huge, muscular, green beast (Kevin Michael Richardson), but who is cursed to reverse in age every time she reverts to her human form; Shrinking Rae (also Grey Griffin), whose power is the ability to shrink; and Markus Grimshaw/Black Samson (Khary Payton), a former Guardian who lost his powers and must now use a superpowered suit to fight his battles.

With Season 1 set up as a sort of mystery from the point of view of the characters (we, the viewers, know what Omni-Man has done), the eight episodes unfurl as one revelation after another.  Mark starts off worshiping his father Nolan, saying he wants to do what his dad does, i.e., fight bad guys and protect the earth.  Ultimately, though, Nolan reveals who the Viltrumites truly are:  a race of superhuman aliens who have created an enormous, galaxy-spanning empire by essentially acting like the Mafia, arriving on a planet and demanding both its resources and its fealty, with the alternative being utter destruction.  Nolan's true purpose on Earth has been to prepare Earth for the arrival of the Viltrumites, which is why he killed the Guardians of the Globe.  As Mark learns this horrible fact, the GDA is closing in on the mystery of the Guardians' deaths.  A terse demon detective (reminiscent of Rorschach from Alan Moore's Watchmen) explores the scene of the crime and, sensing the echoes of violence that linger in the Guardians' main chamber, begins to realize that Nolan was the murderer.  At the same time, Cecil Stedman, using his own methods, is coming to the same conclusion, and so is Art Rosenbaum (Mark Hamill, decidedly un-Joker-y), the man who creates most of the high-tech costumes that superheroes wear (this may be a nod to Edna Mode from "The Incredibles").  Art eventually confronts Nolan's wife Debbie with his suspicions about Nolan.

Where can this go but down?  Everyone now suspects Nolan, and Mark—who now goes by the hero moniker Invincible—must either reconcile himself with his Viltrumite heritage or try to stop his father from preparing Earth for a Viltrumite takeover.  Nolan, meanwhile, must deal with the fact that his wife openly suspects him of being a monster.

The TV series is based on an Image Comics series of the same name by Robert Kirkman, who is also responsible for the comic series The Walking Dead, which got made into a TV series.  By this point, I've watched plenty of exposition videos on YouTube that explain the lives of the series's main characters, so I've learned pretty much all the story arcs there are to learn:  I've spoiled the whole thing for myself.  That being said, I found Season 1 of "Invincible" watchable, but not perfect.  Let's delve into the series a bit.

We'll begin with the superficial things—the voice acting, the quality of the animation, the quality of the dialogue, the music, etc.  As you read above, the series has brought in plenty of powerhouse actors to voice the various roles, and all the actors do a magnificent job.  The animation, though, strikes me as somewhat clunky and hastily done, although there are some very memorable visuals, such as during the Episode 1 fight between Omni-Man and the Guardians of the Globe.  With time and a much larger budget, a higher-quality animation might have been possible.  The dialogue, however, makes up for the animation by being fairly intelligent, although Rex Splode's attempts at witty banter come off as clumsy and lacking in comic timing.  (Rex's character was easily the most annoying one in the series.  I know Rex's eventual fate, though, so I can't complain too much:  I have only to wait.)  The series's music, by John Paesano, isn't particularly memorable, but it's also not memorably bad.

Going deeper, we can talk about themes and character development.  Two of the major themes of the series are family and heritage.  Mark/Invincible has been raised as a regular Earthling, a fact that Nolan later says he regrets because Mark should have come to know his Viltrumite side sooner.  Mark's discovery of who the Viltrumites really are creates a rift between him and his seemingly omnipotent father, and Mark passes from admiration to revulsion to a sort of self-hatred as he digests the implications of his own heritage.  Nolan eventually reveals to Mark that he views Earthlings as weak and utterly beneath him.  When Mark shouts about what Nolan thinks of Debbie—Nolan's wife and Mark's mother—Nolan says, with apparent regret, that he views her more as a pet than anything else.  (Thanks to remote-drone GDA tech, Debbie hears every word of the exchange between Mark and Nolan.  She is stricken.)  The result of this father-son exchange is violence:  Mark, now much more powerful than when he first discovered his super-abilities, lashes out against Nolan, but Nolan brutally beats the boy.  However, even as Nolan violently attempts to teach his son the reality of his Viltrumite heritage—telling Mark that he'll live thousands of years while Earthlings around him constantly wither and die—Mark deflects Nolan's talk of heritage by evoking family.  When Nolan roars, "What will you have in five hundred years?!", Mark, now beaten to a bloody pulp, whispers through broken teeth, "I'll still have you, Dad."  Nolan, touched in spite of himself and remembering Mark's innocent childhood, is unable to finish the beating of his son, and he flies off, in tears, to outer space.

This is a crucial moment for what it reveals about Nolan/Omni-Man.  Nolan has been changed by his experience of living on Earth.  He claims to be "a loyal Viltrumite," but the truth is more complicated, and it hints at what's to come in the successive seasons of this show.  A bit like Superman, Nolan does actually harbor love for and loyalty to Earth, despite his stated belief that Earthlings are nothing to him.  This will have major implications for when the Viltrumite vanguard arrives on Earth.

The eight-episode first season offers enough breathing room to allow for the main characters to be fleshed out.  Debbie, Mark's mom, is shown to be a hard-working real-estate agent trying to deal with the reality of having a superhero husband (and later, as the truth is revealed, a super-monster husband) and a teenaged son waking up to both his hormones and his half-alien pedigree.  Mark's girlfriend Amber proves to be tough-minded, open, and honest.  She also reveals, despite Mark's attempts to hide his hero identity, that she's known for a while that Mark is Invincible.  Eve also turns out to be a complicated person; she was initially attracted to bad-boy Rex Splode, but his arrogance is grating on her, and then she catches him cheating on her with Dupli-Kate because Rex had heard that Mark was now dating Eve.  Eve is attracted to Mark, but she's also not a chaos-sowing bitch, so despite her growing attraction, she leaves the couple alone.  I admit I wasn't much into the teen drama, but I understand why it's there:  it's there for the same reason that Spider-Man is shown having to cope with teenage life.  Mark's best friend is a guy named William (Andrew Rannells).  William is gay, and for several episodes, this fact has little bearing on the plot.  Later in the season, however, William meets a handsome college guy who ends up being assimilated into a zombie army of "Reanimen" created by a mad scientist (Ezra Miller).

The capable characterization extends to more than just the heroes.  While many of the villains are boringly boilerplate (e.g., a kaiju, an alien army that never learns its lesson until Omni-Man destroys its homeworld, a horde of hive-mind squids, etc.), some truly stand out, and the writing and voice acting are clever enough to provide us with plenty of characterization.  One notable sort-of villain is Titan (voiced by none other than the great Mahershala Ali), a muscular man with the power to cover himself instantly in a layer of near-impenetrable rock.  We discover that Titan has a wife and a little daughter, and he's been forced into a life of crime.  His boss—the guy forcing Titan to remain a criminal—is also quite a character:  Machine Head, hilariously voiced (with Auto-Tune!) by Jeffrey Donovan, is a crime lord who owns whole swaths of the city.  I have to say, this may have been my favorite character after Omni-Man.  While Rex Splode's line deliveries struck me as annoying and lame, Donovan—a talented veteran actor—did marvelous work as Machine Head, a human with a cybernetic head overflowing with sneering sarcasm and a machine's ability to foresee certain future events through the analysis of "quantum probabilities," as he puts it.  Machine Head also has a weird love of Italian-maple furniture; he launches into angry rants when superpowered beings fight inside his office and wreck expensive, imported chairs and tables.  Also worthy of mention, among the villains, are the Mauler Twins, two blue-skinned clones (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson, the same guy who voices Monster Girl's monstrous self) who constantly bicker over which one is the original and which one is the copy.  Despite being big and brutish-looking, the Mauler twins are experts at cloning and the transference of a copy of one brain's consciousness into another brain.  They also possess awesome super-strength, making them a match for most of the New Guardians.

One thing I'm not sure of is how to view the show as a whole.  Is it a critical commentary on superheroes?  If so, well, that's been done to death in various off-brand comics (i.e., not-Marvel, not-DC) as well as in TV series like "The Boys" (which I apparently haven't reviewed yet!).  Is it yet another exploration of dysfunctional superheroes?  I hesitate to say yes because, really, Omni-Man is the only one who seems twisted.  The other heroes have personalities and characters that range from earnest/pure to shady/grating, but none of them—including Mark, who is the ostensible protagonist of the series—strikes me as particularly dysfunctional.  The series is full of winks and nods in the form of references to other works.  JK Simmons, who voices Omni-Man, is well known for having played J. Jonah Jameson both in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films and in one of the newer Spidey films starring Tom Holland ("Far from Home").  The character of Omni-Man is drawn to look exactly like J. Jonah Jameson.  Obviously, since the comics came long before the animated series, the choice to cast JK Simmons as Omni-Man came after the appearance of the Invincible comic series.  Also, the character of J. Jonah Jameson existed long before Invincible was a gleam in the eye of creator Robert Kirkman.  Another winking reference:  Mark, Eve, William, and Amber all attend Reginald Veljohnson High School.  You may remember the actor Reginald Veljohnson in the role of Officer Al Powell in 1988's "Die Hard."  Well, the showrunners somehow got Veljohnson to voice the character of Principal Winslow, the head guy at Veljohnson High.  How meta can you get?  And it doesn't stop there:  most of the superheroes—especially the ill-fated Guardians who all perish in Episode 1, are shameless ripoffs of familiar Justice League heroes, with the possible exception of The Immortal (Ross Marquand again), who looks like Wolverine but has powers similar to those of a lesser Superman.  The names given to heroes in this series—Aquarus, Darkwing, War Woman, Green Ghost, Martian Man, Rex Splode, Atom Eve, Dupli-Kate (and, later, her brother Multi-Paul), Monster Girl, Robot, etc.—don't even sound as if the writers were trying very hard with the nomenclature.  Were the names created in the spirit of parody?  That would be strange, given how deadly-serious so much of the plot is.  Again, I have to wonder how I'm supposed to take the series as a whole.  Is it parody?  Satire?  Sly, self-aware commentary?  Some combination?  Or is it possible that "Invincible" simply is its own thing, throwing somewhat-familiar heroes into radically new situations?

The comic series is gritty and bloody.  Like the show, it's R-rated, filled with foul language and extremely bloody violence.  It means business, and that's why I can't convince myself that "Invincible" is meant to be a parody.

Conquest, a Viltrumite, kills Eve.  Not to worry, though:  she'll be back.

Whatever the series is, and however I'm supposed to take it, "Invincible" has a compelling story, which makes the series very watchable.  I wish the quality of the animation were higher, but the voice acting, the characterizations, and the cosmic plot that makes you care about the fates of the main characters are all points in the series's favor.  Overall, I'd give Season 1 of "Invincible" a thumbs-up, and I do believe I'll be along for the rest of the ride, despite knowing the fates of most of the characters.  There is a sense in which "Invincible" is compelling enough to be spoiler-proof, i.e., you can take in the story even if you know how it ends.  That's not so different from rereading a favorite novel, right?



Saturday, May 08, 2021

Uncle Joe sucks at managing the economy

Our current idiot of a president has no idea how to run an economy, and he's now presiding over a sinking ship.  This was predictable; left-Dems have no notion of economics, and as bad as the right-GOP can be when it comes to budget-crafting (not counting Trump, who had the country on an upward trajectory until China fucked things up for everyone), the left is far worse.  How bad are things now?  The jobs report just came out, and... I'll let Styx start us off:

Biden will be raping the middle class as he simultaneously squanders and buries all the gains we enjoyed under Trump. As Styx says above, the whole thing is "a shakedown."  And here are some links from Instapundit about Biden's flubbing of the economy:

—because so many of those non-workers live in blue states.

The Economy Surprises the "Experts"—Again

Don't expect truth from the news media about the economy's performance under Biden.

Boo-fuckin'hoo.  Biden's gonna end up worse than Carter.



AQI: 213

The air quality has radically improved since last night, but the current AQI of 213 still puts us in the "very unhealthy" range, so I won't be doing a crazy walk tonight, either.  Sunday is out, so:  no crazy walk this weekend.

Korea used to be a vassal state of China—a fact that Koreans can be touchy about when it comes to discussions of geopolitics and global trade.  Koreans don't like to be seen as kowtowing to the Chinese, but China is South Korea's largest trading partner by far, which makes it difficult for the ROK government to do things like pivot toward India in the face of China's many instances of malfeasance and outright harm (pandemic, anyone?).  Continuing in that vein, I feel almost as if China's weather is holding Koreans hostage:  when China farts titanic clouds of noxious dust in our direction, we peninsular folk have no choice but to hunker down or risk taking in lungfuls of microparticles.  Sucks all around.

More bad news:  the week of the Buddha's birthday (May 19)—the entire week through Friday—is forecast to be rainy, rainy, rainy.  It might actually be better for me to postpone my Andong Dam hike until the following week.  I might have to reschedule the hike, anyway, given my workload and the fact that I'm increasingly behind schedule with our current project.  On the upside, several days of rain will scour the skies and result in fantastic air quality.  Will the clean air hang around long enough to help me during a postponed hike?  Not sure.  In many cases, it'll rain, then the skies will be clear and clean for at most two days, and then we'll be back in the shit.  We really are at the mercy of China and the Gobi Desert.  Maybe China should quickly solve the problem by covering the entire desert with giant, white tarps that reflect sunlight.  Then other countries—like Korea—could breathe a sigh of relief.



my stats are blowing up

I've had a poor showing over the past three months, statistically speaking.  For February, March, and April, I was unable to break the monthly 20,000-visits barrier.  This month, too, started off in a lackluster way, with the first few days of May seeing under 600 unique visits per day. But now, for three days running, my site traffic has blown up.  Two days ago, I had just under 2,000 visits; yesterday, the number was over 2,900, and just this morning, I saw that I already had over 2,300 visits, so I'll probably end up with over 3,000 visits for today.  Incredible.  But what gives?  C'est un mystère.  I've had mysterious blowups like this before; they've all been temporary.  I think what happens is that someone influential sees an old post of mine and calls everyone's attention to it.  Everyone flocks to my blog for a few days, then the frenzy is over.  So:  it is what it is, i.e., a flash in the pan.



hee

Instapundit has a collection of articles from the past 48 hours that all talk about how Joe Biden is fucking the economy up. I'll pass those links your way soon.


 

Friday, May 07, 2021

the crazy walk starts tonight

You've seen enough photos from previous crazy walks to know how it goes, right?  You don't need me to take more photos this time, do you?  Tell you what:  I'll leave you with a map of my walking route.  Click on the image below to super-size it.

Green = start; red = destination. Total distance = about 60 km.
Route starts in Seoul, goes east along the Han and passes by Hanam City, then ends at a riverside motel in Yangpyeong City.

I'll be leaving my place tonight around 10:30 p.m.  If the walk goes the way it normally does, I'll arrive at my destination—a motel by the river in Yangpyeong City—around 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon.  Assuming all goes well.

I'm taking advantage of a narrow gap between rain events:  it rained this morning (Friday), and it'll be raining again on Monday.  Friday night will be awesome for a nighttime walk, and Saturday will be sunny, with a high of 73°F (22.8°C).  I won't be taking much with me, except for some water, some basic toiletries for when I'm at the motel, and my hat and toshi for dealing with sunshine.  No walking stick this time around; it'll be just me and my big belly.  I'll head back to my place Sunday morning.

Today, I'm leaving work early:  there simply isn't anything for me to proofread right now because I have to wait for the in-house designer to print out pages for me to go over.  The designer's going as fast as he can, but he's still slower with this current textbook than with the previous one, and we're getting behind schedule.  As a result, I don't know whether I'll be able to do my Andong Dam walk the week of the 19th; it's looking as though I'll have to push the walk forward yet another week.  

Late May is not a good time to be out distance walking; the weather is very hot because the leading edge of summer will have arrived in earnest.  June is worse; July is horrible; August is a hell of heat and humidity, and even September—when the heat starts to abate—is pretty hot.  I'd rather walk earlier, not later, but that may not be possible, so... late May it is.

No matter.  Tonight, I begin the crazy walk to Yangpyeong.  That's enough for the moment.

UPDATE:  holy shit.  The air quality is at worse-than-Beijing levels right now:  the average for Seoul, at this very moment, is 623.*

Sorry, but I'm not walking in that.  Crazy walk canceled.  Fuck.  I'll look at the AQI again tomorrow and decide whether to do the crazy walk Saturday night.

By the way, Beijing, right now, is at 184.  Bad, but not Seoul-bad.


UPDATE, 10:35 p.m.:  the AQI for Seoul just went up to 714.  Can this be real?  (By the way, I'm beginning to think the AQI site's official AQI number isn't an average:  it's a maximum.  By that reckoning, the lowest number in the locality is 530, so the median for the Seoul area is 622.  Still pretty damn ugly.)

UPDATE 2, 3:10 a.m. (5/8/21):  ROK Drop says we're in the middle of a Gobi Desert yellow-dust storm.

__________

*If you look at the numbers, though, you don't see many flags above 600.  (For purposes of scale, a score under 50 is "green" level, i.e., healthy.  600 is unimaginably bad.)  I suspect the AQI is still at hazardous levels, but it's more like the high 400s or the low 500s.  Still bad, so I'm still canceled.  Sorry, folks.  I had hoped to have a story to tell.  Maybe next time.



snake dat burger

The Korean script on the soda-vending machine simply says "drink-vending machine."



Thursday, May 06, 2021

another perceptive commentary on "Minari"

Go to my blog's search window and type "minari."  You'll quickly discover that it's a plant I've mentioned several times, here, as an ingredient for stews like budae-jjigae.  The plant figures prominently as a metaphor in the movie "Minari," which is about a Korean family trying to make a living by moving from California to Arkansas.

Last night, I found what I thought was a very profound and perceptive review of the film by someone I assume is a either a gyopo (someone of Korean heritage living abroad) or a Korean with a high-level mastery of American English.  (If my Korean were anywhere near as good as his English, I'd be mighty proud of myself.)  His insights—as someone familiar with Western culture but even more familiar with Korean culture—proved valuable in helping me to straighten out some of the confusion in my own mind:  when I watched "Minari" last night, I came away with all sorts of conflicting thoughts and impressions, but watching this guy's video allowed me to de-confuse myself a bit, and to recognize the symbolic power of the plant that is thematically central to the story.  So please enjoy the video below, but be warned that it contains major spoilers about the movie's ending.





three via Bill

I've seen lots of comments about how huge the Bidens look compared to the Carters:

This is no different from mask restrictions in Korea that magically disappear the moment you sit down at the table of the restaurant you're visiting.  It's all so contradictory:

The meme below could be tweaked to apply to any number of Trump's policies:




improve this sentence!

I was reading a BBC article about the divorce of Bill and Melinda Gates when I came across this hilariously awful sentence about their charitable foundation:

The organisation has spent billions fighting causes such as infectious diseases and encouraging vaccinations in children.

While I love the idea that the Gates's foundation is actively fighting the vaccination of children, I can understand the writer's true intentions.

So!  How to improve this sentence?  Take a crack at it in the comments, and while you're there, ponder the desperate need for proofreaders in more places than just South Korea.

ADDENDUM:  Jeff Hodges has found an arguably funnier gaffe.



which side is jiggering elections, again?

Politics is basically the art of making hypocrisy look believable.
—Styx

My buddy Dr. Steve is a great guy, but politically, he's a head-up-his-ass left-Dem who has fully bought into the lies of the mainstream media.  In his latest post, he gloats about being right re:  GOP efforts to restore "election integrity."  These efforts are, of course, being spun by the left as—you guessed it!—racist attempts at disenfranchising the non-white crowd.  This is fucking laughable, and it's even more laughable to hear that the left has positioned itself against election integrity.  The left has historically shown that it has no notion of what true election integrity is:  in 2016, leftists collectively flew off the handle when Donald Trump suggested that he might question the election results if he lost.  The electoral process is inviolable! screamed the left.  Then Trump won, and the left immediately did a hypocritical 180:  The election was rigged by Russia with help from Trump!  We now know the Russiagate ructions were all bullshit after three or four federal-level investigations turned up fuck all—and most of those investigations had been led by Democrats.  

It's a pretty good guide to leftist thought and behavior to remember that the left always projects its own sins onto the right.  The right is racist?  The left will call you an Uncle Tom if you're a black conservative.  The right is sexist?  Look at the exploitation of women in leftie Hollywood.  It's all projection, all the time.  Styx deals with leftist electoral malfeasance in the above video, a video that I highly recommend.  Plenty of hypocrisy to explore in the form of rich leftists dumping billions of dollars into Democrat campaign coffers, as well as foreign influence-peddling by Swiss tycoons like Hansjörg Wyss.  There's never a reason to listen to or believe anything said by leftists.  As a recent Instapundit post contends, there's nothing to discuss when your interlocutor has passed beyond all reason:

We have to understand that you [cannot] reason with people like this,” [McWhorter] said. “It’s very rare that you teach somebody out of their religion[,] and this is a religion. And so to try to talk these people down doesn’t work. All they know is that you’re a racist[,] and that’s all you’re going to get. So the idea is not to try to have a dialogue with them about these sorts of issues…I think we simply need to start telling people like this no. 

—John McWhorter, quoted on Instapundit

That's one of the fundamental differences between lefties and righties:  righties take to heart Jesus' "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's" quote because they value the separation of church and state, and they understand that religion is religion while politics is politics.  The left, meanwhile, has taken the Islamic approach:  politics is religion, and religion is politics.  This explains why leftists scream, rant, drool, and thrash about like overcommitted zealots (or spoiled toddlers) when they don't get their way, or when they register even the slightest offense to their hair-trigger sensitivities.  They are hegemonic fundamentalists, and they can no longer be reasoned with.  Prepare accordingly.



Wednesday, May 05, 2021

reviews are on the way

I've watched Season 1 of the bloody, gory "Invincible," and tonight, I'll be watching "Minari," which finally became available for purchase on both iTunes and Amazon Prime Video (iTunes was cheaper).  I'll be reviewing both the cartoon and the movie over the coming days, so stay tuned.  In the meantime, Joe McPherson of ZenKimchi fame wrote a very good, very personal (he says it in the title) review of "Minari" not long ago.  Go give it a read.



models vs. reality

Found online:




my laptop and my new external drive

I ducked out of work and visited the computer-repair guy.  He gave me back my laptop, commenting on a broken piece of the structure that undergirds the plastic "command" key.  He said he didn't have the part in question, and that I'd have to visit a Mac service center to get the repair done—an action that would end up costing me a lot of money because the Mac team would end up repairing/replacing the entire keyboard, not just the one key.  What the hell?  Anyway, I shrugged and half-joked that I could make my own temporary repair for free by using tape to stabilize the errant key.  

The repair guy also presented me with my spanking-new external hard drive (whose capacity I no longer remember... I'll have to check what it is), which is housed in a sleek, black box.  Unlike my nifty 750GB external drive (thanks again, Hahna!), which simply plugs into my computer's USB port, this new drive is much larger and requires a power source to operate.  Not a big deal.  I'll get used to having another drive on my desk.

My plan is to unload all the data from that drive to my laptop, and from there, I'll load all the data onto my 750GB drive, whose huge capacity still remains mostly untested:  even after dumping a load of data into it over the past several years, I've barely reached a tenth of the drive's storage capacity.  750 gigabytes is most of the way to a single terabyte, and I can't imagine what I'd do with a full terabyte of storage.  At a guess, the people who store terabytes' worth of information are probably downloading (or making!) HD-quality movies—tens or hundreds of titles.  Not me:  almost all of my purchased movies are stored in the Cloud (with Amazon Prime, I have no choice; with iTunes, I have an option to download or to Cloud-store each film).  That way, I can save my storage space for other things.

I haven't plugged in and activated my new/old hard drive yet.  There are files on there—including a video of Mom before she died—that I want to see, to recover, and to store, somehow, in a safer, permanent manner.  Wading through all that old data (my Mac desktop died in 2014, so it's been a while) is going to be very distracting and, if I find more files like Mom's video, very emotional for me.  We'll see what happens.  I'll be setting up the hard drive right after I finish this post.  Wish me luck.


UPDATE:  Alas.  My computer can't read the data on the external hard drive.  This isn't surprising:  the hard drive comes from a 2009-era Mac, and the Mac OS has undergone many, many iterations since 2009.  My current OS is Mac OS Mojave (10.14.6), which was released in 2018.  In 2009, the OS was 10.6 Snow Leopard, back when Mac was naming its OSes after big cats.  That's a difference of eight iterations.  Back-compatibility can go only so far, and for Mojave to read data on a Snow Leopard OS, it's like going on an archeological expedition for items with inscriptions written in a language that few modern scholars would understand.  

All is not lost, of course:  when I do finally take my laptop to a Mac service center to get the "command" key fixed (and, possibly, the rest of the keyboard), I'll bring along my new/old hard drive and ask whether the data from it can be pulled out and placed on, say, a high-capacity thumb drive.  I'm kicking myself, though, for not having asked the repair guy whether he'd bothered to check the accessibility of my data after he'd converted the old 2009 hard drive to a new external drive.  Damn.



forgot about the holiday

Tomorrow, May 5, is Children's Day here in South Korea.  It's a national holiday, so technically, we're off.  I, however, will be going into work tomorrow for about two hours to finish Unit 1 of the next round of proofreading that I have to do.  I was a bit of a slow worker today, which is why I ended up somewhat behind.  Once I find my rhythm, I ought to proof this current batch faster than the previous one.  Ideally, I'll finish all the proofing before I head off to hike toward Andong Dam later this month.  This might mean working over the weekend to stay ahead (assuming my Korean coworker can print out, in a timely manner, the pages I need to proof), but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

I'd forgotten about tomorrow because, originally, I had hoped to have a five-day weekend this week, but given my workload, that wasn't possible. Instead, I postponed my Andong Dam walk to the week of May 19, which is the Buddha's birthday—another national holiday.  So now, fixated upon May 19, I'd completely forgotten that we'd all have tomorrow off.  D'oh.  I'm not exactly happy about having the day off because that's another day's delay in my proofreading.  Grrr.  I'll see what I can do to keep from falling behind.

Meanwhile, Happy Children's Day to those of you with kids, be they younger or older.



Tuesday, May 04, 2021

found online




Styx on Biden the statist warmonger

Joe Biden hates your privacy:

I'll be interested to see whether the dark implications below bear out:

Styx has been an uncanny predictor of things and events.  For years, he'd been saying that "we're past due for a pandemic," and sure enough—voilà.  He predicted Trump's initial win and was more cautious about Trump's winning of a second term, a caution that proved to be warranted (although Styx did, admittedly, lean somewhat toward the idea of Trump winning, a fact he himself sheepishly acknowledged).  So if Styx thinks Biden might get us into unnecessary military action (with enthusiastic backing by hypocritical Democrats who, under Trump, were passing themselves off as antiwar peaceniks), I'd bet there's something to this idea.  Something bellicose this way comes, thanks to the senile idiot chanting for war.



Happy Birthday, Mom

Mom would've been 78 today.  She didn't even make it to 67.  Glioblastoma doesn't care about numbers, though, and it sure as hell doesn't care about your feelings.

Happy Birthday, Mom.








Monday, May 03, 2021

laptop woes

Silly me. 

I tried popping off my Mac laptop's "command" key last night because it's been sticking lately. Instant regret: I successfully removed the key from the keyboard, but I couldn't figure out how to put it back on.

This morning, before work, I took my laptop to the repair shop down the street. The repair guy wasn't there, but the shopkeeper across the hall told me he'd keep my laptop and let the repair guy know what was up. I had also brought my old, dead Mac's hard drive to be converted into an external drive so I could get at its old data; I handed all my electronic equipment over to the old guy and left a note detailing what I wanted done.

Later in the afternoon, the repair guy, who had been out for much of the day, called and told me he wouldn't be able to fix the keyboard, but he would be able to convert my old internal hard drive to an external one. 

So tomorrow, I'll pick up both my laptop and my new external hard drive. I'll pay for the hard drive and figure out where the nearest Mac service center is, then get my damn keyboard repaired in what I hope will be a timely manner. 

Tonight, it's just me and my new phone, plus my GlocalMe WiFi-hotspot device. For your entertainment, here's a pic I took earlier this evening while walking home the long way:

I remember these little guys from 2017.





a quickie review of three self-published authors:
Shawn Matthews, Island of Fantasy
Mark J. Russell, Young-hee and the Pullocho
NB Armstrong, Korean Straight Lines

A lot of us expats are given to writing.  Some of us, like Michael Breen, write in a semi-scholarly, journalistic vein—serious nonfiction.  Others of us write to entertain, and even that style subdivides into literary fiction, poetry, and nonfiction:  fantastical adventures or humorous autobiographies.  Below are some long-overdue mini-reviews of two works by expats, plus a mini-review of an expat-created work that I only recently finished.

1.  Shawn Matthews, Island of Fantasy (2004)

I actually wrote a sort-of review of Shawn's book way back in 2004.  You can find my old review here.  Shawn's personal story is, ultimately, a sad one:  he broke up with his Korean girlfriend for unspecified reasons, hightailed it to China, got himself a Chinese girlfriend, and ended up committing suicide by jumping off the top of an apartment building.  In the aftermath of the suicide, Shawn's best friend told the world something that some had already suspected:  Shawn had been bipolar.  Shawn's blogs, Korea Life Blog and China Life Blog, were unfailingly—even manically—upbeat accounts of the awesomeness of living as an American expat in East Asia.  His blog was extremely popular for its photos and its unflagging humor—something that also suffuses Shawn's Island of Fantasy.  The events described in Shawn's book are fairly horrible, though, and they're a true reflection of a freshman expat's experience of life in Korea when he has no idea what he's getting himself into.  We've all been there:  in my first year of working in Korea, I ended up suing my boss, who was a true dick.  Like Shawn, I had no idea how crappy the hagweon experience was going to be.  If I could, I'd recommend that wannabe expats go straight into university teaching.  It's not perfect, but it's a damn sight better than hagweon work.

Shawn's prose could stand a good bit of editing (as you'll see, this will be a running theme through all of these mini-reviews), but if one looks past the occasionally clunky prose, there's an engaging narrative there about a young guy who plunges into the Korean hagweon experience after accepting an offer to teach on South Korea's Geoje Island (pronounce it "gaw-jeh").  The kids are unruly and misbehaving, and the couple running the hagweon prove to be an absolute nightmare.  People who know little about Korea might think Shawn's portrayal of this evil duo is an exaggeration, but such predators do exist, and in droves.  My first Korean boss was one of them.  Shawn somehow spins his narrative in a positive way, but he can't hide the truth that, to find happiness, he basically had to physically run away from the school to gain his freedom, with that evil Korean couple desperately running after him like wolves about to lose their prey.  Horrific, funny, and relatable.

2.  Mark Russell, Young-hee and the Pullocho (2015)

I read journalist Mark Russell's fantasy story a while back, and I haven't reread it since, so some of the details have gone fuzzy.  The story is about a little girl named Young-hee; she's spent some years in the States and has lost a bit of her Korean.  Now newly reestablished in Seoul, Young-hee is disappointed by the tall, forbidding apartment complexes that surround her.  Her adventure begins when she loses her little brother; her frantic search for him leads her down, down an apartment building's parking garage where she encounters a portal that takes her, in true CS Lewis fashion, into a sort of alternate universe where the creatures and characters of Korean legend live and interact.  Young-hee discovers her brother has been captured by a tokkaebi, a sort of goblin, and he refuses to relinquish the boy unless Young-hee goes on a quest for a powerful, ginger-like root called a pullocho.  While in this alternate world, Young-hee encounters dragons, tigers, a talking pair of jangseung (pole-shaped guardians, male and female, often found at trailheads; I've written about them many times), and many other magical, mystical beings.  She learns of a great war on the horizon—one that might devastate this world, which is called Strange Land (a biblical reference to Moses' self-identification as "a stranger in a strange land"?).

Russell's story is filled with colorful characters and Korean idioms, all perceptively rendered by an author who obviously loves Korea and its legends.  There's a keen awareness of Korean culture that no doubt comes from Russell's own experience in Korea; I did feel a twinge when I thought that the author may have beaten me to the punch in writing a story that involves characters much like the ones I'd like to include in my own fantasy-themed novel.  That said, Russell's book could stand some massive proofreading:  typos and other linguistic gaffes abound, and they sometimes detract and distract from the story.  Comb through the prose, straighten out the kinks, and you've got a fascinating adventure on your hands—readable by both kids and adults.  (I also really like the book's cover design.)

3.  NB Armstrong, Korean Straight Lines (2012)

My English friend N, who does freelance work for my company along with the several dozen other things he does to keep himself busy, recently recommended his Korean Straight Lines to me, so I bought the Kindle version.  Published in 2012, the book recounts N's early experiences in South Korea.  The narrative is presented in a pastiched, impressionistic manner; chapters are short, all unfailingly ending with little vocab lessons written in both hangeul and English words.

For the scatologically inclined, there's a brief story about N's encounters with an old man in Busan, whom N came to think of as something of a sage... until the day N found the old man leaning against a wall and taking a foul-smelling shit while gesturing vigorously for N to provide him with toilet paper.  Later in the book, and in much the same frank, toilet-related spirit, N finds himself on a bus, saddled with a raging need to take a piss.  He does so surreptitiously, into a bottle, and is literally caught with his pants down when another bus pulls alongside him, and a woman in that bus sees N in flagrante and fixes the Englishman with a glare of disapproval.  As the comedy of errors continues, N ends up dropping the urine-filled bottle, which rolls along the floor of the bus.

I don't want to give the impression that the book is entirely focused on bodily functions; it isn't.  Most of the book, in fact, combines insights on Korean culture with N's experiences as a newbie who eventually gains competency in the language and a deeper knowledge of the culture.  N isn't bipolar, so his perspective on South Korea isn't as relentlessly positive as that of the late Shawn Matthews:  N is more thoughtful and meditative, and he's not inclined to view Korea through rose-colored glasses.  He offers respect to the country when respect is due, but he's honest and critical when he sees the country's flaws.  A person can learn a lot, from this book, about private teaching in Korea, Korean food culture, piano lessons, Chinese lessons, and the interesting things that can happen in the company of strangers.

N's book, like the other self-published books reviewed before this one, can definitely use some proofreading.  N tells me he wrote the book in a rush; I can only hope that, one day, he goes back to his manuscript and buffs out some of the typos and other errors.  Also, the hangeul lessons at the end of each chapter are useless if you can't/don't/won't read hangeul, but N does provide a handy appendix in which, step by step, you can learn to sound out hangeul and learn some basic words.  I've lived in South Korea for sixteen years, and while I speak Korean at a high-intermediate level (I'm far from fluent), I was embarrassed to see, while reading N's book, how many basic vocab words I still didn't know.  I used my Kindle app's highlighter function to note all the words that were new to me; I'll be studying them all soon.

Do I recommend N's book?  Well, how can I not?  N is English, so he writes in the idiom of a speaker of the Queen's.  This is wildly different from Shawn Matthews's splashy, flashy, Amurrican prose, but I suspect that most Yanks find Brit-inflected English charming, not off-putting.  N's style is occasionally prone to humorously purple hyperbole, but the reader never loses a sense of proportion.

One thing I still haven't quite figured out, though, is the meaning of the book's title.  First, I'll note that the title, Korean Straight Lines, is slightly Konglish-y:  Straight Korean Lines would be more natural-sounding, just as it's more natural to say "traditional Korean clothing" rather than what Koreans always say, to wit:  "Korean traditional clothing."  That's not how we normally order our adjectives.  I don't mean this as a criticism of N's diction, although it may sound like one.  I'm actually wondering whether the title involved a deliberate choice to "go Konglish," so to speak.  

My guess, based on my own experience living in this country, is that the title is a friendly jab at the nonlinearity of Korean thought, society, and culture.  Things rarely proceed straight from A to B here, and it often seems, from the foreigner's perspective, as if life in Korea has been deliberately set up to prevent linear, Euclidean movement.  

Result:  the Korean version of a straight line looks like a drunken scribble.  You start your first day of vacation thinking you'll be heading to Busan and sitting out on the beach, but instead, you're accosted by a Korean stranger who insists you tag along and meet his friends up in the mountains (that, by the way, is an introvert's worst fucking nightmare—trust me).  

Or a more relevant example:  you want to sign up to a website so you can order kitchen products, but as you muddle your way through the registration process, you're suddenly told by the website that you need to register with this other website to make the payment procedure smoother.  Only after registering at Site B can you return to Site A and continue registering.  One step forward, three steps sideways, ten steps backward.  

That's life in Korea.  Things that ought to be simple and direct, like the frank expression of certain opinions, can't happen because you have to worry about everyone's over-delicate feelings thanks to notions of "face" and "honor" and "shame."  Of course, if you live here long enough, you do get used to things, and you do learn—at least somewhat—how to navigate society.  But the static and friction of everyday life will constantly annoy you, anyway, because the Korean version of a straight line is indeed a drunken scribble.