Sunday, October 24, 2021

"Dune (Part 1)": review

Denis Villeneuve is the guy you go to when you want a movie that's slow, thoughtful, punctuated with a bit of violence here and there, and brimming with Big Ideas. I think the French Canadian is an extremely talented director, and I've enjoyed his "Siciario," "Arrival," and "Blade Runner 2049." Villeneuve doesn't fall into the George Lucas trap of not pushing his actors, and when he engages in a project, he normally has a clear, well-thought-out, coherent vision. According to Villeneuve's own testimony in various interviews, "Dune" has long been a dream project for him, and he's finally had his chance to shine. I'll save you the suspense: "Dune" shines for sure.

Thanks to the pandemic, there was some question as to whether "Dune" would be released directly and exclusively to home video. Villeneuve was famously peeved by the idea, and he fought hard to make sure the movie would secure a theatrical release. His anger is understandable: "Dune" is a spectacle that deserves to be seen on the big screen.

For those two or three of you who have no idea what "Dune" is about, the movie is based on the novel Dune by Frank Herbert. In the 1960s, Dune won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. It is a story that takes place some ten thousand years in the future. Mankind has tried and failed to create and use AI, and the aftermath of the human/AI war resulted in the commandment, "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind." In this far future, mankind has reverted to an imperial state, with Emperor Shaddam IV at the head of the Galactic Padishah Empire. Under the emperor are the great houses of the Landsraad, and prominent among them are two enemy houses, Atreides (the good guys) and Harkonnen (the bad guys). Frank Herbert's Dune ended up being the first in a series of novels; Dune itself focuses on the story of young Paul Atreides, son of Duke Leto and the Lady Jessica. Jessica is a member of the all-female order of the Bene Gesserit, which trains its members in biofeedback, various forms of combat, and perhaps most importantly, politics. The Bene Gesserit have been working behind the scenes for centuries, steering humanity's course along what is called "the golden path." Lady Jessica had been commanded by her order to give birth to a daughter, but instead, she gave birth to Paul, whom she has been training in the Bene Gesserit way. The planet Arrakis, colloquially called Dune, has been under the cruel control of the Harkonnens for decades, but the emperor has suddenly seen fit to dismiss the Harkonnens to have Dune ruled over by the Atreides. Thus do Leto, Jessica, and Paul uproot themselves from their comfortable life on the planet Caladan—with its verdure and bountiful water—to move to the sere, austere desert planet Arrakis, home and sole source of a substance called the spice, a psychotropic substance that allows powerful minds to fold space-time itself, thereby facilitating interstellar space travel. No spice, no space travel. No space travel, no empire. This makes Arrakis centrally important to the galaxy.

Villeneuve's "Dune" plunks us into the middle of this situation, with Paul as a teenager being groomed to take over his father's role as duke. The Harkonnens are just now leaving; the Atreides are just now arriving to take their place on Arrakis, and the local tribes of fierce Fremen have every reason to believe the Atreides will be just as cruel and exploitative as the Harkonnens had been. Duke Leto, a kind ruler, wants to harness what he sees as the "desert power" inherent in the might of the secretive Fremen. He wishes not to exploit them but to make an alliance with them. But there are other forces at work: the Bene Gesserit arrived on Arrakis long ago, and in preparation for the future, implanted a myth among the Fremen of a coming messiah, a Lisan al-Gaib. Meanwhile, the emperor and the Harkonnens have come to a secret agreement, and the Atreides presence on Arrakis is a trap. But Duke Leto, though kind, is not stupid, and he knows full well that other forces in the empire are moving against him and his family line.

The basic elements of the plot described above are in both the novel and the movie. The movie skips over or changes certain details: in the movie, for example, the Judge of the Change, a man named Liet Kynes, has been made into a female. Like in the book, the movie version of Kynes has been imperially commanded to be neutral about the government changeover on Arrakis, but she secretly sides with the Atreides family once she discovers firsthand that the new rulers really do care about the people. Her shift in loyalties will have dire consequences for her. In the book, Kynes is the father of Chani, the Fremen girl who will eventually become Paul Atreides's love interest. That wrinkle is absent in the movie version, but I don't think this absence does much to affect the overall plot.

"Dune" has elements in common with more recent works like "A Game of Thrones" in terms of all the plotting, betrayals, and castle intrigue. As in the novel, Paul is looked upon by the Fremen as a messiah, but "Dune, Part 1" goes only as far as to hint at visions of what might happen should Paul take on the mantle of the Muad'Dib (this universe's version of the Muslim mahdi, a type of messiah) or Kwistaz Haderach (lit., "shortening of the way," a being who sees and possibly even unites possible futures). Villeneuve's movie does a good job of giving us a sense of Paul's call to destiny; prophetic dreams are with Paul from the beginning.

The actors all step up to the task of playing the story's iconic roles well. Oscar Isaac is appropriately dignified and soulful as Duke Leto Atreides; Rebecca Ferguson is a combination of deadly, maternal, and vulnerable in the role of Paul's mother Jessica, the concubine who can never marry Duke Leto. Timothée Chalamet is capable in the role of young, troubled Paul, who comes off as competent but overwhelmed by what is being asked of him, whether it's to succeed his father as head of House Atreides or to lead a jihadi army on a bloody conquest of the galaxy. Josh Brolin, fresh off his turn as Thanos in a series of Marvel movies, does fine work as gruff Gurney Halleck, one of Paul's personal teachers and a leader of warriors. Jason Momoa turns in a nuanced performance as Duncan Idaho, another weapons master and warrior in whom Paul confides his dreams. For the Harkonnen side, Stellan Skarsgård commands the screen as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. David Dastmalchian as personal Mentat Piter De Vries get the creepy vibe just right, and Dave Bautastia as Glossu "Beast" Rabban is properly menacing. Among the Fremen, Javier Bardem makes for a solid Stilgar, but Zendaya (as Chani), whom you see so much of in the preview trailers, actually has little to do in the movie aside from serve as the object of many of Paul's visions. She gets some actual dialogue toward the end, but I think she'll have a much-expanded role in the follow-up film, assuming there is one (you may have heard that the making of "Dune: Part 2" is very much in doubt).

We can't talk about Villeneuve's "Dune" without roping in David Lynch's 1984 mega-disaster version of this story. Lynch's "Dune" has many haters, and I can see why. Lynch is an auteur, a maker of art-house flicks, and I still don't understand why he was chosen to helm a classic like this. The results of Lynch's efforts weren't up to his usual standards. That said, there are elements of Lynch's "Dune" that I admit I rather enjoy—his choice of cast, for example. Patrick Stewart was a fine Gurney Halleck, and Kyle MacLachlan was a capable Paul Atreides, if a tad too old. I also had a bit of a crush on Francesca Annis, who rather sexily played Lady Jessica. Max Von Sydow was great as a book-faithful Liet Kynes, Siân Phillips was iconic as Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, Jose Ferrer played Emperor Shaddam IV with gravitas, and Kenneth McMillan was gleefully over the top as Baron Harkonnen. Lynch worked with a top-notch cast, but some of the film's Shatnerian line deliveries have led me to wonder what he was smoking when he was directing his actors. Lynch's choice to do voice-overs of character's inner monologues may also have been a bit too literal of an attempt at adapting the novel to the screen. (In the novel, we are often privy to characters' thoughts.) Villeneuve's "Dune" gives us spooky voices on occasion as a way of hinting at prophecy, but never as a way of conveying a character's specific thoughts.

Another area where Villeneuve's "Dune" kicks the ass of Lynch's version is that of special effects. Lynch really has no excuse for the sloppy production values of his 1984 film. "Return of the Jedi" had come out the previous year, featuring the cutting edge of Hollywood special effects for the time. Lynch's "Dune" looked bargain basement in comparison, at least with any scene involving a blue screen and ships. Why Lynch didn't take advantage of the full potential of special effects back then is probably a story involving budgetary constraints and producer/studio infighting. Frankly, I don't want to know that story; all I care about is the disappointing result. Villeneuve, on the other hand, took full advantage of the awesome technology at his disposal and crafted a film with nearly flawless effects, which range from understated (like Baron Harkonnen's repulsorlifts) to grandiose (like the Heighliners and the transports of House Atreides).

Which leads us to the sandworms. In the novel Dune, sandworms dominate the storyline. For the movie versions, the sandworms needed to be big and bad and bold. Lynch didn't do a terrible job with his version of these behemoths, which cruise the deserts of Arrakis like massive whales with huge fangs. But Villeneuve takes the sandworms in an interesting direction, making their teeth look almost baleen-like, less for biting things than for funneling food into those massive mouths. Villeneuve's "Dune" gives us several tantalizing hints of what a sandworm looks like before finally giving us a huge, theophanic reveal toward the end of the film. I have chosen the word "theophanic" carefully because, in the culture of the Fremen, Shai-Hulud (the sandworm) is considered a manifestation of God. Villeneuve's magnificent sandworms, seen in contrast with tiny humans, do indeed strike awe in the viewer, or at least in me. They are an organic marvel, convincingly integral to the ecology of Arrakis, and awesome on the big screen.

I should also note the film's sound design, from the music to the auditory effects. Composer/conductor Hans Zimmer, as it turns out, has also long been a fan of "Dune," and it was a dream of his to work on "Dune" as a project. The planets seem to have aligned, then, in getting Zimmer together in the same room with Villeneuve (Zimmer is German for "room," by the way). Zimmer has been prone to excess in the past; I always go back to his breathless score for "The Rock," which has not stood the test of time, and I don't like his work on "Gladiator." But as he's aged and mellowed, his music has become more serious. I've enjoyed his more thoughtful work in films like "The Dark Knight," "Interstellar," and "Inception." You can hear traces of those films in his score for "Dune," and Zimmer has added some ethereal, spooky touches to this soundtrack that often called to mind the work of Bear McCreary on "Battlestar Galactica." One video I saw said that Zimmer had to invent new instruments for this movie to get the otherworldly sound he desired. As for the film's larger sound design, you can tell that Villeneuve has taken great care here, too, to provide the audience with a dimensional experience (Theo Green is credited as sound editor).

So in sum, "Dune" is the story of a young man burdened by prophecy and destiny, struggling to survive on an alien world as he comes to grips with powers that, at first, seem much greater than he is. By the end of Villeneuve's "Dune," though, Paul has begun to gain the trust and respect of the desert Fremen, and assuming "Part 2" is eventually made, we will witness how this massive story concludes. 

It's been said many times that the novel Dune is, among other things, a warning about messiahs. It could be a warning that messiahs aren't always who they're portrayed to be, as with the proverb "Never meet your heroes," which is about how the real falls short of the ideal. It could also be that messiahs are inherently misleading, causing one to think that the arrival of a messiah signals some sort of end (or beginning), when in fact, history shows us that the story never ends, and anyone claiming to be a messiah turns out to be nothing more than one wave in a ceaselessly moving ocean.

Denis Villeneuve is to be credited with doing his best at treating the source material with greater respect than David Lynch did (although some of Lynch's imagery will forever remain burned into my consciousness). Villeneuve's "Dune" isn't perfect, e.g., Dr. Kynes's fate isn't faithful to the book at all, but it's better than a mere college try. 2021's "Dune" is the film David Lynch could have made had he taken the story more seriously. Villeneuve, like Lynch, assembled a very competent and photogenic cast, and the result is a visually sumptuous epic that warrants multiple viewings just so one can drink in all the details. I have high hopes that the film will do well enough to warrant greenlighting "Part 2." Hats off to the director and the cast for giving us such a fun ride. "Dune" is a feast for the eyes and ears and mind, and if you're looking for a reason to see a movie in a theater instead of watching it, pandemic-trapped, at home, then your opportunity has finally come.

the experience of seeing "Dune" (not a review)

I just came back from watching "Dune" in a real, honest-to-God movie theater, and I'm still processing the experience. This is my first time seeing a movie in a cinema since the pandemic started, so I guess it's been close to two years. As I used to do pre-pandemic, I took a cab to Lotte World Mall to take advantage of the mall's huge multiplex. I had no idea what to expect regarding how the pandemic might have affected ticket-buying. I was about to find out.

Up to the fifth floor I went, hoping I'd see the usual staffers at the box office, ready to give me a ticket for "Dune" at the time of my choosing, but no—the first thing I discovered is that, if you want to buy tickets on site, you're still going to have to use a computer. They had some sort of SmartTicket setup that I had to learn quickly how to use. It wasn't too difficult, but it was inconvenient. There are touch-screen options that allow you to call up your already-ordered ticket via your order number; I realized that that wasn't what I wanted: I hadn't gotten a ticket online, and I wanted to buy a ticket sur place. I found the option for that, and the program led me through the procedure, step by step. 

Seat selection was a bit confusing, though, because the graphic didn't show the seats the way they're actually arranged in the theater. I made my best guess as to the seat I wanted (I normally go for the end of an aisle so I can have easy access to the restroom if necessary), accounting for social-distancing measures (I'm still not clear on this, but at a guess, if you're not a couple, you have to have at least one seat between you, which really reduces the number of tickets that can be sold per screening). I noted that ticket prices had been jacked up to W14,000 to make up for all the lost seating potential (pre-pandemic, Lotte World Cinema tickets were around W11,000, but cheaper for matinees). 

The final step, after you've selected a movie, a screening time, and a seat number, is to receive your ticket via phone. This meant logging in via Naver, and as I found out, it had been so long since I'd last used Naver this way that I had to reactivate my account. One step forward, two steps back, as per usual with Korean tech. But in order to reactivate my account, I needed to be able to receive text messages, and I was in WiFi-only mode because I had used up my monthly quota of LTE data. I flipped data back on, allowing my phone bill to be charged extra, got through reactivation, then finally got my ticket.

But we're not done. The e-ticket arrives on your phone, and it contains a QR-code button, so I had to figure out how to be able to summon the QR code as well. I somehow managed that, and finally, I had my ticket and could get in line just as everyone started filing in for the movie.

Everything after that point felt like a more-or-less typical moviegoing experience except for the obligation to wear a mask, which I did resignedly. I've heard from two sources, now, that the Korean government is thinking of shifting to a living-with-COVID policy (the virus is endemic, after all) that drops a lot of restrictions and allows for more risk, but as JW reminded me, the government can take this breathing room away just as easily as it gives it. Anyway, receiving more leeway is something that'll happen later; we're not there yet:  today, everyone had to be masked, so I kept my face-diaper in place.

Watched the movie, was properly wowed (review pending), and left the way I came, via cab.

So maybe I'll go back to seeing movies in theaters again, especially now that I know the new (or maybe not-so-new) procedure for doing so. But it is a pain in the ass, and I'm not sure how much I like sitting in a theater with a fucking mask on my face. Then again, a spectacle like "Dune" has been billed as something that must be seen in a theater to be appreciated (director Denis Villeneuve was famously pissed off when the news came out that "Dune" might be released exclusively on home video), and now that I've seen the movie, I'd have to agree. See "Dune" on a big screen if you can, and when you see it at home, have a big-screen TV handy.

Styx on Alec Baldwin


from PowerLine's Week in Pictures

Some of the funnier pics from the latest PowerLine Week in Pictures:

This next one had me rolling:

Can't say I have any sympathy for Baldwin at all, but I expect him to walk away untouched:

This state of affairs has been predicted for a while, now:

Along with the cartoon below, here's a damning article on why solar power is no good (but criticism here):

In this matter, France has long had the right idea:

It always seems to come back to the energy-dense sources of fuel and power:

Some complain Abbott is too squishy, but he has his moments:

How is this guy still on the air?

Couldn't have happened to a nicer pair of guys:

This made me laugh and laugh:

Am admiring the Photoshop work, here:

When I saw the bald supervillain Darren Cross in the first "Ant-Man" movie, I thought something similar:

If you start a sentence with "I wonder," don't end it with a question mark:

Another entry in the "can't unsee" category:

Taken to its logical conclusion:

about Friday

I told my boss and coworkers that I had written about them on my blog, and I told them about the comments my post had received. One coworker had enough shame to admit that, yeah, "lazy-husband syndrome" was at least a partial cause for why no one had eaten my food for a month, but he also defended himself by noting that most of the office went on vacation right around Chuseok time, so for about two weeks, no one was around to eat anything. 

This still doesn't explain why no one had bothered to take home the Italian sausage I had made for everyone before my departure: each coworker got 750 grams of home-ground sausage, and what did they do with it? Fuck-all, that's what. All that meat is still sitting in the office freezer. I guess they're expecting me to cook something. The boss tried to butter me up by saying his wife still talks about the giant quiche I'd made way back when. Since he's invited us to his place for a Christmas party, I suppose I'll make that quiche again as a way to get in good with the Missus.

Anyway, this past Friday, I bought a new block of feta (the first block of feta had gone rotten) and a new box of cherry tomatoes. I thawed out the Middle Eastern chicken, prepped some couscous, chopped the tomatoes, and we all sat down to the lunch that should have been eaten back in September. In the end, nothing was left; we laid waste to the whole thing, although I'm not sure my Korean coworker enjoyed the food as much as we Yanks did. The situation is changing, but many Koreans still have a hangup about eating anything with cumin in it, and my Moroccan-inspired dish definitely had cumin.

So that's one lingering problem finally resolved. I probably won't make that chicken for another year, but in the meantime, I can guarantee some other bullshit will come up to give me a headache.

how Saturday went

The big takeaway from Saturday's walk is that I fucked up my shoulder, so things are even worse, now, than they'd been before. There was a moment during the walk from Gyeongpo Beach to Jeong Dong Jin Beach where I wanted to step off into a secluded part of the woods to take a piss, but I slipped on some mud and nearly fell on my ass. I saved myself by flailing my arms desperately and instinctively, but my right arm, for months now, hasn't been able to go much above shoulder height. When I flailed, my right arm went almost straight up, and I felt something massive inside my shoulder give a big, meaty click, immediately followed by some surprisingly intense pain. If my range of motion had been bad before Saturday, it's far worse now, and I may just have to visit an orthopede to see what's up and what can be done. Anyway, despite my yowling shoulder, I was able to grin and bear the final 11 km of what turned out to be close to a 25- or 26-kilometer walk (originally 24 km), all because JW was in the mood for Chinese, and there was no Chinese food to be found close to the shore.

JW and I took a 7:20 a.m. bus out to the coast, hitting Gangneung Terminal a bit after 10 a.m. We goggled at the beach for a bit (it was cleaner than I remembered) before heading off, and while the first few hundred meters went alongside the impressive Gyeongpo Lake, there was a ton of traffic right from the very beginning, and JW complained about the noise. I had billed this segment of my walk, i.e., Day 6, as the prettiest part of the whole thing—which I still believe—but I felt bad because I knew "prettiest" was true only according to the rather low standards of the east-coast walk as a whole. The walk had been nothing but noise and traffic and pollution and civilization, punctuated with some genuinely beautiful moments, but not enough to salvage the journey in my mind. (If you read my walk postmortem, you know I'm no longer interested in any further coastal treks.)

I had forgotten that several of this walk's most interesting sights all happened within the last six or so kilometers—a warship exhibit (with North Korean submarine), a Buddhist temple (where I refilled my water bottle with some mineral-tasting spring water), and a Korean War memorial for fallen civilians all appeared in rapid succession. In my memory, they were spaced farther apart, but in reality, they were all almost next door to each other.

I had also forgotten how often the walk would force a person to play in traffic. JW and I had to hop from one side of the street to another on several occasions, just to be able to walk on a road shoulder. I mentioned to him that it's good he hadn't brought along his kids for this hike; their mother would have flown into a rage had she discovered how dangerous the walk was.

So the Day 6 segment, this time around, didn't quite hold up to my memory of it, and JW declared, at the end, that the walk was "okay" except for the really trafficky part at the beginning (traffic I hadn't seen the first time around because I had started off a little before 5:30 a.m.). I came away from the walk with mixed feelings, and JW didn't appear entirely satisfied. At one point, he wistfully brought up Jeju Island again. I mentally rolled my eyes because I think JW may be harboring a postcard-style fantasy of what these walks are supposed to be like. I have a feeling that the Jeju Island walks wouldn't impress me as much as they impressed JW, especially with Jeju now as manicured and tourist-friendly as it is.

Here's the one pic I took this time around—JW at the beach:

This might not have been the best walk we've done, but it was a good, solid 25-ish kilometers (that extra distance being caused by the desire to find Chinese food).

four via Bill

Had a chuckle when I saw these:

"Dune" reviews from my go-to reviewers

I write movie reviews now and then, but I have my own set of go-to movie reviewers, primarily on YouTube. These are mostly Jeremy Jahns and Chris Stuckmann, but I also watch Mark Kermode and some others. Here are Chris Stuckmann and Jeremy Jahns talking about "Dune (Part I)," which I might go see Sunday morning:

Saturday, October 23, 2021

off to Gangneung

I'm sitting at the Express Bus Terminal, about to leave for Gangneung. Blogging will be sparse until late tonight. Laters!

Friday, October 22, 2021

Alec Baldwin kills someone

By now, you may have heard the news that sanctimonious lefty Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin accidentally shot and killed one person and severely injured another with a weapon what was supposed to be a prop gun. Facts surrounding the case are still coming out, so it's hard to know what's really going on, except that Baldwin undeniably killed someone. Memes are, of course, already flying, and a lot of people are saying Baldwin should be treated with the same benefit of the doubt that he gave Donald Trump.

The above was found in an Instapundit comment thread. Also from that thread, this remark:

"We're treating this as we would any other investigation," [sheriff spokesman] Ríos said. So, if I accidentally kill somebody with a gun that I claim I did not know was loaded, I'm still walking around free? Uh-huh.

Baldwin is currently free. No arrests have been made.

PJW on the dumbest tweet of the year

Paul Joseph Watson puts forth what may be the dumbest tweet of the year:

I'm not on Netflix (not for lack of trying), so I haven't watched "Squid Game," but I've seen numerous commentaries and think I almost know the plot of Season 1. It sounds a lot like a "K-dramas meet Tarantino" scenario, with all the tension and stress that such a fusion implies, all while keeping the requisite quota of screaming and tears that make K-dramas so endearing to the screams-and-tears crowd. (Korean shows are fine with screaming, tears, and violence, but still not so great when it comes to kissing and sex, although they're getting better in that regard, as I discovered this past May while in hospital.)

Maybe one day, if I ever get on Netflix, I'll watch "Squid Game" and review it, but for now, I can only be a distant spectator to this cultural phenomenon, which I might tentatively characterize as the first truly respectable K-drama.

via Bill

Some images, with thanks to Bill Keezer:

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Day 6, recapitulated

I'll be heading back out to Gangneung this Saturday with my buddy JW, walking the Day 6 portion of the east-coast route. I had wanted to finish the day by coming back to Seoul and enjoying food at a local jjambbong place (video of the place here—I've never seen jjambbong that looks like a rib-sticking jjigae before, nor have I seen it served with a base of mandu), but the train we're taking back from the east coast won't arrive in Seoul until almost 10 p.m., so JW and I will eat while we're still on the east coast. Assuming we have time. I ought to be able to walk the route faster because I won't be taking a lot of pictures this time around, so I think JW and I will arrive at our destination with plenty of time to eat before we have to get on the train and sleep the sleep of the righteous. So yes, I'll be treating Saturday as a cheat day, or at least as a day for a cheat meal

A cheat day tomorrow (Friday), then a cheat meal on Saturday. The gods are not smiling upon my behavior, I'm sure, but I think this'll all work itself out. More on my health later.

some videos to share

These have been sitting in my archive for over a month.

Paul Joseph Watson on rich people prepping for the apocalypse:

Vegetable oil is unhealthy (but keto-heads have been aware of this for a while):

Stick to butter and beef tallow!

Finally, a study of Luke Skywalker and heroism:

a rocky first week back

Diet-wise, I could be doing better. I mean, I'm generally behaving myself in terms of carbs—I'm pretty much back on a gentler form of Newcastle, now, so I'm no longer hitting the sugar, but I know I could do better. Tuesday, a fasting day, went well for the most part, but I've been heavy on the calories on the days I do eat, and this Friday and the following Friday are my two October cheat days. 

The coworkers all acted like helpless husbands during the month I was gone, completely ignoring the food I'd prepared for them (Middle Eastern chicken and Italian sausage); it's all still in the freezer, except for the tomatoes, which spent a month in the office fridge along with the feta cheese, which I threw out after I smelled it and discovered it was rotten (the tomatoes, all wrinkly and dry, had to go, too). What a fucking waste. And why didn't the guys eat the food I'd made them? Because they were all too goddamn lazy to do the final prep work to feed themselves. I mean, how much effort does it take to thaw the chicken out and microwave it? How hard is it to prepare couscous, for God's sakes? With couscous, you just pour hot water into the pasta, add a knob or two of butter, close the container, and wait five minutes. But, no—my coworkers showed they had all become lazy husbands who expect someone else to do the damn cooking for them. So we'll all be eating my chicken on Friday; I've bought a new block of feta, and I guess I need to buy another box of cherry tomatoes. Jesus.

As for my nutrition—next week, I'll buckle down harder. Meanwhile, today (Thursday) is another fasting day, so here's hoping that that helps even out the damage.

Discipline is hard. And apparently, for my coworkers, minimal food prep is hard. Christ.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

site-traffic stats blowing up

Somebody's glad I'm back to blogging here!

I had a 13,000-plus day yesterday in terms of site visits. Even if you halve that number to account for bots and other fakery, 6,500+ is still pretty damn good for me. Today, I've already racked up 3,000 visits, so who knows where I'll be by the end of the day?

Thanks for the visits, whoever you are!

via Bill—hilarious response to ecofascism in the home

So your daughter has been skipping school on Fridays as a way to demonstrate her ecological awareness and to protest against the horrible, horrible world created by all those eco-unfriendly adults (this is called FFF, or "Fridays for Future"). Well, two parents have apparently written an open letter to Greta Thunberg, student-eco-activist extraordinaire, thanking her for showing the way. Here's what the parents (in Germany) wrote (slightly edited for form and style):

Thanks, Greta… thanks, Fridays for Future!

Oh, oh... doors slamming, loud screaming...

Our daughter recently got back from more stupid FFF truancy. She was teed off because we didn’t pick her up (climate-friendly) and so she had to tough it out in a bus and train for 3 hours to get home.

After having a chalky vegan soy cake (only for her—we had real cheesecake) there was a surprise. She now has to take the bus to school in the morning. But that’s a drag because the bus only leaves every hour, and she either arrives at school an hour early or arrives too late. We suggested to stop heating the bus because it still uses oil. But she also doesn’t want to go by bicycle because of all the hills and grades—besides, soon it’ll be winter, and it’s too cold and windy. But she says she might consider the option if she gets an e-bike for Christmas.

“Christmas? But that’s totally anti-eco,” I told her. “All those lights and CO2 emissions from candles!” This sparked the first prepubescent protest, which was amazingly similar to her defiant phase between the ages of 2 and 3. "E-bike? Hasn’t our little daughter even seen the devastated areas that result from the extraction of rare earths for the batteries?"

Now, she’s sitting upstairs in her room at 8°C (46°F), moping. We have already turned off the heat there to be ecologically conscious. Maybe she’s keeping her fingers warm typing angry mails about her “shitty parents” to her friends on her iPhone. But here, we’ve announced to her that she will be rid of this iPhone at 7 p.m. After all, it’s irresponsible to keep wasting electricity to have more or less useful conversation and, secondly: again, the lithium extraction and its ecological consequences.

In response to her protests against this expropriation, we assured her in a calm voice that we would either send the iPhone directly to needy children in Africa, or sell it and then donate the financial equivalent to help save the South American rainforest.

But the real fun starts on Monday. That’s when we swap out her trendy clothes for jute, wool, and hemp-fiber-woven stuff. Her Nikes with the cool plastic soles will be replaced by Dutch wooden shoes. And if someone thinks this is satire: No, we are GOING THROUGH WITH IT!

If she then still screeches on, she has two possibilities:

1) recognize what brainless eco-fascists she’s listening to
2) recognize what brainless eco-fascists she’s listening to!

Thank you, Greta. You have inspired us, as no one else would have done in educational matters. Mommy and I have just shouted up to our daughter: "We’re going to McDonald’s; want to come along?" We hope the hysterical screaming will stop by the time we get back.

"The Green Knight": an exegesis

Here's an interesting analysis of "The Green Knight":

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

another pic dump!

I usually raid the Instapundit open threads to find these images.


I saw the news yesterday evening: Colin Powell is dead at 84, reportedly from complications related to COVID, but he was also suffering from multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. Powell was also "fully vaccinated" against the coronavirus, for all the good it did him. The jokes started immediately: "Good thing Powell was fully vaccinated, or it could have been a lot worse" is the most prominent joke I've been seeing making the rounds.

Powell was part of the neocon establishment and one of the main authors of GW Bush's ill-advised Iraq war. This makes it difficult to mourn his passing: he was part of the crew who believed (and still believe) that people the world over want American-style freedom, and that it's America's duty to spread that freedom by force if necessary. This neocon attitude put Powell on the side of the Never Trump Republicans, but Powell ended up edging away from the right altogether, especially as Barack Obama was coming into prominence.

I'll say I can respect the man for his achievements, but in the end, I see him as one of the people who held the country back from true greatness. RIP.

mass hysteria

"Why do so many people buy into the narrative?"

Watch the above video, and you'll become acquainted with the term "mass formation." Important bit comes at 12:07 in the video.

Monday, October 18, 2021

try this stat on for size

I subscribe to the newsletter of Dr. Becky Gillaspy, one of the dieting experts I started listening to once I got out of the hospital. In her latest newsletter is this tidbit about Halloween:

It's been estimated that on Halloween, the average child consumes around 3 cups or 7,000 calories of candy!

Children of America: I'm genuinely impressed. Keep up the good work!

back to work

First day back in the office. It was my Korean coworker's birthday, so I had a slice of birthday cake, thus throwing any attempt at getting back to keto out the window (in my defense, I started off well, having keto burgers for lunch using Joe Duff's bagel recipe; the bagels, when you make six of them, are the perfect size for my burger patties). I'll still do my 10K walk once I leave the office, though, so at least there's that.

Much of today was spent simply getting my head back in the game. I had left the office, in September, with a mountain of proofreading yet to do, so that's what I did all day today, and it's what I'll be doing for the next few days until I finally reach a point where I can generate new material for the next project. 

It's a fasting day tomorrow, though, so that ought to start making up for the excesses of today. It's a stairs day tomorrow, too, but I'm restarting slow and easy, doing only half a staircase tomorrow and Thursday, a full staircase on Saturday (or Sunday, depending on how big of a walk I do on Saturday), then I'll be back to 1.5 staircases next week. Same goes for resistance-band work—I'll be doing only half-sets this week, then going back to full sets next week. Meanwhile a fitness-nerd friend of mine in Qatar sent me a PDF for a Navy SEAL workout program, which I'll be looking into and adapting to my needs and abilities, but that's more of a next-year thing than a right-away thing. More on the SEAL program later; I've only barely begun to read the PDF, but it's already interesting as it promises a no-gym routine.

Anyway, it's good to be back in the office and earning money again, but more and more, I think I want to be my own boss, so I'll continue to work quietly and intensively on my writing projects, and we'll see how that goes. I had a brainstorm about a book a couple months ago, and I'm talking with some people about how to make this book happen. More on that later.

"The Green Knight": review

"The Green Knight" is a 2021 fantasy-adventure film directed, written, and produced by David Lowery. It stars Dev Patel as Gawain, not quite a knight and therefore not yet Sir Gawain when we meet him. The film's story is based on the anonymous 14th-century poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," although the film version contains some major differences. Gawain, nephew of King Arthur, awakes in a brothel and rushes to a Christmas celebration at Arthur's court. He is, at this point, untested, but he yearns to gain honor and become a knight. A mysterious stranger suddenly appears in the court: a tree-like green knight who offers a challenge to anyone brave enough: strike a blow against him, and the warrior who does so can have the knight's axe, but in one year's time, that warrior must meet the knight at the Green Chapel, where the knight will return whatever blow was struck against him. Gawain, impetuous, beheads the green knight, who picks up his severed head and declares, "One year hence." A year passes, and Arthur reminds Gawain of his commitment. Gawain's mother is the sorceress Morgan Le Fay; she gives her son a charmed sash to wear around his waist as protection against all harm. Gawain departs for the Green Chapel and has several encounters with people and creatures both normal and magical, and in the end, he finally finds himself face to face with the Green Knight. What happens? I'll leave that unspoiled.

The first thing to note, for action hounds, is that this is not an action movie. It moves with a molasses-slow, surreal pace like a Terrence Malick film or like the Mads Mikkelsen film "Valhalla Rising." Don't go into "The Green Knight" expecting swooping, Spielbergian camera work, fast-paced fight scenes, and rapidfire, witty dialogue. This is a symbol-saturated, meditative movie about one glory hound's arc as he tries and frequently fails to live up to the knightly virtues he claims to aspire to, but in reality doesn't much care for. The question of Gawain's character is foremost on our minds, and we see Gawain evolve, a little, over the course of the plot. The film gets ample help from talented costars: Sean Harris plays an old and sickly King Arthur; Alicia Vikander and Joel Edgerton play crucial roles, and Sarita Choudury is Morgan Le Fay the witch. Vikander is interesting because she plays two roles in the film: that of Gawain's peasant-girl lover and, later, the Lady Bertilak, who offers a monologue on the significance of the Green Knight's greenness, and what that greenness symbolizes: the power of primal nature, the passage of time, and the inevitability of death. 

I think I may need to give the film a second viewing because I was initially turned off by how slow-paced it was, but a slew of reviewer commentaries convinced me that the film deserves to be seen again so I may more deeply explore its symbolism. I like certain slow, thoughtful films, but not all of them. Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line" struck me as overly pretentious and self-conscious, but "Valhalla Rising," by contrast, seemed profound, and so did Bae Yong-kyun's slow but deep "Why Did Bodhidharma Go East?" "The Green Knight" sits on the edge for me, caught somewhere between pretentious and profound. 

The elephant in the room, which most other reviewers seem not to want to discuss, is the race of the characters: Dev Patel, a fine actor, is English but of Indian stock, so I guess it made sense to cast Sarita Choudury, also English but of Indian heritage (and a fine actress herself), as his mother. They seem somewhat incongruous, as a result, in King Arthur's otherwise-whitebread court, but a director can take dramatic license with a well-known story, so maybe this casting choice isn't supposed to mean anything. Or is it? Some random villagers in this vision of Arthurian England were also black; I'm not sure I'd credit England with that sort of racial diversity back then. That said, race doesn't really figure into the story, but it does add a strange wrinkle and possible subtext to the proceedings. 

Overall, "The Green Knight" sits very much in "still waters run deep" territory, and it may take more than one viewing to unpack. It's rich in symbols, atmospheric in a Christianity-versus-paganism kind of way, filled with bizarre moments, and strange in how it combines visually striking images with occasionally low-budget-looking ones, especially during some of the sudden lighting changes, which give the film an anachronistic feel (as does the language, which melds older speech with certain modernisms). Go see it with my cautious recommendation, but don't be surprised if you find yourself puzzling over the story afterward. I'm not sure I'm as thrilled by this film as most critics were, but it could be that "The Green Knight" has layers that deserve further exploration.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

it's not easy being green

I'm really liking these Belinda Carr videos about architecture. Here's one about the hypocrisy inherent in "green" buildings.

To be clear, Carr isn't anti-green, and I don't know enough about her to put her anywhere on the political spectrum. But she's extremely critical of people's uncritical acceptance of the new and the different when it comes to architectural innovation, which makes her something of an anti-Matt Ferrell (who runs the Undecided channel on YouTube, which explores exciting new technologies, all of which, according to the perennially breathless Ferrell, will soon revolutionize our future). I like that trait in her.

got my work cut out for me

The bad news is that I'm up to 104.5 kg, a gain of 3.5 kg (8-ish pounds) since before the walk. The good news is that, while I did begin to suspect I'd gained weight during the walk thanks to all my snacking, I didn't gain that much, and I can shed this weight in a matter of weeks simply by returning to the discipline that got me here. So I'm going to enact a milder form of Newcastle this week, restart the walking/stairs/resistance/core training, and get myself back on track. By December, when I see the docs again, my numbers ought to be about as good as they were in September. When you fall down, get up.

oh, Rey

Saw this and had a good laugh:

think twice before getting a shipping-container home

Good video on why shipping-container homes can be a scam:

Saturday, October 16, 2021

boy, there's always something

Walked to Bundang, and while it was, in many ways, a good day for a walk, it was also quite cold, so once again, instead of doing my promised 35K, I did just 18K. Funny—when I arrived back in Seoul on Thursday the 14th, it was sunny and warm, a lot like the weather I'd left behind in Busan. I'd heard from a couple people that Seoul had gotten colder, which is in line with my belief that fall doesn't truly arrive until mid-October. I wish I had been hiking the east-coast trail in this sort of weather (a jacket plus my toshi would have kept me warmer, plus the very effort of walking would have heated me up), but this year, Chuseok came early, so I had no choice but to arrange my vacation earlier than I'd wanted to.

Oh, well. At least I did my 18K, so there's that.

"Free Guy," but not a review

I watched "Free Guy," but I won't be writing a review about it when you can just go over to Liminality and read Charles's magisterial meditation on the film and the story's largely unexplored philosophical issues. There's little for me to add to Charles's thoughts as he's covered all the basics.

I'll note that the question of AI becoming sentient, and what to do with it, was a pet subject of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," which devoted many episodes to exploring various versions of this issue. One episode that comes to mind ("Ship in a Bottle") deals with the holodeck program of Moriarty, the fictional nemesis of Sherlock Holmes who, in this scenario, becomes sentient. Ultimately, the Enterprise crew conclude they cannot kill what is essentially artificial life, so they defeat Moriarty by trapping him, without his knowledge, in a simulation within a simulation, thus keeping him alive and happy, able to have his own adventures within his pocket universe. In "Free Guy," main character Guy ends up in a similar situation, although he's aware he's inside a simulation that depends on hardware for its continued existence.

The movie does indeed gloss over any serious attempt to grapple with the issues of artificial life, consciousness, and intelligence (and as Charles points out, these are all different animals). It does, however, come to much the same conclusion I have regarding whether we are all currently living in a simulation: we ourselves might be simulated, and there might be a "realer" reality out there, but that doesn't make our lives meaningless. This is actually an ancient problem faced by many religions, which posit that the world we know isn't the realest or most ideal world, but merely an illusion or a "fallen" version of a better world. To say "we live in a simulation" is just a modern version of saying we live in an inferior version of reality. The analogy between ancient thought and modern fiction isn't perfect (e.g., some religious people would claim that our soul or consciousness is the realest thing about us, and when we die, we move on to "a better place," whereas for computer simulations, if you pull the plug on them, there's no moving on), but it works on the grand scale.

Neil deGrasse Tyson was asked about the so-called "simulation hypothesis," which is most closely associated with philosopher Nick Bostrom (type "bostrom" and "simulation" into my blog's search window to find other posts I've written on this topic). Tyson's answer was interesting. He framed the simulation hypothesis this way (which is not the way Bostrom described it): are we in a simulation such that a first universe got clever enough to create a perfect universe-simulation, and then that simulated world created its own simulation, etc., until we reach some final world where the people haven't yet figured out how to create their own perfect simulation of the cosmos? If so, then given the current evidence, i.e., that we manifestly do not know how to create a perfectly simulated universe, either we must be that first world (and thus yet to create any universe-simulations), or we must be that last world (the "dumb" world that still hasn't figured out how to create its own simulations). Tyson concludes that he knows which world he's betting we're in. This is something of a non-answer, when you think about it, and there may be reasons to question how Tyson has framed the question, but Tyson's answer is still worth chewing over.

Anyway, "Free Guy" is funny, fluffy entertainment, but it certainly doesn't hold up to close scrutiny. Turn your brain off and just enjoy the visuals.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Happy Birthday, Sean!

My brother Sean, ten years younger than I am, turns 42 today. A few months ago, he and Jeff moved to a suburb of Chicago, and I guess Sean has become a Chicagoan since then.

In my family, Sean may be the closest thing to a discipline junkie. He's been vegan; he's been on Atkins (and in both cases, he lost a lot of weight). He currently claims he needs to get back on a diet, but recent photos seem to show he's doing just fine. He's also a professional cellist, which takes plenty of self-discipline, and he works six or seven days a week, even now, during the pandemic. Insane.

Tout de bon, mon petit frère!

Sean (L) and Jeff (R) in their new Chicago-suburb home

fitness insights and pensées

Well, here we are, you and me. I thought I'd be out walking to Bundang by now, but I'm not doing that because reasons. So I thought I might as well use the extra time to think out loud about some fitness-related insights I had while on the trail, as well as some thoughts that arose from teasing out the implications of certain notions.

Question: how did I succeed so well during my three months out of the hospital? I lost 27 kilos in that time frame, and according to the docs during my September appointment, my numbers had all radically improved. Triglycerides (fat in the blood, leading to stroke) were down by at least half; A1c (blood sugar, 3-month average) was down to 5.7 (practically non-diabetic); weight, at 101 kg, was way down (but still admittedly too high); BP was arguably down, although I had to argue the point with my diabetes doctor given that my home BP monitor showed a much better result than did the hospital BP monitor. How'd I succeed so well, despite all the various slips-ups I'd made along the way?

I think it's because I largely stayed the course, and I didn't let those slip-ups define me. We're all imperfect; we all slip up and backslide from time to time. The important thing, when you slip up, is not to give up. As with most things in life linked to success, perseverance—grit, determination, focus, sticktoitiveness—matters. When you fall down, get up: perhaps the best and only piece of worthwhile life-advice I ever got from my father. It's okay to fail; success happens through failure. The point, though, is not to lose your focus, not to drop your eyes from the prize, whatever your particular prize is. In my case, it's reaching 90 kg, which I obviously didn't do over the course of my walk to Busan. But that's fine: I've given myself a year, from this past summer, to reach that goal, so check back with me next June or July.

Among the discoveries I made during the walk was the notion of how important staircase training truly was. The east-coast walk proved to be hillier than I'd originally expected, but in every case but one, I was able to tackle the hills with relative ease (that one exceptional hill was pretty badass), never becoming exhausted, and that was thanks to the intensive staircase training I had done before the walk. Now that I'm back home, I'll be resuming that training, and by the end of the year, my goal is to be able to do three staircases' worth of climbing. Beyond that, I have no intention to do more than three staircases, but there are things I can do to make the staircase workout harder. I have a weight vest, for instance, and it can hold up to 20 kg. I can start at 5 kilos, do that for a few weeks, then work my way up to 10 kilos, then 15, and then finally 20. Staircase work is a combination of strength and cardio; it gets the heart pumping and the lungs working hard. And as I've discovered, it's absolutely invaluable as a way to prep for hills when hiking. I'll be very proud of myself if I can do three staircases' worth of climbing while wearing 20 kilos. Maybe that'll be one of my new goals for 2022.

Walking through that one nightmarish tunnel taught me something about the need for more strength training. Climbing onto that raised ledge took all my strength; I should have been able to just take a running leap and land gracefully atop the ledge. I might be able to walk long distances, but there are many ways in which I'm still quite weak, and that's something that needs fixing. Building muscle isn't merely about looking good, although I suppose that's a welcome side effect. No: building muscle is about having the strength to able to function independently both now and when I'm truly old. It's about avoiding falls and avoiding broken bones (resistance exercises slow the process of osteoporosis). Strength training should be thought of as an investment. And building muscle mass has the added benefit of revving up one's metabolism—always a good thing when you have a slow, lazy metabolism like mine, one that allows me to get fat at the drop of a hat. Muscles burn energy, so being muscular means more passive fat-burning when you're at rest—another reason to work on strength.

Right now, I'm not considering going to a gym, so my options are fairly limited. I have a pullup bar that fits in a doorway, but I can't use it, yet, because of my bum shoulder (which may have improved only a little during the east-coast walk). I do have resistance bands, a pair of 10-kg dumbbells, and the ability to engage in some bodyweight calisthenics. In time, I'll be adding some basic bodyweight exercises like squats and lunges to my repertoire, but not quite yet—that's something for next year, I think.

A coworker of mine once suggested looking into Pilates, which is great for core work. If there's a version of Pilates that doesn't require much or any equipment, then that might be something for me to look into, and assuming Pilates follows a kind of curriculum, I can easily set goals and chart out my progress according to that curriculum.

So I think developing strength is going to be the main priority for 2022, especially since I'm not going to be meeting my strength goals set for this year. I'll use the resistance bands and dumbbells to get around my shoulder problem as well as possible, but assuming the problem clears up, I'll want to focus more on bodyweight calisthenics.

For cardio, I can liven things up by adding jump rope into my routines. Some people, the crazy ones, do a super-intense version of a jump-rope workout as part of a HIIT regimen. I don't know whether I want to go that hard, and I'm not sure I'm even capable of going that hard, given my stroke-related balance issues. But I've got a nice jump rope that hasn't seen much use, and I can find a quiet space in a below-ground parking garage where I can blast out, say, a ten-minute workout.

For right now, though, I need to slip back into my pre-walk routines. Tomorrow, I'll definitely be doing a long walk, hopefully 35K, to Bundang and back. Starting Tuesday, I'll get back into staircase work, probably remedially at first, then quickly building back up to 1.5 staircases before progressing to 2 staircases, then 2.5, and then eventually 3 staircases. I'll finish out this year by trying to meet or exceed as many of my set goals as I can, then I'll create a new set of goals for next year. I'm committed to this process, now, and that's what it is: a process, not something that leads to and stops at a specific end. The improvement never stops. The fight against inertia and entropy goes ever on and on.

I'm back!

As you've seen from the slew of posts that suddenly appeared here, I'm back from my walk to Busan. If you read nothing else, go read my postmortem summary of the trip. It's not a walk I'm eager to repeat anytime soon—too much civilization, pollution, etc. But it was nevertheless educational, so I don't consider it a waste of time.

I misbehaved a lot, dietetically speaking, during the walk, and as a result, this may be the first cross-country walk I've done in which I didn't lose any weight (at least according to my belt, which ultimately showed no change in waist size). I'll weigh myself this coming Sunday morning after having taken a day or two to restart the dietary and exercise discipline that got me where I was before the walk, but I'm not expecting good numbers, to be honest. Not to worry: I'll rebuild, and by mid-December, when I have my next doctor's appointment, my numbers ought to be back to being excellent, although not by much: I was down to 101 kg before the walk, and my goal weight is 90 kg, which I hope to lose at a slower, more reasonable pace over the course of a year.

In future posts, I'll be talking about some of the health-related insights I had during the walk, and how I might apply those insights to my new life. I've also got a ton of movies to watch, so expect more movie reviews. Today, I'm walking to Bundang in the evening, and tomorrow, I'm once again going to try walking to Bundang and back—35K total for the round trip. With the weather being cooler now, and with me being seasoned by a month of walking, the 35K ought to be a breeze. Stay tuned!

image dump

Saw a lot of images online while I was on the trail to Busan. Yes, of course I kept up with the news and with my friends' blogging. Here's a slew of images I need to dump because they're burning a hole in my phone.