Saturday, December 31, 2022


Pope Benedict XVI, previously known as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, has died at the age of 95. As with Barbara Walters, this was primarily due to old age.

I had a contentious relationship with Ratzinger when I was in grad school at The Catholic University of America. Before he became pope, Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the CDF), which in the very old days used to be called the Inquisition. Yes, that Inquisition. Obviously, things have changed since those long-ago times as there's a lot less torture now (ha ha), but the CDF is nothing if not a body wholly dedicated to the preservation and purity of Church dogma. In 2000, under then-Cardinal Ratzinger, the CDF promulgated the document known as Dominus Iesus, a conservative affirmation of church dogma that sought to render unambiguous certain ambiguities that had persisted since the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65. Dominus Iesus was approved by then-Pope John Paul II, who had to walk the fine line between spiritual liberalism and conservatism. As an off-the-scale religious liberal interested in religious pluralism, I found Dominus Iesus offensive and disappointing, but as I watched Ratzinger become pope and have to deal with things like Muslim encroachment, my attitude toward him may have softened a little bit. Islam continues to make gains in much of the world while Catholicism arguably continues to lose ground, so Ratzinger/Benedict probably saw himself as one of the last preservers of the faith. 

Of course, with the current woke pope in the Holy See, all of that has come to ashes. Don't get me wrong: if the Church were to radically liberalize its stance on gay marriage and female priests, for example, I'd be delighted. But under the current Pope Francis, what you have is liberalism gone wild—or maybe it's better characterized as out-and-out leftism. Francis embraces all manner of enviro-wackery and is an obvious Latin socialist. I can't imagine him doing what John Paul II did in standing with Reagan, Thatcher, and Walesa against Soviet oppression. Meanwhile, Ratzinger's words and deeds during these decades echo forwards and backwards in time. Benedict XVI was, without a doubt, a theologically significant pope who will likely be remembered for his writings and for his unapologetic defense of Church dogma. He was far more conservative than the likes of Karl Rahner (theological liberal and coiner of the phrase anonymous Christian), but to the extent that any organism requires a balance between the static and the dynamic, Benedict was a prominent bulwark of the Church, part of the static force that lends the Church its integrity and, hence, its durability.

Much of my time in grad school amounted to running up against religiously conservative arguments that challenged my liberal beliefs. I've come to respect a lot of those arguments, and I definitely see how such discourse has its analogues in today's political discussions. Despite all that, though, I am still basically a religious liberal. I can respect the edifice of the Catholic Church; God knows I've lived and studied it from the inside for years. But I was raised Protestant, and these days, I'm not particularly churchy at all. So I can respect a person like Pope Benedict XVI, but at a distance.

ADDENDUM: Dr. V shares his thoughts on Benedict. He's not as polite as I am about Francis. I wouldn't expect him to be.


Feminist icon Barbara Walters, the first-ever female news anchor, is dead at the ripe old age of 93. I can't say that I agreed with Walters's worldview, but I can respect her efforts as an old-school journalist and pioneer for women. She went through a long phase during which she was known as "Baba Wawa," a mocking tribute to her supposed speech impediment (it wasn't really an impediment; her speech was simply a little soft and melty around the edges). I recall with some amusement her interview with a very unrepentant Sean Connery after he had made his remark about keeping women in line with the occasional slap. I also recall an interview she did with comedian Robin Williams, during which Williams told a joke so off-color that Walters essentially stopped and gaped, unable to say anything in reply. I got the impression that celebrities generally liked Walters. Harrison Ford, famously uncomfortable during interviews, outright told Walters that the only reason why he was sitting with her was that he liked her. As you might expect, Walters interviewed more than celebrities: she was often among the first to interview global leaders ranging from heads of state to powerful businessmen. I'm not seeing any immediate cause of death for her; she apparently suffered aortic-valve problems some years earlier, but she recovered after surgery. At a guess, 93 was just her time. She lived well, accomplished much, and will be remembered.

2022: a very brief year-in-review

It was honestly difficult to think of highlights from this year. 2022 passed in a sort of fog, and right now, my brain is like a pothead wheezing, "What? It's over?" A few thoughts did come to me, though. Let's do a quick review.

Early in the year, I wrote and self-published Think Like a Teacher, my small contribution to the burgeoning homeschooling movement. In this booklet, I discuss ten things a teacher needs to do, phrasing my chapter headings as commands: know your goals; have a plan; have standards, set boundaries; be patient; be consistent; learn while you teach; research, research, research; think carefully about testing; provide success experiences and keep things interesting; think like a teacher. I didn't market the book well because I suck at marketing, but it's still selling a copy or two every few months—not enough to gain fame or fortune, but enough to affirm that I exist. Once I discovered how low-quality the paperback and hardback versions of my book were, I restricted sales to the ebook only. I need to find a way to make people aware that they can buy a hard copy of the book from me directly.

Part of my marketing strategy, such as it was, involved learning about the morass known as Reddit so I could post about my book there. I quickly discovered that Reddit was mostly a toxic place full of rabid stupidity, but the r/homeschool subreddit proved to be a haven of earnest people actually helping each other with their various homeschooling needs and problems (contrast that with the mostly negative r/teachers subreddit!). I frequented that subreddit for a few months, and even now, I go back there on occasion for a few minutes, but I don't think that Reddit is, overall, my kind of place. The homeschooling subreddit might be all right, but the rest of Reddit is a subculture I want nothing to do with.

That was the winter/spring of 2022. I was supposed to be working on a much larger, more ambitious book project as well: my huge book of movie reviews. But that has been slow in coming, and I'm very behind, so I have nothing new or good to report. After a miserably hot summer (summers in Korea are always miserably hot), let's fast forward to the fall. My long walk this year was a two-parter: I went to Jeju Island and walked the coastal perimeter, then I flew back to the mainland and walked along the Nakdong River for four days, spanning the distance between Sangju City and Andong City. Jeju was lovely, but I liked the Andong path better, probably because it felt more like the Four Rivers path. In fact, I discovered that the path I was on was a gukto jongju of its own (a country-spanning, end-to-end path), so I now know of three such paths: (1) Four Rivers, (2) east coast, and (3) Nakdong River. The Nakdong River gukto jongju goes from the Andong Dam to Sangju, then all the way down to Busan. The Sangju-to-Busan section, then, coincides with the Four Rivers path, whose final part is that same section. I imagine there's a west-coast gukto jongju as well, and maybe a south-coast one, but I'm not keen on any more coastal walking on the mainland. By contrast, I'd be willing to walk along the Jeju coast again: it's much quieter.

To cap off 2022, there's the craziness I'm involved with now as my entire R&D team has been disbanded. The CEO had a possible change of heart, though, and we're in the process of finding out whether the team can get a new lease on life by working directly under the CEO as his tutors and his content-creation team. That's all still up in the air.

So as with previous years, 2022 has had its ups and downs. I didn't suffer a second stroke, so I'll consider that a plus. I nevertheless need to get back to serious dieting; I spent much of 2022 regaining the weight I'd lost the previous year, and it shows. So come the new year, I'll gather myself up, gird my loins, and try, try again. I hope you also look forward to the new year in a spirit of hope. Good luck to us all in these crazy times.

what will it be like tonight?

Although I think that, overall, South Korea handled the pandemic about as well as it could, the government still eroded basic freedoms here, like the freedom of assembly. It used to be that, on New Year's Eve, a crowd would gather to watch a sound-and-light show at the Lotte World Tower. There'd be a final countdown to midnight, and then a massive burst of fireworks launched directly off the tower to ring in the new year. Since the pandemic, though, crowds have not been allowed to gather at the tower, and the once-spectacular display has been reduced to a lame, flickering light show. 

But what will it be like this year? 

Pandemic restrictions have been slightly loosening; a lot of the old social-distancing signs have disappeared. Will a crowd be allowed to gather at the tower this year, and will the full-on display of light, sound, and fireworks return?

Or will this be yet another lame pandemic year? Korea has had a chance to make a brave statement of defiance during this crisis, but it's chosen not to, which is a shame. Koreans have proven, in the past, that they're capable of great bravery and mass action, as when they demonstrated en masse against Park Geun-hye. But with the arrival of the virus, the population here has become timid and cowardly. A recent survey showed that 44% of Koreans would keep wearing masks even if the mask mandate were dropped. That's just nuts.

And if so much of the population remains in the grip of superstitious fear, my hopes aren't high that we'll be seeing an awesome New Year's spectacle tonight. 

Korea, please prove me wrong.


In the following image, the joke is that this is a dialogue with an AI chatbot (green symbol), and the AI can't figure out the logic problem, which is absurdly simple:

Friday, December 30, 2022

lunch, December 27

Octopus bibimbap with the octopus on the side:

nakji bibimbap/낙지비빔밥

octopus up close

bibimbap, as yet unadorned

Korean-style miso-ish soup

don't freak them out with new words

When I mailed my package off yesterday, I had to fill out the Korean forms that would be stuck to the envelope. The Korean post office insists on using its own packaging for your small parcels, so even though I had put my item (a tiny manual on how to officiate weddings) into my own padded envelope and had written the destination address on it, along with my return address, I nevertheless had to write everything all over again on the Korean form, and my parcel was stuck into two shipping envelopes, turning the whole thing into a 3-layered Russian nesting doll. A stupid waste of paper and plastic, but Koreans tend to over-package everything, anyway. (You see it all the time in grocery stores.)

The Korean shipping form had a space in which to write about the contents being sent as well as the approximate worth of the contents. I shrugged and wrote "$5," which was just a guess. In the blank where I was to name the contents, I wrote "booklet" in English, thinking nothing of it. (For these international deliveries, the post office insists that you not write in Korean.)

When the time came to process the package and pay for postage, the lady helping me was brought up short by the word "booklet," which she had apparently never seen before. I explained that a booklet was simply a small book, and she huffily wrote "BOOK," surrounded by parentheses on the form, directly below what I'd written. Do the Korean letter carriers need to see this added explanation? They're not going to care what the English says, I should think, unless they're really anal retentive. And once the package is overseas, the American letter carriers will know exactly what a booklet is, so they don't need the explanation, either. I can't read minds, but I think the staffer was just expelling some of her own frustration in a typically bureaucratic way, adding unnecessary curlicues to a straightforward process.

Booklet. Is that word irritating? I didn't mean to fart in the lady's Cheerios.

"New vocabulary," I joked obliquely.

"This is a new word?" the staffer asked.

"No," I said, grinning to myself. What I'd meant was, "This is a new word to you." But I didn't explain what I'd meant, so the lame joke just hung in the air, like a warm and humid fart cloud over an unsuspecting bowl of Cheerios, and dissipated.

After that, processing the package was a perfunctory affair, although it seemed to take an awfully long time for such a little, simple thing. The post office should distribute a device to every home—a machine that can weigh packages, scan their dimensions, and allow you to print your own mailing labels. You would then just put your package somewhere outside your home (maybe in a protected locker in case there were porch pirates)—no more need to go to the post office, expect maybe to pick up supplies to restock your postal machine. ("Postal machine" sounds like a robot on a murder rampage.) The postal service will be glad to have your constant business since you'll need to keep your machine constantly stocked with shipping-label stickers, all sizes of envelopes, etc.

With those thoughts bouncing around in my head, I left the post office and headed down the hall to the Chinese restaurant where I had my horrible 깐풍기/gganpoonggi.

spot the error

Just saw this in an Instapundit comment thread. What's wrong?

Way I always heard it, the side that makes the least mistakes, wins the war.

This is why "Commas mark pauses" is a bad rule.

yesterday's lunch

While I was in the Cheongshil building yesterday, I decided to have lunch at the second-floor Chinese restaurant. Ordered myself some super-expensive gganpoonggi/깐풍기, or chunks of batter-fried chicken slathered in spicy sauce. I'd forgotten how terrible it was at this place. No crunch at all, almost as if the cook had deliberately paused to allow the sauce to soak into the crispy breading. The result was a mushy, spicy mess. I ate it all the same, shaking my head at the expense: W36,000 for such a small dish. At least it photographed well:

I wistfully remember that D'Maris, a high-end buffet near my workplace, used to charge W38,000 for their infinite supply of excellent food. W36,000 for a wimpy plate of soaked-through fried-chicken chunks is highway robbery. 

this was once a pizzeria

I hadn't visited my old stomping grounds next to the Cheongshil building in a while, but I was there yesterday to visit the post office and mail off a package. Curious, I went around back to take a look at a pizzeria I used to frequent. It had been a few years, and I had a bad feeling that I wouldn't like what I found. Sure enough:

The pizzeria is gone, and in its place is some sort of fruit seller. Ah, well. Shops and restaurants appear and disappear all the time in Seoul. I wonder what became of the two young guys who ran the pizzeria. Both of them had lived in New York, and one of them spoke pretty fluent English. Maybe they opened up a pizza joint elsewhere, perhaps outside of Seoul.

how Thursday went

"Chef's Table: Pizza (Episode 2)": no

I'm not going to review the rest of the episodes for "Chef's Table: Pizza" because I now know they're wildly inconsistent in quality. I got lucky with Episode 1, but when I started watching Episode 2, I had to turn it off after five minutes. While Episode 1 had Chris Bianco doing some posed shots (e.g., looking pensively off into the distance), Episode 2, which focuses on Italian chef Gabriele Bonci, had Bonci acting. This wasn't just "stare into the distance" stuff that any non-actor could do: this was "look as if you're on the edge of madness" nonsense, with Bonci staring intensely at his own reflection in a mirror and other pretentious nonsense. Maybe I was wrong about how the various episodes in the series would all somehow be reflective of creator David Gelb's vision. The direction in Episode 2 was—as I saw within five minutes—radically different from what had come before, and to me, it was a severe drop in quality.

I don't want to write the whole series off based on a bad five minutes, though. I might skip Episode 2 and move on to Episode 3. If the other episodes prove to be okay, I could possibly come back to Episode 2 and fight my way through it. What turned me off was that using Bonci in this way (and I have to assume that Bonci allowed himself to be used) went against the spirit of documentaries in general. Shouldn't documentaries be more slice-of-life in style and technique? Again, with Chris Bianco, the filmmakers did do some posed shots of him, something to anchor the voiceover narration, but they didn't try to make him into an actor. Bonci, by contrast, was so obviously directed that my Bombast-O-Meter was screaming.

So, yes, I was revolted by how Episode 2 began, and I couldn't get past it. It was a pretty visceral reaction, too—a bit like biting into a long-anticipated pizza and discovering that it tastes like shit. Would you continue to eat a shit pizza after that first bite, in the vain hope that the pizza might start to taste better? Mentally speaking, that's about where I am right now. I'll watch the other episodes first, then maybe come back to 2.

Fingers crossed.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

California's homeless problem... throw more money at it!

When I was in high school, the homeless were my personal cause. I probably leaned a lot more to the liberal side back then. Learning about the sources of homelessness, the psychology of the homeless, and the problems associated with homelessness—I was avid about all of that. But year after year, the problems persisted. If anything, they only got worse. Years later, in the 90s, I watched with admiration as Mayor Rudy Giuliani implemented a work program (excoriated by the liberal press) to restore in people a sense of worth and dignity as they earned their way back to having a place to call home. Since that era, over two decades ago, all that has faded away as successive mayors have failed to show anywhere near the level of care and tough love that Giuliani showed in his heyday.*

Despite earnest efforts, though, homelessness is a burgeoning problem all over America and in much of the modern West. My inner totalitarian—the polar opposite of my bleeding-heart, teenaged self—thinks it's best to round up all the vagrants, drop them on a deserted island, then bomb the island. Does that solve the problem? Of course not: we won't have eliminated the causes of homelessness. You'd just have to bomb another group of people in five years. But if there's a solution to this problem, I'm not seeing it. I know the human-biodiversity crowd will say that you need less diversity, but here in Seoul, you can see a major homeless problem when you visit the Seoul Station part of town. I've seen hundreds of lost souls congregating in the subway tunnels and underground passageways. South Korea, despite having a 2% non-Korean population, is still relatively un-diverse compared to most modern Western countries, and yet despite that lack of diversity, you've got a ton of homeless people.

But all eyes are on California right now. Worse than DC, worse than New York or Chicago, worse than Seattle, worse even than Portland, California has become a cesspool of homelessness and drug use, and all anyone can think to do is throw more money at the problem—money that never lands where it's intended. 

Whatever's been tried up to now can be thrown into the "non-solution" category. Let's see some real solutions, maybe along the lines of what Giuliani did in the 90s. But I think Governor Gavin Newsom needs to leave before anything real can happen.


*Many New Yorkers will sneer at this characterization, but they've been hypnotized by the leftist press for so long that they can't find their assholes if they fart.

what Ron DeSantis did for a Californian who got doxxed

Call it a political stunt if you want, but this happened:

"Chip Roy for president!"(?)

I didn't know who Chip Roy was before, but I do now:

Wikipedia says Roy started out as a Never Trumper who gained faith in the then-president. He was initially a member of the Ted Cruz camp, serving as Cruz's chief of staff.

It's not obvious to me that Chip Roy is presidential material, but he does seem to speak with conviction and eloquence about matters of importance. Someone to watch.

stop hesitating, fellow Yanks

What's with the American hunters I watch who always wait forever before pulling the trigger? Watch this British guy: no hesitation at all as he takes down rat after rat. He's edited the video, but there are some long shots in which he takes down three and even four rats in a single take. I've never seen that kind of shooting among the American squirrel hunters I've watched. The Yanks just sit there, settling in, feeling their Zen, taking long breaths, and putting me to sleep as they lose opportunities for the kill. Move with forceful decisiveness, guys! Brits like this dude are embarrassing us!

Dr. V on "the introvert advantage"

Dr. V has a Substack essay on "the introvert advantage." Excerpt:

Social distancing?  I've been doing it all my life. O beata solitudo, sola beatitudo!  Happy solitude, the sole beatitude. How sweet it is, and made sweeter still by a little socializing. Socializing is like whisky. A little is good, but more is not better.

Full lockdown?  I could easily take it, and put it to good use.  It provides an excellent excuse to avoid meaningless socializing with its empty and idle talk. 

I sympathize. I really do. And to a large extent, I agree, being an introvert. But I also know that we introverts, because we live inside our own heads, are susceptible to our own forms of neuroticism and stress. You carry your head wherever you go, after all, so if you've got bats and demons in there, you're shit out of luck. As extraverts know, one way to get rid of those bats and demons is by interacting with others, sharing your mental and emotional burdens. Otherwise, the introvert must rely on ancient techniques like meditation for stress relief. Meditation is nice, but the warmth of simple companionship can be nice, too. My pastor once said, years ago, that introverts have to realize that they live in an extraverted world. This is true; you hear over and over again that "humans are social animals," and the evidence of that is all around. Whatever the reality is, though, I'm still an introvert with a small circle of friends, and that's the kind of life I'm most comfortable with.


Hilarious dialogue between two cats.


"Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery": one-paragraph review

Detective Benoit Blanc is back in 2022's "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery," again written and directed by Rian Johnson. The movie stars an ensemble of mostly famous names: Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Kate Hudson, and Dave Bautista. Offbeat billionaire Miles Bron (Norton, parodying a very dumbed-down Elon Musk) invites his closest friends to a private island off the coast of Greece for what has been billed as a few days of fun and relaxation. These friends are all "disruptors" in some way, but in reality, they are all also indebted to Bron, who has done them all favors. Aging fashion designer Birdie Jay (Hudson), state governor Claire Debella (Hahn), chemist Lionel Toussaint (Odom), pistol-toting men's-rights talking head Duke Cody (Bautista) and his girlfriend Whisky (Cline) are the inner circle of invited friends. Also arriving at the island are Helen Brand (Monáe) and detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, more comfortable in the role this time). The invitees have also been told that they would have to solve the mystery of Miles's "death" (he's supposed to be murdered by crossbow at dinner) but Benoit Blanc does this easily, spoiling a ton of work done by Bron's hired crew of mystery writers and set designers. The real mystery begins when one member of the group is poisoned,* and Blanc suddenly has to figure out what's truly going on. The plot involves a new type of hydrogen fuel that isn't quite ready for public use as well as various people's motives for killing other people. The movie is somewhat exposition-heavy, but the story moves along at a sprightly pace. Many elements of the mystery are revealed in flashbacks, and while I didn't predict who the baddest bad guy was in the end (hint: just follow the movie's racial politics; I thought that would be one expectation that Rian Johnson would subvert, but no), the movie was acted well. Daniel Craig seems to be having a lot more fun in this film than in the first one, and Janelle Monáe is a standout. There are two schools of thought when it comes to mysteries, I think: (1) the Arthur Conan Doyle school and (2) the Agatha Christie school. Christie's mysteries weave clues into the narrative so that a reader can figure out the mystery for himself before the story ends; Doyle's Sherlock, meanwhile, is often called a formidable intellect, but we don't understand the mystery until his exposition at the end of the tale: Doyle spoon-feeds the mystery to the reader, not allowing us to do the work of deduction. Sadly, "Glass Onion" (a symbol and metaphor working on several levels) is more of the Doyle school than the Christie one: the audience cannot solve the mystery without flashbacks in which new angles and points of view are provided. Some conservative critics warned that the movie contains "woke" elements; I saw some (like the aforementioned racial politics), but I also saw leftie attitudes being parodied, too. Overall, this is a fun film, better paced, more lively, and less preachy than the first, although the ending reminds me of a bombastic action movie's finale. It runs long at two hours and twenty minutes, but "Glass Onion" is thoroughly entertaining.


*Technically, the death is due to anaphylactic shock after a very bad reaction to a drink, but this was not accidental.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

crab-leg meat pro tip from Joshua Weissman

How to extract crab-leg meat without destroying it: a pro tip from Joshua Weissman.

I learned something.

taking a risk

The boss didn't come back with great news, but from what he learned, there's a chance for our team (except for our graphic designer) to remain together: we could end up working directly under the CEO, creating materials for him to use when he lectures. This sort of work would be totally unlike what we've been doing up to now. Up to now, we've been making textbooks for use in courses that last a few months. This means going over each textbook's overall design (usually a chapter template that repeats with every chapter) plus all the requisite graphic design, then creating the content to fill those chapters up while the designer works in parallel with drawings, photos, etc. In this new paradigm, we would essentially become a private R&D team working exclusively for the CEO. The boss describes this as "on-demand" work: what we do would depend on what the CEO wants to do for his next lecture, YouTube video, etc.

While some might say that it's nice to have a direct line to the CEO, my worry is that we'll all end up as slaves to the CEO's whims. The news I'd wanted to hear was that we'd be continuing as we were, with the same team. Whatever happens now, though, it seems we've lost my Korean coworker, the graphic designer. He's been assigned to a different R&D team. I know that team's leader, and she can be a bitch. She runs her office as if it were a library: everyone has to be quiet, with talking reserved only for necessary chatter. Back when our team worked next door to hers, I used to have these monthly food parties, and I'd invite everyone on the floor to come. This lady once told her team not to go to my party. I never learned why, but it was consistent with her bitchy behavior pattern. Thou shalt not have fun on my watch.

The boss is supposed to meet with the CEO on Thursday (tomorrow), but we proles were asked to give the boss an answer first as to whether we would choose to continue. I told the boss up front that I wasn't happy about the situation, that we'd already been through this sort of bullshit before, and that there seemed little point in staying on. The boss counterargued that this would be a chance to keep the team (such as it is) together, that I wouldn't have to think about moving, and that things could potentially get better in the future. I asked whether this was an all-or-nothing proposition, i.e., if either I or my coworker M said no, the whole thing would fall apart. The boss said yes. I wasn't reassured to hear this, and the boss said that one option would be to stay on until my current contract period ends, which would be on August 31, 2023. So in a few months, if things are feeling painful, I could opt not to renew my contract. I turn 54 next year; I'm no spring chicken, and options are narrowing.

With much to think about, I got lunch and pondered. The lazy part of me that doesn't want to move or pay deposit + rent on my place won out, and I've decided to say yes to staying on. My coworker said he'd need to run things by his wife before answering; she's doubtless pissed by how the company has jerked her husband around. So right now, there are no guarantees. For the boss's plan to work, my coworker needs to say yes to staying on as well, then we have to generate some material for the CEO to look at before the boss leaves for his Thursday-evening meeting. My boss will take our "yes"es and our material to the CEO on Thursday; the CEO will then make a decision as to whether we proceed. If we get the green light, I will then contact our HR department to "un-resign" myself (which also means I won't be receiving my fat severance—it'll be kept on hold for another year), and we'll spend the next several months directly under the Eye of Sauron, working as his minions.

I think the CEO will probably say yes to keeping the band together (minus our designer). We'll spend our time crafting lectures, lessons, and video presentations for the CEO (who is a boring lecturer—and keep in mind that, as I say in my book, lecturing is the worst form of teaching), and I'll be grumbling through my teeth until the end of August, at which time I'll have to decide again whether to stay with this company. I think the cosmos is pointing toward my leaving, though. If I work through 8/31/23, I will have spent eight years in this place.

Upshot: today didn't settle anything. We won't know more until either late tomorrow or sometime Friday. If we do get the go-ahead to proceed again as a team, I've got to drag most of my stuff back to the office again. Rather unsentimentally, the boss looked at our Korean coworker's now-empty space and said we could get a small fridge and convert that space into a kitchenette. I feel bad that my Korean coworker is going to be working for a dragon lady, and more selfishly, I'm sorry to lose the opportunity to practice my broken Korean with someone fluent. (My boss is fluent in Korean, but he only ever talks to me in English.)

So: nothing is settled yet. More news later this week.

can't help it

"The Rings of Power" got a lot of hate, and sometimes, that hate led to action in the form of funny memes. The one I think of the most often uses that clip of Galadriel angrily declaring, "There is a tempest in me!"—followed by a loud, long, wet fart. Always gives me a chuckle.

Shorter fart here.


I went to sleep at the unusually early hour of 10 p.m. last night—right as the boss's meeting with the CEO was starting. The boss apparently tried calling me several times a bit after 11 p.m. He hates writing (yet another person I know, aside from my buddy Tom, who's in the language-teaching racket yet hates to write), so of course it would never occur to him to leave a lengthy Kakao message or SMS text message. I woke up a bit after 6 this morning—again unusual—and wrote some texted replies. I expect the boss will call again sometime this morning. Maybe it's generational, or maybe it's about one's personality type, but the boss prefers voice contact, something that I, as an introvert, find annoying.

My guess is that the flurry of calls indicates relatively good news, but I can also imagine that this good news doesn't come without a price. We might be asked to move to an even smaller office, for example. Or we might be called upon to "prove our worth" yet again—the same bullshit we have to go through every year or two. God only knows what's in store. With the CEO, if you get your wish, it's more in the vein of the Monkey's Paw than a conventional wish-granting. Anything good has something bad tacked onto it. Every yang has a yin.

Expect an update in a few hours.

a different view of Columbus

From Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974):

Columbus has become such a schoolbook stereotype it’s almost impossible to imagine him as a living human being anymore. But if you really try to hold back your present knowledge about the consequences of his trip and project yourself into his situation, then sometimes you can begin to see that our present moon exploration must be like a tea party compared to what he went through. Moon exploration doesn’t involve real root expansions of thought. We’ve no reason to doubt that existing forms of thought are adequate to handle it. It’s really just a branch extension of what Columbus did. A really new exploration, one that would look to us today the way the world looked to Columbus, would have to be in an entirely new direction.

Far cry from today's demonization of the man.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

if this doesn't exhilarate you, you are dead inside

Rian Johnson, subverting expectations, and "Knives Out"

What do you think? Personally, I wasn't that impressed with "Knives Out." It wasn't a bad film, but it also wasn't a spectacular film. As mysteries go, it was at least somewhat predictable. Do you think Rian Johnson "learned a lesson" from "The Last Jedi" when it comes to subverting expectations the right way? That's what this video argues.

today's the day

My boss was supposed to see our CEO at 8 p.m. tonight, but the meeting got moved to the very rude hour of 10 p.m., which is par for the course for the CEO, who both likes to jerk people around when it comes to meeting times and likes to have meetings at a very late hour. CEO's prerogative, I guess: mess with the troops all you want.

So the boss will visit our office here in the Mido building sometime after 6 p.m., right as I'm heading out the door. I'll wish him good luck, and maybe I'll find out the results of the meeting tomorrow unless the boss decides to call me tonight.

Meanwhile, I've got two more boxes of my personal stuff left to move, one of which is a heavy fucker. I think I'll take a cab home tonight. So far, no word on moving to my new office. Maybe the boss's conversation with the CEO will determine my fate.

clots! (if you can get past the source...)

If you're on the right, you might tolerate a news organization like InfoWars. If you're on the left, you doubtless dismiss it outright as a source of disinformation. Personally, I rarely consult InfoWars given the wild-eyed people it's associated with. But if the organization is covering a story that originated elsewhere, I might be interested. With that in mind, this InfoWars article talks about a 10-inch blood clot removed from a living patient who'd been jabbed. Up to now, other news organizations have been talking about clots removed from cadavers, so this is fairly new. While the article doesn't say where, in the body, the clot came from, one of the two videos embedded in the article alleges that these clots come from the cardiac region. So these huge clots are stopping up hearts. Scary.

A massive 10-inch blood clot was removed from a live person who had received a Covid-19 vaccine.

The startling discovery was reported Christmas Day by renowned entrepreneur Steve Kirsch, who indicated the specimen was sent to a lab for further research.

“10” clot removed from LIVE person who was vaxxed,” Kirsch wrote on Twitter, asking, “Anyone ever seen this before vax rolled out??”

In a subsequent update, Kirsch noted the 10-inch long blood clot was “Sent for analysis and SILENCE.”

“I would love to know what the pathology lab thought of that monster,” commented one Twitter user. “As in… what is it? Looks more like a parasite than a clot.”

“They are SILENT,” Kirsch replied to the user.

The clot reported by Kirsch appears similar to ones observed by morticians and embalmers who have been noting strange long fibrous clots coming from the cadavers of vaccinated patients.

Speaking to the Dr. Drew show earlier this month, Idaho pathologist Dr. Ryan Cole discussed the fibrous “foot-long blood clots” taken out of autopsy patients, describing, “What there is is unusual amounts of collected proteins…there are unusual combinations of proteins that make these very difficult for the body to dissolve.”

The Dr. Drew video is the more informative of the two embedded videos. It's long at 1:17:40; I watched a few minutes of it. The whole thing is creepy as hell, and I continue to worry about my jabbed friends and relatives even if this is a rare thing.


This would be absurdly easy, even without books. I know McCrarey would ask about booze.

In Clownworld, priorities are all backward.

Just pretend you're in a lesbian relationship.

Russian propaganda aimed at Europe

The not-so-subtle threat is kind of hilarious. As Europe gets squeezed by Russia for backing Ukraine, a European family's hamster goes from being a cute gift in 2021 to a source of electricity in 2022 to something Stephen King would appreciate in 2023.

"Chef's Table: Pizza (Episode 1)": review

Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco and Tratto
My buddy Charles, soon after learning that I was now on Netflix, suggested several TV shows to me. Among them was "Chef's Table," a food-related docu-series that goes around the world to explore cuisine in all its forms. First appearing in 2015, "Chef's Table" has many incarnations, from "Chef's Table: Volumes I through VI" to "Chef's Table: France," "Chef's Table: BBQ," and 2022's "Chef's Table: Pizza." I gather that each series centers on a particular topic or theme, but each episode of the series centers on a representative person. On Christmas Day, I watched "Chef's Table: Pizza," Episode 1, which centers on Chris Bianco, a Bronx-born New Yorker with an initially modest set of skills, born asthmatic, who began life helping the ladies of the house in the kitchen before eventually picking up various other skills by working at local establishments.

Episode 1 leads us through Bianco's life and describes the evolution of his cooking skill and his ambitions. Bianco himself tells his own story, but the narrative is helped along by contributions from Ed Levine (founder of the well-known Serious Eats) and Brett Anderson (food writer, The New York Times). Along the way, we get shots of restaurant ambiance and the panoramic scenery in Arizona, where Bianco relocated.

Having learned lessons from his mentors, Bianco gained the wisdom to take advantage of the local farms and ranges to acquire his ingredients. Levine, at the start of the episode, came away a convert after visiting Pizzeria Bianco. One memory made him laugh: after Levine had openly claimed that the best pizza in the world was in Phoenix, an editor from Vogue told him he was crazy. Levine challenged him: go to Phoenix, eat the pizza, then call me. The editor took up the challenge and called from the airport to say: "You were right." Both Levine and Anderson seem to have become wrapped up in Bianco's life: they both tell stories that suggest a fairly intimate biographical knowledge of the man and how he thinks.

Bianco's own relentless focus, repeated in various ways throughout the episode, is on using high-quality ingredients. "Shit in, shit out," he says at the beginning of the hour in a pleasant voice reminding me of Tony Bennett's. Use bad-quality ingredients, get bad-quality results. So we see Bianco visiting local markets, bantering with the shopkeepers, making deals and arrangements, and buying only the good stuff. He's also out there with the farmers and the millers, looking at plants as they grow, running his fingers lovingly through freshly milled grain, squeezing some of it to test its hydration levels (high hydration = clumps that form in one's fist). Bianco clearly cares about his ingredients, and this impulse toward quality comes from a desire not to disappoint people. Later in the hour, Bianco talks about how, as he became more famous, the pressure not to disappoint only increased.

After years of pizza-making, though, Bianco, a lifelong asthmatic, began to suffer from a condition called baker's lung caused by inhaling pizza-oven smoke and ambient flour, day in and day out. Used to being at the battlefront when making his own food, Bianco had to learn how to scale back and delegate tasks to the people around him. He had to learn to trust, which took a real effort. Bianco still cooks, but he is no longer at the forefront the way he used to be. He ended up opening another restaurant that wasn't specifically a pizzeria: Tratto. I thought tratto might be short for trattoria ("restaurant"), but online sources tell me that tratto means something like treatment (trattare, "to treat"). There could also be an etymological connection with the Latin tractare, "draw in" or "pull," from which we get words like attract, distract, and retract. Linguistics aside, Bianco pulled himself back from being at the forefront of an American pizza revolution. He still works his magic, but more quietly.

I think it's important to note that a lot of what this episode highlights about using good, simple ingredients that are sourced locally has been common sense in Europe since forever. I'm somewhat selective, these days, when I think about what we Yanks can learn from other cultures, but one thing we can definitely learn from Europe is how to make use of the land immediately around us. It's a way of staying grounded and in harmony with one's environment, a way for people truly to be connected with the soil and the surrounding life. European towns exist in intimate dialogue with local farms; farmer's markets are a commonplace there. Quite a few Americans understand this, too, which is why the word locavore (eater of local food) has gained traction in recent years. But it would be nice if more Americans came to see this way of living as normal and not exotic. We non-farmers shouldn't be so divorced from farms. So Episode 1 had a strongly European flavor to it, in part thanks to Chris Bianco's conscious efforts to seek out local resources, and maybe also in part because Bianco deeply feels his Bronx/Italian roots. A lot of Europe lives in him.

The feel of "Chef's Table: Pizza" is strongly reminiscent of the documentary movie "Jiro Dreams of Sushi." This was one of my first thoughts after watching only the first few minutes of the episode. I did a bit of research, and lo and behold: the creator of this Netflix series is none other than David Gelb, the director of "Jiro." You can see it in the slow-motion cinematography, the lingering closeup shots on food, and the biographical focus on a representative person in the field. Different episodes of "Chef's Table" are directed by different people (Episode 1 is directed by Clay Jeter), but I imagine that David Gelb's creative hand is visible in every episode. This is his baby.

The use of commentators who contribute to the narration is a holdover from "Jiro." Brett Anderson seems a bit more distant from Chris Bianco, but Ed Levine sounds almost like a close friend of the chef. That said, I sometimes thought Levine came off as a bit too much of an overt cheerleader, a Bianco partisan who was marketing the chef. The enthusiasm he showed when recounting certain anecdotes or talking about how Chris had revolutionized this or that began to feel, as the hour rolled on, as if he were some sort of parasite gorging himself on Bianco's fame. I realize that that doesn't sound very charitable, but Levine's occasional over-enthusiasm creeped me out now and again.

But that's a minor flaw in what was, overall, a fascinating first episode. I think the "Pizza" series has six episodes. I now have high expectations that the subsequent hours will be just as good, just as filling for the soul, as this one.

Monday, December 26, 2022

"in the name of equity"

Commenter John from Daejeon sent me a link to the following article:

Top school principal hides students’ academic awards in name of ‘equity’

For years, two administrators at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) have been withholding notifications of National Merit awards from the school’s families, most of them Asian, thus denying students the right to use those awards to boost their college-admission prospects and earn scholarships. This episode has emerged amid the school district’s new strategy of “equal outcomes for every student, without exception.” School administrators, for instance, have implemented an “equitable grading” policy that eliminates zeros, gives students a grade of 50 percent just for showing up, and assigns a cryptic code of “NTI” for assignments not turned in. It’s a race to the bottom.

An intrepid Thomas Jefferson parent, Shawna Yashar, a lawyer, uncovered the withholding of National Merit awards. Since starting as a freshman at the school in September 2019, her son, who is part Arab American, studied statistical analysis, literature reviews, and college-level science late into the night. This workload was necessary to keep him up to speed with the advanced studies at TJ, which US News & World Report ranks as America’s top school.

Last fall, along with about 1.5 million US high school juniors, the Yashar teen took the PSAT, which determines whether a student qualifies as a prestigious National Merit scholar. When it came time to submit his college applications this fall, he didn’t have a National Merit honor to report — but it wasn’t because he hadn’t earned the award. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation, a nonprofit based in Evanston, Illinois, had recognized him as a Commended Student in the top 3 percent nationwide — one of about 50,000 students earning that distinction. Principals usually celebrate National Merit scholars with special breakfastsaward ceremoniesYouTube videospress releases and social media announcements.

But TJ School officials had decided to withhold announcement of the award. Indeed, it turns out that the principal, Ann Bonitatibus, and the director of student services, Brandon Kosatka, have been withholding this information from families and the public for years, affecting the lives of at least 1,200 students over the principal’s tenure of five years. Recognition by National Merit opens the door to millions of dollars in college scholarships and 800 Special Scholarships from corporate sponsors.

This is positively horrifying. It's a kick in the balls to any conservative who has ever affirmed that "equality of opportunity is not equality of outcome." The conservative ideal: give everyone an equal opportunity to succeed to the extent possible, but after that, it's up to individual effort to make it to the finish line and beyond—no help, no handouts. Obviously, TJ and the rest of that Virginia school district no longer believe in this ideal if they ever did. 

The school being talked about in the article, the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (clumsily abbreviated TJHSST—more smoothly abbreviated as TJ), isn't too far from my hometown. It's a Fairfax County school, i.e., it's within the school district where I was educated. Watching from afar as my hometown rots like this is depressing. You can never go home, the proverb says, and I have less and less of a desire to.

The first priority should be to fire TJ Principal Bonitatibus. What a horrible creature. At the same time, there should be a grass-roots campaign, run by parents who care, to change the face of the Fairfax County school board and to put this injustice at the top of the list for redress. Anti-Asian racism is prevalent among leftists, and this is only one more example. What a nightmare. As we now know, the swamp is vast, deep, and local.

at least, I can say this

After last year's horrific binge that took place during the final two weeks of December and saw me gain back a frightening number of kilos, I can at least say that, this year, I'm more or less behaving myself. I'm not dieting, per se, but I'm also not going off the chain. Ever since I threw away my old leather belt, I've been wearing a super-strong belt made of the same material as those heavy-duty cargo straps. I started counting the visible holes whenever I would cinch the belt around my waist. At first, I could see only six holes, then I could cinch the belt down to the seventh hole, and as of today, I'm at the eight hole. I don't know whether this represents real weight loss, but it's certainly not weight gain! So I think I can survive to the end of the year without having a second stroke. (Knock on wood.)

I'm still going to have to lose a ton of weight in the coming year: I spent most of 2022 slowly regaining much of the weight I'd lost since July of 2021. I'm not quite back to Square One, but I'm close enough to be nervous. It'd be nice to get walking again, but that won't be for another few weeks. I also need to get back into resistance training via bodyweight, dumbbells, and elastic bands. Sure, sure—everyone makes such vows at the beginning of the year. Probably best not to make vows out loud, right? I can at least start with dieting and stairs training.

And we'll go on from there.

he forced their hand

Styx's top ten news stories of 2022

You probably won't be surprised by #1:

a comprehensive review of the filmic LOTR trilogy

This guy in the video below claims not to have read the Tolkien books, so his remarks are confined almost entirely to the Peter Jackson movies (with a brief, teasing look at the Ralph Bakshi adaptation at the very beginning), but I like his overall analysis, especially because—and this is what got me firmly on his side—he thinks the extended editions of Jackson's movie are not as good at the theatrical releases. Ay-fuckin'-men to that. Honestly, I thought "The Fellowship of the Ring" benefited the most from the extended scenes because we get things like Galadriel's offering of a lock of her hair to Gimli—backstory that struck me as a significant carryover from the books, not to mention an important precursor to the evolution of Gimli's attitude toward elves in general. But by the time we reach "The Return of the King," poor Gimli doesn't seem to be more than comic relief in the scene where Aragorn tries to persuade the King of the Dead to lead his army of Oathbreakers into battle. The narrator's criticism of the extended edition boils down to: the new scenes interrupt the pacing. I think so, too. In "Fellowship," many of the new scenes added depth to the overall backstory, but I didn't get that feeling from the extended versions of "The Two Towers" or "The Return of the King." Charitably, though, it might be good to remember that an extended version is not necessarily the same thing as a director's cut. Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" benefited greatly from having a director's cut, I thought. Maybe if Jackson were to go back and release a more streamlined director's cut of his own, and not merely an extended version, I might be more interested.

While I agree with most of this guy's analysis, I did squirm around a bit every time he made a "cracker" joke (the narrator isn't white). I'm guessing he did it for humor's sake, and I'm a tolerant guy, so whatever, but some his racial remarks felt a bit unnecessary (e.g., equating farmers to "dirty-footed crackers"—funny, but a bit harsh, and definitely something a city boy would say). Also: even though he claims not to have read the books, he does take a moment to quote from Tolkien at one point (partial description of the Balrog, I think).

Despite these bad points, I like this review overall and deem it a worthy post-Christmas watch.