Friday, December 29, 2006

Something you don't see every day

But I do. It's a row of beer and whiskey joints (맥주 양주 점 in Korean). Typically found in lower middle class residential areas, this is a kind of bar where you pay exorbitant amounts of money for beer or whiskey, which you share with hostesses who are typically middle-aged housewives looking for extra cash. You can go ahead and touch them as much as you like. Many of the women will subsequently sell themselves in the shabby by-the-hour hotels which are never more than a drunken stumble away. It's all super classy. One of the major factors driving the industry is the fact that these women need the money to send their children to after school classes. Because the Korean education system is basically in the middle of a death spiral, parents send their children to private classes all day. This is how I make my living. Here's a few more pictures (I've got a bunch):
This one is called "Amazon", presumably after the one-breasted warrior women who periodically joylessly raped their men-folk and exposed their male babies on the frosty steppes of Eurasia.
This one's called "Sujin's Place". 'Sujin' is the Korean name equivalent of 'Brandy' or 'Trixie', I suppose.
Here's "The Black Rose". This is where you can fondle middle-aged Korean Suicide Girls.
Incidentally, all these pictures were taken within a two minute walk of my parent-in-law's house. Not that they live in a bad neighborhood. Korea didn't use to be too big on zoning laws, so in these older neighborhoods you've got residential buildings, stores, placed of prostitution and manufacturing facilities smooshed together in a sort of harmony that wouldn't be very nice to listen to. What is the reaction of the typical Korean to the preponderance of prostitution in their neighborhoods? Willful ignorance. They totally ignore the bars' presence, like they're not even there.
I think we Americans could learn something from that.


Tonight I took some time out of my recently de-busied schedule to sit down and look at the various things that Google is offering up for free, and I found that Picasa, the photo organizer, now features a very easy to use, free web album service. So I've posted a lot of photos on it. The other nice thing about Picasa is that there is a blogger "Blog it!" button too. Naturally, no single one of my photos is blogworthy. Actually let me take another look.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Koreans taking over the black hair industry

Check out this documentary about Koreans invading the black hair industry. Hard-working Korean immigrants are the bad guys in this movie. But not exactly because they are all given a chance to explain themselves. And many of the black business owners that they are edging out of the business express respect at their hard work and solidarity that allowed them to corner the market. Also many of the black business owners place a substantial amount of (in some cases total) blame on themselves for leaving their industry vulnerable to invasion. But in a recent edition of the NPR News & Notes Roundtable, director Aron Ranen made it pretty clear that he wants the Koreans out of the business, out of black neighborhoods, and he feels that boycotts are the best way to acheive this goal. Check it out for yourself.

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

I found myself personally conflicted while watching the film, because I had first heard of it while listening to Ranen on NPR, calling for boycotts and asking the Korean American owner of a beauty shop in LA if he really thinks Koreans would shop at a black-owned store if the products were cheaper. His implication, obviously, being that Koreans stick together and that this is a nefarious thing to do, while he himself is calling for a sweeping boycott of Korean-owned stores.
So holding that image of Ranen in my mind, I found myself surprised that the documentary was relatively balanced. One thing that Ranen consistently and perhaps unintentionally exposed was the fact that the residents of the communities in question held no particular allegiance to black-owned stores, while black store owners seemed fairly split between the "This is our own fault." camp and the "This is a cunning conspiracy." camp. The film is devoid of any serious racism on either side, with the exception of a (fake sounding) story from one black beauty shop owner who attempted to buy a product from a Korean store owner wholesale only to be told that the Koreans were "keeping the niggers out of the business" or some such. Watch the movie and see for yourself, the scene both doesn't ring true and doesn't jbe with the general tone of the movie.
One of the positive results of the movie was that the Black Owned Beauty Shop Association (or BOBSA) was formed. The film ends on a positive note, with a BOBSA meeting at which one man speaks seriously about mobilizing the community for a boycott, but the woman who gets the last word sums up the situation. The Koreans knew that they couldn't take on Revlon and Paul Mitchell and the other white hair care companies, so they took on the smaller and less organized black hair care industry, and they succeeded. Now it is time for the black businessmen to step up their game to take on the challenge from Koreans before they lose it all.
Writing the last paragraph, one question arises. The film repeatedly mentions that black hair care makes up a disproportionately large portion of the hair care industry as a whole. Shouldn't it have therefore attracted or resulted in bigger, better organized companies in the first place? Why was the black hair care industry so vulnerable? Ranen in the NPR piece states that the Koreans vertically integrated the black hair care industry, so could it just be that the beauty parlor industry itself was easier to infiltrate?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Hagiography for Ban Ki-moon

My computer has crashed twice while trying to write this, and I think the Korean CIA is doing it, so I'll keep it short and sweet. check out this article from The New York Times that tries to make Korea out as some sort of mystical land where tradition and modernism meet, and remember that Korean traditional culture was effectively destroyed by the Japanese during the colonial era, and what's is left now is whatever is useful to the government in stirring up irrational nationalism to distract people from the nation's real problems, like an education system fit to collapse. Read this and know that every time the article mentions ancient traditions, feng shui, ginseng farming and prophecies, the real life of almost all Koreans consists of watching TV, listening to soulless pop music, talking on their cell phones and hanging around department stores. Basically, every time the article says 'feng shui master', think 'civil war buff'. and when it says '22,000 practitioners of feng shui, or pungsu in Korean, as well as a few Buddhists' think '2,000 senior citizens on group tours to see Ban Ki-moon's home town, drink sweet potato liquor and buy chestnuts from farm stands, as well as a few fervent nationalists looking to fervor it up'.

Friday, December 22, 2006

My stars and garters

I went to an astrologer with my wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law and her husband tonight. I am a hard core skeptic and expected to be cold read and told what I wanted to hear, subconsciously or otherwise. Nonetheless I was inspired by the words of Richard Wiseman in his interview on the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe Podcast. Dr. Wiseman explained that one should not close themself off to a realm of human experience just because they know it's not real or true. He also suggested that going to astrologers, whether you believe it or not, has a positive affect on one's mental state because the mind functions better in the absence of unknowing about the future, even if the "knowledge" one has is based on nothing. I have been experiencing some anxiety of late about my future and thought it might help.
So I went and watched a master at work. Korean astrology is interesting. Her technique reminded me of John Edwards. She mixed things she knew from knowing my mother-in-law from the neighborhood , things she could easily see, and logical answers to straightforward questions and mixed them together. She noticed me rubbing my neck during my sister-in-law's reading and later told me that I have to be careful about my neck. She saw my size and told me (when I asked) that I won't get cancer or have a stroke but my heart is weak and I have to be careful and exercise. She even name-dropped trans-fats ('you know, the foreigners eat a lot of trans-fats, so . . . '). I decided to ask her a lot of questions and see what she'd say. Accordng to her I'll get into the grad school of my choice and move to America, where Miyoung will live a hard life but become rich eventually. My career will be very successful but I must never start my own business. Questions about starting one's own business seem to be a big part of what she does, as she ran down the chances of success as a small business owner of everyone in my wife's family. I'm going to have two kids, and Miyoung is going to be a devoted parent (literally saying she would "donate her body" to her children). We will spend our lives going back and forth between our two countries.
Her biggest failure was when I asked about my immediate job situation. I didn't mention that just last night I found out that my school is changing ownership and I'm going to lose the big perk, a huge free apartment next door to the school. She said that I had gone through a lot of hardships and tough times at work in the last year (I hadn't), but that next year I will make a lot more money (almost certainly impossible) and have a smoother year (also not likely).
Her biggest success was when, out of the blue, she said "You have weak bronchial tubes". I have a history of chronic bronchitis, but I hadn't had it for at least 5 years until about two weeks ago. Nonetheless, I am fully recovered and there is nothing about me that says 'weak bronchial tubes'. To put it into perspective, I just learned this word in Korean when I got bronchitis. Bronchitis is not a well-known condition in Korea and people generally don't speak in that kind of doctory way that we Americans do. I was really surprised to hear that bit. Now note that I'm not saying she figured that out through some supernatural means, but I must concede that I have no clue how she did figure it out.
For all you rationalists out there, I highly recommend going to an astrologer and seeing what your future holds. It is fascinating to watch a career manipulator at work, especially when you can stand back and catch a glimpse behind the curtains at what she's really doing. And I'll tell you honestly that just because some old lady that I never met before told me that I'll get into the grad school that I want to get into, I feel somehow much better about the future.

What Christmas means to me

When I read Salon I get the sense that there are a lot of liberals out there who are rational and agnostic, to say the least, and they feel some sort of spiritual emptiness because they don't believe in God and don't raise their children in a religion. These people tend to replace belief in God with the belief in a lot of spiritual mystic hooey. I recently found that, while I still really really don't believe in God and I don't feel any spiritual emptiness at all, I did feel that I was closing off a whole literary and philosophical realm that has fed into Western Civilization for a long long time by pooh-poohing religion. I've always felt that a lot of the rationalist, secular humanist skeptics out there think science and reason are enough to live on, but there's a vital moral and humanistic element that you completely miss out on if that's your only focus. People seem especially to avoid Jesus if they don't believe in God, but I think that's mostly trying to set themselves apart from the religious types they feel so superior to. With all that in mind, I sat down and I really thought about what Christmas means.
The first thing that never occurred to me before about Jesus is that he seems to be uniquely a middle class prophet. His family owned their own business, their own tools, and his father was descended from King David. and yet by this sort of accident of history he winds up being born in a cow shed among animals, far from his home. Imagine what it would feel like to have your baby in a stable. That made me really feel for Mary and Joseph. It also reminded me greatly of Eddie Albert's character on Green Acres, who was born in a small Mid-Western town to sophisticated New York socialites on the way to the West Coast, and later decided it was his destiny to become a farmer. I could see how that kind of birth could lead Jesus to be concerned for the lowliest of society when he himself was pretty well-off. It also bears a resemblance to the life of Teddy Roosevelt, who was a wealthy socialite who postured himself as a hard charging tough guy soldier and populist and built his image on a sort of puffed up hard-luck story about having asthma. Not that I think Mary and Joseph were socialites, but neither were they paupers. Plus don't forget Jesus' cousin was an influential prophet in his own right, so his family certainly had some standing.
The aspect of the nativity story that I like the most and that no one ever focuses on is the baby-as-metaphor-for-the-potential-of-life. Jesus as a baby is us as babies, always depicted as soft and mild and peaceful, and yet some day he will essentially bring the concept of selflessness and putting yourself in another's shoes to the world at large, which will inform western civ to no end. Jesus told people to think about what other people feel, and that in turn gave birth to all sorts of great things, like psychology and good literature and the ASPCA and charity in many of its forms and Battlestar Galactica. I contend that none of those things would be quite the same without Jesus, and that, as it sort of says in the song "Oh Holy Night", the world just sort of chugs along its own disgustingly selfish and self-interested path wherever Jesus' teachings don't reach. Make no mistake, human beings are prone to all sorts of despicable behavior, like selling their own children and enslaving others, and Jesus is pretty categorically against all that stuff and gives it a framework in which that opposition can gain some strength. Here in Korea, people used to chain their children up on the edge of town if they couldn't afford to feed them, and people still throw their kids out the window and jump after them when they face financial hardships, apparently unable or unwilling to imagine their children living on without them. And then there's the more simple stuff, like walking feelinglessly past people suffering, whether they be the poor or old men who've fallen down drunk.
So there is this baby, who really could have been anything, but he chose to become a preacher and then eventually to perhaps claim he was God, but along the way lay out a completely new moral code that still permeates thought in many of the world's nations and is, to me, undoubtedly a good thing, despite all the crusades and persecution and wars and Sufjan Stevens that come with it.
So I say happy birthday Jesus. Thanks for the soul.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

U.S. Soldiers doing what they ought to be doing.

Ripping the hearts out of live rabbits and eating them. In the name of cultural understanding. This article truly does my heart proud. Look what our boys can do in the name of peace in Iraq:
Politicians, tribal and religious leaders and soldiers watched displays of military prowess and one demonstration, hailed as a display of courage, in which five soldiers stopped before the grandstand to bite the heads off frogs. A sixth holding a live rabbit slit open its stomach and ate its heart before tossing the
carcass to his comrades to chew on.

What is a great way to show solidarity with the Iraqi military.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Korea vanquishes looming obesity pandemic!

What's the difference between a pandemic and an epidemic? I think the word pandemic simply replaced epidemic, and we can never go back.
Anyway, Korea has followed New York City in banning trans-fats. Korea, long known as "the sixth borough" and referred to by other East Asians as "Little Flushing", Korea has taken a very bold stance in following New York City's precedent. The move is especially bold considering that Korea is basically a gastronomic wild west, where no food regulation seems to be actively enforced. This is another example of Korea sticking a weather vane into the dirt and having a grand opening ceremony.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

How to lose faith in mankind at Christmas

Go to Kazaa or Limewire or the like and do a search on the word Christmas, and alongside your holiday favorites you will find (among others:
Afroman's "the 12 drugs of Christmas"
Kevin Bloody Wilson's "Just a Little
Christmas Blowjob"
"You ain't gettin' shit for Christmas"
Jeff Foxworthy's "The Redneck 12 days of Christmas"
Bob Rivers' "Santa's Whore"
"I farted in Santa's lap"
Larry the Cable Guy's "Christmas Songs for the 90s"
"Suck on my cock (Jingle bell rock parody)"
Parody Eminem's "The Real Slim Santa"
"White Pussy (White Christmas parody)"
Barking dogs' "We wish you a merry Christmas"
"Frosty the Pervert"
Cheech and Chong's "Santa Claus and
his old lady"
"Puff the Magic Tampon"
"The 12 Guido days of Christmas"
"Grandpa got run over by a beer truck"
"The Retarded Christmas song"
"White trash Christmas"
"Horny Porny Christmas"
"O.J. Simpson Christmas"
"I'm dressin' up like Santa when I'm out on parole"
"I saw mommy fucking Santa Claus
"Who put the dick on the snowman?"
got a DUI"

Just reading the above list makes me cringe to be an American and a human being. Can't the hoopleheads leave anything alone, or must they simply sully everything with their filthy, sardonic lowbrow shit?

Finally, someone I don't think is racist

Rosie O'Donnell is not racist, despite what Youtube might say. Her umpteenth rehashing of the classic "Yackity yackity shmackety Hostess Twinkie gibbety gibbety mish mash" joke is only being posited as racist because of a) Michael Richards and b) the continued existence of Youtube in a post-Michael Richards world.

Rosie could have substituted 'Chinese' and 'ching chong ching' with 'Spanish and lots of 'rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr' or German and 'glochen Schprockfluschensproinkel" with no repercussions. In a Youtube free world the joke would have passed unnoticed.

I almost hope that Youtube and its ilk are sued out of existence, because in the event that it does not disappear, Youtube presents two possible courses for the future of our society. Either people are going to get a little more thick-skinned and reasonable in their responses to things that offend them (not gonna happen) or people are going to have to remain extremely guarded all the time for fear that a captured faux-pas will cause them to be banished for ever (almost certain to happen).

I've been pulled into something ugly

So thanks to my good work, my little English school is set to expand in March from 5 classes a day to 9 classes a day. That means we need a new part-time teacher, and I've been charged with hiring them. I know my students' parents have high expectations, as I think I have set the bar pretty high. So yesterday I put two help wanted ads up on English teaching websites. I got my first respeonse last night from an oddly accented fellow. He lives far away from where our school is, but he said that was not a problem. He didn't have the experience or Korean skills that I was looking for. Finally he asked me what nationalities I was looking for. I said any was fine, and he said that's good because he is British Gambian. From his accent I would say he was heavy on the Gambian, light on the British, and just from the accent I knew I would not hire him. North American accent is a must. I briefly thought about the controversy that would erupt if I hired an African teacher. many parents would probably complain, and the woman who helps me run the school, as well as my wife, would probably veto the choice, should I make it.
An hour later I got a call from a woman. She had a very good American sounding accent with a hint of something else. She had the experience and Korean skills I was looking for. She sounded like a good fit all around. Then finally she asked the same question about nationality. Turns out she was from the Philippines. Again, I thought, that might raise some eyebrows but if she's really good it wouldn't matter.
I got home and told my wife about the two calls, and her reaction was "Hire an American or Canadian, you can't hire someone from any other country, it just won't fly." And I knew the was right. But I hate it all the same. I think too often in this country people make these simplistic racist decisions based on what other people's reactions are likely to be. The students' parents won't like it or people will think we hired a Philippine woman because they work cheaper or a non-Nroth American will teach the children a bad accent. There are so many fears, all about what other people will think, that people never address what they themselves actually feel.
I don't like it, but I can't pretend it's not true, so I feel like I'm becoming part of the system. You know what I mean?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Life imitating the Onion

I just laughed out loud for the first time in a very long time when I woke up and was greeted with the news that Time magazine has declared everyone person of the year. That was the headline at the Drudge Report, anyway. Reading the above article, of course, not everyone is person of the year, just anyone creating content on the web, which includes everyone I know except my mother and father-in-law. Here is a choice quote from the article, one "local man" away from being ripped from the pages of the Onion:
"If you choose an individual, you have to justify how that person affected millions of people," said Richard Stengel, who took over as Time's managing editor earlier this year. "But if you choose millions of people, you don't have to justify it to anyone."

That's one of the more ridiculous things I've ever heard. Stengel said that if they had chosen a single person, it would have been Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but that felt "a little off". While I agree, I still say it's a bit of a cop-out. It's like saying you don;t have a favorite child or everyone's your best friend.
The worst part is, it worked. I really want to read that article. It's about me.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Monoracial nation inexplicably racist!

That's right, Korea, a country with one racial group and an identity based almost entirely on eating food nobody else likes and shunning outsiders, is racist and doesn't even know it. I'm talking about an incident (dealt with in English on The Marmot's Hole blog) on the asinine KBS TV show "The Beauties' Chatterbox". The show features beautiful young foreign women (mostly exchange students and dancers from former soviet satellites) who speak fluent Korean discussing Korea and how great, unique and interesting it is (eventually: being an acquired taste, it takes a looong time to grow to love Korea). One of the young ladies, African-American Leslie Bensfield, was singing a Korean song when singer Cheon Myeong-Hun appeared on stage in a rasta wig and began doing Korea's own version of the classic American blackface, chanting "shickamunce!" (transliteration mine and mine alone), roughly translated: "I'm really black!"

None of this should be any surprise in a country where I've had grown men approach me child-like and either grab my belly and go "Fat" or touch my head and say "No hair!" with a strong sense of wide-eyed wonder. The shock is KBS's reaction to large amounts of criticism from viewers, both Korean and foreign: nothing. They have said it is not racist and that Cheon will continue to appear on the terrible show, despite the incident and being even less talented and attractive than the average Korean pop-star and having crooked teeth.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

I hope he tells us to burn our pants!

These things are driving me nuts. Indeed if you're in America, you may slowly be coming to learn of an alarming development that has been bugging/enriching me for a few years. The dollar is depreciating like crazy. When I came to Korea in 2003 the exchange rate was 1,200 won to the dollar. The average salary for a young mush-brained recent college graduate teaching English was 2,000,000 won, or about $1666 a month. At the beginning of 2006, the rate had fallen to 950 won to the dollar, making the same 2,000,000 won salary worth $2,105. Think about that, that's $500 of free money for the young English teacher to spend on cheap cigarettes, camera-phones and Karlsberg beer.. In the last week or so the exchange rate story has finally started to get some press in the U.S., as if it's some sort of new story, and that has driven the rate ever downward. On Monday the rate was 930 won/$, and as of this morning, it is a shocking 923 won/$.
My wife Miyoung and I have been so happy about the exchange rate that we've been taking some of our savings and exchanging it every time the rate hit a new low. We've run out of available money to exchange.
If the exchange rate continues to fall at this rate, our move to the U.S. will be very similar to our honeymoon in Thailand. I'll be taking limousines to and from school and Miyoung will be at her wits end trying to wrangle the four maids we'll be legally obligated to hire when we rent our four-bedroom house downtown. We'll probably even have to hire on the former tenant of the house, an advertising executive, as my driver after his job is outsourced to India.
Imagine all the headaches that'll cause.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Nicest People in the World

That's America. We are so nice, even in war. If you want your mind blown, go check out What's in a Number? on the This American Life website. The show (in three acts, as Ira Glass is wont to say) is about civilian casualties in Iraq. The first part of the show is about the making of the study in The Lancet that claimed 100,000 Iraqis dead since the beginning of the Iraq war. This story in itself is fascinating but it then takes a maniacal twist-turn when they talk to a Human Rights Watch figure who a) was integral in the precision bomb targeting of Saddam Hussein and his inner circle's bunkers and palaces and then quit his job at the Pentagon and b) went to Iraq with Human Rights Watch to survey the collateral damage of his own handiwork. He justifies his double life by saying that in both jobs he is "after the bad guys". He describes checking out bunkers that he'd looked at on satellite maps millions of times and seeing a hole bored through four floors by bunker busters to explode in the fourth floor down. That he had sent there from the Pentagon.
In the second act the story shifts to something many Americans have likely wondered about. Ryan Gist was placed in charge of an Iraqi town in which a mistake caused twelve people (some of them terrorists who had taken the town hostage). The broadcast features both an interview with Gist and actual audio from a meeting between Gist and the town bigwigs in the aftermath of the fuckup. Gist, like the Pentagon/Human Rights Watch guy, are full of good intentions. They, like all the planners of the war and all the soldiers on the ground, tried desperately to avoid civilian casualties.
But still, a lot of innocent people died. The gist of the program is that most of the civilians were killed by bombing, even though this was the most precision-bomb-intensive war of all time, a so-called "humane war". So even though everyone is doing their best to be nice and only kill the bad guys, they're still nicking a shit-load of the innocent bystanders in the process.

Flesh Eating Bacteria? Get it straight, it's FEB

According to this article South Korea is going to suspend U.S. beef imports again after one bone fragment was found in one shipment from the United Staes. American beef has been banned from South Korea for 3 years after a mad cow scare. The thing about bone fragments is this: the Korean government says its zero tolerance rule about bones is to protect Korean people from mad cow, but I postulate the true reason is that a vast majority of the meat consumed in Korea is on the bone. Ribs are huge in Korean cooking, and I think by restricting meat with bones, they considerably narrow the market for American beef somewhat unfairly. To boot, they used to insist that meat on the bone be considered offal for import purposes, even though it clearly isn't consumed as offal in expensive restaurants nationwide.
And the really galling thing is that at the same time as all of this is happening Korea is in the nascent stages of an avian influenza outbreak that they are ridiculously underplaying. And they've even changed the name of the disease, from joryu dokgam (literally "avian influenza") to "AI". By the way, the Korean word for influenza, dokgam, breaks down to dok (poisonous or very strong) and gam (cold). AI translates to "No sweat, keep eating domestic chicken!" In 2003 during the last outbreak, many chicken farmers went bankrupt. This time the media are doing everything in their power to make sure that doesn't happen, from changing the name of the disease to constantly stressing that the virus is destroyed at 70 degrees celsius (thus even chickens with the disease are safe to eat), while the agent of mad cow disease cannot be destroyed. They've even all gone so far as to print and reprint this picture and many like it of officials in the neighborhood of the two confirmed outbreaks eating samgyetang (chicken soup with ginseng). Eat up, stupids!

Double-dog Racism

I was just listening to an interview with Michael Shermer, noted skeptic and scholar, about the Michael Richards tailspin. Shermer explained that everyone harbors some racist feelings inside them that are inhibited by society and can be released by alcohol (as in the case of Mel Gibson) or rage (as in Richards' case.) Shermer goes on to reference an ongoing project by Harvard to determine people's "implicit assumptions" about various groups of people. I encourage you to try it for yourself, because knowing what's coming may bias you, but it basically involves sorting pictures of people from different races and different categories of things at the same time. For example, the first test I did was the black/white, good/bad test, in which you sort white and black people's pictures and words with good or bad meanings. It said I moderately associate whites with good traits. Shermer said that this is true of two thirds of whites and half of blacks. That is a truly depressing statistic, that despite our best efforts these associations lurk within us.
Then, since I am married to a Korean and have lived in Korea for four years, I decided to take the Asian/white, American/foreign association test. I'll give you the punchline first. The test says that I slightly associate Asian faces with Americanness, and White faces with foreignness.

What's . . . what?!?

Heres how the test works. You have to sort pictures of white and Asian faces with pictures of American and European monuments. So in fact, I associate Asian faces with American national monuments like the St. Louis Arch and The Statue of Liberty, while I associate The Eiffel Tower, The Leaning Tower of Pisa, and The Tower of London with white faces.

This is highly reminiscent of the famous maze navigating drosophila melanogaster test run years back. Scientist dumps a bunch of Drosophila in a 3d maze, takes the first ones that come out and breeds them. Through the generations he gets the time way down. He's finally created a race of super-smart flies without the use of a teleporter machine and Jeff Goldblum. He sticks the fastest of the fast in a maze alone and it doesn't come out for an eternity. He puts a hundred more flies in the maze and he pops right out. What he had created was not a race of super-smart flies, it was a race of super-antisocial flies who would flee when confined with too many other flies in a maze.
By the way, the only time I ever see or think about The Washington Monument, The White House, Mount Rushmore and The Empire State Building are when they appear in the English books I teach to my (mostly) America-obsessed students, who happen to have Asian faces.

Friday, November 24, 2006

For Michael Richards

Oh Michael. I feel for you. I wouldn't be the first person to tell you that I was deeply shocked by the things you said. I find it almost impossible to imagine those words coming from the mouth of a person who harbors no racist thoughts. Your interview on The Late Show showed you to be very much out of touch. Afro-Americans, Michael?
You're the same age as my father. I can't imagine the ridiculously out-of-touch things he may say if he were a comedian in this careful world. I imagine you were trying to blow people's minds with your insightful and ironic ranting. We've all seen you as Kramer. You put everything into your performances. That desire to be loved by everyone must burn hot inside. You seem well educated, which means that you'll never be able to explain your thoughts in a soundbyte.
I believe you think you're telling the truth when you say you're not racist. Remember Pryzbylewski from the Wire after he shot that black cop. How do you know if that's inside of you? I'm sort of Calvinist on the whole issue. If you go your whole life racist to the core and conceal it so well that you don't even know it, then you are de facto not racist. Because there's probably a murderous part of everyone, but everyone who's never committed murder is, naturally, not a murderer.
When I saw you in the Letterman interview I felt for you. Not for the you I saw on Youtube, but the man you are the rest of your life. I'm fascinated by the wakes of PR nightmares. Public perception is so final. Hey, that's racist old Kramer, case closed. You were rambling and you clearly didn't know what to say. I could imaine myself in your shoes, seeing everything spinning well out of my control. Turning yourself over to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton must certainly be a last resort. It's so Faustian. When you have to give yourself up to powerbrokers like them you're playing a dangerous game. Jackson used this debacle to get into the news his proposed legislation prohibiting that word (I won't even use the first letter) and making its use a hate crime. Imagine, now you're in his pocket. This man wants to make a word a crime and you'd better do what he says or you're done for good.
But really, Michael, the most shocking thing to me is how self-absorbed you are. I imagine that you've spent more than a little of your sitcom money on therapy, the way you kept talking about your rage and what's inside you. And then Letterman throws you a nice softball question like "What's the next step?" and what do you say? You've got some self-work to do, or something like that? You are lost in your own world Michael, you didn't even apologize to anyone who wasn't in the room with you, like your 'rage' was the only problem. And a social problem at that! Ridiculous.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Could the pursuit of more no longer be the pursuit of happiness?

For real though. It's been a pretty simple equation for as long as life has existed. More = Better. Most = Best. It has a certain . . . how to say, symmetry to it, n'est-ce pas? By the way, that's French for ness-pah. Anyway, I'd like to suggestthat we may be reaching the point where this little truism no longer works. The first thing that comes to mind is science fiction. Like in the deep future in Orson Scott Card books, where they have interstellar travel but some people choose to live on (or are born on) planets with pre-modern technology levels. Instantaneous interplanetary communication co-exists with horse and buggies, etc. Another good example is that old saw that crops up in sci-fi movies all the time and probably comes from Blade Runner: The futuristic city in which there are rickety old food carts and old guys making wonton soup or udon or whatever flavor of low-tech Asian cuisine current events suggests we'll all be eating in the future.
But how do we get there? Marketing. Marketing is, for some reason, a more palatable idea in the U.S. than the more general, more accurate social engineering. Someone will have to market for inefficiency. Take the small business versus big business conundrum that is in the process of turning our whole country into a personality-less consumer wasteland. Some coalition of small businessmen will have to scrape together the money to put out ads to claim value for the non-Walmart, not so low-price, not so one-stop-shopping small business experience. That's the only way to convince the country at large that it is gaining something by shopping at privately owned stores, for example personal service, regional flair, a prosperous middle class, etc. Unfortunately, the question remains, where are a bunch of shit-heel small businessmen going to get the money, let alone the skill and will to put together such a massive cooperative effort, if they can't even figure out how to cut their prices.
Here in Korea, people are a little bit behind the U.S. in the More doesn't equal Better department. For example, in the U.S. we love to shop at warehouse stores and by Army-sized drums of everything that keeps or can be frozen, but in Korea, where fresh food is a higher priority than in the U.S., people apply the same "bulk shopping saves me money" philosophy to things that don't keep and ought not be frozen, like fruit. My mother in law bougt me a box of 70 persimmons (you'd like them if you tried them) and threw in an equal sized crate of clementines. And twelve huge bunches of grapes. On the same day. Also, my wife doesn't eat clementines. So I ate almost nothing but fruit for the last two weeks. It was interesting, because typically fruit is a lxative, but clementines have some kind of weird binding power, so my body has been somewhat conflicted, so to speak.
Anyway, I am convinced that some day, some brilliant economist will come up with the field of optimal prosperology. As I imagine it, the field would be fiocused on finding the exact amount of something that provides the owner with the maximum amount of pleasure. For example, I believe that I never appreciated fruit as much in America, where it is cheap, than I do in Korea, where it is fairly expensive. Therefore, I get more pleasure out of an apple when I pay more money than when it's free. When I lived in Japan I once had a gift apple that cost $10. It's a Japanese cultural thing: the apple is bought to be given as a gift, so the price is high. When you receive the gift apple, you get the value of an excellent grade-A apple and the knowledge that the person who gave you the apple values you that much. That may have been the best apple I ever had.
But I couldn't eat $10 apples every day. So I would hire an optimal prosperitologist to determine what price-per-apple would gve me the maximum amount of satisfaction-per-dollar.
On the flip side, a price too high can set up an unacheivable expectation of pleasure. When I left New York, a pack of cigarettes was $5, a single cigarette therefore cost 25 cents. I argue that a single cigarette cannot possibly provide 25 cents' worth of pleasure. When I came to Korea a pack of cigarettes cost $1, and a single cigarette was thus 5 cents. I would say that a person spending 25 cents to smoke is more likely to enjoy that cgarette an appropriate amount. The 5 cent cigarette smoker has a high likelihood of siucking the whole thing up without savoring the flavor for a moment.
Thus I posit that everything has a maximally satisfying price, that this price will one day be determinable, and that we will be able to use these estimates to create the most sensible public policy and obliquely planned economy possible.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I'm better at spending my money than spending my time

Which is why I sell all I can. I only bring it up because today I sold my weekends. Actually, I sold the heart out of my Saturdays and Sundays. I'll be doing two hours in a row on those days, and there's a 2-hour round trip commute involved, so a good fat 4 hour-plus gash down the middle of each day. It wasn't an easy decision, but unfortunately, I am not in a position to refuse any offers for private English lessons. To my chagrin, my time is worth less to me than it is to quite a few Korean students of English. I am hard pressed to think of a period of time that I would not sell. I have left family gatherings to teach private lessons. I endure a lot of commuting and chronic pharyngitis due to my never-ending talking. I'm not complaining, I'm genuinely dazzled by the economics of it all. I can't afford my own time.
But it's not exactly that I can't afford it. I can't get as much value out of it by myself as I can by trading it for money. Like an American soy bean farmer at harvest time, I look at my schedule book and think "What am I gonna do with all of this?" The farmer says to himself "Let's see, my old buddy Chang usually takes about 15 kilos off of me, and my wife usually sticks a few cups of soybeans in her Far East of the Border Chinese Chili that always comes in dead last at the chili cook-off. The rest I can sell." What would an American farmer do with soy beans? Make baked beans with them? Make tofu? Well, what would I do with my time? Write a song that I can't even sing with my constantly swollen throat? Catch up on The Wire. Well, I'm all caught up.
Actually, part of the attraction of the private lesson is that the per hour rate seems so high when you don't factor in travel time. It's like renting a room in your apartment. It's just one room that you rent out, but the rest of the house becomes a public space. So reading in the living room is okay, but no more reading Herb Cohen in your underwear in the living room. Same thing for me. I can do anything I want during my commute, as long as it fits on my lap and tolerates a bumpy bus ride or lurchy subway ride (i.e. reading and writing and listening to mp3s. So it's still my time, but not really.
I hope some day to be able to afford to buy back some of my time. In fact it's been my goal for a while. I can imagine what it's like being a prostitute. The lure of easy money makes it seem almost impossible to turn down any offer. It's quite disturbing, in fact, to know your value. I assume a day will come when my time will become more valuable to me than its cash equivalent. I only hope that it realizes its value as time for doing something fulfilling. It would be a shame if the only thing that stopped me from selling away my time was the value that it held as time for sleep.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Kirstie Alley's epic battle with the bulge

Is it ridiculous that this poor woman's entire life revolves around her weight and body and body image? An ounce of prevention, a snifter of discipline at some point in her childhood and she would have to have developed an actual identity for herself. Imagine if you or I were defined by our lifelong battles with nose picking and finger biting, respectively. Just imagine it. There'd be nothing left of us.
So Ms. Alley gained alot of weight after Cheers, then did a TV show called "Fat Actress" which neither you nor I ever saw and then she vowed to show up on the Oprah show in a bikini, which she did. And it's good that she did, for her. I doubt she has anything to offer anyone else out there, whether they be fat or a fat actress.
Perhaps because I work with kids every day, my answer to everything is "get 'em while they're young". Now, I don't think it would have made any sense to teach diet and exercise extra-explicitly to the child Kirstie, but what could have been beneficial down the road is a little will power and discipline. That framework is something that is definitely difficult to pick up later in life, but once it's learned it can be applied to anything. As long as you learn to put your nose to the grindstone, focus on your weaknesses instead of your strengths etc. at some point, you're head and shoulders above the hoopleheads

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Enter My World

I'd like to take this opportunity to invite you, The Reader, to fill your iPod with me, the disembodied typing fingers and voice of Colin Brody. Download my all-new collection of songs for a moribund, decadent world, Hunts Whales Loves The Candy Atoms. Laugh at the death of the last town elder. Thrill at the adventurs of sentient, whistful fighter jets. Pretend you don't resent the fact that the very relentless process of evolution that created your glorious brain forever shackles your lofty goal of pure thought to the wretched wheel of love. Giggle at the groans. Groan at the giggles. Do it all and more with me as your host. And then tell me I wasted your train ride to work. You could have been listening to The New England Skeptical Society podcast instead. Oh well, next time.

But on the off chance that you like what you hear, take your shaking ass and bopping head down to the home of The Candy Atoms.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Dropping a thousand eggs out of an airplane onto a field with a frying pan in it.

When I was in junior high I was really into drawing. I've always enjoyed drawing but that was the period in which I considered pursuing art as a career. I filled notebooks with pictures of the things I thought I could draw well and studiously avoided drawing anything that challenged me. To this day when I sit down in front of a piece of blank paper the same things I've been drawing for most of my life come out: rib cages, animals with haunches, wall-eyed people with lolling tongues; in essence, the things that a slightly more creative than average junior high boy would draw. nonetheless, I was under the impression that I had a talent that could somehow support me financially and make the world a better place.
Somewhere along the line I stopped drawing and focused on academics. When I was in junior high and drawing my father would peek over the tops of my notebooks and check out what I was doing, maybe throw in a little gentle ribbing. Over the years since, my father would occasionally bring up drawing out of the blue. "You remember you wanted to be an artist, whatever happened with that? You still drawing?" and other similar comments, which I typically answered by promising him that, no I have no interest in becoming an artist, so don't worry about my future.
But about two weeks ago I was riding on the bus doodling when I had a revelation. My father wasn't teasing me about wanting to be an artist. Having developed a little perspective on the matter, I've discovered that he was perhaps trying to foster my interest in art again, or at least gauge whether it's there. I can imagine having a son of my own who has some artistic dream, and it would do my heart good to come home and see him busy practicing it, whether he had any talent or not.
Having gone to high school in New York state, most of my classmates who thought about going to college naturally gravitated towards New York schools. A lot of my fellow Rocky Point high grads wanted to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. My sister also considered going there for a time. Because she liked fashion. That's a good reason to pursue a career, perhaps. Just do whatever you like and you'll eventually become good at it, that is true if you have a steely-eyed determination and the keenly honed mind of a scholar, but do you think most of these fashion-loving middle class public school students had the eye of the tiger?
The unfortunate thing about it all is that nobody stopped these kids from pursuing the dream. In fact, many people down the line encouraged their dreams, no matter how poorly founded. If you dream big, you'll change the world, and everything will turn out well if you follow those dreams.
So now it's quite a few years since my classmates made their decisions to pursue their taffeta dreams, and I would reckon that a good number of them dropped out (as did a fair percentage of all my graduating class), and that those that eventually did go into the fashion business created a fairly wide distribution on the scale of success and failure.
Now what if someone, maybe a guidance counsellor or even a parent, had sat down with those kids and said "What are you good at? Maybe fashion isn't your thing, what kind of career would be right for you?"
Well, it probably would've been too late. After 17 years in a permissive culture such as ours, any rationalism of that caliber is simply unheard, invisible to normals.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

American TV: a million times better than jazz

I always hear the old saw that jazz is America's only native art form. That doesn't sit well with me. I believe the Simpsons count animation as another one, and I'll back that. Edith Hamilton, the classicist, wrote a book, the title of which made my mom question my sexuality, The Greek Way. Hamilton was a great lover of the ancient Greeks, who she felt were high minded lovers of pure ideas and art. In a less famous companion-piece called The Roman Way, Hamilton basically performs a massive smear job on the Romans, who she sees as somewhat soulless, heartless engineery types who thought themselves into world conquest and then tried to buy themselves a high culture with their dirty dirty money. This argument strikes me as something that a modern American would come up with, with our painfully polarized, Jocks versus Nerds society. It was Hamilton's position that when we look at ancient cultures we should judge them mainly on their artistic and cultural production, and that all the rest is just filler. This is of course nonsense.
But it has a certain elegance to it, which is the thing that really gives ideas sticking power. It's a very college freshmanny, emo-y way of looking at the world, and I must confess to frequently turning to it in times of trapped-in-a-foreign-country frustration. There is no one realm in which I claim American cultural supremacy more sincerely and enthusiastically than in the domain of television. American television of late has been absolutely fantastic, to the point where I would much rather watch an episode of a good show than see a movie. I think there may be many reasons for this, but I think the two most important ones both stem from the internet. The first is the level of information available to television fans that enriches the experience, and the other, much more important one is competition from the internet for viewers.
My proof is irrefutable. In America, television has become better and better over the last several years while movies have arguably become worse and worse. In Korea, the movie industry has become one of Korea's greatest success stories (on the strength of a few excellent movies) while television is stuck in the American fifties, stylistically, recycling the same toothless soap opera melodrama endlessly with little concern for repetition and little improvement over time. Why, pray tell, would this be? The answer is simple and elegant. In The U.S., TV is primarily watched by young people, and American movies are primarily watched by the general population and, increasingly, foreigners abroad. Thus American TV faces direct competition from the internet, driving it to improve or die, while the movies face most of its competition from other forms of "going out" style entertainment such as restaurants. In Korea, the average young person has zero free time, watches a couple hours of TV with the family every weekend and isn't holding the remote control. Young people must go out to the movies just to get a few hours away from their houses, which are never empty, or else lock themselves in the computer room and play World of Warcraft until their eyes bleed. Thus Korean TV stagnates while movies are pushed by competition to improve.
So enough about that. What American TV shows are great and why? Here's a short list:

  • The Wire: No show does a better job of showing how human flaws and ideals slap up against each other, how the chthonic and the technotronic intersect and influence each other. The show follows a revolving door team of Baltimore city police officers who go after a different big, intricate criminal endeavor each season. The first season paints a layered portrait of both the police running the case and an up-and-coming drug dealing empire and the inner workings of each groups. The second season takes a personal grudge between a police commander and a stevedore union boss and uses it as a jumping off point for a case including white slavery, drugs, a blue collar half black/half Polish dock culture and swarthy Greek international bad stuff traffickers. The highlight of the show is the way that police laziness and ass-covering just barely gets the job done while criminal ambition and the high stakes nature of the business makes them efficient.
  • Battlestar Galactica: The epic battle between humans and the Cylon robots that they created goes to the next level when the Cylons almost annihilate the human race, leaving only 50,000 humans running through space on a ragtag convoy. This show has several similarities with The Wire, now that I think about it: lots of poorly thought out sex and bad decisions, almost too-flawed characters, the whole rag-tag angle, and so on. The third season just started and it leaves mankind living in an occupied refugee camp full of terrorism by humans against Cylons. This show will change your life. Whenever I call home my father spends the entire call talking about the Cylons.
  • Deadwood: touches on similar themes with the aforementioned: like the Wire it is to a great extent about the innate limits placed on people by society, also deals with the development of networks and personal relationships in a similar way with Battlestar. The story revolves around the last and greatest gold rush in mid 1870s Dakota territory. The most infamous and colorful character is saloon-keeper and whoremonger Al Swearingen, and his foil is town sheriff Seth Bullock. The two develop a sort of adversarial equilibrium: they form a complex relationship, sometimes enemies, but increasingly on the same side. The most interesting arc in the show is the increasing level of civilization in the camp. In the first season, a good throat-cutting takes care of any problem, but by the end of the third season, violence seems less and less of an option, and politics gains more and more of a role. The other main theme that shares with both the above shows is the same one that the producers of the Simpsons claim on their DVDs all the time: people never change. Yet on Deadwood, they do. And they don't it's complicated. I mean, it should be, right?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Staffan Linder and the Harried Leisure Class

Staffan Linder is a Swedish Economist. His book, "The Harried Leisure Class", has the power to change the way you view the world in the same way as "The Selfish Gene". It's one of those life-altering premises, not a major earth-shattering new theory like evolution, but a new way of looking at it. As the selfish gene is to biology, The Harried Leisure class is to economics.
The premise is simple. As we all should know, one of the key inputs in any economic input is labor. Labor itself consists of the time one spends on a job, the expertise that goes into the work, and several other factors. Linder says that as one's wage and productivity rises, the value of one's time consequently rises. This leads one to expect to get more value from all of one's time, including one's free time. The result, according to Linder, is that people spend their leisure time in more and more intense, hurried, "efficient" leisure activities. This explains the decline in popularity of baseball, whittling on the porch, and anything involving hours of practice (i.e. almost anything worth doing). Thus leisure becomes less about relaxing and more about getting relaxing stuff done.
But it doesn't stop there. It answers a question I've long wondered about. Why do people like to buy things that look worn and old? What's so wonderful about jeans with holes in them? Linder's idea explains it all. People are too busy to put the holes in the jeans themselves through good honest mucking about under a car or out in a field, so they buy the jeans pre-worn:

But the concept just goes rolling everywhere, like the selfish gene, it's got legs. Why do so many people (like my sister-in-law) spend so much money on educational toys for infants when research shows that spending quality time with your child is more effective than all the fancy knickknacks in the world? Because the expensive toys (and my sister-in-law has spent at least $1000 on them and her son isn't 2 yet) are actually cheaper than her time. Sick world, huh? And why do so many housewives here in Korea send their kids to cram schools all day and still spend every waking hour fretting and kvetching over their children's educations? Because all that time, otherwise spent warming the couch, is almost worthless (relative to any other activity that those woman could do instead, short of actually getting a job).
And here's where it hits me personally. I work in the burgeoning English as a Never-to-be-learned Language (ENL) sector in Korea, teaching people who are going about it ass backwards, throwing money (on me)and time (on memorizing lists of things) at a problem (learning English) that can really only be solved by technique (actually exposing oneself to English in a meaningful way) and time (spent constructively). Although I have a steady job, I chose it for it's smack-in-themiddle-of-the-day schedule, which allows me to work much more lucrative private lessons in the morning and night. Right now my schedule every day is either 6:30am -9pm or 8:15am-10pm. I spend 3 hours a day riding the bus all over the place. All my time is for sale. Every moment of it. For the last 4 months every Monday morning I had a 2 hour break when I would go to Starbucks between jobs and drink the world's most expensive Starbucks (in Korea, a grande latte is $5). Well someone bought that. If you have the money and the inkling, you can buy the two remaining holes in my schedule, Wednesday and Friday Mornings, 10-12. If someone goes and buys them up them I have no idea when I will go to the gym. But needless to say, that being my gym time, I will expect an extra $5/hour to compensate for the loss.
So last week when I heard about this person who wanted to buy my coffee break, I was faced with a question I presume is very common to geishas, massueses and psychiatrists: How much is that hour of my life every week worth? Unfortunately, I know for a fact that anyone willing to buy my time is willing to pay way more than it's worth to me. So every time I get a new job, it's like losing an auction for my life. Should I push for $45, or stick with a standard $40? In fact, I got $50, quite a steal. That's another thing that you can learn from Adam Smith: You are most likely to make a big profit in an industry in which the product is scarce and the actual price is not well-known to non-experts.
Anyway, it's not all roses: the class is a one on one with a girl who speaks almost no English and, I would say, has almost no chance of benefitting from the class. In other words, she won't be learning English any time soon. I could see it in her eyes, she doesn't have the drive, the heart or the head for it. And, back to Linder, I could also see in her eyes that she was the type that was more willing to throw money than time at such a pursuit. I mean, a $50/hour English tutor would have to be a lot better than a $40/hour one, right?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Disappointed Ancestors

I just saw the first episode of the third season of Battlestar Galactica and it got me thinking about the way the world changes. The series starts with an apocalyptic attack by the Cylons (robots created by humans) that cuts the human race down to 50,000 people on the run in a ragtag fleet of spaceships. The second season opened up the world of the Cylons a little bit to show them to be an idealistic young race that destroyed the humans on orders from their god (they're both monotheistic and very evangelical) and have had a change of heart and now want to bring the light of god to the human race, which is polytheistic and extremely close to the godless urban/coastal America that I grew up in. Anyway, the humans camped out on a planet, built a little squatter's camp, and one year later were found and occupied by the Cylons.
So as the third season begins, the Cylons are obviously the in over their heads optimistic Americans and the downtrodden, now extremely radicalized humans are any number of peoples not American. Thus, a setup for brilliant drama, in which you have an American (and I presume international) audience rooting for an insurgent group built on the ruins of a dismantled military who use killings, bombs, and similar terror to convince the Cylons to leave them alone in their wretched new city and stop helping them into the future.
So, that got me thinking about all the historical figures who would look at the country of which they are either a hero or a founding father and shake their heads in shame. This could be for any number of reasons. Surely William Wallace would consider his own life to have been a failure, in that Scotland is now completely subsumed into the United Kingdom. The rugged individualists who built our big-ass country would no doubt cringe if taken to a strip mall (that goes for every country that's had a sweet Amerrrican fairy dust kiss). Certainly the people who wrote the constitution had another thing in mind when they made up all that stuff about "rights". The mighty Samurai of Japan would no doubt be disgusted at the leveling of Japanese culture, as would the Yangban of Korea.
The case of the Yangban is a particularly sad one, in my opinion. The Yangbans, literally "the two halves", were the noblemen of Korea, so named because they were lined up on the two sides of the King's court. They were typically Asian nobles, in that they praised refinement and learning as paramount. Unfortunately, refinement and culture have not survived into the modern world, and in fact, are probably antithetical to Democracy. If the history of Korea were a Rodney Dangerfield movie, then the snobs would have been essentially obliterated by the Japanese occupation and, when that period ended, the entire country essentially left to the slobs. This is shocking to me because I am American and we never really had much more than aristocratic aspirants, but I'm sure those in European countries with formerly rich high culture would report a similar phenomenon. The really sad thing is that the Yangban are remembered in Korean popular culture as a bunch of snobby assholes. For example, the Yangban disdained physical movement and exercise, preferring quiet contemplation. One common claim is that the Yangban were such uppity pricks that they wouldn't even run if their house was on fire.
Every time I hear this story I'm reminded of the book 1984, in which the capitalists are recalled as an extinct creature who lived off the sweat of others and always wore ridiculous top hats. That's the paintroller version of capitalism in a socialist dystopian future.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The last mammal

Discovery Channel did a show a few years ago called The Future is Wild, and the premise is that humans "leave" the earth, and then millions of years later some kind of probe comes to the earth and makes a nature show about all the new animals that have evolved. Anyway, besides the fact that humans "left", what got to me was the animal they called the poggle, which was, according to the show, the last mammal. The thing about the poggle that is so depressing is that the poggle, the last in a long line of mammals including majestic creatures like whales, bats and horses, is a little hamster-like creature that is raised for food by giant spiders. So that's how it ends, Discovery Channel? All those warm-blooded hijinks for that, to feed spiders in the deep future? Quite sad.

Or not. I mean, maybe mammals weren't meant to live in the warped, twisted future that the staff of futurologists and futuronomists at DC have created. Maybe 100million years in the future is better off without mammals.

Anyway, I was thinking about evolution today, in particular social evolution. The thing that spurned it all was the fact that Bill Clinton has convinced junk food companies to stop selling so much junk food in schools, and there's apparently some kind of trans-fat restriction bill on the docket somewhere. And that would be totally anti freedom of choice, right? How can it be America when you can't even choose your lunch? So that got me thinking about good old fashioned freedom. The kind of good old fashioned frrreedom where you hit the R really hard like a rreal Amerrrican. Anyway, it all started with the founding fathers, those bootlegging tax-evaders, who wanted Americans to be as free as they could possibly be, like old Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty or give me death." Right? So, given 230 years of evolution, where did that freedom wind up?
I posit that it ended up going something like this: as an American, you are exposed to every possible opportunity to fuck up your life without the government getting in your way. You are totally free to do anything that is likely to ruin your future. And even the people in a position to tell you not to, who know better, may not intervene because they're Amerrricans too. And then after the damage has been done and you know better and you see it coming for the next generation, you bite your tongue in the name of frrreedom.
When I moved to Korea I initially noticed the same thing that most foreign men do: The women are so beautiful. You hear it all the time among Americans abroad, I'm sure they say it in most any foreign country that they go to. Why? Is it because immigration to America has somehow detrimentally mutated the DNA of our nation's ancestors? Of course the answer is that such a huge proportion of our men women and children are fat that half of our beautiful women are trapped inside fat bodies. In my high school there was a girl from China who came to the U.S. not speaking a word of English and, a few years later got an astronomical SAT verbal score. What does that mean? Americans are dumb? Yes, but not because they do poorly on standardized tests. Because they don't push the importance of education in anyway near the way they do in some other cultures. So what you find in the U.S. is a nation of underachievers with lots of rich life experience. I'm serious, not being fascetious about the rich life lessons bit, it's true. The question is, is it good or bad to live way below your potential, making mistakes left and right with little guidance in order to get this life experience?

What is Paintroller?

A paint roller is a device used for putting a lot of paint on something at one time. as opposed to a paintbrush, whose user can create nuanced, intricate images, a paintroller is typically used to spread one simple color of paint as far and as uniformly as possible.

History is written with a paintroller. People can only know so much about each bit and piece of history. Take George Washington: Wooden teeth, crossed the Delaware, couldn't tell a lie, chopped down a cherry tree, wife named Martha, first president of the U.S., on the quarter and dollar, obelisk shaped monument to him in Washington D.C., which is named after him, as is Washington state. The end.

Maybe a harder one, like Charles Darwin. He travelled on the Beagle, went to the Galapagos, studied finches, discovered evolution, and called it survival of the fittest. I know the last one's not true but it sounds true. That's how history works. If everything fits together and sounds good, it will become the truth as far as most people are concerned.

I heard so much about truthiness this year as if it had recently been invented by George Bush. As if most historical events weren't similarly manipulated. Well it's nothing new. Is it wrong? to be honest, I can't decide, but being that this blog is called Paintroller and dedicated to the above premise, I will say unequivocally that the fact that history is created for mass consumption by image makers is bad. And later if I say it's good that's true too.

So that's what Paintroller is. Big generalizations, with no caveats or warnings except the following: Everything I write here is a generalization. When I say "Americans are dumb", I mean that the majority of Americans are dumb. I am American and I know this to be true. The majority of everyone is dumb. Half the people on earth are below average intelligence, and a large portion of those above have dulled their senses and faculties into a stupor with sloppy thinking and intellectual laziness, so there you go, the majority of people are dumb. How many times have you heard someone counter an argument or statement with something like "Well that's a generalization, not all cats are hairy, what about . . ." Just remember that that, in itself, is not a rebuttal or answer, it's a request for clarification. And once clarification is given, the argument can continue, but seldom does, because the argument has been sidelined. So what I'm saying is, when I'm wrong, you're wrong for noticing.

Oh, and one rule: Don't comment on grammatical or spelling errors. The root of the word 'glamor' is 'grammar'. The reason? When education was first coming into vogue with the English aristocracy, the study of grammar or proper speech and writing was considered a mark of good breeding and education. Think about it, they weren't studying math and economics, they were studying musical instruments and poetry and rhetoric. Thus to have good grammar was glamorous or fashionable, and a reliable sign of intelligence when everyone's job was the intellect light 'landlord'. In this modern age, when education is essentially geared towards creating good workers for massive companies, that thin veneer of respectability that still remains associated with good education is most evident on the internet in people's obsession with spelling and especially grammar. People on the internet usually attack each other's spelling and punctuation as a way to say "I am more or better educated than you and my opinion matters". Well we're all friends here and I'll come out and say it now: if you went to an American public school, all the "its versus it's" talk in the world will not make you an intellectual, so just drop the spelling and punctuation bashing.