Wednesday, December 05, 2007

My Paint Roller runneth dry

I've decided that it's time to move on to greener pastures. I have exported all my posts to their new home, The Joshing Gnome. I have also decided to abandon Blogger in favor of Wordpress, for many reasons, but one in particular: it is actually easier to export blog posts from Blogger to Wordpress than to a different blog within Blogger. Wordpress allowed me with one click to turn 316 Paint Roller posts into the Joshing Gnome archives.

Other reasons for the move include built-in stats and ease of applying tags and creating a header image at Wordpress. As for theme, I've opted for one almost identical to the white-on-black of Paint Roller.

And so from now on I will be posting to Be sure to change your bookmarks and RSS feeds.

To: Metropolitician Re: Yr Proposal . . . I do!!

Ah, Metropolitician! A passionate man with strong opinions, and I like that. I just read his proposal for a new 'elite visa' for long-time, well-behaved English teachers intended to increase demand for better teachers, improve the treatment of English teachers by school owners, and reward good teachers with more rights in order that they may 'take a bigger part in Korean life'. Since my comment is longer than eighty percent of my blog posts, I figured I'd reprint my comment here, for my own reference and yours.

Re: A Realistic Proposal

I find it highly unrealistic that anything will be made of this proposal for several reasons.
  • First of all, all your proposed system does is make life easier for foreign English teachers living long-term in Korea. It fails to address the supposed threats that foreign teachers pose to Korean students and Korean society. What good is making life easier for English teachers who've been in Korea for three or more years without doing anything about shorter-term teachers, transients with no ties to Korea? This is like reacting to a tainted beef scandal by introducing a new super-premium Grade Double-A beef designation. It simply doesn't address the problem at hand.
  • Second, the whole proposal's a crazy quilt of unrelated gripes that leaves a bad taste in one's mouth. What Korean would want to read a constellation of complaints about topics as diverse as the Busan amateur theater bust, the guy from the Host getting deported, the way foreigners are treated like 'walking dictionaries', and the illegal black list. Few Koreans would have any idea what half of these incidents were about.
  • Third, your focus on yourself and F-4 visa holders in general as a standard of comparison is confusing. First of all, your mother is Korean, which, like it or not, matters in Korea and will continue to do so. It remains to you to explain to Koreans why any foreigners should have the luxury of choosing to quit and work multiple jobs at will, because the benefit to students is not as intuitive as you may think it is.
  • Finally, and most important, this proposal fails to make it clear why Koreans should care about the foreign teachers' legal status. From their point of view, English teachers have a pretty good deal. They are in the country to teach English and they are paid handsomely for it. This proposal describes the following benefits for Koreans should they choose to follow it:
  1. Fewer foreigners will go back to their home countries with hagwon hell stories.
  2. More poetry, art, and exhibitions in the foreigner community.
  3. Foreigners taking a bigger part in Korean life.
This proposal fails to address:
  1. Perceived crime and drug use by foreigners.
  2. Unqualified teachers.

I would say that taken together, the strident tone, poorly reasoned premise, and ineffectualness of the proposal itself will probably turn off most of the people who read it.
Now if you could come up with a proposal for a visa reform which would provide tangible improvements for Korean English learners and Korean society as a whole while at the same time insuring better conditions for good teachers and weeding out the bad, then I would say you're on the right track.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Michael Savage's "The Savage Nation"

I just started reading The Savage Nation: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on our Borders, Language, and Culture. First of all, let me explain what I already know about Michael Savage. He is an intellectually dishonest flim flam man, a peddler of patent medicines who claims that he's cured cancer with "a special nutrition program" (page 12). He has written about improving children's IQ with food and so-called "holistic health", whatever that may be, in previous books. I see no difference between his current career as a fiery conservative radio host and his previous one as an ethnobotanist and seller of potions. The way I see it, he has no respect for his customers in either endeavor, and would just as soon feed his listeners a load of ire-raising rhetoric as he would convince his patients to treat cancer with a nutrition program.
Michael Savage's shtick can be summed up as follows: Savage, an New York Jew who lives in San Francisco, presents for his audience a demon-haunted world of anti-family, anti-American boogeymen. His message comes draped in nostalgia for a simpler, manlier time. Being an urban Jew, he allows his sub- and ex-urban Christian audience to focus their hatred more specifically on an urban liberal landscape often populated by Jews and homosexuals. Reading Savage's criticism of "the Dianne Feinsteins of the world, the Charlie Schumers, the subway senators" allows one to despise liberals without seeming to despise Jews.
The straw men that Savage constantly conjures up form the soul of the threat to "our borders, language, and culture". Here's a short list of the ones I could find in a quick perusal of the first chapter of the book:
  • "The liberal fools who can remember every law book they ever read, but they don't know what they're talking about or where they've dragged the nation."
  • "The teacher's union [which] has just about eliminated testing."
  • The fathers of today, who " if a kid brought home a record from a foreign nation . . . would have to be like Mr. Rogers: "Oh, son, that's just so sensitive of you. How multicultural of you, son." and say "Oh, look at that, dear, he smeared feces on the wall. That's modern art."
  • "The bums today whose hands are always out--you know the type. Those card-carrying 'victims' who only know how to suck the nipple of Aunt Sam."
  • "The greedy, legal profession, and those with fake handicaps who hide behind a charade to cover their laziness."
  • "Homosexualized, feminized America" where "women are afraid of angry men."
  • "Mr. Liberal", who "finds the man who gets furious and really wants to change things" and "tells him he's a psychotic and he needs anger management."
  • "Demagogues like Al Sharpton, Jesse Hijackson, and Tom Daschle"
  • The "liberal entitlement message being passed down in our society. Just sit on your fat behind, watch TV, swill another drink, and be sure to wait for your welfare check on Friday."
  • Ultraliberalism that is killing San Francisco and filling it with "a human plague". This ultraliberalism begets "Hatred for anything normal . . . law and order . . . decency . . . for mama and apple pie and the roses in your hand."
  • Democrats, libs, and Commu-Nazis who rule the courts, because of whom "America's meatballs are small, hard, and tasteless.
Next time, the nostalgia, or maybe more straw men. Or not. I'm taking a lazy, sloppy Michael Savage approach tonight.

Yakub and other amazing beliefs

From Wikipedia:

According to the Nation of Islam (NOI), Yakub (also spelled Yacub or Yakob), was an evil scientist responsible for creating the white race — a race of devils, in their view. . . This was achieved under a despotic regime on the island of Patmos. The reasons for Yakub's actions are unclear. According to NOI doctrine, his progeny were destined to rule for 6,000 years before the original black peoples of the world regained dominance, a process that began in 1914.


According to Joseph Smith, what is now Jackson County, Missouri was the location of the Garden of Eden and will be the location of the future New Jerusalem, and God has led numerous groups to the western hemisphere in search of freedom, including several groups of ancestors to the Native Americans whose stories are told in the Book of Mormon.

And furthermore:
Concepts about deity are diverse among UUs. Some believe that there is no god (atheism); others believe in many gods (polytheism). Some believe that God is a metaphor for a transcendent reality. Some believe in a female god (goddess), a passive god (Deism), a Christian god, or a god manifested in nature or one which is the "ground of being". Some UUs reject the idea of deities and instead speak of "universal spirit" or "reverence of life". Unitarian Universalists support each person's search for truth and meaning in concepts of deity.


Why did I never hear this in Korea?

This (courtesy of Slate) is the kind of factoid I came to expect in Korea:
[K]ids adopted from Korea outscored the U.S. average by two to 12 points, depending on their degree of malnutrition. In a third study, Korean kids adopted in Belgium outscored the Belgian average by at least 10 points, regardless of their adoptive parents' socioeconomic status.

Go read the whole unflinching article.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The attack of the 9/11 movies

I saw The Mist tonight. Nobody told me it was all about 9/11. The previews included The Poughkeepsie Tapes (like a serial-killing Blair Witch, with video purported to have been filmed in September of 2001) and Cloverfield (another disaster movie with lots of superrealistic shaky-cam "Oh my God, I've got to capture the carnage of New York being destroyed for posterity"). It just hit me like a tin of bricks how 9/11 and War on Terror-soaked our culture has become.
Incidentally, imagine how much easier it would have been to make Starship Troopers and The Siege after 9/11. It would have required half of the imagination at most.
Here's a little list of the 9/11 inspired movies I've seen. Incidentally, in making this list I checked out Wikipedia's 2002 through 2007 in film pages, and was tickled to find that some patriotic Korean had gone through them all and put all the big Korean movies on the lists, which are otherwise almost completely filled with American and British movies.

  • 28 Days Later - Remember the "Have you seen my Timmy?" wall, soon to become the easiest, most emotionally resonant shorthand that lazy writers could use to relevance up their project.
  • War of the Worlds - Features New York's destruction, followed by scenes of society breaking down. Relentlessly pessimistic in its view of mankind, the movie is typical of post-9/11 movies in that the characters are completely helpless to stop the events shaping their lives (see also the Final Destination, Hostel, and Saw series).
  • Hostel - Helpless Americans killed in an unforgiving, non-understandable foreign world.
  • V for Vendetta - Fascism and plenty of it; terrorism grapples with and justified (see also Battlestar Galactica season 3)
  • Babel - More Americans misunderstanding foreigners and vice versa.
  • Children of Men - Civil liberties crushed, hysteria over foreigners, people everywhere adrift in a world that has spun out of their control, torture by intelligence services, terrorism, etc.
  • 300 - Didn't see it. I assume it is 9/11 influenced because it has Persians in it.
  • 28 Weeks Later - Green zones, naughty military men, and more helpless people being terrorized.
  • Hostel: Part II - Helplessness!
  • The Mist - Disaster followed by helplessness, logical reactions confronted with an emotional/religious mindset, dissention and inability to form consensus on the proper response to the tragedy.

What does the future hold for us? Judging from the above list, the continued trend in torture-based horror movies, and the trailers for Cloverfield, The Poughkeepsie Tapes, and I Am Legend, plenty of desperate helplessness. Get ready to squirm!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Those Penny-pinching Admen

I've noticed a new trend in television commercials. Take the Cadillac commercials. Initially they featured Kate Walsh and the awesome guitar part from Hum's classic song 'Stars'.
Now they feature Lance Reddick from the Wire and that one really awesome episode of the X-Files--and a clip with the same effect, the same atmosphere and general Hummishness, but a sound-alike clip nonetheless, that likely costs Cadillac none of the royalties they had to pay for the HUm clip.
Likewise a Walmart commercial features an instrumental from Badly Drawn Boy's great About A Boy soundtrack, and later broadcasts of the commercial run with a sound-alike, with the same twinkling glockenspiel as the original without any of the residuals to Badly Drawn Boy.
Way to thrift it up, Madison Avenue!

Dear Simpsons Writing Staff

a). Anagrams are not funny.
b). Puns are not funny.
c). Cleverness is not, in and of itself, funny.
d). Guest stars that play themselves are, generally speaking, not funny.
e). Homer singing is not funny.
f). Long series of product names altered slightly from their originals (e.g. Sketch-n-Etch, Ravenous Ravenous Rhinos, Herschel's Smootches) are, pursuant to b), not funny.
g). Homer suffering brain damage is no longer funny.
h). Bart hinting at deep-seated emotional problems underpinning his behavior is still hilarious.

Teacher says every time a bell rings, daddy throws away my future

You must read Kyle Smith's brilliant retelling of It's A Wonderful Life in Today's New York Post. Some highlights:
Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey accurately calls Bedford Falls “this crummy little town" and spends the movie trying to get away. He nearly kills himself because even suicide looks pretty good compared to upstate New York.
In the Pottersville scene, the movie stacks the decks by putting a cemetery in the place of the Bailey Park development. Sorry, George, but without you, people still would have died in Bedford Falls - of boredom.

Mary winds up in a place worse than the cemetery - “she's just about to close up the library!" - where she wears glasses and dresses like Paula Poundstone. It's an insult to working women.

Do yourself a favor and just go read the whole hilarious thing.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Inside vs Outside

Here are two great quotes that go great together. The first is from an essay about Korean culture's propensity do define the world in terms of 'in' (friends and family, allies) versus 'out' (strangers)

It turns out that all sorts of things in Korean society are explained by this distinction between "in" and "out." . . . "In and out" explains why Korean students are so clean in their homes and so likely to throw trash in the campus streets - the street is outside their area, the territory of non-persons. The distinction is reinforced by taking off shoes in a house; the house is clean space, while "out" is for shoes, dirty.

Although the author, Yonsei University professor Horace Underwood, focuses specifically on students, the analysis extends to all aspects of Korean society. At the risk of offending some, I would say it makes Koreans excellent friends, only so-so citizens and, when you're walking down the streets of Korea, particularly aggressive obstacles. To extend Underwood's 'in and out' analysis, one has to go no further than the typical Korean home, the high-rise apartment building, which looks like this on the outside

and this on the inside.

Korean homes are typically very clean. The floors clean enough to eat off, unnecessary clutter usually banished to drawers and well-organized shelfs.

The outside of the typical Korean apartment block practically screams to the average American "Yes, we sell crack!", filthy and never ever cleaned, with rust stains streaking the walls and small cracks spackled over in white, emphasizing the building's age, (perhaps to drive down the apartment prices), never letting on the tidy little family lives going on therein.

Now here's a quote from a Slate article about the various re-edits of the Spielberg film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
We see suburban Muncie as a sprawl of carefully arranged, nearly identical houses stretched out beneath a starry sky. But within those tidy houses, Spielberg finds chaos. Clutter piles on top of clutter in a family room that can barely contain its family. Conversations overlap but fail to drown out the television's blare. And at the center of it all is a man already half-mad from all the commotion, unable to focus on his toy trains and stuck with a family unable to appreciate the whimsy of Pinocchio.

According to Underwood, Spielberg's protagonists would be living inside out.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

9 out of 10 top pages at Conservapedia homosexuality-related

Chapeau doff to the Party Pooper. Excluding the main page of the conservative alternative to Wikipedia, every single page in the top ten is related to homosexuality. The list:

1. Main Page‎ [1,916,218]
2. Homosexuality‎ [1,586,114]
3. Homosexuality and Hepatitis‎ [517,543]
4. Homosexuality and Promiscuity‎ [421,339]
5. Gay Bowel Syndrome‎ [396,018]
6. Homosexuality and Parasites‎ [388,730]
7. Homosexual Couples and Domestic Violence‎ [373,363]
8. Homosexuality and Gonorrhea‎ [331,743]
9. Homosexuality and Mental Health‎ [292,841]
10. Homosexual Agenda‎ [271,023]

Gay Bowel Syndrome? Seriously, I can not imagine what use conservatives could possibly have for detailed information about the mechanics of gay sex.

Well I've done the legwork and read the page on Gay Bowel Syndrome just to see what these conservatives are so interested in. The first half of the page is a rather dry description of the syndrome (constellation of symptoms). The second half of the page is a description of the history of the term, the perception of the term as one carrying a negative bias by gay activists, and the efforts to have the term removed from med school textbooks. Nothing particularly titillating.

Still it is wierd that every single page in the top ten except the main page is about homosexuality.

I wish they included more statistics on their website. I would love to know what page 11-20 are.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

An unbelievable travesty

Courtesy of the most unpleasant Michael Savage. The military is asking wounded soldiers unable to serve out their commitment to give back a portion of their signing bonus. According to the article
[Jordan] Fox was seriously injured when a roadside bomb blew up his
vehicle. He was knocked unconscious. His back was injured and lost all vision in his right eye.
A few months later Fox was sent home. His injuries prohibited
him from fulfilling three months of his commitment. A few days ago, he received a letter from the military demanding nearly $3,000 of his signing bonus back.
That's $3,000 out of $10,000, by the way. I can only assume that this is some sort of a mix-up, because I would hate to think that this is actual policy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Wars of Blood and Faith, condensed, part one

I am printing here some of the more provocative and interesting passages from Ralph Peters' 2007 book Wars of Blood and Faith. I am a bit pressed for time, so here's part one.

Clausewitz had it Backwards
p. 39-40 [I]t may be our predilection for prolonging even the most wretched peace that ultimately makes our wars so bloody. After a century of Euro-American conflicts, it requires little effort to make the case that the quickest way to inspire a shooting was may be to cling to the dream of peace in our time. . .Idealistic American communists abetted Stalin's crimes while conservatives insisted that Hitler wasn't our problem. . .The massacres at Srebrenica can't be blamed on Serb militias alone--Europe's pacifists were the enablers. Darfur screams, while we stop up our ears.

p. 40 Along with our nibbling at Clausewitz, we also snack on a few crumbs from Sun Tzu, without any real comprehension, that "to win war without fighting is the highest form of victory." Our assumption is that the maxim has a pacific, if not a pacifist, sense: victory without bloodshed! Hurrah, hurrah! Such an interpretation is profoundly wrong. Sun Tzu's primary emphasis in that passage isn't on avoiding battle--that's secondary--but on winning by alternative means. The distinction is critical. Sun Tzu would have found Western peacekeeping operations incomprehensible: avoiding battle and losing.

p.41 The conundrum is that our military strength makes our policy-makers lazy. Neglectful of other instruments and means of national power, they inevitably find themselves forced to resort to military solutions.
The Chinese understand perfectly that policy is an extension of war beyond the crudities of the battlefield, and they act upon the insight skillfully. The Russians grasps it, too, if less coherently . . . (as with the depth-of-winter gas shut-offs to Ukraine and then Georgia). The French have acted as if engaged in comprehensive warfare with all other parties for four centuries, failing only because their means were never commensurate with their exaggerated ambitions.

p.43 Brilliantly, the Chinese have managed to harness the greed of influential elements within our own business community to prevent the implementation of policies by Washington that might reduce China's artificial trade advantages and limit our own self-inflicted vulnerabilities. By allowing a relative handful of American corporations to grow rich, the Chinese have paralyzed our government's ability to defend our workers, our industries, and our economy. We have reached the point where lobbying veers into treason. The Chinese view our relationship as a war conducted through nonmilitary means. Under such advantageous economic conditions, they are perfectly happy to refrain from shooting.

p44 Saudi Arabia, for example, has engaged in a merciless religious war against the West for more than three decades, yet it has not only done so while convincing our national leaders, Republican and Democrat, that we're "friends," but has managed to gain the protection of America's military on the cheap, even as it refuses meaningful cooperation with our forces. To preserve the profits of a handful of multinational oil companies, we protect a repellent, throwback regime that willfully created Osama bin Laden and his ilk.

p 45 The target of the suicide bomb isn't really flesh and blood--it's the video camera, that powerful, postmodern "other means" of securing a military advantage without possessing a military.
By refusing to instill a warlike spirit in other fields of our national policy, we only make "real war" inevitable.

The Hearts and Minds Myth
p50 Self-righteous journalists love to claim that the first casualty of war is the truth, but that's a self-serving lie; the first casualty of any form of violence is reason, that weakest and most disappointing of learned human skills.
We are, indeed, engaged in religious wars--because our enemies have determined that these are religious wars. Our own refusal to understand them as such is just one more debilitating asymmetry.

p 51 We must get over out impossible dream of being loved as a nation, of winning hearts and minds in Iraq and elsewhere. If we can make ourselves liked through our successes, that's well and good. But the essential requirement for the security of the U.S. are that our nation is respected and our military feared.

p52 We need to be tough on ourselves. Begin by listing the number of religion-fueled uprisings throughout history that were quenched by reason and compromise--call me collect if you find a single one. Then list the ethnic civil wars that were solved by sensible treaties without significant bloodshed. Next, start asking the really ugly questions, such as: Hasn't ethic cleansing led to more durable conditions of peace than any more humane approach to settling power relations between bloodlines? Shouldn't we be glad when fanatics kill fanatics? Is there a historical precedent for coping with violent religious fanatics that does not include bloodshed to the point of extermination?

The Myth of Immaculate Warfare
p54 The siren song of techno-wars fought at standoff range makes military solutions more attractive to political leaders than would be the case were they warned about the war's costs at the outset.

p56 [T]he impressive -in-theory capabilities of the latest weapons cloud the vision of military planners, leading them to focus on what the systems can do instead of concentrating on what needs to be done. Rather than buying the weapons we really need, we twist the conflicts we face to conform to the weapons we want to buy. The resulsts are flawed war plans based on unrealistic expectations--in short, Iraq

Politically Correct War
p62 You can trust to kinds of officers: those who read a great deal and those who don't read at all. But beware the officer who reads just a little and falls in love with one book. A little education really is a danegrous thing.

A thought from Ralph Peters

We may be impressed that terrorists ad criminals manage to use out technologies against us, but it is a parasitic use, imitative, not creative. A cell phone held to the ear does not mean a modern mind is at work on the other side of the eardrum.
from Peters' 2002 book Beyond Terror, page 13

A thought from J.R.R. Tolkien

A man inherited a field in which was an accumulation of old stone, part of an older hall. Of the old stone some had already been used in building the house in which he actually lived, not far from the old house of his fathers. Of the rest he took some and built a tower. But his friends coming perceived at once (without troubling to climb the steps) that these stones had formerly belonged to a more ancient building. So they pushed the tower over, with no little labour, in order to look for hidden carvings and inscriptions, or to discover whence the man's distant forefathers had obtained their bulding material. Some suspecting a deposit of coal under the soil began to dig for it, and forgot even the stones. They all said: 'This tower is most interesting.' But they also said (after pushing it over): 'What a muddle it is in!' And even the man's descendants, who might have been expected to consider what he had been about, were heard to murmur: 'He is such an odd fellow! Imagine his using these old stones just to build a nonsensical tower! Why did not he restore the old house? He had no sense of proportion.' But from the top of that tower the man had been able to look out upon the sea.

How to be creative, Gwen Stefani style

According to the above Gwen Stefani ad for HP, these are the steps involved in creativity:
1. Like Kingston. Absorb its culture and bastardize it for an American audience, thereby becoming a celebrity.
2. Go to a hotel in a foreign country. Japan, let it be noted, is taken, so don't even think about trying to be inspired there. Look out the window at the glittering skyline. The less insight you have into the lives being lived in the city you're in, the more likely you are to be inspired.
3. Walk through a middle class neighborhood. Creativity can't be turned on and off like a faucet, despite what some might think, so just be open to everything you see.
4. Take what you've seen in the foreign country home. The less your countrymen know about the country you were in, the better.
5. Present what you've seen in the foreign country as a product of your own creative mind.
6. Sit back and wait for the call about an HP ad deal to come in.
7. Repeat

Sunday, November 18, 2007

John Hodgman and the infinite mediocrity

I have been ruminating on the continued existence of John Hodgman and the role he plays in contemporary pop culture. I have been able to sum up my impression of him in the following way.
At any point in time, the comfortable middle class with a smattering of liberal arts education look to satisfies their urge to be edified, either for legitimate reasons or as a class reinforcing exercise of their leisure time. They will put up with an amazing amount of boredom in the name of edification. This stems from the belief that unmitigated emotion is crass or base, and that pleasure in particular is a dish best served cold. Thus feelings like anger, embarrassment, and sadness are distrusted and must be intellectualized (see This American Life). While this level of staid introspection suits emotional experiences like anger which are well-served by deep thinking, it is ill-suited to comedy. The result is a dry, almost puritanical version of comedy, usually referred to as 'humor', in which attempts at easy laughs are eschewed as below the 'humorist, and are replaced by more gentle humorous observations or humorous conceits embedded in intellectual subject matter. The humor is received with chuckles and knowing groans. These are responses, rather than reactions, a way to show solidarity with the uniformly middle- and upper middle-class and overwhelmingly white audience or simply a means of giving the needy-seeming humorist what he or she seems to want. The latter is a very typical reason for the laughter, since the audience typically respects the humorist rather than genuinely being entertained by him or her, and wants to win their respect by 'getting it'. Humor as such is essentially a social signalling device, and the sad, hollow laughter of recognition that it evokes are like the nocturnal ululations of bullfrogs: ephemeral, annoying, and ultimately pointless.
Notable practitioners of 'humor' are The Firesign Theater, Lily Tomlin, and especially Garrison Keillor (born, wouldn't you know it, Gary Keillor). In our own time the hottest star on the rise on the Chortlin' Circuit (I coined this term in this here blog post, by the way; feel free to use it but do credit me) is John Hodgman. Like Dave Eggers (whom I have never read) and others involved in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern (of which I know nearly nothing), John Hodgman's stock in trade is old-timey phraseology. It would appear that we have the Simpsons to blame for this unbelievably restricted subgenre of humor. His aggressively uncharismatic persona and wry, obscure comedic bailiwick flatters his fans by acknowledging their specialness and broad frame of reference. Hodgman's book, The Areas of my Expertise, features the following subtitle
An Almanac of Complete World Knowledge Compiled with Instructive Annotation and Arranged in Useful Order by Me, John Hodgman, a Professional Writer, in the Areas of My Expertise, which Include: Matters Historical; Matters Literary; Matters Cryptozoological; Hobo Matters; Food, Drink, & Cheese (a Kind of Food); Squirrels & Lobsters & Eels; Haircuts; Utopia; What Will Happen in the Future; and Most Other Subjects; Illustrated with a Reasonable Number of Tables and Figures, and Featuring the Best of "Were You Aware of It?", John Hodgman's Long-Running Newspaper Novelty Column of Strange Facts and Oddities of the Bizarre
Now given what I've said above about humor, it is clear from the book title that, old-timeyness aside, Hodgman's book is relatively wacky and jokey compared to the work of the typical humorist. I submit that this is because, just as the majority of low-brow people gravitate towards the lowest of the low, so does the vast majority of middle-brow people gravitate toward the lowest of the middle. Hodgman represents the cachet of a McSweeney's without any of the challenging fonts, the feeling of superiority over belly-laughers that accompanies Garrison Keillor without the droning boredom. Hodgman's book is essentially the most respectable possible knockoff of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

America's Credulity Straining Challenge

I am watching the inexcusable America's Psychic Challenge on Lifetime. It's about exactly what you think it is (to quote that guy from that irritating iPhone commercial), except the 'psychics' ride from psychic challenge to psychic challenge in a Cadillac Escalade. The most amazing thing about the show is the way that the participants couch their guesses and handle their failures. Before every challenge the psychics either offer caveats ("I'm not an empath, so I've never done this kind of challenge before."; "This is the first time I've tried remote viewing.") and afterwards they offer their excuses ("As soon as I started the challenge I got a really strong father figure coming through from the other side and he had a message to deliver, and really that's the most important thing."; "I initially got a message telling me to choose number one, but then I got interference from number five and I went with that one instead, but number one was calling to me the whole time.")
I strongly suggest this show to anyone who's interested in scientific skepticism. After all, you've got to know your enemy.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Talking away the pain

Is there any semantic debate more silly and telling than the one that surrounds the question of how to describe the Al Qaeda operatives working in Iraq? Are they Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), or Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia? I hear the argument that the Bush administration unfairly refers to AQI as just Al Qaeda in order to unfairly exaggerate their importance.
According to the Weekly Standard

Al Qaeda In Iraq is part of the global al Qaeda movement. AQI, as the U.S. military calls it, is around 90 percent Iraqi. Foreign fighters, however, predominate in the leadership and among the suicide bombers, of whom they comprise up to 90 percent, U.S. commanders say. The leader of AQI is Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian. His predecessor, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, was a Jordanian.

Wikipedia clarifies

The group is a direct successor of al-Zarqawi's previous organization, Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad. Beginning with its official statement declaring allegiance to the Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network in October 2004, the group identifies itself as Tanzim Qaidat Al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (QJBR) ("Organization of Jihad's Base in the Country of the Two Rivers").

OK. So Al Qaeda in Iraq is a part of Al Qaeda, ideologically and structurally. Whether they have all the resources of the greater Al Qaeda body or not is unclear, but that they will fight for Al Qaeda proper's aims is not. Nobody complains when someone calls prostate cancer 'cancer' because prostate cancer is relatively treatable, as if they were trying to exaggerate the seriousness of the situation.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Great point well made

From an article from the New York Times Magazine by Michael Lewis:
It is still O.K. for the analysts to lowball their estimates of corporate earnings and plug the stocks of the companies they take public so that they remain in the good graces of those companies. The S.E.C. would protest that the analysts don't actually own the stocks they plug, but that is a distinction without a difference: they profit mightily and directly from its rise.

Actually, the whole article is a great read, put it on your to-do list.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Aliens in America is good

In my humble opinion. The characters are great and the comedic targets are unique. For example, straight-arrow Pakistani exchange student Raja doesn't usually break the rules, but naturally he accepts the necessity of vandalizing a locker in the name of his host-sister's honor. It is also the first prime-time network show that I've ever seen that featured an extended scene of someone getting ragged on in front of the whole school for 'wanting' his sister. Hilarious.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The worst television show in existence . . .

. . . hands down, is Brothers and Sisters. Literally makes my skin crawl to watch it. I weep for all the people out there thinking they're watching something 1)relevant, 2)'smart', 3)topical, 4)genuine.
It's the smarmiest, most self-satisfied, juvenile and crass thing on television and the people who watch it are either too false or too invested in the show to acknowledge its aggressive idiocy.

Clinton can't win

You've heard it before, a few times I bet. Well let my voice be one more in the choir saying that Hillary Clinton has got no shot at the White House, and that the worst thing that the Democrats could possibly do is put her up against a Republican candidate. Unless a right-leaning third party candidate appears to split up the conservative vote.
Hillary Clinton can not possibly win because she is unbelievably reviled. I've heard people, several people, tell me that they will only vote if they can vote against Clinton.
You've heard this, you know this. Just helping you let it sink in.

Desperate Housewives death watch

First Gabrielle can't get rid of her slutty, penniless mother.
Then Brie can't get rid of her mother-in-law.
Then Gabrielle couldn't get rid of her mother-in-law.
Now Lynette can't get rid of her slutty, penniless mother.
Seems like there would be more than one possible relationships for these people to have with their parents, but, you know, who am I to say so?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Golden Girls movie fantasy cast

I just got disc one of the Golden Girls season 1 from Netflix and watched the pilot.

It got me thinking about the Golden Girls movie. Naturally it would be about the late eighties Golden Girls anachronistically thrown into early twenty-first century Miami, and it would have a cameo from Mario Lopez, but who should star? Here's who I would cast.

Dorothy Zbornak - Nicole Kidman. I would say anyone would have to agree that she's the only actress out there right now with the gravitas to play Dorothy.

Sophia - Laura Linney. Think about it, Estelle Getty was only two years older than Bea Arthur, and yet she both resembled her and made a perfect mother to her. Have you seen Laura Linney lately? Total Nicole Kidman's withered mother material.

Rose - Renee Zellweger. Where would Bridget Jones wind up if she had been born and raised in Saint Olaf, married and subsequently outlived her husband? Miami, naturally.
Blanche Devereau - Tyler Perry. Nobody says 'oversexed southern older woman' like Tyler 'Madea's Family Reunion' Perry.

Stanley Zbornak - John Leguizamo. Oh Stanley, wasn't divorcing you enough to get you out of poor Dorothy's life? Apparently not. Plus die-hard Golden Girlsheads (or Geedgeheads, as they are sometimes called) would be up in arms if he didn't at least make an appearance.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I am now a licensed driver

Please don't ask me to drive you to the airport.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

When 'You're the man now, dog' isn't enough

Mayor Bloomberg brought out his plan to reward low-income students in cash, cell phones, and minutes for doing well on a series of tests he was attacked on all sides. Some pointed out an apparent conflict with his previous city-wide ban on cell-phones in schools (hardy-har-har). Other gentle souls said that the plan undermines the message that education should be for education's own sake. I call these people out-of-touch bourgeois bleeding-heart fatcats, the same people that want to bring organic and slow foods to America's slums to combat the obesity epidemic and probably still believe that Mozart makes you smarter. Cart before the horse people, in other words.
Case in point: Diane Ravitch takes exception to the plan claiming that it
is insulting to poor kids and poor families. It assumes that they won't do the right thing for themselves unless the government pays them to do it.
This argument is emotional and faulty. The mayor's plan makes no such assumption. Clearly from their points of view education is useless, pointless, a waste of time and features no long-term benefit. What it does assume, with very good reason, is that people do things because they are rewarding in some way, i.e. people respond to incentives, not a radical position to take. Maybe chubby-cheeked suburban children have the luxury of looking at their prosperous parents or neighbors and seeing the tangible rewards that education can bring. I would argue that many of the poorest students have little idea of what value education can hold for them. Once the mayor gives them a tangible incentive to study, they may well find that studying is rewarding in other ways, financial as well as intellectual. After all, education, intellectually stimulating or not, is a form of work, whether one is paid in marketable skills or personal satisfaction. Ravitch goes on to say
This plan, moreover, is unethical and immoral. It makes the basest possible assumptions about human behavior and acts on the behaviorist view that people are motivated only by hard cash.
Not even a little bit is this unethical or immoral. Base or not, the assumption that people are motivated by potential gains (not mere cash) is a very solid assumption to make. Is it insulting to offer someone money for goods and services? Are we making base assumptions about carpenters and electricians when we assume that they've built houses motivated only by hard cash? Ravitch goes on
From the point of view of schooling, this plan is wrong because it tells kids that they should study only if they get extrinsic rewards. Yet what educators are supposed to do is teach kids to have a love of learning, to encourage them to improve their lives by enlarging their knowledge of the world. If they are going to study only if someone pays them, what happens when the payment ends?
Should one study something that offers no reward of any kind? Should one study, for example, the names of every cheese in existence without tasting said cheese or ever being able to use this cheese-name-knowledge to one's own gain? Standing among connoisseurs of cheese, this cheese-name scholar would be left saying "Mmm, Roquefort, I've heard of it. Sounds kind of hard, like a rock. Rock-fort, hahaha. What's that? It's moist and crumbly, with rich blue veins, you say? Hmm, food for thought, pun definitely intended."
Now what use could having a 'love of learning' possibly have to children who see absolutely no value in having an enlarged knowledge of a world that seems completely out of their reach. Why learn about the pyramids in Egypt, The Merchant of Venice and the ring-tailed lemur when you can scarcely afford a trip to the Bronx Zoo, let alone a plane ticket out of the country or a night at the theater. This line of argument is pure suburban brood-hen clucking and completely out of touch with the way real people actually think and act.
As unsavory as it may sound to many white-gloved cogitators, people are educated primarily so that they can perform jobs that will add to our nation's economy and hopefully allow them some form of upward mobility. Bloomberg sees a situation - parents and children who fail to see abstract value in the education being offered to them - and remedies the situation by making the rewards more tangible. Money that may have otherwise gone to fund English departments for kids who hate to read and history departments for kids who feel no connection with the past is instead used to lure kids into achieving more. It's like churches hosting bingo games. Come for the cash prizes, stay for the fellowship and eventually the religion.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Thomas Torquemada and the Ticking Timebomb

The 'ticking timebomb' issue that gets brought up so much these days when discussing interrogation techniques is, to me, the late-term-rape-pregnancy-abortion hypothetical of the age. By focusing on this one special case, we've effectively lobotomized the debate on interrogation techniques. The circumstances stipulated - impending doom unless we get a piece of information from someone we have in custody - are so dire, so out of the ordinary and so remote from the vast majority of what intelligence gatherers actually do that any conclusion or stance that one could draw from thinking about them would, almost by definition, resist generalization to intelligence gathering as a whole. That's why I scrupulously avoided this hypothetical in my last post on defining torture: it is a red herring, a sort of reductio ad absurdum that distracts one from what intelligence gathering is actually about.

Besides, professional interrogators, now with years of experience under their belts, would be unlikely to use techniques that would be so likely to give bad intel. Unless they were under political pressure to do so, right? Like, for example, doctors in certain states being forced by law to make unscientific caveats about the after-effects of abortions before performing such procedures. I mean, a professional dedicated to performing their job well wouldn't do something so wreckless and counterproductive unless they were mandated to do so by the powers that be, right?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Torture and tortured verbiage

There's been a lot of hot wind blowing around about waterboarding, 'simulated drowning', stress positions, and torture in general these days. Much of this talk seems to me to be as usual missing the whole point. People talk about the aptness of the name waterboarding. It seems to me that one reasonable definition of waterboarding would be 'the sensation of drowning without (normal) danger of dying'. That sounds very cruel and unusual to me.
Stress positions, as well, seem to be very uncomfortable and may have the potential to do lasting physical damage. I have heard the lasting physical damage complaint issued time and time again in the press, but I think that to even bring it up implied a definition of torture that includes as a necessary component lasting physical harm. While waterboarding may be done with no lasting permanent harm done, so can rape, but this does not make rape, even when done in controlled conditions and supervised by psychologists, an acceptable form of interrogation.
So we find ourselves with a concept, torture, that is ill-defined and murky in the public and legal imagination. People's immediate reaction is to go with their default reaction. Liberal hearts around the world gush in empathy with the hooded and besodden victims while eye-for-an-eye justice hungry conservatives feel a rush of hot vengeful blood to the head and rush to the defense of harsh interrogation techniques. Neither side gives a thought to whether these techniques are torture, why they are torture, or whether they work. People who view every morcel of information on the war with intense scrutiny seize upon memes like 'harsh interrogation tactics don't work' and blindly trumpet them without a second thought to their veracity. The other side points to successful results of harsh interrogation with the same blind faith in information that bolsters their own practically inborn opinions.
That's just weak. I equate the interrogation debate to the abortion debate, in that I think both are matters for professionals to figure out without letting politics get in the way. If harsh interrogation doesn't work, why would professional interrogators use such methods? Because know-nothing people in the administration are pushing them for intel that simply isn't there or isn't available, or because the administration wants to send some sort of method? For every mook on the street in America to have an opinion about something they know nothing about is nothing new, but in this case the amount of scrutiny given to a necessarily unsavory-looking task like intelligence gathering techniques is bringing a lot of very embarassing attention to our government. Honestly, it's not even a matter of knowing how the sausage is made anymore. If we open up the slaghterhouse doors to observation by every knucklehead in town we're going to wind up with no knockwurst at all.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Korean phonotactics and American English

I've occasionally wondered to myself at the process by with the Korean letter shieot (ㅅ) can be pronounced like a breathier version of an English s (삽 - sap - shovel), like an English sh (실 - shil - thread), like the t at the end of an English word (것 - geot - a thing) or like an English n (씻는다 - sshinneunda. This is because of the various rounds of sound changes that happen between the assembly of a Korean word and it's actual utterance. In the following examples, the capital letters represent the original or base pronunciation of the Korean letters (the phonemes); the lowercase letters represent the actual sounds produced.

  1. 삽 - SAB (shovel) >final consonant devoicing of B to p > sap

  2. 실 - SIL (thread) >S becomes sh before I and Y> shil

  3. 것 - GEOS (thing) > S becomes t at the end of a syllable > geot

  4. 씻는다 - SSIS-NEUN-DA (washing) >SS becomes ssh before I and Y > SSHISNEUNDA > S becomes t at the end of a syllable > SSHIT-NEUN-DA > T at the end of a syllable becomes N in front of a syllable beginning with N > sshinneunda
The first example shows the Korean letter shieot (ㅅ), which is basically pronounced like a breathy English s, coming out being pronounced like a breathy s (i.e. no overt sound change). The second to examples show shieot undergoing one sound change each, to sh and t, respectively. In the final example, the letter shieot first undergoes a sound change to t (as in example 3), and then undergoes a further change from t to n. Thus a letter which, in its most basic form is pronounced s comes to be pronounced n.

Fascinating, isn't it?

Yes, but what brings it to mind?
I recently heard two examples of spoken English that follow a similar sequence of sound changes, from s to d and from d to n.
The first one was uttered by Ginger from the reality real estate show "The Real Estate Pros".

She pronounced the word 'doesn't' as 'dudn't'.
The second example was a prisoner named Butch on an episode of This American Life entitled "Act V" who pronounces the words 'businessman' and 'business' as 'bidnessman and 'binness', respectively.
I guess the next step would be for this sound change to become generalized to similar environments. That would mean 'kiss me', 'Quiznos', 'his new business' and 'shiznit' coming to be pronounced 'kit me', Quidnos', 'hid new bidness' and of course 'shidnit'. I'll be on the lookout for this new pronunciations. If you hear any of them, be sure to let me know.

And, for those of you who don't speak Korean and those of you who've learned it and have begun to forget just what an accomplishment it is, here are a few other examples from the twisted world of Korean phonotactics.

N becomes l
  • 관리 -GWANLI (control) > N becomes l before L > gwalli

L becomes r

  • 바람 - BALAM (wind) > L becomes r between two vowels > baram
D becomes n
  • 받는다 - BAD-NEUN-DA (getting) > D becomes n in front of N > banneunda

T becomes n

  • 맡는다 - MAT-NEUN-DA (taking over) > T becomes n in front of N > banneunda
T becomes ch
  • 같이 - GAT-I (together, alike) > T becomes ch in front of I > gachi
H becomes nothing
  • 넣어 - NEOH-EO (put in) > H disappears between vowels > neoeo
B becomes p
  • 겁 - GEOB (fear) > B becomes P at the end of a syllable > geob
B becomes M
  • 겁나 - GEOB-NA (afraid) > B at the end of the syllable becomes M in front of N > geomna
GL becomes ngn
  • 격려 - GYEOG-LYEO (encourage) > G at the end of the syllable becomes ng before L > GYEONG-LYEO > L becomes n after NG > gyeongnyeo

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Newest American trend to hit Korea: calling dudes gay

This blows my mind. Effeminate Korean singer Brian from duo Fly to the Sky

goes on Gag Concert, only to be ragged on by has-been singer Lee Sang-won

for being gay. My translations are based on this article from Sports Chosun.

Lee: Where did all the talk of you cross-dressing and dating [Fly to the
Sky bandmate Eru] come from?
Brian: It's a misunderstanding due to the fact that we're so close. And sometimes I go to hang out at Eru's house and
sleep over.
Lee: [Older entertainer] Tae Jin-a always says you're so pretty . . .
Brian: Of course. I think of myself as his son.
Lee: Do you think of yourself as his son or daughter-in-law?

Lee then ordered Brian to do push-ups to prove his manhood.

Now what I want to know is where Lee Sang-won got this homophobic gay-bashing attitude from. It's one of America's most unsavory distinguishing characteristics and I've long cited its absence from Korea as a definite point in its favor (Not that it means Korea's any more enlightened about homosexuality than the U.S.)

I suspect that the audience watching Gag Concert that night was very perplexed by the attack. I mean, Korea is the land of the pink shirt, and whether or not Korean men are more in touch with their feminine side because they don't believe in the existence of Korean homosexuals, it remains true that Korean men can act in a manner that would get them brutally teased in the U.S. without fear of recrimination.

I don't know whether Lee Sang-won learned to be made insecure by other men during years of has-been exile in America or what, but I sincerely hope that his nasty sniping doesn't rub off on any impressionable Korean kids.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A super-easy Korean side dish

On Saturday my wife, mother and I went to Flushing, New York for my cousin's borthday. My Uncle and two cousins took us into Koreatown to go shopping. The two things Miyoung jumped at were cucumber kimchi and odeng.
Actually Eomuk. The Hanareum Mart that we went to had plenty of girls and ajummas giving out free samples, and the girl doling out the Busan Eomuk and I had a passionate discussion about the difference between odeng and eomuk and the proper English term for it. 'Is it fish paste?' Her sign said 'fish cake', which I know isn't technically correct but is much more appetizing. It seems to us that both fish paste and fish cake are misnomers, but what are the other options? Fish Roll-up? Fish sheets?
As you may well know, odeng is considered an import from Japan, while eomuk, associated most closely with Busan, is the 'original Korean article'. I would say in general eomuk is somewhat softer and spongy than odeng, but otherwise tastes the same.
Anyway, today I've got a nice easy recipe for fried odeng/eomuk.
First get your nice sheets of odeng/eomuk.

Slice it into whatever shape you like, rinse and soak it in hot water to release some of the grease and delicious saturated fat.

Slice up a nice onion.

Get out your soy sauce. I recommend Korean 'Jin' Soy Sauce (진간장) You'll need about a tablespoon.

Put a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and add the cut odeng/eomuk, the sliced onion, the soy sauce and about a tablespoon of sugar

Fry it up until it looks like this.

That'll last you about three days if you're Korean or, if you want to eat it American-ly, it won't be enough for one meal.

Dumbest idea of the week

Thank you, Yanek Mieczkowski, Chairman of the History department at Dowling College, for exposing me to the worst analogy I've heard in a while. In his October 14th editorial for Newsday, the paper of record, entitled "Ike would not have gotten us into Iraq", Yanek compares Eisenhower's reaction to Sputnik to Bush's rection to the September 11th attacks. His thesis:
Though the Sept. 11 attacks struck America harder than Sputnik in terms of death and destruction, the aftershocks of both events were similar. How the U.S. president reacted couldn't have been more different.

I say thesis because this piece couldn't be more of a sophist, ivory tower think piece and screams "I have never had a job outside of academia."
Here is the money shot.
Despite - perhaps because of - today's war on terror, it would be easy to envision Eisenhower pushing for joint Arab-American space activities, perhaps inviting the first Muslim astronaut to fly aboard the space shuttle, while also bolstering economic ties and trade with the Middle East.

Eisenhower would have reacted to September 11th by putting Muslims in space. Why didn't we think of that?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

For those of you who know Maple Story . . .

. . . as a game for Korean elementary school kids, check out this commercial

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Ambient ephemera from America for all you guys in Korea

If you're anything like me, you often wondered what kind of junk you're missing by choosing to live in America. To give you an idea of the kind of inane cultural junk that you'd be passively ingesting if you were sitting on your couch in America, here's a commercial for HeadOn.

What is HeadOn? Whatever you imagine it to be. Available at Walgreens.

Some Swiss have no love for chocolate

As evidenced by this campaign poster by the Swiss nationalist party SVP
The black sheep, by the way, is an immigrant.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Is Bush a genocide denier?

The headline of the Deutsche Welle article is "Bush denies Armenian genocide". The action which this article describes as denial is
rejecting a proposal by lawmakers to officially classify the massacre and displacement of Armenians between 1915 and 1918 as genocide.

Does this sound like a fair characterization to you?

My reaction to the new Inter-Korean Agreement in a nutshell

a) Roh Moo-hyun and his predecessor Kim Dae-jung and cohorts have created, in the Sunshine Policy, an atmosphere in which South Korea expects to reconcile with North Korea through dialogue Advances are touted by astute politicians while setbacks are studiously ignored.

b) As the Marmot points out, likely next president Lee Myeong-bak will be politically bound to go through with the joint plans made by Roh and Kim Jong-il. To not do so would be seen as unacceptable provocation.

c) As much of the joint projects will be funded by private industry (hat tip to the Marmot again), Korea's corporations will have a vested interest in both the international perception that North Korea is making progress and the continued cooperation of the Kim regime.

d) With both politicians and corporations in South Korea heavily invested in the perception of progress on the North-South issue, advances both real and imagined will be touted more vigourously while setbacks will be swept so far under the linoleum that it'll take the ondol extra long to heat up.

e) As for North Korea, they now recognize that pointing missiles at Seoul and threatening to turn the city into a lake of fire is no longer a viable means of extorting aid. It is both cheaper and easier to demilitarize while allowing the placement of South Korea's public and private sector's cherished symbols of peninsular unity to be built, at South Korean expense, in North Korea. Now, all North Korea needs to put South Korea in appeasement mode is close a plant or, in a kind of reverse Gazprom maneuver, close the South Korea-China train line. A master stroke, I must say.

Reconciliation in the air

You've got your Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il, your Aung San Suu Kyi and Than Shwe, your Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf, all trying to put the past behind them and make things work out.
For my money, I'm betting on the Burmyanmar Two to collapse first, followed by Bhutto and Musharraf, and finally Kim Jong-il and future president Lee Myeong-bak, in the most spectacular clash of all.

More of your pension in risky nations and currencies

Xinhua News, of all places, reports that the World Bank is floating a US$5 billion bond denominated in the currencies of poor nations in order to
increase investment by Western pension funds and Asian nations with bulging reserves in countries that are considered relatively risky bets.
the ulterior motive of this bond issue is the hope that citizens of poorer nations will be more able to borrow funds in local currencies, for the baffling reason that
would help reduce the risks developing nations face when there are large swings in the value of major currencies.
I mean, they specifically say that these currencies they're issuing the bonds in are risky, so how is encouraging poor people to borrow money in these currencies going to reduce risks of any kind?

Guess the headline

Here is a series of events that happened in Afghanistan:

  • U.S. troops were searching a compound early on Friday when Taleban fighters opened fire and threw several grenades.
  • Two children died when a suicide bomber approaching an Afghan military compound blew himself up prematurely.
  • The bodies of a woman and child were found in a building that coalition forces destroyed because it was a Taleban hideout.
  • The coalition forces accused the Taleban of putting innocent people in danger by hiding among them.

Now which of the following do you think is the headline of this BBC News article?

a) U.S. troop wounded in grenade attack
b) Suicide bomber claims two child victims
c) Civilians die in Afghanistan raid
d) Taleban uses human shields

Answer here.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Let's thank our lucky stars that Korean parents don't care about sports

In Yangban-influenced Korea, the greatest way to spend one's time is thought to be in frantic, often fruitless study. Kids increasingly raised on fried junk bought off stands in front of their cram schools are doughy and fact-laden.
In Jackie Chan and Yao Ming influenced, Olympics-crazed China, however, the greatest way to spend one's time is apparently thought to be forcing your children to become sports stars. First there was the little girl whose dad had her running from Hainan to Beijing, and now there's the dad who threw his daughter in icy cold water with her hands and feet bound for three hours so that she could someday achieve *ahem* her dream of swimming the English Channel.
Come on, ajeosshis, get your kids out there and spinning on their heads, so that Korea can maintain its B-Boy supremacy!

Photo tips for mediocre photographers like me

OK, you're like me: you've got a ~$300 camera (I've got a Canon that I would recommend to anybody) and you want to take good pictures. You find yourself in Seaworld (probably the best park in Orlando, but more on that later) and you want to take a picture of your lovely wife in front of a twelve-foot manatee. Click.

It looks like she's standing in front of a mackerel.
You move on to the Hospitality Center and Clydesdale Corral. There's a chain blocking you off from the Clydesdale. Click.

The mighty steed looks like a squirrel. This time you refuse to leave well enough alone. How can you, a camera illiterate like me, make something in the background look big?
Back it up and zoom in. Click.

Keep backing up and zooming. Click.

If only I had known this back at the Manatee Preserve.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A little Korean Jew-baiting for you

According to the Marmot, the Incheon residents who put up the banner
are upset about plans to develop their area into a tourism and leisure zone as part of the IFEZ project. Jack Rosen is reportedly a major player in the development project.

But lest you think this is a good old-fashioned Jewish conspiracy, rest assured that it is as Korean as aju-ma, baseball and giant/tasteless/mealy apple pie, the protesters' land was stolen from them and given to the foreign developer by (dun dun dunnn) the government.

Monday, October 01, 2007

It's a slightly less small world

I'm on vacation in Florida right now, and on line for the It's A Small World ride at the Magic Kingdom I realized that there was an extremely high chance that either a) there are no Koreans on the ride or b) there were some Korean dolls awkwardly shoehorned into the ride.

Upon entering the Asia room, I was prepared to have my first guess confirmed as I saw a stylized Chinese backdrop with a stylized Japanese backdrop right next to it. I know the picture below is dark, but Japan is on the left, China on the right, and the only thing between the two is the yellow bridge.

Continuing on, I instead saw that my second guess was in fact correct. The two Korean dolls in the place were placed far off from anything identifiably Korean on their own little stage.
Now take a close look at the Chinese guy from the upper left hand corner of the above photo. He's very abstract and very typical of the Small World ride.
Now have a gander at the two Korean dolls, dressed in their intricately detailed hanbok.
They stick out like a sore thumb. These hanbok look like they're straight out of Dongdaemun Market. My wife says she saw two other Korean kids flying a kite, but I can't confirm that.
The last room the ride goes through has representatives of all the countries passed through wearing white and blue, angelic versions of their native garb. There there are no Korean dolls, although there are four Chinese dolls spinning plates and plenty of Japanese dolls too.
I suppose that, to make up for their sleight against Korea, Disney has included a sign in Korean among it's farewells (again, sorry so dark).
A little closer now.

r look at the Chinese doll

Friday, September 28, 2007

Enriched beer

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has single-handedly made Korea, Korean barbecue, and Korea's famously delicious beer famous. Finally, Korea enters the ranks of developed parody-worthy nations. (See a woefully non-Korea-related clip here, and then go see if has it up yet.)

Plaque bugs?

The Oral-B Vitality protects against them, according to their commercial.

Plaque bugs?

Grey's Anatomy death watch

Everyone's had affairs with everyone, Knight is gone, they're already in Cousin Oliver territory bringing in Meredith's half-sister for some more opportunities for infidelity, they are treating deer, for God's sake.
And Shonda Rhimes is clearly spreading herself too thin with Private Practice.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ahmedinejad pulling a Chavez

He's providing nuclear education to those nations that need it and offering a Coalition for Peace to the smaller nations who resent those nations with UN vetoes.
Plus he's claiming that all the problems in the world today are caused by an unfair settlement of World War 2 in favor of the winners. That means he's pulling a you-know-who.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Après le saut

After the jump: you've seen it all over, you sort of know what it means. What you may not know, which I now find myself disappointed to know, is that 'After the jump' is not a Battlestar Galactica reference.
It's a holdover from newspaper lingo. The 'jump' in a newspaper article is the point where the article is interrupted on one page and continued at that point on another page, with a notation of where to go to continue the article.
That is lame.

The Hills

I'm watching a show called The Hills on a channel called The N. It's about these girls in Southern California who work for Teen Vogue.

It's like watching beavers build a dam. I don't really get what they're all about, but I see them doing something, eating Japanese fusion food and dating humorously bland guys and organizing photo shoots and such and it's soothing to watch, like that plastic bag from American Beauty.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Monopoly money reaches parity with the dollar

After two years of steady rises, the Monopoly$/US$ exchange rate has reached parity. This is naturally good news for any boots looking to take a short shopping-intense vacation to America. I recommend Tanger Outlets.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Stop claiming value, deodorant edition

Secret deodorant and antiperspirant now comes in a 'Clinical Strength'.

The very dosage that you would be given at a world-class B.O. clinic.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Photos! (Chicago, Circle Line New York and a family party

Here are my poorly organized photos of my trip to Chicago, my ride on the Circle Line with Miyoung and my dad, and our welcome home party. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My American Diet

Here's my diet plan for the remainder of my life in America.

  • No prepared food: that means no pudding cups, Campbell's soup, pre-breaded anything, frozen pizzas and nuggets of meat, etc.

  • Nothing that tastes at all salty or has any notable amount of sodium in it: since coming back to America I have been struck by how salty everything tastes to me now, including potato chips, french fries, steak at Boulder Creek, and even ketchup. From now on whenever I eat out I'll be asking for half the normal amount of salt.

  • Half the salad dressing: you don't need every lettuce leaf to be completely drenched to enjoy your salad, and if you do, you've probably blasted your taste buds with salt.

  • Observe fat people: last night at the airport I watched a fat woman count the hours until her plane was to arrive, then call someone at her destination and make sure there would be somewhere to eat when they got there, and then seconds later her fat husband arrive with some big big McDonald's hamburgers and fries and chow down lustily. It was disturbing.

  • Eat at McDonald's: Mickey D's has a couple of healthy, cheap and convenient options that I look forward to eating, including their salads and grilled chicken sandwiches.

  • No drinks: This is the most important rule, I think, because it puts you in a different state of mind. I am talking no juices, soft drinks and diet beverages. Even diet cola has a lot of salt in it, which is important to avoid, even though you can't taste it. I only drink water, black coffee, tea, and occasional alcoholic beverages.
  • When my wife and I go to restaurants, we order one meal and one salad: we have literally not been able to finish a single meal at any restaurant since arriving, except McDonald's, where the servings are very reasonable.

  • Dress smartly: That means clothes that fit well, shirts tucked in, etc. A lot of people let themselves get sloppy fat because they disregard their personal appearance and let the 'It's what's inside that counts' message go to their heads (and gut, and butt . . .)

  • Don't take escalators if you can avoid it: You may be thinking this is something that is too insignificant to make a difference. What, is walking one or two flights of stairs going to help me stay healthy? No, but it is a first step to putting yourself in the right state of mind, and that's the really important thing.

I was lucky, because living in Korea forced me to discover some of these ideas. I had no idea that American food was so salty. When I lived in Korea my mother-in-law would let me taste the soup that she made. If I said it needed salt, she knew it was just right, and if I said it was just right, she knew it was too salty. I still eat my food a little saltier than the average Korean, but I bought a bag of Ruffles Sour Cream and Onion potato chips the other day and I had to throw them out because I could not handle the saltiness.

Other things I found out by watching my own self take Korean eating habits too far. Go to any office or house in Korea and you are likely to find lots of juice, honey water, ginseng essence, and rice milk, both in 1.5 liter containers and little personal-sized bottles.

I used to drink three or four of the little bottles in a day, defeating the purpose of putting them in little bottles.
Hey folks, take care of yourself and live a long time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


What a town! Coming in on Southwest (very good) we had an amazing view of the whole city. The downtown area bunched around the coast of Lake Michigan, the water blue like nothing I've seen outside of posters in travel agencies. We hit some of the sites; the Sears Tower (get your tickets online to save time, it's worth the $2 convenience fee), The Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue (it's billed as a shopping area but it's a spectacular museum of architecture as well), and the promenade around the river.
Then we went up to the North side on the Brown Line. I was really impressed with the striking mix of residential buildings from different periods in different styles, the beautiful little backyards, huge trees, and massive wooden decks. Looks like a fantastic place to live.
The people here are incredibly friendly and helpful, kindly answering all my questions about how to get around.
The city is a bit different from what I expected. It's not possible to get a taxi everywhere, as I had expected, leaving Miyoung and I to take the bus from an Orange Line train to our Chinatown Hotel. The Koreatown has as many signs in Arabic and Spanish as it does in Korean.
All told, I am incredibly impressed with Chicago.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Super secret immigrant loophole discovered!

Several years ago I lost my Social Security card along with my wallet getting out of a cab in Seoul, so I went to the Social Security Administration office in Riverhead, New York yesterday and applied for a replacement with my wife Miyoung. Because Miyoung and I had been married for over two years when she got her immigrant visa her Social Security card process automatically went through, but she was told at immigration control at Kennedy Airport that her Social Security card would arrive in three to six months. I was shocked that it would take so long.
Knowing that Miyoung would need either a Social Security card or a document of some kind from the SS office to get a New York State driver's license, I asked the clerk when she could do about the long wait. She was very helpful and surprised to hear about the long wait, skeptical that it would take three months to process, and ran Miyoung's information through the system and found that her SSN had been issued. All we had to do was fill out a form, take a number and wait in line again (not in Korea!) and the three to six month wait went down to five to ten business days.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Reactions of a returning American

Well, I'm finally safe at home on Long Island. It's been a great couple of days, but there's been a lot of adjusting and a lot of things that take some re-getting used to. Here are some of the things that have stood out to me, a long time resident of the Seoul metro area.

  • The trees here are so tall - Korea was pretty much deforested at one point and so the trees in many areas especially in Gyeonggi province were planted deliberately in the last forty years. The trees here in Rocky Point are old growth and they must be six stories tall at least, dwarfing even most of the trees that I saw even in the rural areas of Korea that I've seen.

  • The commercials - Nonstop commercials for the Army and prescription drugs, plus over the counter unproven hogwash pills available at Walgreens. Who am I to criticize Oriental medicine and its believers when the same thing goes on in America under a different name? Plus once the sun goes down basic cable has some of the most shocking commericals imaginable. Ben Stiller's got a new movie out and there's a scene in the commercial of him and his wife having rough sex. What the hell? And a full infomercial for Girls Gone Wild? Unnecessary.
  • So much personal space. I certainly can't complain about that.
  • So much of the food is so much saltier than I remember.
  • All the foods I missed - Cantaloupe, artichoke, cold cuts and Levy's Jewish Rye, Dutch Country Potato Bread and mom's breaded chicken cutlets with spaghetti and Hershey's Ice Cream.
  • My family have got every DVD ever - Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica, The Wire, Arrested Development all on DVD, plus practically every movie I haven't seen in the last four and a half years.
  • A Wii with no controllers - My family've got Wii but my brother in Boston's got both controllers. Thanks Rich.
  • My accent is back - I think the second I got out of the arrivals gate my Long Island accent came back somehow strawnger than it's ever been.

Monday, September 03, 2007

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

It's back. September 13th. I know where I'll be.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
And incidentally, if you like things a bit more NSFW (Danny DeVito with his shirt off NSFW) then by all means click here.

More on the Wonmisan gash

I found an article from the June 26th edition of the Bucheon Herald (for some reason their website doesn't allow you to directly link to individual articles) which identifies the excavation on Wonmisan as the creation of an embankment for the extension of the Meolmoe Street (멀뫼로). These pictures tell the story as well.

Here's a map with the current location of Meolmoe Road (멀뫼길) marked in red. I can only assume that Meolmoe Street will be an upgrade of this road, which goes under the name Meolloe from Sosa Station to the intersection at Bucheon Stadium. It continues on at both ends, Southward uder the name Buil Street (부일로) and Northward as Yeowol Street, I believe. It would seem natural that this stretch of road between two streets get an upgrade.