Monday, July 30, 2007

The Great Approximator

I was on the bus yesterday morning trying to think up a new song. I had a particular thought in my head, about how all human culture, no matter how noble and unnatural it may seem, was completely determined by physics and evolution. We are not adding machines, nor are we computers; we are animals honed by the blind processes of natural and sexual selection to have what seems to be an amount of self-awareness and intellectual ability that exceeds that which we might need to live. Some (I'm looking at you, Vonnegut) might even say that we've become peacocks in a hedge-maze: our sexually selected cleverness is becoming a serious threat to our continued survival.
This all comes back to Jeff's recent post in which he called himself a 'cynical optimist'. Short term cynicism and long-term optimism is something that I've long held to, but riding the bus I came up with a sort of framework for this set of beliefs.
This is what cynical optimists believe, illustrated
Do you know how an alligator stalks its prey? It eyeballs it, submerges and heads towards the prey, surfaces and repeats the process, zig-zagging its way inexorably towards murder. That's how our magic stock market ends up zoning in on the near-perfect values for so many companies, by the blind actions of millions of investors buying and selling, zig-zagging towards proper valuation, the same way a drunk wends his way to the door.
It just occurred to me today that that's the way humans go about a lot of things. When we set out to learn something the path is soften bumpy and the journey marked by extended periods of inactivity. The process of growing up is a long series of small successes, hopefully leading ever upward. It's just a thought, albeit a powerful one.
Anyway, that's why the title of the song is The Great Approximator, and true to form I have been able to write the lyrics but it seems I will have to wait for the music to come to me.
(Update: I'm just going to use the ever-"save as draft"ing Blogger window to write the music in. Clever, eh?)

The Great Approximator

I've got my little plan written I'm an itinerarian
I've got my little book, I'm a librarian
Got an idea where I'm going where I've been

I know a lot about something only sometimes worth knowing

C Am
Know a little bit about how the world works
Carving a little piece, for whatever it's worth
I'm looking at a landscape that I'm not equipped to savvy
Am A#
I'm a little artifact of a billion years of history
F G C Am
I may have missed the point in fact consider it a certainty
Sooner or later everything you know erodes
I'm the great approximator and I'm never alone
C Am F G

C Am
I'm trying to overlay a bullseye on everything I see
aware of the limitations constantly proscribing me
hi-C A#
I like to draw my lay lines make my little calculations
Am G
Choo choo, I'm the Great Approximation
duh duh dun dun dun

I like to make it seem like I'm making something happen
Oh, something just happened, oh oh something just happened
I'm an active participant, somewhat inconsistent
I'm a little scientific I'm a lot shamanic mystic
C Am
Know a little bit about how the world works
Carving a little piece, for whatever it's worth
I'm looking at a landscape that I'm not equipped to savvy
Am A#
I'm a little artifact of a billion years of history
F G C Am
I may have missed the point in fact consider it a certainty
Wouldn't be surprised if everything I know was wrong
I'm the Great Approximator fairly barreling along
C Am F G

As an educated guesser I just barely qualify
I'm the Great Approximator and I will be till I die

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Just a juxtaposition for all you Koreanized Americans out there

Cheri Oteri as Collette Reardon, prescription drug addict on Saturday Night Live circa 2000

Lee Nayoung with a ridiculous lop-sided perm and a dress that resembles a canvas garbage bag in the Paris Baguette ad campaign currently running on Korean TV.

Contributing to the comparison is Ms. Lee's goofy postures and weird druggy behavior in the ads.

Let's think about opium

And opium dens.

New York's Chinatown, 1925

I wonder how cool these people thought they were.

TV, loneliness and suicide

Yes, this post is about the three sisters of modern life. I was just watching the ultra-broad Korean sketch show Hey Hey Hey, in which one of the regular cast busts into a normal-seeming situation dressed in insane costumes, usually with one or more teeth blacked out wildly dancing and/or screaming. After writing that last sentence I went to youtube to find a good example of the above and immediately hit the jackpot. Watch the first 10 seconds of this clip.

Now one thing you're gonna notice in this clip is the sound of people 'reacting' to the hilariousness that you are seeing. Most Korean sketch comedy shows are set up this way, where the sketches are produced and then shown to a studio audience and a panel of celebrity reactors, who say dumb things and point out how ridiculous/'funny' the sketches are.
So I was watching this horrifyingly dumb show when I suddenly recalled Mildred, Guy Montag's wife from Fahrenheit 451. Her sole pleasure in life was watching the family TV show, which was basically an interactive soap opera projected on the walls of the house. And yet she still frequently attempted suicide. And her futuristic society had fast acting response teams set up to deal with what is implied to be a steady epidemic of suicide attempts.
South Korea's suicide rate, incidentally, has gone in the last twenty years from about 9 per 100,000 people to 23. While many cite economic pressure as the cause of the rise, I suspect loneliness may be a significant contributing factor. I'm not going to reference anything to back up that assertion, but to compensate I am calling myself out for my own logical leap, so there you go. Granted, Koreans are to my eye more social than the Americans I grew up around. Still, the fact that even a laugh track isn't enough for people and they have to pipe in actual reactions from 'real' seeming celebrities tells me that people who are watching these terribly unfunny programs are doing so for reasons other than their love of comedy.
Whatever the reason, I consider this more proof of my pet theory that Korean comedy is not funny because it's created for social purposes and not for laughing.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ignorance (even the fake kind) is no longer acceptable

I was just listening to an interview on The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe with a Brian Trent, who wrote a book about the cultural ramifications of immortality. I found it an interesting topic.
Then he mentioned the passage in Gulliver's Travels about the people who were immortal but never ceased aging. He called them 'The Struldbrugs or Struldbugs or something like that', stating that it had been some time since he read the book but that he 'did recall that very vividly.'
Maybe I'm alone on this, but to me in a world with Wikipedia and Google and any kind of information, particularly this kind, basically at your fingertips at all times, this kind of ignorance, especially in a writer who uses this as an example in a book that he wrote, bespeaks a real intellectual laziness. It led me to immediately write off the guy. Usually the people the Skeptic's Guide has on are not the type who do a lot of interviews but they certainly know their topics.
Lack of attention to detail in a world where the details are now the easy part will, I think, become increasingly unacceptable.
Incidentally, after a quick Wikipedia search, I can confirm that they are called Struldbrugs. Perhaps fault here lies not with lazy scholarship, but rather with that other great vice of our time, feigned lack of specific knowledge. Too often do we hear 'or something' appended to a statement with the express purpose of trying not to sound like a knowitall?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

This just in: The heart wants what it wants

There is a ridiculous article in Chosun Ilbo Online from July 18th entitled "Obscenity Turns English Students Off Skype", about English students who go in Skype looking to practice their English with people who have clearly gone on for the duel purpose of sex chat and making fun of earnest foreigners. Here is a comment ironically more insightful than the speaker may know.
"Most foreigners using the Skype chat service seem to just want to meet girls and make filthy jokes. So I felt bad and deleted the program just two days after installing it."

Yes. What is the response?
"It’s impossible to monitor every Internet conversation. We are aware of the problems, but we can't take responsibility for them. In the future, we will discuss possible solutions to the problems such as word filtering, throwing abusive people out of chat rooms or making a blacklist.”

It's times like this that I wish all web-based programs were designed in Korea.
But the best part of the article is the illustration of just how lewd and debased the users on Skype are.
First of all, it is not apparent that 'Sperm for Girls' initiated this conversation. Furthermore, 'Jiyoung' herself is without a doubt a tease.
I would say what we have here is a clash of objective, in which you have a group of young Koreans single-mindedly thinking about improving their English without a thought given to the actual person on the other end of the internet connection and a group of young English speakers looking for cheap laughs and sex chat without a thought to the actual person on the other end of the internet connection. No one would blink if an ajeosshi went to a soldier bar in Itaewon on a Friday night and complained later that no one was interested in improving his English. There is likely no place, on the internet or otherwise, where foreigners who don't do some kind of martial art are willing to sit and listen to broken English for free.
Also, damn, get yourself together Chosun, it's spelled 'foreign'. You are a news organization for crying out loud, not some blogger.

Monday, July 23, 2007

From the helipad of the Financial Supervisory Service building, Yeouido

I've put up pictures from the top of this building before, but I wasn't able to get up on the helipad until last week. This afforded me a better view of the west than I'd had before.
Here's Mokdong, in all her glory. Immediately recognizable are the Hyperion buildings at Omokkyo station in the middle.

Panning to the right, the Assembly building, the Han River, and Yangpyeong-dong, with that I believe to be the Yanghwa bridge in the back.

Yeouido Park

A better shot just of Mokdong, with those same familiar towers

The Assembly building again, with, what is that, Olympic Stadium?

Gangnam and South-Central, residential Yeouido

Can't take my eyes off of that lush urban greenspace!

Namsan Tower, Han River, and name-that-construction.

Bukhan Mountain et al.

The FSS building smoking lounge.

Ol' Shiny, aka the 63 building.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Or maybe a Hamlet reference?

Yes, this table was on the set of Cannonball Run, but I don't think that justifies the price.
Posted by Picasa

My wife, the craftiest gal I know.

My wife Miyoung, I must say, is a real trooper. I have never seen a person so dedicated to her job. She feels a personal attachment to our students unlike anything I've ever known. With that in mind, she has undertaken an extremely elaborate arts and crafts project, making personal photo albums for each of our students. The design is based on an accordion-style scrap book that we saw in some overpriced yuppy junk store, but Miyoung went above and beyond the call of duty by making the whole thing from scratch.

Here she is hard at work packing up the finished products. Notice the envelopes everywhere. She wound up making 36 albums.

Here's a better shot of the fancy footwork involved in the final step.

Above you see the raw ingredients that go into the album, i.e. photos, card stock, and a hair band. Below behold the finished project. This one for quiet but funny 3rd grader Cindy.

Inside is festooned with comments penned by yours truly (most of them obscure in-jokes that only the students will understand, e.g. "Cindy-rano"; this adds a personal touch, I find). My wife also included our contact information.

Put it in an envelope and write the name with a rainbow pencil. You can never go wrong with the rainbow pencil.

Tape it up with (get this) tape covered with copyrighted images of American candy wrappers. Cool.

And top it all off with marshmallow mushrooms and strawberries so fancy and delicious that I am not even allowed to taste them, not that I want to.

Isn't that just about the cutest thing you've ever seen?

Korean TV makers hate their viewers

Or think they are morons, or have terrible taste. And perhaps at times they are right. I a talking in particular about the excremental program entitled Zoozoo Club (주주클럽), in which animals are put in ridiculous staged situations with little regard for their welfare or that of the humans appearing on the show.
The other thing that I hate about this show is that it features Boom, Korea's most depressing TV personality. He is doubly blessed with the soju-addled puffy face of a middle-aged man and the asinine, childish haircut of an exceptionally impressionable teenager.
Having finished my new song and video, Living in Korea, I decided to spend some time away from the computer/mandolin/video camera axis of evil and spend some time with my wife. I sat down to watch the story of a borzoi who had given birth to puppies (you can see two of the puppies by following the link above). Then the owner's four year old daughter is 'alone' with the dogs (and the cameraman, and the producer . . .) and she starts carrying around the puppies by their necks and front limbs and basically freaking out the mother dog, who diplomatically jumps the girl to free her choking pup. This is played repeatedly in 'horror movie' slow motion and color correction.
Then the little girl is depicted 'saving' one of the puppies in a rain storm, which is clearly made by a garden hose pointed in an arc at the little girl and dog. There are copious images of the little girl really crying while being pelted by hurricane-force artificial rain.
Finally and most ridiculously, the mother and daughter are given potatoes by the producer, which they steam and then three-bearsishly go away while they cool. Naturally the mother borzoi is pushed in the house through a window and guided by the detached, noninterfering superpro cameraman to the potatoes, which she eats. She runs away and another little non-borzoi dog comes on the scene to find scraps of potato, at which point we see freeze-frame reaction shots of the mother and daughter angry at the little dog. Then they brutally corporal punish the little dog, even though they know full well what the deal is.
This would make sense if there were any pretense to fiction, but these events are portrayed as real, apparently under the impression that Koreans are still under the same sway of the magic of TV that they were when they first got a glimpse of it, fresh off the farm as they were at that point. Lazy lazy lazy.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A funny thing

I was just sitting here, passively consuming movie reviews by Outlaw Vern, who maintains a tone which I find fascinating and incredibly funny, when I read something that literally brought tears of joy to my eyes. I suspect that the buildup is important and so I will reprint the entire review, which I can't help but assume is some sort of crime. Let''s see if you're able to figure out at what point I started laughing out loud (i.e. L.O.L.-ing)

Well what this movie is about is Austin Powers is a spy from the '60s who likes to have sex and use different british slang, etc. He has bad teeth and a hairy chest and because the dude who plays him, Michael Meyers, wishes he were a rock star, he also has a band in one part. This is the third in a series of pictures thought to be parodies of James Bond but obviously more like homages to Derek Flint, but with dick jokes and one dude playing most of the roles.

The plot of the first one was about Mr. Powers being frozen cryogenically because his archnemesis Dr. Evil was frozen and sent into space. And then they both get revived in the '90s, and they have trouble catching up with the different changes. Also Mr. Powers has to pee really bad when he gets unfrozen, and that type of crap.

There are some good jokes in these movies and what makes them really work is the director Jay Roach really tries hard to capture the type of cartoony visuals of the movies these are a tribute to. So you got lots of nice lookin sets and devices and colorful costumes. And in the second one what they did to make it catch on, they copied one of the most brilliant ideas from the great underrated John Frankenheimer version of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, and had Dr. Evil have a midget lookalike as his sidekick. But then he thinks of him as a baby and starts ignoring his real son, even though the midget is some kind of freaked out monster that just says "eeeeeeek" all the time. The guy who plays "Mini-Me", Verne Troyer, is not nearly as small as Nelson de la Rosa in Dr. Moreau but he gives a great acting performance as a creepy little bastard who can seem like a cute little kitty and then all the sudden try to bite your dick off.

Well by the time they got to this third one they've lost all interest in telling a coherent story. I mean this is the plot: Dr. Evil has a plan to team up with the Dutch master criminal known as Goldmember, but then Austin Powers captures him and brings him to the world court where he is imprisoned. But then Austin's dad is kidnapped and Austin goes to Dr. Evil in prison to find out who it might've been that kidnapped his dad, and he says Goldmember. But Goldmember is hiding in the year 1975 using time travel. So Austin goes to 1975 and saves his dad and brings back his ex-girlfriend Foxxy Cleopatra who (if you do the math) must've been 12 when they were together. But then Dr. Evil escapes prison and teams up with Goldmember to try to flood the earth, but all Goldmember is good for is eating his own skin and painting people's dicks gold. But Dr. Evil's son Scott starts trying to be more evil so Mini-Me defects and helps Austin and Foxxy to come in and get Goldmember, or something. But then they all become friends.

So it's more of a collection of skits than a comedic spy movie, like the first one or IN LIKE FLINT was. If you like this movie really depends on if you laugh at any of the individual jokes. Dr. Evil does not get as much to do although I liked how he reacted to the freakiness of Goldmember. Mini-Me has some good shit in there in my opinion, Michael Caine (ON DEADLY GROUND) is a good choice for Austin's dad and Beyonce Knowles from MTV music videos is likable as a happy Foxy Brown type who calls everybody "suga". Most of the best jokes are silly riffs on different movie conventions. You gotta admire a movie with a whole scene based on how you can't read subtitles when there are white objects on the screen.

But the whole feel of the movie is kinda weird and forced. The extended celebrity cameo opening is amusing but plays like an opening to the MTV Movie Awards. Later there are scenes with improv between Dr. Evil and Goldmember and etc. and since these are played by the same guy it starts to get this weird pasted together feel like the "space ghost" talk show but without the same sense that the awkward timing is intentional. In fact even when it's all different actors in the conversation, they are obviously using different takes sometimes to the point of incomprehensibility. They repeated the same scene from the second one that was a repeat from the first one, where Dr. Evil says something and his son says something back and then they start arguing and it is wacky. I have no clue what either of these jokers are saying though because it makes no god damn sense and it really isn't funny unless your idea of funny is recreating the same thing you thought was funny five years ago, like when they repeat the same line in every Saturday Nite Live skit and everybody goes "Ha ha, I know that line! 'Isn't that special!' Ha ha!"

And that is the whole problem with this comedian, Michael Meyers. Yes he is creative and talented but he gets into too much of a mathematical type formula with his humoring. All the characters have to have jokes that are reworkings of jokes they did before. The new character has to have a different nationality and accent, this time it's supposed to be dutch instead of scottish or british. I think arguably this one has more new material than the second one but it is still too much of a greatest hits type of sequel.

I will say this though, there is alot of dancing. I don't know why but it can be refreshing when people are just dancin all through their movies. DEATH TO THE SMOOCHY was pretty dumb but it had a couple gratuitous dance numbers in there that made it more enjoyable. This one has more. There are a couple of full fledged dance numbers and then there are several characters who do a little dance out of the blue for no reason. It is kind of infectious and actually before the movie was over a couple people in the theater got up and started dancing around. At first people tried to ignore them, then they started to laugh at them, then with them, then they started to join them one at a time. Before you know it everybody, even me, got up and started dancing together, all around the theater, over the chairs, down the halls and back. People were tossing their garbage around and into the garbage cans, passing around crumpled up popcorn buckets like a bucket brigade, working together to clean up the mess. The theater employees came in and started tap dancing, spinning their brooms and dustpans around, tipping the garbage cans sideways and spinning them around on their wheels. It was fuckin amazing. A genuine communal movie going experience.

Actually that is kind of exaggerated, what really happened was during the credits everybody got up and started to leave, even though obviously there was gonna be outtakes. Then the outtake started and they stood there confused, then some of them sat back down. Then the outtake ended so they started to leave again but then a different one came on. These fuckers can't figure it out. Either stay for the credits, don't stay for the credits, or learn to recognize the patterns of what types of movies will have shit during the credits. Or dance. Those are your choices assholes.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Travis is back!

Yay, I am so happy, Travis is back. Travis's world was basically eaten by Coldplay roughly around the time that I left America. It was like the protomammals from Walking with Monsters, well on their way to world dominance when a swifter, more adaptive and poppier, more middle-of-the-road dinosaur called Coldplay usurped them, leaving them to burrow underground for 100-someodd million years before emerging to take their rightful place at the top.
Travis has always been awesome, and several of their songs are among my favorites, especially the brilliantly rocking U-16 Girls.

Unfortunately they didn't play that tune during their almost two-hour set at DC's 9:30 club, which was recorded by NPR's All Songs Considered, even though a kindred spirit in the audience was begging for it during the entire show. Do yourself a favor, download the concert and listen to the whole thing, I guarantee it will bring a smile to your face.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

From the horse's mouth: Ajummas don't hate blacks

So we're having a bit of trouble finding a replacement for my at my school, in large part because my boss has decided that complete inaction on her part is the kind of motivation that my wife and I need to do a job that isn't ours to begin with. I finally spoke to a good candidate this evening, who is an African American. You may recall that in December I was being asked to turn away applicants for a job at our school because of the color of their skin, on the belief of my boss that "Parents don't like black teachers, only white teachers." My wife was also sure that, while she didn't care, the parents would never accept a black teacher for their children. For my part, I was more concerned that we have a teacher from an English speaking country with a four-year degree.
Well times change and my boss still seems to be displeased about the prospects of an African-American teacher. I broached the topic with her today and she asked "How black? Like, really really black?" This seems to matter because in Korea it's not about race and culture, but literally about how black you are. People often refuse to believe, for example, that Beyonce is black. I've heard that this stems from the agrarian history of Korea, in which darkness of skin was directly related to the amount of manual labor you had to do.
Anyway, I just had a meeting with three of our most concerned mothers and my wife. I said that we had a potential teacher and my wife added sheepishly that she may be somewhat black. "Oh that doesn't matter at all." the three mothers all said in unison. "As long as she's American, that's the important thing."
I have never been prouder. I always suspected that this prejudice among English school owners against blacks was based on a misconception, and know I know it's true.
That said, last week I was in a taxi and the driver started asking me about America. "Are there a lot of niggers (in Korean ggeomdungi or 껌둥이) where you come from?" I said not many. He held out his arm and made a pained face, and explained with great flourish "I hate their black skin, it's black, like the night, it's dark, it's blacky black black." It had never occurred to me that some people would hate black people literally because they were black.

I know this guy . . .

He's a Korean guy and he speaks English really well but not perfectly. Anyway, he has this really weird tendency to over-misunderstand any favor that I ask of him. This leaves me backpedaling, and him thinking I am incredibly presumptuous. The first time it happened like this:

Me: You know I am looking for jobs and I have started applying to a couple stock brokerage houses in New York. Do you think I could put you down for a reference? I don't know whether they'll actually call you or not.
Him: (Stunned silence) . . . Well, I suppose I could make a few calls to all the Korean stock brokerage houses in New York and put in a good word for you, but I don't really know what you'd do there. They usually only hire Koreans. I will do what I can.
Me: Oh, no, no, I'd never ask all that, all I need is . . .

The next time (today) was like this:

Me: So I got two interviews at brokerage houses, and they will expect me to intelligently talk about the stock market and stock trading in Korean, so can you recommend any good basic books that would give me all the vocabulary I need to discuss the field?
Him: (Thoughtful contemplation) . . . Well, I suppose I can give you a few books on the Korean stock market, but I must say that there are major differences between the Korean stock market and the New York Stock Exchange, People spend their whole lives learning about the different systems used at each market, I really don't think there are any basic books that can teach you everything about the Korean stock market.
Me: Oh.

Finnish Scientist: Grandma Good, Grandpa Bad

Do yourself a favor and read this extremely interesting article from Scientific American about a Finnish scientist's demographic evolution study of 200 year old birth and death records. Highlights:
  • Grandma's increase the reproductive success of grandchildren because they take care of their grandchildren. Certainly seems to be true to me, as I can site innumerable real-world examples of this.
  • Grandfathers, meanwhile, harm grandchildren's reproductive success, probably because old men get preferential treatment in most societies, thus distracting grandmas from their real job, coddling children. This is why there is no selection pressure for men to live as long as women.
  • The reproductive success of female twins with male twins is less than females without male twins (including female-female twins). This is chalked up to testosterone. Incidentally, my mom has a male twin, but she also had three kids, so perhaps in this case my anecdotal evidence is not so statistically significant. Not that such things ever are.
  • Raising boys takes a greater toll than raising girls. This is again chalked up to testosterone contamination, which harms the immune system, although it could equally likely be due to all those hours chasing sons around with rolling pins if you ask me.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Reification in action

I was just watching Korea's 'know-nothing celebrities try to guess whether there is legal recourse for something' show Solomon's Choice, and the situation in question was a child whose mother starts sending her to hours and hours of after-school classes, giving the child so much stress that she starts to bite her fingers until they bleed and wet her pants in class. The mother-in-law forces the status-hungry mother to take the daughter to a doctor, who diagnoses her with stress (if you know anything about Korea you knew that was coming) and (get ready) juvenile depression (소아 우울증), and the term was done in a different font and color and fairly slapped in your face as if to say "Yes, that's a thing now." And I could feel the Koreasphere whirling around me, suddenly faced with a term they hadn't known they needed but they will soon be unable imagining a world without. Stay tuned for more sightings of this little charmer.
Earlier this week I consumed thoughtlessly a post that Boonville's own Jeff did about how the true goal of space exploration is not to discover new things but to essentially humanize the universe. The memory of the post crept in and out of my thoughts and then brought one full into bloom as I watched Alien Planet, the faux documentary series about a pair of artificially intelligent probes sent to the recently discovered planet Darwin IV to investigate possible bacterial life and instead finding something possibly intelligent. The part of Jeff's quote of Stanislaw Lem's book Solaris (which I have not read) is

We are only seeking Man. We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors.
That's because the creatures on Darwin IV evolved without eyes or jaws and suck the juices out of their prey with long pipe-like mouths and darting mosquito tongues. All I could think the whole time was "Well, this mission was a wash, nothing interesting on this planet." even while watching a ten-story animal that looks like the Aggro-crag walk across an ocean-sized amoeba colony

Because said ten-story tall creature didn't have an orc face or something CGed onto it.
That's when I realized that the day any space agency discovers a planet of faceless creatures is the day that all space agencies lose pretty much all their funding.

Just a thought

As we become more efficient, our time becomes more valuable. That means our future time becomes more valuable than our present happiness. Which means that decisions that may shorten our future life (and decrease our future output) become less attractive. This is why higher-earning and better educated people tend to smoke less: they've got too much riding on their good health or they've invested too much in their future to jeopardize it. I think all of this can be generally agreed upon.
What I just realized today is that that means that prosperity and cowardice should be positively correlated. Or perhaps more diplomatically prosperity and caution should go hand in hand. You probably already knew that, but now you have that to think about today.

In terms of
Most successful bands' second albums
Robin Williams
Your dad

Forget dinosaurs, mammals are the chosen ones.

I spent the idle hours of the past weekend watching the faux-nature documentaries Walking with Monsters, Walking with Prehistoric Beasts and Alien Planet. Monsters does its best to bring the vertebrates and mammal-like reptiles that ruled the Earth before the dinosaurs out of obscurity, Prehistoric Beasts attempts the same with the mammals that lived after the dinosaurs but before our time, and Alien Planet dramatizes the voyages of two artificially intelligent probes sent to the planet Darwin IV to search for microbial life and instead finding what seems to be somewhat intelligent life.
The first two series have a definite bias towards humans, in that the very first and earliest episode shows a few early crustaceans before focusing in on the most seemingly insignificant little worm, which is of course the first vertebrate. Narrator Kenneth Brannagh constantly reminds that this or that humble creature is destined to spawn class mammalia. It's prehistory written by the winners. There are in addition several themes which crop up throughout the two series, the most recognizable of which are
  • Complex behaviors like nest guarding, parental care, social cohesion and cooperative hunting developed slowly and independent of each other. The series thus tends to focus on first instances of these things (the first australopithecus clan defending a weaker member as a group springs to mind), but that's not always the case, as in the most memorable iteration of this theme, in which a dimetredon that has violently defended her nest nearly to the point of death immediately ceases to defend her offspring upon hatching and in fact attempts to eat some of them. The point, which is well taken, is that it is not the case that one day niceness just evolved up out of nowhere, and that the suite of adaptations that we humans consider to be either honorable or uniquely human all exist for some logical reason.
  • The hunter becomes the hunted, on a ridiculously regular basis. The series positively revels in apocalyptic death beasts evolving into prey. Case in point, did you know that the ungulates (hooved mammals including cows and pigs and sheep and goats) were originally carnivorous, and that the only descendants of that group to still be carnivorous are the cetaceans (whales and dolphins)?
  • The story of evolution is not a straight line, and the development of certain killer adaptations can re-write the course of it. The series cites the sense of touch in early invertebrates, the abovementioned complex behaviors, walking on hind legs and speed and agility in early dinosaurs and walking on hind legs in humans. The series also goes out of its way to suggest that mammal-like reptiles were the kings of the earth before the dinosaurs appeared, and that essentially the dinosaurs sort of stole the throne for one hundred and change million years but in the end they died out and we took our rightful place. It's sort of fatalistic in that way.
  • If there had been cameras and nature photographers in ancient prehistory, animals of all periods would have shown a great interest in them. The camera in both series is constantly being hit, nudged or broken by herds, fights, etc. It's verite in that same way that the debris from the exploding Cloud Nine on Galactica hit the camera.
  • Climate rules everything. Climate (and oxygen levels) can turn insects huge, kill off dinosaurs, give rise to grass and thus create whole new categories of grazing animals, change whales from hunters to filter feeders and basically just trump whatever is going on evolutionarily. Certainly no fault to be found with this view.
  • We are destined to kill every animal that cannot live in a human-scaled world. No matter how hard we try to save the whales and the pandas and the elephants, they are doomed, because we have already killed 90% of the large animals that existed when we evolved, not by hunting them (the series claims we didn't hunt mammoths at some point because they were too huge and dangerous) but by simply making their lifestyle unsustainable.
Okay, the last one is all mine, but tell you that some TV series made by scientists said it and it picks up a little authoritay, does it not?
The two series are great because they highlight incredibly interesting periods in the Earth's history that often go overlooked in favor of dinosaurs. They undoubtedly oversimplify and tend to favor flashy minority opinions, like that some 200 million year old hunter used venom to kill its prey.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A hackneyed cliche in the making

'That sound you just heard was <inaudible action'>

That sound you just heard was me rolling my eyes
That sound you just heard was Donald Rumsfeld rolling over in his grave
That sound you just heard was Michael Moore <something salty>'

Next time you hear this phrase, think of me and smile. The sound you'll hear will be me smugly nodding in recognition.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Less bitter criticism of the Pyeongchang Olympics bid

Here's a good article with a lot less bile about some probable reasons that Pyeongchang lost out to Sochi in their bid for the 2014 Olympic games. Among the problems are

  • Failure to consider all the voters
The South Korean presentation began. Then a map of Asia, on which only a handful of countries besides Korea, Japan, and China were labeled, appeared on the screen. The whole of Central Asia was a nameless void on the map…neither Turkmenistan, nor Kazakhstan, nor Uzbekistan were pictured. The members of the Russian bid delegation gathered around one of the monitors in the press center. "Why didn't they include us in Asia?" asked Russian deputy prime minister Alexander Zhukov.
  • Being patronizing and trying to tug on the kind of heartstrings that only Koreans seem to have.
The Korean presentation included a boy, or more accurately, a young man, who really was from Moldova. The Korean woman emceeing the presentation told everyone that a coach had taught the Moldovan boy how to ski and that now he dreams of winning the Olympic gold. And he realizes that he will be able to achieve his goal only if the Olympic Games are held in South Korea. The boy nodded dutifully.
  • Talking about themselves too much
"And now they're rolling out the topic of the reunification of the two Koreas," said Alexander Zhukov, pointing to the monitor. "And they're mentioning how they lost last time by three votes…"
"Well, that's why they lost, because they played up that topic," said Svetlana Zhukova scornfully.
On the screen, an old South Korean woman was saying that she had last seen her North Korean son 50 years ago and that if the Olympics are held in Korea, she will have a chance to see him again.

Anyone will tell you that the first rule when it comes to convincing someone of something is to speak in terms of the benefit to them. I can't tell you how many times people have tried to 'convince' me in the same self-interested way.
  • Pandering
"And they're always having kids singing in their ads," said Alexander Zhukov, with a note of condemnation in his voice. "We had way less singing in ours."

I recalled that there had been no singing children at all in the Austrian presentation. That was one of its main pluses.
None of this is surprising, of course, but it's nice every once in a while to wash oneself in the warm waters of Lake Schadenfreude and perhaps learn a few lessons for the future. Mental note: less singing children.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sometimes it's fun to hate on people

Like in this article that the Marmot linked to about why Pyeongchang, South Korea's Winter Olympics bid is a laughable joke. In the interest of hwapuri (화풀이, stress relief), here are all the hatin'est parts:

I quit skiing in South Korea a year ago, frustrated with the mediocre slopes and poor quality snow.

Just before the IOC team arrived in PyeongChang last February, they luckily got the snow they prayed for. If the IOC team had arrived a week earlier, they would have laughed and returned to the plane.

Nobody gets on an airplane to ski man-made snow, but there is one exception: Southeast Asians who have never seen snow before and don't know the difference between good powder and man-made ice slicks. Part of PyeongChang's promotional theme was of spreading winter sports throughout Asia and the only way they can attract foreign skiers is to market to the clueless beginners that live in the tropics.

The lift lines are long and the slopes are severely overcrowded. You have to ask, if serious skiers do not fly here to go skiing, why should anyone else, including Olympic athletes?

Ha, overcrowded with know-nothings!

Once a year the diplomatic community is rounded up for the "Foreigners International Ski Festival". They are fed with booze and sent off skiing for the day. The Korean media capitalize on this weekend for photo ops of foreign skiers to use in brochures and promotional material to portray this place as a vibrant international scene, which of course it is not.

One of the hallmarks of a great mountain town is an apres-ski scene and the surrounding amenities of good restaurants, bars and entertainment. At PyeongChang's two resorts the apres-ski scene involves a K-pop discotheque, karaoke sing-a-longs and poorly rendered versions of overpriced Western cuisine. The architecture and ambience is as if Joseph Stalin designed the resort with a Hello Kitty motif.

So you drive back into the actual town of PyeongChang . . . what is most stunning is the lack of any cosmopolitan feel, or even a sense of style or identity and except for the "Yes! PyeongChang," signs, one could be transported to any other small Korean town and not know the difference. There is a complete absence of any rustic mountain town charm.

Ha, even 'any other small Korean town' lacks rustic mountain charm!

Your only options for accommodation are a few love hotels. Your options for dining are standard Korean fare (including dog soup, always a controversy when Korea hosts a large sporting event), Koreanized Chinese food and a take-out chicken joint. Your options for drinks are three brands of watery lagers, or soju- a cheap liquor that is used to get drunk fast. Entertainment is nil other than basement karaoke rooms hosted by feel-up girls.

Once you wake up with a soju-hangover, a good cup of coffee is impossible to find, along with breakfast. South Korea isn't a breakfast culture and hunting down any restaurant open at seven in the morning is a gruesome task.

Amen, brother. Eat some freakin' pancakes, Korea! and not as a damned snack in the middle of the day with your damn hands! Drunkies!

With flagging inbound tourists, South Korea now is focusing on "forced tourism", that is, making people visit the country because they have to through sporting events, conventions or conferences; not because visitors are coming on their own initiative.
Like when Grandma has a birthday party for the cat because she's lonely.

I think of the estimated 5,000 athletes and coaches and thousands more staffers, spectators, general tourists, journalists and thousands of Korean spectators that would pour into the PyeongChang area if the Games were held here. Many of them would stay and eat at the two nearby resorts. Once those rooms are booked out, the spectators and others would end up in PyeongChang proper at the love hotels. The rest would be roaming the countryside looking for guest-stay rooms at dilapidated farmhouses called "min-baks."

Dilapidated! God, Korea, burn down those dilapidated old farmhouses and put up some rustic ones already!

Much of the hype PyeongChang put forth was that it is a world-class winter sports "mecca".

Oh, ho, quotes, I know what that means!
Nothing could be further from the truth.

Bam, money shot!
Although Korea excels in short-track speed skating, other winter sports are nearly non-existent. Telemark and cross-country skiing is rare, snowshoe trekking is unheard of, and biathlon is only performed by the government-sponsored team since rifle ownership is restricted. The only snowmobiles around are ones used by the ski patrols at the resorts and you can pay a few dollars to let them take you for a joy ride. There is one ski jump in the country, at Muju, the largest ski resort in the country located a few hours south. It stands creaking and unused. Dogsled racing is nonexistent except for one entrepreneur who lashes together a few mutts and charges little kids for rides at festivals.

Oh, well, actually this is a well reasoned argument against Korea hosting the games. Ha!

Korean children go sledding, but at commercialized pay-to-enter hills that are totalitarian in nature. The kids are not free to run around and sled on their own. They obediently line up with plastic sleds at the top of the hill at numbered gates and wait for the whistle of a lifeguard-type fellow before cruising down the slope.

In all seriousness, I have done this, and it is depressing. They could halt the next round, put a gas chamber at the bottom of the hill and blow the whistle, and everyone would go right in just like they're told, because Korea is soooo totalitarian.

Winning the hosting of the Winter Olympics is forced investment in winter sports in which currently Korea has no interest and zero experience. Reluctant to invest in a bobsled track, there will never be a bobsled track in Korea unless the Olympics come to town. If the Olympics were won, Korean engineers would visit the bobsled tracks of other countries "benchmarking" (a popular euphemism in corporate Korea for copying another's ideas) how one goes about building a bobsled track.

Benchmarking, ha! Those damn Koreans wouldn't even try to build bobsled tracks without finding out how other countries do it, even though they have zero experience. God, it's almost like they don't want to fail. That's so totalitarian. Guh!

In the end, South Korea would get facilities to train its winter sports athletes that it would not otherwise build for them.

What fiends!

It was often mentioned in the Korean media that an IOC report indicated that PyeongChang had the support of 96%. The secret to the high number is that PyeongChang residents have nothing to lose and much to gain.

It's not a secret anymore! Yeah, crusading journalist!
The Olympic spirit of South Koreans was most on display during the 2002 Winter Olympics when short-track speed skater Kim Dong-sung was disqualified for a gold medal for blocking (cross-tracking) American skater Apolo Anton Ohno. The South Korean Olympic team threatened to boycott the closing ceremony, boycott Athens in 2004, and sue the chief referee, despite the foul being obvious on film. A wave of anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories swept over Korea. Ohno received thousands of threatening emails and Korean "netizens" crashed the US Olympic Committee server. A year later, when Korea hosted a World Cup skating event, the US team had to withdraw because the hate mail and death threats continued.

Those crafty Koreans, with their spirit and their death threats. Preach on, truth master! Bludgeon us all to death with the ugly truth!
The bid presenters worked on the theme that if the Winter Olympics were held in PyeongChang, it would somehow create better relations between the North and South. There was no explanation of exactly how or why that would happen or why it is pertinent to the rest of the world.

Um, salient point.
Yet through a huge amount of aid, South Korea continues to keep one of the world's worst tyrants in power. North Korean defectors continue to be turned away; South Korea abstained five times on United Nations North Korean human-rights resolution votes and uses the Gaeseong factory in North Korea as a source of cheap labor for South Korean manufacturers under the guise of progression towards peace.

Yeah, that's all true. Damn you South Korea, and your puppet, Kim Jong-Il!
South Korea fantasizes about the ultimate sport events trifecta: Korea could become the sixth country in the world to host all the three major sports events. . . The prestige factor is heavy and in the eyes of Koreans, this will be another indicator that they finally made it to the big leagues.

Those assholes.
But North Korea is always a bit jealous of southern success. In 1987, North Korean terrorists planted a bomb on Korean Air flight 858, killing all 115 on board. During the 2002 World Cup, a North Korean gunboat ambushed a South Korea ship. Not a good track record for hosting the Big Three.

Damn, we've gotta keep the Olympics out of South Korea, or the terrorists will win!

Fanciful ambitions can get in the way of tough realities. Just before the announcement of the 2010 bid results, the Korea Times prematurely published an article online stating PyeongChang had won. "PyeongChang works a miracle in Prague" read the headline, and in a manufactured quote: "It's a miracle. This is a miracle of PyeongChang. We defeated the two cities that are famous for their winter sports programs," said Kim Jin-sun, in a fictional, futuristic way.
It's funny because it's true. This is a great time to bring it up.

Like the premature and fraudulent Korea Times article, PyeongChang's bid was based on hopefulness and snowflake whitewash and not on hard facts or the self-introspection of what it takes to be a mountain town worthy of world-class recognition.
I think you would have to be pretty ignorant of South Korea to disagree with the main idea of this final paragraph. Korea is a kind of 'If you build it, they will come' kind of place. Get real, Korea, or this reporter will make fun of you and hurl accusations at you some more

Oh, internet tone

I am sure you are too busy to read the Best Week Ever blog, but as for me, an erstwhile American expat hoping to ease himself back into society, I find BWE blog an invaluable tool. Without it, how would I ever have heard about Nicole Richie?
Anyway, it is occasionally hilarious and an admirable parody in motion of the contemporary internet, as in this line from a post about a lawsuit against Alan Iverson's entourage for beating up some guy in a strip club.
"The jury found that [Iverson posse member Jason] Kane was liable for assaulting Godfrey, who was awarded $250,000 for pain and suffering and $10,000 for his medical bills. Iverson was found negligent for failing to supervise Kane." Apparently, members of your entourage must be supervised on a strict "Lennie from Of Mice and Men" policy, meaning Iverson must now rectify the situation by telling Kane about the rabbits and shooting him (literary spoiler alert!)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Were people always this unoriginal?

Or is it a result of blogging? It seems like nowadays some little idea, phrase, comparison, or shred of information can go from nowhere to everywhere so fast, I wonder if this is an indication that people nowadays are somehow more unoriginal than their predecessors or if it is just easier to get access to stickier ideas faster.
The thing that brought this up in my mind is the new Avril Lavigne song 'girlfriend', which I like (although the way she overenunciates her t's grates and the line "She's like so whatever" so oversteps the line of self-parody that I am forced to either be jolted out of the song or accept it as some sort of pop-ironic post-modernism-ism). The meme that got me thinking is the one that goes "Avril Lavigne's new song 'girlfriend' bears [endless] comparison to Toni Basil's song 'Mickey'." I have seen countless repetitive professional (i.e. for profit) media outlets echo this simplistic idea with phrases like "If she think's she can fill out Toni Basil's cheerleader sweater she's dead wrong" and "I like Toni Basil's song 'Mickey' better than Avril Lavigne's new song 'girlfriend'" and "If Toni Basil could've used the word 'motherfucker' in her pop song for twelve year olds, it would have been as good as Avril's new hit."
I think it is likely that people were always this parroty, and that the internet of today is to memes what toilet seats, doorknobs, and children's hands are to bacteria. That means that really sticky memes are going to be able to infest people's minds faster than ever, which means that people are going to become more and more ephemeral.

I sought out, watched, and embedded this clip, despite having earlier sworn to myself that I never would, in order to illustrate my point that the things that spread most readily on the internet are not necessarily the most noteworthy things on the internet. But you likely already knew that.

It is estimated that 70% of a person's leisure time is spent consuming and spreading ideas that exist for nobody's benefit but their own and don't add any new or helpful information to anyone's life. Stay tuned to Paint Roller, and together we can pull that number down to 69.999%


People like Sydney Spiesel at Slate seem to be completely missing the point of a recent study that shows that people who have dieted tend to gain weight in the long-term. The title of the article is

Beware of Diet

What if counting calories makes you fatter in the long run?

I've heard this chalked up to 'dieting changing your metabolism' and all sorts of nonsense, but naturally people are making the same mistake they always make, confusing correlation with causation.
As a former fatty fatty fat fat who lost 180 pounds through lifestyle change, I'll tell you why people who go on diets, even successful ones, gain weight in the long run. It's because they were never taught will power and have terrible eating habits that they don't know how to break. Perhaps they have the 'soft will power' necessary to stick to a strict diet plan, but they don't have what it takes to live a life in which they exercise control over their own actions on an everyday basis. People talk about going on diets and all the will power that it takes, but in the end that effort cannot extend into the long term. The most important thing of all is developing new eating habits, which people on the whole don't know how to do. The most effective way for an out-of-control fat person to change their eating habits is to take the choice out of their own hands in one way or another, because just like you can't expect a wild dog to be a good babysitter, you can't expect what amounts to a feral person to plan out a balanced diet and administer it to themself.
In Korea, there was a fad a couple of years ago called welbing, from the English 'well-being'. Basically welbing consisted of sprinkling green tea powder on everything and frying stuff in olive oil. That's how ridiculous dieting sounds when viewed with a detached eye (gross image, I know).

A bad argument against a guest worker program

The argument that says that it is cruel to expose foreign workers to America with a stated limit is infuriatingly chauvinistic and wrongheaded. It implies either a) there are no people who would like to make money in America and then return with that money to their homeland or b) nobody exposed to the greatness of America ever wants to return home. Both implications are insulting to the majority of the many people worldwide who would love the opportunity to make more money and send it home to their families or save it for their future back home. Imagine if Korea, the country where I live, took the same tack, assuming that all foreign workers were clamoring for permanent residence. Since Korea is still only concerned with being a country for ethnic Koreans, the entire massive English teaching industry that brought me and countless others over would be restricted to hiring only ethnic Koreans from other countries and thus completely crippled. There are plenty of legitimate arguments against a guest worker program, the most salient to me being the likelihood of abuse of the rights of such workers, but there is nothing un-American about it. To take an applicable example from venerable old Wikipedia
The years 1910 to 1920 were the high point of Italian immigration to the United States. Over 2 million Italians immigrated in those years, with a total of 5.3 million immigrating between 1820 and 1980. About a third of them returned to Italy, after working an average of 5 years in the US.

Sounds like a reasonable term to me.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Oh, kooky mix-ups

You know what two Korean words I used to always mix up back when I first learned them?

Ishimjeonshim (이심전심) - telepathy, mind-to-mind communication
Imshinjungjeol (임신 중절) - abortion, interruption of pregnancy

To hilarious effect.

The most American woman in the world

Living in the Land of Extremes has done a great post on this paranoid Korean adoptee, who claims that her Korean culture was "literally raped from her" and that white Americans take one look at her and expect her to yield to them when they get on and off elevators

The thing that gets me about her is that it is impossible to look at such a person as anything but an American. The quest for identity, the identification with something that she knows nothing about in opposition to the place where she comes from, which she characterizes as an uneducated family. It's textbook, but for some reason people as a species suffer from a chronic inability to look at themselves in such terms unless exceptionally trained or otherwise forced to. Looking at her is like watching a flailing mixed-up machine malfunction, except, you know, we're the same kind of machines.

Incidentally, like most Americans, she has an incredibly poorly informed concept of what international adoption is and how nations interact. For a person getting a masters and leaving America for ever to live in Korea with her people, she has an almost comically misinformed perspective on the country, seemingly derived from a single session of factoid spouting and anger venting by some angry Korean she knows. Korea is a small victim country and America raped it for its resource, adorable babies, so that Americans could selfishly make themselves feel good by raising said babies.
The fact that a person like this is getting a masters indicates to me that America has a serious glut of universities.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Just a random etymology thought.

Merriam Webster has window's etymology as
Middle English windowe, from Old Norse vindauga, from vindr wind (akin to Old English wind) + auga eye; akin to Old English ēage eye

A 'wind eye'. The Korean word for window is changgu (창구, 窓口), made up of the Chinese characters chang (窓), meaning surface or exterior, and gu (口) meaning mouth and, by extension, a opening. An 'opening in the exterior' of a building.

Make of that what you will.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

You both crossed the Rubicon yesterday.

Watch this video. Share it with those you know who love America.

I accuse you, Mr. Bush, of lying this country into war.

I accuse you of fabricating in the minds of your own people, a false implied link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.

I accuse you of firing the generals who told you that the plans for Iraq were disastrously insufficient.

I accuse you of causing in Iraq the needless deaths of 3,586 of our brothers and sons, and sisters and daughters, and friends and neighbors.

I accuse you of subverting the Constitution, not in some misguided but sincerely-motivated struggle to combat terrorists, but to stifle dissent.

I accuse you of fomenting fear among your own people, of creating the very terror you claim to have fought.

I accuse you of exploiting that unreasoning fear, the natural fear of your own people who just want to live their lives in peace, as a political tool to slander your critics and libel your opponents.

I accuse you of handing part of this Republic over to a Vice President who is without conscience, and letting him run roughshod over it.

And I accuse you now, Mr. Bush, of giving, through that Vice President, carte blanche to Mr. Libby, to help defame Ambassador Joseph Wilson by any means necessary, to lie to Grand Juries and Special Counsel and before a court, in order to protect the mechanisms and particulars of that defamation, with your guarantee that Libby would never see prison, and, in so doing, as Ambassador Wilson himself phrased it here last night, of becoming an accessory to the obstruction of justice.

When President Nixon ordered the firing of the Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox during the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” on October 20th, 1973, Cox initially responded tersely, and ominously.

“Whether ours shall be a government of laws and not of men, is now for Congress, and ultimately, the American people.”

President Nixon did not understand how he had crystallized the issue of Watergate for the American people.

It had been about the obscure meaning behind an attempt to break in to a rival party’s headquarters; and the labyrinthine effort to cover-up that break-in and the related crimes.

And in one night, Nixon transformed it.

Watergate—instantaneously—became a simpler issue: a President overruling the inexorable march of the law of insisting—in a way that resonated viscerally with millions who had not previously understood - that he was the law.

Not the Constitution. Not the Congress. Not the Courts. Just him.

Just - Mr. Bush - as you did, yesterday.

The twists and turns of Plame-Gate, of your precise and intricate lies that sent us into this bottomless pit of Iraq; your lies upon the lies to discredit Joe Wilson; your lies upon the lies upon the lies to throw the sand at the “referee” of Prosecutor Fitzgerald’s analogy. These are complex and often painful to follow, and too much, perhaps, for the average citizen.

But when other citizens render a verdict against your man, Mr. Bush—and then you spit in the faces of those jurors and that judge and the judges who were yet to hear the appeal—the average citizen understands that, Sir.

It’s the fixed ballgame and the rigged casino and the pre-arranged lottery all rolled into one—and it stinks. And they know it.

Nixon’s mistake, the last and most fatal of them, the firing of Archibald Cox, was enough to cost him the presidency. And in the end, even Richard Nixon could say he could not put this nation through an impeachment.

It was far too late for it to matter then, but as the decades unfold, that single final gesture of non-partisanship, of acknowledged responsibility not to self, not to party, not to “base,” but to country, echoes loudly into history. Even Richard Nixon knew it was time to resign

Would that you could say that, Mr. Bush. And that you could say it for Mr. Cheney. You both crossed the Rubicon yesterday. Which one of you chose the route, no longer matters. Which is the ventriloquist, and which the dummy, is irrelevant.

But that you have twisted the machinery of government into nothing more than a tawdry machine of politics, is the only fact that remains relevant.

It is nearly July 4th, Mr. Bush, the commemoration of the moment we Americans decided that rather than live under a King who made up the laws, or erased them, or ignored them—or commuted the sentences of those rightly convicted under them—we would force our independence, and regain our sacred freedoms.

We of this time—and our leaders in Congress, of both parties—must now live up to those standards which echo through our history: Pressure, negotiate, impeach—get you, Mr. Bush, and Mr. Cheney, two men who are now perilous to our Democracy, away from its helm.

For you, Mr. Bush, and for Mr. Cheney, there is a lesser task. You need merely achieve a very low threshold indeed. Display just that iota of patriotism which Richard Nixon showed, on August 9th, 1974.


And give us someone—anyone—about whom all of us might yet be able to quote John Wayne, and say, “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my president, and I hope he does a good job.”

We owe it to ourselves to stand up and say 'Enough!'.

Fujiya & Miyagi

You will get tired of this, but I promise thatyou'll love it for a while before you do.

Incidentally, I lived in Miyagi prefecture. Nice place.

Rockso Redux

Every time they take this video down I am going to find it and embed it in a blog post until you hate fun as much as I do.

Bush commutes Libby's sentence

I hope this act helps more people like me come to hate Bush. I am so angry I can't even intelligently express it. I just really want this to be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Calling all techies

So I am buying a new laptop this summer, and I need some advice from anyone who cares to give some. I have just been comparison shopping Dell, Gateway, and HP, and it seems that HP has the best deal. I've already been told to go for speed in the laptop itself and relegate things like DVD-R/RW and bigtime memory to external devices. This seems like a very reasonable thought. Ideally I would like to get the fastest cheapest most portable laptop possible. I will primarily be using it for video and music editing/watching/listening, internet, Office, that kind of thing, just general use stuff, but I want it to be as fast as lightning and last for a long time. I'm looking to spend around $1,400 including external drives, excluding scanner and printer, which I will buy once I get a job. I am looking for any useful thoughts, especially basic things that I haven't considered. What do you say, am I walking into a minefield? Am I missing a crucial piece of information? I did notice that HP strongly recommends that you get 2gigs of DDR memory with Vista Home Premium for $100, even though I know you can get a USB flash drive that will do the same thing for much cheaper, so clearly there are monkeyshines to be avoided.

Flight of the Conchords

I believe you when you say you like this show and these two guys. I believe that you believe it. But when you take a look at the show from outside the incredible hype that has built up around it, you see that it's just not funny. What is it supposed to be, like an 'Office' version of Tenacioud D, basically? It's really not funny, please stop enjoying it.

The Return of the California Knockout

When I was in 6th grade my class went on a one week school trip to a camp in upstate New York called Frost Valley. On the very first day, practically as soon as we got there, a couple of guys started talking about doing the California Knockout. One guy stood up against the wall and invited his friend to administer the chest compression necessary to induce said knockout. I remember at the time thinking it was one of the stupidest and clearly dangerous things I had seen my classmates do.
You can't keep a good bad idea down, though, and know the dread California Knockout has surfaced in Korea under the infinitely less interesting name "The Choking Game". Gusts of Popular feeling has a great post on the issue with pictures that look exactly as I remember. This time around, however, there seems to be a solo version played with a noose that looks like some sort of kiddie version of autoerotic asphyxiation.
Not to oversimplify things, but I believe that the cure to this kind of boredom-induced tomfoolery is probably sports. Let these kids play some sports, Korea! Something that lets them work the arms, perhaps, because soccer obviously is not doing it for them.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Review: Transformers

When you heard that they were making a movie out of the Transformers, your likely reaction was "Awesome", followed by "Wait, the special effects will no doubt be amazing but how will they ever make a story that won't be terrible and make absolutely no sense." Well they did manage to tell a pretty damn good story, deliver a compelling bunch of characters and not leaving you calling shenanigans on the movie's plot holes as much as you thought you would.
For instance, sure the Autobots woud speak English to their human allies, but why would they speak at all to each other, especially when no humans are around? Why would Megatron ever speak at all to the humans he hates so much? The bottom line is that you are not going to give a tinker's damn why if you are at all interested in having a good time more than being a know-it-all wise-ass.
My wife loved the movie, as did one of my students' moms, who we happened to run into at the theater. I think this is mostly because of the amount of personality imbued in Bumblebee, the yellow Camaro who acts as guardian for the movie's protagonist. He has a really rough ride through the movie and engenders as much audience sympathy and identification as both King Kongs combined.
If you're wondering why I keep referring to the 'human allies' and 'the movie's protagonist' it's because I've forgotten all the human characters' names. Oh well, I didn't forget any of the Transformers' names.
The style of the movie occasionally gets a little too crowd-pleasing for my tastes, especially in the gratuitous use of bathroom humor and masturbation references (gratuitous, at least, for a movie being marketed to very young children). John Turturro's character get's tiresome quickly. I found myself puzzled by scenes involving CIA codebreakers that seemed to add nothing and go nowhere. The movie could use an aggressive edit. That said, there isn't a moment of Transformer action that I would do without. If anything, you may, like me, be left wishing you were watching the movie on DVD so you could bet a good look at what was going on in the fight scenes. One scene in particular in which one robot shoves his hand in another's face left me wishing I had a remote in my hand to slow forward through the move again.
Enough already, just go see the movie with your girlfriend or wife and you won't regret it.

Transformers: A-

Culture Shock Redux (part 2)

Yesterday Miyoung and I went to our friends Idan and Namheng's wedding. It was similar in substance to our own.

Afterwards we went to Itaewon, the foreigner enclave in Seoul where much of the US Army spends its downtime as well as a number of people from Africa, South Asia, and every other conceivable place. Now I get into Itaewon about two or three times a year, and for the most part I live in a 100% Korean world, where even the people I deal with on a day to day basis don't speak English. Most of the Americans in Itaewon live in a world where they are as sheltered from actual Korean culture as much as possible. They are more likely to see a Korean in a traditional palace uniform on one of their outings than they are to see a typical Korean in his or her own natural environment.
Anyway we get to Itaewon at abou 12:30 and it's sunny and hot with not too many people around. Miyoung and I go to Starbucks and hang out there for a while. I feel some sort of strange vibe around us. Perhaps, I think, I am giving off a weird feeling because it's so odd for me to see so many foreigners. I don't give it too much thought and we leave to go shopping. We hit the Columbia store and Miyoung buys me youthful looking pants that I am slowly growing accustomed to. back on the street I catch one or two guys looking at me funny but it doesn't really register. I assume it's because I am clearly not in the military.
Anyway we walk to the geographical end of Itaewon and cross the street to loop back in the other direction. Miyoung and I are walking fast and pass a short black guy and a short tattooed black woman walking together. I hear the guy say as we pass "That guy was checking me out. You know that guy?" and I assume he means I'm sizing him up or giving him the stink eye or something. I wonder to myself why that guy thought I would want to fight him on the street.
Miyoung and I get to the subway station and go down. As we walk onto the platform we walk past a seated couple, this time a white guy and a tattooed white girl. The guy turns to the girl and says "Check out that guy's shirt!" and suddenly it dawns on me: I'm wearing a pink shirt. A pink polo shirt in Korea is an extremely common thing to see. I actually own two pink shirts. I hadn't thought a thing of it all day, and I had been walking around catching looks from people who I now realize thought I was gay.
After we got on the train I explained to Miyoung why I could never wear my pink shirts in America, but she didn't quite get it. "Why would they think you're gay?" she asked. I explained that it's not that they'd think I was gay, it's that it's just not done in the US, unless I'm mistaken or something big has changed in the last few years. Somehow I had let this get away from me, and so yesterday I made the mental note: de-Koreanize my wardrobe before I return to America.