Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Monday, December 26, 2016

A Hero For Our Times

Koreans sure love them some drama when it comes to air travel.  Not too long back there was Nut-gate, where a high-ranking Korean Air exec lost her mind when she wasn't given a complimentary dish of nuts before takeoff.  Now, we have 80's pop-star Richard Marx (!) and his wife Daisy Fuentes (!!) saving a planeload of Korean passengers from a drunk asshole / "businessman":
"South Korea’s biggest airline has defended its staff after the US pop singer Richard Marx said he had helped restrain a violent passenger during a flight and accused the crew of being 'ill trained' to deal with incidents of air rage.
Marx, who had several hits in the 1980s and 90s, said he and his wife, the TV host Daisy Fuentes, were on a Korean Air flight from the Vietnamese capital Hanoi to Seoul on Tuesday when a male passenger assaulted the person sitting next to him.
After female cabin attendants spent four hours attempting to subdue the man, Marx, 53, and another male passenger stepped in and tied him up with a rope."
My first thought before watching the (widely available) videos of the incident was, of course Korean Air stewardesses couldn't restrain a crazy person.  They weigh 90 pounds at most soaking wet, and are hired for their looks above and beyond anything else.  (This is true of most Asia-based carriers.)

Granted, US carriers are complete dumpster fires when it comes to customer service but at least they wouldn't take more than a few minutes to incapacitate, one way or another, a drunken dickhead.

The fact that this guy was allowed to literally terrorize an entire flight for four hours, the stewardesses were helpless, and the captain apparently did nothing makes me wonder if paying a few hundred dollars more for objectively better service on Korean Air or Asiana is ever worth it.

Oh, and the best part -- the guy was let free by the police because he was too drunk.  As far as I know, South Korea is the only country on earth where being a drunken asshole is one of the best legal defenses you can mount.

And the symbolism of a stewardess holding a taser but not knowing how to use it is about as Korean as it gets.  Appearance always trumps actual competence here, especially when it comes to matters of public safety.

"still spell America with a triple-K"

Run The Jewels, "A Christmas Fucking Miracle"

This is all I got.  But this video is everything.

Annus Horribilis

George Michael dead at 53.  Carrie Fisher "stable" after a heart attack.

Christmas is a time to mend wounds and look forward to a better 2017 but somehow these days my primary feeling is simply one of mental exhaustion.

I'm fucking tired.  Other than family and close friends I really just want as little to do with the world as possible.  Other than work and exercise I really just want to stay in and watch movies.

I can't even read newspapers any more, speaking as someone who's a life-long news junkie.

And it's only going to get worse.

Monday, December 19, 2016

"Madonna. And Slayer."

My attempt to catch up with 2016's film offerings continues apace.  I finally saw Green Room, the progressive-hardcore-band-gets-taken-hostage-by-Neo-nazi-rednecks that America had been desperate for and I liked it a lot.  But I wouldn't recommend it.

The set-up is fantastic -- a gigging hardcore band is down on its luck and agrees to play a bill with "mostly" not racist skinheads.  Things quickly go wrong, and within 15 minutes you're thrown into a tightly paced, hellishly claustrophobic nightmare that basically takes up the rest of the movie.  The performances are mostly quite good, with Captain Picard (!) playing the sadistic Nazi ring-leader.

But -- my god it's violent.  And the violence is shot in a very matter-of-fact, naturalistic way.  It just sort of happens without warning and without much of a justification.  (If I never see a box cutter again I'll be a happy boy.)  There are also dogs trained to eat human flesh.  They are arguably some of the main characters in the film.

Obviously, this was not an easy film to watch.  And while I should have known what I was getting into, I would have loved to have gotten to know the (very likable) main characters a bit more before, well, things go down as you'd expect if you were held hostage by racist skinhead hillbillies.  There's some very dark humor as well, which I'm always in favor of.

I really enjoyed it.  But please don't blame me if you lose sleep after watching it in all of its ultra-grim glory.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Nomz, I Must Have Them

A Halal Guys branch just opened up in Seoul.

Seriously considering a Christmas visit up to the capitol now.

Meanwhile, young Koreans who can't find decent work and Korean restaurant owners coping with the same sluggish economy are locked in dubious battle over all-you-can-eat restaurants:
"But while happy eaters might be glad to pay less for more, many restaurant owners are biting the bullet to keep up with the high demand. 'They’re struggling to make a profit,' said Kim Sang-hoon, head of the business consulting firm Start Business.
As more all-you-can-eat joints open up, the increased demand for raw ingredients raises their prices. So even though the restaurants might see more customers, the owners have to spend more than half their revenue on buying ingredients to keep up, according to Kim. 'Quite often, they’re left with only 10 percent of the sales as profit,' the consultant said, while most restaurants in Korea make margins of 25 to 35 percent. 'In the long run, they just can’t survive.'”
In my college neighborhood, the all-you-can-eat joints actually aren't all that popular among my students.  Even with little money and a 20-something's appetites, they know that the "bottomless" restaurants are serving a lower grade of meat.  The most crowded restaurants are usually the same four or five mom-and-pop joints serving large portions for under 6,000 won.  Hell, I go to those places.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Serious Business

South Korean ramyon prices (their pronunciation of what the Japanese and Americans call ramen) are going up for the first time in five years:
"Neoguri Spicy, one of Nongshim’s oldest products, known for thicker noodles, raised its price from 850 won to 900 won, a 5.9 percent hike.
The price of Chapagetti, Nongshim’s version of jajangmyeon, rose from 900 won per pack to 950 won.
Nongshim said the price hikes were inevitable due to the rising cost of human resources, logistics and marketing.
'Since ramen products are closely related to people’s daily lives, we tried to minimize the hikes as much as possible,' said a Nongshim spokesperson."
Is nothing sacred any longer?

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Well, here it is -- the final draft of the research paper that pretty much consumed my entire semester.  But it's done, and I'm mostly pretty happy with it.  We were all kind of shocked that it came out to 80 pages total.

It went into my school's library collection yesterday, and now we're going to work on whittling it down for publication in an honest-to-Jeebus education journal.

Good times.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

First Against The Wall

There's very little in the universe to laugh about right now.  This will have to do:
"The National Assembly is getting close to tracking down Woo Byung-woo, the former presidential secretary for civil affairs who has been on the run to avoid questioning over his role in the abuse of power scandal that led to the impeachment of Park Geun-hye.
Its uncommon allies in the hunt: average angry Koreans."
It gets better:
"People all over the country are spending their own money riding in taxis and buying coffee in this blistering cold, shivering as they search,' said Kim Seong-hoe, Sohn’s aide. 'I don’t think any of these people are actually out for the reward.'
'We’re getting 20 to 30 calls every day,' said Kim. 'They’re really out investigating. There’s one person who calls us all throughout the day, giving us clues like how he’s standing in front of a building [in which Woo is suspected to be] and that the lights on the third floor are on.'”
Nobody said Late Capitalism would be pretty, but at least we'll have a little bit of fun now and then.

Documenting The Atrocities

Hillary Clinton lost to Trumpolini in no small part due to interference from Russia, directly aided and abetted by F.B.I. head and Republican partisan James Comey.  This will continue to happen until Dems stop acting like babies on issues of defense, intelligence, and national security:
"It’s no secret that the military, the FBI, and other security services skew right wing. This partially explains why Democrats frequently select Republicans to run the Pentagon and why the FBI has never been run by a liberal. Appointing Republican bureaucrats is one way to avoid dissension during periods of Democratic rule.
But this—the capture of powerful arms of the government by partisan or ideological cohorts—is a toxic development and one no party should tolerate in perpetuity. Republicans certainly don’t. When they come to power, they don’t cede control of bureaucracies with more progressive missions to Democrats. To the contrary, they send vicious foes of progressive politics to run these agencies—the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development—and start cleaning house."
Why Obama hasn't shit-canned Comey yet is beyond me.  You'd think after eight years of blatant GOP obstruction, if not potential treason, he'd see the light.

The only Dem who doesn't seemed to be drained of a will to fight right now is, predictably, Harry Reid, but that's not going to be nearly enough as the Orange One takes over and begins transferring the U.S. Treasury directly into his family's many hidden bank accounts.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

How Democracies Work

It's official -- South Korean president Park Geun-hye has been impeached, despite trying to arrange a deal where she would have resigned a year early.

I'm far from an expert, but the second and final stage of impeachment in South Korea is in the hands of their equivalent of the Supreme Court.  Six of nine judges have six months to decide if she should face the ultimate punishment.

The public is calling for blood, but it's interesting to note that non-elected officials make the final decision and won't have to suffer any election-related consequences if they choose to defend the daughter of Park Chung-hee.

In what's been the darkest of years it gives me the smallest bit of hope that quaint things like the will of the majority and democratic institutions still have some role to play in the coming decades.

Opinions, On The Internet

Living in South Korea I don't get to see nearly all the English language movies I'd like to in a given year, but in any case every December I try and play a little catch-up.

As for Swiss Army Man -- the repetitive, film-long fart joke didn't kill it for me.  Using Daniel Radcliffe's corpse as a jet-ski didn't kill it for me.  Using his corpse as a weapon didn't bother me at all.  Terrible fart jokes and magical realism are fine by me!

What killed it was a terrible ending and the realization the the main character is basically a creepy stalker.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Everything Is Now Permitted

Life under Trumpolini:
"On Sunday afternoon, Welch walked into Comet Ping Pong, a popular pizza spot in the Chevy Chase neighborhood, wielding a shotgun and fired three shots, according to the charging documents. Comet has been part of a bizarre fake news conspiracy that drew unsubstantiated links between the Hillary Clinton campaign and a fictitious child sex ring, which the stories said were being run from secret tunnels beneath the restaurant.
Police said that Welch had gone into Comet to 'self-investigate' the restaurant. Welch told police he had 'read online that the Comet restaurant was harboring child sex slaves and that he wanted to see for himself if they were there', according to the charging document. He said he was armed to help rescue them. And police said he 'surrendered peacefully when he found no evidence that underage children were being harbored in the restaurant'."
Expect a fuck load more, not less, of this for the next four years at least.

America is now a post-factual nation.  Hell, it's post-reality now.


Train To Busan (부산행) trailer

I finally got around to seeing this last night, and I wasn't disappointed.  The first half is straight-up one of the better zombie apocalypse films ever made, set on a bullet train from Seoul to Busan.  The pacing is tight, the characters are interesting and flawed and downright twisted in meaningful ways, and the chemistry between the two main characters is properly antagonistic.

Things do drag a bit in the second half (the whole thing feels like it could have lost 15-20 minutes) but the ending is strong.

Two things that stood out:

a) When the zombies come to South Korea, take comfort in the fact that you will be bitten in the neck by a creature with perfectly white, perfectly shaped teeth.

b) No guns.  I can't think of any other zombie flick that exists where guns don't play a major role.  Refreshing, really, and very Korean.  Real men and women will use baseball bats when the apocalypse comes.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"it tends to mean more than one thing in a confusing way"

Leave it to Jonathan Lethem, in a "light" piece about what an American novelist eats for breakfast (oatmeal with black pepper, apparently) to bring the profundity:
"I’m pretty obsessed with hamburgers and fast food as a symbol of American greatness and simultaneously the degrading, default assembly-line garbage food. The way they represent multitudes. Like anything that interests me, in my books, it tends to mean more than one thing in a confusing way. I love a really great hamburger, myself. It’s one of the things that pulls me back from the brink from a full commitment to vegetarianism. I really don’t eat a whole lot of meat anymore, but when I do, it tends to be In-N-Out burger. Mine is on Foothill Boulevard. There’s some street cred there in a weird way, since it’s on Route 66. It’s the burger joint that Steinbeck’s Okies didn’t get to stop in on the way to LA from the Dust Bowl."
I'm a huge fan of Lethem's novels (haven't read the new one though).  So it's no great shock to me that he has great taste in burgers.  If In-N-Out ever makes it to Korea I will gladly step over any ajumma who get in my way for a Double-Double and Animal Style Fries, mark my words.

Meanwhile, speaking of burgers, Shake Shack has made it to South Korea but alas, not to lurvely little Daegu as of yet.  It's in Gangnam of course, the "Hollywood" of Seoul.

I lived there for a year.  It's over-rated to say the least, but not a bad place to find decent non-Korean grub.  (Expect to pay through the nose for it though, and more than likely have to wait in line for the better options.)

My two favorite Daegu burger joints have shut down.  (Whither Gorilla Burger?, and while Traveler's was kind of a cliche of an ex-pat drinking joint, their food wasn't half bad.)  I'm kind of surprised that this specific void for English teachers and GI's in Daegu (there are tons of both) hasn't been filled properly as of yet.

Anyhow, these days when I'm craving Western food I'll go to Etoh's for pizza and good draft beers.  In fact, pizza is the only thing on their menu in addition to sandwiches which aren't nearly as good.

Lazy Diner is another option I guess, but despite their very cool interior furnishings and excellent people-watching views I think their food is pretty mediocre.  (They definitely use frozen beef and french fries.  Boo.)  They do the all-day breakfast thing that some ex-pats love but, like Lethem, I've never been much of a pancakes-waffles-morning sugar coma guy (great minds, natch).

Even Dos Tacos is gone for those times I craved extremely fake but kind-of-satisfying Mexican food.

What can I say?  There's a critical shortage of ESL bros coming over to Daegu, marrying Koreans, discovering they're terrible at teaching, and opening burger and wing joints that serve Guinness on tap, while Seoul and Busan or drowning in those kinds of places.  (And Hoegaarden for some strange reason.  Hoegaarden is vile, but it's everywhere in South Korea.  It tastes like rancid bubblegum.)

Shameless Self Promotion

It's December already.  It's almost 2017 already.  And who the hell knows if any of us will make it to 2018 under the watchful gaze of President Trumpolini?

Anyhow, this modest blog has been seeing a modest amount of traffic so I thought I'd remind folks that I tweet over here and I tumbl over here.

My tumblr is a bit NSFW at times.

My old blog is over here.

And "Wet Casements" is a poem by John Ashbery.

Try and stay warm!


The Pixies, Peel Session 1988

It's official -- writing a paper with two other people is a hell of a lot more difficult than writing it by yourself.  Or should I say, editing a paper with two other people.

One of them seems to think a single round of revision is sufficient.

The other just doesn't care.

More specifically, we turned in the general study to the college (80 pages!).  Now we're trying to cut that down to 20 pages to submit for publication.

I knew all along this would be the hard part, and my coworkers never believed me.

So basically this week has boiled down to lots of passive / aggressive bullshit and me repeating variations of the phrase "I told you so."

Good times in Daegu.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thursday, November 24, 2016


Julien Baker, "Something" live

It's 2 a.m. in lurvely Daegu and I just got back from the office where me and my two foreigner co-workers wrapped up our research paper -- "Socrates in the Beginner E.F.L. Classroom."

I think we were all shocked when the damn thing came out to 80 pages total, albeit with a healthy number of graphs and charts.

We're having a fancy schmancy lunch with our boss tomorrow to celebrate.  Honestly, I'd rather just sleep in.

But it's done.

We already need to start cutting it down to a presentable journal publication length.

But did I mention that for now it's done?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Banality of Derp

Notes From The Occupation

Somebody painted swastikas and pro-Trump messages on Adam Yauch's grave.

It's not my country any more.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Living The Dream

Joe Pass, "All The Things You Are"

I'm in my office on a Saturday afternoon, waiting for my co-workers to show up so we can continue finishing up our research paper.  Long story short: using the Socratic Method with beginner level students won't directly improve their English, but according to our data is does slightly make them feel more comfortable in the classroom, which is a good thing.

One of the limitations of our study is that we only used the SM for three weeks (three classes, basically).  Obviously, if we were to do this again we'd want to do it over the course of an entire semester.

Anyhow, we got a bit of a stipend for the work, and basically a free trip to Seoul to the KOTESOL conference, and a bunch of free lunches at relatively nice restaurants (which is a surprisingly critical aspect of working on an academic research project in South Korea).

It's been a good experience, and it's nice to do something that scratches a different part of my brain beyond just teaching, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't stressful.  Writing something with two other people is no easy task.  One of my co-workers was convinced that we could just divide the writing up in thirds, and I've kind of nagged him from the beginning that that isn't going to work for the final copy.  With only a week left before we submit the paper to our boss, he's starting to see what I've been meaning all along.

Writing is easy.  Editing is hard.  I knew that much going in.

I've learned a lot though, and that's the important thing.  I'm also, hopefully, going to get a publication out of it.  (Possibly two actually, if we end up splitting our general study and our case study.)

So for the next half hour it's just me and Joe Pass doing yet another round of revision of what we've written so far.  Good times.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Rise Above, Indeed

Leave it to Henry Rollins to restore just a smidgen of my faith in America after the ascent of Trumpolini:
"You know how Trump said all manner of jobs will be coming back to the States because he’s going to ease taxes on all those corporations, which will beat the fastest path back because they really want all those good citizens of the Republic to have those jobs? Did you believe him? What would any of these behemoths want with American workers when they can pay other humans a fraction of what an American needs to get by? They have stockholders to satisfy and the demands of to supply. Your love of convenience and low prices sent the jobs away. If you paid an American to make your cellphone, only rich people like Trump and Fox News personalities would have them.
Besides, the corporations don’t want you. You’re too fucking whiny and self-involved with your butthurt.
Start the laugh track for this part and turn it up. When President Trump deports millions of undocumented people, get ready for a lot of job openings that Americans are on record as not wanting to do. If America loses its casual slave-labor force, it will seize up like a race car with no motor oil. Packages of almonds and countless other agricultural goods will all be adorned with 'picked by crackers' stickers as, no doubt, this will be one of the many blessings of capitalism unleashed." 
Thanks, Hank.  I needed that.  I wouldn't normally wish pain on my fellow citizens, Trump supporters or Jill Stein supporters or Bernie Bros but hey, they were chomping at the bit for it.  Let them have it, good and hard.

Meanwhile, As South Korea Tries to Out-Crazy the United States...

Here's the latest on Choi-gate, the scandal currently engulfing South Korea's president Park Geun-hye.  The slow, incompetent response to the sinking of a ferry that killed 295, mostly high school students in 2014, may have occurred because president Park was receiving plastic surgery:
"Broadcaster YTN reported Thursday that a nursing officer was at the presidential office on the day Sewol sank in waters off Jindo, South Jeolla, citing an anonymous source from the prosecution’s special investigation team into the scandal surrounding Choi Soon-sil, the longtime friend of the president.
While details over why the officer was sent to the Blue House and what medical procedures may have been performed were not reported, the broadcaster’s report added to suspicions that Park was under some form of medical treatment during the crucial hours after the ferry started sinking, which ultimately led to the deaths of 304 people. 
There is already speculation that Park may have undergone cosmetic surgery and was, at the time, anesthetized by propofol."
Of that which we cannot speak yadda yadda yadda.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

"the ramen noodles"

A Tribe Called Quest, "We The People"

To come back this strong after 18 years?  Not too shabby.

Let's Help Out

Whelp, it's been over a week since the election of Trumpolini and me worrying and wallowing in self-pity and, frankly, drinking too much.

This ends now as I'm going to try and do a better job of being involved in small, tangible efforts to make the world around me a better place.

Granted, I'm in lovely Daegu, South Korea, so I won't be able to directly protest a man who literally wants to lock up all the Muslims in America and build a useless wall to keep out all the taco trucks.

Don't get me wrong -- the American people in their infinite, racist wisdom have made a horrible mistake and millions of people are going to suffer because of it.  Our days as a superpower are over.

But my disappointment doesn't really help anybody, does it?

Anyhow, there's a no-kill animal shelter outside of Daegu called "Hannah's" and they need donations to build up their dog and cat shelters before winter sets in.

You can donate here.

I'm going to try and organize a trip between my foreigner co-workers, my adult students, and maybe some Daegu-located Twitter- and tumblr-buddies.  Apparently the shelter accepts walk-ins who want to help exercise and play with the animals.  I'll probably contact them as well to see if there are any projects that need working on (I'm no carpentry or masonry genius, but I'm plenty good at picking up heavy objects and moving them elsewhere).

I haven't written about it much, but South Korea is pretty damn terrible when it comes to the basic treatment and welfare of animals.  Local shelters like this are few and far between, and they are deserving of some of your cash.

And please, feel free to offer up suggestions in comments for other things going on in our local communities that we can help out with.

Positive change starts with me.  It starts with us.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Grab Them By The Fiscal Interests

There is nothing good in the world right now.  But as mentioned, a boycott of any and all Trump products and properties seems like an easy first step in the revolution.

So here it goes, starting with the N.B.A.:
"The Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks, and Dallas Mavericks have all stopped staying at Donald Trump-owned hotels this season, according to a report from ESPN. The three teams stay at Trump properties in either New York or Chicago, but have since sought accommodations not owned by the repugnant president-elect when visiting those cities. ESPN also reports that another team may join the three next year. . . ."

Pretty Certain For The Next Four Years This Blog Becomes A Repository For Non-Terrifying, Life-Affirming Things

Dos, Justamenta Tres

This is Mike Watt (Minutemen, duh) and Kira Roessler (Black Flag, duh) making awesome torch song-y music together with two just two electric bass guitars.

"fact, fact, fact, fact, fact. It just doesn't work."

In addition to poor people, the environment, sensible birth control, national and global economies, migrant rights, blacks, Hispanics, and LGBT folks, there's another major victim of a Trump victory and Brexit vote -- logic:
"Statements issued by the Trump campaign saw no need to uphold any requirements to make sense or be based on evidence. Consider the assertions of widespread voter-fraud (in the case of Clinton victory), claims of Muslims celebrating 9/11 in New York, the idea to extract Middle Eastern oil as recompense for US military costs, the theory that climate change was secretly invented by the Chinese for economic gain, or that Mexico would willingly pay for a border wall.
Such statements, and an array of others, were credible within the campaign’s own inner logic because the criteria for credibility did not include a basis in reality or even coherence. Under the banner 'Make America Great Again' the type of argumentation I have been demanding of my students became defunct.
In Britain, we have recently been in similar territory ourselves. The EU referendum featured false claims regarding the cost of EU membership, of the migration chaos that would follow Turkey’s supposedly inevitable and imminent EU membership, shady rumours that our unelected monarch disliked the EU, and Michael Gove’s wholesale dismissal of 'experts'.
The intangible nature of what Brexit would actually entail revealed itself in conveniently vacuous slogans such as 'Take Back Control' and, eventually, simply 'Brexit means Brexit'. The Remain campaign did sometimes try to conjure compelling stories of apocalypse, but they ultimately failed to respect the manner in which the game was being played. Leave donor and campaigner Aaron Banks reflected: 'The Remain campaign featured fact, fact, fact, fact, fact. It just doesn’t work. You have got to connect with people emotionally. It’s the Trump success'."
Empiricism.  Books.  Intellectual curiosity.  The Scientific Method.  Humility when confronted with data that doesn't support your beliefs.  Respect for institutions of learning that strive to preserve past achievements.

Even footnotes.

They don't fucking matter in a post-factual world.

As a teacher, it's terrifying.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Consolation Prize

Do The Right Thing

This article's heart is in the right place, but it's woefully light on details -- companies to boycott that supported Trump.  It seems obvious to me that a national boycott of his hotels and golf courses is one of the easier acts of resistance at our disposal.

Then again, it's an open secret that most of his properties are already hemorrhaging cash.  So time to rub salt in the wounds, I guess?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Let's Think Super Positive Thoughts!

Everything Is Fucked Up And Bullshit

Leonard Cohen, "Famous Blue Raincoat"


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Pretty Damn Accurate

Here's the recent front page of The Chosun Ilbo.  Circulation-wise, it's the largest newspaper in South Korea.  The headline is "Angry Whites Overthrow America."

Being a superpower is partly about your nation's wealth and military strength.  But that's only half of it.  The other half is perception -- do other country's look up to you?  Do they admire your political systems?  Do they long to have your standard of living?

I can only speak for lurvely little Daegu, a conservative region in and of itself, and the simple fact is America's days are a superpower are numbered, if not over entirely.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I'm Sure Jill Stein Is Happy Right Now

Husker Du, "Divide and Conquer"

At times of emotional distress I've been known to close in on myself and focus on things like music and books.

This is one of those times.

Monday, November 7, 2016

I'm With Her

Tomorrow, Tuesday, is one of my split-schedule days.  I teach from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and I come home pretty exhausted after 12 hours of teaching and office-ing.  (Thursday is my other split.)

Anyhow, tomorrow night I'll being going to bed just when America is waking up to go and vote.  I think I can say that now, above all else, I'm just kind of numb.  Hillary's numbers look good, and the signs of Hispanic turnout for early voting is truly moving.  Beyond that, competent ground games really do matter and Trump does not have one.  Having a rally and throwing out red meat is actually pretty easy to do, if you think about it.  Registering people to vote, reminding them to vote, driving their elderly grandma to the voting station, and handing out sample ballots for down-ticket races is not.  It's really fucking hard work, and Hillary and the people around her are not shy of hard work.

So those are the thoughts that will be going through my head as I pass out tomorrow night, wondering if I'll still have a country to go back to the next morning.

And as much as I'm optimistic about Hillary's chances, what's clear is that even if Trump loses America is (in Trump-speak, no less) a permanently damaged brand.  The fact that a fascist vagina-grabber even had a shot at the presidency tells you everything you need to know about the United States in the early stages of the 21st century.

I'll let Barbara Kingsolver have the last word in what I'd say is a must-read piece, "End This Misogynistic Horror Show":
"I’m horrified to watch the bizarre pageant of my nation pretending these two contenders are equivalent. No one really imagines Donald Trump applying himself to the disciplines of the presidency, staying up late reading reams of legislation, instead of firing off juvenile tweets. It’s even harder to imagine Clinton indulging in the boorish self-aggrandisement, intellectual laziness, racism and vulgar contempt for the opposite gender that characterise her opponent. If anyone still doubts that the inexperienced man gets promoted ahead of the qualified woman, you can wake up now.
This race is close. Polls tell us most Americans believe Trump has sexually assaulted women (to name just one potential disqualifier). A majority also believe Clinton 'can’t be trusted', for unspecified reasons. We’re back to the ancient conundrum: a woman can’t be that smart and commanding, so either her womanliness or her smartness must be counterfeit. To set that hazy discomfort next to a sexual assaulter and call these defects 'equivalent' is causing my ears to ring as I write."
Hillary may be imperfect (who isn't?) but she's fought like hell.  And lest we forget, she's been being attacked for over two decades now.  And it all started because she wasn't interested in baking a batch of fucking cookies like a good little housewife.

I'll always be proud to say I voted for her.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Middle of the Beginning of the End?

The South Korean media is notably reticent to criticize local politicians, let alone presidents, but here's on update on the Park Geun-hye scandal now known as "Choi-gate":
"Saturday’s rally was substantially larger than the street protest at the same venue just a week ago, which drew an estimated 30,000 people. The increase is seen as a signal of the public’s anger toward the government, a threat to the survival of Park’s presidency. Rocked by the ongoing scandal over the influence exerted by Choi behind the scenes in state affairs and her acquisition of classified presidential material, Park’s approval rating nosedived to 5 percent in the latest poll, the lowest figure ever for any Korean president. 
People in the streets varied in gender, age and background, from middle and high school students in school uniforms to couples with toddlers in strollers and even people in their 60s who said they voted for Park four years ago but now deeply regret their choice. Participants also included groups of families with young children. 
'I came here tonight because I don’t want to be ashamed of myself to my baby when he asks me when he grows up later of what I did today,' said Ko Hye-mi, who was at the rally with her 6-month-old son in a stroller and her husband from Gwangju, Gyeonggi."
Five percent public approval.  There's no way she doesn't resign in the next few weeks for ambiguous health reasons, is there?

"Everybody's an authority"

Husker Du, "In A Free Land"

It's going to be hard focusing on teaching for the next few days.

If you haven't already, please vote.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

108 Years

A perfect headline:

"Cubs win!  Cubs win!  Cubs win!"

And they were wearing their alternate "cubby" jerseys, the best in baseball, so extra style points.

One More Week Until America Possibly Regains A Little Bit Of Its Sanity And / Or Dignity

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Is This The End?

So, there's a major scandal going on in lovely South Korea involving President Park Geun-hye and a supposed "Svengali" figure who has fled to Germany.  It's all very complicated and weird:
"Park has been facing calls to reshuffle her office after she admitted on Tuesday that she provided longtime friend Choi Soon-sil drafts of her speeches for editing. Her televised apology sparked huge criticism about her mismanagement of national information and heavy-handed leadership style many see as lacking in transparency.
There’s also media speculation that Choi, who holds no government job, meddled in government decisions on personnel and policy and exploited her ties with the president to misappropriate funds from nonprofit organisations.
The saga, triggered by weeks of media reports, has sent Park’s approval ratings to record lows and the minority opposition Justice party has called for her to resign."
She's four years into a five year term (South Korean presidents are limited to a single term) so she was already a bit of a lame duck.

One Korean newspaper has her pegged at an incredible 14% approval rating.

Friday, October 28, 2016


Last year over at my old digs, I bloginated about Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy, a.k.a. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books.  The decision to change the titles of the books in English is understandable, but they are much tamer than the original Swedish ones (e.g., Men Who Hate Women).

So now I've started the fourth book, not written by Larsson, and the English translation is The Girl In The Spider's Web.  According to wiki, the Swedish translates to "That which does not kill us."

It's pretty clear the English audience is primed for "The Girl Who. . ." titles and, once again, the original Swedish doesn't really come off as a gripping title for a gripping (so far) series.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Data Entry Is Sexy

Whelp, this weekend I'll be in the office listening to recordings of my students and doing word counts to measure English ability and confidence.

It's too early for a definitive conclusion, but it looks like using the Socratic Method in a beginner English class won't improve your students' language abilities directly.  But more indirectly it can improve confidence and lessen anxiety, which are important goals in a beginner class.

But we won't know for sure until all of this data gets crunched.  And between pre and post surveys, experimental and control studies, and pre and post project studies involving almost 500 students, there's a metric f-ton of data to crunch.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Delight And Instruct

My greatest fear as a teacher is drawing something on the whiteboard that resembles a cock and / or balls.


"I can't lie / I kind of like the pain"

American Football, "Desire Gets In The Way"

Maybe every band should take 17 year breaks between amazing albums.


Many hackles were raised when South Korea recently decided to deploy a U.S. missile defense system poetically named "THAAD."  Conservative Koreans thought it was a necessary step against North Korea and possible Chinese aggression.  Liberals thought it was yet another multi-million dollar giveaway to the United States via military spending.  A larger issue was that China might somehow retaliate, given that Seoul and Beijing have deep economic ties.

Lo and behold, China just dropped the hammer on the growing, lucrative tourism business in South Korea:
"The Chinese government told provincial travel agencies to cut the number of tourists traveling to Korea by over 20 percent compared to last year, according to various sources on Monday.
Sources in the Korean Embassy in China, consulates and travel agencies said that city and provincial governments, including in Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui and Shaanxi, contacted travel agencies in their regions either by phone or by meeting with executives and delivered this directive."
Obvious economic downturn aside, it's interesting that a country like China can just decide to order up a 20 percent decrease in tourism to another country.  I guess dictatorships do have their advantages.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Into The Future

I finished Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312, and I really enjoyed most of it.  Like most of my favorite sci-fi, it matches a pretty sweeping backdrop and heady ideas with a few solid, believable characters rooted in relatively straightforward problems.  (IMO, Iain M. Banks is still the master of this big, colossal universe and issues vs. two or three well-written, relatable characters).

Robinson isn't afraid to hide his agenda -- the Earth as we know it is going to be destroyed by human rapacity, and even colonizing other planets, moons, and asteroids (mostly asteroids) isn't going to solve some basic problems.

The climax of the novel (SPOILERS!) is the "re-wilding," where the two main characters manage to stage a massive re-population of the Earth's wildlife and, by extension, a revitalization of our planet's ravaged ecosystem.  The book really shines here, as Robinson matches a breathless narrative to some pretty complicated (for an idiot like me, at least) earth science / ecology issues.

Unlike Banks, Robinson doesn't seem to think interstellar travel will ever be a possibility for humans.  And so the stakes become even higher for a fully revitalized planet.  He suggests that the human species is so unconsciously tied to Earth that extended periods away from the planet will directly lower one's life-span.  People who live off-Earth, "spacers," are common enough, but without the occasional trip back to our Mother Planet they basically stunt their own life-spans or go crazy.

This is the first Robinson novel I've read, and I'm curious to pick up The Mars Trilogy, of which I take it 2312 is something of an addendum.  Still, I had no problems going into this one "cold" without having reading some of his earlier work.

Also, his take on the future of gender norms and sex is pretty mind-bending.  There are some moments of actual, literal poetry as well, which was welcome and unexpected in a "hard sci-fi" book.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

KOTESOL Continued

KOTESOL 2016 featured two keynote speakers.  The first was Thomas Farrell who spoke on teachers and "Reflective Practice," the active work of thinking about your teaching and how it impacts on your students.  While that sounds rather vague, the presentation itself was engaging.  He argued that teachers who actively reflect on their practice will directly encourage students to reflect as well, and become more active and engaged learners.

On Sunday, Harvard's Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa spoke on the nature of 21st century teaching.  It was an impressive overview of new emerging studies in cognitive science, behavioral science, and how the paradigm of "education" is moving towards one of "learning science."  She argued that teachers needed to embrace the inherent complexity of a field that is changing so quickly.

While these two presentations stood out, as mentioned, almost all of the talks I attended were great.  I'm planning on becoming more involved with TESOL while I'm in South Korea, and I'd encourage others to do the same.

The problem, of course, is that great conferences like KOTESOL require lots of resources, effort, and, ahem, money.  This year my boss managed to get my college to pay for our registration (non-members: 75,000 won), our train tickets, and our hotel.  I realize a lot of teachers in South Korea don't have this luxury, so it would be nice to see more colleges, public schools, and hagwon put up some money for an event that offers so much in the way of theoretical reflection, practical advice, and networking opportunities.

Quit While You're Behind

I'm still not convinced Trump makes it to election day.  He's obviously already trying to poison the well with claims of election "rigging."  But who's to say he doesn't go a step further and drop out entirely?  He gets to accomplish his goal of doing as much damage to American democracy as possible and he avoids the election night humiliation of losing to a girl.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


I had a great time last weekend at KOTESOL's 2016 International Conference.  I was really blown away by the quality and depth of the speakers, both actual Ph.D.-totin' academics and college instructors like me with mere M.A.'s and such.  (I did attend one hilariously awful talk, but honestly that's still a pretty good percentage of quality to dross over two days.)

I've got more to say, if only to suggest some really great books about teaching, but this week I'm also buried in grading midterm exams and crunching the data for me and my co-workers' own research paper.

As one co-worker suggested, our data is really good and adding up to something interesting but let's never use student word count as our primary data source ever again.

Friday, October 14, 2016

"I could hold you for a million years"

Adele, "Make You Feel My Love"

I guess I'm pretty much agnostic about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize.  I like his music just fine, but as I mentioned on The Twitterz he's as much a cultural icon as a musical one.  I'm about ten years too young to appreciate him as the former, but musically he remains an unstoppable force, creatively speaking.

If you put a gun to my head I guess I'd pick Blonde on Blonde as my favorite album.  Or maybe Highway 61 Revisited.  Or Blood on the Tracks.

And Adele covering Dylan is positively lovely.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

English Is A Language, Not A Test

So, a student told me that my “reputation” at my school was good except for one thing – grammar.

Yes, my beginner level students have decided my grammar sucks.

I thought about it and I’m pretty sure there’s a logical explanation.  A lot of my students have taken or are taking TOEIC classes (Test of English for International Communication).  This test is notorious for two things 1) high scores are required for good jobs in South Korea, even in positions that don’t require English ability and 2) it’s bullshit.

By bullshit, I mean that the test is notorious for “gotcha”-style grammar questions that focus on some of the most difficult, but also very obscure bits and bobs of English, and not really on on practical aspects of communication.

Thing is, my students have it ingrained in them from early on that English is not, in fact, a tool for human communication, but rather a series of obscure tricks and riddles that must be mastered if you ever want to make a decent salary.  English is not a language, but a test (in a country that is overly obsessed with tests and constant test-preparation).

So yes, because I teach my classes in a conversational and immersive manner (i.e., a manner accepted by contemporary language education folks as the best one) where the goal is communication first and obscure grammar points tenth or eleventh on my list of pedagogical goals, I am “bad grammar teacher.”

Only a Korean, non-native TOEIC course instructor, teaching English grammar in Korean, can properly grok English grammar because Korea.

Just today a report came out that the number of Native English Teachers in South Korea (NETs) is declining rapidly.

It's worth noting that I've been here long enough to recognize a pattern -- parents will complain NETs cost too much.  Then, five years later, they'll complain that they can't afford to send their kids to hagwon (private English after-school academies) where the bulk of teaching is done by -- wait for it -- NETs.

So in short, yes many NETs are incompetent.  But frankly, two things needs to happen: 1) increase the standards for the teachers you bring over and 2) stop treating NETs like clowns and their classes like "play time."  (Although play time can be an effective approach sometimes to proper immersion teaching, of course!)

Treat them like teachers and their classrooms like situations where language education can actually occur and, lo and behold, you might actually have some decent results in the end.

Let's maybe start by realizing white NETs have no inherent advantages over non-white ones?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Beyond Belief

Some good things about the South Korean national health care service?  It's cheap (I pay about 60 dollars of month to be on it), hospitals are common, and access is pretty much universal.

The bad news?  Do not -- repeat -- do not get into a car accident or suffer any kind of trauma involving internal bleeding.  Because Korean doctors will simply refuse to treat you:
“Kim [a two-year old] was hit by a car Friday in Jeonju, North Jeolla, and died after 13 hospitals refused to operate on him, saying they lacked operating rooms or surgeons. Kim died during an operation at Ajou University Hospital in Suwon, Gyeonggi.
‘The biggest failure lies with Chonbuk National University Hospital, whose doctors initially diagnosed the boy but later refused to do his operation,’ said an official from the Health and Welfare Ministry, ‘followed by Cheonnam National University Hopital and Eulji General Hospital for turning down the boy'.”
A toddler is bleeding to death and 13 hospitals refused to treat him.  Fucking madness.

Doctors who performed the initial diagnosis treat the foot but not the internal bleeding.  How is this not manslaughter?

The EMS helicopter won’t run because it’s after “working” hours.

As if murders and car accidents can’t happen after five, on the weekend, or on a national holiday.

What a clusterfuck.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

"clean bodies and clean minds"

A Korean chef is making waves in the global food scene.  She's a vegan monk (literally!):
"This is a woman who has never worked in a restaurant, let alone owned one. She’s never had any official culinary training and never published a cookbook. She doesn’t use garlic or onions in her (strictly vegan) recipes – ingredients which some Buddhists believe stimulate the libido. But Kwan has the New York restaurant scene in her thrall, directors climbing the steep, dusty half-mile between the temple and the small hermitage she shares with two other nuns – and an entirely new breed of acolytes queuing up to digest her wisdom. While she finds it the funny side of this, she also sees it as a useful means of propagating her own perspective on food preparation. For her, cooking should never be about greed – the licking of lips and the stuffing of faces. It should be about serving dishes as a means to a higher end: clean bodies and clean minds.
'Food is meant to nourish your body and help your mind find enlightenment,' she says. 'It’s a way of bringing humans back to nature, of clearing our minds for meditation. This is how we grow.' To illustrate her point, she jabs a tiny finger in my direction. 'You’re the soil,' she says. 'Food is the seed.'”
A few years back I went to a temple outside of Daegu for Buddha's Birthday (a national holiday in Korea).  On that day you can get a "free" bowl of vegetable bibimbap (but you're an idjit if you don't throw five thousand won into a collection box.)  It was good, but Ms. Kwan's dishes sound even better.

But also a small nitpick: "zen" is the Japanese term for Korean "seon" Buddhism.  Why so many writers use the former rather than the latter when talking about Korean, well, anything, is beyond me.

Note: Posts tagged with "Advanced Conversation" were used with my adult English students as jumping-off points for discussions.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

These Are Interesting Times We Are Living In, No?

Monday, October 3, 2016

That's Why They Pay Me The Big Bucks

Today's Warm-up Proverb, Idiom, or Slang Expression in English (tm) for my adult students was "beer goggles."

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Non-Political Trump Post For Reals

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Jessica Valenti on "Why the Mediocre Male's Days May Be Numbered":
"For women like Clinton who are advised to tone down their intelligence lest they come across as unlikeable, the debate and its aftermath mark a promising shift in the way that smart women are perceived. Finally, a man who was markedly less prepared and talented than his female opponent was called out as such. Finally, a woman who has spent her life doing her homework wasn’t made out to be a condescending shrew. Clinton’s best line of the night, in fact, was that unlike Trump, 'I prepared to be president.'
And on Wednesday morning, with multiple polls showing that Clinton dominated the debate, former Virginia senator John Warner, a Republican, endorsed her. 'She has always throughout her life prepared, done her homework, studied,' he said.
It’s a winning time for any woman who has ever been called bossy – the 'bitches', the know-it-alls, the Tracy Flicks and Leslie Knopes. Being studied and nerdy is almost never considered an admirable characteristic in a woman, but this week it was."
Well, there goes my promise to step away from political blogging.  But this whole article deserves to be repeated.

I'm fine with criticizing HRC.  I happen to think she'll be a very good president despite lacking the natural speaking gifts of Obama.

But the election is 40 days away.  And at this point, you're either voting to prevent fascism via a capable, competent woman or you're directly or indirectly going to enable it.

And voting to elect our first female president is an honor.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Life On Planet James

It's Like They Expect Me To Work Around Here Or Something

I just did my first batch of case study surveys and interviews for the research paper.  Four solid hours, after three hours of teaching my usual stuff.

I think we're on to some interesting data but jeebus, I'm tired.

I did manage to watch some highlight clips of the debate.  And it's clear to me now that I really don't appreciate sharing a planet, let alone a country, with Trump supporters.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Righteous Nomz

Korean-American food truck mastermind Roy Choi has now moved on to doing healthy-ish, fair wage fast food joints in working class neighborhoods.  Welcome to "the People's Cheeseburger" at Locol:
"Here’s the story you may have heard about Locol: In 2013, Roy Choi spoke at the MAD Symposium in Copenhagen, the TED Talks of the food world, and called on his fellow chefs to think beyond feeding the rich. He stood in front of the audience of culinary luminaries, including Patterson, and asked them a question: 'What if every high-caliber chef, all of us in here, told our investors as we were building restaurants, that we leveraged it [so that] for every restaurant we would build… it would be a requirement to build a restaurant in the hood, too?' Three months later, Patterson called up Choi, and, long story short, the duo were back in Copenhagen the next year, an odd-couple pairing of the lanky, studious fine-dining chef and the hip-hop- and weed-loving food truck king. Together, they unveiled their plans to launch Locol, and a revolution.
With its burgers and fried chicken sandwiches, Locol is recognizably a fast-food restaurant, despite the absence of counter-service standards like soda and French fries. But the greasy paper wrapper of the Locol 'cheeseburg' is deceptive. The patty is not all beef, as other chains may proudly advertise: Thirty percent of it is composed of cooked grains and tofu. It’s served on a whole-grain bun leavened with koji, the fermentation culture used to make sake, soy sauce, and miso, which is designed to reproduce the soft texture of white bread without sacrificing nutritional density. The dishes served are punctuated with various Korean and Mexican touches, like breakfast sandwiches loaded with carnitas, or a noodle bowl flavored with ginger and lime."
 If you haven't read it, Choi's biography -- pretty much the confessions of a self-admitted first-generation Korean-American fuck-up who was rescued when he discovered his passion for cooking and bringing together the various flavors of southern California -- is a great, quick read.  It also contains a recipe after every chapter, which is kind of brilliant.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

(Possibly Quite Boring) Research Paper Update

It's near the end of week four of the semester, and my research project continues apace.  Me and my two foreigner co-workers have collected data on foreign language anxiety (F.L.A.) in the form of a peer-reviewed survey, and we also collected less formal voice and video recordings of our students telling us what they like or don't like about studying and using English.

The real fun begins next week when we bring in sample students for longer interviews.  Half of them have been studying in classes which have employed Socratic-style seminars, and half of them have been in control groups without the seminars.

The seminars themselves were 30-45 minute exchanges where we arranged the desks into concentric circles and we sat down with the students rather than standing at the classroom podium / computer stand.  The goal was to immerse them into a much more peer-oriented, less teacher-oriented environment than they're used to.

We won't have all our data collected for another two weeks but so far it seems as if we're going to confirm what might have been obvious all along -- the students really seemed to enjoy engaging with us in a more level, egalitarian manner, but given their status as limited English proficient learners (L.E.P.) there was only so far a purely Socratic style, question-based lesson could go.

Still, it'll be interesting to see if the students who did the seminars have more confidence or a more positive take on their own English learning than the ones who didn't.  We shall see!

Barb, We Hardly Knew Ya

"The Synth Sounds of Stranger Things"

Here's a very cool video guide as to how classic 80's synths were used to make the soundtrack to Stranger Things.  Here's a more in-depth guide to the retro tech that was involved.

As mentioned, as much as I liked the series I think it started much stronger than it ended.  I wouldn't say I was disappointed exactly, but for a show going in so many weird directions the last episode felt pretty conventional in comparison to the rest of the series.  (The bit with the sheriff leaving some Eggos in the woods was great though.)

Then again, it was nice to have a tidy eight-show run that actually did manage to answer and resolve some of its own "big" questions with just enough left to the imagination for a second season.

"the worst of America stuffed into a nacho cheese casing"

Drew Magary on Trump:
"Trump is human waste. He is the worst of America stuffed into a nacho cheese casing, and he is emblematic of the kind of arrogant, flag-waving, trashy, racist moron that the rest of us have to DRAG kicking and screaming into the 21st century: Cliven Bundy, Sean Hannity, Kim Davis, and on and on and on. Trump voters are the people who have spent the past decade or so voting insipid obstructionists into office, sending death threats to anyone who even mentions the idea of gun control, demanding 100% tax cuts on millions of dollars they can only daydream about making, and getting suckered in by any Oil Party candidate waving a NO GAYS flag. Fuck them. These are needy hillbilly loons who are just as starved for attention as Trump himself. And voting for Trump is their way of emulating him, of saying FUCK YOU to everyone else as a mission statement, with no regard for the fallout."
One of my favorite bits of conservative "wisdom" regarding the rise of Trumpolini is that if only us sissy-man libruls had been nicer to real, honest-to-Jeebus Americans (meaning, of course, white middle-age and older males) then that nice Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush would have won the nomination.

Obviously, this is bullshit.  Trump is a mere symptom of American conservatism's inherent racist and fascist streaks, not a cause in himself.

And Magary is on to something here.  As mentioned, I won't shed any tears if Trump is elected.  I'm going to vote, and maybe donate some money, and encourage my friends and colleagues to do likewise.

But if a majority of American voters really are dumb and / or cynical enough, then fuck 'em.  It's really as simple as that.  Fuck them and let them reap the whirlwind.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"I Went Into Therapy For A Year"

This is pretty much perfection in the form of pop musical history crack -- an oral history of Starship's "We Built This City."  To wit:
"Member of successful '80s band: Our producer brought the demo to us. It's the most pussy thing I've ever heard. 'Knee-deep in the hoopla'? Well, even Mark Twain wrote some bad prose. Don't quote any of this."
Then, vocalist Grace Slick:
"I was such an asshole for a while, I was trying to make up for it by being sober, which I was all during the '80s, which is a bizarre decade to be sober in."
Vocalist Mickey Thomas:
"When the song went to No. 1, I said to Bernie, 'More than ever, people are gonna ask what "Marconi plays the mamba" means.' He said, 'I have no fucking idea, mate.'”
Bassist Pete Sears:
"In 1987, I quit the band. And I went into therapy for a year. At times, I've thought it is the worst song ever, yes. Occasionally, now, I hear 'We Built This City' in a supermarket, or in some movie, and I'm grateful that it helps renew my health insurance, via SAG-AFTRA."
 The whole thing is gold, my friends.

Korean Diaspora

A nice piece on the complicated and fascinating story of Koreans in Uzbekistan:
"My grandfather lived a relatively successful life in Uzbekistan. He went to study in Moscow and was later sent to work in rural Ukraine, where he met his future Russian wife, a woman who was working in the same town. They returned to Tashkent together in 1957, already married and with my one-year-old mother.
For most of his life, my grandfather worked as a chief engineer in the construction bureau at a major industrial plant in Tashkent. He developed and patented a lot of technical innovations for cotton picking machinery – we still keep all his certificates of achievement at home.
This is how the Korean community is ingrained in our social fabric – as extremely hard working people and quite a prosperous diaspora. In fact, many Koreans – including Nikolay’s mother and my grandfather – have been awarded with numerous state medals for their very hard labor during the Soviet times.
Uzbek Koreans are also known for their indisputable role in the development of Uzbekistan’s national agriculture. Traditional peasants, they passed to Uzbek locals their generations-worth of farming knowledge and techniques. Even now, the best types of rice grown in Uzbekistan and used in the preparation of most representative Uzbek dishes are still lovingly called 'Korean.'"
 Click through for some great pictures and video.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Little Things That Count

One thing you'll notice if you live in South Korea along enough is that drivers, and especially cab drivers, will violently pull up the parking break at any given red light.  I mentioned this to a foreigner co-worker at lunch today, and he mentioned that he actually failed the Korean driver's license test after being admonished for not yanking it up at every stop.

You learn something new every day.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

On The Beach

Chuseok in Busan was fun as always.  The weather was actually great for two of the three days I was there but it started raining towards the end.  Eating almost nothing but Indian and Spanish food was a treat as well.

Monday, September 12, 2016


There were two big earthquakes in Daegu last night.  I live on the top floor of a seven-floor building and I was convinced it was about to topple.

So I walked down the stairs to see what was going on, and there was my lovely imbecile doorman blithely watching people take the elevator that he had decided not to turn off.

Good times.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Well, I'm an idiot but you probably already knew that.  Simply using CTRL-SHIFT-V will paste a quotation as plain text.  So hopefully this blog will look a little less fugly from now on.

Meanwhile, the first incarnation of Wet Casements remains over here.  If you made the jump with me over here to Blogger, thank you very much!

I tweet over here.

I tumbl over here (warning: I'm known to habitually re-blog Guy Fieri LOL .gifs.)

I only have a two-day work week coming up thanks to Korean Thanksgiving, and I'm headed to Busan for a few days on Wednesday to enjoy the beach.

Meanwhile, in a fit of productivity, I binge-watched Stranger Things this weekend.  I'll say a few things about it in the next few days.  For now, I loved it.  But it definitely started stronger than it finished.  And the music was incredible.

"it ended as one where nobody had to die"

I think the conclusion here is a bit over-determined, but there's still something to it -- the current success of superhero flicks has a lot to do with Americans wanting to "re-write" 9/11:
"Superhero films are the dominant cinematic force right now. They make money hand over fist, and their releases turn into genuine pop culture events. But we miss their point — we miss the why of them. These films are pop culture's most sustained response to tragedy. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, America turned to superpowered heroes to rewrite that day so that it ended as one where nobody had to die.
Superhero movies, in some ways, aim to turn that day into something out of myth, like the ancients might have recast a real tragedy as an epic tale of heroism. This is one of the ways we process grief — in our tales.
And the further we get into the cinematic superhero era — now almost 15 years long — the more explicit these films get about both their real-world impetus and about the way America responded to that tragedy."
I agree with a lot of this, but the argument works best with the New York-centric Avengers and Avengers-affiliated films.  The writer does admit that our current superhero boom actually began before 9/11 with Blade in 1998 and the first X-Men in 2000.

There's a more simple explanation as well -- first, CGI got good enough in the 90's for people flying around in ridiculous costumes to be a little more palatable and, second, the divide between "children's" and "adult" entertainment pretty much disappeared as Gen X and Y came of age with a healthy hunger for the stuff they grew up on.

(And this is part of the reason we're doomed to endless sequels and re-boots for the next 30 years at least.)

Friday, September 9, 2016

"nothing is for free"

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, "Skeleton Tree"

Nick Cave's new album is, somewhat predictably, as beautiful as it is devastating.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Crickets On The Right

I know I promised to steer clear of USian politics until November, if only because there is no "dialogue" to be had with somebody stupid and / or cynical enough to pull the lever for Trump, but Brian Beutler is worth quoting -- "Last Call, Cowards!":
"This would be a reasonable thing to say in Canada, where the entire campaign season lasts about two months. But Clinton announced her candidacy nearly 17 months ago, and Trump did the same two months later. Any American who pays attention to politics—as sitting congressmen and former attorneys general do, and an untold number of other conservatives—ought to know everything there is to know about the candidates.
It is remarkable that this acute bout of political naiveté, this mysterious failure of the faculties required to choose a preferred candidate, has afflicted members of only one major party, and at such a critical moment. After all, if Trump is going to pull off an upset, he needs skeptics to fall in line now; likewise, if Trump-skeptics are privately terrified of what a Trump presidency might portend, they are being extremely reckless by allowing him to narrow the gap with Clinton without saying a word."
Somehow "coward" seems far too kind a word, given what's at stake.

Pleasure And Pain

Yo La Tengo, "Return To Hot Chicken"

A loving ode to the Nashville dish hot chicken:

"Technically, hot chicken is straightforward. The flavor profile has likely evolved since Thornton Prince took his first bite, and every restaurant claims to have a secret preparation. But in essence, it is fried chicken coated in a paste largely consisting of cayenne and other dried spices with a splash of hot oil from the fryer. Because the paste is oil-based and searingly hot, the skin stays crisp, unlike buffalo wings, which are prone to either drying out or getting gloppy in a hurry. (Hot chicken predates the first buffalo wing by three decades.) The finished product has a lurid, reddish hue that, depending on the spice level, ranges from California sunset to the bowels of hell. Hot chicken is served with two mandatory accompaniments: a slice of plain old white bread upon which the bird is perched and a few pickle chips skewered to the chicken with a toothpick.
That’s it. It is, in my opinion, a damn-near perfect dish. The lines that separate love and hate, pleasure and pain, expectation and reality — they dissolve when you eat hot chicken. If you do it right, it will hurt. You might cry. And you will spend the next week thinking about when you might have it again."

Also, it's hot:

"The rest of the body responds accordingly. Your temperature increases. You start sweating profusely. The blood vessels in your face begin to dilate to rush blood in and out of the problem site, causing swelling and redness. Snot is dripping from your nose. But then you start to feel loopy. The body thinks it’s on fire, so it unleashes a wave of endorphins to help quell the burning. You start to feel something akin to a runner’s high. The sharp stinging pain will subside, but the rush — and subsequent sense of tranquility — lasts a bit longer."

Here in South Korea, it's not uncommon to hear a friend tell me that they'll eat the spiciest food they can when they're feeling stressed or depressed.  And now, Science!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

To The Stars!

This is awesome -- the competition between U.S. and Soviet artists to envision the forthcoming "Space Race" brought together people as disparate as Norman Rockwell, Walt Disney, and Wernher von Braun.  Early on:

"For Rockwell, who was used to laboring over a painting for weeks or months with life models, working with NASA was a unique challenge. The agency would send him constant updates as the plans and designs of the lunar module changed and were updated, giving the painter—accustomed to creating with physical reference in front of him—a massive headache.
The man who eventually brokered the deal that got Rockwell his spacesuit was the director of NASA’s Art Program, James Dean. 'I had [NASA’s first Chief of the Astronaut Office] Deke Slayton mad at me on one side and Norman Rockwell aggravated at me on the other,' he said. The suit was delivered to Rockwell’s studio, on the condition that it be returned every day and brought back again the next with its own technician and babysitter.
On January 10, 1967, over two years before Neil Armstrong first put his footprint in moondust, Look magazine published Rockwell’s painting. In it, a small spacecraft sits in the blasted landing area, with gray moon rocks in the foreground. From the small weathered capsule, bearing the flag of the United States, two figures emerge. One carries a handheld video camera, the other has one foot raised, his heel making first contact with an alien surface. This was the American public’s first glimpse of what would eventually become an incredible reality."

Obviously, the propaganda value of all this stuff was quite high.  Rockwell was basically brought in to "sell" the upcoming moon landing to the American public.  But the images created by him and other early conceptual space artists speak for themselves.

Also, Chesley Bonestell.