Sunday, July 31, 2016

Be Very Afraid

I finally saw The Witch last night.  If you like your horror intelligent, off-putting, and highly ambiguous then grab your broomstick and fly to the nearest Netflix.  (Huh?)

It wears its low budget proudly on its sleeve.  It uses very simply physical effects with just the right smidgen of CGI and natural lighting to recreate the feel and tone of the New England frontier of the 17th century.  There is capital-C Civilization and there is The Wilderness, and it's clear from an opening shot which side you should want to be on.

And there's plenty to love for early American Literature nerds as well.  The script borrows heavily and directly from the letters, journals, and court documents of the Puritans.  The most significant scene in the film has a young boy directly quoting John Winthrop in a very clever nod to underlying tensions of Puritan theology (god must love me because he obviously hates me!).

It's really good.  It's arguably one of the most Feminist horror movies ever.  And you'll want to sleep with the lights on when it's done.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

"Don't Boo, Vote"

I've been watching the DNC sporadically, and kind of nibbled on the low-lights of the dumpster fire that was the RNC.  (Baio-mentum!)

Is there a word for a pretty strong optimism met with deep, complete fatalism?

I was telling my (Korean) boss the other day that I'm a life-long Democrat.  I like Hillary (but would've voted for Bernie if he'd pulled it out).  And I was explaining to him that due to the partisan divide in America, Trump was going to get at least 40 percent of the vote no matter what as the Republcian nominee.  On the other hand, Hillary winning by even five percentage points nationally was actually a landslide in modern American politics.

The larger point is, I'm going to vote.  I'm going to do what I can to get my friends and co-workers to vote.  I'll donate a small bit of cash.

And if at the end of the day that isn't enough, and Americans really are stupid or cynical enough to pull the lever for the Orange Mussolini, well, I'll be greatly saddened.  But I won't be crushed.

I can only sacrifice so much of my psychological well being to the fact that so many of my fellow Americans are racist clowns.

And for better or worse, that's why this blog will probably be less political in nature than it has been in the past.  There's everything to say about this spectacle of an election, and then again nothing at all.

Register to vote, please.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

No Difference Between The Parties

Daegu is making me melt. This is all I got.

Friday, July 22, 2016


Another timely delivery from Seoul's WhatTheBook?  We've got three authors I've never read before: Han Kang, Kim Stanley Robinson, and two by Matt Ruff.

Lovecraft Country has a very cool, pulp-themed cover in hardback.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

True Fact

I approve of everything in this piece as to how "You Can Say It: Summer Is Garbage."  Here's a bit on sleeping:

"Either you are cooking slowly in a bain marie of your own sweat or you are woken at 3 AM by some inexplicable sunrise or else every single animal in the world has decided to go loudly insane in the heat and as such are growling and chirping outside your bedroom where you, sticky with your own grotesque perspiration, toss and turn on top of a comforter and underneath a sheet because down means up and up means down here in summer, the worst season of the year by far."
Leave my bedroom AC on when I got to sleep and risk waking up with pneumonia?  Pretty bad, but the only alternative to waking up in a pool of my own dank sweat.

Oh Daegu summer, I do not like you one bit.

Uncharted Territory

I'm willing to bet the strangest part of the multi-month dumpster fire that has been Trump won't be the ongoing convention which has, indeed, been something to marvel at for all the wrong reasons.  No, I'm guessing the real Twilight Zone moments will come in about October, with Hillary owning a healthy 8-10 point national lead in polling, and a deep blue Electoral College outlook.

Because that's when Donald Trump, a man who could never possibly allow himself to be beaten by a mere woman, announces that he has received credible threats of a HRC / CIA / Obama assassination plot against himself and his family, and he'll be throwing the nomination back to the Republican Party at a point when it's far too late for them to launch any credible resistance against eight more years of Democratic White House, and probably Senate, and maybe House rule.

I don't normally offer financial advice but it you think popcorn futures were going up last week, just wait until this fall.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

From Foreign To Common

To say the least, America has a complex relationship with foreign food:

"When immigrant food is brought into the American fold, another big question, aside from whether it will be thought of as high- or low-end, is how long it will be considered exotic; food can be a useful entry point to thinking about how immigrant cultures are absorbed into the American mainstream, and what 'mainstream' might look like in just a few decades. Only 80 or so years ago, The New York Times published an article that, to make a point about how radically Americans’ eating habits were changing, imagined a 'hodge-podge' of “strange dishes” that a family at the time could plausibly plop on the dinner table next to each other, no matter how objectionable such a spread may have seemed. Those strange dishes? Spaghetti, meatballs, corn on the cob, sauerkraut, fruit salad, and apple pie. Yesterday’s strange hodgepodge is today’s boring dinner.

For quite a while, in fact, 'foreign' food was simply shorthand for German food. That’s what writers in the Times meant virtually anytime they referred to foreign food between the 1850s, when the paper was founded, and around the 1920s. In the mid- to late 1800s, when relatively poor German immigrants were first arriving in the U.S. en masse, their sauerkraut and sausages were denied incorporation into the American culinary canon. Decades later, only after generations of Germans built wealth and social capital, the hot dog’s American-ness does not require elaboration."

It's an interesting article, but it seems like a lot of foodie trends these days are towards "authentic" (scare quotes!) street food rather than towards the upper end of the dining scale.

Friday, July 15, 2016


The saddest thing about terrorism is that it's cheap and it works.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

What About The Voice of Geddy Lee?

Rush, "Bastille Day" live

True Fact: My band in high school covered this song.  It almost got one of us laid once.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Rise Above

Chvrches ft Hayley Williams, "Bury It"

Had a very long and, to everyone's surprise, very productive meeting with my co-workers on the research paper.  Our methodology is starting to take shape as part of a two-part study (student projects and a select set of one-on-one interviews).

Let's celebrate with some Scottish synthpop, shall we?

New Adventures in WTF, Korea?

I don't think anybody looks forward to a job interview, but in South Korea people, especially women, really don't appreciate them for obvious reasons:

"Among those who said they had unpleasant experiences, 26 percent of them said they felt so because the interviewers ask them questions that are private and totally irrelevant to the job.

Kang, a 26-year-old female job seeker, was recently asked questions like “What kind of man do you like?” She said she is afraid of taking interviews now. 

Another female job seeker surnamed Kim said she had a similar experience. 

She answered the type of man she prefers and the male interviewer winked at her and said, “then you would want to date someone like me.”



I'm about 50 pages from finishing Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy.  The third book is, frustratingly, the most exciting and the most long-winded.  It focuses on the British takeover of Hong Kong from China during the Opium Wars (using mostly Indian troops) and that stuff is great.  But he also throws out at least four difference romantic sub-plots that are all pretty similar and not nearly as funny as he seems to think they are.
Also, five pages of a long joke about masturbation is great.  50 pages, not so much.
Still, he’s a master of evocation.  You really feel as if you’re there, watching the British annihilate Chinese forces in order to force China to take in opium grown in India.  (The gleeful British traders coined the phrase "free trade" to celebrate their triumph.)
It just feels like the final installment was a bit of a chore at 600 pages, whereas I flew through the first two.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

I Ain't Afraid of No Reboot

I don't care about the original Ghostbusters or the re-make.

Where's my gold star, internet?


I'm in my office on a Sunday (!) working on the paper.  One of my foreign co-workers / office-mates is also here (!!).  Anyhow, tomorrow we're meeting with foreign co-worker no. 3 to start talking methodology for our research paper on using effective questions to build confidence in beginner level English students.  Incredibly sexy, no?

So for the past two weeks we've been working on our literature review, and I was given the task of going over 1) foreign language anxiety ("F.L.A.") and 2) differences between Western and Asian teaching styles.

F.L.A. is a surprisingly contentious issue, academically speaking.  It's a concept that began in the 1980's but during the 90's people criticized it for focusing solely on the classroom environment and being far too teacher-oriented.  F.L.A. definitely exists, but defining it merely as a classroom phenomenon ignores the larger context of people using foreign languages in social and work situations as well.  (Technically speaking, the E.S.L. context, where students are living in countries where the "target language" is already being spoken.)

Even more interesting is the literature on Western and Asian (if you prefer, Confucian) teaching and learning styles.  There are lots of papers and even some books out there on this issue (believe me!) and, unsurprisingly, lots of debate.  The general sense is that while stereotypes about "passive," "submissive" Asian students and "active," "student oriented" Western teachers remain quite strong to this day, lots of good research has shown that this divide tends to be overblown.  There may be strong cultural divisions in the classroom, but effective teachers can break these down by empowering their students to participate and learn actively, and by modeling the behavior of how to engage with a teacher as an equal.  In the worst case scenario, an English teacher might excuse her own deficiencies with the cultural stereotype that her Korean students are just too damn passive to learn anything.

I could go on.  I won't.  As far as academic writing goes this is all pretty niche stuff, so it's nice to be turning to the more practical side of things.  (Most of our data will come from taped interviews with selected students starting in September.)  But this whole project has kind of tickled a part of my brain that I haven't really stretched since graduate school.  Changes of pace are usually a good thing.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Here We Go Again

In the wake of the Dallas police shootings, it's astonishing to see so many Republicans who somehow thought the election of our first black president could miraculously erase five centuries of white violence against black bodies.

Also telling that trained law enforcement officials initially mistook one guy with one military-grade rifle for four highly trained snipers.  Hey, turns out if you make military-grade firepower legal for anybody to buy you're basically going to turn American neighborhoods into war zones.

That'll Do, Pig. That'll Do.

Here's a video of a wild boar storming into a Korean pork soup restaurant, no doubt in an act of triumphant revenge.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

My First Complaint Post!

My god, Blogger is awful at importing text and not allowing you to change it to what you already have in use, font and font-size-wise.

Anyone know any tricks for this that don't involve going into the HTML?  I can't believe it's even an issue.

Who Gets To Speak "Real" Chinese?

Historically, the advent of mass communication in the form of television, newspapers, and radio tends to homogenize languages.  Regional English dialects in the United Kingdom were "normalized" by things like the BBC.  The American Mid-Atlantic Accent became the most popular accent for TV and film due primarily to market forces.  But now in China, social networking is having the reverse effect:

"This linguistic homogenisation is being enforced, however, just as a number of forces are pushing in the opposite direction. Technology is empowering regional languages, of which there are hundreds, and enhancing the centrifugal effect of migration, modernity and social change. Young people, empowered by mobile phones and computers, are changing the way they use their own language and breaking out of the straitjacket that has restricted communication for millennia. The trends in language mirror broader tensions between centralising, top-down forces trying to prevent dissent, and bottom-up trends among an increasingly empowered populace. They are adding to social fault lines that the Communist Party fears may threaten national unity. 
Linguistically, China wants to be like America—a country where language and script are unified. In reality it is like medieval Europe—a continent full of different languages, nominally united by a written lingua franca. Before the 20th century, regional Chinese literati could communicate on paper in classical Chinese, but barely in conversation, just as European scholars communicated in Latin. The fracturing of Europe, politically and religiously, led to the emergence of written regional vernaculars like English and German."
 I speak absolutely no Chinese, but apparently the Chinese government refers to Cantonese (the Chinese of Hong Kong and Guangzhou) as a "dialect" of Mandarin.  That's at very best an understatement, if not an outright howler.

Monday, July 4, 2016

"there is only darkness in today's world"

Korea Herald on the history of the Korean obsession with "perfect" English:
"Some experts say a deeply rooted inferiority complex, admiration for English-speaking societies and the fixation on continuing the country’s industrialization with globalization may be factors behind the English craze.
In the book 'Korean and English,' author Gang Jun-man describes the deeply rooted English craze via 1930s advertisements in the Chosun Ilbo newspaper.  
'Old or young, if you don’t speak English, there is only darkness in today’s world' and 'Those who do not know English are the losers of the society,' the ad copy read. 
Gang said English has been used as a means to gain power since colonial times, with many prominent figures using the language to move up the social ladder and top-tier universities adopting English tests for entrance exams even back then."
Wanting to speak English fluently isn't a bad thing in itself, and I'm certainly happy to have a job teaching it, but the pressure to speak perfectly also drives a lot of South Koreans completely neurotic when it comes time to speak to an actual foreigner.

A huge part of the problem is the TOEIC, or the Korean standard English test which focuses primarily on grammar rather than communication.  Many companies will require a minimum TOEIC score even for jobs where speaking English isn't necessary.  And so from an early age, Koreans approach English not so much as a language but as a painful series of tests they must master at all costs, laden with tricks and traps (the TOEIC is notorious for gotcha-type grammatical questions that even native English speakers would have trouble with).

Another problem comes in the form of intermediate level students who want to improve their English but are literally too ashamed to speak to a foreigner for fear of making mistakes.  They've internalized a fear of failure when they should be working to boost their confidence levels.  Of course, you can only do this by making mistakes.

And so English remains an apocalyptic, all-or-nothing affair for Koreans, rather than what it actually is -- just another language, just another tool for two beings to squawk at one another in hopes of understanding, among thousands of others.  And one where a partial grasp is better than no grasp at all.

But if perfect fluency is the only desirable outcome and anything less is shameful, why bother in the first place?

Note: Advanced Conversation posts quote from articles I've discussed with my adult conversation students.

Sunday, July 3, 2016


Q and not U, "And The Washington Monument Blinks Goodnight"

Happy Fourth of July!  It's rainy and damp and decidedly un-summer like here in lurvely Daegu, but I miss my family and friends back in the US a little extra bit more today.

Hankering for a a bratwurst grilled by somebody's drunk uncle right about now.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Summer Update

The good news: this August I'll be making my annual trip to America to see my family in Washington, D.C. and Seattle.  It's always great to see them.

More good news: the semester is over and my grading is done!  For anyone who puts up with me on Twitter, you're probably aware that as much as I enjoy teaching, I've always hated grading.  Throw in the fact that South Korean hyper-bureaucracy (i.e., tons of paperwork) is a definite thing, and the end of every semester can actually be a bit stressful.  But I really pushed myself to just get the stuff done this time around, and it worked out.

Funny how discipline actually pays off at times.

Potentially great news: Me, my boss, and my two foreigner co-workers won a stipend from our college to write a research paper about using more effective teaching methods in the classroom.  We're putting together a study regarding effective questions based on the Socratic Method in the less English proficient (L.E.P.) classroom.  (That's fancy pedagogy speak for beginner level students.)  Over at the old place I was starting to do some posts based around our research so far, and while some of it is pretty damn dry it's nice to be able to articulate some of the things that I've always felt instinctively while in the classroom regarding what works and what doesn't.

Long story short, this is going to be a very busy July for me even though my main classes are over for the summer.  We've got to be ready to do our research when the next semester starts up at the end of August, which is probably going to involve recording conversations with five to ten of our students from every class (which can range from 25 to 50 students on average).  We're finishing up our literature review now and moving on to working out the methodology next week.

Other than that, it's jang-ma season here in lurvely Daegu.  Jang-ma are basically heavy summer rains, and the streets and gutters of Korea go from perfectly dry to drenched and swelling within minutes.  So now it's hot, humid, sticky, and insufferably damp!  Good times!

"I want that information very much today"

"Wet Casements" is a poem by John Ashbery.  You can read it here.  If you go down to the "Naropa Institute" listing here you can listen to a recording of it.

"home's where I belong"

Pavement, "Blue Hawaiian"

There's a lot of work to do on this here new blog and I'm pretty busy with work these days, so expect slow, incremental improvements as I get up to speed.

Meanwhile, I tweet over here and I tumbl over here.