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.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Short-hair Version, Obviously

Contact High

There's nothing quite like sending my students out for their ten minute mid-class break and having them come back in an almost literal fog of cigarette smoke.

Those dudes (and a few dudettes) sure do stink.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Sympathy But No Sympathy

Speaking as an Official Old (42!), I tend to defend Millennials at all times.  They catch a lot of shit for having been basically born into a terrible economy with elders who decided about 20 years ago that while benefits like free college and actual pensions were good enough for them, they'd have to slashed for their children and grand-children because Neoliberalism.

That said, with the decision by Youtube (i.e., Google) to stop "monetizing" videos they feel are too controversial or political and the resulting backlash, I think we're seeing a potential blind spot for those under 35.

If you grew up on a media-consuming environment of Youtube and Vimeo and Twitter and tumblr, it's possible you take these entities for granted as "free" or "natural" or "impartial."  They're just simply kind of out there and always have been, and the people who created them wanted nothing more than for you to have the ability to make stuff and put it online and, sometimes, make money off of it!

And even when the CEO of Twitter himself admits they're doing a terrible job of fighting online hate speech, your sympathies for social media outlets to remain as "neutral" as possible when dealing with the content generated by individual users are probably quite high.  I mean, for a while now these companies have created a network for you to upload stuff at will that might make you internet famous, or even rich.  Win-win!

But the most important cliche of the 21st century so far goes like this -- if you aren't the customer, you're the product.  Youtubers might feel like they're suffering censorship now, but it's basically the long hand of the market.  Your freedom of expression was never really the issue.  It was actually completely orthogonal to Youtube's monetary interests (and by extension, literally, Google's.)

I mean, at least Facebook has always been honest about how its advertisers come first and your freedom of expression doesn't mean spit.  (And it's no surprise that they continue to make money hands over fists.)

To think that the Apples and Googles and Twitters of today's meda-rich world are somehow better or more enlightened than the salt mines and widget factories of the pre-2000's isn't just wrong, it's dangerous.  It's part of a humanistic spin that's been added to the world of "creative" work and living.  It's ignoring what us Olds have known for a while -- major companies are not your friend.  They never were.  They never will be.

However, they do tend to have excellent P.R. (Which is kind of the ultimate killer app.)

Now, get your selfie-stick off of my lawn.