Saturday, September 24, 2016

a must-read if you still think communism/socialism's a good thing

An article by a man who actually lived through socialism's effects.

Meaty quote:

Communists opposed both profit and competition. They saw profit-making as useless and immoral. In their view, capitalists did not work in the conventional sense. The real work of building the bridges and plowing the fields was done by the workers. The capitalists simply pocketed the company’s profits once the workers’ wages have been paid out. Put differently, communist believed that the capitalist class exploited the working class – and that was incompatible with the communist goal of a classless and egalitarian society.

But capitalists are neither useless nor immoral. For example, capitalists often invest in new technologies. Companies that have revolutionized our lives, like Apple and Microsoft, received their initial funding from private investors. Because their own money is on the line, capitalists tend to be much better at spotting good investment opportunities than government bureaucrats. That is why capitalist economies, not communist ones, are the leaders in technological innovation and progress.

Moreover, by investing in new technologies and by creating new companies, capitalists provide consumers with a mind-boggling variety of goods and services, create employment for billions of people, and contribute trillions of dollars in tax revenue. Of course, all investment involves at least some level of risk. Capitalists reap huge profits only when they invest wisely. When they make bad investments, capitalists often face financial ruin.

Unfortunately, communists did not share the above views and banned private investment, private property, risk-taking and profit-making. All large privately held enterprises, like shoe factories and steel mills, were nationalized. A vast majority of small privately held enterprises, like convenience stores and family farms, were also taken over by the state. The expropriated owners seldom received any compensation. Everyone now became a worker and everyone worked for the state.


I am sometimes asked why, if communism was so inefficient, it had survived as long as it did. Part of the reason rests in the brute force with which the communists kept themselves in power. Part of it rests in the emergence of smugglers, who made the economy run more smoothly. When, for example, a communist shoe factory ran out of glue, the factory manager called his contact in the “shadow” or “underground” economy. The latter would then obtain the glue by smuggling it out of the glue factory or from abroad. Smuggling was illegal, of course, but it was preferable to dealing with the government bureaucracy—which could take years. So, in a sense, communism’s longevity can be ascribed to the emergence of a quasi-market in goods a favors (or services).

Look at Venezuela. Look at North Korea, with its emergence of a quasi-market. Look at any country that insists on centralizing its economy, and on state management of major affairs, business or otherwise. Do these places look healthy to you? If not, then why, why do you continue to insist that communism and socialism are good things?

Friday, September 23, 2016

that scheduled tiff

I heard there's a certain debate coming up in a few days—the first of three.* I won't be watching it, partly because I'm not invested in either candidate, and partly because it hurts to listen to either candidate speak. There are all sorts of claims being made as to which candidate will mop the floor with which. One fought his way improbably to the top of a large field of contenders; the other has had an easy time, thus far, unless we include the recent Commander-in-Chief Forum with Matt Lauer. One prefers to say whatever pops into his head, even if it's self-contradictory; the other is extremely well practiced when it comes to lawyerly obfuscation, even when that involves self-contradiction.

But while I'm not interested in watching the upcoming debate, I'll be very interested in reading and watching the ensuing commentary. And as always, I'll be watching the polls, whether we're talking RCP or Nate Silver.

*Three presidential debates, one vice-presidential debate.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

crossing over

Strange bedfellows, indeed.

1. George H.W. Bush says he'll be voting for Hillary.

2. RFK's former speechwriter, Adam Walinsky, says he'll be voting for Trump.

Styxhexenhammer666 says the Bush thing is not so strange.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

the things I do to myself

It all began while I was sitting cross-legged on my bed this past Sunday. I was in a leg-scratching mood, so I randomly scratched at my right foot's pinky toe and found a nasty flap of callused skin. Naturally, I began to pick at it... and pick at it...

By the time I finished picking, I had used nail clippers and other instruments to remove every last trace of the offending callus, and my pinky toe was blissfully smooth. Satisfied, I thought nothing more of the matter until Monday.

On Monday, I noticed that my right shoe seemed tighter than usual: the shoe felt as though it were squeezing my pinky toe against its neighboring toe. As the day wore on, the pain worsened, especially during my periodic walks with my coworker, and my mind began riffling through pages of diagnostic possibilities until I finally realized that it all came back to that little self-pedicure session I'd had on Sunday.

Conclusion: the shoe hadn't suddenly shrunk. Instead, my toe's skin had been picked at and abraded to the point where it was gossamer-thin, so the pinky toe had been rubbing against the shoe and sock all day long. By the time I stripped my sock off on Monday evening, I saw the toe's outward-facing side was all red—not bloody, exactly, but very, very raw. On Tuesday morning, I showered, dried, and wrapped my toe in a bandage in the hopes of minimizing friction and reducing pain. I can report that friction was minimized.

So I'm off from creekside walking this week while my toe heals. Am contemplating buying sandals... assuming I can find any in my size in this Lilliputian country. But it's no use resenting Korea for its smallness; I brought this upon myself through my own stupidity.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

spot the error

A blockquote from over at Matt's fine blog provides us with this beauty:

Widely assumed to be a “gay disease,” even by some of the country’s most influential doctors, AIDS patients are often disowned by family, thrown out of hospitals, and refused vital care.

Did you spot the problem? It is
a. a punctuation error.
b. a dangling modifier.
c. a tense error.
d. a participial error.

Highlight the area between the brackets below to reveal the answer.

[The correct answer is B: a dangling modifier. The sentence begins with the modifier "Widely assumed to be a 'gay disease,'" so the subject of the main clause ought to be "AIDS," but instead, the subject is the noun phrase "AIDS patients." As written, the sentence is saying that AIDS patients are widely assumed to be a gay disease. Very awkward, that.]

spaghetti with pork sausage and shiitake

Bizarre to use shiitake mushrooms, I know, but I had no choice: my local grocery was out of all other mushrooms.

The homemade Italian-style pork sausage turned out brilliantly. One thing I've come to learn, now that I've made this sort of sausage (without skin) several times, is that fennel seeds, while key to evoking the Italianness of Italian sausage, can be used sparingly to produce this effect. For three pounds of ground pork, I used a bit more than a half-teaspoon of fennel seeds, and that turned out to be plenty. Good to remember: those seeds are potent.

If the sausage lacks anything, though, it's the sort of fattiness I expect from the store-bought version. The next time I make more, I'm going to experiment a bit and add a spicy oil; my local grocery sells several types of those, including one that purports to be hellishly hot. I'm not actually looking to make hellishly spicy sausage, but that might be interesting to try some day.

how to get out of double-hyphen hell

If you're on a Windows machine and you type two hyphens to represent a single em dash, here's a pro tip: the ALT-key code for em dashes is [ALT-0151], i.e., hold down the "ALT" key while typing the sequence "0151" on your numeric keypad. On Macs, typing special characters is a lot easier; instead of cumbersome ALT-key codes, Mac users simply hold "shift + option," or just "option," and perform only one or two commonsense keystrokes beyond that. On a Mac, the em dash is made by hitting "shift + option + hyphen"—all of which can be hit at the same time instead of typing a sequence of numbers. This is why Macs rule.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Ave, Jeff!

Jeff Hodges has lately been engaged in a lengthy act of citing citations—metacitation, if you will—in which he posts about the fact that other researchers have cited his work in their works. It must be nice to know you're being cited by other academics.

Alas for Dr. Hodges, his real first name is Horace, which he dislikes, and people keep misspelling "Jeffery" as "Jeffrey."

See here.

And here.

And here.

And here.

And here.

And here.

And just today: here.

Mrs. Smiley smiles no longer

In the building where I work, there's a large grocery store in the basement level—larger than the grocery in my apartment building. I often head down to this grocery to find something to supplement my lunch, and because I go down there so frequently, all the lady cashiers know me by sight (not that I, a hulking, doughy foreigner, am all that hard to miss). One lady has been in the habit of overdoing her greeting and service: whenever I appear at her register, she becomes exaggeratedly chirpy and cutesy—not in a flirtatious way, but in a more patronizing way, as if I were a retarded child whose every utterance in Korean is seen as a major accomplishment. She repeats everything I say, the way a mother might repeat her baby's first comprehensible words and phrases. If I say, "Please give me a ten-liter plastic bag," she responds, "Oh, a ten-liter plastic bag!"

The other day, she probably went too far with the high-voiced chirpiness. I know this because the cashiers on either side of her started cheerfully ribbing her: "Hey! Why're you acting that way with him? You're not usually like that!" She tried to make excuses for her own behavior: "Oh, well, he's a foreigner, and he speaks Korean so well..."* My own impression was that she put on the exaggerated show because my presence was actually freaking her out, and she didn't know how she was supposed to interact with me.

When I swung by the grocery this morning for some victuals, Mrs. Smiley was the only person "womaning" a cash register, so I lumbered up to her, expecting more of the usual cutesy treatment. But she surprised me: today, she was professional and businesslike—not an iota of cute to be found. I think the ribbing she'd received from her "sisters" had gotten to her, and she now has a better idea of how to interact with me. It's funny to see that this happened, but also a bit sad: in East Asia, where difference isn't valued as highly as conformity, there's a proverb: "the nail that stands out gets hammered down." While it's true that I prefer that the cashiers simply treat me as they would any other customer, I also feel a bit sorry for Mrs. Smiley, who has been brought back into line.

*I don't actually speak Korean "so well," but it seems ingrained in Korean culture to coo over foreigners who manage to put together a few words in Korean. Any utterance at all is seen as passing over the threshold of linguistic expectations. I've heard various explanations for why this is so: Koreans believe that their language is too difficult for non-Koreans to learn (a fact routinely contradicted by the increasing number of Korean-fluent foreigners on TV); there's a sort of ambient sadae-jueui (사대주의—roughly, a kind of reflexive obsequiousness) that impels Koreans to feel obliged to speak in English around foreigners; etc.

ADDENDUM: let's talk a bit more about the implications of sadae-jueui. First, I should note that I find the concept offensive, but if Twitter is anything to judge by, the concept pops up, not just among expats who live in Korea, but also among Koreans who are fluent in English and who have experience living abroad and/or interacting with foreigners. I gather it's a real thing, but as an explanation for Korean Behavior X or Y, it makes me squirm.

I also think that, if there are indeed any traces of sadae-jueui in modern Korean society, those traces are disappearing. The other side of the story I told above is that most of the cashiers treat me the way they treat normal people. Mrs. Smiley was the only one acting differently. I'd like to think that sadae-jueui is a real problem in North Korea, where kowtowing is a matter of survival: you can't afford to sass back at the local authorities (although I have seen video of this happening), for whom insufficient submissiveness can mean punishment not only for you, but for your whole family.

I also think the idea of South Korean sadae-jueui is contradicted by how Koreans on the street generally act in crowded situations. They honestly don't give a shit whether there are foreigners present when it comes time to push onto a bus or into a subway; there's a pervasive, equal-opportunity rudeness that is, in a sense, a sign of egalitarianism: I don't care who you are—you're in my way. I've also never sensed any over-obsequiousness from taxi drivers, bus drivers, restaurant workers, bank tellers, coworkers at the office, fellow teachers at the uni, or anywhere else, really. So I think that the explanation for Koreans' strange politeness when it comes to their linguistic expectations has nothing to do with sadae-jueui.

I do think that Koreans have low expectations when it comes to foreigners' linguistic performance, and part of this may be because of foreigners themselves, especially our military guys, quite a few of whom aren't in country long enough to gain a real grasp of the language before being rotated out. At the same time, I confess to being frustrated that Koreans aren't reacting more visibly to the ever-mounting evidence that many foreigners these days actually do attain a better-than-basic level of competence in Korean. The time for low expectations has passed and, as I've written before regarding assimilationist attitudes, Koreans have every right to expect that foreigners should speak some level of Korean after having been in country for several years, just as we Americans expect expats in the States to be able to speak English if they've been in America for more than a few years.

the ambiguity of English headlines

Over at ROK Drop, the following headline:

"Chinese Man Accused of Stabbing Korean Woman Praying at a Church in Jeju"

Headlines often leave out connectors like relative pronouns, relying on participles to do the semantic heavy-lifting. Above, we see two participles: "accused" and "praying." Implied are the verb "is"* (before "accused") and the relative-pronoun phrase "who was" (before "praying").

But without those phrases, another possible reading of the above headline is:

Chinese Man, Accused of Stabbing Korean Woman, is Praying at a Church in Jeju

I love English.

*Or "has been," for that matter.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

what happens to spaghetti sauce deferred?

I made my homemade pork sausage about two hours ago, but had forgotten that the sausage would need time—about twelve hours—for its flavors to marry before I could use it for anything. So I've containerized the sausage and have stuck it in the fridge, where it will meditate on the meaning of existence until I tear it into little, porky chunks and throw it into tomato sauce, along with a large batch of sliced mushrooms, tomorrow.

So there went my plans to sit down to a nice bowl of pork-sausage spaghetti this evening. Not to worry: I still had leftover fettuccine to tide me over, so I gobbled that instead. This coming week, I'll eat up the spaghetti, then start behaving myself again.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

another myth... busted

I'll very likely be making spaghetti with homemade sausage tomorrow. The day I bought ground pork for the sausage, I noticed something strange: one package of ground pork was smaller, but more expensive, than a seemingly identical package sitting right next to it. I asked my butcher (yes, I now think of the guy as "my butcher") what the price difference was all about. "Oh," he said, "the more expensive one has less fat."

This startled me, as I had always been under the impression that Koreans, like most of the rest of the world that isn't America, associated fat with quality. In Europe, this is definitely true: higher-fat meats are considered to be of higher quality, and are therefore more expensive. I had thought Korea functioned the same way, but according to the butcher, the reason for the greater expense is that there's more labor involved in trimming away the fat.

That seemed plausible. I scratched my head, nodded, and walked away, taking the butcher's explanation at face value. Out of curiosity more than anything else, I bought myself a package of each kind of ground pork, still unable to see the difference between the two meats. Then I looked more closely at the price tags and saw that, unlike in the States, no fat percentage was listed. In the States, when you buy ground beef, you'll normally see a fraction that represents the respective percentages of meat and fat: an 80/20 ratio is normally considered ideal for hamburgers. At the local Food Lion in Front Royal, Virginia, a "log" of 70/30 ground beef would be cheaper, per pound, than a package of 80/20. Fattier—and some might argue tastier. (See this chart to understand US pricing. Scroll down to the "Ground Beef and Trim" section and note the prices for beef varying from 73% meat to 93% meat.)

Wavering between asking the guy about ratios and just heading to the register, I paused for a second, then I shrugged and headed over to the register. A mystery to resolve another day, perhaps. Meanwhile, it seems a myth has been busted, and I've been wrong this entire time about meat prices in Korea. I'm now curious to see what other Korean butchers say.

look deeply

(found here)

Friday, September 16, 2016

post-Chuseok dinner


and how's your Friday going?

Happy post-Chuseok!

I decided not to head out to Incheon. Seemed silly to go all that way just to eat a few mandu, however hwadeok-y they might be. Instead, I'm at my place, cooking up a very nice fettuccine Alfredo—the classic version with Parmigiano, not my usual faux-Fredo with bleu or Gorgonzola. (Truth be told, I like my faux-Fredo better than the classic version, but today, all I've got is Parm, and I have no desire to head out to Costco to buy Gorgonzola.)

So I'll eat. I'll reread some more of the fifth novel of A Song of Ice and Fire. I'll take a walk tonight. And that, good gentles, will be my Friday. What are your Friday plans?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Happy Chuseok! (redux)

A bit of seasonal plenty, from me to you.

Happy Chuseok!

The Chuseok national holiday is normally three days long, with Chuseok itself, the night of the harvest moon, being the middle day. That day is today, so... Happy Chuseok! We were fortunate, this year, that the harvest moon fell on a Thursday, thus ensuring a five-day holiday break. I'm at home, puttering around, doing nothing much. I feasted on sliders last night, partly in honor of my brother David's birthday. Tonight, it'll be American-style Chinese food: shrimp and veggies on rice. Tomorrow, I'll journey out to Chinatown in Incheon and munch on hwadeok mandu. Saturday, I'll probably do an Amurrican-style breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and bacon. Sunday, I may do a classic fettuccine Alfredo. On Monday, I'll be back to the grind, and back to behaving myself. A happy harvest to one and all!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Happy Birthday, David!

Wow—my little brother David turns 40 this year. He already has more gray hair than I do. (In fact, both of my brothers look grayer, for whatever reason.)

David's the last brother to stick around in our hometown of Alexandria, Virginia. Sean has moved to DC; I'm here in Seoul. Only David remains to hold the fort and represent our family in northern Virginia. He lives in a nice, big, suburban house, living a suburban life—mowing his lawn, pulling out weeds, knocking down wasp nests, watching fugitive deer cross through his fenceless back yard, taking his dog out to parks, and just generally chillin'.

David used to have a tenant who had been renting out the downstairs, but that ended several months back when the tenant's dog died. This worked out well for David, who had found the tenant rather unsavory (I did, too, when I met him). These days, David has the house to himself, but I think he likes the solitude.

Sometime next year, when I'm flush with cash, I want to visit the States and Europe during a two-week jaunt—a week in the US, then a week divided between France and Switzerland. I hope to catch up with both my little brothers then. I miss them. That's the one major problem with living in Korea: I can't see my oldest buddies, and I can't see my bros.

Ave, Charles!

Some excellent earthquake-related commentary over at Liminality.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Chuseok is upon us

Much culinary misbehavior planned for the upcoming Chuseok* holiday, one of two major family-oriented national holidays in Korea, the other being Seollal, i.e., the lunar new year. Chuseok is the time of the harvest-moon festival; some folks roughly translate this as "Korean Thanksgiving," which makes other expats cringe, but it's a decent enough way of expressing the local celebration of agricultural plenty. Thus far, I have these meals in mind:

1. chicken satay with peanut sauce
2. hwadeok mandu over in Incheon's Chinatown during one of my vacation days**
3. hamburgers
4. spaghetti with shrooms and homemade pork sausage
4a. some sort of Alfredo/bleu-Fredo
5. Amurrican-style breakfast with bacon, eggs, and pancakes
6. shrimp/prawns bobo (see this video)
6a. if not bobo, then American-style Chinese cashew shrimp

*Pronunciation note: the "eo" in romanized Korean words is pronounced somewhere between an "aw" and an "uh" sound, so "Chuseok" sounds a lot like it's somewhere between "chew-suck" and "chew-sawk." The name "Seoul" is the same: break it up into "Seo" and "ul" for a more accurate, Korean-sounding pronunciation: "suh-ool" or "saw-ool."

**I'll be bringing along some dipping sauce this time. Last time around, the mandu were fantastic in terms of meatiness and texture, but they were also bland as hell. "Needs sauce," is what I thought. I'll be packing some along when I head out west.

Hillary's knees buckle

Hillary Clinton, who has been dogged by questions about her health (and, by extension, questions about her fitness to serve in the nation's highest office for four to eight years), suffered a collapse, of sorts, as she exited a 9/11 Ground Zero ceremony early because of what some journos are calling "a medical episode." Some online news outlets are using the euphemism "wobble" to describe what happened to Clinton as she tried to step into a waiting vehicle in her motorcade, but if you watch the video, what you actually see is that Clinton's knees are locked at the beginning (probably to prevent her from falling); she teeters, then when she tries to step forward, her legs buckle, and she loses all power to keep herself upright. She is, after that, essentially manhandled into the vehicle while her entourage does its best to form a tight cordon that will prevent curious folks from videoing her collapse.

All sorts of hypotheses are flying around as to what ails Mrs. Clinton, and it seems, at long last, that questions about her health can no longer be dismissed as the ravings of marginal conspiracy theorists. One of her doctors has been quoted as claiming Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia, which brought up more questions as to why she was allowed to have that staged on-the-street moment with the child. Conservative talking heads have been openly wondering whether Clinton is hiding Parkinson's disease; a recent article on how she balks at drinking water has caused some to insist that Parkinson's is likely: she could be experiencing "aspirational pneumonia," which is associated with Parkinson's and other conditions.

Personally, I do suspect something neurological, although I'd say the jury's very much out regarding whether it's definitively Parkinson's. My own reason for suspecting something neurological, though, comes from experience with my mother's brain cancer. As Mom's cancer progressed, it became more and more difficult to take her on walks in our local park. In the early stages, Mom walked along fairly strongly, needing help mainly with balance but not with strength. As the months went on, however, Mom's legs became weak, and there were a couple moments during which her legs would simply buckle, and we'd be there to catch her and heave upward to prevent her from hitting the ground or scraping her knees. Even for a woman as light as she was, Mom was surprisingly heavy when it was time to lift her back to her feet. Watching Clinton being manhandled into the black van reminded me of the times we manhandled Mom back into a wheelchair.

So I watched the video, and as much as I personally dislike Hillary Clinton, I felt sympathy for her the moment her knees buckled. Because I've been there. There are limits to my Schadenfreude. This doesn't change my opinion of Clinton, but if she is indeed contending with some progressively deteriorating neurological condition, I also can't ignore the fact that she's just a woman suffering the natural ravages of mortality. There will always be plenty of reasons to rip Hillary apart, but for me, this collapsing episode isn't one of them.

in honor of Colin Kaepernick

Monday, September 12, 2016


Twitter and my ass are both alive with quake activity rippling up and down the Korean peninsula. Not two minutes ago, I felt a slight vibration and experienced the very gentle shaking of my office building. The Korean peninsula sits just outside of some major fault lines as well as the Ring of Fire that girds most of the Pacific, so major quake activity is fairly rare here, unlike in Japan, which suffers more than a hundred earthquakes a year (thus making most Japanese as blasé as Californians when it comes to quakes).

The Sino-Korean term jijin (지진, 地震) means "earthquake." It comes from two characters: ji (地), which means "ground" or "earth," and jin, (震), which means "shake" or "vibrate."

Happy Birthday, Steve!

September is a crowded month for birthdays. September 10 is my goddaughter Rachael's birthday; September 12 is my buddy Steve doCarmo's birthday; September 14 is my little brother David's birthday.

So today, the 12th, is Steve's birthday. Here is the man himself:

Steve's a good fellow. I've known him since the eighth grade. He's out there making a name for himself as a college prof out in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the same place where the movie "Signs" was set. Steve teaches English, and when he's not writing scholarly journal articles, he's also a singer-songwriter-guitarist, and a novelist to boot. I'm happy and honored to count him as one of my very best friends.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


The little-known Tear of Grief Memorial or Teardrop Memorial, more formally titled "To the Struggle Against World Terrorism," is a 2006 gift from the Russian people to the United States to commemorate American grief in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. The memorial, created by Russian artist Zurab Tsereteli, stands in Bayonne, New Jersey, and is aligned to provide a view of the Statue of Liberty across the water.

When pictures of this monument started popping up online, along with an explanation of its provenance, doubters openly wondered whether the Russians really did give such a gift to America. Turns out they did.

It's been fifteen years since that fateful day when nearly 3000 people died. What have we learned? How are we applying that learning? And has that made a difference?

Swineapple update

A few hours later, everything looks perfect.

the Swineapple

First seen by me on YouTube, the Swineapple (pork-stuffed, bacon-wrapped pineapple) has been re-created by my inspired buddy Mike to fête his eldest daughter's (and my goddaughter's) birthday. She's just starting her sophomore year in college.

Happy Birthday, Rachael! Eat hearty!