Friday, November 17, 2017

the ever-growing roster of harassers

Along with self-righteous, moralizing scolds like George Takei* and Richard Dreyfuss being taken down by the current wave of sexual-harassment accusations, we now have Sylvester Stallone and Senator Al Franken in the news as the latest harassers-from-years-ago.** Stallone has weathered all manner of controversy before, so this latest blow doesn't really come as a surprise to me, and I don't think it's going to affect the tail-end of his career that much, but Franken's credibility (such as it is) is definitely on the line, even if his accuser hasn't demanded that he step down.

With so many harassers based in Hollywood, people are beginning to joke about who might actually be attending next year's Oscars ceremony: there may be plenty of empty seats. I suspect the attendees will be nothing but grim-looking women. Heh.***



*Back when I was on Twitter, I used to follow Takei... but I unfollowed him when he called Clarence Thomas "a clown in blackface" in an abysmally hypocritical moment of Asian-on-black racism. Takei later apologized for his outburst, but that was the last straw for me.

**The accuser, Leeann Tweeden, tells her story here.

***At what point, though, does a cleansing become a witch hunt?



a war with NK would be nasty, brutish... and probably short

If this defecting soldier counts as some sort of random sample, then we can surmise the North Korean military is in sorry, sorry shape:

A North Korean soldier shot multiple times while defecting to the South is in a stable condition but riddled with parasites that could complicate his chances of survival, his doctor said Thursday.

The soldier dashed across the border at the Panmunjom truce village on Monday, as former comrades from the North opened fire on him, hitting him at least four times.

He was pulled to safety by three South Korean soldiers who crawled to reach him, just south of the dividing line. The young man was rushed to hospital in South Korea by helicopter where he has undergone two rounds of emergency surgery.

“Vital signs including his pulse are returning to stability”, attending doctor Lee Cook-Jong told journalists. However, he warned, the un-named soldier could rapidly deteriorate at any moment.

“We’re paying close attention to prevent possible complications,” said Lee, who on Wednesday said “an enormous number of parasites” including roundworms had been found in the small intestine.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my 20 years as a physician”, he said, adding the longest worm he removed was 27 centimetres (11 inches).

Parasites, especially roundworms, are widespread in North Korea — as they are in many developing countries — where people eat uncooked vegetables that have been fertilised with human faeces, experts say.


—quoted here; found here

If one NK soldier is parasite-riddled, then others probably are, and probably for the same systemic reasons. The North's army is already known to be starving (except for its most privileged units, thanks to the seon-gun, or military-first, policy). What remains is the question of the sanity of the North Korean regime. Most of us Korea hands agree that, in general, the NK government, with Kim Jeong-eun at its head, is actually a rational actor despite the insanity inherent in oppressing one's own people to such an inhuman degree. We know NK is rational because of the strategic, methodical manner in which it plays other countries against each other, the way an aikido master faces three opponents and drives them into each other, deftly redirecting their attacks. However, even sanity goes out the window when things get desperate, and if a ground war were ever to break out on the peninsula, the North's use of nuclear weapons can't be ruled out in extremis. But if nukes don't enter the equation, I suspect a ground war would be fairly short despite the mountainous terrain and multitude of bunkers and tunnel systems... unless China decided to fight on behalf of the North—a prospect that seems less likely the more onerous the North becomes.



with thanks to Bill Keezer

Saw this linked in an email from Bill Keezer:


I think it's too little, too late when it comes to seeking justice from Bill Clinton, but it's nice to see that the current leftist-fueled moral panic is, at long last, claiming some of the right victims. Too bad this won't end with Wild Bill (or his wife) actually facing justice.



Thursday, November 16, 2017

shake n' quake

South Korea experienced two earthquakes yesterday; the second was likely an aftershock.

Here's more:

A 5.4 magnitude earthquake struck the southeastern port city of Pohang on Wednesday.

It was the second-largest quake to hit the Korean Peninsula on record and happened just over a year after a 5.8 magnitude quake rocked Gyeongju.

The Korea Meteorological Administration said the quake was centered in an area around 9 km north of Pohang at a depth of only 8 km underground.

It happened just 43 km away from the tremor that shook Gyeongju and was followed by 30 aftershocks measuring between 2.0 to 4.3 in magnitude occurred until 10 p.m. Wednesday night.

Although the earthquake had only a quarter of the strength of the Gyeongju tremor, it was shallower and resulted in about the same amount of damage.

Locals reported shakes strong enough to move heavy furniture, and tremors were felt as far afield as Seoul.

You'll recall that I've been to Pohang. Also: students who are taking their college-entrance exams this week can rejoice: thanks to the earthquakes, exams have been moved to next week.



Wednesday, November 15, 2017

energy independence could be just around the corner

The not-always-trustworthy BBC: "US leads world in oil and gas production, IEA says."

International energy markets are set for "major upheaval" as the US cements its status as the world's largest oil and gas producer, while China overtakes it as the biggest oil consumer.

The predictions come from the International Energy Agency's annual energy forecast. It believes that global energy demand will rise 30% by 2040, driven by higher consumption in India.

At the same time, the renewable energy sources will become more important.

The IEA, which tracks the energy for 29 countries, said the US - once reliant on imports - is becoming the "undisputed global oil and gas leader". It expects the US to account for 80% of the increase in global oil supply to 2025, driven by increases in shale. That will keep prices down and help make the US a net exporter of oil - in addition to gas - by the late 2020s.

The US Energy Information Administration estimated that the US became the world's top petroleum and natural gas producer in 2012. The emergence of the US "represents a major upheaval for international market dynamics", said Dr Fatih Birol, IEA executive director.

This means a few things. It means Venezuela, which relies almost exclusively on oil to prop up its economy, won't be recovering anytime soon given the continued low price of fuel. It also means less leverage for OPEC nations, quite a few of which use their oil money to sponsor terrorism. Further, it means the potential to create new European trading partners (especially in Eastern Europe) who might want cheap US oil and not be at the mercy of Russia's Gazprom, which supplies fully a third of the EU's gas. On a stranger note, the US's new status might lead to a significant reevaluation of the country's relationship with Canada, from which the US imports the largest amount of oil. As much as we focus on Middle Eastern petrostates, it's easy to forget that our neighbor to the north is actually our largest source of foreign oil. I wonder how the US-Canada relationship might change if we took oil out of the equation.



Tuesday, November 14, 2017

al-tang redux

I purchased a bunch more al (fish roe) to stick inside my al-tang. I had bought two kinds of roe before: huge eggs sacs from some imported fish (Russia!), and much smaller pollock-roe sacs (also from Russia) that turned out to be better because they're a bit sweeter and far less salty. I cooked the new batch of roe separately, then loaded the stew up with it, such that there's now an insane amount of al in my soup. Today's lunch:






Monday, November 13, 2017

dog goes nuts when her favorite chew toy comes to life

Funniest thing I've seen all day:






Ave, Dr. Pepple!

John Pepple has written a long and interesting blog post on the beginnings of language. In it, he discusses Noam Chomsky's highly influential linguistic theory of transformational grammar and deep structures (although Pepple doesn't, to my knowledge, use either of those exact terms), and how that theory is being challenged by thinker Daniel Everett. The blog post is well worth a read, especially if you're in the language-teaching business.

I'm confused by Pepple on only one point, though: early on in his post, Pepple seems to take for granted the existence of "animal languages," but much later, he claims that animals don't use language at all, not even a little. I'm unclear on whether the "early Pepple" was merely conveying Chomsky's thinking or was weaving Chomsky's thinking into his own. A charitable assumption would be that the "early Pepple" was quoting/conveying Chomsky but was expressing his own opinion later on.

That confusion aside, the post makes for a very interesting read.



prudery and panic

These are strange times that we live in. Hard to tell if we're in the midst of a witch hunt or a righteous crusade. Here's Paul Joseph Watson on "The New Sexual Puritans":


And here, from a while back, is Styx on today's "moral panic":


Styx has done several "moral panic" vids. Here they all are.



"War for the Planet of the Apes": review

I've developed a very healthy respect for director Matt Reeves, especially once I realized that he had directed all three of the rebooted "Planet of the Apes" films. Reeves (who also directed "Under Siege 2," "Cloverfield," and "10 Cloverfield Lane," and who will be directing Ben Affleck in the upcoming "The Batman") has pulled off the hat trick of directing three movies of similarly high quality—all with different casts, plots, tones, and themes—and he has somehow managed to keep the third movie in the series from falling prey to the usual third-movie curse of being the worst in the bunch. "War for the Planet of the Apes" is easily a match for its two predecessors; maintaining such quality is a feat worthy of early-2000s Peter Jackson.

Starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller, and Gabriel Chavarria, "War for the Planet of the Apes" is less about a war and more about the chimpanzee Caesar's attempt to lead his fellow apes, Moses-like, to a promised land without getting everyone killed. The film very early on reveals where its sympathies lie, and it's not with the evil, genocidal humans. The only human who is an exception is little Nova (Miller), a girl who has caught a mutated version of the pandemic virus that had wiped out of most of humanity in the first film, and who cannot speak, although she does learn to use the sign language that many of the apes use.

The film's basic plot is quite simple: a contingent of renegade US Army soldiers led by the Colonel (Harrelson) has been tracking Caesar. Caesar, meanwhile, gets word from patrols that there exists a place beyond a desert where the apes can live in peace, away from humanity. Some soldiers lose a skirmish after having tracked down Caesar's forces, and Caesar mercifully sends the few survivors back to the Colonel with the message that, if the soldiers desist and leave the forests, the killing can stop. The Colonel responds by finding and infiltrating Caesar's current hideout, then by personally slaughtering Caesar's wife and eldest son.

Torn between his desire for vengeance and his need to guide the apes to a safer haven, Caesar sends the apes out toward the promised land while he and a small detachment of apes go hunt the Colonel. Caesar discovers the Colonel's stronghold, and to his horror, he sees that his entire tribe of apes has been captured and put to work building a wall that is meant to stop the attack of another human military division that has come to capture the Colonel. The reason for this can't be explained without leading us into major spoiler territory, so I'll leave off here.

Even though "War" is short on actual war, it does a superb job with characterization. Andy Serkis, who famously mo-capped Gollum for several of Peter Jackson's movies, does stellar work as Caesar. This isn't Serkis's first time in a primate role: you may recall that he mo-capped Kong in Peter Jackson's "King Kong" (2005). The ape effects, in general, are excellently realized, to the point where you, as the viewer, simply take for granted that you're watching intelligent apes. Steve Zahn also deserves praise for his comic portrayal of Bad Ape, a wily chimpanzee who can speak, but who doesn't know any ape-sign. Waifish Amiah Miller, meanwhile, does a fine job as a child actress, reminding me of no one so much as a combination of a very young Dakota Fanning and Amanda Seyfried. Woody Harrelson's Colonel radiates equal amounts of menace and pathos.

While the acting is unquestionably good, the plot does contain flaws. The Moses imagery is laid on a bit thick, for example, and if you know the biblical story, then you can predict how things are going to end for Caesar when the tribe finally reaches the outskirts of the promised land. The other major story problems are (1) the effects of the mutated virus aren't explained all that well, and (2) the story we see feels fairly parochial; it would have been interesting to get a glimpse of how the human-ape conflict was playing out in the rest of the world.

But the central drama unfolds well enough—the conflict between Caesar and the Colonel is what drives much of the film, and for Caesar, the risk is that he will turn into another Koba (the evil ape from the previous movies—and you might recall that "Koba" was a nickname for Josef Stalin). The movie traffics in deep themes and evokes plenty of other stories in both literature and film: "The Bridge on the River Kwai," "Apocalypse Now," parts of the Jesus narrative, and even "War of the Worlds." All in all, I think Matt Reeves's three films are a worthy reboot of the cinematic story we got in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While not absolutely perfect in terms of storytelling, all three films showcase fine acting and character development, and they don't shy away from heavy themes like the self-destructive nature of human hubris and the question of what it means to be truly civilized. If you've seen the first two of Reeves's films, I recommend this one, which works as both the capstone to a three-part tale and as the possible launching point for another sequel.



Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Predators": one-paragraph review

If you saw the trailer for "Predators" when it came out in 2010, then you know that the preview gave away most of the movie. Directed by Nimród Antal and starring an impressive ensemble cast that includes Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo, Mahershala Ali, Oleg Taktarov, and Louis Ozawa Changchien, "Predators" is the story of a group of terrible humans—soldiers, thugs, and murderers—who are all knocked out and dragged off to some faraway planet that is basically a game preserve. A hunting party of three Predators goes after the humans, who begin the scenario confused as to why they're even on this world (at first, they don't even realize they're not on Earth until they get a chance to see the sky). Royce (Brody) quickly establishes himself as the group's gravelly-voiced leader, with Isabelle (Braga) quickly assuming the role of second-in-command. As with the very first movie, the group must figure out the nature of what is hunting them, even as the group's members get picked off one by one (unfortunately, the movie gives us two chances to witness the "black guy dies in science fiction" rule in action). And that's basically it: the movie tries to take some interesting twists and turns, and it's fairly entertaining on a pot-smoker's level, but I found the script to be somewhat poorly written and predictable, and I also had trouble thinking of milquetoast-y, watery-eyed Adrien Brody as a brawny leading man in an action-thriller. The characters get picked off too fast for most of them to form any meaningful bonds, and the film contains a few too many direct visual references to the very first "Predator," which came out in 1987: plunges down a waterfall, the use of mud for camouflage, etc. The Predators themselves never come off as more than big guys in rubber suits—a flaw that was inherent in the first movie in the series as well. All in all, "Predators" was watchable, but it could have been so, so much better.



Cambridge pussification

Cambridge students throw a hissy fit when a physics prof tells them they'll need to buckle down, work hard, and stop drinking and partying if they aim to succeed in his course. I guess it's not just American students and their childish need for "safe spaces."



Saturday, November 11, 2017

finally: legitimate homemade al-tang!

At long last, I was able to make a decent, edible version of one of my favorite Korean soups: al-tang, which is a stew whose signal ingredient is fish-egg sacs (the Korean word al means "egg"). While these sacs often look ugly and veiny, like the ripped-out glands of some unfortunate land animal, I tend to think of them as salty hot dogs made entirely of caviar, and they are glorious. I based my recipe on the one found in this Korean video I dug up on YouTube. The video called for something called goni (곤이) in Korean: basically, fish guts, the brain-like hunks of protein that you can see in the video. My building's grocery didn't have any goni, so I added a tiny freshwater snail called ureong (우렁) instead, and that worked out perfectly, rounding out the stew's taste.

I made two huge pots of the soup. Some pics:


When I tried making a seafood stew a couple years ago, I proceeded on the assumption that I could use the same base as the one I use when making budae-jjigae. This turned out to be only partially true, and the wrongness of my assumption was enough to make the seafood soup taste weird and thoroughly un-Korean. So instead of making an ass out of you and me this time, I decided it would be best to shut up and listen to the masters, which is how I ended up on YouTube, watching al-tang videos. The above-linked video was one of the most straightforward; the simplicity of its recipe was what I found attractive, so I decided to risk following that vid's method for prepping the stew.

I altered some things, of course: as mentioned above, I used ureong instead of goni; I also changed the proportions of the red-sauce component (I did a 3:2:0.2 ratio of gochu-jang to gochu-garu to mirim, and I used mirim instead of matsul, although I suspect that mirim is a type of matsul); in addition, I splashed a bit of sesame oil into the red sauce. I added regular onions in with the dae-pa (large green onions that are almost leeks). I almost added carrots, but I chickened out at the last second, and I think that was the right decision: carrots would have added a weird sweetness to the stew that wouldn't have belonged there. Oh, yeah: I had leftover chili peppers, so I chopped those up and dumped them in as well.

The result was awesome. The taste of my stew rivals that of my favorite al-tang restaurant in the Chungmuro district. I'm very, very pleased with the result, and now that I have a good base for fish stews, I'm going to see what happens when I switch out the current proteins for something like shrimp, scallop, etc. I think that's going to kick ass.

INGREDIENTS

broth: water, laver (seaweed), dried-pollock "silk," fish bouillon, fish sauce

red-sauce broth component: gochu-jang (red-pepper paste), ground garlic, gochu-garu (red-chili flakes), mirim (Jpn. mirin), sesame oil

vegetables: white onion, dae-pa (large green onion), mu (large Korean radish), green chilis, oyster mushrooms (very fragrant and earthy!), jjigae (stew) tofu, ssuk-ggat (쑥깟, mugwort)

proteins: pollock roe in sacs, various other roes (frozen), ureong (freshwater snails)

PREP

Create broth by gently boiling water with laver, dried-pollock "silk," fish bouillon, and a splash of fish sauce. After 15 minutes, fish out the laver and pollock silk.

Create red sauce by mixing gochu-jang, gochu-garu, garlic, mirim, and sesame oil.

Add mu, sliced about a quarter-inch thick, to the hot broth. Chop up and pile together all remaining veggies, which will all be dumped into the pot at the same time. Let mu boil until fork-tender. About five minutes after adding the mu, add the red sauce and stir until there are no more lumps and clumps of gochu-jang.

Add veggies into the boil. Stir. Let cook a few minutes.

Add egg sacs and ureong. Cook until the sacs change color, then cook another 3-4 minutes to make sure their centers are cooked.

Enjoy some of the best damn al-tang out there.



a line worth repeating

"Much ignorance there is, when it comes to guns."
—Yoda






Happy Veterans/Pepero Day

To all the Pepero that fight and die every day to secure freedom throughout the world, we thank you. To all the veterans who bring chocolatey goodness and a pretzel-y crunch into our lives, we thank you as well. Together, you are the forces that make the world go round.

ADDENDUM: for a serious and somber take, read "What's Killing America's Veterans?"

Suicide and drug overdoses are two of the biggest killers of veterans. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Suicide Prevention, an average of 20 veterans committed suicide every day in 2014. In fact, 18% of all American adult suicides that year were committed by veterans, even though veterans made up just 8.5% of the population. Male veterans had a 19% higher risk for suicide compared to the general population while women veterans were 2.5 times as likely to kill themselves compared to the female civilian population, and suicide rates were highest among young veterans aged 18 to 29.



et tu, Louis?

The sexual-harassment scandal unearths another abuser: much-beloved comedian Louis CK, who has fully admitted to his misdeeds. Color me disappointed.




reviews

After lightening my foul mood by watching this hilariously filthy collection of Dave Attell routines, I sat down and took in "War for the Planet of the Apes." Just the previous day, I had seen "Predators," directed by a guy named—and I'm not kidding—Nimrod.

So expect two reviews to pop up sometime this weekend—one for "Predators" and one for "War for the Planet of the Apes." TL;DR version: I liked "Apes" a lot better. You have to try very, very hard to convince me that watery-eyed, milquetoast, big-nosed Adrien Brody actually works plausibly as a Schwarzenegger surrogate fighting hulking aliens.



Friday, November 10, 2017

fuck lunch

How to plunge Kevin into a bad mood:

1. Force Kevin to attend a luncheon with the department head (bonbujang-nim).
2. Have the department head beckon Kevin to sit right next to him.
3. Constantly elbow Kevin and pepper him with questions and jokey comments in Korean to keep him in the conversation, even though Kevin obviously wants nothing to do with the conversation, or with the luncheon as a whole.
4. Joke about the fact that Kevin is a talented cook who "looks like a chef," i.e., is fat. Further joke that he looks like a famously fat chef on Korean TV.
5. After being this insulting, urge Kevin to "eat a lot."

I should have gotten up and left the fucking luncheon. You'd think I'd have a thick skin by now, given that I encounter this shit nearly every day—and by "this shit," I mean Koreans who have no idea how to handle variety and difference except through jokes, insults, and otherwise awkward/stupid observations—but I guess, despite the thick layer of blubber, I'm still thin-skinned after all. Maybe I was just in a foul mood to begin with.

Next time, though, I think I'll beg off lunch or dinner or whatever the fuck the department head wants to do next. Not a fan of reindeer games and forced togetherness.



ADDENDUM: the food itself was good, but not good enough to be worth the shitty experience.



screech!

Paul Joseph Watson gives us his unsurprisingly (and hilariously) spiteful take on the recent "Scream Helplessly at the Sky" event:


Tantrum-ing your way to 2020 isn't the way to defeat the Orangeman. All you're doing, guys, is sapping away whatever credibility you have left.

UPDATE: another case of self-discrediting here.





Thursday, November 09, 2017

two encounters on the path

I had a very nice, 21,000-step walk last night, all the way out to the Han River and along it a ways before I turned around and headed back. I'm feeling a lot better, and I think I'm recovering my senses of smell and taste, which means—mirabile dictu!—the return of my appetite. Still in a walking frame of mind, I once again walked to work today.


While en route to the office, I was accosted by a creepy gentleman in a long coat who said "Hello!" in English, followed by, "I just memorized this." At that point, he began a recitation of a couple verses from the Sermon on the Mount (which begins in Matthew, chapter 5), ending with the classic, "be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect." After that, he said, "Have a good day." As he turned to go, I smiled, bowed, and made the Buddhist hapjang gesture (bowing with palms together). It seemed fitting. In the end, the guy proved harmless and not as creepy as all that, although his intrusion on my privacy was still slightly annoying. That said, his recitation could be taken as a sort of magical gesture, an attempt to flick some karmic pixie dust my way (or, in Christian language, to share a blessing). No harm in a well-intended gesture.

The path was leafy: fall has come with a vengeance. The people who maintain the path have been raking the fallen leaves on a daily basis, and today I saw that some leaf piles had been shaped into hearts, so I snapped a shot of one such pile:


Right as I stopped to take the heart-shaped pile in, an older couple also stopped, noticing the pile at the same time. "Who did this?" the lady asked me in Korean. "I'm not sure," I said. "But I think the people who clean the path probably did this." I chalked this up to another spirit-booster. Thus did I continue on my way, soul-nourished by biblical verses and a heart-shaped leaf pile—reminders that there are always reasons to be happy.

Come to think of it, I think the first photo above also shows a heart-shaped leaf pile.



Styx with the election postmortem


I can't bear to look at Styx's chest hair, so I normally crank my laptop's volume up and putter around my apartment, just listening to his commentary. If you want to keep your eyes from bleeding, I suggest you do the same. Or simply tab away from the video while it plays.





Wednesday, November 08, 2017

the HISHE review of "Thor: Ragnarok"

A hilarious review by the HISHE* ("How It Should Have Ended") crew that makes a few points I didn't make in my own review, but with which I generally agree:






*I used to pronounce HISHE as "hee-shay," but it's actually "hizzy," as in "his, he."





a culinary remembrance

Not far from the point where M Street meets Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, there used to be a small Chicago-style pizzeria with the unoriginal name of Geppetto's. As an undergrad going to Georgetown University, I used to love walking up the street to get the occasional pizza there, and I was sure to take all my friends to the restaurant so they could share in the deliciousness. Geppetto's pizzas were thick-crusted and soaked in butter. They also came piled high—ridiculously high—with thick-cut pepperoni unlike any pepperoni I've had anywhere else.* The pizzeria cared nothing for your cardiac health, and this was just as true for my favorite Geppetto's appetizer: mozzarella garlic bread. So simple in concept, yet so glorious in execution, this bread came piping-hot out of the oven with a crunchy crust and a soft center, slathered in a mixture of mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, fresh garlic, and fresh herbs. Because today is my second day off, I decided to try and recreate that appetizer. I'd say I was about seventy to eighty percent successful.




*The pepperoni looked a bit like this, but was piled even higher. No joke.





the Swedes' "feminist paradox"

What happens when a country loudly trumpets its progressive feminism while refusing to acknowledge that it has become Europe's rape capital—a status that renders hypocritical any claims to being feminist?

If you're not protecting your women, in what sense are you feminist? The first article of feminist faith—with which I heartily agree—is that women have the same right to life, health, and happiness as men. Sweeping current crime statistics under the rug and denying that massive, unchecked immigration has played a role in Swedish women's current feeling that their own country is unsafe—these actions do nothing to forward the feminist agenda.

Sweden has become a colossal example of Bernard Lonergan's scotosis.



hey, if it makes you feel better...

The "Scream Helplessly at the Sky" event is upon us.

Still not gonna stave off a second Trump term, nor will it help with the upcoming drubbing during the 2018 midterm elections. The only thing such childish flailing accomplishes is to cement the image of the left as utterly ruled by emotion and devoid of direction. Tantrums appear to be all they have left in their arsenal, which just makes me yearn for the heady intellectual* days of Gore Vidal versus William F. Buckley.

UPDATE: Democrats can cheer the gubernatorial victory of Ralph Northam over GOP candidate Ed Gillespie, thus confirming that Virginia has fully swung from a red state to a blue one (Virginia went for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential, 49.9% to 45%). Over at Instapundit, people are grumbling that the problem is concentrated in counties like Fairfax (the county in which my hometown of Alexandria sits), which is basically a satellite of Washington, DC, being only a few miles away from the capital, and a residential area for many members of Congress and special-interest groups. Other commenters are pointing out that Ed Gillespie ran as something of an anti-Trumper, or at the very least, he didn't actively seek help from Trump, thus causing Trump to announce that he and Gillespie did not share the same vision. Whether Trump's general lack of involvement doomed Gillespie is up for debate: some folks argue that the leftist special interests are so entrenched in populous northern Virginia that Trump's aid would have been irrelevant. I'm still not sure what Northam's margin of victory was; stay tuned for another update. Meanwhile, congratulations to Northam on a hard-won victory (the pre-election polls showed a close race). May he govern wisely.



*Except for that one time Buckley publicly (and on video) threatened to sock Vidal in the goddamn face. Not Buckley's most sterling moment, and a warning that elements of the right can, on occasion, become as emotional as elements of the left.



my midweek weekend

The boss saw how sick I was when I came in to work on Monday, and he declared that I should stay home on Tuesday. Having never taken a sick day before, I found my circumstances very strange. I'm not a workaholic, but it felt odd to have nothing to do. Nevertheless, not being one to argue, I spent all day Tuesday in bed, getting over my current cold, which is a "lite" version of the nasty mōmsal I had a short while back. I'm feeling better now, and the boss called to check in on me, but he decided I should take a second day off—this time not because he felt I was too sick, but because he was getting antsy about how many comp-time hours I had racked up (over 70). So I'm burning off 16 comp hours just to make the boss feel less antsy.

Sorry for the lack of blogging earlier. There are things currently happening in the office about which I am forbidden to speak, and those things are acting as a major drag on morale and esprit de corps. I might be able to write something at a much later date, but right now, the issue at hand is too sensitive for me to do any more than hint at it here. If you're really curious about the details, please email me.

Since I've got nothing but free time on Wednesday, I'll be heading out to get another dojang made. It's been a while since I've talked about dojangs, so here's a reminder to those who've forgotten what they are: they're red-ink stamps or chops, usually made of stone, that are used on works of calligraphy or brush art as a sort of artist's signature. Cheap wooden or plastic dojangs are also used by Koreans in modern times in lieu of a signature when certifying official documents. Dojangs are sometimes also called "seals" in English.

I'll be looking for a stamp shop that allows you to upload your own stamp design. Such shops abound in the Insa-dong art district, so I'll be heading there. I've got an old stamp design on a thumb drive; at the shop, I'll hand over the drive, have the artist upload the data, then use a computer-operated machine to make me a cheap dojang, probably out of plastic or wood.



"The Big Sick": review

2017's "The Big Sick," directed by Michael Showalter, is based on the life of its star, Kumail Nanjiani, who was born in Pakistan and came to New York. Starring along with Nanjiani are Zoe Kazan as Emily Gardner and the very unlikely comic pairing of Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily's parents, Beth and Terry Gardner.

Kumail is a standup comic and part-time Uber driver. During one of his nightly shows, he meets Emily, a young woman who catcalls during his act. After his set is done, Kumail meets Emily at the bar and half-jokingly accuses her of heckling him; in no time at all, they end up at his apartment, where they engage in a one-night stand. As Kumail is Uber-ing Emily home, he and she think of reasons not to see each other again, and even though they say "goodbye forever," they end up hooking up yet again. And so it goes for the first part of their dating life: goodbyes are followed by dates, and the two fall in love.

Despite how Americanized Kumail himself has become, his Pakistani parents are still deeply rooted in the ways of the old country, and this includes the notion of arranged marriage. Kumail's mother, in particular, insists on having Kumail meet woman after woman during their periodic family dinners (Kumail lives downtown, and his parents live in the suburbs): the idea is that the woman is invited in, and she hands over a writeup of her "credentials" along with a photo of herself. The dinner then becomes a sort of informal interview during which Kumail is extremely uncomfortable. After the dinner/interview is over, Kumail ends up taking the woman's writeup and photo back to his apartment, where he then stores the rejected woman's record in a cigar box.

Kumail finds himself in a bind: he doesn't have the courage to tell his parents he has fallen in love with the non-Pakistani, non-Muslim Emily, and he doesn't have the courage to tell Emily that his mother is forcing him to endure a parade of eligible (and beautiful, I should add) Pakistani women. While he's not exactly lying to anyone, he's being strategically silent, which comes down to the same thing.

As you might guess, Kumail's reckoning comes when Emily one day discovers his cigar box full of beautiful women's profiles. This results in a blowup, followed by a breakup. And then—in a twist worthy of a Korean drama—Emily suddenly falls ill, felled by a mysterious disease. Kumail learns of Emily's illness from a friend, and he insists on being by her side despite their having broken up. While Emily is in a medically induced coma (all of this is "the big sick" of the movie's title), Kumail makes the acquaintance of Emily's parents, Beth and Terry. It's a rocky start at first, but the Gardners eventually warm up to Kumail, and all three of them keep a vigil by Emily's side.

I have to confess that I normally can't stand romantic comedies. They all follow the same damn formula of "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy recovers girl." "The Big Sick" is no exception (the script was cowritten by Kumail Nanjiani and the real-life Emily Gordon, who is now Kumail's wife), but because the story is well written and because it's based on actual events, I found the movie to be heartwarming and believable. Most romantic comedies fail in terms of credibility, but "The Big Sick" feels authentic at every beat, including Emily's sudden and devastating illness.

It would never have occurred to me to pair up Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, but the two work surprisingly well together in the roles of Emily's parents, who are having their own marital difficulties. The movie doesn't have too many minor characters, aside from the other standup comedians in Kumail's life, which allows the story to focus on fleshing out the main characters. This is much to the screenwriters' credit: everyone and everything is in his/her/its proper place. Nanjiani and Kazan (as Emily) also play off each other very well, although Kazan spends much of the movie in a hospital bed. Nanjiani's evolving relationship with Emily's parents, however, is the highlight of the film as the three move from frostiness to real warmth.

The movie seems to come with a moral, too: goodbye is never goodbye. The running joke from the start of the film replays itself, in a somewhat different manner, at its end, and we viewers can be comforted by the idea that relationships can be broken, but they can also be mended through time, love, and forgiveness. If you haven't seen "The Big Sick" yet, I strongly recommend it to you—especially if, like me, you're a hater of most romantic comedies.



Sunday, November 05, 2017

Dr. V on "moral failure"

I hope the good professor will pardon my quoting of his blog post in its entirety, but this one is rather short, so I thought I'd take the liberty:

We fall back again and [again] into our old bad habits because of our weakness on all levels: the flesh, the [heart,] the will, and the intellect. Our minds are dark, our wills are weak, our hearts are foul. How do we know this? By honest self-examination and a refusal to evade the truth.

The will is not strong enough to tame the animal in us and control its natural tendencies; but it is strong enough to suborn the intellect and persuade it to rationalize the free will's wrong decisions.

A will too weak to tame the flesh is yet strong enough to suborn the intellect.

Because we cannot significantly improve ourselves by our own efforts, we must seek help elsewhere, but obviously not from those who are as wretched as we are, which is to say, from fellow human beings.

Keep in mind that Dr. V is an unapologetic theist, hence his "elsewhere." My own view of God is that, if you want advice from Him, look to those around you, and you'll find Him there, in bits and pieces—the perfect always and ever shining through the imperfect, and it's up to you to cobble those nuggets of wisdom together into a coherent whole. That's what being an adult means: accept no crutches. Others will be there for you, but it's ultimately all up to you.



that's one way to get Jesus in you

Funniest news I've seen this fine Sunday morning:








Saturday, November 04, 2017

would that it were so simple

Here's an alternative take on The Lord of the Rings:






Friday, November 03, 2017

pics from before and after the meal

What follows are my own pics from when I was prepping the meal, and later, when we had cleaned our plates and begun to loll about in our respective food comas.

Lasagnas, fresh out of the oven:


A shot of the baguettes that would serve as "Italian" bread during the luncheon. That large bowl contains the garlic butter. The butter included a simple mixture of garlic powder, dried oregano, and dried parsley.


Below: panna cotta after a few hours in the fridge. I was deathly worried, at first, that I had put in too little gelatine because the panna cotta didn't seem to be setting: the middles of all the dessert cups were way too jiggly. I needn't have worried: by the time I packed the cups for transport, the custard had set fairly solidly. I should hope so: I used nine damn sheets of gelatine in 2.3 liters of liquid (2 liters of heavy cream plus 300 cc of whole milk). I'll have you know that I was anal retentive enough to measure out the liquid panna cotta into each cup by using my kitchen scale: 2.3 liters of liquid rendered exactly ten cups at 220 g each.

Panna cotta:


Some components for the caprese: tomatoes, balsamic, mozzarella, and pesto:


Below is our first aftermath picture: all the lasagnas were either eaten or packed up and taken home to feed girlfriends as a way to spread the gospel of my cooking.


Leftover salad, which I ended up eating as a sort of mercy killing:


For the dessert, I gave people the choice of smooth and chunky-style blueberry sauce. A surprising number of people chose chunky, as you see here:


A closeup of my own panna cotta, with nothing but smooth blueberry sauce (made with white wine and the Korean version of turbinado sugar; to achieve smoothness, I passed the sauce through a strainer):


Lastly, a hit of caprese:


The staffers all sang their praises of my food. Our one sweary Canadian staffer once again declared the meal "so fucking good," then said she had "no words" while she was nibbling daintily on her panna cotta. J, cited in an earlier post, called my food "expletive-worthy" again, although her heart seems to be set more on the green sauce I had made for the Tex-Mex meal we had done back in September. (All the same, she took the rest of my pesto home with her today.) Other staffers pretty much stopped doing any work because they had to concentrate on digesting. One coworker showed me his now-bulging belly, straining the buttons of his shirt; another coworker sagged in his chair and stared stupidly at the ceiling, utterly defeated by his meal but in a state of apophatic, post-prandial bliss.

I made this meal because I had wanted to get rid of the ton of spaghetti sauce I had cooked. I managed to distribute all of the sauce into the six lasagnas, but now, my problem is that I have too much damn cheese at home. Ah, well. Our office now has to think about celebrating two November birthdays plus American Thanksgiving, so I'm already looking ahead to the challenge of feeding ten or eleven people a decent, rib-sticking Thanksgiving repast.



pics from today's meal

Lasagna, bread, salad, and dessert for eleven! Took me all night, but the compliments were worth it. I was once again asked when I would be opening my restaurant.

The following pics were taken by a coworker, J, who has now made a habit of photographing my meals. She jokes that she wants to devote a blog exclusively to my pesto.


I'm glad J took an overhead shot because the angle makes it less obvious how much the lasagnas collapsed like soufflés after they'd had the chance to cool down:


Three plates (only two visible) of insalata caprese, all of which got eaten (plus homemade pesto and Costco balsamic vinegar) despite how badly the tomatoes sucked:


A caprese closeup (third plate):


Lasagnas plus foil-wrapped baguettes serving as Italian bread:


J's plateful:






prep and a thumbs-up

I guess I'm pulling an all-nighter, of sorts, as I've decided to bake my lasagnas now instead of waiting until later in the morning. This will take me until about sunrise: I have six lasagnas that I can bake in batches of two, with each batch taking about 50 minutes.

If I'm lucky, I'll be able to sneak in a two-hour nap before I need to wake up and finish prep (i.e., assembling the caprese, prepping and baking the garlic bread, and packing up the panna cotta, which is currently gelling in the fridge).

I'm happy with the pesto I'd made; it's got a bright, fresh taste to it. I'm also happy about the blueberry sauce that's supposed to go along with the panna cotta. As for the panna cotta itself, we'll see: I bought some maple syrup as a replacement for vanilla beans, but after digging through my cabinet, I found a package of vanilla beans that was several months old. The beans were stiff but not intractable, and after I dunked them in the heated cream (panna cotta means something like "cooked cream"), they were easy to split open and harvest for their tasty, granular goodness. I ended up adding some syrup, anyway.

Thanks to my kitchen scale, I measured out exactly 220 grams of still-liquid panna cotta per portion; I only hope I put in the right amount of gelatine: after an hour in the fridge, the dessert cups seemed too wobbly. If the texture is still wrong come morning, I'll ditch the panna cotta and buy some vanilla ice cream, on top of which people can drizzle my blueberry sauce. Not tragic. Improvise, adapt, overcome.

Earlier in the evening, while I was busily prepping, I got a text message from a coworker who very kindly said that he's been enjoying working with me on our current project. This is the second time, in as many months, that a coworker has privately told me he's been enjoying working alongside me, so I suppose I must be doing something right. Anyway, I'll take whatever affirmation I can get. And now... back to baking.



Thursday, November 02, 2017

tonight, we cook

Gotta prep for tomorrow's luncheon, so tonight's agenda is:

1. remix cheeses
2. assemble lasagnas (bake in the morning)
3. make pesto
4. slice mozzarella (slice tomatoes, prep basil, and make caprese in the morning)
5. make panna cotta
6. make berry sauce for panna cotta
7. prep garlic butter for bread (do bread in the morning)

And then, tomorrow morning, we:

1. bake lasagnas
2. assemble caprese
3. slice, butter, and bake garlic bread
4. stack panna cotta in transportable containers

Wish me luck.



my award

I think I won the Best Comment Ever award over at John McCrarey's blog. I also left him the most concise explanation of Hinduism I've ever written: see here.