I was blown away, you might say, by Dr. Strangelove (Subtitle: "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb").
What a great movie, and one that took me by surprise. It starts seriously but the absurd slowly takes over the reins. Most characters reveal themselves to be comically insane. It turns out to have been a satirical comedy.
I expected a James Bond type movie with lots of chasing, raiding of secret lairs, and henchmen. I assumed "Dr. Strangelove" would be the name of an eccentric anti-American villain who creates a doomsday device, but in fact the character Doctor Strangelove actually works for the Americans. He is actually much less insane than some in the movie, notably than the Air Force commander who orders the nuclear first strike in retaliation for the Communists having put fluoride in Americans' water supplies.
A pleasant, sunny Saturday in May 2015. We took a few wrong turns and ended up here:
We were four -- Myself, two Canadians from Ontario (R. and H.) and an American from Massachusetts (S.C.). The wrong turns were taken near Gyeyang Mountain in Incheon, South Korea.
These others were all new to Korea, such that I was leading them around. I translated the sign:
I have some amount of Danish ancestry via my father. The important (by European tradition) "father's father father's..." (patrilineal) line for me comes from Denmark (see post-223), but that line entered the USA a long time ago now. I have never been to Denmark. I have met personally and had interaction with only two Danes in my life.
Let me write a few words about these two Danes.
I was fortunate enough to have the chance to visit Taiwan. There I met several friends, as well as family of a Taiwanese friends in the USA. I spent almost five days in Taiwan, May 29 to June 3.
Here are some impressions I recall now, a week after my return to Korea.
I am going to Taiwan. It will be my first time there.
A picture of the Taipei skyline (featuring "Taipei 101", the world's tallest building from 2004-2010):
I know a Taiwanese family in the USA who have graciously connected me with friends and family there, so I expect the trip will be good. I leave Friday afternoon May 29th, and will return to Korea the following Wednesday.
The study of a language is never an "island unto itself" but rather comes as part of a package involving an entire culture and worldview which has evolved with over centuries and milennia. The worldview must be, and inevitably is, learned in parallel with a language. It is possible to learn the culture without the language, but it is more profound when learning the language. Plus you can communicate with natives on their own terms.
One benefit of studying Korean more-or-less full time over the past year has been the clarifying and/or opening up of such a new perspective to me, beyond what I understood about Korea, and East Asia generally, before. (see, e.g., post #261 "But Which Twin is the Elder?").
Here is a possible example of this. A Chinese native speaker in my Korean class sent me a set of paired images delineating differences between West and East and asked for comment. Simple pictures, simple headings, but not all have clear meanings. I think it's well done and thought provoking. The important thing is that this was produced by East Asians in East Asia, probably Chinese. It was found on a Chinese website.
Blue is Westerners. Red is Easterners:
인간 관계, Connections Between People: I am not sure exactly how to interpret this. Asians have a wider network of acquaintances whom they can rely on for favors? Westerners have fewer people they can rely on?
나(자신), Myself: Westerners have higher self esteem (maybe excessive). Asians tend to be internally nervous and self-conscious.
문제 대처방식, Coping with Problems: Like one of those ink blot tests, many things are possible to see here, too. Asians avoid problems rather than dealing with them as they should? Or is it that Asians smartly go around problems while we foolhardedly and obliviously plow on into them?
Late April 2009
Me (freshly arrived in Korea for the first time): "Can I drink the tap water?"
He (American, several years in Korea): [Calmly] "Never drink the tap water."
That was that. I didn't question it. Why would I? He was the expert; I was a complete outsider.
A very predictable thing has happened in Baltimore. It was so predictable, in fact, that even I predicted it, on these pages, some weeks ago. In reaction to the anti-police political climate (following the race riots and the charging of six officers with "murder"), police are stepping back. The number of arrests being made in Baltimore has gone way down (May 2015 has had fewer than half as many as normal), and murders have gone way up (May 2015 is Baltimore's deadliest month since the 1990s). It's reasonable to presume that one follows the other.
" Mad Max: Fury Road" turned out to be great. I didn't expect this. In truth, one of the best such movies I've seen.
Here is a question. If today's elaborate, gentle, safe-seeming society and institutions -- liberal democracy, let's say -- collapsed due to some enormous shock or irreversible crisis, what kind of political institutions and cultures would human survivors rally around; what kind of stable systems would rise up? In other words, what would post-apocalyptic cultures look like? Mad Max lives in one.
How hard would it be for a vast, well-organized Luddite conspiracy to cripple the Internet?
As it exists today, "the Internet" seems like a kind of magic (e.g., people now talk about storage of data "in the Cloud"), but the Internet really is and remains just a network of physical boxes (servers) and physical wires.
Say a number of Luddite commando teams are raised. Armed with plain old-fashioned hammers, they are dispatched to smash up the world's limited number of servers and dynamite major fiber-optic cable chokepoints. Couldn't doing so "destroy" the Internet?
In brief. Four things I've seen on the Seoul metropolitan rail network ("subway") recently.
Scene I. Backwards Cap Boy
Legs dangling off the seat, baseball cap in hand, a preschool-age boy is seated next to his mother (early 30s). Time to get off. The mother takes the boy's cap and puts it snugly on him...backwards. He promptly changes it to "forwardside forward" (as a cap is meant to be worn to keep out the Sun). She promptly reverses it again. The mother is dressed very casually but seems to be well-off. She is wearing a baseball cap of her own, though hers is forwarside forwards. This time the small boy doesn't resist his mother's will and lets it stay backwards. The doors open and they walk off.
A news story today:
Burundi coup bid: Groups seek Bujumbura control
Organized political violence in Burundi (average annual income, $900).
Few of us care at all what happens in some place called Burundi, which might as well be on the moon. But if it is another skirmish in Eastern Africa's Nilotic vs. Bantu conflict that has been so important in East Africa for so many years, it's worth some attention, maybe.
Surprisingly to myself, given my total lack of connection to the region, I developed an interest in East African affairs in one sense. When I was in university I became fascinated by the little-understood ethnocultural fault line there, and studied it a little bit. It seems to determine so much of the politics of the region and is a kind of long-running "clash of civilizations," we might call it, between Nilotics and Bantus. All the countries in the region are affected. Burundi is just a flashpoint.
Post-305: Annoyed by "Avengers II" (Leading to an Inquiry on the Nature of Quality and Group Thought)
Incoherent story. What's going on? What's the point? Who are these characters? Why should I care? Who's bad and who's good? Even that's not clear. Too fast, as if in fast forward mode. Too many unexplained, confusing, and seemingly pointless fight scenes. Frivolous.
These are some thoughts I had while watching "Avengers II: Age of Ultron". I didn't like it. I saw it in the movie theater after coming upon a free ticket via a friend.
Free or not, I wish I hadn't watched it. I could've used those two hours better. I realize this is a harsh judgement. I'd heard others speak highly of the movie, and it seems it got many more good reviews than bad ones. How is this possible? The movie really was lousy on its own merits.
The UK's general election of 2015 has come and gone. The Conservative Party won. They had been governing in coalition with the Liberal Democrats since 2010, but now have enough seats to govern alone, in the majority.
Every pre-election predicted a "hung parliament" (no party having a majority), with Labour probably able to govern in coalition. One poll even put the odds of a hung parliament at "100%". All wrong. The Conservative Party won an outright majority of seats.
The other big story is the "sweep" of Scotland by the left-wing Scottish National Party, which calls for Scottish independence. This is the first election in which they have done so well. The result must be a carry-over of political energy from the failed independence referendum of 2014 (see posts #228, #229, and #233). Anyway, the polls got the Scottish result right. It was predicted they'd win nearly every seat in Scotland and they did.
What explains the rise in support for the Conservative Party in England?
Even the simplest of Korean sentences can be said in, say, ten different ways, not in terms of rephrasing (as in any language) but using the exact same words. They slightly shift things (especially sentence endings) around to adjust desired levels of politeness, formality, and intimacy. These shifts are explicit in Korean and are a big part of the Korean language, important in day-to-day use. This is one reason why Korean is ranked by the U.S. State Department as "Category 5" (the hardest languages for Americans to learn).
When a Korean is speaking to me, he or she will often shift to a certain form of polite speech. Words shifted to a polite register sound different from the basic forms of the words I know, so in the heat of the moment it causes confusion. Each split second of slight confusion can easily add up to losing track of the point. They're trying to make me feel good (being polite), but it actually makes me feel...bad. I wish they'd stop being so polite!
This reminds me of something in New York City. In visits there I saw lots of signs that said things like this: "Accumulation of Refuse on the Premises is Prohibited". Why not just say "No Trash"!? In this case, this over-formal language is just not a good idea because many people will frankly not understand it.
I am consistently surprised by how many people do not seem to care about data or the facts of a given matter. The Baltimore case in April 2015 is another example. (I wrote about this in #299 and hope not to again.)
Here are the important facts that have been largely ignored in the narrative that has been created and consumed by millions across the world. ("A happy-go-lucky young Black man is arrested for no reason, beaten by police for no reason, had his spine broken by the police, as all his desperate pleas for help went ignored.")
Two related quotations:
Professor G.B. Stones:
The "Monty Python" view of Palestine [of New Testament times] as a sort of Jewish state under Roman occupation misses out on the fact that, culturally speaking, it's a very Hellenized country. It was part of Alexander's empire already, so it's been under Hellenic influence for three centuries [i.e., by the time Jesus was born].
Peter Adamson (Interviewer):
As a matter of historical possibility, do we think that Paul could have read Stoic texts? Or is the idea more that Stoicism was "in the air" in his intellectual environment?
Professor G.B. Stones (Durham University):
I find it more plausible to think that it was "in the air". He clearly has very profound rhetorical training. He writes Greek that is indicative of a high level of Greek education.
These comments fit into the debate over to what extent Christianity was "Western" in orientation from the beginning.
The two acquaintances I mentioned in #298 ("The Beginning is Near") belong to a certain Korean church or (church-like entity) with very unorthodox teachings "based on" wild interpretations of the Book of Revelation. They say Revelation specifically prophesies the coming of their own leader (a Korean man born in the 1930s), who is a kind of Christ-like figure in their belief.
I don't much trust people who talk too much about the Book of Revelation. As I see it, that book and its dream-like apocalyptic imagery is (at best) fuel for wild yet idle speculation under the cover of allegedly divine revelation.
I've heard that Luther had similar things to say on it. Here is Luther's highly critical preface to Revelation:
"Ideas have consequences," someone once famously said.
And so it happened that race riots have struck, again, in 2015, in Baltimore:
I try to imagine what a Martin observer, looking on, would think.
This is a surprising and pleasing image to me. Maybe it's best to view it from the bottom to top, but viewing it all at once is nearly as good.
Towards the end of 1969, a few months after the first human moon landing, an album was released in the USA called "Willy and the Poor Boys" which featured the now iconic song "Fortunate Son". Another song on the album was "It Came Out of the Sky".
Below is that song, its lyrics, and some comments on it that occur to me. (As of now, for copyright reasons Youtube blocks the song on mobile devices but it can be heard on desktops.)
I see the song as saying this: People tend to react to new, unknown phenomena or developments based narrowly on the way they already see the world, the way they've always done things. Few, if any, can really break free of this mental constraint. (I think this makes the song a musical version of Plato's "Allegory of the Cave.")
I heard somebody from the UK make this comment a while ago:
"I've met people who don't even believe in God, but they believe in Islam."
He was talking about Muslims living in the UK, I think. What this means is open to interpretation.
I turned a piece of paper over and found this:
Go and Catch a Falling Star
I don't seek out poetry, but if it seeks me out, I'll give it a try. But -- Nope. Couldn't understand it. Can you?
I was talking with a nice Korean young man (born 1988) who is an English Literature major at a university in Seoul. We were scribbling on the back side of the paper; on the front was this poem.
I read it again and a third time. Slowly an idea took shape in my mind: Adventure. Could it be? -- a poem praising the adventurous spirit, both physical and mental, eternal curiosity, relentless seeking after new knowledge; maybe on the fantastical side, but approving. Life is the eternal pursuit of knowledge and experience, and also full of fool's errands, and maybe, ultimately, every single thing is a fool's errand, but that's okay. Something like this took shape in my mind. Poetry is hard. I said simply in English, "I think this poem means 'Adventure is good.'" He flatly replied: "No." A little condescendingly, he explained the real meaning:
"Jordan Am a Hard Road to Travel" is a traditional American song out of 1800s with many versions. One version is by Jimmie Driftwood, a prolific songwriter out of Arkansas, active from the 1930s-1990s. The lyrics are nowhere to be found online. I'll transcribe them and put them up here.
The song was recorded in 1959. It tells the story of a man who went to California during the Gold Rush.
Jordan Am a Hard Road to Travel
By Jimmy Driftwood / 1959 / "The Westward Movement" album
There was an old man
from the county called Pike
And his name was Jolly ol' Higgins
The darned ol' fool
Who went an' bought an ol' mule
And was bound for the California diggins
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