Archive for September, 2008

What to do what to do…

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Film & TV, Korea, Music, Personal, PIFF, Travel on September 25, 2008 by Elephant Talk

Why does everything have to happen on the same weekend? Can’t the gods of festivation spread things out a little? Take this weekend, for example — not much is going on. There’s a block party at PNU and the skeletal remains of my band is going to put together a little show to celebrate. Pretty much a typical weekend.

But next weekend, Oct. 4-5, that’s when everything happens at once on our little peninsula below the 38th parallel. I can’t decide what to do.

1. 13th PIFF International Film Festival. This is easily one of the coolest events in Busan. I have a free pass for all the films and I want to take full advantage. Adding to this, my professor/mentor/friend is coming down from Seoul to participate and I plan to tag along.

2. Ulsan World Music Festival. Someone told me about this last night. Ulsan’s not too far away and this looks like a lot of fun, with some great music.

3. Jarasum International Jazz Festival. John Scofield, John Abercrombie, Victor Bailey, and a bunch of other international artists play over a full weekend. It’s held in Gapyeong County, which is apparently a beautiful area of land east of Seoul.

Most likely, I’ll hang around for PIFF. But I have friends going to the other two events, so we’ll see what happens.



Posted in Culture, Expat life, Images, Korea, Outdoors, Personal, Travel on September 23, 2008 by Elephant Talk

The best way to spend a day in Korea is to go on a nice long hike in the mountains (maybe catch a temple along the way), stumble down into a tiny village, eat the local cuisine, have a few drinks, and sing or play a few songs.

I’ve done this many times and in many different ways. Sometimes its a long bus trip with an overnight (or two night) stay in a minbak, other times it’s a day trip. Sometimes it’s dong-dong-ju, other times soju. Sometimes it’s sunny, sometimes it rains. Sometimes we play guitars, other times we sing Judas Priest songs. But it’s always a good time.

This time out we went to Geumjeongsan for the day. It’s the most popular hiking destination around Busan. The highlight is a long fortress wall that traces much of the ridge-line. It had rained the night before so even though it was hot on the ascent up from Beomosa, there was a cool breeze coming off the hills. Rain clouds still hung in the air and it created a spooky mist that touched the higher peaks.

The village was Sanseongmaeul. The local cuisine was duck and black goat. The drink was dong-dong-ju. The entertainment was lots and lots of norae.

Click ahead for some pictures…

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US legal influence on the decline

Posted in Culture, News, Politics, USA on September 18, 2008 by Elephant Talk

There’s an interesting article in the International Herald Tribune about the U.S. Supreme Court’s dwindling influence on decisions in other countries.

These days, foreign courts in developed democracies often cite the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in cases concerning equality, liberty and prohibitions against cruel treatment, said Harold Hongju Koh, the dean of the Yale Law School. In those areas, Dean Koh said, “they tend not to look to the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The rest of the developed world is becoming more liberal while the United States continues its devolution toward greater conservatism. And now, it’s harder to win an argument by citing U.S. thinking.

Another reason is the diminished reputation of the United States in some parts of the world, which experts here and abroad said is in part a consequence of the Bush administration’s unpopularity abroad. Foreign courts are less apt to justify their decisions with citations to cases from a nation unpopular with their domestic audience.

It’s a shame. The U.S. may not have invented human rights, but we perfected it. We changed the rules and the rest of the world followed suit. It’s probably the single greatest contribution this country has made to the world.

So… who has the influence now?

Many legal scholars singled out the Canadian Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court of South Africa as increasingly influential.

“In part, their influence may spring from the simple fact they are not American,” Dean Slaughter wrote in a 2005 essay, “which renders their reasoning more politically palatable to domestic audience in an era of extraordinary U.S. military, political, economic and cultural power and accompanying resentments.”

It’s easy to forget that in the U.S., the courts, particularly the Supreme Court, are the soul of the nation. The president doesn’t make decisions about my rights, the courts do. During the Bush/Gore election, I heard a lot of people talking about how they were more “comfortable” with Bush, while Gore rubbed them the wrong way. I couldn’t understand this. I kept thinking… I’m not voting for a buddy, I’m voting for someone who is going to shape the future of the Supreme Court.

And look where we are now.

RIP Richard Wright

Posted in Music, Personal, Sound on September 16, 2008 by Elephant Talk

Pink Floyd is my favorite band, always has been. So it made me very sad to see this morning that Rick Wright died of cancer today.

This hits me more than Syd Barrett’s death. Syd was the creative force behind the Floyd’s earlier music, but I just don’t connect emotionally with it as I do with the classic ’70s lineup — the era that stretches from Ummagumma (1969) through The Final Cut (1983).

During the Floyd’s best years, Roger Waters and David Gilmour fought in an increasingly bitter manner for creative control over the band. It shows in the music, which is an interplay between Roger’s intense songwriting and Dave’s searing solos. In the center of it all was Rick, never pushing his will on the music. Instead, he provided a tranquil, harmonic, multilayered presence within those other dominant voices.

His choice of notes was sparse. This is a musician who fully appreciated and utilized the space between the notes, which is something few musicians are brave enough to embrace. His choice of sounds was always beautiful, haunting and — this is difficult to do with keyboards — timeless. He managed to somehow be both bright and dark, sad and euphoric, in the same moment. Even when his songwriting productivity in the band slowed down, he continued to provide the kind of depth and dimension the songs needed. His textures and soloing on “Dogs” and his electric piano intro on “Sheep” from the Animals album are some of his finest moments. And I can’t forget his melancholy vocal contributions, particularly when he harmonized with Dave’s leads. The Floyd would not be the Floyd without him.

This post isn’t meant to be a proper tribute. I’m just saying things off the top of my head. Truth is I want to stop writing and get back to listening to his music, because for whatever reason I feel this one personally.

Before I go, I want to offer anyone reading this a taste of Rick’s gorgeous and largely forgotten solo album, Wet Dream. It sold poorly, and didn’t meet with very kind reviews. This confounds me, because it’s a sensational album. Here are few of my favorite tunes. Enjoy…

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Ordinary People

Posted in Culture, Personal, Politics, USA on September 10, 2008 by Elephant Talk

If Barack Obama is going to win this election he has to steal from John McCain in the same way McCain has stolen from him. McCain ripped the “change” nounverb right out of Obama’s mouth. Obama, in turn, should take ownership over this word “ordinary.”

Actually, the current owner of this word is Sarah Palin. Conservatives, I guess, are ordinary. They like simple things, nothing too freaky. They’re very nervous about scary stuff they don’t understand: non-vaginal sex, drugs (alcohol is okay), evolution, government, Muslims, art, dissent, athiesm, masturbation. So they censor, they wiretap, they ban books, they stifle independent thinking, and they do a lot of fearmongering.

This is the social-cultural arm of conservatism. These are the ones who fund their candidates with all that cash. If they had their way, you wouldn’t have the ability to decide which gender to have sex with, what you can do with your reproductive system, whom or what you may believe created the universe, what movies you should see, what music you should listen to, what language you can speak. You wouldn’t miss having such choices. You only need to accept that there is a certain way to live your life, one as dictated by the words of Christ. It will all become clear to you. Just accept it and everything will be fine. You’d be ordinary.


“Ordinary” as the Republicans use it is synonymous with “backward.” Ordinary people in this fantasy land of the mind believe the universe is 6,000 years old. Ordinary people on Sundays worship a zombie who rose from the dead. Ordinary people don’t accept the scientific process. Ordinary people shoot wolves from airplanes. Ordinary people have babies while in high school. Ordinary people so fear their own democratically elected government that they have storehouses of guns to fight them off. As part of being “ordinary,” you must also have “common sense.” I hear this phrase a lot from Republicans. Now, does any of what I’ve said above align with any sane person’s notion of common sense?

It’s not just about cultural issues. Look at economics. Obama wants to cut taxes for the middle class — what I would call ordinary people. McCain wants to maintain the Bush tax plan, which favors the wealthy — what I would call nonordinary people.

I’m actually fairly moderate politically, with opinions on both sides of the ideological divide. But I cannot abide this current wave of conservatism. The reason why I’m voting democrat is very simple: Democrats want to have some small say over how you spend your money; Republicans want to have enormous say over how you live your life. To me it’s very, very simple. The government can have a little bit more of my cash, I don’t care. But don’t you fucking dare tell me how I should live my life.

Gimhae Excursion

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Images, Korea, Personal, Travel on September 9, 2008 by Elephant Talk

Gimhae is better known as an airport for flights in and out of Busan. Turns out it’s also the name of a pretty cool town.

I went there on Sunday to meet a friend who lives there. From the maddening throngs of my 대학요 hub, I took the subway northwest to the final stop, met her there, then together we took the 45-minute bus ride into Gimhae. Thinking about airport neighborhoods typical in the US, I expected a gritty industrial town. I learned two things: Gimhae Airport isn’t actually in Gimhae, and Gimhae is not a gritty industrial town.

In fact it’s quite clean and pleasant. There are flowers everywhere and the skyline is dominated by a rocky and green twin set of hills. On one of the hills is an observatory and on the other is a fortress wall. We first went to the national museum, which is surrounded by a lush park. The museum facade looked like a smaller version of the new De Young Museum in San Francisco. After learning about historical and prehistorical Gayan artifacts, we walked around the park under the hum of cicadas and eventually ended up at the tomb of an old queen who lived here. Later, we went to a monster-sized Home Plus for a Chinese dinner.

As the sun went down, we walked around the concert hall building and over to Yeonji Park, which has a lake in the center. Around 8 pm, they turned on a big fountain show with colored lights. A little bit later, they sent up a sheet of water and projected an animated laser film.

So that’s my Gimhae invasion. It was a nice day. Next time, I’m going to climb that hill and check out the observatory. Click ahead to see photos…

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Steinem on Palin

Posted in News, Politics, USA on September 7, 2008 by Elephant Talk

This article by Gloria Steinem pretty much says it all when it comes to Sarah Palin. In addition to an extensive itemization of the horrors Palin believes in, she blows a lid on the manufactured image the Republicans are trying to sell to a gullible electorate. Some highlights:

“Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It’s about making life more fair for women everywhere.”

“She (Palin) was elected governor largely because the incumbent was unpopular, and she’s won over Alaskans mostly by using unprecedented oil wealth to give a $1,200 rebate to every resident.”

“The culprit is John McCain. He may have chosen Palin out of change-envy, or a belief that women can’t tell the difference between form and content, but the main motive was to please right-wing ideologues…”

And finally, in the bio at the end:

“Gloria Steinem is an author, feminist organizer and co-founder of the Women’s Media Center. She supported Hillary Clinton and is now supporting Barack Obama.”