Archive for November, 2008

One last thought before bed

Posted in Expat life on November 17, 2008 by Elephant Talk

Just want to say that one of my great joys of living here is looking out from my balcony at 1 am and watching the drunks singing songs to themselves and yelling indecipherable things into the air as they weave their way home.


Capturing history

Posted in Film & TV, Politics, USA on November 17, 2008 by Elephant Talk

I just finished the John Adams HBO series. Narratively, I loved it. The storytelling focused on the relationships of the people involved, which was the right tone to take. I feel, and I think it’s a common thing, that the biggest curiosity about the birth of the United States is to imagine what these people must have been thinking. Did they understand what they were doing? Did they realize the importance, the historical significance of it? How did they behave in their daily interactions, moving forward as they were into a new and ambiguous world that had previously only been conjured in books. (At least, for the most part.)

The series captured this by focusing on conversations — between John and Abigail, John and Thomas Jefferson… Franklin, Hamilton, et al. Of course, presenting this is a huge leap in conjecture and speculation. We can’t know. (And it was interesting that this was alluded to in the script, through Adams’ ruminations about his eventual place in history.) But whatever the mixture of fiction and fact, it did make for an interesting post-imagining.

Having said that… The cinematography pissed me off. I don’t know who’s decision it was — director Tom Hooper or famed DP Tak Fujimoto — but the choice to violate every aesthetic principle of photography was a bad idea. First was the constant canting of the camera. Why skew the landscape when there’s no tension? It’s a frigging landscape shot. But they also did it indoors, as if they were trying to compensate for bad blocking by tilting the camera. Then there were the voyeuristic POV shots, with the camera hidden behind lattice-work or a chair or a fence, as if someone’s about to be assassinated at any second. Finally, we got just badly framed shots, where someone’s hanging off screen right with a blank wall on screen left. Here I am trying to follow the story — follow the actors moving through the story — and I’m constantly distracted by cutesy camera work.

This is all entirely purposeful. So you have to ask why. Is it that they didn’t believe in the strength of the story or in their actors? There are reasons for these kinds of tricks of the camera. They’re to be preserved for moments of tension or narrative ambiguity. Using them for a simple conversation is overkill. It’s equivalent to using Hitchcock’s zoom-in-dolly-out Vertigo effect for a shot of a man reading the newspaper, or booming reverb on the voices during a conversation about one’s weekend. It’s silly. It’s overproduction and overthinking.

Anyway, great job actors and writers. Crew? Chill out, please.

Fill the cup

Posted in Expat life, Film & TV, News, Personal, Politics, USA on November 12, 2008 by Elephant Talk

So the election ends and I’ve got nothing else to say? Yes and no. There’s not much to say politically, unless I want to dig into the nuances of the post-game report, which in truth isn’t very interesting. If you’re a hard-core partisan, you can’t get enough of the Palin-McCain backstage bickering or what frigging dog Obama’s going to get. Sorry, not interested. I was into this for the substance, not the fluff… Actually, who am I kidding?

In truth, I’ve been trying to wean myself off the news-nipple and get back to my immediate world. This consists of mostly managing the past (finally grading midterms), trying to focus on present needs (class preps), and preparing for the future (the many possible avenues that may or may not open up come next year).

What else? I’m buying a bunch of DVDs from Amazon. A few Korean movies plus some old favorites. And I’m ordering the new Marillion album. I’ve been watching the John Adams HBO mini-series, which has taken over The Wire as my TV of choice. I don’t think I’m really into The Wire, actually. I recognize it as a good show, but it’s not the knockout I’d been promised. I’m only in the middle of the first season, though, so we’ll see. John Adams, on the other hand, is outstanding. This was a conscious choice, to watch it right after the election. After all the noise, I wanted to go back to the beginning of American democracy as a means of political cleansing. It’s working.

I’ve also been extremely social lately. Lunches and dinners out almost every night. Hanging out with my usual tight bunch. But also spending a lot of time with some new people who have come into my life. Fall is typically a reflective season, and maybe as a result I feel like time is running short. Time to kick in the inertial burners for that mad dash to February.

The day after yesterday

Posted in Expat life, Korea, Music, News, Personal, Politics, USA on November 6, 2008 by Elephant Talk

I wasn’t too far off with my map prediction. From the numbers, it looks like in the end Missouri will be McCain’s and North Carolina will go to Obama. So it should wind up 364-174, three off from my guess of 367-171. The only state I didn’t get right was North Dakota.


Last night was a big party. I went out with a few friends to my favorite neighborhood restaurant for pig and soj. When the TV came around to the election news coverage, we all whooped and hollered and got stared at by the natives. Then we played a bunch of songs at the bar. It was a good crowd. Lots of dancing and Obama chants late into the night. It did all make me even more homesick though. I got home at 4 am and watched Obama’s victory speech again, the sound filling my livingroom. I’m still amazed.

This morning, a few of my Korean colleagues asked me my thoughts on the election. The Korean L is very close to an R sound, so it takes me a half a second to be sure I understand the topic of conversation.

Oy, I’m so sleepy, and not thinking straight. Think I’ll take a nap. I leave you with this most excellent political cartoon:

Steve Sack, Star Tribune

Steve Sack, Star Tribune

Liberals love water!

Posted in Culture, News, Politics, Technology, USA on November 5, 2008 by Elephant Talk

Well, they love the Pacific Ocean. The Atlantic? Not so much.

I’m really enjoying Fox’s interactive election map. Very nicely designed. You can click on all the states and see which counties voted for whom. Looking at the West Coast states, they’re decisively blue all along the ocean. Inland, things get much more orangey. Take a look at California:


Oregon and Washington look the same. And of course, Hawaii is blue all over (surrounded as it is by the Pacific). What does this mean? A nice ocean wind contributing to one’s breezy outlook on a hopeful future? Better quality seafood?

I know, I know, urban versus rural values. But it’s still fun to look at how opinion is concentrated in certain areas. People talk about red states and blue states, but it’s more microscopic than that. Missouri is fascinating. Take away Kansas City and St. Louis and it’s chock full of McCainites. In fact, take any of the states and you’ll find that this urban/rural thing is major, perhaps even moreso in this election, with this particular president-elect.

And of course things get even more microscopic than that, but it becomes tougher to measure, and perhaps unnecessary to think about. “The public” is, after all, an unquantifiable thing. Keep going and you get Joe Sixpack living across the street from Elsa the Elitist. There is no flyover country, there are no red or blue states. In the end there are simply various concentrations of majority opinion.

I would like to point out however, as a closing thought, that Texas Mavericks overwhelmingly seem to like Obama:


A little live bloggin

Posted in Expat life, News, Personal, Politics, USA on November 5, 2008 by Elephant Talk

I’m sitting in the English lounge at my university, watching president-elect Barack Obama speak on television. It really does feel like something impossible has happened. I feel strangely separated from it, being over here in Korea. I don’t get homesick often but I wish I was sitting on a barstool at Lucky 13 in San Francisco right now, drinking a Sam Adams and watching the coverage on TV.

The popular vote at this point seems to show things fairly equally divided (unlike the EC, which is a landslide). Half of the nation is disappointed, but I have to believe that even McCain supporters feel the weight of this. Regardless of how things change in the next four years (and regardless of how they won’t), this is a singular moment of historical significance.

On a more personal level… I needed this. I needed an act of courage from my country, not so much in electing a black man, but in taking a risk. He is young and untested. I know this and a lot of others did as well. But people allowed themselves listen to him, and brought themselves to choose a new path. To me that’s huge.

He just finished his speech. I can’t think of anything else to say. I’m just going to soak this in for a while.

Scary indeed

Posted in Expat life, News, Personal, Politics, USA on November 3, 2008 by Elephant Talk

Well, here we go. I found this by way of

Now, sure, some of this comes down to a smattering of dim bulbs not understanding how to punch a simple ballot. But what’s abominable are the efforts by people to actively stop others from voting. These people should be hung up and shot. C’mon, telling people to vote on Wednesday? Telling Hispanics they’ll be arrested if they try to vote? This is midieval.

The closer we get to Nov. 4, the freakier things get. This article is just… weird. This one‘s weird too. People are weird. It’s interesting how many McCain enthusiasts use the word “scary” when it comes to Obama. The language is becoming more and more desperate, tempers are flaring. I’m just waiting for someone to finally lose it: “Dammit, do I have to spell it out for you people? He’s black, can’t you see that!? We can’t have a black socialist terrorist in office!” That’s so close to coming out of someone’s mouth. You can feel it.

One more day. The carnival is almost ready to close down. Pack up your soapboxes, dump out your leftover buckets of mud, wipe the lipstick off the talking pig. I don’t care anymore. I’ve had it. End this thing. No matter who wins, I’ve seen the best and the worst of my country and that won’t change. It’s just that one side will win a slight majority. Once this theater is over, American extremists can go back to expressing their hatred toward each other in more random forms.

Right now my priority is to find a good place to watch the coverage. I’ve got class until 12:30pm on Wednesday, which is 7:30pm Tuesday, San Francisco time. I’m sure people will be gathering somewhere in my neighborhood. I plan to be drunk by 3. What I don’t know is whether I’ll be a happy drunk or a sad one.