Archive for May, 2009

Sunset policy

Posted in Culture, Korea, News, USA on May 30, 2009 by Elephant Talk

I got another one of those emails from my mom, something along the lines of “we’ve been watching the news and we’re worried. Are you safe?” I had a hard time finding the right adjective to reply. I’m not worried, not even really concerned. I eventually came up with “curious.” I’m curious to see how all of this recent business with North Korea is going to play out. To me it seems as though they’re slowly painting themselves into a corner and I can’t imagine how they’re going to get themselves out of it.

I’ve been reading a lot of news, watching a lot of commentary, and having a few conversations. There seems to be agreement that the DPRK does not want to invade or attack its neighbors. That would be suicide. The talk is really just talk. I get the feeling there is some uneasy shit going down up there internally. We’re probably witnessing the end period of Kim Jong Il’s leadership. He knows this, the military knows this, the people know this. The thinking goes that he wants to hand over power to one of his troubled sons. But in order to do that, he has to show his military that the family is strong and capable. So all the blustery language, the weapons tests, the chest-thumping is all related to this display of strength.

But words have a way of escalating to such heights that unless they are backed by something real, they lose power. In the next few weeks or months, we’ll see how the DPRK follows up its threats with actions (or non-actions). Will they actually attack ROK or US naval ships? When one of their ships is about to be boarded under the Proliferation Security Initiative, will they aggressively defend themselves against it as they’ve promised to do? If they’re kicked out of the UN (which they should be), what will they do? Lots of questions; not a lot of answers. Nobody knows anything. So… curious is the right word.

When I think of North Korea, I think of the game Risk (or, on Facebook, the recently deceased “World Conquest”). There are some players who will plant themselves in one territory with 20 armies. For a long time, these players will sit there. Each turn, they get an additional three armies. They won’t move, won’t attack, just build… very… slowly. The more they build up their armies, the harder it becomes to attack these players. You know that if you’re to win the game, you will at some point have to surround this person and go at it in a bloodbath (or wait for them to eventually make a move on you). The point being, the longer you wait, the worse it gets. This is North Korea. They’ve stacked up their tiny little territory to such an obscene level that there are no good military options. If words devolve into actions, it’s going to be massively, tragically brutal.

Again, I honestly don’t think that will happen. What I don’t know is what will happen. It’s funny to watch all these experts on TV scratch their heads and fumble around making guesses. No one has any real solutions. Surprisingly, I find myself agreeing with that windbag John Bolton, who said the following:

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SoKo’s ex-president Roh is dead

Posted in Film & TV, Korea, News, Politics on May 23, 2009 by Elephant Talk

Some big news today, as former South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun apparently killed himself this morning. Reports say he woke up at dawn, climbed a mountain, and threw himself off. Recently he had been the center of a corruption scandal, so suicide seems plausible. But I already hear a few people suggesting he was killed. Who knows? I guess we’ll find out more in the coming days.

It happened in Roh’s hometown of Bongha, which is a village about 20 miles from Busan. I’m trying to imagine if Bill Clinton killed himself. I’d be pretty shocked. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that my gig for tonight has been canceled and a lot of places have shut down.

Here’s some video of people mourning his death.

And now, the lyrics of Bjork’s “Hyper-ballad” are running though my head and kind of freaking me out.


Posted in Academics, Korea, Music, Sound, Technology on May 19, 2009 by Elephant Talk

Wolfram|Alpha was unveiled today. I’d heard about this a few weeks back — a search engine of computational knowledge. No banner ads, no “supported links,” no… capitalism. Ask it a question and it will do its best to answer.

Google, for all its power and reach, is great. But you usually have to sift through a lot of crap to find what you’re looking for. To me, the two best things on the web are Wikipedia and Youtube. The former is, of course, a communal encyclopedia of just about everything. The latter is a treasure trove of media, letting you see and hear just about any kind of content, from obscure songs to drum lessons. The nice thing about both is you can go in there and find what you’re looking for very easily.

Wolfram|Alpha appears to be trying to take the next step, not beyond Google or Youtube, but beyond Wikipedia. It compensates for Wikipedia’s weakness, in that it can extrapolate what information you’re attempting to seek. Wikipedia’s good when you enter a specific subject. Wolfram|Alpha handles questions, comparative data, events, computations, etc. It’s more like the computer in Star Trek. Ask a question and it will compute from its knowledge database and provide an answer. What’s creepy cool is that it makes assumptions based on what you’re trying to ask.

So it sounds great. Unfortunately, my first attempts didn’t lead to much success. I tried “Korean language outside Korea” and various other combinations, trying to find out how much Korean is spoken outside Korea. It sort of gave me an answer. Ninety-three percent of Korean speakers are in Korea. So that means 7% are outside Korea, but it didn’t tell me where. I also tried “sample rate” and it just gave me an equation without any additional information. “All major scales” returned no results. “D# major scale” did, complete with sound, but I already knew it could do that.

Its creators admit this is a work in progress. I’m excited about it more for its potential that what it is now. Check out the excellent video introduction, and you’ll get a sense of what they’re trying to do.

Hatred, spoon-fed

Posted in Culture, Film & TV, News, Politics, USA on May 18, 2009 by Elephant Talk

I think I’m better off staying in Korea. America scares me. Still. Maybe now more than ever.

I started making this new Daily Koz TV site part of my regular early morning coffee routine. It’s rotting my brain. This one little looking glass makes it seem as though America is gearing up for full-on armed Civil War.

Before last week I didn’t know who Glenn Beck was. That’s one scary dude. In this clip, he’s basically saying “Buy a gun because the government is coming for you in the same way the Nazis did.” There’s a very thin line between that and calling for assassinations outright. He’s also featured prominently in a 5-minute montage of FOX News on an Obama skewering rampage.

I guess this is another manifestation of the same old story that’s happened throughout history: change giving rise to fear giving rise to desperation. Except these days fear is projected into our homes on a continuous loop. Access to this kind of constant vitriol is still fairly new. So, recently unemployed Joe Dumbshit can sit in his living room with his gun, watch FOX all day long, and slowly build fear upon hatred upon fear upon hatred until he’s insane.

I did enjoy one clip. Keith Olbermann absolutely burying Texas Governor Rick Perry (along with those who voted for him) for not ruling out secession. There’s no fear or hatred in there, just good research and a sharp wit combining into a well-deserved verbal ass-kicking. There is a huge difference between well-constructed commentary and chicken-shit hate-mongering.

But I gotta stop going to that website. I’ll just go back to my relatively tame Google News feed.

I’m way over on the other side of the planet, so what do I know. I hope most of this is being ignored by the vast majority of Americans. It’s the significant minority that worries me.

Wishful thinking

Posted in Music, Personal on May 17, 2009 by Elephant Talk

Fill up your mind with all it can know
Don’t forget that your body will let it all go
Fill up your mind with all it can know
What would we be without wishful thinking
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Let’s build a force field around our souls

Posted in Culture, Film & TV, News, Politics, Technology on May 14, 2009 by Elephant Talk

This guy is clearly an igoramus. But I gotta give him credit for making me laugh. It was not only hilarious but enlightening, showing me why people who love Christ also love killing people.

The new “Star Trek” film shows Captain Kirk’s Starship Enterprise making good use of photon torpedoes and force fields.   So the question comes to mind: Would Israel be safer if it could shoot down enemy missiles and rockets with such photon torpedoes, or block them altogether with a force field?  Of course it would.

Abrams physics

Posted in Film & TV, Lost on May 11, 2009 by Elephant Talk

One of the subjects I wanted to hit on in this increasingly neglected blog was how much I hate all the “rebooting” and “reimagining” that’s coming out of the greater Los Angeles area this decade. It started with all of the comic book movies, which I liked at first but which quickly became tiresome. Then we had Battlestar Galactica and now Star Trek, and I know there are a whole host of others that I can’t think of at the moment. Why the hell can’t someone come up with an original idea anymore? Aren’t there any new stories out there?

I wanted to bitch about that, but I just saw the new Star Trek movie and I fucking loved it. So there goes that idea.

I’m not a Trekkie, because I don’t go to conventions, I don’t dress up (okay, I was Dr. Crusher for Halloween once), and I don’t like the original series very much. But Star Trek TNG was a mild obsession for me in college and I went to see just about all of the 10 movies that came before this latest one.

This movie brought out the geek in me because of all the inside jokes, Karl Urban’s hilarious and spot-on take on Bones, and the general giddiness of a truly kick-ass science fiction movie. But what really got me was how ballsy it was to completely change the Roddenberry universe. Warning: Spoilers ahead.

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