Life Needs A Laughtrack

A long time ago I was in therapy.  My shrink bore an uncanny resemblance to Frank Sinatra, the singer. (Disco is dead, Frank!)  I asked him his advice about whether or not I should stick it out with my girlfriend.  I still cared deeply about her, and I knew she loved me, but our sex life was on the fritz, proving that history does indeed repeat itself.

He looked at me over his clipboard of notes and said–no, sang:

“It’s up to you, you dork, you dork!” 

_

Have you ever seen that movie Alive!, about the Peruvian soccer team whose plane crashed in the Andes and they had to resort to eating their dead comrades?  According to one of the survivors, during one day of their desperate struggle to hang on, they were approached by a leprechaun.  He danced a merry jig and led them to a burst compartment near the rear of the plane’s fuselage, pointing out a bunch of severed arms among the scattered suitcases and duffel bags.

“What the hell do you expect us to do with those?”  one of the starving men asked.

“Why don’t you eat ’em, you silly bugger?”

They set about doing so, at first recoiling from the frozen meat before them.  But after awhile they found the morsels of human flesh downright savory.

“What can we do to repay you, sir?”

“Nothing a’tall!”  The leprechaun then sang a familiar tune from an old childhood TV commercial:

“Frosted luggage arms–they’re tragically nutritious!”

_

Jesus came to me in a dream.

I said, “Jesus?  Is that you?  You look just like Robert DeNiro.””

“Of course it’s me.  And if you don’t pay your monthly tithe when you get up, I’ll break your fucking legs.  Understand?”

_

When I was in college, I had a roommate who avoided cursing out of politeness.  It would have been endearing if he’d been five years old, but I decided to make the most of the situation.

“Gosh, man,” he said, “I had an exam this afternoon and had to miss lunch!”

“How dare you use the Lord’s nickname in vain!”

_

You can’t believe everything you read in the papers, can you?  For example, this morning I read the first line of a news story that read:  “Yesterday in the United States a black man was not shot by the police.”

_

U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert, recovering from his knife wounds at Seoul’s Severance Hospital (actual name–no pun intended), was visited by a Korean man who wanted to aid in his healing with a gift of dog meat.  Lippert, a dog-lover who intrepidly walks his beagle up and down the anarchic streets of Seoul, was magnanimous enough to accept the offer and reciprocated with a roll of Psy toilet paper, along with a Kim Yuna voodoo doll.

American Sniper: Alternative Titles

In an effort to come up with a title for his latest jingoistic, Islamophobic action flick, Clint Eastwood got a lot of suggestions from his script writers before he finally decided to just name the bloody movie after the book it was based on.  Which one of the following rejections do you think he might want to use to launch the director’s cut?

Diddler on the Roof

The Iraqi-Whacker

I Come in Peace

How the West Was Lost

Sniper Rash

I Only Have Ice for You

Lee Harvey Oswald, Eat Your Heart Out

Keep Your Muzzle on the Muslims

From America With Hate

Weapons of Crass Destruction

Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Violence Is Golden

Magnum Farce

Tunnel Vision

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be a Predator Drone!

My Bullets Are Your Bullets

I’m the NRA

More Fun Than a Barrel of Democracy

Legend Shmegend

Peekaboo!  I Slay You

American Psycho 2

The Sight-Seer

Lie Down And Fight Like A Man

Ready?  Aim. . . Expire!

The Accidental Terrorist

Nation-Buildin’

Kyle the Vile

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

My Life’s A Video Game

American Cipher

I’m a little concerned about the title Eastwood went with.  The word sniper has an unpleasant ring to it.  It rhymes with diaper, viper, and wiper.  Snipe is an anagram of penis, which is fitting when you consider firearms as phallic symbols (not that that’s a very nice thing to say about your penis, and I believe you owe it–him?–an apology).

But it’s good to know that after reducing the cradle of civilization to a shambles, the United States still knows how to make a refreshing glass of lemonade in the shape of a Hollywood blockbuster movie, transforming the suffering of millions of innocent people into lucrative entertainment.

(By the way, I apologize for the misanthropic tone of yesterday’s entry.  When I wrote that I crave the attention of people I respect even less than myself, I was only joking about the lack of respect part.  Or half-joking, since it’s true that I find it hard to respect people who build their whole lives around unquestioningly digested falsehoods.

Also, excuse me for getting the name of the Spanish conquistador wrong.  I meant to write Hernando Cortez, not Gregorio (a character in the title of a movie starring–if I’m not mistaken, although I probably am once again–Edward James Olmos, star of Miami Vice and the inspirational feel-good real-life heroic teacher flick Stand And Deliver).  My apologies to any descendants of Cortez who happen to read this blog.

The Triumph Of Absurdity

I don’t know how cold it is where you are, but here in Seoul it’s so cold that the mosquitoes’ teeth are chattering.  Wouldn’t it be cool if mosquitoes could get Dengue fever (please please please say yes)?  That would teach them a lesson in fluent mosquitoese.

In fact, the overall chilliness of the day has made it hard for me to raise my expanding duff from the sofa and go for a brisk walk up the hill.  I’m afraid if I attempted to, I’d be paralyzed by a network of frozen veins.

In my underemployed state over the past several months, at least I’ve managed to get a lot of reading done.  I’ve always been defensive about people who read fast–even though I’ve secretly envied them–but I’m actually becoming a faster reader.  The other day I read Tim O’Brien’s riveting novel In the Lake of the Woods in two days.  Of course, that’s about the only thing I did during that forty-eight hour period, but it was nice to be able to plow through the story uninterrupted.

If you haven’t already, I recommend checking out Matt Taibbi’s The Divide:  American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.  Taibbi’s one of the sharpest American nonfiction writers working today, and he’s also a tenacious and fearless investigative journalist.  The story involves the parallel situation in today’s world, in which parasitic Wall Street investment bankers who bilked U.S. taxpayers out of trillions of dollars, while likewise ruining the lives of countless dupes who invested in shady mortgages in the lead-up to the global financial meltdown in the fall of 2008, have managed to hold onto their omnivorous fortunes while police forces around the country harass, bully, and lock up Black people and Latinos for misdemeanors, making sure their lives remain a living hell.

Take a gander to Rolling Stone‘s website and you can get a taste of what the book has to offer in the form of Matt’s latest article, which touches on the most recent–and conspicuously unpunished– atrocities committed by white cops against Black men.  Author Mark Leyner calls for collective outrage by Whites on his Twitter feed, which would seem to be a good idea, assuming it would do any good.

My own paranoid inclinations lead me to believe that this increasingly aggressive behavior by various members of the U.S. police force is just a litmus test for later aggression to be committed against the population at large–and not just hapless, unarmed Black men.  After all, Hitler victimized gays first because he figured it was a safe bet since homosexuals were all but universally loathed and feared by the rest of the German people, then went on to scapegoat gypsies and, evidently, Jewish people as well.

Why would they do that?  you ask.  Welp, the country’s bound to run out of resources before long, not to mention jobs and places to park your old clunker.

Chris Hedges is another journalistic firebrand who regularly warns his readers in his weekly blog on Truthdig.com that the United States is probably well on its way to becoming a fascist police state.  The Republican Party has certainly evolved into a pathologically rabid bunch, and the Democrats have bent over backwards to castrate themselves on behalf of the GOP, just so none of their intolerant rivals’ feelings get hurt.

Four years ago Hedges wrote a prophetic work that’s a stinging indictment of that amorphous entity in the U.S. who mumblingly refer to themselves as liberals entitled Death of the Liberal Class.  He says that one reason that sagacious social critics such as Noam Chomsky are so demonized by mainstream liberals is that Chomsky calls them on their bullshit, denouncing the likes of David Brooks, Tom Friedman, and other watered-down New York Times op-ed columnists who vehemently extol the status quo in the name of fat paychecks and solid reputations beautifully obtuse and shameless enough in their hypocrisy to make esteemed octogenarian war criminal and seemingly hermaphroditic toad Henry Kissinger drool with envy.

Meanwhile, instead of wearing orange jumpsuits and leg irons and swinging sledgehammers on a chain gang the way they should be, more recent war managers George Bush I and II and Dick Cheney are given further airtime to hawk their idiotic wares, as is Bill Clinton (his speaking fee is 500 grand a pop), who helped fill the prisons with nonviolent criminals with his Draconian three-strikes-you’re-out incarceration policy and heartless gesture in ending “welfare as we know it.”

In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the next leader of the United States was. . .

President Ebenezer Scrooge!

Bah humbuggery.

What’s the Story?

One thing I both like and don’t like about movies and conventional novels is that too much happens so that everything makes sense, every scene fits, there’s not a word wasted or a superfluous moment.  Maguffins and coincidences abound.  Things are resolved.  Characters learn from their mistakes and eventually stop repeating them.

In other words, they’re nothing like real life.

The other night I showed my students the movie Crazy, Stupid Love, which is one of the few romantic comedies it’s safe to say I like.  If you haven’t seen it yet, please do.  I don’t want to give away too much of what happens.  Suffice it to say there are a lot of surprises and the overall character development is rich, despite a few inescapable contrivances that go with the genre.

It was fun to see my students’ reactions to the highlights and turnarounds in the film, even though I spent most of the time busily scribbling lines like a stenographer to go over with them in Monday’s class.  I also had to get up to use the rest room in the middle, and I’m not sure what happened in the short scene I missed.  (It was the second time I’d seen the movie.)  So now I’ll have to see it again.

Have you heard of the novel Look Who’s Back, by German author Timur Vermes?  I spotted it a few weeks ago laid out among an array of other trade paperbacks at a bookstore in Seoul and was startled by the cover.  It’s a glossy white book depicting a familiar black hairline and the title scrunched in a little square in the middle of the missing face.

I thought, “Good Lord, it’s Hitler!” 

Sure enough, when I read the plot description on the back cover, it turned out to be a story about the Fuhrer’s re-awakening in the year 2011, still miraculously only fifty-six years old.  Once you can suspend your disbelief enough to jump beyond the impossible premise, you end up buying into the story, which is well-written and compelling.  Mind you, I’m not a Hitler fan by any means, and neither is the author (unless he’s hiding something, but I highly doubt it).  Despite (or because of?) the taboo subject matter, the book was a big hit in Germany, selling over a million copies.  I don’t know whether there was any consternation or outcry surrounding it, a la Martin Scorscese’s The Last Temptation of Christ or Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Regardless of the book’s impact on German citizens, whether survivors of that tragic time or descendants of those either terrorized or hoodwinked by Hitler, Vermes presents a convincing portrait of the man without turning him into a caricature, capturing both his perfectionism and his absolutely rigid fanatical dogmatic insanity with panache.  It helps that the story is written in the first person from the Fuhrer’s twisted point of view.

It wouldn’t be giving too much away to say that he ends up learning how to make the media work to some extent in his favor.  A subheading at the bottom of the front cover reads:  A Merciless Satire.  And so it is.

I don’t imagine everyone can stomach a story written from Hitler’s imagined perspective, but if you don’t mind entering the mind of a maniac for a few hours or days, depending on how fast a reader you are, you might want to give it a go.

An even richer read is the most recent (?) novel by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.  Because I suffer from periodic seizures of ADD, for some reason I put the book down after reading the first sixty-something pages of the book, getting sidetracked by any number of distractions vying for the shark-eaten carcass of my attention.  But when I picked it back up about a month later I plowed through the book to the end and found it alarmingly satisfying.  I’m not going to get into the plot and all the various things that happen (more out of laziness than anything else), but I don’t think you’d be disappointed by it.  If this plug isn’t enough to convince you, there are blurbs written by Philip Pullman and Dave Eggers on the back cover.  For some reason Hamid didn’t contact me to request I read the manuscript and submit a blurb to him.  I wonder why. . .

Finally, I did the same thing with Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist, which I started reading probably a year ago and abandoned after the first thirty-four pages.  Little either annoys or saddens me more than not finishing a job I’ve started (a lesson my father taught me during the years I managed to pry myself away from the TV long enough to mow half the lawn), and Nicholson Baker is not someone you want to do that with.  Don’t misunderstand me; as far as I know, he’s far from a violent man–on the contrary. (He suggests in his nonfiction history work Human Smoke that World War II could have been avoided.  I’m not sure I agree with him; once again, indomitable ignorance prevents me from forming a firm opinion on the matter.)

It’s just that he’s such a great writer that if you don’t finish one of his books, you’re cheating yourself.

Whoops–gotta go.  More soon.

A Nuclear Waste of Time

It’s always a mistake to enter a movie theater with high expectations.  Who’s going to get you high in a movie theater?  (Cue rimshot drummer.)  But seriously, folks.  I hadn’t seen a flick in the theater since Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt as the money and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the ball.  That was a boring movie, but at least I got to see it with my parents, so it was quality time with the family misspent.  And the last movie I’d seen in the theater before that was The Artist, which was brilliant.  Like anything else, going to the movies is always hit or miss.  There’s an Elliot Rodger joke buried in there somewhere in that last phrase, but that cat is already yesterday’s news.  At least he reminded everyone that America has a serious gun problem, and that men are pathetic losers, especially when we take ourselves too seriously.

To return to Mr. Godzilla.  I was swayed to see the movie by a review I’d read by Andrew O’Hehir, who writes for Salon, as it was reproduced on Alternet.  He(hir) promised in the title that Godzilla was the greatest action movie since Jaws.  Now I don’t know about you, but Jaws scared the hell out of me when I was a kid and did make swimming in the ocean a harrowing experience for several summers thereafter, not that that stopped me from seeing it three times and continuing to immerse myself in the briny depths on a regular, masochistic, paranoid basis.

I now lament Jaws‘ power, not on account of hydrophobia but because the movie and the Peter Benchley book it was based on compelled a lot of people to hate and fear sharks, and now there aren’t many of them left.  Our species turns out to be a lot scarier than theirs, especially from their points of view.

One nice thing about living in Seoul is you can see movies in the morning.  I had a few hours to slaughter after teaching my first class, and I was curious to see if Godzilla lived up to its promise.  I hadn’t seen the director’s first film, Monsters, which I’ve heard cats describe as their pajamas.  And I wouldn’t be caught dead swimming in the Pajama Canal, unless I somehow ended up in the maw of a finless Great White shark (whose mother suffered from low self-esteem and considered herself merely a Pretty Good White shark, while she felt her husband was Not Bad and her other son was No Great Shakes).

(Did you see the story on Yahoo News about a month ago about some yahoo in Florida who caught a mako shark whose carcass got photographed in the bed of his pickup truck while he was filling up for gas?  This isn’t called the Anthropocene Era for nothing.  Pretty soon we’ll be the only species left, but not for long. . .)

In case you haven’t guessed by now, I don’t have much to say about the goddamned Godzilla movie except that it was far from the greatest action movie since Jaws.  I wish I’d read Anthony Lane’s review of it for the New Yorker beforehand, then I wouldn’t have bothered seeing it.   Then again, I’m kind of glad I did, because it’s good to keep at least one finger on the cultural pulse so you can see what all the hoopla’s all about, or at least try to.

The talented actors in the film were forced to deliver cardboard performances (although Bryan Cranston really hammed it up, reprising Walter White at his most emotional moments), letting the monsters have all the fun.  The “bad” critters reminded me of the Geiger-generated space reptiles in the Alien series, although they were more bug-like, and of course a lot larger.

Godzilla himself was charismatic and he read his lines well.

There was very little humor in the film and few surprises. 

Okay, SPOILER ALERT time.  Skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know what happens at the end of the movie.  Predictably, the military man played by David Strathairn orders his men to blow up the creatures with the most powerful nuclear weapon at their disposal against the advice of wise pagan Ken Watanabe.  Happily, Godzilla, after dispatching the bad critters, survives the blast, despite a rough hangover, and lumbers back into the ocean, his work completed for the time being.  Ho hum, just another catastrophic nuclear blast; nothing to text home about.  There’s a scene near the end of Roland Emmerich’s movie True Lies in which Arnold Schwarzenegger and his girlfriend (played by Jamie Lee Curtis, if I’m not mistaken) embrace while watching a mushroom cloud bloom on the horizon.  How quaint.  And how harmless.  Just a little fireworks display to keep the children happy.

I’ve never watched the show 24, but I saw a series of clips in which Jack Bauer, the character portrayed by Kiefer Sutherland, tortured his captured terrorist antagonist to get him to cough up where he’d hidden the ticking time bomb.  It was a gut-wrenching display.  Nonetheless, too many Americans consider torture a price worth paying in order to defend ourselves (even though the real terrorists are usually too elusive to get caught until after they’ve done their dirty work).  Torture has been practiced in various unseemly situations, probably since the beginning of human history.  But this is the first time in a long time where it’s gotten the thumbs-up from a large percentage of U.S. citizens.  Could they have been brainwashed by the riveting Fox TV series?  Or Dubya’s charm offensive?

The reason I mention it is I’m queasy about casual displays of nuclear explosions in Hollywood films.  There are few survivors left of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but I doubt they’d qualify such inflammable fare as entertainment.  Legitimizing the use of nukes in a fictional setting numbs people to the consequences of their use in real life, and makes such use that much more likely.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

By the way, I did a Google search yesterday on whether it was necessary for the U.S. to nuke Japan in order to end the war and came up with some illuminating facts.  It turns out that Japan was already pretty well wiped out, especially from the incendiary bombs used on Tokyo that roasted 100,000 people in six hours, along with all the other devastated cities.  Their air force and navy were toast.  The only real excuse Truman had to use the bomb was Japan’s unwillingness to accept his terms of unconditional surrender, since they didn’t want Emperor Hirohito to lose his post as a divine figurehead.  (Too bad they didn’t decide to give him the old heave-ho instead; not that I’m blaming them for my country’s doubtful role as a pioneer in the field of nuclear terrorism.)  The irony was that the U.S. decided to keep the emperor in place after taking a nuclear dump on the two cities after all (make that two dumps–the first from the tail of the Enola Gay, a cuddly, genocidal fellow named Little Boy; his successor was designated Fat Man–gotta love those euphemistic military nicknames) in order to keep the natives from getting restless.

I was disappointed to read in Jonathan Fetter-Vorm’s Trinity:  A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb, an otherwise excellent account of the history of the Manhattan Project with some invaluable insights into the mind of J. Robert Oppenheimer, that “the Japanese showed no willingness to surrender.”  (That’s actually a paraphrase; I put it in quotes to distance the words from my own view, based on the evidence alluded to in the previous paragraph.)  To be fair, they did refuse to bite the bullet, although one online source claims the emperor himself beseeched the Truman administration for a truce back in January 1945, as long as he could hang onto his gig.  But because Fetter-Vorm doesn’t take any time to delve into the nuances of the matter, he lends the bombings an air of inevitability they evidently didn’t have.  Who said the truth wasn’t complicated?

We need to get rid of all the nukes right away, before they get rid of us.  

And we will, just as soon as we finish watching this really cool movie (christened by both the Pentagon and the U.S. Air Force, whose cooperation in providing high-tech props is much appreciated by the deep-pocketed producers).

By the way, despite its tired predictability and dazzling special effects, Godzilla did have a nice message, which was to be nice to nature for a change.  

Roger Wilco.

Give That Planet a Valium

Finding inspiration in a worn-out world when you suspect you have a mediocre mind isn’t always easy.  That may be why I devote so much time to griping and navel-gazing, instead of paying greater attention to all the subtle miracles and accidental sight gags going on all around me.  (Did I tell you about the sign I saw on the revolving door of a bank that read “Please enter only one person at a time?”  Or the one on the subway that read:  “Seat reserved for the weak old sick pregnant woman.”  “Oh, there she is!”  This is one of the perks of living in such a weird country.)

So many crazy things are happening in the news these days that it’s all I can do to ignore them all.  William Pfaff writes on truthdig.com that US Secretary of State (and along with George W. Bush secretive Yale Skull and Bones Society member) John Kerry told Russia’s foreign secretary (notice how I can’t recall his name?  Ethnocentrism has its charms) that Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea could lead to nuclear war.  Thanks, John.  That’s all we need is a bunch of mushroom clouds sprouting all over the place.  That’ll calm everyone down and solve the problem of global warming in the process by turning it into global burning.

A few weeks ago I read that President Obama’s accusation of Syrian President Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people turned out to be false, and the culprit was someone else (presumably Al Qaeda-esque rebels).  I always find it funny that the leader of the only country ever to use nuclear weapons in order to annihilate two Japanese cities (although, to his credit, Obama did acknowledge that at one point in his coruscating career) is always touchy about other leaders’ putative plans to develop such omnicidal goodies, regardless of whether that leader is a Republican (George W. Hussein) or a Democrat (Bill Milosevic–granted, that invasion was about something else, a little euphemism known as “ethnic cleansing”–at least that’s the official story).

Yesterday one of my students told me there’s a rumor (trumor?  tumor?) circulating that the captain and crew members of the Korean ferry Sewol who abandoned ship, leaving three hundred passengers to drown, did it because they believe they’ve already been saved by God and, since the passengers were not, the ship’s staff had no obligation to save them.  Seems mighty presumptuous of them, don’t you think?  I mean, how did they know that none of the passengers belonged to their sect?  Did they go around and ask each one what his or her religion was before the boat tipped over?  I doubt it.

If there is a god, I suspect he’ll whoop their asses but good.

Bernie Glassman, Zen Buddhist teacher and writer and literary sidekick of Jeff Bridges in The Dude and the Zen Master, speaks of the Buddhist concept of the bodhisattva, a monk or nun who postpones enlightenment until everyone else on earth is enlightened first.  Awfully decent of them, don’t you think?

The Sewol captain and crew are the opposite of bodhisattvas, akin to the Wall Street hoodlums who cleaned up big time after forcing innumerable Americans to live in tents instead of their foreclosed homes, or company presidents who give themselves fat bonuses after laying off thousands of their employees to rescue their firms from bankruptcy, instead of doing the noble thing and slitting their guts open with a samurai sword in shame the way they used to do in Japan, Yukio Mishima-style.

Speaking of Japan, that country’s kooky prime minister Abe Shinzo, back for an encore performance, appears eager to militarize their constitution, bowdlerize their history books, and shun responsibility for war crimes against China and Korea in order to burnish the nation’s self-image.  The good news is a lot of Japanese citizens aren’t buying it.  The bad news is that the skirmish between Japan and China over a disputed group of islands could erupt into something more unpleasant.

Keep your fingers crossed.

You can’t say it’s not a nutty world.  (It would be nicer if it were naughtier.)

 

 

 

Let’s Celebrate (the Day After) Earth Day by Having a Nice War

How many of you love life?  Let’s see a show of hands.  (Shadow puppets!)

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with life, although these days like-loathe might describe the feeling more precisely.  It’s nothing personal:  I just wasn’t designed to exist.  But I do believe in life after death.  After I die, you will go on living.  And that’s as it should be.

(That last sentence was not meant to sound mean.  I’m assuming–perhaps unfairly–that you enjoy your life more than I do mine.  If not, my condolences.)

Yesterday was Earth Day apparently, not that it’s celebrated here in Korea.  The only change I noticed was that the heavy layer of smog and yellow dust was back in town, blanketing the city of Seoul like a mustard gas attack on a bunch of soldiers stuck in trenches back in the good old days of World War I, also known as the Great War.  The only problem with calling it the Great War is that you have to up the ante for every war that followed.  World War II would have to be called the Excellent War.  The Korean War would be the Boss-a-Go-Go War since it happened in the ’50’s.  Vietnam might well earn the name the Groovy War for a ’60’s theme.  Reagan’s undercover adventures in El Salvador and Nicaragua become the Cool Wars (and hey, weren’t the ’80’s in the US a cool time to be alive?).  Gulf War I was the Hot War.  Afghanistan the Most Fabulous War of All Time, especially since it’s never-ending, as the poor people of that country always have some outside force fucking with them.  Gulf War II?  The War to Defend Torture and Psychic Distortion as a Way of Life.

To hell with war, to war with hell.

Dave Zirin wrote a good piece recently for The Nation in which he asks probing questions about the Bush-Cheney era cover-up of NFL star-turned-G.I. Pat Tillman’s death by “friendly fire”–and what better way to show your affection for your comrades than by shooting them in the head?  Tillman’s personal effects were burned and his fellow soldiers were forced to swear they wouldn’t discuss the case with anyone.  With these inconvenient truths flushed down the memory hole, the Bushies and Stanley the Manly McCrystal were now able to co-opt Tillman’s image as a hero and reward him with a Purple Heart, his iconoclasm, atheism, and criticism of their appalling policies notwithstanding.

Getting back to the crunchy if already out-of-date theme of Earth Day (one day a year is all we can spare for our beleaguered planet; the rest of the time we’re too busy trying to stab it to death like frenetic picadors), a few weeks ago I asked a clerk at an American coffee and doughnut franchise whether the old-fashioned doughnuts sold well.

“No, they don’t,” he said.  “Korean people don’t like anything that has to do with nature.”  (And don’t you automatically think of doughnuts when you hear the word “nature”?)

Straight from the horse’s mouth.  After eight years of living here, I’d have to agree.  Then again, I’m just a loudmouthed ugly American, so what do I know?  At least I don’t have to worry about getting shot when I cross the street here, just run over by a taxi.

Speaking of ugly American loudmouths, yesterday as I was on my way to work, a young Korean guy laughed right in my face.  I don’t know why.  It was either my Orwellian (or Beckettesque) hairstyle or the fact that I’ve recently morphed into Fred Flintstone.

“Fuck you!” I said, glaring at him.

We continued looking at each other as we went our separate ways.  He looked a bit startled.  I guess it’s not considered rude to openly mock people where he comes from.

I’m not the most confrontational person in the world, mainly because I know a little old lady with arthritis and two broken legs could still kick my ass, but everyone has a breaking point.  As a foreigner living in Korea, there’s a certain amount of shit you have to put up with.  It just gets hard to take after awhile.  (Of course, I’ve heard that foreign women have it a lot worse.  And a cover story I’ve yet to read in the free Korean Groove Magazine, which is principally written by and for foreigners, claims that discrimination against black people in this country is on the rise.)

While I’m as sad as anyone about the ferry boat passengers who drowned last week, the situation reminds me of how traumatized most Americans–including me–were by the September 11th attacks, all the while forgetting the body count we’ve racked up both before and since then make that day an anthill next to an Everest.  (During the Bush era I had a morbid habit of reading all kinds of books about the villains who usurped the Oval Office throne for eight years.  One author described Americans’ persistent grief about the 911 victims as “compassionate narcissism.”  I guess Korean people aren’t immune to this kind of tribal instinct either.)

Though the above paragraph may sound snarky and unfair to you, as well as mean-spirited, one of my own students pointed out in the text of a speech he wrote that most Koreans these days are indifferent about politics and, by implication, global affairs.  This is common in the US as well.  You’ve probably read how US news bureaus have cut their staff of correspondents directly covering foreign affairs; maybe they don’t think anyone will spot the loss.  

Wait a minute!  I’m so excited!  I just heard that Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus are getting married!

A Korean-American friend of mine says that whenever he feels depressed, he likes to go back and re-read stories about the Korean Christians who got held hostage by the Taliban several years ago.  Proselytizing in the name of the Lord in Afghanistan would seem to be an unwise move, but these knuckleheads evidently thought the Big Guy would give them ample cover as they tried to spread the gospel among a tough crowd.  The Roh Moohyun administration ended up having to pay off the Taliban with millions of dollars to rescue their sorry asses, even though two were sadly sacrificed for a fast-track reunion with Jesus.

“What are you guys, fucking stupid?” the Savior inquired.  “Not everyone wants to be a Christian, okay?  Especially someone who made up his mind a long time ago to be a fucking Muslim!  You morons don’t deserve heaven!  What about all those poor Korean citizens who had to foot the bill to bail out your fuckwit friends?  You think they ever want to see the likes of you sorry-assed dickheads again?  I didn’t think so.”

I’m not quite sure why my friend finds the story so funny.  Pathetic is more like it.

Apparently there’s a new book out that argues that there may be a link between cell- or smartphone use and cancer.  Most of us have embarked like willing guinea pigs and lemmings on an unprecedented experiment by holding microwave-radiating devices against the sides of our heads on a regular basis, putting them in our pockets to scramble our chromosomes, or sleeping with them next to our pillows so we can each wake up one day with a Kim il Sung-style “grenade”-sized tumor on the side of the neck (cheers to British journalist Michael Breen in Korea for the analogy).

Some friends of mine pointed out the compounded risk factor in riding the subway, where every man Jack is engaged in cellphonic pursuits.  Luckily, I’m bound to croak from a heart attack or stroke long before cancer has a chance to form, although I might luck out and pick it up in the afterlife.

Apparently the radiation leads your DNA to mutate; in other words, it ain’t good for ya.  It would be a curiously anticlimactic way for our species to go extinct, though.

To celebrate Earth Day, Barack Obama announced that the Pentagon is working on a new type of nuclear missile that, when detonated, will emanate an evergreen scent from its blossoming mushroom cloud.  Now all they have to do is come up with a mushroom cloud shaped like a hand making a peace sign.  That would be consistent with long-established U.S. foreign policy and military shtick.  

Peace?  On earth?  Sorry, bub.  You’ve got the wrong planet.