Thursday, January 31, 2008
Thanking John McCain
“I'd rather deal with President Hillary than with President McCain. With Hillary, we'll get the same ruinous liberal policies with none of the responsibility.”
“There is a reason so many liberals in the media and the Democratic party want John McCain to be the GOP presidential nominee. He gives them cover to continue smearing grassroots conservatives.”
People have many reasons for wanting John McCain to win the Republican nomination. Some want someone who is serious about ending government waste, and McCain has been a determined opponent of pork spending.
Some want a great commander-in-chief, and see McCain as their choice because of his service in Vietnam and leadership in the Senate.
Others, tired of debates over the meaning of “is” and misleading information as to who is purchasing uranium in Nigeria simply want someone they can trust.
Personally, I want it to happen because of the people it would anger.
On Sept. 12, 2001, your average American was full of doubt about many things. One thing we believed at the time, however, is that all of us had a common enemy, and should unite in order to overcome that threat.
It took less than two years before disagreements over the best way to confront that enemy had already torn that union apart.
The politicians helped, and the left-wing is not blameless, but this would not have been possible without the vileness being spread by the right wing of the punditocracy.
We have been told that anyone who questions whether or not our president was sending troops to fight the right enemy was a traitor.
We have been told that anyone who thinks that fight was being fought in the wrong way was helping the enemy.
We have been told that those with different ideas on the role of government and interpretation of the Constitution are a greater threat than terrorists.
John McCain agreed that they needed to be confronted. He also agreed that Iraq would be an ideal way to start that confrontation. Whether you agree with him or not, one must look at his record and conclude that he would have led us to fight that war in a responsible way. He would not have waited until we had been in Iraq for three-and-a-half years following a failed strategy under a blundering Secretary of Defense.
And he would not have made the free press and the opposition party into enemies, rather than mere opponents.
Even when he shares their vision, he does not share their methods.
Because of this, and because he looks for (often ill-advised) compromises that will solve problems like illegal immigration, judicial filibusters and the influence of soft money in elections, they hate him.
Those such as Hewitt, Coulter and Malkin are part of the same neoconservative cabal that has accused anyone who disagrees with them of being in league with Mephistopheles, Al Qaeda, NAMBLA or all three.
In fact, calling these three “neoconservatives” is better than they deserve: neocons hope to spread democracy around the world. Their ideology maybe fantastical and their methods tragic, but there is something they want to create. Those such as Malkin and Coulter want only to make a comfortable living destroying reputations in the most flamboyant way possible.
They have dominated the Republican Party for too long. And because attacks on patriotism, taxes and sexual mores have more sting to them than what the left can muster, they dominate the country.
And because Mitt Romney is clearly determined to say anything in order to win their support, they give it to him.
John McCain has shown that their support is not nearly as necessary as it used to be, and they hate him for it. Once they no longer control the Republican Party, they fear their book sales will drop.
I plan to vote for Ron Paul in the general election, even if I have to write his name on the ballet. I respect John McCain’s service, but I don’t feel he’s the best man to fix our swollen budget and overextended military at this time.
Even so, he has my gratitude. He is causing the right-wing character assassins to inject their venom inward instead of outward in all directions, and it’s a satisfying thing to behold.
In a political climate like ours, you take your pleasures where you can get them.
If he is nominated, what we will have will certainly be preferable to being caught between two unappealing, polarizing opposites when November comes around.
Pat Buchanan, a far more principled and sensible conservative than those quoted at top, is also a McCain opponent. Recently, he wrote: “The question conservatives may face if McCain is nominated is not whom should I vote for, but should I vote.”
All due respect, Pat, but this is how libertarians, centrists, and moderates of both parties felt in 2000 and 2004.
It’s time the conservatives traded places with us.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
This week all I want to listen to is Audioslave.
It's been about a year since they broke up, and since then I've bought the solo albums by both Tom Morello (who released One Man Revolution under the name of his alter-ego, the Nightwatchman) and Chris Cornell (who performed the theme to Casino Royale and then released Carry On). Morello's album was highly underrated, while Cornell's was the first dud in his approximately 25-year career, first with Soundgarden, the solo, then Audioslave, then solo again.
Neither of these albums, however, can replace what they did together. "Show Me How to Live" makes me want to bang my head, "Be Yourself" makes me want to cry, and "Original Fire" makes me want to dance. You may not realize how bold that last statement if you aren't familiar with a) my dancing proficiency or b) how averse I am to anything that makes me look stupid.
Now they are gone, and three albums just isn't enough.
Wedding Plans as Cultural Experience
People who go to other countries are supposed to try new things and be open to new experiences. Not only is this helpful for your personal development, but I believe it’s in the guidelines that the US Department of State gives us when we apply for a passport.
“Try new things and be open to new experiences while you’re staying abroad,” the application states (or maybe it doesn’t, it’s been a few years since I filled it out). “Every time you eye foreign food suspiciously the dollar loses more ground to the Euro.”
Another thing that’s supposed to happen is that men are supposed to be involved and participative while they are in the planning stages of their wedding. The Guidelines of Acceptable Male Behavior (which is also published by the US government; I believe by the Department of Homeland Security) says: “You must invest all your energy into your Special Day. It is Special because you will be king for an afternoon and she will be queen. It is only a Day, however, and starting the next morning you have a family to feed and she is already wondering why you aren’t as ‘passionate’ about the relationship as you used to be.”
So, your “involvement” is required in order to make that special day as wonderful as possible. (I’m stressing the difference between the words “involved” and not “supportive” here for many reasons, such as: I used “supportive” extensively in my column two weeks ago and need to vary things now and then).
Experiencing things in foreign countries and getting “involved” in the wedding planning procedure are such trying and time-consuming events that it might be best to multi-task. You could do what I have chosen to do, which is to both experience life outside America and plan my wedding while in Korea.
I have found that the best way to knock out both of these tasks simultaneously is to have the Korean traditional wedding, in which today’s modern bride and groom can actually be king and queen for an afternoon, as the traditional wedding simulates the country’s royal ceremony from the middle ages.
Having witnessed one of these ceremonies first-hand, I can say that its “royal” aspect is plain to see. Both bride and groom sit in large chairs, which are carried by a detail of no less than six men, and wear red and/or blue outfits so ornately designed that they require onlookers to wear sunglasses, even if they are, technically, colorblind.
I attended one of these ceremonies with my fiancée and her mother. They enjoyed the ceremony and looked forward to our participation in it because they are, 1) women and 2) Korean, thus programmed to enjoy beauty and tradition in way that I, a male whose heritage is rooted in various sources of Caucasia, lack the genetic predisposition to do.
I did, however, enjoy it on an intellectual level, because it’s different from any wedding I could ever have in America. I like the idea of having pictures of myself taken in such a ceremony, pictures which I would reserve the right to show during advantageous times in America.
“I had a Korean traditional wedding,” I picture myself saying while pointing at the glossy photo book. “I’m not an uncultured Philistine like you guys.”
Having observed the wedding from start to finish, I thought I’d had all the foreign-culture-experience and wedding-planning-involvement I needed for one day. I thought I could say to the women who hold so much of my future in their hands, “Yeah, let’s do that. Now, who wants Chinese for lunch?”
Women, as usual, have other ideas. If women had the same ideas as men, I’m certain that there’d be more harmony between the genders in today’s society. Then again, if they had the same ideas as us, weddings (and many other things) would rarely make it past the planning stages.
“Mom wants to try on hanboks this afternoon,” my fiancée said to me, since her mother doesn’t speak English. A hanbok is the Korean version of a kimono, and is worn throughout the day of the wedding by the bride, groom, and all the immediate family members that can be convinced or coerced into attending the ceremony.
I did not object to my fiancée’s words, because trying on hanboks is not a particularly troublesome proposition. They are exotic yet comfortable outfits and being photographed while wearing one goes a long way in establishing your not-Philistine credentials.
She didn’t tell me that we would be trying them on for three-and-a-half hours while my future mother-in-law yelled at me regularly to photograph her and her daughter wearing dozens of different outfits, all of which differed from one another only in color scheme.
Even if I or my fiancée were wearing outfits that satisfied us, her mother would, within minutes, arrive with another color for us to look at and/or try on, while saying what I sense was the Korean equivalent of “What do you think of this?”
What I generally thought was that each of her suggestions represented a collection threads assembled in such a way as to construct an aesthetic pattern incrementally different from the last. I did not say this out loud because I wasn’t sure my fiancée could translate it and I was sure that I would be no better off if she could.
It’s good to be culturally experienced and involved in wedding plans. But, according guideline published by the Department of State (or maybe FEMA), the most important thing a man can remember is this:
“Mother-in-law gets what she wants.”
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Remember to bow and control your bladder
One of the most austere stereotypes of them all is that of the mother-in-law. For young men, especially, the female who brought the female we love into the world is particularly troubling in that she tends to be such an expert on stereotypes herself.
For example, those of us whose education was rooted in the liberal arts must prove to the arch-female that we are not all bereft of pragmatism and are quite capable of making a living. Depending on the mother-in-law, the prospective husband who has, say, won the Nobel Prize for Literature might still have to articulate his career objectives in a way that satisfies her.
In Korea the most oppressive of all stereotypes is that of the middle-aged woman, particularly the one who lived through the years when most of her countrymen were impoverished and the only Americans they ever saw were soldiers. They contrast heavily with those their 30s and younger, who see foreigners all the time, not only in the mass media, but in their schools, teaching them the language which they believe is their best chance for success in the 21st century marketplace.
Unlike the young people who actively seek the company of foreigners to practice speaking with and who regularly come to us and say, “Your face is very good,” the older women eye us suspiciously, especially if we get too close to their daughters.
The older Korean women have heard stories about foreigners who didn’t have the purest of motives when they entered into relationships with native women. These women also guard the Korean bloodline as if it were their torso.
For the foreigner who has decided that he wants a certain young Korean woman to be part of his life, imagine the stereotypes that must be overcome.
Because of the impure motives of certain foreigners who came before (and probably after) me, Catherine, my Korean girlfriend chose not to trouble her mother’s mind by letting her know of our relationship for several months. Because of her views regarding the Korean bloodline, Catherine declined to inform her even when we started throwing around the m-word (and I don’t mean “marsupial”).
However, the mother, as they are prone to do, eventually found out about us. This winter a meeting was finally demanded and preparations were made. I would have lunch with Catherine’s mother and other members of her family.
Open-minded guy that I am, I assumed that the meeting would be important, but that my sincerity would be enough to ensure successful meeting. I felt that my goal, to be welcomed warmly into the family, was completely within my means. How often do stereotypes really, in real life, turn out to be true?
More often than you might think, actually. The problem with stereotypes, much as Jesse Jackson and Gloria Steinem might protest, is that they are usually rooted in truth.
I arrived at the home of my future mother-in-law to find her and her older sister wearing hanboks, the traditional Korean formal wear, which they’d had made specifically for this occasion. Catherine’s mother speaks basically no English, so she had enlisted the services of her nephew, who I’d never met before, to translate her dictations to me. She could’ve asked Catherine to do so, but figured that her daughter might not provide unbiased information.
“She wants you to bow,” the nephew said to me.
I sank to me knees and bent until my nose touched the floor, just I’d seen people do when honoring elders during national holidays.
“She wants you to try again and hold your hands correctly as you bow,” he said to me.
At this point, I decided to lower my stated ambition of being welcomed warmly into the family to simply not propagating an unforgivable cultural offense during this meeting. If I could accomplish that, I could then adjust my objectives upward.
“She wants you to greet her now,” the nephew said.
With the pressure on, I was unable to think of anything eloquent to say in Korean. So I stuck to the bare essentials: “Hello. I am Rob. It is nice to meet you.”
Had I included “Thank you” and “Where is the restroom?” I would have covered everything I learned in my first six months in this country.
“First impressions are very important, so she would like you to say it again, but correctly,” the nephew told me.
A grimace settled over my face, but fortunately my dark shirt obscured the salt-water oceans of sweat forming under my arms.
You see, in the Korean language there are multiple levels of verbal discourse, including the use of the phrase, “Nice to meet you.” There are ways of saying it to friends, to people you’ve never met before, and to your elders. I had chosen the latter of the three, but was told that I had omitted a single syllable no one had ever told me about before.
I don’t know whether or not this level of verbal discourse is used on anyone other than prospective mothers-in-law who seek to test their aspiring son-in-law’s bladder control. All I know is that I had to lower my aspirations yet again: my goal was simply to get through this meeting without soiling myself.
“She wants to know what your plan is,” the nephew said.
My plan … to what? I thought. Go home after eating lunch? Topple America’s two-party system? Win the Noble Prize for Literature?
He said that she wanted to know what Catherine and I want to do after our wedding. I explained that we would probably live together in Korea for two years before going to America for graduate school.
“She wants to know what your major will be,” the nephew said.
“Maybe Korean history,” I said.
This was, evidently, the correct answer. She wiped her moist eyes and extended her hand to mine. I took it, and she began to dictate something to personal translator.
“She said that she can feel your character and wants to welcome you into our family,” he said.
I’m still not sure what that means, but I was willing to accept anything that sounded like progress. During that afternoon, I also found that I was also willing to eat a rather large helping of Korean food, pour drinks for my mother-in-law and her sister, and offer to tutor both her nephew and his sister in English.
“She said that your face is good,” Catherine said to me later.
That, along with sincerity, may be all you really need to overcome stereotypes. However, a strong bladder is certainly a plus.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Advice for My Future Son
• Choose a woman based on her character. If she has that you’ll be happy; if she doesn’t have it, nothing else will.
• Start listening to the Beatles now. No collection will ever be complete without them, and they sooner you realize that the better.
• When you start planning your wedding, don’t make any other plans or set any other goals. Just assume that you’re busy whenever you’re not working.
He should be made to understand that each of these tidbits remain true no matter where he lives.
On his own, I’m sure he will discover that many of the opposite gender seem to believe that certain tasks, such as shopping for clothes, accessories, electronics, food, automotives and entertainment are an opportunity to play prospective employer. Henceforth, they treat all items like job applicants that must be thoroughly vetted in order to maximize performance.
My hypothetical male progeny will probably inherit many of my characteristics, however, and regard shopping not as a way of ensuring enjoyment, but as a roadblock delaying it.
What I should tell my son is that choosing the components of a wedding ceremony amounts to the longest and most complicated shopping process since Jefferson bought Louisiana from the French Empire.
When weddings are being planned, those of us on my side of the gender divide generally think of the goal in sight, knowing that within just a few months we are going to get to take a vacation, after which all of our shirts, pants and socks are going to start ending up in the right drawers.
Before this great appraising of attire can be obtained, however, dates must be determined, expensive outfits must be observed, and photographers must be picked.
If my son does as I have done, and chooses his bride in South Korea, he ought to know that wedding photography works a little differently here. In America, the photographer requires him to hold unnatural facial expressions for long periods of time on the day of the ceremony.
In Korea, however, he will be asked to hold these facial expressions for the better part of an entire day, usually taking place a few weeks prior to the ceremony itself. He, like all men who want to be supportive of the process will have to help choose who will best capture these unnatural facial expressions.
If his upbringing goes according to plan, he will want to be “supportive” of his wife-to-be and her plans, because he’s thoughtful enough to know how important this is to her and smart enough to know that “supportive” husbands are less likely to end up with arsenic in their Wheaties box.
However, even when he reaches marriageable age, he may be unclear of what it means to be “supportive” of the planning process. He should know that in activities such as these, women define support as: “helping to make the choices that will make the ceremony a more beautiful and memorable occasion.”
On the other hand, when it comes to nearly all situations they do not find naturally enjoyable, men define support as: “showing up.”
Actually, just showing up involves several things, such as looking at the samples of outfits/photographs/invitations, carefully at first, then rather casually, then ultimately staring at the ceiling until the woman enquires about the price. Once the cost has been revealed, his objective is to nod thoughtfully and calmly despite the phantom pains in the pocket where his wallet lies.
I will not recommend this method of “support” to my son, however. The most likely result of this approach is that the woman will say something like, “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”
If the purely literal meaning of this sentence were, in fact, what the woman were trying to tell him, all his problems would be solved and he could stay home all day eating Wheaties and listening to Abbey Road.
Of course, any man who has heard these words come out of a woman’s mouth knows that its true meaning is anything but literal; what she actually wants is for his definition of support to match her own. All too often, he responds with the typical male inquiry of “What do you want me to do?” Depending on the task, she may respond, “Look at each picture and decide which style you prefer.”
He will, most likely, nod and promise to try harder, while ignoring all the questions circling in his mind. They include: “When she says style, doesn’t she really mean the different ways of accomplishing the same thing?” “Is paying attention for that long biologically possible for me?” and “Is arsenic going to be in my cereal tomorrow morning?”
This brings me back to my first recommendation. The wife-to-be may want for him to show more enthusiasm, but the right one won’t require it. If he tries to be involved in the process, she’ll try to understand how hard it is for him.
And he will know what I know: that an understanding wife is worth a lot, even more than Abbey Road.
Sunday, January 06, 2008
Seeing is Believing
In eighth grade I left the comfort zone of private education and entered the public school system. Upon my arrival, the school bullies needn’t have undergone risky espionage missions to discover my vulnerable points.
After all, I had the body mass index of Michael Jackson on the Atkins diet, I had lots of annoying information stored in my head, such as where Mexico is in relation to the US, and years of attending a private Christian school had left me unprepared for both the detail and relish with which they would discuss human anatomy.
However, an advantage I had over so many traditional outcasts was that I had no glasses to be broken. They could push me, threaten me with greater physical violence and mock my limited understanding of the things they’d learned while watching HBO, but they had limited control over my ability to see.
This was an advantage I would enjoy long after I began taking avenues which the school bullies would not follow in; namely, courses with titles such as “Advanced Such-and-Such” and “College Preparatory Blank.” In years to come, this would continue to serve as consolation: employers weren’t actively seeking anyone in my area of study, but at least I had no trouble reading their rejection letters. Likewise, my first few paychecks weren’t so impressive, but at least I didn’t have to spend a whole one (provided it were big enough) on glasses.
One day during my mid-20s, I decided on whim to get my eyes checked. Well, not exactly a whim; I finally had a job that offered medical insurance and I figured I ought not to waste it. It was during this first visit to an optometrist that I learned that I had low myopia.
In case any of you don’t know, being “myopic” means that I have some difficulty seeing things that are far away. Having low myopia means that one has occasional trouble reading signs while driving, whereas some who with medium myopia might need glasses to see any upcoming event. People with high myopia, on the other hand, are automatically given government jobs, preferably at the Department of Homeland Security.
The information I received at clinic opened my near-sighted orbs. Suddenly, I realized that I had been squinting for long periods of time when reading the subtitles of foreign movies. I also found myself positioning my head over my steering wheel when trying to be certain whether or not certain road signs actually said, “Bridge Out 50 Feet.”
It certainly didn’t seem prudent to maintain the status quo. However, some jobs, like, for example, news reporter, may give one the health insurance allowing them to discover they need glasses, but not necessarily provide one with the spare cash needed to purchase them. Movie subtitles and street signs would have to wait.
When I arrived in Korea nearly two-and-a-half years ago, I could not drive, and I did not have a TV in my apartment. I say this not to elicit sympathy; I was much more productive without a library of DVDs lying around and I was able to preserve much of my valuable vocal cord vitality by not loudly suggesting to other motorists that use their turn signals once in a fortnight.
In addition, it seemed that I had no need for additional eyewear. Even if I had needed to the road signs in Korea, the people who had made them had forgotten to use actual letters and were instead spelling words with shapes that looked as though they belonged in someone’s kitchen drawer.
A strange thing happened over time, however; one day I realized that I knew what sounds these bizarre formations were making, and so I desired to actually learn what the sounds meant.
I was thus inspired to enroll in Korean language courses. In these classes many of these shapes are written on a dry erase board in patterns designed to form words that we are supposed to remember. Unfortunately, in order to remember them, it really helps to be able to see the board. And, when it comes to seeing objects, squinting for long periods of time is a only a temporarily solution that carries unfortunate side-effects.
All to often, the teacher would write important words on the board, look at me and say, “Arrayo?” (meaning “You know?”)
All too often, the only proper reply I could give was “Meori appayo” (“Head hurts”).
So, on a weekend, I went into a shopping mall and found a shop that manufactures eyewear. They tested my vision, had me pick a design, and in about an hour’s time I had my own pair for about $80. Not only is it easy and cheap to get glasses, Koreans are very supportive of those who wear them.
Many of my classmates from younger days probably see someone wearing new glasses and think, “Let’s push him into a locker and take the money he needs for lunch.”
When young Koreans see someone, especially a foreigner, who has grown an additional pair of eyes, they probably think, “He can probably teach me to better speak English, and English is important for get a job.”
So, when I put on the glasses in their presence, they say, “Oh, very smart!” and “You looks like professor!”
So, in conclusion, as we grow older and our bodies change, there’s no good reason to resist adapting. Remind me of this when I’m 40, however; improving my ability to see a dry-erase board may be an easier adjustment than preventing prostate cancer.
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
Your Guide to Going Home and Getting Sick
If you’ve spent a year or so living in a foreign country and eating their food, you may choose to travel home for a week or so to experience things you may not encounter while staying abroad, namely Wendy’s, Taco Bell or Waffle House. Also, maybe you want experiences like McDonalds, Pizza Hut or Subway, which you can easily find abroad, but without having to speak very, very slowly when telling the person at the cash register which artery-clogging entrée you’d like.
Whether it’s this or some other reason, like seeing family or friends, many people living abroad choose to come home during the holiday season. Actually, many, many, many people choose this time, thus complicating your endeavor for the Quarter-pounder with Cheese/Supreme Pizza/Spicy Chicken Sandwich you’ve been missing.
However, if you follow our answers to the following frequently asked questions, having fully blockaded veins will be a goal well-within your grasp.
How far in advance should I begin making my plans to travel home during the holidays?
If by, “making my plans” you mean packing and deciding when and where to eat or stay, men long ago proved that you could do these things the night before, if not the morning of.
On the other hand, if you mean to ask when you should reserve your ticket home, you should start looking a Christmas or two beforehand. Start planning your Christmases several years in advance and begin looking for the plane tickets, otherwise you’ll either have to pay an astronomical fare, or you’ll have a very “creative” itinerary which requires you to first fly two hours west to say, Beijing, then 13 hours east to New York, then another two hours to your home state.
At what point should I exchange money into US dollars?
Usually it’s best to do this all at once in the first airport you depart in, because in theory all airports have restaurants and gift shops which accept our money, no matter how poorly it is performing when compared to the Euro.
Occasionally, however, you encounter a place like, say, the Starbucks in the Beijing airport, which refuses to take anything but Chinese Yuan. Why the Starbucks in the Beijing airport would make such stipulations is quite frankly bizarre, since their location is past security and in international departures, plus every other store around them is taking US dollars.
This means that someone who was expecting to be able to get a hot chocolate and a muffin at the Starbucks in the Beijing airport would have to back through security to get to currency exchange, which they are rather unwilling to do because they don’t want to risk getting into trouble because they’ve heard what goes on in Chinese prisons.
How hard is it to adjust to the time difference when traveling home?
When going from Asia to the US, one may depart at 5 p.m. on a Friday, travel 12-14 hours, and arrive sometime between 5:30-6 p.m. on a Friday. Therefore, all events taking place before the flight happen during a time frame known as “yestoday” which technically happened on the same date but not really the same day.
While staying at home, many people choose to fill their days with activities and resist the temptation to sleep in the afternoon. If you’re only there for a week or two, this is pointless, because no matter how tired you try to make yourself, sleeping at midnight will always feel like a nap.
Are there any health risks associated with traveling home?
Remember what it was like when you first went to live abroad in your new country? Remember the feeling that the slightest seasonal change or new experience with food would give you the illness whose symptoms required you to set new land-speed records when attempting to reach the restroom and endurance records once you were there within?
Well, now that you’ve been living abroad for a year or more, you’ve adjusted to the point where you are now at home in this foreign country, and America is now the place you are visiting. Therefore, those symptoms you left behind while living abroad may return to say “Hi” while you’re at home eating what was once a perfectly acceptable amount of grease.
What precautions should be made to guard against such risks?
Try to have a nurse handy. Nurses know a wide variety of ways to help a person whose digestive tract is in open mutiny.
In some regards, nurses are similar to doctors, except they are less likely to have their own offices or make people wait in long lines to see them. You may have a nurse among the family or friends that you will stay with at home, or you might choose to acquire your own personal nurse while living in the foreign country and bring her to America with you.
Be advised however, that “personal nurse” is usually not the title they prefer. “Girlfriend”” is usually more to their liking, with the possible promotion to “wife” available dependent on the quality of care provided.
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