Archive | July, 2020

Change Your Name, Change Your Life

31 Jul

There’s a saying among the expatriate community in Korea: “You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Kim, a Lee, or a Park.” So you would think there’s a lack of last names in Asia. The real reason is far more interesting.

I happened to pass a TV that was showing the LPGA tour. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. However, it showed the leader board and it showed the name of Jeongeun Lee #6… which having never watched ladies’ golf before struck me as rather bizarre, but not that unexpected. Turns out that even those she’s is the only Jeongeun Lee in the LPGA, in the Korean league, she was the 6th one, and established her brand as #6.

Twenty years ago, my first real job out of college was at Taejon Christian International School, an international boarding school in South Korea. It was actually a very nice place and I’ve gotten the impression that it has been getting nicer since I left. At the time, they hadn’t built the new dorm and school buildings, and there was a small woods (with houses) nearby in the land between it and the Hannam University.

This is where I ran into the fundamental problem of a lack of Korean names. I believe JeongEun means “grace,” which considering the massive Christian presence, doesn’t surprise me. I’ve run into several “Graces;” the habit among most international Korean students is that their family named their kids something that could be translated into English as well as Korean and mean precisely the same thing.

I love this statue in Daejeon – outside the soccer stadium.

As mentioned above, there’s mainly three last names, so to have six women named exactly the same in a pro sports league is not that surprising. This was not always the case. You can look back through Korean history and find all manner of last names.

Why the change? Because after being occupied by the Japanese for fifty years, the newly freed Koreans in 1945 had burned the official records. There was no paper trail to prove that you were who you said you were. So people started giving themselves royal names. Kim, Park, and Lee all dated back to the families of kings of a free and independent Korea. These peasants wanted to improve their life, so they changed their name. The only problem was that EVERYONE figured this out and did it roughly at the same time.

This is not that unusual. Many of the new Zionist settlers to Israel changed their name to something more Hebrew sounding to start a new life. I knew one friend whose ancestor moved to Yorktown, Virginia and took his wife’s name to forget his past. I knew one guy in college who changed his last name to Angel because… it sounded cool. (Angel was also a popular show on TV at that moment.)

Does changing your name really make that much of a difference in your life? Have you met people who did this? Ladies, did taking your husband’s last name (or not) lead to a change in how people perceived you? Let me know in the comments below?

Making Breakfast Sexy

30 Jul

As a mortal, I sometimes weaken in the face of fast food. So a couple days ago, I went to a McDonalds to order something terrible for me, and as I waited for my food, I watched the menu screen. Apparently, corporate thinks that simply having you in the store is not enough, on the menu they have to show… what I can only describe as “food porn.”

Clever reveals, black background, slow zooms – I have to admit that it’s incredibly good video. Video… not just good pictures, slow, sensuous shots of pouring coffee. I can’t describe how… sexy it was pouring black liquid into a cup for five seconds.

Look at this shot – soft lighting, perfect focus. You know that they probably use some glossy liquid instead of syrup because it shines better. Steam probably recorded over several minutes to get the best cycling image. I know half this stuff tastes awful to me and I can’t help but have my mouth water.

Mickey D’s is by no means the only user of these techniques. Open the menu at any chain restaurant (IHOP, Denny’s) and you’ll see the same images, although usually with white backgrounds, which inspires you to be happy about your selection.

Just like the grocery store, the more expensive selections will be at the top of the menu, cheaper ones won’t have a picture and be placed lower. Next time you go cereal shopping, check out the difference between the brand name corn flakes and the generic – you want to make love to the brand name, don’t you?

It obviously works, but it’s disturbing once you notice it. What marketing have you noticed that “once it is seen, it cannot be unseen?” Tell me in the comments below!

When Novellas Attack!

29 Jul

Yes, I just wrote a post about how much short stories suck, but these are short novels! 🙂 Thanks to my brother-in-law, who’s got a lot more experience with publishing, I’m now providing an e-book/Kindle version of my killer novellas – Prayer for the Technocrats and Virginia is for Lovers – for the low, low price of $1.99!

What are these books about? Well…

It’s a classic story of boy meets girl, boy gets girl, and then girl drugs boy and steals his money. Unfortunately for the thief, Feliz Castanada is the leader of the local crime syndicate, who needs to avenge the affront to his honor by killing the woman. The thief, Desiree Winters, doesn’t make that easy for him. A master of disguise, with the use of cosmetic implants, with a command she can change her appearance at will. Can Feliz take her out before his superiors find out? Can Desiree escape the city with her life? And what is it about the other that they find strangely compelling?

Humanity is under threat and no one is concerned. After all, the Earth Federation has survived countless invasions, civil wars, and ruthless dictators. After centuries of war and bloodshed, one more invasion shouldn’t make much of a difference. But how do you fight an enemy who can’t be killed?

As civilization falls apart, four people must brave the impossible. Miranda, the scientist, searches for the enemy, and the key that might save humanity. Ivan, the fighter pilot, seeking to warn anyone who will listen of the coming danger. Amanda, the politician, trying to keep civilization together long enough to fight back. Demar, the sergeant, whose skill can fight legends. And who is Vin Dane, the mysterious colonel who can bring these four together?

Hope you enjoy this–much more convenient version of my stories!

Hate the Length, Not the Writer

29 Jul

As I’m releasing my short stories on my author’s page, it occurs to me–I really don’t like short stories. I’ve written very few, as compared to the tons of first chapters in my folders that never got anywhere. It occurred to me that the reason was very, very simple.

You simply get no chance to be invested in the story. It takes a while to setup the universe, the characters, to get into the rhythm of the story. Then… it’s suddenly over. Your entire job is to convey one cute concept or rough idea or something you want to discuss. The characters and the universe are irrelevant in a short story. It’s a plot, straight and simple. Take one of my favorite short stories, “The Rule of Names” by Ursula K. Le Guin. Great concept, but apart from the dragon, do you know any of the characters? No… it’s not important. You build up this universe just to abandon it on the side of the road. Maybe the universe couldn’t hold up a whole novel (as has happened to me).

I find this annoying in other forms of entertainment as well. It’s why I prefer TV series over movies. If you’re gonna spend time with characters you care about, you want them be around for a while. That’s why having a universe where main’/supporting characters die is so effective!

But there are exceptions to this. Memes, for example, are easily digestible, bite-sized nuggets of wisdom. Whether they match your wisdom is another question entirely–they’re there to get a point across and leave. They’re also easily shared and travel fast. You don’t have time to make a connection. Blogs are also great for this, because although they’re short, you know the author and make a connection with them instead.

Now I’ve actually sold short stories, and they’re great for anthologies, but those have the same problem for me. Unless you’re following the same characters, I really couldn’t care. Even anthologies from a shared universe are… iffy. For example, Changer of Worlds is set in the Honorverse, which is a series I’ve followed religiously written by David Weber. Three of the four stories are referenced (but not essential) to the plot of other books; three of the four are also written by the author himself, so one wonders why he bothered. Even then, it still took a while for me to read them… even after I bought the book! In this case, I was simply getting backstory… and although that was enjoyable, it wasn’t desirable.

Novellas are the worst of both worlds. I should know, I’ve written two of them. They’re just long enough to convey the story, universe, and characters, but not enough to continue. About 20K words–that was my comfortable spot for many years. I couldn’t write more than that until NaNoWriMo and Grad School taught me how to crank words out. There was one novella I wrote specifically for a contest, so it had to be that long, but it didn’t win… so… poopy.

So when I seek out new reading, I hope for series, I hope for long epic stories, and characters that are worth following. Am I alone here? Do you feel the same or do you crave the nice bite-size morsels of a short story? Or even the single sitting meal of a movie? Let me know in the comments below!

Why are Mormon Women So Attractive? (Part II)

28 Jul

Continuing on my strange topic, you may be wondering, “Why am I blogging about this?” Because of my Hamilton fix, the online performing group Working with Lemons did an amazing job of taking the musical and putting it “in real life” (off stage). They’re also from Utah, and no surprise, Mormon. They also have incredibly hot women performing in it. No surprise either; the acting profession tends to be self-selecting, because beautiful women tend to be more successful. However, that’s what got me thinking about this–and check out their channel!

Self-Selecting Immigration

When the LDS made their first foreign missions, they hit England, right as the Industrial Revolution hit. Brigham Young himself immigrated from England. However, part of the reason there was a push to polygamy was because they converted a LARGE number of English women (who were probably working in cloth factories in terrible conditions), and ended up with more women than men.

In early 19th Century thinking, you can’t leave a large group of single women around unprotected. So all these women get scooped up. Following waves of converts from other parts of Europe generally are folks who a) believed and b) felt an opportunity in Utah. These people tend to be the folks who think they can get ahead and those folks tend to be more attractive.

Is this sexist? Sure–but how many ugly salesmen and saleswomen have you met? Go ahead–I doubt you can count them on more than one hand.

Modest is Hottest

Let’s face it, a woman in a bikini is pretty amazing, but it’s not like they’re hiding much. The same woman in a concealing blouse and skirt… wouldn’t you like to know more? On a similar vein, let’s try…

Happy is the New Sexy

Mormon women tend to be happier. And let’s face it, a happier girl is a sexier one; she brightens up a room. Could it be good living, frontier politeness, and avoiding drugs and alcohol? A greater emphasis on family and friendship? Doing things together and for others? Perhaps. It doesn’t work for everyone in the church–trust me, I’ve met several ex-Mormons–but generally all the LDS folks I’ve worked and hung out with are great, interesting, and happy people.

What do you think? Am I an asshole to bring this up? Do I just need to visit Utah to have my perception change? Or am I right on the money? Let me know in the comments below.

Why are Mormon Women So Attractive? (Part I)

27 Jul

Your mileage may vary, but this something that has puzzled me for quite some time – why are Mormon women so attractive? Is the water? Self-selecting immigration? Or is there some Sisterhood class that I’m not aware of? (Why would I be?) Let me throw out some wild speculation, put in some quotes, and see where this takes me?

Not Everyone Agrees

This was not considered “gospel” a hundred years ago. Mark Twain wrote about them in Roughing It: “My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically ‘homely’ creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, ‘No – the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure – and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence.'”

Best Foot Forward

Whenever LDS missionaries come over, I always invite them in. As a student of Mormon History (but not a member of their church), I find them interesting to talk to and love to go back and forth on the BoM. 9 times out of 10, Saints on a mission are generally young – between 19 and 24 – so it could be that we’re just seeing them at the right time. Certainly, there’s plenty of beautiful women on Arizona State’s campus… although they have an LDS training center on campus… wait a minute…

When I was 25, I went on a road trip and landed in Independence, Missouri. Because I like Mormon history, I decided to check out the temple site… and pulled into the wrong parking lot. Turns out there’s three different denominations claiming different parts of the Temple Site and the mainline denomination has a visitor’s center right next to the Community of Christ’s big temple. So I’m walking into the visitor’s center and five of the most beautiful women I have ever seen are working there as tour guides. I had to admit, it was a great conversion tool: “Seduce your way to Christ!” 🙂

Wow! This article is getting too long – I’m going to have to finish this tomorrow. But am I full of it? Am I right on the nose? Let me know in the comments below.

Wacky in Wickenberg

26 Jul

Last weekend, I went on a roadtrip to Wickenberg, Arizona – for reasons that even the locals weren’t really sure why I came. Sometimes I just like to explore places, and considering this small town’s downtown was decorated just like a Wild West town, made it pretty neat… and a little creepy.

Wickenberg is about an hour northwest of the outskirts of Phoenix, still within the same county (because that’s how the southwest works). and it’s just under 8,000 people. Personally, it kinda reminded me of the town where I grew up (without the Wild West kitsch). I chose to travel there because a) I’ve never been there, b) it was referenced in an MST3K short, and c) because I knew that a chapter of the club I belong to would be open.

The decoration was one thing – the statues were another. Apparently, they decided to a “Cows on Parade” thing, but instead of cows, they put up people statues in Wild West outfits. That was pretty creepy.

Not sure if it was because they were life-size or just really good or I simply wasn’t expecting it. However, when I checked out the local chapter, the people there were incredibly friendly, great to talk to, and it made it worth the trip.

Unfortunately, the trip getting there wasn’t that exciting – it was flat, it was desert, there was precious little between Phoenix and there. However, I did take a different way back, avoiding the 10 to get home (really crowded interstate).

However, it was a really nice place to visit, and would really like to go back sometime. Have you ever traveled to a place and discovered a hidden gem? Tell me about it in the comments below!

No Shoes, No Shirt… Why?

25 Jul

Shirtless guy… what immortal hand or eye makes you think that your naked top is worth being seen by the rest of the world? Do you just not care? Do you have a level of self-confidence that we need to be in awe of? What is the raison d’etre of shirtless guy?

Don’t try to justify it with “It’s hot.” Hell no. I live in Arizona – it’s always hot. It’s gonna be 110 degrees today, you’re gonna get your ass burned. There’s not a lick of sunscreen on you. This is a conscious decision – “sun’s out, guns out, whoooooooooooooo!”

It’s not even justified. If you actually work out, got the six-pack, shaved chisel chest, all right – you want to show off your good work. I get that. It’s the dad bod man. Even that can be justified – you’re at the pool, you’re working out, you’re working in your own yard. No, no, no… this is “I’m walking in public and I want you to see me without my shirt” guy.

Privately, I’m in awe – even when I was in high school, 180 lbs soaking wet and 6 foot tall, I -still- wasn’t “show my chest” guy. Because I recognized my flab (even though laughable by today’s standards), and my shame didn’t need to be pointed out by my community.

So if it’s not an abundance of self-confidence, it must be, “I just don’t care. I don’t wanna wear a shirt today so… $&%* it!” Which again, I must ask, “Why does fresh air on your skin matter so much?” My guess is that you’d walk naked if you could get away with it. I’d go to sleep naked if I didn’t have kids, but I do, so I don’t. A lack of shame is understandable, if lamentable, for shame prevents us from doing many things that are undesirable. One might say that shame creates society–the desire NOT to be looked down upon–but something happened to you not to care about that.

Maybe I’m going down the wrong mental highway for this guy. What’s your theory? Put it down in the comments below!

Most Disputes Die and No One Shoots

24 Jul

My son got obsessed with the musical Hamilton about two… three months ago, which means I heard half the soundtrack before I even heard one minute of the actual Broadway cast. When I actually heard it, and later saw it on Disney+, I found it very interesting what he chose NOT to sing.

What was my son’s favorite song list?

  • Alexander Hamilton
  • My Shot
  • The Schuyler Sisters
  • Right Hand Man
  • Ten Duel Commandments
  • History Has Its Eyes on You
  • Yorktown
  • The Room Where It Happens

What was my favorite songs from Hamilton?

  • Right Hand Man
  • Satisfied
  • Ten Duel Commandments
  • Yorktown
  • Dear Theodosia
  • Cabinet Battle #1
  • It’s Quiet Uptown
  • Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

What I noticed was that my son chose songs that are mostly from the first half of the musical. This is when Hamilton is up and coming, young, willing to take risks, seeking glory. He’s also big on the big numbers. My list also included the big numbers, but they were the ones that tend to pull at my heart strings more. Unrequited love, fawning over your children, thinking about your legacy.

This shouldn’t surprise me, but I’m amazed how the same musical can have different effects on people. My son really loved the intensity and power of the main character’s personality; I gravitated to his struggles, his failures, his feelings of inadequacy. Part of that is life experience. Certainly, I haven’t accomplished everything I wanted to do at 13 – nowadays, I’m not sure I want to, because I know exactly what it costs to achieve them. At the same time, “there’s a lot of things I haven’t done” and I worry if it’ll ever happen.

In the musical, I take comfort that A. Ham was a real person. He had great ideas, but he frequently did them in ways that made enemies, he made big mistakes, and he felt like he had failed even after everything he accomplished. I weep openly every time I hear “It’s Quiet Uptown,” because the loss of a child is something I fear, and I understand what that means to a parent.

Of course, history has a way of repeating itself. Like when my brother (four years older) watched Fiddler on the Roof every day for six months. He was trying to get the lead of Tevye in the high school production. I can still sing every %*(#*$ line from that musical. That was thirty years ago.

So what did you take away from Hamilton? Have you been avoiding it? Did you hate it? Let me know in the comments below!

What Conan the Barbarian Teaches Us About Fatherhood

23 Jul

When did saying “I Love You, Son” stop being taboo? As guys, I get it, we don’t talk about our feelings that much – makes us seem “unmanly,” but there was a change in my generation in which it started to be okay to tell our sons that we love them. What was the disconnect? Was the taboo always there or did it evolve with our concept of manliness? Of course, we turn to cheesy action movies for our answer.

How did this thought come about? Well, I was watching Conan the Barbarian, the 2011 version with Jason Momoa, and in that version, Conan is raised by a single dad until he’s 12. His mom dies in childbirth in the middle of a battlefield. Badass. Of course, when your dad is played by Ron Perlman, you’re guaranteed to become a badass. But Conan’s dad was a very harsh father, and it’s only later when he inevitably is about to die, it’s only then that he says, “I love you, son.” Then pours a giant ingot of boiling metal on himself.

A very powerful scene and one I really enjoyed, but why did Conan’s dad have to be a dick to him his whole childhood? He was trying to toughen him up? Okay, you’re a barbarian, it’s a harsh world, I get it. But it’s not going to cost you anything to hug your boy every once in a while.

Compare this to the 1982 version with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Conan’s dad is still tough, badass, and still has a heart-to-heart with his young son. This speech is one of my favorites in all of movie history…

Fire and wind come from the sky, from the gods of the sky, but Crom is your god. Crom, and he lives in the Earth. Once giants lived in the Earth, Conan, and in the darkness of chaos they fooled Crom, and they took from him the enigma of steel. Crom was angered, and the Earth shook, and fire and wind struck down these giants, and threw their bodies into the waters. But in their rage, the gods forgot the secret of steel, and left it on the battlefield.

We, who found it, are just men: not gods, not giants, just men. And the secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan, you must learn its discipline. For no one, no one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts… This you can trust.

The way William Smith plays him is great. Now this actor is a Korean war vet, gave up finishing his doctorate, and became a B-movie villain. (Funny how life takes you strange places.) Notice that second paragraph, though, as he talks to the eight or nine year old Conan with compassion, but seriousness. He’s also holding five pounds of broadsword as he talks. He obviously cares at the same time he’s telling his son, “You gotta be tough.”

Interesting enough, the tone of the movie also continues into the main plot. The difference between the main villain, Thulsa Doom (played by James Earl Jones) and Khalar Zym (played by Stephen Lang) are also obvious. Both have that sad look towards their work. Doom has been personally learning the mystery of power. Zym’s a single dad who is trying to bring his evil wizard wife back from the dead. When facing Conan father’s killer, Doom is blase: “Really?” Zym takes a moment, but remembers Conan.

In the Schwarzenegger version, it’s the love of his family that was lost is reflected in the blandness of the evil that took it away. In the Momoa version, it’s the toughness he learned as a kid that is reflected in the passion of the evil. Maybe that’s the key – my father certainly wasn’t an affectionate man, my stepfather was more affectionate, but we weren’t a family of huggers. When I went to college and I met my first Italian friend, suddenly embracing someone you love was wonderful! I love hugging people! That contact is essential for feeling good and giving you strength later on.

Naturally, when I raise my own son, I don’t hold back my love and affection for him… at the same time, I try to prepare him for the world he’s going to live in. Compassion should be balanced with toughness, a man can be manly and still not an impassive dick to those he loves. You can cry at movies and be stoic in the face of pain or weakness. There is a balance that one needs to live… and that’s the lesson we need to pass on to our sons.

If you have kids, how do you balance toughness with kindness? Allowing independance versus keeping them safe? Put your hints in the comments below. In the words of Red Green, “Hang in there, we’re all in this together.”

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