December 2


Lately, there’s this new mascot in Korea has skyrocketed in popularity. Pengsu is a headphones-wearing penguin that does 10-minute man-on-the-street skits produced by EBS, the Korea Educational Broadcasting System. Unlike a lot of Korean comedy, the character is able to attract both young children and adults with his witty ad-lib free of sexual overtones, cursing, or slapstick.

I must admit, I too find him amusing. The whole set-up is reminiscent of Sacha Baron Cohen skits. Talk to someone for a few minutes, move one, rinse and repeat. He also has recurring things he comes back to, basically building his own world simply by virtue of the story he spins.

Much like PBS, EBS survives through sponsorship and advertisement. Because they’re mainly focused on education, they’re not as attractive to companies compared to other bigger broadcasting companies in the country. The character Peng-su’s surge in popularity not only because of the character itself but also due to the story of an educational character crossing over to the viral mainstream. And that is one of the things that interest me most about the character. A lot of the character’s fans are quite keen on speculating on what products the character would or should endorse in the future. Already, I’ve seen news stories of companies courting the creators of the character to ink a deal to start hawking their merchandise.

Now I know that some characters or some shows are always in danger of not having enough funding to continue. It’s always difficult finding funding for the arts. But to me, the Peng-su phenomenon is akin to having a viral tweet or Instagram post. When an unknown account suddenly goes viral with one tweet, it is often followed by either the original poster advertising something in response to the sudden popularity or just shrugging it all off and linking to something innocuous. That attitude of “BAM! You’ve hit the big time, not milk this for all it’s worth” is so pervasive that it’s a tad off-putting. Now, I know that this has been going on since the very beginning of mass media, but now it’s almost the very first thing one thinks of the minute they get a hint of fame (or infamy even). And now it’s even come to cartoon mascots. It’s a bit weird. I mean, I enjoyed cartoons and different characters and media when I was younger, but not once did I think they should trade their fame for more advertising revenue. G.I. Joe was already selling me action figures. I didn’t think they should advertise McDonalds just so they could eke out more episodes. Sesame Street could easily survive if Big Bird started selling life insurance.

I’ve seen this kind of talk with athletes before in the country. And this I understand. The champion figure skater Kim Yoona was super popular (and still is) in the country and her fame coupled with her good looks made her a magnet for advertisers. And good for her, too. Athletes only have a few years to capitalize on their fame, so she did well with her advertising and she didn’t overdo it either.

I remember Howard Stern once saying, “just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should.” Which is him saying just because you can be part of any sort of project just to make a few dollars, doesn’t mean you should say yes to everything. You can afford to not be part of everything. You can afford to say no. Which is more than I can say with some celebrities in Korea. There are times when the media just keeps on pumping the same set of people again, and again, and again. Sure, they might think their current popularity has a very short lifespan, but during that lifespan, I’m already sick of their face on television (Yes, I’m sick of Park Na-rae). This is one reason why I get easily put off by Korean television. It’s the same people again and again until you get sick of them.

Now, I do hope this Peng-su character lasts for a while. If anything, his popularity shows that there is more to Korean television than singing, people eating, or fake reality show BS. It’s also good to see a character be successful fueled mostly by wit. It’s a good departure from the standard brand of stand-up comedy you would see in Korean gag comedy.  

November 22


It’s very difficult to follow hockey when the Trump impeachment is going on. I wasn’t able to follow the Clinton impeachment back in the 90s, but what’s happening right now is a great learning experience if not a historic event which would probably be discussed in law schools in the future. It’s quite engrossing, especially with the brazenness of the government officials (and non-government goons) protecting Donald Trump and the bravery of the long-time career officials who tried to function amid all of the chaos but have no choice now but to call out illegal behavior. What’s even more engrossing is the almost soap-opera aspect of all of the twists-and-turns. Just a couple of hours ago, it was revealed that Devin Nunes, ranking member and the Republican lead of the House Oversight Committee, was linked with Lev Parnas, the Guiliani associate who was indicted for illegally directing funds from a foreign government to US officials. This puts an ethical dilemma on Devin Nunes and his role in the hearings into question since he is now implicated on the whole thing depending on how far the Democrats would push the issue.


It is all pretty compelling stuff. And the issues at hand are more serious, not just a man hiding his affair from his wife. I’m pretty sure I would’ve been tired of the whole Clinton impeachment drama after a couple of days. I don’t know how Jay Leno at the time stretched that out into a nightly comedy staple.

Although I’m often not happy with the weakness of the Democrats, I’m very pleased with how t he hearings are going. Today with Dr. Fiona Hill, we get to hear her say that the notion that the Ukrainians were the ones who hacked the 2016 elections and not the Russians is basically the product of Russian disinformation. This makes everyone perpetuating the stupid conspiracy theory, including Donald Trump, a tool by the Russian government. Yesterday, we heard Ambassador Sondland admit to the quid pro quo and name all of the major players in the attempt to pressure Ukraine into announcing a fake investigation into Trump’s political rival. Ex-Ambassador Yovanovitch provided more details regarding the conspiracy and was even subjected to harassment by the president in the middle of her testimony. And of course there’s Lt. Col. Vindman who testified to what he witnessed and remind everyone that in the end, despite of how low the state of politics around the world is now, he still believes that in his country, “right matters.”

And I think in the end, that’s what separates the good guys and the bad guys from the very beginning of the Trump nightmare to now. It’s the notion that right matters. It’s not the matter of whether something is illegal or not. It’s whether something is right… doing the right thing despite the limits of your role. And vice-versa, doing the right thing despite the ease and freedom you are given to abuse your power.

Sure the US government could ban people from the United States based on their religion according to the Supreme Court. But is it right? The US government could endlessly detain people attempting to apply for refugee status. But is it right? Even with the smaller things. Sure the president is entitled to spend most of his time in a golf course on the tax payers’ dime. But is it right? Evil has skirted on legality and it beat people down to being too tired to vigorously call out wrongdoing when evil is no longer hiding and what is happening is plainly illegal.

I think one of the biggest culprit of this is Mueller himself. He was tasked with rooting out Russian interference in the 2016 United States election and suspicious links between Trump associates and Russian officials. He had the ability to expand his investigation into other things related to the Trump organization in order to learn more about its criminality, but instead, he strictly focused on most limited of scopes. A number of Trump associates were indicted as a result of the investigation, but he didn’t even bother interrogating Donald Trump Jr. He was also happy to let Donald Trump mail in answers to an interview as if he was earning a degree online. Mueller stuck to what his role was. He stuck to his reputation of being a strict, no-nonsense actor… leaving the final conclusion of a Trump-Russian connection to House of Representatives and a Senate that won’t act on it. Right matters. But for Mueller, he decided to play it safe and stand by while Trump, Barr, and other right wing hacks proclaim that Mueller’s lack of firm conclusion exonerated the president. Mueller was a soldier and a hero, but I don’t think he has the courage of a whistleblower, the courage to stand up and point out wrongdoing if it means stepping out of your role.

Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has fallen into this same trap. She wanted to narrow the impeachment inquiry strictly on the conversations regarding Ukraine. Now she is free to do so, and expanding beyond the business with Ukraine could be seen as overstepping or a “witch hunt.” But with a creature like Trump, someone who makes impeachable offenses on Twitter during the hearing, doing the right thing is not sticking to your role and limiting yourself to the advantage of your enemies. The right thing to do is to be just as courageous as the whistleblower, be just as courageous as the witnesses. There are limits to one’s roles, but loving your country and upholding the oath of office sometimes requires going beyond that. 

Joseph Reyes

 

December 12


Christmas and the end of 2019 coming up. But why do I keep thinking about men in secret rooms planning our collective demise? 

 

Artist

November 8


Outside of my office, there are street preachers which I usually tune out. The other day however, one of the speakers came out with a particularly interesting rant:

“Don’t treat Jesus like garbage. He’s not garbage. YOU’RE GARBAGE!”

Now, I don’t really know who the speaker was referring to, but as I know, Jesus (despite not being garbage) preached humility and lowered himself to wash the feet of his disciples. I also remember Jesus saying blessed be the poor and the meek. Jesus was never proud. In fact, pride is one of the seven capital vices. So while I’m not saying that it’s right to say that we should treat Jesus like garbage, it’s probably safe to say that Jesus would be the last to accuse anyone of being garbage.

But then again, looking at the signs surrounding the preachers I see in the country. They’re very heavy on the condemnation.

“Believe or you’ll go to hell!”

These are people who are heavy on the condemnation. They spend more time preaching and condemning people on the street than actually doing good works. I sometimes wonder if anyone is ever converted by the regular blaring sermons on the street. I seriously doubt it. This is like the religious equivalent of negging… undermine someone’s self esteem in order to make them seek out your approval. That, couple with threats of eternal damnation.

But why do it then? Why do it if it’s not working? Simple. Because it’s easy.

Or rather it’s easier than actually following Jesus’ example. If you’re religious there are two common arguments to reaching heaven: believing in God or doing good works regardless of believing in God. There’s injustice in reaching heaven simply for believing in a deity. A Buddhist could be a much kinder and generous person than me, but just by virtue of me believing in God, I would go to heaven and they would rot in hell. The problem with reaching heaven simply for doing good works however, is that it makes religion irrelevant. Why study the Gospels and listen to a preacher? I don’t need to do all of that in order to do good deeds. I’d just spend my time volunteering or something.

And that right there is the key. It is easier to claim rights to the kingdom of heaven simply by believing in God and making everyone else feel like sinners. It is much harder to follow Jesus’ teachings and simply be good to others.

Another thing that’s key in ignoring Jesus’ teachings is simply devoting one’s self to the Old Testament, the old God. See there are two main Gods in the Christian bible. There is the vengeful God in the Old Testament. And then there’s Jesus, the God of the New Testament. The thing about following the Old Testament is that he is more exciting. There’s more condemnation. There’s more us against them. There are more sinners being wiped away by flood and fire. Compare that to the New Testament where all sinners are saved by Jesus’ sacrifice. Outside of the crucifixion, it doesn’t get extremely violent and judgmental until Revelations. The excitement brought by the jealous, judgmental, and sometimes incomprehensible God of the Old Testament brings a tribal sentiment much like sports. “We are going to heaven. You suck! You’re going to hell!” It must feel very good. And it’s definitely much easier than giving out soup to homeless people.

This reminds me of the newly appointed religious advisor in the Trump administration, the grifter Paula White. She was recently “praying against President Trump’s enemies.” Praying against… like she’s sending a vengeful spirit to curse people, like voodoo magic or something. I ask why aren’t people, religious scholars in particular, not speaking out against this. But then again, I realize that the God of the Old Testament seems to be more popular than Jesus these days. I mean, it’s easy to invoke Jesus by name. But in everything else, condemnation, tribalism, curses… everything is Old Testament.  

October 29


Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was the leader of ISIL. He was surrounded by special forces yesterday and detonated himself using an explosive vest. When he was alive, he orchestrated the genocide of the Yazidis, pushed for sex slavery, and organized brutal displays of mass crucifixions and executions, often putting them on video to be used for propaganda and recruitment.


I have no sympathy for people like Baghdadi, especially after they perverted the image of Islam. The world is better without him. His death is not the same as the death of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. There are no gray areas or utilitarian purpose to his rule. He is simply, a bad guy. However, the whole circus with the Trump administration’s announcement regarding his death leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

First off, the Pentagon stating that he ran to a tunnel with three kids to be used as human shields sounds like unnecessary propaganda. It’s very similar to when they described Osama Bin Laden using his wives as shields, which was later denied as a false statement. They are painting a very dramatic scene in order to make Baghdadi sound evil when he is evil enough as it is. I’m already on the US’ side on this. They don’t have to lie in order to sell it to me. In fact, the lie is off-putting. Why would Baghdadi bring children along when he planned to detonate himself? Wouldn’t he know those kids he was bringing with him? Isn’t it more plausible that he was trying to escape with them and not use them as shields?

Now, maybe the Pentagon wasn’t lying, but Trump lying and saying that he saw the whole thing live, much like a movie is a childishly blatant lie. First off, there was no audio. Second, the photo of him and his generals perfectly posed to try and simulate a situation room is comically set up. Cables are disconnected, people are staring at different directions, the photographer was blocking where the screen would be, and Trump perfectly centered like it was Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper.’ Third, his description of Baghdadi crying and begging for his life was totally fictitious. Even Pentagon officials immediately denied it. There was no audio. No witnesses could attest to this. And the whole thing happened in a dark tunnel. Either Trump was describing what happened to Muammar Gaddafi years ago or he’s just going off of his sadistic imagination. “His body was mutilated by the blast… there wasn’t much left?” Really? Can the US president not hide his childish glee over this?

“Died like a dog”? “Die like a coward”? How does a dog die? How does a coward die? How does Trump know how a coward dies? What kind of language is this?!?!?

And then Trump goes on to brag about himself, comparing himself to ISIS in terms of Internet proficiency (what a weirdo!), claiming that he advocated the death of Bin Laden (he didn’t), and that killing Baghdadi was more significant than killing Osama Bin Laden. That last one is something adults simply don’t do. What does that even mean?

As for Trump comparing himself to ISIS in terms of Internet proficiency, let me follow his lead and go a bit further. Bill Maher lost his first show after he described the 9/11 terrorists as being brave, in contrast with US military strategy which is basically just bombing cities from a distance. I’m not a fan of Bill Maher, but there was truth to what he was saying. The 9/11 terrorists were cowards in that they targeted civilians, but they were courageous in personally committing their act of terror and facing death. The west commits terror mostly long distance. As hideous and as ill-advised his sentiment was, it cannot be dismissed as totally wrong. In any case, let me pull a Bill Maher and say that Trump, given the same circumstances, would not be any different from Baghdadi.

They both failed at serving in the military, though Baghdadi might actually be truly nearsighted. Apparently, Baghdadi has a PHD in Islamic studies. But just like with Trump’s education from Wharton, their supposed education doesn’t match reality. Baghdadi is as much a religious scholar as Trump is a business leader.

Trump is an accused sexual predator. In the same position as Baghdadi, is it really a stretch that he advocate for sexual slavery as well? With his macho fantasies and authoritarian tendencies, it is also very easy to imagine that he would be just as violent and as brutal as Baghdadi. Trump was quite callous with the imprisonment of children and the death of the Kurds. He doesn’t care much about the suffering in Puerto Rico and was quite dismissive about the US’ history with lynching. Baghdadi has his followers do most of the work for him. They are zealots who are following both extremist ideologies and twisted religious dogma. According to a recent poll, evangelicals are 90% against Trump getting impeached. These are the same people who believe he is appointed by God. The same people who wouldn’t mind conflict to break out over the Gaza Strip in order for Christ to come a second time.


The way we see leaders and monsters truly depends on the culture and circumstances surrounding them as well as which side we are on. ISIL and Baghdadi rose from the horror that is the fall of Iraq. One could argue that without the conflicts in the Middle East, perhaps the monster that is Baghdadi would’ve never evolved. Trump on the other hand lived a life of excess and was never really held accountable for his many failures and supposed crimes. And despite getting everything most people would want in life, he became this strange villain on the world stage. Now, imagine what worse cartoon monster he would’ve become if he was given the same circumstances as Baghdadi.