What Does A ‘Crazier’ Fox News Even Mean?

This news, or news or rumors, immediately made me think of Big Red Son*, a non-fiction David Foster Wallace piece about the Adult Video News Awards, which are like the Oscars for porn. Stay with me.

Wallace’s style is heavy with footnotes. (Someone once admitted to me she DIDN’T READ THE FOOTNOTES, which I found shocking because well, they are the best.) Despite reading this essay collection nine years, four cats and three children ago, one of the footnotes in Big Red Son never left me. It was about how porn defined itself by being subversive, and the more acceptable it became, the more depraved it would have to get in order to keep its status.

When I saw the headlines about a possibly “crazier” version of Fox News, my mind jumped right to that old footnote:

“Respectability creates a paradox. The more acceptable in modern culture it becomes, the farther porn will have to go in order to preserve the sense of unacceptability that’s so essential to its appeal. As should be evidence, the industry’s already gone pretty far … it’s not hard to see where porn is eventually going to have to go in order to retain its edge of disrepute.”

I’m pretty worried that since we’re in an age when Nazis are up for debate, where would a “crazier” Fox News even go with its discourse? You know what, don’t answer that question.

*The piece is found in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, a collection I recommend wholeheartedly.

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We Live in Public

The ‘We Live in Public’ premiere at SXSW. PC: Frank Gruber

Almost a decade ago, at the SXSW film fest, I saw a documentary about a man ahead of his time called We Live in Public. He rigged cameras all over his house and live-streamed his life with his girlfriend, a prophecy of the privacy-rejecting times to come. The film unsettled me back then, and raised a lot of serious questions about the implications of living under a construct like this. Now his avant garde art experiment is reality, especially in China, where people are making $100,000 a month live streaming their most mundane moments.

One of the primary concerns I have about all of us living in a mediated reality (one in which you are aware of an audience gaze) is how it affects identity formation. That is, during adolescence, when developmental science indicates people are quite literally forming their own identities, establishing who they are as adults who are separate from their parents, today’s adolescents are also forming their public identities (on Instagram or what not) at the same time. These two selves may be completely dissonant, and neither is even fully “formed” yet. What a mindfuck!

The summer between 9th and 10th grade, a group of cheerleaders from my high school decided to pose for a group picture topless except for belts they fastened around their chests. They took the film for developing at Eckerd (you see, children, back in those days we would get our film rolls developed at a 24-hour pharmacy). Another high school student worked at the Eckerd photo corner, saw the shot when reviewing the final photos and scanned it. This was 1998, so the photo was passed around as email attachments, and everyone who was anyone saw this photo, but it eventually stopped being a thing. Can you imagine if this had happened in the age of social media?

Had I paid more attention in philosophy classes, I would probably know this problem is as old as time, and it’s just expressing itself in a different way now. But I do think about it a lot because my daughters are post-millennials, and damn, what a world. Even given the minor professional obligations I have to be “in public,” I’m constantly unsure how much/what to share in public spaces. Suffice to say it will not be anything involving topless belt photos.

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The Summer of The Summer Bucket List

Hands down the top conversation topic of the week.

This bucket list, which was allegedly found in an Urban Outfitters dressing room, basically made my week. It’s not only hilarious in its substance but also in its specificity (seven bikinis, two blow jobs, hooking up with Jacob). The other thing that gets me is its wild divergence from adorable innocence (stargaze, pet a giraffe, decorate room) to adult extracurriculars (drugs and sex). And some of it was comic just because it didn’t make sense until the internet figured out what “Go Ape” (a ziplining place) and “Randyland” (a Pittsburgh-area landmark) meant.

The list then led to think pieces and parodies, like the summer bucket list of a 35 year old woman or, what parents should think of the bucket list.

For me and my friends it just made for endless rounds of laughter and discussion at parties. When we were hosting the visiting New Yorker scribe Evan Osnos in Seoul on Friday, friend Jonathan had not HEARD ABOUT THE LIST (where was he all week!?!) and so he subsequently spent several minutes reading it and laughing until his face turned beet red.

At a different party (in a probably-too-cool-for-me vinyl record-themed bar) on Saturday, Friend Alex and I brought it up with a Pennsylvanian (did you know Pennsylvanians insist on referring to their state as P-A, instead of Pennsylvania?) and he was so excited that other people learned about RANDYLAND. True story: today he sent me two business cards he saved from Randyland, which he found in old stuff as he prepares to move back to America on Tuesday.

I know there’s speculation someone planted this list as a joke but due to its specific Pittsburgh-area references and just a gut feeling, I’m gonna say it’s real. And whoever this woman is I hope she is enjoying her anonymous fame. She brought a smile to us all during what feels like ongoing crises in the country and world.

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“Love” Motels

Cards strewn all over the street feature numbers to call for a lady.

We were walking home from dinner one night when Friend Mike picked up a glossy, full-color business card with a woman’s gigantic posterior on it and a phone number. As we continued walking, it was clear that was just one of many cards like that which had rained on the street.

Upon more investigation (read: asking more experienced Korea dwellers), it turns out we live pretty close to an area with many “love motels,” which are hotels you can rent for an hour at a time. Many young South Koreans who still live with their parents use these as a place to hook it up, but they would also be convenient for entrepreneurial exchanges, I assume.

At one party a few weeks ago, a group of us started talking about these cards and how the women you get probably do not look like the ones advertised on the business cards. That’s when one of my Korean-speaking American friends called up the number. There wasn’t a long exchange, so the main things we learned were logistics and pricing.

You book a room, then tell the service where it is. The woman will show up at the love motel at the appointed time and location, and you must pay the equivalent of $150 per hour. There was no elaboration as to what you can do with your hour, so presumably it depends on the professional who is sent to you. There have been other advertisements around that use the Korean “tteok” or “dok” (depending on how you want to romanize) to describe these ladies … Dok is the word for a white, doughy rice cake. I’m not sure if that’s the reason why they’re called dok girls, but this is the kind of question I still have about the ol’ love motel sex business.

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Odyssey to Bali

These guinea hens were just hanging out by the pool

Eva has this exaggerated, four-year-old way of asking “what’s happening” by punching each word out: “What. Is. Happening.” She never uttered it yesterday, but it would have been appropriate for every travel snafu we ran into starting from the moment we arrived at the airport check-in counter at 10 in the morning. First, our noon flight had been pushed back by four hours. Then, I realized I left baby Luna’s passport at home, because I packed passports still thinking we were a family of four. Whoops. Then, a more severe passport snafu for her dad: Matty didn’t have six months left on his passport before its expiration date, so the airline straight up would not let him fly. The Matty situation required a lift from the embassy (which, thanks to having friends who are in consular affairs at the embassy, got him on the access list to get a new passport within hours). But even still, we had to leave him behind.

The Luna situation required calling back the driver who brought us to the airport, driving an hour+ through typical maddening Seoul traffic back HOME to get the passport, turning around and taking a train to the airport, get to the security checkpoint and have Eva’s boarding pass not clear due to a hyphen, walking her BACK to the counter on the other side of the departure hall, getting the hyphen fixed, going through security as a family of five (since Matt’s left behind, I have our helper Yani THANK GOD), then getting to the airport tram.

We had Isa in a stroller so this required an elevator. After attempts to take three different elevators — none of them air conditioned — all were out. We finally get to the gate via escalators and tram and that’s when Eva starts tantruming out because she’s hot and tired from all the walking. Our flight’s delayed another hour, Isa needs snacks, I have three-month-old baby Luna pressed on me the entire time with a look of “What. Is. Happening.” We finally get on the plane and amazing, have two empty seats next to us in our row, but before we can snag them to allow Isa and Eva to stretch out across them to sleep, Koreans rush up like they’re fleeing a war and belt themselves in them, leaving Yani stuck holding 30 pound Isa in a single seat while Isa sleeps for HALF THE FLIGHT. By the time we arrived at midnight, after first leaving the house for the airport at 9am, the girls were frayed but holding it together, I was sweatier than I’ve ever been and sleepy, Yani was just relieved to have Isa’s hot body not pressed against her and Luna was wishing she was back in the womb, I imagine.

Anyway I’m writing this down so I won’t forget yesterday. It was our first trip as a family of five and only four of us actually made it on the journey. (Yani became our fifth yesterday, and it was and is absolutely critical to our functioning.) And while we ran into annoying frustrations, it comes with the territory. (Ahem, like how our flight to leave the US and move to Seoul became several flights after the first attempt to move from our home country was aborted after we’d boarded and sat on a tarmac in Dulles for six hours. And still not nearly as bad as the night I slept in the baggage claim of DFW Airport.) Frankly it was an awesome day depending on how you look at it. But for that super long delay, we wouldn’t have had time to get Luna’s passport. But for our amazing friend at the embassy who we could just call up and get on the American Citizen Services access list, Matty wouldn’t have a new passport so fast, fast enough to get on a flight tonight to see us tomorrow.

And the destination after our arduous march was Bali — paradise! Over mango juice this morning at breakfast al fresco, Eva said to me unprompted, “Momma, Bali is so beautiful. Like 100 beautiful,” awarding imaginary points to it on her arbitrary (but valid) Eva scale.

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All Greek To Me

What it’s like to be friends with my friends, a sample conversation from lunch:

Richard: I feel like your Twitter personality is about 30% more pedantic than you are in real life.

John: I traffic in irony. I try to cultivate an ironic personality on Twitter. But I’m told maybe it doesn’t come across.

Me: What is up with you and Thucydides? You’re always bringing him up.

John: It’s not just MY thing. History of the Peloponnesian War one of the foundations of Western thought!

Richard: I didn’t read it just once, I read it TWICE.

John: I taught a semester long class on it. I’ve read several translations, but the Hobbes is the best one. Shoot, I’ve read it in CHINESE! [Pauses.] Of course you should read it in the original Greek.

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It’s the Freakin’ Weekend

Guests giving a high five to Trump.

Every year the U.S. Embassy throws a big July 4th party for its friends in the other embassies, business folk in the American Chamber of Commerce and other associates, like us journalist types. The location has changed each year, and this year it felt like a giant car show in the Hyatt because sponsors parked Teslas and GM vehicles all over the place. Tito’s Vodka was also sponsoring and everyone knows it is my favorite beverage so, I just kind of parked it near the Tito’s station.

You know what was never busy though? The gazpacho station. I still don’t really get gazpacho.

The Trump selfie stations were a huge draw, as Korean guests really enjoyed going to get their pictures taken with the life-sized cardboard cutouts of the American president and his wife. (An embassy official was stationed near there to monitor for crude gestures at the selfie station, but she admitted that Koreans weren’t the concern, it was the Americans they had to worry about.)

Too Soon?

“The only people left at this party are the journalists and the arms dealers.” -Friend John

Ouch. That’s a reference to this episode, which you may have read about. (I have to say there’s a little bit of envy in the drama factor of this story. In all my years reporting, no one has ever approached me with a lucrative arms dealing opportunity.)

Look Ma

You’re now reading the musings of a bonafide member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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Sleepy Cab Drivers and Relativsm

Assistant Jihye said her cabbie kept falling asleep when he drove her out to our interview this morning. She had to loudly talk to him the entire time to keep him awake. Little did I know it was a harbinger of things to come. After said interview, while riding home in a cab and the car started drifting in the lane. Then, the driver oddly didn’t pull up to the other cars to queue at a light. What was happening? I looked at his face and realized the driver HAD FALLEN ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL. (Note: This is an instance when you really want to be able to speak the same language.) All I could do was yell, “AJOSHEEE!!!” (A reverential term for an older man.) He suddenly awoke and hit the gas again, but continued to drift in and out of consciousness for the entire harrowing final block to my apartment.

That shit was cray. I promptly messaged Jihye to tell her about this, and she goes, “Yeah, yesterday another guy was falling asleep and he was on the highway and i had to cough and make noises.”

I don’t think these incidents should be happening so often…


There Are Three Types?

Big brains from around the world, around a table.

I spoke at a seminar about “nationalism in the Asia-Pacific context and how it might affect UNESCO’s suggested curriculum for global citizenship education.” I think this was the longest named seminar I’ve ever been a part of, and as usual the room was full of giant brains. At one point a professor discussed a slide in which he broke down relativism into three different types and I started chuckling because it was all so over my head.

Korean anthropologist observation at lunch: Anthropologists, diplomats, journalists and spies all essentially do the same work. Observe, develop sources, work those sources, hunt and gather information, present a framework for thinking about such information, make a persuasive case for your analyses.


New Word

I had no idea what THOT was. Stiles had to explain it to me. He thinks THOT is hilarious! (He loves finding sexist things hilarious just to irritate me.) People have too much time on their hands.

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Cone of Shame and Other Blunders

Caesar’s in a cone of shame for a week. But I should be wearing it.

Caesar is in a cone because of my neglect. I am in charge of trimming the kitties fingernails and I have done so on the regular, for the past 13 years, in which our cat ownership has ranged from two to, at one point, five cats (one was a foster kitten, Miguel, for whom we found a “forever home.”) After Luna was born and I had to go back to work, I guess I just forgot about Caesar’s nails and yesterday when I tried to trim them, I discovered that several of them were ingrown, that is, they got so long that they GREW INTO his paw pads. Needless to say, I felt so horrible that I flipped out. The vet said we could come in right away, but I was cycling through crippling guilt so Matty had to be the one to take Caesar and receive the poor parenting lecture, which was then relayed to me. Caesar seems to be okay now and mainly relieved that someone finally remembered him.


Eddie Rodriguez, Memorable Running Buddy

Speaking of kittens, I’ve been really missing my old Austin running buddy, Eddie, lately. We used to have these rather insane experiences because we trained at five in the morning and you see some weird stuff at twilight. The scariest incident was catching a glimpse of a NUTRIA on Lavaca Street in downtown Austin and then watching it disappear down a sewer. That image still haunts me. Or there was the time we were speeding up the stairs of a bridge over Town Lake (I’m gonna keep calling it Town Lake, mmmkay?) and we were confronted with giant human feces on the steps. It was really, shockingly large. I suppose it could have come from a mastiff or something, but Eddie and I are convinced that dump was of the human variety.

Our most insane running adventure was the time we were on one of our final training runs before the San Antonio marathon and had to log 20 miles. Nothing memorable happened until we had only four miles to go and we heard the distinct sound of kittens crying from inside some bushes. We stopped to see what was going on, found kittens clearly in distress and no sign of a momma cat, so we somehow lured the kittens to us and withstood clawing to pick them up. We then held them against our bodies — he had two, I had one — and ran, bouncing up and down, WITH CLAWING KITTENS IN OUR ARMS for three miles. I took them home, we called Austin Pets Alive and got them fostered until they were adopted. That was dramatic, man.

I haven’t been to Austin since those four hours I stopped there for Hannah’s baby shower, so when I get back there again, Eddie and I are going on a reunion run for the ages. I hope we do not see nutria.


No Alarms (and No Surprises) Please

OK Computer turned 20. I am really enjoying all the tributes. The New York Times breakdown is the most thorough, but I also liked that NPR dug into its archives for the interview with Radiohead when it came out. During my quarterly existential dread, I play ‘No Surprises‘ in a loop and that’s how spouse Stiles knows that it’s time for my quarterly existential dread. I THINK I’m a cheerful person, but then again, my favorite song is ‘No Surprises’ so maybe I’m actually catatonic. “This is my final fit…”

Today Isabel broke our Obama bobblehead, which I feel like is a really sad metaphor. She ran around the house yelling, “BROKEN, BROKEN!” at the top of her lungs.

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Let’s Blog Again, Like We Did 15 Years Ago

Remember when everyone blogged? Here’s what I remember about it: I thought the audiences for these things were limited to the people who I personally told about them, so that was approximately 14 people. Things got out of hand during my early 2002 intern stint at The Taipei Times, where I reviewed nightclubs while underaged and more comically, when my LiveJournal was secretly being read by all my Canadian, British and American expat colleagues, who I was totally blogging about. I had a crazy crush on one of those colleagues because he was a brooding-yet-brilliant asshole. I never named said crush and instead just relentlessly wrote about being in lust with him. Unbeknownst to me, the men in the office started a pool over who it was. One night, while stoned at a party, one of these guys decided he wanted to end the office pool so he told me about it. I was so humiliated I didn’t go to work for a week. They never figured out who the dude was. I wonder what he’s doing. Probably being brooding/brilliant.

My college roomie Amy ran a blog called “Unsolicited Advice” and I checked it all the time even though we were always like, sitting right next to each other. I don’t think any irreverent person in the Missouri Journalism program lacked a blog, actually. Everyone seemed to write under pseudonyms (a sign of those times) and I chose “Jack Foley” after the George Clooney bank robber character in Out of Sight. I named my blog after a line from a different movie — Waiting for Guffman. Inside the crop circle in the film, it was weirdly always 67 Degrees with a 40% Chance of Rain, so that was what I called ye olde blog. Those were the days. Those blogs felt realer, maybe because we had more characters to use and fewer image filters to choose from. The internet wasn’t feudal and algorithms didn’t decide as much about which friends you kept up with and which ones you never read about.

That was a long windup to a point, which is that confronted with Facebook feeds and Tweetdeck barrages and Instagram and Snapchat and whatever the kids use these days, some people are returning to the old-school style of blogging. Mainly it’s the internet dude Dave Winer, and my friend Jenny (who I wanted to BE in 8th grade). And I think I want to try and do it more, too. As Winer notes, “Out here on the open web, as long as you stay away from the BigCo silos, there is no algorithm. Just people. No one but us people.”

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