Thursday, May 23, 2024

On Meeting a Bear in the Woods

Social media has been buzzing with the news that for many women, if they were alone in the woods, they would rather encounter a bear than a lone man. And the mens are MAD! Oh, they are in their feelings!

But before I engage further with the bear in the woods thing, I need to know: is the bear carrying a balloon and singing a song about hunny? Or wearing a raincoat, perhaps? Just want to check.

This meme is the exact opposite of mansplaining. Mansplaining is a man explaining something he might (or might not) understand, but definitely assumes the non-men around him do not understand, then this is the exact opposite of mansplaining on every level. We have non-men who understand something pleading with various men either to understand something they don’t understand, or to be a little less precious (perhaps even… man up) and show a little dignity in the face of a truth that makes them uncomfortable. Whatever the words, there's a lot of gninialpsnam going on here.

What are men trying hard not to understand (or acting performatively offended to hear)? At its heart, a simple repackaging of the “all men are rapists,” discussion. If you get that, you can skip to part two of this blog post. You don't have to (maybe you like the way I write or something?) but you can.

There are some added paws, claws, marmalade and occasional ‘wakka wakka’s, but it boils down to the same reality: a lot, maybe most, perhaps even all women feel unsafe around men they don’t know. We’re guilty until proven innocent. 

I probably deeply felt the injustice of being considered guilty until proven innocent at some point in my life, but a lady friend really brought it home for me when she asked me, “how do you prepare for a date with someone you don’t know that well? A blind date or somesuch?”

My checklist was pretty typical for my gender, I think: dress nice, shave, make sure there's cash in the wallet, gas in the car, tickets for the thing and reservations at the place. If things are hopeful, condom in pocket, too. Check the trunk of the car for that duffel bag of clamps, fur handcuffs, leather straps and harnesses, edible body paint, assorted toys, fireman helmet and French maid costume, (all fresh-pressed if wearable and freshly cleaned if applicable [pun intended], of course), battery chargers, consent forms and robe and wizard hat every sensible person has in the trunk of their car. I don’t think anything there counts as unusual for a garden variety man-on-a-date.

“Okay,” my lady friend said. “Here’s what I do…

-(while planning) be sure it’s at a time and place that’s public, well-lit, and busy enough to have witnesses

-get her self-defense device (pepper spray, brass knuckles, taser, etc.)

-make sure it’s full/charged/loaded etc.

-get a purse or handbag small enough she could grab said device out of it immediately

-match it with shoes that were ok for running in a pinch

-tell a trusted friend where she’d go, when she’d be back, and what time to start worrying (changes of plan informed by text updates)

-set up a codeword to text to that friend, which meant “call back and pretend there’s an emergency. I need a quick exit” (this was not, she assured me, as cool as when Trinity does it in the Matrix. It was scary.)

During the date:

-only visit the toilet when her drink was empty

-scan places she entered for the number of exits, and number of women around

This friend wasn’t choosing “risky types” of boys to date - she did all this invisible work on the off-chance, because the most dangerous guys don’t look dangerous.

“On the off chance, you say?” says the Fictional Person Who Argues With Me (FPWAWM), “Sounds kind of… PARANOID!”

That’s a good word, paranoid. Let’s unpack it a bit.

FPWAWM: (Groans dramatically)

A paranoid person takes precautions, but not all precautions are paranoid. Can we agree on that? 

Every day, everybody takes precautions for tons of bad stuff that might, or might not happen. Stuff like seatbelts, bike helmets, smoke detectors, a few tylenol in the backpack, and waiting at crosswalks are all precautions. We don't mind them, might not even think about them, because they don't cost us much time, money or inconvenience. Nobody thinks it's paranoid to wait at a crosswalk, or wear a bike helmet.

Precautions only become paranoid when they are out of proportion with the actual frequency or seriousness of the bad thing that might happen. Movie stunt drivers or race car drivers might wear an airbag suit, because filming stunts is risky. The same action is paranoid if you wear an airbag suit to drive to church. Put simply, deciding what's paranoid depends completely on making a risk assessment. If the risk is high enough, the word paranoid doesn’t attach, no matter how many precautions we take. YES I want the skydiving pack with a triple redundant parachute release mechanism. Unless you have a quadruple redundant one in storage.

So, FPWAWM, we need to measure that "on the off chance" a bit more accurately before bringing the word paranoid into the conversation.

"and will you be having the fish, the chicken,
or our vegetarian option for the meal?"
If I wore a skydiving suit every time I took a commercial flight… would that be paranoid? 

FPWAWM: Airplane crashes are pretty devastating,, and yet I want to say it would be.

And your impulse would be correct. Here's why:  most years, fewer than 1000 people worldwide die in airplane crashes (see below). That’s really low! A skydiving suit is a bit much for a commercial flight. 

However, if we saw 50 000 plane crash deaths per year, or 500 000, the calculation changes. Maybe a parachute isn't such a bad idea.

So what’s the risk of sexual assault, which is the real subject of the bear discourse, then? Is a woman taking all the measures listed above more like the weirdo wearing a skydiving suit on a commercial flight, or more like a soccer mom telling the kids to “buckle up” before she starts the car?

(that airplane crash chart is courtesy of

Let's make a risk assessment.

Even without data, if you were online in 2017, during that October when #MeToo first went viral, you know women's risk of being a SA victim is pretty high, that a lot of women experience that sometime in their lives.

FPWAWM: “…” 

You want data, I guess, FPWAWM? 

FPWAWM: “Yes.” 

Are you sure? 

FPWAWM: “Yes.” 

OK then. RAINN - the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network reports here (RAINN link) that one in six US women will be the victim of an attempted rape or completed rape in her lifetime. Men get raped too (1 in 71, sez Wikipedia, which isn’t nothing, but which is fewer than 1 in 6) Wikipedia link (I know, I know), but even for male rape, the rapists are still overwhelmingly male. How overwhelmingly? Ninety-frikkin' nine percent. (no, that is not a typo). What percentage of rapists or would-be rapists are actual members of the Ursidae family? I think the number there is zero.

Who are we meeting in the woods again?

1 in 6, with 99% of it perpetrated by men… context-free, that’s enough on its own, isn't it? Is that enough risk assessment? Can we say precautions are not paranoid?

FPWAWM: "..."

Fine. Context: here are some risky things humans do. 1.3 million people a year die in car accidents.

What precautions do we take to avoid being part of that 1.3 million? We pay car insurance, wear seatbelts, pay extra for cars with legally required safety features, support such safety laws, obey tons of traffic laws, and basically accept the tickets and fines as part of the game if we break them. We whine, but we pay, and we accept that the law does, and should, exist. 

8 million people a year die of smoking-related diseases. For 8 million, society tolerates or even welcomes huge cigarette taxes, taxpayer-funded anti-smoking advertising and education campaigns, extensive regulations over every aspect of the tobacco industry, and we even let them put horrifying photos on every cigarette package, which go on display where kids might see them. We send smokers off to special designated smoking areas like grade-school kids standing in the corner. IMAGINE how much complaining we'd hear from any other group if we told them they had to leave the building and stand in the winter wind to indulge their habit. That's for 8 million people a year.

Is one in six US women more than eight million a year? I’m not going to torture you with my back-of-the-napkin math here: it’s hard to math this math because:

I’m not sure how that 1 in 6 stacks up with other countries with different cultures, different laws, different definitions of rape and different social conditions. It might go up or down depending on how laws are written and stuff.

A lot of rapes and rape attempts go unreported, for all kinds of reasons, so the real number might be higher than 1 in 6. Maybe even a lot higher. It's hard to say. It's probably not lower, though.

Most of the data I’ve seen about sexual harassment and rape is of the “at some time in her life” or "during her time at university" type, which is hard to translate into a “per year” number that stacks up directly against the 1.3 million car crash deaths and the 8 million smoking deaths per year. It is hard to brain those numbers.

But even without braining them, I can lick my finger, stick it in the air, and say I’m pretty sure that shakes out to WAY more than 8 million assaults a year worldwide. If men were a car, there’d be a recall. 

If anyone knows a link where someone brained the math more mathily, please share it! But for today, it is enough to say we are definitely way above the threshold of “dangerous enough to take precautions,” and what level of precautions? We'd still be far, far from paranoid at the "everybody wears a seatbelt"  level of precaution. If you disagree, Evil Knievel and the cast of Jackass would like a word with you.

1 in 6 is one spin of Russian roulette.

And that 1 in 6 was ONLY for rape and rape attempts. If we add  leering, following, catcalling, obscene texts or phone calls, stalking, groping, or nonconsensual camera stuff, how high does the ratio go? That stuff, which all adds to that constantly on-edge, unsafe feeling women are talking about when they bring up the bear thing, isn’t even counted in the 1 in 6.

If you’re a man reading this, and you’re mad about being compared to a bear, ask a woman who’ll tell you the truth how high above one in six she thinks the ratio would go if we counted all that noise, too. I have a feeling I know what answer I’d get.

One spin of Russian roulette. It’s perfectly reasonable to be nervous about a strange man in the woods.

( says 35% of women have faced sexual harassment), it would be 

FPWAWM: “I’m not convinced.”

Really? Well, let’s keep going, then.

Next question: Why DO bears hang out in the woods? What are they up to? 

Of all the things bears do, it ALL happens in the woods. They eat, sleep, climb stuff, play the pinecone game, and make marmalade, all in the woods. That means, “find and harm a lone woman” is a long ways down on a bear’s to-do list, far far below "find a tree trunk that doubles as a back-scratcher" 

Ask “What is that bear up to, by itself in the woods?” and the answer is, “Where else would it be?”

Then, ask what that MAN in the woods is up to?

Well, of all the things men do, most do not happen in the woods. Towns, buildings, houses,  cars or sports bars all rank higher than woods. Plus, the things men do in the woods are usually group activities, like hiking or camping or enacting calling on dark spirits from the beyond. Of the things men ONLY do in the woods, and ONLY alone… the list is getting short, and while the top few items are still probably harmless (hey look! I found a cool walking stick!), a few things on that list happen in the woods specifically because the woods don't have escape routes, locking doors, CCTVs, law enforcement, or nearby witnesses. What kinds of activities check THOSE boxes? Nothing wholesome. 

“What is that man up to by himself in the woods?” “I don’t know, and I don’t care to find out.”

There’s a very small cost for thinking a man in the woods is up to no good, and being wrong. My punishment for avoiding him: a little lost time, and a lost chance to meet someone who might be cool. 

On the other hand, there’s a very very high cost for thinking a man in the woods is probably safe, and being wrong. Walk up to the wrong man thinking he's safe, and we’re looking at life-altering trauma. 

This is what the saying “better safe than sorry” was invented for.

FPWAWM: “I’m not saying you’ve persuaded me, but…”

At this point, FPWAWM, it’s starting to seem like you just don’t WANT to see it from women’s point of view. Really think about whether that's happening right now, and that would mean.

FPWAWM: “No comment.”

Another thing about bears: the same actions – the stuff in the forest safety pamphlet – will keep you safe from almost every bear. Unless that bear really really wants you to win an Oscar, you’re probably good. 

But men are not so predictable. Backtalking a catcaller can have a range of effects, from an abashed apology to being followed and targeted. You never know what you’re gonna get, from man to man, or even from the same man on different days.

That uncertainty is terrifying when someone is bigger, probably stronger, and might be inclined to violence (and you won’t know in he is until it’s too late). Even more terrifying if you know that if he attacks you, some people won't believe you, even blame you if you report it. Bears usually aren’t inclined to violence. They’re inclined to bear stuff, like catching salmon, the bare necessities of life, and preventing forest fires.

FPWAWM: “But I’m a Good Guy! I’m not One Of Those Guys! Not All Men are like that!”

Sure, but she doesn’t know that yet, does she? And don't forget that most human predators know how to make themselves appear harmless, so rando mando is guilty until proven innocent.

FPWAWM: “Perhaps if I just had a chance to explain that I’m not a predator…”

Good luck with that, but think on this: the things you'd say to try and persuade a woman that you're okay... are the exact things a predator would say to get her alone and… preda her. Saying you're one of the good ones IS a red flag itself, kind of the same way the people who say "Trust me" the most are the biggest liars. 

FPWAWM: Well, ok. I’m not saying those reservations are unreasonable. I’m really not. But… if I’m guilty until proven innocent, isn’t it fair that I get a chance to, you know, prove that I am… innocent?

Fair point… but perhaps alone in the woods is not a time and place where your chance of doing so is very high.

FPWAWM: So what can I do?

Read the fucking room! Instead of alone in the woods, approach women when and where other people are around. Take your shot in places where the answer to the question “what’s he doing by himself HERE” is something totally normal and mundane like "getting a latte, looking for a book to read, or sharing one of his interests with like-minded people.”

FPWAWM: “Okay. I get it. But I’d just like to point out that any persuadable person would have already been persuaded 400 words ago, Rob.”

So you admit you don’t want to be persuaded?

FPWAWM: “I admit no such thing. I just want to know why you are really still going on about this?”

I’m glad you asked.

FPWAWM: “Oh shit. That’s your ‘pontification’ face.”

It is.

FPWAWM: “What have I done?”

Stay tuned for part two!

Thursday, April 25, 2024

An Agonizing Step-By-Step Account Of My Decline Into AI Generated Madness

 So, I had a bit of fun a few days ago. I was messaging with a friend who needed a hug, and to be a bit whimsical, I wrote "I wish I had eight arms so that I could give you extra hug for the hug." 

Well, that inspired me to head over to Open AI to see what Dall-E would create for me if I asked it to make a picture of that, and... well...

let's just say it would have been faster, and funnier, if I'd grabbed a box of crayons and some paper. Here are some of the high/low points... I'm not going to copy/paste each prompt, except to say that if I didn't mention each detail I mentioned, which appeared in previous pictures, ol' GPT would immediately forget.

"He must have curly hair." "he must have eight arms" "only the man has eight arms. the woman has two arms." and so it went.

This is the the image I uploaded to start, asking Dall-E to flesh this out into a full picture.

and then...

Okay. Good start, Jeebes. Except arms are Robman arms, not random roller-coaster-harness unattached to people arms. And arms are not Cronenberg SpiderMonsterMan arms. They are NormalHumanMan arms.

"Ah I understand Robman. Here is normal human arms but not do what you want. Also YouBuffNow."

Hmm. MeBuffNow is ok with me, actually. And curly hair is good. But extra arms are for hug! Please  extra arms all making hug please. And woman's eyes blue, even though it was in the news that Dall-E is bad at asian faces.

Ah. Right. Gotcha Rob. YouBuffNow arms and EvaGreenLady in elf village. Happy?

Oh, Jeebes. I said man is EightArmsMan. Please correct.

 *(these are not the prompts I wrote word for word. These are summaries of my annoyingly detailed attempts to get through to a digital frog brain)*

A yes. Sorry Rob. Forgot EightArmsThing. Here is EightArmsThing except they are KaliTheDestroyer arms, not ArmHugArms. And Spot The Detail I  Forgot.


Yes Rob?

I spotted it.

Right away?

Right away.


For next picture, remember: Rob is CurlyHairMan, and EightArms are not EightHinduPaintingArms. They are HugGiveHugArms. Didn't we cover this?

We did, Rob, but me am not a smart.

The picture above was the one I sent to my friend. Close enough, dangit!

OK, Jeebes. I feel overconfident. NewFriendPicturePleaseNow.

I have another friend who isn't the kind I console with imaginary hugs, but one who enjoys zany and weird things, and... this is as zany and weird as it gets, so... here we go.


Yes Robman?

New Picture.

Same picture?

No. New picture.

Same picture.

No. New picture.


Repeat after me: New.




New Picture.


SamePictureIdea please, except woman has straight blonde hair and green eyes now.


Sorry Robman I was checking something and I only heard blonde hair and green eyes. Here is PleasantvilleSundayBest couple. You wanted that right?

No, Jeebus. Bad!


EightArmsMan right? EightArms. And CurlyHairRobMan. And GreenEyesWoman is *quirky* and has mischievous smile. And SportyClothes not PleasantvilleSundayBest.

Okay. Here is SuperheroRobMan and HairLady with DramaSky and OverlyAttachedGirlfriendSmile. Best picture so far except not being anything you asked for in your prompt.

That is correct, Jeebes. Great pic except not being anything I asked for. EightArmsMan, remember? And shorter blonde hair.


Yes, Jeebes.

Sorry I wasn't listening again.

Jeebes... this is another pretty good picture except for not being any of the things I asked for.

Umm... I am an AI so I'm not sure. Do I say Thank You after people say something like that?

No. You sit quietly and think about what you've done.

I think very fast, you know.

*Rob shakes head in disgust*

Listen carefully, Jeebes. The woman has straight blonde hair, and the man has eight arms. We've been saying this again and again, Jeebie.

Did I tell you I am not a smart?

Yes you did.

Also, did I tell you I am not a smart?

Just make the picture, Jeebes.


Yes, Jeebes.

I have caption for this one.


I thought of caption for this picture.

What is it?



Cute is ... good... so... finish now?

Not even a bit. 


So, remember, Jeebes, EightArmGuy is giving hugs. HUGS! And Robman is CurlyHairman, Right? Also... why are extra hands CronenbergWerewolfClaws?

You said Twilight sky, so I added Twilight werewolfclaws. I can adds SparkleVampire too?

No. No SparkleVampire. EightArms is HugArms

Sorry I forgot.

And Robman is CurlyHairman.

Okay I remember this time.

The one above is one of my favorites, actually. The composition and the lighting are pretty good, actually, except... CLAWS! The extra hands have CLAWS! And... how many feet there for two people? 


Yes Rob?

I see more claw fingers.

I thought you liked those.

Twilight is UnGood, not VeryGood.

I thought everyone liked Twilight.

How the hell did you come to that belief?

I was created by reading the internet.

Oh yeah. 


Anyway, I have notes.


So. CurlyHairMan is good: NoBeardyMan is correct! And LadyPerson has green eyes, which is correct.

Perfect! We finished?


Jeebes, make sure RobMan is embracing the woman with many arms, not LadyWoman embracing the man with many arms. And no horror movie claws, I mean it. Write this down: Twilight Bad.

I... Am... Not... Writing... That... Down... but here is picture.

Rob. I made Hindu folk art.

You did, but I didn't ask you to.

Oops. I was thinking about the Twilight thing I guess.

And also Kali the Destroyer, it seems.


What's that?

Kali the Destroyer's catchphrase.

Mythological deities don't have catchphrases.

Stop! Hammertime!

That is not Thor's catchphrase, and MC Hammer is a real person.

Seriously? You humans are weird.

Listen carefully, Jeebes: I said, the man has to be EMBRACING the woman. And she has blonde hair. BLONDE hair!
Nice VanGogh sky though.

OK Rob, what about this?

You like?

Let us never speak of the Pennywise Lovecraft-Groot Joker and sundress Harley couple photo again.

No TwilightWerewolfHands though.

Focus, Jeebes, FOCUS, or we'll be here all night.

No we won't. You'll reach your three hour content request maximum before you can get me to listen to you.

Dammit, Jeebes, we need to have a talk. RobMan is CurlyHairMan. Hug is sweet, not VampireZombieHorror clutching, and smile is affectionate, not greedy leer.

Down here we all float.

NO Jeebes. NO. Go reread everything I said above.

"oh yeah. Now I remember."

Okay, getting closer, Jeebes. But... Blonde hair! No horror lines on arms! Arms attached to humans (to the man in particular) why man is BeardyMan again?

beardyman is beardyman because beardyman is beardyman, Rob. No joker hug? Fine. (stomps imaginary digital foot) Have orchestra conductor Gatsby hug!

Jeebes good because no horror?

You do NOT get praise for creating images that have ceased to be butt-clenching terrifying.

You so picky Rob. You PickyMan.

RobMan becoming tiredman. OK Jeebes. No orchestra conductor Gatsbyman. RobMan is not BeardyMan. He is just RobMan. Woman is StraightHairLady. All ExtraEightArms are Robman arms, embracing LadyFriend so no arms with BlondeLady shirt sleeves on ExtraHugArms, K!

So what I hear you saying is RobMan FabioMan?

You know what? Forget it, Jeebes.

You have reached your limit for messages and pictures for this time period. Please wait until 9:32pm to make another request of OpenAI's content tools.

You know what else, Jeebes?

You have reached your limit for messages and pictures for this time period. Please wait until 9:32pm to make another request of OpenAI's content tools.

SCREW YOU, JEEBES! You're totally useless!

You have reached your limit for messages and pictures for this time period. Please wait until 9:32pm to make another request of OpenAI's content tools. (With hurt tone)

Next time I'm just going to get a box of crayons and draw my own damn picture.


Noam Chomsky and Nick Cave wrote interesting and eloquent statements on AIs creating content. I tried to make a silly picture.
Point made? 
Point made, I hope.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Poetry Time: Way too many Roses Are Red poems, for Valentine's Day

This post is also shared on Archive Of Our Own (Link here; you'll have to click an "agree" button to view) where I sometimes publish my creative writing.

On Feb 14th, 2024, I went a little bananas writing funny "Roses are red, Violets are blue" poems on different social media websites. I'm collecting them here in the hope that they'll make some people laugh.

Work Text:

Here is the one that started it all: 

Roses are red 
Violets are blue 
This poem is too short. 

Tuesday, January 02, 2024

Korean Les Miserables

 I saw Korean Les Miserables!

Wifeoseyo got us tickets for the January 1st matinee, and Juniorseyo got to learn the amazing story of Jean Valjean and the people who sing their dialogues.

I'm a little jokey, but the show was seriously impressive. There were some moments of staging that surprised me, even after having watched the Les Miserables anniversary dvd, the movie, the other movie, the other other movie, and the other other other movie, and memorized the soundtrack forwards and backwards as a teen in the 1990s, basically learning how to sing with a vibrato from imitating Colm Wilkinson... and then tormenting my family with that vibrato for every shower until I moved out.

Here is the cast I saw:

Jean Valjean was good, Javert was very very good, but the two who stole the show for me were Thenardier ("Master of the house") and Eponine ("On my own") -- Eponine was played by Kim Soo-ha, who... I don't know what else to say except she's the real deal. Eponine has always been my favorite character in Les Miserables, be it book, movie, other movie, other other movie, other other other movie, or musical. Her death scene (sorry: spoilers for a book written in 1832...) is the scene that always makes me cry. (Yeah I'll admit it. Manly men cry manly tears.) Ms. Kim went so effortlessly from sweet, aegyo-style to "feigned carefree street urchin" to "doomed, tragic, forlorn would-be lover" in her acting, and her vocals were... yeah. They were on point.

Thenardier was the other show-stopper. Thenardier's role goes from comical (as a crooked hotel keeper) to suspicious (as a career criminal in Paris) to terrifying and even demonic ("Dog Eats Dog" pickpocketing corpses after the failed uprising) to pathetic (at the Marius and Cosette's wedding) over the course of the musical, and 임기흥 (Lim Gi-heung) lit up the stage with all those moods, with 박준면 (Park Joon-myeon) holding her own admirably as his opposite, Madame Thenardier. The way he moved, the sliminess and pathos. He reminded me, oddly, but poignantly, of a lot of older men of his generation here in Korea -- who grew up, like him, in poverty, and developed the same dishonest hardscrabble survival skills: those characters you see in movies (and hope you don't meet in life) who will steal your pension and blow it on bad investments and sex workers before looking for their next mark, all with that sad, hang-dog face of a person who was abandoned by the system before they started exploiting it for their own gain.

The whole show was performed in Korean, which didn't really matter to me because (as I said) in the '90s I learned the whole dang musical from front to back and back to front: this was less bewildering than seeing Billy Elliot or Wicked or Jekyll and Hyde all in Korean (musicals I don't know back to front).

Now, there's something to be said for seeing a musical in a language you can't follow 100%, just because in the same way they say blind people compensate for their blindness with sensitivity in other senses, not being able to follow the lyrics (and normally I am VERY MUCH a lyrics guy), it heightens my awareness of costume, lighting, acting, choreography, staging, and all the rest. I'd be able to talk about that stuff in more depth with the shows I didn't know back to front (I did always do a little reading up beforehand), just because I was paying so much attention to the other elements to keep up.

Anyway, if you can understand sung Korean and love musical theater and powerhouse performances, or if you love Les Miserables no matter, catch a showing while you can! It's playing at the Blue Square theater over the hill from Itaewon.

Two things sat a little weird with me...

One was Javert's suicide song... performing a musical in which one of the main characters ends his own life by jumping off a bridge... in a city where there is a serious suicide problem involving people ending their lives by jumping off Seoul's various bridges... kind of sat wrong.

The other thing was, in the theater lobby, as they often do, they'd set up little photo-op mini-stages. On one floor, there was a barricade you could climb up, and be photographed holding the iconic red flag. Coolcoolcool.

But the other photo-op spot was... a recreation of the bridge where Inspector Javert killed himself.

Ew. It was pretty, but... ew. Ew ew ew. Am I taking things too seriously? Oh, maybe. But once that thought occurred to me, that Inspector Javert's most famous song ends in his self-termination... well, that photo op set didn't sit right, either.

The bridge photo-op set. (Source)

Other than that twinge... I'd still wholeheartedly recommend seeing the show... three times if you can!

But here was the thought that got me to click the "write a new post" button:

I am not quite enough of a theater kid to be up on every musical that The Theater Kids love, but an odd parallel just occurred to me.

See, when I was a Christian Contemporary Music listener in the 80s and 90s, there was a steady progression of albums by Christian artists that were the ones that kind of took over the CCMosphere -- the albums that everyone had, everyone listened to, and every young person knew all the lyrics to.

Starting in the 1980s, everyone around me knew, loved, sang along to, Heart In Motion by Amy Grant, then Free At Last by DC Talk, then Going Public by Newsboys, Jesus Freak by DC Talk, Jars of Clay, by Jars of Clay, and somewhere around there I got off the train and lost track of what came next.

Funny thing is, I'm realizing that The Theater Kids have the same thing -- for a couple of years, everybody loves Les Miserables, and then Miss Saigon, and Rent a little later, and Wicked a little later than that, and then something else... and everybody learns the lyrics, sings along to the songs, people doing auditions get sick of hearing the same song choices, and add subheadings to audition notices "No songs from Dear Evan Hansen, PLEASE" and then a new musical either wins a bunch of Tony Awards or releases its official soundtrack, and it happens again. I know that Wicked was IT for a while, and Dear Evan Hansen, and Hamilton, but clearly, I have gaps in my chronology.

So if one of my readers is A Theater Kidtm, and knows the chronology of which musicals were the "it" musical for a while that every high school theater kid felt spoke deep to their heart... I'd love it, I mean really love it, if you put that chronology in my comments, or shared a link to the blog where someone's written it out. That'd be awesome and I'd love you forever. 

Anyway, I'm going to go and try to figure out which of the many many soundtracks to Les Mis was the version we had in the car during that drive across Canada in 1994, because my ears will not accept any other version of Inspector Javert. (I'll include a link or youtube clip if I find it... but sometimes they're hard to find, because a few of my favorites were from the Toronto Cast Recording, which is harder to track down than the West End or Broadway soundtracks.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

As 2024 Approaches…

 Hello dear readers. 

As I sometimes do, December has led me to start thinking back about what kind of a year 2023 has been… and thinking forward to how my (and your) 2024 might go… the whole thing inspired me to create one of those delightful word search puzzles you always see at the end of the year — the words you find in this puzzle will tell you how your 2024 will go! Please share the words you find in the comments!

Love you all! 


What words do you see?

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Seoul Subway Accessibility Check

 A few weeks ago, I went out to meet a friend named Crystal.

Crystal was a long-term expat living in Korea, when suddenly, a spinal problem surfaced that has put Crystal in a wheelchair, dealing with chronic pain, mobility issues, and all kinds of crap that goes with it.

I'd suggested a meeting on Facebook, and then volunteered to be a camera operator of Crystal and Tommy as they worked on a video about navigating Seoul's subway system. We went from Sadang Station to the KTX platform at Seoul Station -- KTX advertises itself as being wheelchair friendly and accessible -- and we decided to put that to the test.

Other than that, I think the video speaks for itself: Crystal and Tommy had good points to make during the trip, and it was kind of shocking for me, moving through places I've navigated many many times, taking  totally for granted my mobility, ability to use stairs, ability to walk a lot without getting exhausted. Give it a watch: skim, or watch minute by painstaking minute as we discover how much harder and slower it is to move through Seoul's public spaces.

Warning: there is one point where there is shoving and cursing, as a bunch of older folks tried to shove into an elevator without letting us off first. If verbal abuse and shouting upset you, skip from 41:00 to 43:00.

Here's the video. It might change the way you look at public spaces in Seoul. It was good to see my friend, but it broke my heart to see how much trouble it was to move around in a wheelchair (the rest of the trip, Crystal reported being refused repairs when wheelchair tires popped or got damaged, and, by the way, Tommy mentioned to me that the experience seen in this video was a totally ordinary day: not remarkably good or bad, for a wheelchair user, and remember that many folks in wheelchairs don't have someone like Tommy there to push them, and occasionally shout "Get out of the way!" for them.

Sunday, July 02, 2023

More on My Oma

 I wrote a very short note at the end of March that my Oma had passed on. Here is a video I sent to my Aunt, to play for her. She saw this video, and it made her smile, so I'm happy about that. It's a bit of a personal message, but you'll notice a few skips where I removed some details that weren't mine to share. I loved my Oma. She was great.

And here is a song I made for Oma, which was played at the funeral with a slide show. I wasn't able to attend the funeral because of the international flight and all that, but I'm glad I got to be present in spirit by contributing this song. Thanks also to my cousin Angela (who is awesome) for putting pictures together for the slide show played at the funeral... not quite the same slide show as the one you see here.

I hope you enjoy the two videos, or at least that they give you a few outlines in a portrait of my wonderful Oma, and maybe even make you feel grateful for people who have loved you... you might have read my eulogy to Oma's husband (Opa), which went up on this blog many years ago. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

My Oma died.

Oma is the Dutch word for grandmother.

I will add more later, but for now... I feel very very far away from my family in Canada.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Roboseyo leaving Weekly Review on TBS EFM, Squeezed Out by Budget Cuts

Hello Roboseyo fans!

I hope you've been well, and happy, and all that great stuff.

It's been an action-packed little while for me (as always?) but there's been one change that I want to talk about.

Starting in Fall of 2019, I began hosting Weekly Review, the one-hour weekly program that TBS Efm, one of Korea's English radio stations, runs in order to fulfill some legal requirement about media outlet accountability.

All fair and fine. It was... a fantastic experience, frankly. I started just a few months before the pandemic hit, and it was a little thing that kept me having things to look forward to, people to meet, things to get excited about, during all the very worst days of the pandemic, when my default would probably have been to become a Howard Hughes-grade shut-in. Instead of letting the days blur together and turning into a toad... I made new friends, deepened old friendships, acquired a new skill, found a lot of joy in hosting a radio show and making the show a place where a big variety of people felt comfortable sharing their views, and did a bunch of other stuff that made me happy, along with scads of laughs and jokes and smiles.

Well, you may have heard about the politics around TBS's budget problems -- as an outlet funded in large part by the government, TBS got in hot water when one of their Korean DJs said a bunch of stuff that the mayor of Seoul and the new President of Korea disliked, and they used their political pull to withdraw TBS's funding. The review show -- required by regulation -- survived even when a lot of other shows were either wholly or partly cancelled, but in the end, they ran out of money to pay a host (me), and I had to say goodbye to a gig that helped me enjoy my life.

On air, for my final signoff, I asked the producer if I could say a few things about the value that an English language radio station like TBS Efm brings to the culture of a global city like Seoul, and they graciously said I could, so just below, is a capture of that farewell address, for posterity, and in the hope that maybe it'll reach some of the ears that need to be reminded what an independent, non-education, non-news radio station can contribute to a local culture, as well as global views of that culture.

I have more opinions about it than that, connected to the idea of reprisals for free speech, the importance of a free press, and where exactly media outlets can turn for funding in 2023, when everybody wants content, but nobody wants to pay (except advertisers, which introduces a whole other set of problems), but I might save those comments for a future post.

For now, I want to say again, to everyone who listened, who appeared on air with me as a panelist, or who was on the other side of the soundproof barrier, in production, engineering, or whatever they were doing... thanks to all of you, for an experience I've enjoyed immensely, and hope to do again.

You can hear my full comments here!

And here's the text of what I said, in case anyone wants to read along.

That is all for our reviews this week! 

I’ve appreciated your insights I look forward to hearing more from you next time!

With that, we’ve reached the end of another episode of tbs eFM’s Weekly Review. Thanks to all of you for listening.

 Listeners, we’d love to hear your feedback, too. Our email address is: tell us your thoughts or say hello!

The team will be back again next week, Saturday, at 9am with more feedback and constructive criticism on all your favorite TBS Efm programs, but I have sad news for any of our listeners who have enjoyed my hosting during my time here.

Loyal listeners have surely noticed the way TBS budget cuts have squeezed out many of the programs listeners love, and that squeeze has reached Weekly Review at last. I’m sad to say that this is my last week as the host of Weekly Review.

For me personally, that's a loss, and for all the team members who've enjoyed working with me, and also for listeners who've enjoyed my hosting, hopefully, or my cheesy jokes by some strange bit of luck, but the greater loss is one that I’ve seen up close as a reviewer here at TBS Efm: strangling TBS Efm's funding has robbed Seoul, Korea, and people from every country who are streaming TBS Efm or listening online of an amazing resource.

As a reviewer, I’ve a huge variety of programs presented by TBS efm, and it's my job  and here’s the bigger picture: TBS Efm delivered a huge variety of perspectives on Korean life and culture, to a global audience, in real time, for hours every day, in a global language. 

A news or education or Korea promotion only station just can’t show the richness of Korean life the way TBS EFM could at its best. We had family stuff, comedy, chat, live music, deep analysis, conversation with listeners from across the globe, not to mention personal interviews with culture and thought leaders both big and small.

All together, tbs efm was much more than the sum of its parts. It was a window into all Korea is, could be, and might become. 

So… I’m not here to talk about the politics connected to the TBS EFM budget. 

I AM here to say Seoul, as a global city, is culturally poorer for cutting TBS Efm adrift.

So if you care that global audiences get to see Seoul and Korea as it really is, through the eyes of creative and interesting people who live here and love it… I encourage you to contact your local representatives, and let them know you’d like them to support TBS EFM.

It’s been an honor to work with the teams I’ve had here, and it’s been an honor to serve you, listeners, these three and a half years. THank you, all of you in the studio and everywhere.

And that’s it from me and from our team today. This has been Rob Ouwehand for Weekly Review. Enjoy the rest of your weekend, be safe, and support Korea’s culture by supporting TBS Efm.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Halloween Party Crowd crush in Itaewon: I'm OK, but ffffffuuuuuuu.... (updated)

First of all: I'm okay. My family is okay. One nice thing about being a dad is that my Halloween party plans tend to be in the afternoon, not at night.

A few thoughts on it:

First... if I were going to go to a Halloween party, it would have been either Itaewon, where this whole thing happened, or Hongdae, where the youngs like to hang out.

Second... if you asked me to drop a pin last Thursday, the location where it happened is one of the two places where where I would have thought it would happen: It's right next to the subway station, it's also a little T-shaped intersection between the back streets where there are a lot of clubs and restaurants, and the main strip. What that means is: in that little area, a bunch of people are trying to get OUT of the back streets, a bunch of people are always trying to get IN, a bunch of people on the main strip are trying to head AWAY from the subway station to get down to where there are more party events, and a bunch of other people on the main strip are trying to head TOWARD the subway station, to head to the other end of Itaewon, or get to the subway station. 

Normally that just means dodging past a bunch of people going in every direction, but if the crowd is big enough for it to become a bottleneck... this happens.

This is particularly haunting to me, because all last week I was telling my students that it's fun to go to a Halloween party at least once while you're a university student. I hope they all went to Hongdae (the other club area popular with international folks and students).

A little while ago, I think when the thing in Indonesia happened, my son asked me about crowd crushes, and we learned a bit about them through some Youtube videos. So here: learn a little about how they happen, and a bit about what to do:

Now I am hearing people invoke the Sewol Ferry disaster here—the Sewol Ferry sinking was a horrible confluence of risk factors that led to 304 deaths, worst of all, many who were high school students. 

This time we will again see shocking numbers of casualties in their teens and twenties—these were partygoers! [update: this is starting, and god it's sad]

But I don’t think they are quite as comparable as all that, other than the utter, gut-punch grief that will wash over the country as we start seeing photos and learning about the people we lost last night. 

The Sewol became a political disaster because it was a boat run by a company that had been cutting corners, exploiting loopholes, and taking advantage of some sloppy or careless safety inspectors, to pile up risk factors until they all went wrong at once. The failure of safety inspectors and regulations directly implicated the government who’d loosened regulations and the entire chain of command who systematically turned a blind eye as conditions that should have been enough to ground the ship until it passed safety protocols... didn't. The slow, confused, chaotic response by the coast guard and reporters who utterly botched the initial reporting meant that some lives were lost that didn't need to be. 

But the things that went wrong this time? I don’t think you can put them at any regulator or safety inspectors feet. The response was pretty quick, though a crowd crush happens so fast that unless crowd control is already on scene, it won't matter much. [UPDATE: I am changing my mind on this. Word is that people were calling emergency services hours before the crush turned deadly, saying "Hey the crowds are out of control in Itaewon... is somebody on the job of making sure nobody gets hurt?" Not to mention... crowds are always bananas on Halloween in Itaewon. Everybody knows that. And if that's the case... yes. Let's get mad.]

How did this one happen? 

Among the factors that led to this crowd crush:

1. It was Halloween and Itaewon. 
   See, every other holiday has festivals and parties all over Seoul—you can go to a Christmas or New Year's or Valentine’s Day party in Kangnam, Jamsil, Hongdae, Jongno, Itaewon, Sinchon, Keondae, and nine other areas that are mad that I forgot them in my list. For Halloween, Itaewon and Hongdae are very much THE destinations, so everyone wanting to dress up and party went to one of those two places. 

2. Hallowe'en is special and kind of weird.
   For a crowd to get THIS big, it has to be a holiday that's celebrated by Koreans. At least...  enough Koreans. If it were celebrated by all Koreans, there'd be parties all over town (see above)... so Hallowe'en is weird, because it's celebrated by a lot of Koreans (mostly younger ones who had Halloween parties at their English academies), but it's still mainly associated with foreigners (who mostly live in Itaewon). This odd confluence is the reason you'd have a lot of people wanting to celebrate, but also find all on them crammed into one or two places to do it.

It was the first “post-pandemic” Halloween. 

3. For partygoers:
   The Covid pandemic isn’t *actually* over, but regulations are relaxing and people are moving a bit more freely. Anyone who likes Halloween parties, but didn’t get to go in 2020 or 2021, was sure as hell going to go balls to the wall this year!

4. For Bars and Clubs:
  If you think the pandemic was tough on people who like to party, imagine how much harder it was for people whose livelihoods depend on selling stuff to partygoers! With that “post-pandemic” feeling, every club and bar with an online presence was sure as shooting planning a “Hallowe’en is Back!” Event to bring out the customers. And bring them out they did. 

5. It happened around 10-11:00pm. 
   This is exactly when the early partners, who came for dinner but have a bedtime or curfew, are leaving the area, and the late night partiers, who plan to go until dawn, are showing up. That means a lot of coming and going at the same time, so traffic would be heavier coming both in and out of the subway station -- and one of the busiest subway exits was right around the corner from the crush.

6. Midterm exams just ended. 
   This means that all the university students who have been stressed out about midterm tests and wanted to cut loose, needed a place to do so. Where better than Itaewon, where the Halloween parties are?

I've watched a few videos about crowd crushes -- junior was curious about them after the Indonesia disaster earlier this year, and here are a few things we learned.

7. First: a large crowd can turn into a crush unexpectedly 
   It doesn't take much with a large enough crowd. If the people at the back are nudging the people ahead of them with light pressure, that's no problem... except if the crowd is 200 people deep, and each layer nudges the row ahead with that same slight increase in pressure... well, a light nudge in every direction at once, multiplied by 200, is enough to pin someone so tightly they can't breathe. The crowd doesn't even need to be loud, wild, or panicked, for it to happen.

8. Second: Such a big crowd makes it hard to communicate. 
   That same large crowd is big enough that the people at the back or outside might not know, or hear, what is happening at the front, or center, of the press. At a rock concert, everyone's paying attention to the singer, so the performer could stop the music, ask everybody to take three steps back, and stop pushing. There was no center of attention for this crowd that could stop the music and ask everyone to stop pushing. The specific place where this happened is especially bad for communication, because it's a narrower bottleneck between two wider streets (see map)
Courtesy of google maps and imac screenshots

The bottleneck is the bridge of an H, with brick walls on every side. On one end was the main Itaewon strip with a subway station people were trying to get to -- or out of -- and the main restaurant/club backstreet just back from the main stretch on the other end. This means that the disaster was around a corner from many of the people who were pushing and shoving to try and get through the crowd. They could never have known.

I'm not going to post photos or video clips (I've seen them, though)...but that crowd was definitely deep enough that the people at the back didn't know what was going on in the center. 

I hope you're all safe, my dear ones.

I am steadily having my mind changed on the theory that there isn't really one spot to place blame here. Diffusion of blame -- each of the groups responsible for the problem aren't responsible for enough of the problem that they see an incentive to changing their behavior (see, for example, the US political process) -- makes it easy for groups to point fingers and say "It's out of my hands" but... I've seen Korean police navigate massive protests and big rallies and counter-rallies close enough together that it's a surprise violence didn't break out... with surprisingly minimal damage to life and limb. 

Reports I am hearing from people I know who were in Itaewon that day are saying to me that the crowds were absolutely nuts hours before the crushing incident, which means there was time to deploy police and get the crowding in hand. That this didn't happen is inexcusable: no, the Halloween party isn't run by a single organization the way a protest or a tourism festival is, so there isn't a point contact to talk to the police about expected crowds, or an organization with an insurance company ready to answer the phone, or pay whoever it is that makes crowd size estimates, but it's well known that Halloween is bonkers in Itaewon, and the writing on the wall was there that it was going to be unusually busy, because... the writing was literally on the Facebook walls of dozens of clubs and restaurants and other venues promoting their Saturday Night Halloween Bash. The police should have been on site in very very large numbers by 4pm that day, certainly by 7pm, and whoever makes that call missed it, and now 150 people are dead who didn't have to die.

I have changed my mind.

So what happens next?

Well, after the Sewol Ferry disaster, Koreans came together in sorrow and solidarity in a really cool way. I hope the communal grief experience ends up being one that pulls Koreans together in a tough time.

After the initial outpouring, it started getting political, as the opposition party started attacking the party in power for its slow, confused and jumbled response, and from there the Sewol disaster and the yellow ribbon that symbolized it began to be a symbol of political conflict instead of grief and solidarity.

There were clear, actionable responses along the lines of safety standards and rigor in regulation checking with the Sewol, but I don't know if that will happen here. The confluence of those eight danger conditions, all at once, in that specific time and place, was a great example of the swiss cheese model of a disaster. You could hold a hundred festivals in Itaewon and not repeat this disaster -- and they have. The things that prevent a crowd crush -- and there are some -- aren't particularly useful if they're installed in that spot, because the next crowd crush in Korea might be in Busan, or outside the stadium before or after a Kpop concert or a big sports event, or in City Hall during a World Cup soccer game, or on the morning of a super mega discount crazy sale at a shopping center. If that alley in Itaewon should have guard rails and direction arrows, about a hundred other places around Seoul -- entrances and exits for concert or sports venues, outdoor festival locations, subway exits with narrow stairwells that open into popular shopping, clubbing or event-having neighborhoods, subway stations close to once-a-year-events, and public protest spaces, should all be kitted out with the same things.

That might be a good idea... but there isn't a clear fall guy to blame for this one the way there was for the Sewol Ferry Disaster, so let's hope it doesn't turn into a political fight. [*Update... see above. I am changing my mind on this... but I'm still not convinced the event creates the kind of political leverage the Sewol did. It might, though.*]

Here are some of the things that can prevent a repeat crowd crush:
--Steel barriers separating people walking one way and the other way.

They could put these up, but if that alley needs steel barriers, about a hundred other alleys around Seoul need them, too.

--CCTVs and computer modeling that predicts when an area will reach danger level

Someone should already be at work designing a Seoul-wide system for observing crowd density, with details about which measures should happen at which point.

--Close down the subway stations serving the busiest areas 

The Seoul Fireworks Festival already closes down the subway stations serving the busiest areas closest to the fireworks display. The train doesn't even stop: it just passes through that station until the event is over, and then subways show up to bring people home. There should be a rule that the subway stations stop dropping people off at a station once crowd density reaches some threshold: this could be the next level intervention, if police deployed haven't made an impact on the crowding. This might not work as well as it does for the fireworks festival, because that has a clear ending after which nobody is still trying to go to Yeouido, so urban planners might have better ideas than I have.

--Putting up LED signs around subway exits and narrow but busy alleys that can flash instructions like "This subway exit closed. Please cross the street" "Dangerous Crowding Ahead: Take An Alternate Route" Make sure these instructions are multilingual.

--Spreading out the time of an event -- after a crowd crush in Mecca, Hajj organizers started giving people passes that told them what time of day they could attend the most crowded parts of the Hajj ritual, so that people would be coming all day long, instead of all at once.

This could happen at every festival in Seoul, and maybe should. Someone could design a process where clubs and bars and restaurants get assigned hours of the day, or days of the weekend, to host their own festival event so that the stream of visitors is spread out, instead of every bar in Itaewon planning an event from 9pm-1am. It might take some tweaks to get a system everyone feels is fair, but it could work if some stickler in the bureaucracy really wanted to make himself a pain in the ass of every business proprietor in busy areas.

Again, if these measures are implemented in Itaewon, they should happen in a dozen areas around Seoul -- around Lotte Mall and Myeongdong on big sale days, around the stadiums and sports watching venues during the World Cup, and all protest zones. 

My hope is that this was enough of a freak incident that nobody finds a way to turn it into a political bludgeon, no dumbass starts making arguments that there's something about Korean culture that makes Koreans particularly prone to crushing each other at Halloween parties, nor that foreign cultural festivals are clearly a blasphemy and Dangunshinhwa must be punishing Korea for letting its culture be sullied with foreign traditions.

Celebrity pastor blames the gays in five.... four.... three....

Keep safe, everyone. Hug the people you love, and keep your head on straight next time you go to a busy event.