Wednesday, October 25, 2006

As some of you may know or remember, the vibrant jewel of northeast Asia, a burgeoning Seoul City played host to the Games of the 24th Olympiad.Totally unlike today, 1988 was a year of tension and upheaval. There was a war in Iraq. And one in Afganistan. The students of Washington DC's Gallaudet University were in the throes of protest against the university administration. NASA's space shuttle returned to flight after the entire shuttle program had been grounded. The New York Metropolitans lost the NLCS in 7 games. Thankfully, we live in more certain times. But, with the ubiquitous turmoil of 1988, the world desperately needed a moment to take pause and celebrate togetherness. Or was it diversity. Wait, togetherness through diversity? Maybe, togetherness despite diversity? Where are Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush when you need 'em? The point is that we are the world and we celebrate our differences. What better way to do that than through an overcommercialized, duplicitious, putrid flim flam of an amateur atheletic contest rife with corruption, patronage and deceit?

A disgusting excersise in favoritism, the Olympics is one of this century's great confidence games where the already rich line their pockets while perversely exploiting the World's athletic talent. And do not accept for one minute the fallacious claim that the Olympics brings any real or lasting economic benefit to the host nation. The whole thing is a total grift. I'll spare you the grim details as they are outlined most eloquently by the economist Estimating the Cost and Benefit of Hosting Olympic Games: What Can Beijing Expect from Its 2008 Games? . Very basically, the promise of weatlh and economic windfall are propaganda tools of the organizing olympic committees. Empirically, communities see little to none of the promised benefit from these mega-events. A very cursory logic-based analysis should dismiss most Olympic proponents' (promoters) claims. Crafting and bribing your way into an accepted Olympic bid is expensive. The promise of economic gain comes mainly from two sources: 1) the jobs created and business engaged to construct the event venues, 2) the tourist revenues. In this scenario, to expect the benefits should exceed the costs is an untenable hope. First, the exogenous demand for new construction projects, while seemingly positive for the local economy, presents a large opportunity cost. Wouldn't the construction companies and laborers already be committed to projects which serve long-term economic interests in the area? If you assume the labor and resources used for the construction do not detract from the local market equilibrium, that the workers and construction companies are essentially imported, then you can also assume the paychecks and profits to the contractors will be exported. Second, consider the logistical drain on existing public services and the externalities of a "17-day party". What do you have to show for all the money spent and resources used? Quickly: single use faciliities which meet no long-term demand, tons of garbage and a hellish hangover. For Chicagoans, this phenomenon is tangible. How much infrastructure remains from the 1893 Columbian Exposition? In short, very little. Granted, what does remain are beautiful cultural institutions like the Museum of Science and Industry, The Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Musuem; but how many grand stone-work halls are slated for construction if Daley gets the Olympics?

As for the promised tourist revenues, consider this: Athens spent $14 billion preparing for the most recent summer games. They took in $3 billion in revenues. How many olympic t-shirts and pins can the host city legitimately hope to hock? In short, hosting the olympics is an unproductive and inefficient use of capital. As the unrivaled lecturer Alan Sanderson said, "Can a Chicago Olympics ever pay for itself? Short-term, absolutely not. Long-term, as I've been quoted, maybe you break even." But I suppose it can give your city that warm, fuzzy feeling which usually accompanies excessive and conspicuous consumption.

To make matters worse, especially for the athletes, not only is the city selection process fundamentally flawed and mired in corruption and deciet, so are the games themselves. Do you remember the Tonya Harding-Nacy Kerrigan-Jeff Gillooly fiasco? That event probably serves as the best microcosmic example of the Olympic's abusurdity. In the spirit of sportsmanship , honor and a fairplay, Tonya conspired with her husband, Jeff, to attack her teammate, Nancy. But this isn't even the best part. The best part is when Tonya weeps to the judges pleading for a "reskate" because, well, her boot-lace was too short. The judges all too sympathetically grant her request. She finishes 8th.

Maybe you are too young to have witnessed that hysterical scene play out. Or, perhaps you are too old and your memory is hazy - they say it's the first to go. In either case, do you recall the 2002 winter games? The organizers at this event had to award two gold medals in the pairs figure skating category. allegedly the result of a inter-coutry faustian quid-pro-quo, the Canadian pair's flawless performance was awarded a silver medal behind the Russians, who fell during their routine. Inconsistent, unfair and downright dirty judges do not reside solely in the ice events nor in just the winter games for that matter. The history of olympic malfeasance is long and sordid.

In fact, Seoul's Olympiad had its fair share of controversy. So However, it was the Light Middleweight (71 kg) gold medal bout which still haunts the greatest pound-for-pound fighter to ever live. Roy Levesta Jones Jr. landed 86 punches to his opponents 32, yet still lost the fight in a 3-2 decision. The judges voting against Jones were all eventually suspended. Jones even received an apology from his opponent, Park Si-Hun. I'll bet you can guess what country he called home. That's right, South Korea. Maybe the victory could be attributed to homefield advantage.*** Roy Jones Jr would not be the last hip-hop star to grace Seoul's Olympic venue.

On October 20, 2006, the Olympic park appropriately played host to the most divisive uniter in the contemporary hip-hop scene. Straight from Bed-Stuy, Marcy Projects' very own, Jay-Z. Jigga who? Jigga what. Hova. Hov. S-dot. Iceberg Slim. Lucky Lefty. The Godfather of Hip Hop, Shawn Carter. His monikers are exceeded in number only by his talents. Rhyme spitter, cross-stitcher, corporate exec, emcee, dj, jeweler, producer, media mogul, brand manager, promoter, real estate speculator, beyonce copulator, rap impressario straight outta the black barrio. Ok, that last reference is to UGK's Bun B, but I just like the line so much...S. Carter, the man himself descended upon Seoul with only the help of two turn-tables and a microphone. Oh, and a box full of samples, the Green Lantern on 'the ones and twos', Memphis Bleek as the holla back man, a small stage posse, the off-stage entourage, security, managers, assistants, bling attendants and the spiritual presence of all the hip-hop greats to have preceded him. That's right. Not only was the now-not-so-Young Hova on stage, but so were Jam Master Jay (Run DMC), Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur, and Aaliyah. Somewhere before the pre-packaged Beyonce cameo (which contrary to rumor and consistent with Jay's "sorry, no beyonce tonight, not this time" pronouncement did not include beyonce herself, merely Memphis Bleek sheepishly singing her parts) and after the abridged medly of hits (no more than 3 verses of any one song), Jay paid tribute to these hip-hop icons. Through their unique urban poetry and inspiring beats, he brilliantly karaokied for an end to violence in the hip-hop community.

The impassioned plea for unity was symolic of the venue, the Olympic stadium where nations lay down their arms and forget their differences and celebrate togetherness. I was moved, nearly to tears, when I realized he woefully neglected to lobby with equal vigor for tighter scrutiny of unlicesned pilots and properly ballasted Cessnas. Aaliyah, we hardly knew ye.

*** Also on the 1988 US Olympic boxing team, Ray Mercer and Riddick Bowe. Mercer won a Heavyweight division which featured Poland's Andy Golota. Bowe lost the Super Heavyweight by TKO to the great British-born-but-representing-Canada pugilist, Lennox Lewis. Years later, Bowe would fight Golota professionally, in a Madison Square Garden match that would feature a low blow, a disqualification and a riot. I love professional boxing.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Country Bar. Proudly serving Tennessee’s favorite export, Old No. 7 Sour Mash, this waterin’ hole is located in the heart of Seoul’s Apujeong neighborhood. Known as Korea’s “Rodeo Drive”, Apujeong is populated by high-end fashion brand retailers and grand department stores. English speakers in Seoul will see plenty of poorly worded, grammatically incorrect, inadequately punctuated signage. Here, English is a foreign language, after all. But what is more interesting (or sadder) than the silly English mistakes are the cultural gaffes. Perhaps this bar’s owner is wholly ignorant of the historical significance (American) of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. Maybe he’s just some guy with a cabin-dwelling uncle named Tom. Naw, it is much more likely this entrepreneur, searching for an apt piece of rural Americana, discovered the title of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery treatise and thought, in Korean, “Gee, that’s a swell name for my American country bar – recognizable, a patch in the American cultural quilt work, pure country.” Assuming the owner is not marketing his bar to attract patrons of the segregationist expatriate set, this title is not malicious. It’s not like naming a stylized Japanese restaurant “Missouri”. Seriously, that place exists here in Seoul. Now that’s just mean. No, this Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the product of cultural illiteracy. Such ignorance is certainly a component of racism. Another component of racism, one that seems less prevalent in this instance and more sinister in the end, is exploitation. Commercializing subjugation is abhorrent. From the abolition of slavery until the civil rights movement (and maybe still today), though, the American cultural landscape is littered with such trash.

Uncle Ben’s Rice

Uncle Ben must be Uncle Tom’s brother. Or maybe his arch rival? They’ve probably got beef. For a serious analysis of Uncle Tom’s metamorphosis from stoic protagonist to derisive pejorative, see Ferris State University’s Museum of Racist Memorabilia. And in the spirit of total disclosure, Uncle Ben’s (the corporation) claims Uncle Ben (the bow-tie wearin’, ear-to-ear smilin’ mascot) was an actual rice farmer, prized for his high-quality rice. I’m sure his family is reaping the windfall from licensing his image to the promotion. Right? Right.


Ever have a piping hot bowl of Cream of Wheat on a brisk, wintry morn? Me neither. It tastes like shit unless you add some fruit or syrup or other sugary condiment. I assume. I don’t touch the stuff.
But even without trying it, we know that it’s cheap and doesn’t have bugs.

This makes it marginally more appealing than any breakfast that does contain bugs or is too expensive that your broke-ass couldn’t afford it anyway. How is it that Rastus has a white coat and a chef-type hat but doesn’t know what “vitamines” are? He’s clearly achieved a modicum of culinary training. They don’t just give those fucking goofy hats out to anyone

Aunt Jemima

WAKE UP! Mammy be cookin’ breakfast. I wonder if she’s a line cook at Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Aunt Jemima is roundly accepted as one of the most objectionable and racist depictions of African-American women, ever. It’s easy to see why. She is purely one-dimensional (well, technically, she’s 2D, but bear with me). At least Calpurnia had some substance, some meaning, as a loving provider to the Finch family. What’s Aunt Jemima bring to the table? Another cheap, easy, presumably bug free, source of bad carbohydrate calories.

Now I have actually tried these and…they are delicious. I totally agree with the Quaker Oat’s claim from this 1931 Ladies Home Journal advert.

You might not be able to read the fine print, so let me transcribe: “The whole family loves these super-light pancakes, made from the made from the same old plantation recipe Aunt Jemima used when her master was alive.”

Old-world recipes and “easy as toast”?!?! Well that’s like having a Slave In A Box!

As MM Manring exposes in the aforementioned book, Auntie J is also supposed to have been based upon a real woman. In this case, the real Aunt Jemima, unlike Uncle Ben, was actually a freed slave. And I thought she invented the pancake. Can you explain how mixing a batter, pouring it over a griddle and flipping it repeatedly is “easy as toast”? Eggos are easy as toast. Eggo Waffles are toast. Were there no toasters in 1931? Did you have to bake the bread then slice it and then hold it over an open flame? If so, I guess pancakes were “easy as toast”.

Maybe the best part of the Aunt Jemima story is Quaker Oat’s decision to recast her image to be less offensive. That’s right, in 1989, mammy met Oprah and got herself a makeover. Real Classy. And totally NOT racist anymore.

Artist Jon Onye Lockard recasts the Jemima brand more suitably for 21st century America.

Monday, October 09, 2006

while this blog will focus primarily upon experiences in Seoul, i'd be remiss to exclude particularly tasty morsels such as the following (the names are changed to protect the guilty):

despite my apathy toward voting and my generally non-partisan attitude, i receive email updates from the cook county (il) republican party. mostly, it's to track the goings on in the Barr-Topinka campaign, but in general, i like keeping up with the news. so about a month ago, i received the following email announcement:

Friday, September 08, 2006

Copyright 2006, All Rights Reserved


to most, this would seem a rather innocuous email. however, for me, this vindicated most of my personal apathy toward the political process. and not because i don't believe in the process itself, i do. the american republic is governed by an inspired system. it is the people who are involved in the process, those who devote themselves to it with blind ambition and personal agendas that are mostly to blame for its eroded credibility.

i was compelled to respond:

Sent: Friday, September 08, 2006 7:34 PM
Subject: La Vida Grande

Dear Sir or Madam:

I receive emails from the cook country republicans and am concerned that your most recent, entitled "El Grand Vida", does not pass muster. In fact, I'll so far as to suggest that this missive disgraces the Spanish-speaking peoples everywhere. Did a native Spanish-speaker review or edit this? This type of "spanglish" displays a rather shallow contempt for the hispanic voters that have recently opened themselves up to your party. What is more, you underestimate the intelligence of your non-spanish-speaking constituents. Use proper Spanish: WE GET IT. You needn't bastardize both beautiful languages, Spanish and English, just to be "cutesy". I hope in the future that more consideration is paid to being intelligent and accurate. Best of luck against Ald. Stroger!

Your Friend,



"El Grand Vida" are you serious? i'm fluent in only one language, but even i can tell that this turn-of-a-phrase was objectionable. it's a terrible mish-mash of spanish and english. it abandons the grammatical strictures of both idioms. as usual, i was beside myself with rage over something pretty small, but satisfied to have said my piece. little did i know, they would respond:


Date: Sep 9, 2006 9:50 AM
Subject: Re: La Vida Grande

Mr. Logophile:

I am sorry that we offended you with this email. The event that you speak of is being thrown by the De La Paz Organization and the Illinois Republican Hispanic National Assembly. As far as I know the wording was written by a Spanish speaker. I have just checked the verbiage and realize the mistake and thank you for bringing that to our attention. On future emails, we will correct this.

We did not mean to insult you in anyway, and we hope that you will still attend the event.

Thank you,

Miss Smotherer Spinmeister

Date: Sep 9, 2006 10:24 AM
Subject: Apology

Mr. Logophile,

My name is *irrelevant* and I am the author of the flyer that you were displeased with.

I am truly sorry that I offended you. The flyer was written in the spirit of trying to bring together two distinctive cultures.

Please, except my personal invitation to the event in order that I may apologize to you in person.

If you have any further questions, I may be reached at 312-XXX-XXXX


Sent via BlackBerry from Cingular Wireless

for the record, i was not offended culturally. i was offended by their their idiotic inconsistency and overall poor form. in what way does concocting a nonsensical linguistic amalgam help bring cultures together? aren't native spanish speakers confused and offended by this bizarre creation? how does bilingualauthor have a job promoting anything in the public domain? after reading the responses, i became fully aware i was dealing with total morons and it would be unfair to continue with any efforts to bridge the cultural divide. if couldn't even avoid ending sentences with prepositions, if he couldn't tell the difference between 'accept' and 'except' than what good could i do here. though i wondered, perhaps he does literally mean to except me from the event. i wouldn't be surprised if this idiot was so concerned his secret illiteracy would become public that he knew precisely what he was hysterically typing from his blackberry.

also to be noted in the record, approximately 1 week later, September 13th abouts, i received another email invitation to this event, verbiage still incorrect.

the republican gubenatorial candidate is trailing in the polls. a noted journalist, she writes regularly for the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark. i'm not going to indict her journalistic integrity based solely upon her party peons, but you gotta wonder if this kind tolerance for mistakes starts at the top and trickles down...