bookmark_borderPost-221: Watching the Grapes of Wrath (1940)

The Grapes of Wrath was released in March 1940, not long before (both sets of) my grandparents got married. Perhaps they saw it while on a date on some Saturday night back then.I think it would’ve especially drawn the sympathy of my father’s parents (who married in Feb. ’41), as they were also involved in farming at the time, in Iowa, not far from the Dust Bowl.

I watched this movie in 2014 for the first time.

Grapes of Wrath is based on a book. I read it in high school. Most of it, anyway. I gave a poorly-thought-out and poorly-delivered presentation on the themes of the movie, to the disappointment of our 11th grade English teacher, Mr. Mo***. Oh, I admired that man. He may have been more of an influence on my thinking than I realize. I’d like another shot at that presentation. I can do better now.

The movie has a simple plot: Expelled by the bank from their long-held farm in Oklahoma, westward the Joad family goes, to California. They want work. Ill fortune awaits. The local “company thugs” mistreat them, exploit them, lie, cheat, and treat them cruelly. The family begins to disintegrate. Tom Joad reacts by becoming a kind of political radical outlaw (this is toned down in the movie) and the ending is uncertain.

Here are some screenshots I took:

Original Poster for Grapes of Wrath (1940)


DVD case for Grapes of Wrath (2000s)


Tom Joad walks “down that lonesome road” towards his (soon to be former) home in Oklahoma



Tom Joad meets Preacher Casey, who has turned away from the church and to alcohol


Tom and Casey enter the old Joad homestead, but everybody’s gone


A local man holds dirt in his hand, declaring that he’ll never leave (the bank has expelled the Joad family and others)

The above picture I find interesting. The man is squatting (and did so for a long while on screen). This is something I think I have never seen a White-American do. It is something East-Asians commonly do, but Whites “can’t”, I believed. I find it very difficult to do this myself. I suppose that in 1940, people were a lot thinner, so it was easier.


The Joads go to California


Water sold at 15 cents a gallon on Route 66

I was curious as to whether 15 cents a gallon is a good price or not. Water sold at 15 cents a gallon in 1939 (the movie was filmed in late 1939) would cost $2.57 in 2014 dollars according to this inflation calculator. What would a gallon of water in similar circumstances (roadside) cost today? $2.57 seems reasonable.

Woody Guthrie, the famous folk singer in the 1930s and 1940s, lived among the Dust Bowl refugees and Oklahoma native, wrote a song after seeing this movie. Here are some of the lines from his song about what happened to the Joads and their friend Preacher Casey in California:
From “Tom Joad” by Woody Guthrie (1940)

They stood on a mountain and they looked to the west
And it looked like the promised land
That bright green valley with a river running through
There was work for every single hand, they thought,
There was work for every single hand

The Joads rode away to the Jungle Camp
There they cooked a stew
And the hungry little kids of the Jungle Camp said,
“We’d like to have some, too”
Said “We’d like to have some, too”

Now a deputy sheriff fired loose at a man
Shot a woman in the back
Before he could take his aim again
Preacher Casey dropped him in his track, poor boy,
Preacher Casey dropped him in his track

They handcuffed Casey and took him to jail
And then he got away
And he met Tom Joad on the old river bridge
And these few words he did say, poor boy,
These few words he did say:

“I preached for the Lord a mighty long time,
Preached about the rich and the poor,
Us workin’ folks must all get together
‘Cause we ain’t got a chance anymore
We ain’t got a chance anymore!”

Now the deputies come and Tom and Casey run
To the bridge where the water run down
But the vigilante thugs hit Casey with a club
They laid poor Casey on the ground, poor Casey
They laid Preacher Casey on the ground

Tom Joad, he grabbed that deputy’s club,
Hit him over the head
Tom Joad took flight in the dark rainy night
And a deputy and a preacher lyin’ dead, two men,
A deputy and a preacher lyin’ dead

Tom run back where his mother was asleep
He woke her up out of bed
And he kissed goodbye to the mother that he loved
He said what Preacher Casey said, Tom Joad
He said what Preacher Casey said

Everybody might be just one big Soul
Well, it looks that way to me
Everywhere that you look in the day or night
That’s where I’m a-gonna be, Ma
That’s where I’m a-gonna be…

bookmark_borderPost-220: Jewish Classmate, Reminisced

Fall 2000. Lunchtime. School cafeteria. Within sight were probably a few trend-followers wearing very, very baggy pants (a fashion that is, thank God, long gone). A few of us had finished eating and were wandering around out of doors, just outside the cafeteria. J.A., my Jewish friend, was there. I brought up the latest Israeli vs. Palestinian fighting then occurring. He said a few things which I’m sure he was repeating from his Jewish School teachers or parents. How to solve the problem once-and-for-all. Something about a “two-state solution” which I didn’t understand at the time.

(J.A. also remarked, either on this occasion or another, something about the “real problem” being the Ultra-Orthodox Jews, a comment I also didn’t understand at all, so simply accepted, on his authority as a Jew, without comment.)

J.A. is one of the few Jews I have known closely in my life. We were friends in middle school and high school (after briefly being “enemies” in middle school).

J.A.’s father was an investment banker or something. …I know, I know: It sounds like I’m making it up, playing to a Jewish stereotype. He is the only classmate I ever had whose father had such a “high-flying” job, that I knew of. It’s a credit to Arlington Public Schools that such man would send his son to a public school and not to a private school. J.A. himself didn’t look at all like a Jewish stereotype. He was tall and red-haired, with the build of a swimmer (and he was one). I haven’t heard from him in ten years now. I am sure he’s been to Israel, probably more than once.

Reading the news lately, writing #218 and #219, and reminiscing about that period in fall 2000, I see that nothing has changed in 14 years. Nothing! (Just as nothing had really changed from the 1980s up to year 2000, I suppose, when I first became aware of this issue.)

Back on the firm ground of the present. The Gaza death toll rapidly approaches 1,000 dead in the past three weeks.

Palestinian Shijaiyah neighborhood, Gaza City, after Israeli bombardment (July 26 2014, AP)

bookmark_borderPost-219: Dilbert and Dave Barry on the Middle East

Dave Barry once wrote:

Wall Street [is] always making up preposterous explanations as to why stock prices rise and fall, such as “tension in the Middle East,” when of course there is always tension in the Middle East. When we finally have a nuclear war and there is no life left on Earth except cockroaches, the cockroaches in the Middle East will be tense.

And in the same spirit, a Dilbert comic strip from July 1989:

This was twenty five years ago. Two of the three “reusable headlines” hold up well (certainly “Unrest in the Mideast”). “Home prices rise” was true most of the time. Here is an Economist on U.S. home prices 1987-2013:


USA housing prices, adjusted for inflation, 1985-2013 [Economist] [Link]

There it is, the famous “Housing Bubble”. Prices rose dramatically from 1997-2006. But then in 2008-2009, as prices crashed, the exact opposite of Dilbert’s “eternal headline” was regular news. In 2014 we’re back to “normal”.

Oh, I remember those early and mid 2000s. As far as I could tell, everybody really did believe, somehow, that home prices would rise forever, as if by magic. Late night TV had “how to get rich quick in real estate” shows, one after another. Buy a property and then sell soon(er or later). Housing prices will have had risen some amount, say 10% in a year, for a net profit of many thousands of dollars. Do the same a dozen times, and you’ve made a small fortune! It might as well’ve been manna from heaven.

bookmark_borderPost-218: Gaza in the “Mirror” (Spiegel) (And the Abyss Stares Back)

Last month, unknown assailants killed three Jewish teenagers in Israel. This month, Israel decided to kill 650 Palestinians (so far) in revenge bombings. “That’ll shown those…unknown assailants.”  Uhh…

It seems that nobody has determined who killed the teenagers or why. Oh, and between the three deaths and the 650 Palestinian deaths [and thousands of woundings], Israel used gestapo tactics to jail hundreds more Palestinians, killing ten or so in the round-up, which inspired some other Palestinians to launch a few useless rockets in anger.

All the same, the
“Gaza Conflict” of summer 2014 I view mostly with indifference. I don’t support either side, and see it as senseless and a bit tiring (this happens so often). What does Respectable Opinion say?

PictureSpiegel “Pressekompass” July 21 2014 on Gaza Conflict [Link]

Der Spiegel (‘The Mirror’ in German), the news and politics magazine, did an analysis of a few newspapers’ editorial stances on the July 2014 Gaza attack. The axes of opinions:

(top) Hamas’ actions are understandable
(bottom) Hamas’ actions not understandable

(left) Israel’s response is disproportionate
(right) Israel must respond in this way

Top-right quadrant: “Everybody’s right”.
Bottom-right: “Pro-Israel” (Israel justified, Hamas not)
Bottom-left: “Everybody’s wrong.”
Top-left: Pro-Palestinian (Hamas justified, Israel not).

The icons represent different newspapers’ editorial opinions during the July 2014 crisis:


The Guardian is alone in the “everybody’s right”. quadrant (top right). Al Jazaeera, predictably, says Israel is wrong, but is neutral on Hamas. The blue dots are Spiegel users’ unscientific opinions, and the red arrow is the average. My own dot I’d put on the left side somewhere.

Predictably, all three German newspapers in the survey are on the “Israel is Right and the Palestinians are Wrong” side (bottom right quadrant). (It’s hard to imagine anyone in today’s Germany, other than marginal political radicals [or Muslim immigrants], offering any criticism of Israel.)

I expect all/most U.S. newspapers would be “Israel is Right, Palestinians are Wrong”, too. This is the default opinion in the USA. We regularly see movies telling us how heroically persecuted Jews are, so that’s a part of it. There is something more going on, though, I think. “Israel is our only ally in the Middle East, surrounded by hostile enemies”. That’s what they say. This image creates a subconscious and powerful “civilizational nostalgia” for eight or nine hundred years ago or so. The Crusader Era. Crusader kingdoms that our ancestors set up in the 1100s-1200s AD in the very same place. Hey, the comparison is there to be made.


(From the “Kingdom of Heaven” movie of 2005 [stolen from here]).

With the crusades comes the Middle Ages, romantically imagined to have been a golden age of social harmony. Knights. Chivalry. You know. We gentiles of Western-European ancestry (still a majority of the USA population, and a large majority in the heartland) are susceptible to “nostalgia politics” just like (I guess) everybody else.

“Heraldic Chivalry” by Alphonse Mucha

Of course, the difference between Israel and the Crusader States is that Israel is not Christian, and, inconveniently, many Palestinians are: Fully a million, in fact, of the total of 10.5 million total Palestinians in the world are Christian, most of them living outside “Palestine” due to the expulsions, according to Wikipedia. (I was surprised to learn that there are even six active Lutheran churches in the occupied Palestinian territories, see

bookmark_borderPost-217: Introducing “I am Cappuccino” (using Korean)

Here is an assignment from my Korean class, kind of a free writing activity (for once). Choose a product and write a little summary of it. Guidelines, simple: Where was it bought? / Price? / Good points? / Bad points?

I wrote what is in black. Red is the teacher’s. Below is the final text in Korean (corrected) with my English translation.

캔 커피 [개요쓰기]
이것은 40분 전에 제가 이 건물 안에 있는 자동판매기에서 산 캔 커피예요. 이름이 “나는…카푸치노”이어서 우유가 좀 있는 커피예요. 키가 큰 여자 사진있지만, 그 사진은 작아요.

이 캔 커피는 값이 싸요. 오백원이에요. 커피가 맛있어서 마시고 기분이 좋아져요. 카페인이 많아서 졸리지 않아요. 그렇지만 캔이 작이어서 마실 수 있는 커피가 적고 설탕이 많아서 건강에 나쁠 수 있어요.

Can of Coffee [Product Summary] (Translation)
This is a can of coffee which was bought by me forty minutes ago in a vending machine in this building. As its name is “I Am…Cappuccino” it must be the kind of coffee which has some milk in it. There is a picture of a tall woman on the can, but the picture is small.

This can of coffee is sold at a cheap price. It is only 500 Korean Won [50 U.S. cents]. As the coffee tastes good, after drinking it you’ll feel better. There is a lot of caffeine, so you won’t feel drowsy. However, the can is a bit small so there is not much coffee to drink, and furthermore there’s lots of sugar, so it may be a bad for your health.


The can of coffee about which
I wrote a summary in Korean

Looking back on this little assignment, I can make a few other general comments:

(1) Not Really From a Vending Machine. I actually bought it in the building’s convenience store with my Japanese classmate Toru씨. I’m not sure if I didn’t remember this, or whether I just really wanted to use the word “
자동판매기” (jah-dong-pahn-meggi, vending machine) which I think sounds funny.

(2) Sugar? In fact, I didn’t check the sugar content. I was in a rush to finish in the ten minutes allotted. I just assumed.

A Lot of Caffeine? The can includes 65mg of caffeine, as you’ll see in the photo. In Korea they always put the amount of caffeine on the front of the caffeinated products, which I find nice. If you’re like me, you try to maximize the caffeine-per-dollar value. I don’t really think 65mg is “a lot” of caffeine (as I wrote in the assignment). For a man of my size (185 pounds or 84 kilograms, I think), my impression is that it will start to noticeably perk you up only well above the 100mg level.

(4) The Can is Tiny. It can fit in your pocket. The can is 175 ml, a bit less than 6 ounces, so half the volume of the smallest soda cans we sell.
In my memory in the USA, I don’t remember such tiny cans of drinks being sold to adults. Judging by how common they are in Korea, they do brisk business.