27 August, 2004

I didn't like it!

A quick movie review:

Many years ago, a friend in my kung fu class recommended the movie Hero, then available only through illegal means, i.e. bootlegged from Chinatown or pirated off the Internet. I've never let that stop me before, and I had just seen the fabulous Shaolin Soccer on his recommendation, so I gave it a go.

The movie has at last made it to American theaters and is receiving rave reviews. The basic plot is: the Qin emperor (pronounced "chin") lives in mortal fear of three great assassins, Broken Sword, Flying Snow and Dozing Buffalo (or something). Suddenly, out of the blue, news comes that an unknown fighter, a young police officer, has killed all three of these fearsome assassins. The Qin emperor invites him to sit before him and recount the story of how he dispatched them.

The movie consists of a bunch of 'Rashomon'-like vignettes, told and retold from various perspectives. Each of the vignettes consists, basically, of long fight scenes. The movie is gorgeous - visually stunning, with stark, beautiful scenery and extensive use of vivid color themes: the first telling of a story renders it in passionate red; when the true, and more melancholy version is recounted the same characters and settings are clothed in pale blues.

But it just doesn't work. It's too pretty. Everything tries so extraordinarily hard to be beautiful - and it would succeed, if it were a photograph, or even a music video. But as a movie which attempts to make you take an interest in the story, it totally fails. There's no grit in the movie, which means everything (and everyone) is so damn perfect they seem ridiculous. The characters in the story are rendered in the same stark style as the visual aspects are - which makes them totally boring archetypes. Or stereotypes, even. When the Rashomon twists in the story come and someone's personality completely flips, you're not surprised, you're not intrigued, you're not perplexed, because you never believed the original character in the first place. Even the characters themselves aren't startled by the reverses in the story.

I'll leave out the political conclusions of the film, presented in the final minutes, which I guarantee you will detest. Go and see it if you like, but if you don't laugh-in-the-wrong-place during the final, "moving", hail-of-arrows death scene, there's something not right with you.

Stupid, stupid science reporters!

Check out this bit, widely reported in the science press. It's a study demonstrating that revenge activates the caudate nucleus in the brain, which helps you experience pleasure or satisfaction. This study is "important" because it "provides support" for the idea of altruistic revenge. The study involved a basic revenge game, where players can choose to punish or not punish another player for an act of betrayal. Wow, can you imagine, they found that anticipation of revenge is connected to pleasure.
The very idea that emotions, not cold-calculated reason, are driving revenge is a novel one, Knutson said.
Why, science reporters, why? Why do you cover such stupidity? Why do you give these clowns attention?

UPDATE: This, on the other hand, is fucking amazing stuff.

24 August, 2004

Rock stars and other messes

I have a confession to make: I find Arundhati Roy incredibly annoying.

Now, I'll admit freely that I've never read any of her books (not even The God of Small Things). And I haven't seen any of her speeches, or really read any of her articles. But then again, why should I?

When Robert Fisk writes something, I have good reason to pay attention. The man has been places I've never been and probably wouldn't have the courage to go to. Right now, he's driving up and down Iraqi highways at his own considerable peril and reporting valuable nuggets of information and perspectives that are relatively unattainable elsewhere.

When Vandana Shiva writes something, I have good reason to pay attention. She's got intelligent things to say about particular subjects in which she has been doing steady, grassroots activism for years.

Who the fuck is Arundhati Roy? And who the fuck is Starhawk?

They're archetypes of a disgusting tendency to mythologize the Left, to turn it into some sort of noble Movement of the People, struggling against injustice and all that is wrong and corrupt in the world. Oh, look at the inspiring way in which they move, as narrated by these, our cheerleaders.

Don't people get sick of hearing this? After so many years of marching in place, marching backwards, marching in circles, why don't people say, "Arundhati Roy, take your stupid triumphalism and shove it. Take your myopic moral clarity and choke on it. Take your commentary and go, just go! They're empty words, they don't lead anywhere!"

It's the same thing we get out of watching Michael Moore, or reading Greg Palast. They are security blankets, covering us with comforting, familiar phrases and homilies that we can rock our heads to agreeably. Yes, the world is as you believe it is. Yes, you are right.

Meanwhile the world goes to shit and the Movement of the People is wholly unable to stop it. Ah, I wish for the cynical rock star who tells me where I'm wrong.

20 August, 2004

Eye of the storm

I went out to Walden Pond on Friday and got caught in the hurricane on the way out. Apparently, swimming during a thunderstorm is a tremendously bad idea due to the risk of lightning strike. I suppose I knew this in a sort of vague way in the back of my head, and in hindsight it really doesn't seem like a good idea to be the high point in a conducting body. Note for the future.

The storm was disappointing in its brevity, but breathtaking in its intensity. It really started coming down good when we were halfway back around the pond. And it was COLD. With about an eighth of a leg left I had to swim again (the pond intercepted the trail). The water was choppy, whipped up by a fierce wind and pounding against the beach, but pleasantly warm, especially compared to the rain. I was wholly oblivious to the fact that I was tempting fate, which made it rather enjoyable.

I looked back over my shoulder as I was climbing out of the water. Though the rain was still coming down in sheets, there was a single break in the clouds, of just the size to reveal the sun. It must have been about six-thirty then, nearing the close of the day. The disc of the sun was a livid orange, and stared through the gap in the clouds, like the eye of an angry god watching over his destructive work. Staring at me; that gaze pierced my soul.

That was a moment worth living for; I wish I could have filled my lungs with it and breathed it into my blood, held onto it somehow, wrapped it into the core of my being. Something better than this chip of imperfect memory, this fragmentary image, that can only fade and die.

18 August, 2004

Welcome to New York City

While marching through our streets, please notice our fine shops and restaurants.

Protesters can also get the buttons from groups that have a legal permit to rally. But Mr. Bloomberg conceded yesterday that not everyone who wore a button would be strictly vetted for his or her peacefulness. "Unfortunately, we can't stop an anarchist from getting a button," he said, though he doubted any of them would want to wear one.


The discount program for protesters is modeled on one for delegates to the convention, and there are some notable differences. Protesters are offered $5 off admission to the Museum of Sex, while delegates are not. But delegates get $3 off the space show at the American Museum of Natural History, a discount not offered to protesters. The Republicans get "Rent," the people who oppose them get "Tony n' Tina's Wedding."

17 August, 2004

More like "White Sox"

I've been a mediocre Red Sox fan for a while, sort of marginally following the success of the team and every once in a while getting excited or upset about it. But I've never gone to a Sox game; I only ever experience it on television or the Internet or in the newspaper. Which insulates me from other, darker aspects of the game that don't make it to those media.

I bike to work every day through Kenmore Square, which takes me right past Fenway Park. On my way home it's not uncommon for me to weave my way through the heavy pre-game crowds choking the surrounding streets. So I've had ample opportunity to observe the following statistical truth:

Everyone who attends Sox games is white.

I don't mean the majority - I mean on a given day, I can pass through a crowd numbering two thousand people or more and not see a single non-white face. In a city that is reputedly fifty percent black, this is simply incredible.

Barry Bonds made a big stink earlier this year when he said he would never play for Boston because it was too racist here. I've never had that idea - after all, Pedro Martinez is nearly universally adored; similarly with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. But those crowds paint a pretty startling picture. Something definitely ain't right.

10 August, 2004

Some writing

One of my colleagues informed me that she had some old data of mine lying around on her harddrive and asked if I was interested in keeping any of it. I poked around and came across some writing of a political nature I had done in late 2001/early 2002. Most of it was trash, but a couple were interesting and I salvaged them. Some of you have probably heard it all from me before (Dan), but there's some well-written bits in there that might have novel ideas for the rest of you. Depressingly, my thinking hasn't changed in all this time.

You can read 'em here.

09 August, 2004

Juan Cole, eat my dust!

Okay, so here's the scoop:

Iyad Allawi institutes a 30-day ban on al-Jazeera in Iraq, citing "incitement of violence". U.S. hems and haws but refuses to condemn the action, noting they've had "problems" with al-Jazeera in the past. Nothing from al-JZ yet. Several media groups have condemned the closure (of course).

The man is a fuckin' gangsta. Democracy, it was nice knowing you. "Stability," come on in! (Bring your sidekick, Torture!)

Check it out at IHT.

08 August, 2004


I dropped my brother off at law school this weekend, Michigan State University in East Lansing - more on that later. On the way back I had fourteen hours of deep conversation with my dad, with the result that a lot of things are tumbling around in my head. Be warned that some of them might tumble out here over the next couple of days.

Anyway, I've been listening to people grumble and hedge for a while regarding this whole "gay marriage" issue. "I support their right to do what they want," People say, "although I don't know if I agree with the whole marriage thing."

I'm slowly coming to the realization that this is a huge point of departure between me and most of my lefty compadres. I have not rejected, and maybe never will reject, marriage as an institution. I've often been dismayed by the fact that I don't know a single bloody person who has a positive outlook on marriage (outside of my conservative Indian friends).

In fact, I really dislike the concept of divorce in general, and it bothers me that so many people around me accept it, or don't feel the need to confront it as a social issue. See, I know what conservatives are talking about when they talk about marriage as the basis of society, and the nuclear family as the fundamental unit of society. I see many movements in the contemporary left attacking that traditional institution, and I find that disturbing. Not because I agree with Christian ideas about the sacred nature of marriage or the like, but because I deeply believe that the social fabric of society is knitted through families.

Many of the politics of the contemporary left are based on ideas of individual liberty and the obligations of society to the individual. But my own politics are, I think, rather more strongly rooted in the duties of individuals to society. This ethic exists in the environmental movement, but it hasn't transmigrated into social theories yet. I find this extremely short-sighted and, well, selfish.

Most people in this country, as far as I can tell, seem to see marriage as self-satisfying. You're forming a partnership with someone you love because you want to find happiness. When it makes you unhappy, you break that partnership, just like you'd terminate any business relationship that's gone sour. The more transient and less committed the marital relationship becomes, the happier it seems to make lefty movements.

This is assanine. Marriage is not about individual happiness or fulfillment. It's about children. It's about raising children. And my god, if the least thing you contribute to this world is raising your children in a decent and responsible way, that's no small achievement.

Children deserve parents. Not just one parent, or even two parents, but many parents. I understand very well that I am a product of my parents. Both of mine are amazing individuals, and had I been brought up by other hands, I would be a lesser person today. And I value their bonds to their own parents and relations, which tied me into a much larger family and indeed a whole other society. That's what makes me Indian - the strength of my family's bonds. That's a huge source of personal strength for me, and I wish to god that other people valued that.

For all our cries for "community" and our railings against alienation, our politics still press inexorably in the direction of individualism. Personal identity, at some point, has to be subsumed to the good of others if a healthy social fabric is to develop. The immediate family, the extended family, the village, the society - they can't hold together if we reject the basic glue that creates them.

07 August, 2004

Donald Duck

So, the Guardian has posted 3 Britons' account of life in Guantanamo (incidentally, do Bush officials still say Cuba is a place with state-sponsored torture?). It's a really gruesome picture, from the physical torture with blunt force to making them squat, shackled, to being exposed to constant strobe lights and a dance remix of Eminem on loop. They say that many of the prisoners have lost mental faculties and are no longer capable of rational conversation, but they are still interrogated. The most bizarre allegation, repeated twice, is that they were shown "photographs of Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry, Rugrats, Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jackson, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Osama bin Laden and famous people from different countries." WTF? Why?

05 August, 2004

Spare capacity?

Some of you may have casually noted that the price of oil is once again setting new records. Brent crude is at $41.22 a barrel, an all-time high. Most of this is the result of the woes of Russian oil giant Yukos, which is in the throes of bankruptcy and numerous court cases. That sordid tale is a saga of its own; the short version is that Yukos owns the Russian government a lot of money and probably can't pay it, and so key assets (like a major subsidiary) are being forcibly sold off to pay the bills. Yukos produces 1.7 Mbd, 1/5 of Russia's production.

The fate of the known universe hangs in the balance, and predictions are being made both ways: some are already moaning that the price will NEVER come down again, that high price is simply a fact of life now. The Saudis insisted that they have 1.5 Mbd spare capacity available NOW, and it will relieve the pressure before the end of the summer. Meanwhile, high US gasoline stocks (despite the tight supply and the peak driving season) suggest that gas conservation may already be coming into effect thanks to high prices.

I have to believe the Saudis are wrong - even if they have spare capacity, the galloping rate at which consumption is increasing suggests that very soon they won't be able to save the day. The question is, where will economic contraction set in first? In the fuel-driven United States, or in the newly energy-hungry Asian countries cum China? Our economy is already sputtering and barely plugging along. One good blow to the solar plexus would kill it dead...

For the love of God, easy on the cologne and perfume!

I'm sick of choking and gagging every time one of them walks by. I'm sick of suffocating when I get into an empty elevator which one of them had used a few minutes earlier.

We all know about whom I'm talking: people who wear way too much cologne or perfume.

Is this supposed to be a way of attracting someone? Or is it a way of weeding out people with a sensitive sense of smell? Or is it a way of announcing to the world that one smells so bad that one must use a whole bottle of cologne in order to counteract the diabolical effects of one's natural body odor?

Please - one or two misty sprays is plenty. Subtle is seductive; excess is repulsive.

04 August, 2004

Why are girls so mean to other girls?

Recently there seems to have been a flurry of incidents of which I know all too well:

I'm walking down the street and encounter a woman who is a complete stranger. As she passes by, she gives me an unfriendly "once-over" and scowls, snickers or sneers. I am not sure if she is staring at my clothes, which I don't think are offensive, or my face, or the rest of my body, which I can't really change. And I don't know why. It's clearly unfriendly, and the look that she casts hints that she is sizing me up as competition and about to rip me apart, or that she disapproves of my very existence. And I *only* get this from other women... lately it's been from other Asian women.

It's as if some women view other women in their vicinity with automatic distrust and hatred.

In school, some girls try to cut others down. They're really mean to girls who are smart and do well in their classes, as if it's just not okay to be a smart girl. And if you're a feminist, expect the worst treatment from some of your own kind. It's repulsive to the very essence of these mean girls.

And then when it comes to boys - some women will sacrifice the best friendships for a dude who just isn't worth it.

It's so sad, because we women should be sticking together, not tearing each other apart.

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