Archive for July, 2007

Sunshine and Immolation

July 30, 2007

I saw Sunshine yesterday, a great movie to check out while it’s in theaters. A visual masterpiece, and not totally lacking in substance either. Director Danny Boyle throws in just enough stylistic flair and creativity to ensure that Sunshine is more than just a “Steve” to 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s “Doug.”

I’m not going to waste time writing a lengthy review because other critics, particularly Anthony Lane of the New Yorker, have been dead-on. The plot is illogical, sometimes ridiculously so. The final third of the film takes a jarringly sharp turn, and is objectively inferior to the rest of the story. Sunshine smoothly sets up the characters to lose their sanity, but instead the director loses his own by introducing a ridiculous antagonist, cannonballing the film into chaos just when it was enticingly dipping its toes into it.

The cast is somewhere between subdued and listless.

Weigh all that against the awesomeness of a big-screen space odyssey, and then make your decision. I have no regrets about mine.

But what I really want to talk about is how Sunshine confirms what I’ve been saying for a while. If you could die in any way you wanted, wouldn’t you choose immolation?

A lot of my friends disagree, saying instead that they’d prefer lethal injection or some similar pussy death. I don’t get it. Wouldn’t you want your final moment to be an incredible experience? A challenge of thresholds never before tested? An extraordinarily painful and enlightening revelation? In Sunshine, character after character chooses to die by unfiltered exposure to the sun, validating my point of view and placing me in the company of planetary heroes.

So for those of you who would choose to die by the needle, like an old dog or a human vegetable, watch Sunshine and see if it changes your perspective.


A Second Look at Violence in Video Games

July 26, 2007

About a week ago a 16-year old teen stabbed his brother once in the heart with a steak knife after losing a video game and being asked to pass the controller. About six months ago a man killed his 17-month old infant daughter after she unplugged his XBox 360. These were just Philadelphia-area incidents. Who knows what’s going on nation- and worldwide.

You could condemn the killers, and plenty of people have. But my reaction is a little different. The fact that these are murders of passion separates these killers from those who premeditate the slaughter of their family members. And the fact that video games are causing these violent outbursts is worth thinking about.

Because I think that very few avid gamers can say they have never freaked out after their character dies, their quarterback throws an interception, or the power goes out. I’ve flung Playstation controllers. I’ve smacked TV screens. And it makes me wonder that maybe the only thing stopping me from being a fratricider is the fact that I don’t have a brother.

Let’s face it: video game rage is real, and no one is talking about it. In the media’s obsession with the vague connection between playing violent video games and committing real violence, the very clear connection between playing video games and getting extremely pissed off has passed under the radar.

There are 2 facts about video game rage that strike me as significant. 1, even people with normally calm tempers are prone to video game rage. It seems like it’s easier for people to get worked up over a video game than real life. 2, the murders and spaz-outs all come when something happens out-of-game. The man killed his daughter because she unplugged his XBox. The teen killed his brother because he had to give up the controller. And the German in the video is freaking out because the game has a very long load time. A pulled plug, a lost game, and a slow processor are all out-of-game incidents.

With these 2 things in mind, I can formulate a half-baked theory. Let me explain it in a kind of roundabout way.

We could split the things that make you spontaneously furious — let’s call them rage stimuli — into 2 categories. A rage stimulus can be out-of-game, an example being the revelation you are being cheated on. Or it can be in-game, an example being your quarterback throwing an interception in NFL Madden ’07. It’s my hypothesis that spontaneous crimes of passion are more likely to result from in-game rage stimuli than from out-of-game rage stimuli. That’s pure speculation — I don’t know of any relevant studies — but I have a reason for believing it’s true.

Let’s flesh out the two examples.

Case 1: You come home from work and your wife is crying. She asks you to sit down and then tells you that she has cheated on you. You are pissed! You scream. Gesticulate wildly. Cry. Maybe you slam your fist on something, but it’s totally unlikely that you get violent.

Case 2: Your team is down by 5 points late in the 4th quarter. Your quarterback, Eli Manning, throws an interception. As furious as you are, you have no in-game means of expressing it. So the rage accumulates and when your brother demands the controller you stab him in the fucking chest.

The difference is that out-of-game we are able to express our rage as it comes to us. In-game, we are unable to express our rage and so it simmers until we can find an excuse to express it out-of-game. Spontaneous violent acts like the ones mentioned above are the out-of-game products of unexpressed & inexpressible in-game rage.

If this theory is right, then violent games like Grand Theft Auto are actual cathartic rather than damaging. If something irritating happens in-game, you can kill a prostitute or beat the shit out of an old lady. And if this theory is right, more games should incorporate in-game means of expressing rage. FIFA 1998, Road to the World Cup comes to mind. In that game, which came out for the N64, you could press a button that would have your player kick the nearest player as hard as he could. It was a terrible strategy, since your player would almost always be ejected from the game. But we pressed it all the time.

More recent FIFA games haven’t had that feature. After all, violence in video games is bad, right? Don’t be so sure. If there’s anything to what I say, then it’s the lack of violence in video games that’s dangerous.

Harry Potter, Oppressed Peoples, and Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg

July 23, 2007

It’s easy to get lost in Harry Potter’s egocentric war. J.K. Rowling has created a world in which anyone who is not lucky enough to be the-boy-who-lived is either dead or completely inept. In the final installment of the series, Deathly Hallows, the tyrant Voldemort, even though he claims otherwise, has risen to power mostly due to the sheepish acquiescence of the wizarding community to the newly occupied Ministry of Magic.

Voldemort’s political puppets send out a plain summons to members of the public who don’t come from wizarding families, requesting that they appear for “questioning” – those who do, i.e. the majority of the addressed, are subjected to a kangaroo court and unceremoniously locked away.

Rowling is clearly attempting to draw parallels between her world and other regimes which came to power on a platform of supporting the interests of a pure race or people. Rowling fails miserably – whether due to a poor understanding of history or a lack of storytelling ability I cannot say. History has taught Rowling that any group of people who is singled out and lied to by a government they trust will easily submit themselves to whatever injustices are immediately laid before them, happy to live in the illusion that some part of the government will come to its senses soon enough. This is a fallacy.

What history has taught the rest of us is that whenever governments were successful in subduing and controlling a portion of their constituents, along with convincing the population that the double standards they are witnessing are justified by law or reason, it took a lot of time.

Rowling historical recreation of race-based regimes fails to grasp even the most basic concepts of groundwork or cultural foundations. The propaganda issued by the Ministry of Magic, a token afterthought which appears in the form of pamphlets expounding the dangers posed by those who are not of pure-blooded families, pales in comparison to the cultural upheavals undertaken by regimes who succeeded in isolating and imprisoning people they considered inferior.

In a way, one can almost take offence in Rowling’s borrowing from the darkest times of 20th century history. I have no personal connection to the race-related tragedies of our time, but even I cannot help but cringe when Rowling presents us with a parade of easily manipulable victims, completely convinced that their government knows what is best. I blame Rowling, and not some latent hypersensitivity on my side, since to me the connection was immediately apparent after I had read a few chapters of the new book. I’m sure others have felt it as well, although whether they consider it offensive or not will be determined more by their own understanding of the nature of the historical examples and not on the objective fact that Rowling is a bad writer and a terrible reader of history.

This brings me to my next point. Since Harry Potter is surrounded by a nation consisted of thousands of plot devices, unable to help themselves and completely dependent on a 17 year-old boy to save them from Voldemort’s well-organised and resourceful institution, my failed suspension of disbelief prodded me to find historical examples where this might have been the case. If Rowling is going to fail at accurately constructing a mass cultural and political personality for its people, then the least I can do is help her by finding her a factual crutch on which to stand.

All I could come up with was Claus Schenk, Graf von Stauffenberg. Stauffenberg is perhaps the most well-known member of the failed German Resistance during World War II – he was the one attempted to assassinate Hitler with a briefcase bomb. Stauffenberg’s life was sometimes parallel with Potter’s – he came from a well respected noble family, was educated in literature and the arts (Hogwarts), but decided to pursue a military career instead (Harry’s inclination towards destroying Voldemort). A cavalry officer during Hitler’s rise to power and WWII, Stauffenberg found most of Nazism’s ideals either ridiculous or disgusting, but he seems to have been supportive of its Nationalist aspects. Stauffenberg also bore scars, but to a much larger degree than Potter, having been strafed in his car by a British plane and losing an eye, his right hand, and two fingers off his left.

The parallels between Stauffenberg and Potter are forced at best (and non-existent at worst), but it is one of only a handful of times when history lay in the hands of one well-intentioned individual. The attempt occurred on July 20th, 1944, and it was completely the opposite of what Stauffenberg had envisioned. A year before he had planned to kill Adolf Hitler in Berlin and immediately get on the phone with high-ranking Nazi officials around the country in an attempt to convince them to join the coup before they decided otherwise. Due to a series of mishaps and unfortunate coincidences, Stauffenberg was compelled to execute the attempt in Hitler’s fortified command center in Poland – by July 1944, the plot had become almost entirely motivated by ideology, justified by the fact that the world needed to see that not all of Germany agreed with the horrific policies of Nazism.

Stauffenberg succeeded in sneaking the bomb into a meeting with Hitler and other high-ranking staffers. The bomb detonated and killed four of those present, but Hitler was saved by the legs of the heavy oak table at which he sat. Stauffenberg was later arrested and sentenced to death by strangling, which occurred in the courtyard at the Ministry of Defence (known as the Bendlerblock, which I visited last year).

Stauffenberg failed, and if Rowling wants to redeem my opinion of her understanding of history, so should Harry. I purposefully wrote this before finishing the book, so my writing wouldn’t be skewed by how the book ends. Harry Potter, much like Stauffenberg, has absolutely nothing in his favor except for poorly-directed good-will. He receives no support from the population at large, who are content to witness their community falling apart like the crappy characters they are. Were fact and not fiction, it would not be 12 hours before Harry and his co-conspirators would be caught, executed, and cremated. Whether he survives or not, in my mind Rowling has already killed him.

(Afterthought: If Stauffenberg had a grave, he would be rolling in it as I write this, since Tom Cruise is slated to carry his legacy in the upcoming movie Valkyrie. Several high-profile Germans have issued statements disapproving of the producers casting decision, but it looks like he remains the one. Their motivation seems to be that Cruise is associated with the Church of Scientology, whose policy of deception and forceful influence is a dishonor to Stauffenberg’s courage and accomplishments. Mine would be that he is a terrible actor.)

Harry Potter, Spoilers, and Artistic Expression

July 21, 2007

Scroll down and highlight white space for spoilers.

In the history of literature, has there ever been so much of an uproar about a book’s plot? Doubt it — between high readership, widespread publication, and the speed of the Internet you can bet that this furor over “spoilers” in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is totally unprecedented.

But there’s another reason you’ve never seen so much talk about spoilers in your life: the word is only about 20 years old. The OED just added it to its pages in it 1997, and it still hasn’t got the common definition quite right. It reads:

Journalism. A news story or other newspaper item published to spoil the impact of and divert attention from a related item published elsewhere. Also used transf. in other news media, or to denote an event which is intended to generate news coverage with a similarly distracting effect.

Really, when we talk about a “spoiler” we mean an “extremely brief plot revelation, with emphasis on climax, surprises, twists, etc.”

It’s clear that the word “spoiler” hasn’t been around for very long, but what’s less clear is how old the concept — as I’ve just described it — is. Just because the word is new doesn’t mean people weren’t going around in the Middle Ages talking about “ruiners.” Now this is pure speculation, but I’d bet that the concept isn’t much older than the word itself. Why? Think about the history of literature.

From Homer to Shakespeare, plots have been based either on well-known historical events, or other well-known stories. Everyone knew that Odysseus was going to make it back to Ithaca because the same song had been sung for centuries — so long that the line between fact and fiction had grown fuzzy. People didn’t flock to the Globe Theater to see Hamlet because they wanted to know what would happen to the guy. The play was called a “tragedie” for a reason.

I don’t know how or why, but over time people began to tell new stories. And somewhere along the way — it might have coincided with Gothic novels — people realized that it was highly profitable to keep the reader in suspense about the ending. That brings us to the most profitable series of all time, Harry Potter.

Is a work like Harry Potter inferior to a work like Hamlet simply because it places more emphasis on its plot and ending? Does a book so heavy in content necessarily sacrifice some form? I’m not sure. But go back to the word “spoiler.” It’s derived from the verb “spoil.” The implication is that a spoiler ruins whatever work it targets. When you tug at some loose thread and unravel the whole sweater, you’re talking about shoddy craftsmanship. Isn’t the same thing true of books? If knowing the ending of Harry Potter spoils the whole thing, doesn’t that say something negative about J.K. Rowling?

The key, I think, is that “spoiler” in its most recent incarnation has only a weak connection to the act of spoiling. Plenty of avid Harry Potter readers probably already know what happens to Harry & friends, but the work is by no means spoiled for them. Likewise, most readers are probably trying to avoid any spoilers, but even if the ending were revealed they would read the book anyway. A good work is one that can have spoilers without being spoiled.

Ultimately then, the suspense of a plot has no intrinsic impact on the work’s form or quality. Suspense, plot twists, and wild endings can be used to gain a wide readership, but their presence can coexist with brilliant writing. The problem sits with the reader, whose fascination with the plot might detract from his attention to some of the finer aspects of the text. Therefore, the only way to accurately measure the quality of Rowling’s writing and the artistic value of Harry Potter is to read a spoiler, and see if the book maintains its appeal like the timeless classics or unravels like a cheap sweater.

With that, highlight below for spoilers:

Burbage dies. Hedwig dies. Mad-Eye dies. Scrimgeour dies. Wormtail dies. Dobby dies. Fred Weasley dies. Voldemort kills Harry, who meets Dumbledore in the Underworld before coming back to life. Nagini gets beheaded by Neville. Tonks, Lupin, and Colin Creevy die. Voldemort kills Snape. Voldemort kills himself trying to kill Harry. Ron marries Hermione, their two children are named Rose and Hugo. Harry marries Ginny, three children are named Lily, James, and Albus Severus. Draco Malfoy has a son named Scorpius. The final line in the book is “The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.”

Steam Pipe Explosion in Manhattan

July 18, 2007

Steam Pipe Explosion NYC

If you haven’t heard, a steam pipe exploded in Midtown Manhattan. My poet friend Steve Barret dropped me this poem before I even knew about it. Steve has a collection of vegetarian poetry coming out called the “i”: more than meats. The New York Times calls it “touchingly honest and deliciously clumsy.”

today was a lil 9/11
a lil baby 9/11
who vomits soot on your shirt
which sucks, but no one gets hurt
(or at least no one gets hurt that badly.
i believe some elderly people might have tripped and died during the panic,

today was a “remember 9/11”
“was it only 6 years ago 9/11”
where people roam the streets
in a kind of hazy solidarity
chatting to strangers about
who they knew on the plane (“my sister’s friend tracy”)
where they were when it happened (“macy’s”)
how they were so close
they could see
the victims’

(it’s really a fascinating bond, this
nostalgic memory, so morbidly fond)

today was not 9/11
so i never panicked.
“explosion” “transformer” “grand central”:
even as i heard bits of what people were saying,
i thought “this must be some kind of sick
michael bay
viral ad campaign.”

today was not 9/11
so even as the smoke towered 40 stories high
i thought “the yankees could pull within 7”
and “i want to check out that simpsons 7/11
at times square.”
not about corpses with dust in their hair.

Government Culture at Fault in TAM Linhas Aéreas Disaster

July 18, 2007

Congonhas Airport

(Img Source: Flight Global)

Among pilots, it was known as the “aircraft carrier”. To passengers, it was just another airport.

Congonhas – São Paulo International Airport serves the São Paulo metropolitan area as its main hub for domestic and short international flights. Having flown into this airport several times, I can say that the proximity of the airport to urban developments was more of a novelty than a source of fear. Having something to look at makes the frustrating and boring process of landing go by faster. Much like Rockaway Beach for passengers flying into JFK, the residential and commercial neighborhoods that surround Congonhas Airport were a welcome distraction.

The only reason I could indulge in being distracted was because I felt safe. I knew this airport was an anomaly when compared to others, which for the most part are withdrawn from the cities they serve and in sparsely populated areas, but I was sure the necessary precautions had been taken. I was wrong.

Two things were wrong about my assumption: that the government would have understood that Congonhas is a unique airport and taken the necessary measures to ensure that planes would not over shoot the runway (including in an attempt to abort landing and take off), and that they would not allow planes to land on any runway which had previously been the center of controversy regarding the ability to receive them. The former I had thought of and dismissed, the latter I did not know of until today.

For years airline pilots have been calling for an extended safety zone, or at the very least a concrete arrester bed, to be installed. Nothing was done.

This tragic disaster can serve as a metaphor for the current government of Brazil. Slowly the country has slid into an epoch of political complacency and cronyism. The Nomenklatura of the Soviet Union, which became an elite cadre of government administrators embedded in an impenetrable web of patron-client relationships, seems commendable and efficient when compared to Brazil. In the Soviet Union at least the rigidity of the system, where one had to enact the policies of one’s patron or lose a job or a chance of promotion, was preserved, understood, and even sometimes respected. In Brazil, a political free-for-all has developed where the only metric for success is money and sloth.

Brazilian political integrity has languished to the point of becoming pathetic. It is not a surprise, since this is depressingly parallel to our stagnated growth rate which, at 4%, is doing nothing but surfing on a wave of global expansion. During the next international recession (like 1997), Brazil will collapse into a pile of underdeveloped industry and commodities which no longer sell for what they used to.

In Brazil, civil servants build policies not around the needs of the population or even common sense, but around that which will most benefit their own motives. Expecting a government to be exempt of self-interest or corruption is a high standard to set, but expecting constant shift in the right direction is not. Take, for example, this quote from a BBC News article regarding the banning of larger aircraft from the airport in Congonhas in February.

“The safety conditions of the runway and the airport as a whole are adequate,” a spokeswoman from Brazil’s National Agency of Civil Aviation said.

She added the judge’s ruling could end up affecting 10,000 passengers per day.

“If the injunction stands, it will cause total chaos,” a spokesman for TAM Linhas Aereas, SA, the nation’s biggest carrier, said.”

I’m glad they avoided chaos. 200 people are dead, the stock prices and reputations of Brazil’s 2 largest airlines are crumbling, and the tourism industry can expect a heavy blow – but at least everyone at the office got to go home early for a couple of months.

Eating Cheaply in New York

July 16, 2007

This city is driving me insane. It’s 2:42 PM and I’ve spent $14.35. This was just for Breakfast (Iced Tea + Fruit Salad), and Lunch (Subway sandwich and Diet Coke). When I started my unpaid summer job I gave myself a budget of around $10 a day for food, but I didn’t realise I would waste all of that on the assorted drinks which accompany my meals, which is what will probably happen today once I buy dinner.

I need to find a way of keeping myself on a reasonable food budget, so today I’ll try to keep myself under, say, $18 by cooking at home. This means I can only spend $3.65 at the super market, so “cooking” will probably turn into making some kind of sandwich. While cleaning my new apartment today I found two glass containers full of pasta, but I have feeling they’ve been there since 1982, so they can’t be a part of my frugal dinner.

I guess this leaves me two options: frugal sandwich or frugal Lean Cuisine. Either way I can probably stay under $3.85, but buying bread and cold cuts would probably allow me to make other sandwiches in the future, so it definitely the best option.

Untitled work by Il Renaud

July 14, 2007

I’ve been rummaging through my old poetry collection and I found this gem. Written by a French poet named Il Renaud, it’s translated by one Stephen Bouille. I can’t find much information about Renaud, which is a shame since I’ve picked up some French and I’d love to see the original. -Cory

I mounted the extremities of glaciers the stranger,
a mountain of joyous meows, a produced force, a corrupt extremity,
not defeated by the excursion that I my valor whatever poached.

The vertigo of dozens of 0,
mine of millions, I,
a thousand tender fours.

Pyres of O, advantaged against my destinies.
The altitude of O was illuminated,
the lute of a planet, violet, yours,
attentive of your visage for luminance.
Inflammable commentary for the travail of a woman!
Naturally the destinies I suffered, of your mauve –
maintained, illuminated, by gold.

Wolfdays of O! Vainly you return:
Sad plains of O, cerebral desires of O, sad limits of O,
discouragement pains of the OH.

O beautiful your bruins,
oh so often I considered your destinies,
the chaste enjambment of charred restaurants,
of the OH’s alarm,
my sea of I, prolonged,
OH! – I signed by man six sovereign flanks.

Ethan Haas Waz a DONG

July 14, 2007

FUCK! ! !I SPEnt like 5 HOURS at the ETHAN HASS website trying to decifer that shit and it’ s allFAKE.

APParentlyu there are a bunch of other real sitses but ta this point I DONT GIVE A SHIT. I’m EXSTREMELY TIRED.

The ethjan haas site was OK. There wered 5 PartsT

h.e 1st part was easy. justy simon zes.

Apparently ETHAN HAAS WAS NOT A MAC USER bc the sencond part WAS IMPOSSIBLE. There was some cipher shit but I couldn’t read it. SO I had to find a Walkthrough.

The Third paret was a puzle,pefg solitaire. EASY. Me and my dad used to do these all the tiomes at a restaurant near my house. IT took me LIKE 2 SECONDS.

The 4 th part was A PAIN IN THE ASS. PUZzle like in Zelda when you have to move the statues around. I gave up after like 30 minutes and loked at the aolution.





My New Animal Spirit Shinai

July 12, 2007

A friend told me this story.  -Cory

I was in London, it was nighttime and I went to see Rescue Dawn at the “cinema” with some friends. I had my shinai with me, maybe because I had just come out of kendo practice. After the film, we left for the airport – I think it was Stansted. It was either after our flight or right before it when I realized I had left my shinai at the theater. I wanted to go back and get it, but my friends – who were suddenly all Japanese and unfamiliar – convinced me that would be impossible. I was flustered, but they seemed totally unconcerned. One member of the group suggested we all go back to his place, where I’d be able to get a new and improved shinai. I was confused, but everyone else seemed to understand.

We finally arrived at the house after a long walk. I was exhausted. We all made our way to the kitchen, where one of the girls started preparing a meal on the stove. It looked like spaghetti. Meanwhile, everyone began preparing me for some kind of ritual. I was brought to the corner of the kitchen, my back to the wall. My clothes were taken off and my wrists and ankles were bound so that I couldn’t move. I was given some kind of anesthetic. I entered a state of panic as my whole body went numb. Nonetheless as I looked at the faces around me I knew that I was in good hands. Suddenly the girl who had been at the stove came towards me with a big skillet full of steaming spaghetti and sauce. She threw the scalding food directly at my chest and I fell on my back.

The recipe must have had magical qualities, because as I lay on my back with the heap of spaghetti on my chest it started to take shape. Slowly it formed into a sphere, a floating ball, hot, full of energy, like a young planet. My friends, who had been so reticent, suddenly flooded me with instructions. One girl handed me a thick straw. I was to puncture the sphere’s crust with the straw and begin inhaling. Another girl hovered nearby with some kind of device that I couldn’t describe. A guy explained to me that this sphere contained various animal spirits that could imbue my new shinai. My task was to suck out an entire spirit and carefully breathe it out into that weird device.

I was ready. I inhaled and a thick smoke filled my lungs. The device was placed before me and I exhaled slowly. A pink humanoid shape wriggled free, out of my control, and escaped into the air and disappeared. It had looked really impressive. The people around me said that this was a famous ancient warrior, and was too powerful for me to contain. They encouraged me to try again. I could see through the sphere now and aimed to suck in a silver horse spirit. Again, I was unable to capture it. The process continued, with new colorful and proud-looking spirits escaping me. Finally all that remained in the sphere were a few small amphibious creatures. I breathed in a bright green frog and exhaled it carefully into the device. I had completed the ritual.

Despite the frog spirit’s small size, everyone cheered and congratulated me. Someone handed me a new shinai, and it glowed faintly with that same bright green color. I was disappointed that I had not been able to secure a better spirit for my shinai, but at the same time I was pleased. This was a rite of passage, and with my new shinai I would be able to further my training. The blade was warm in my hands. I held it firmly and opened my eyes.