Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Review: Tooth Fairy

This week's short film from Amazon Theater, "Tooth Fairy" is quite different from the earlier pieces. More a disquisition on suburban living than anything else, it describes an American dad's attempt to connect with his daughter through a treasure hunt that she designs for the tooth fairy, who is described as being male, contrary, perhaps deliberately, to stereotype.

The film is too brief and does not detail the underlying themes deeply, touching lightly on the multi-cultural family, the beleagured dad's efforts at keeping up with the chores, and the well-equipped suburban household, that uses only Calphalon Cookware, and has everything from a foosball table to a pool. The theme of suburban living is further amplified by drive-thru security, featuring Jeff Bezos, who calls the dad, at the time clambered onto a hanging pot in search of a clue, a loser.

The film is directed by Jake Scott, who has directed some excellent music videos for bands like U2, REM and No Doubt, as well as "Plunkett and Macleane", an anachronistic period film set in 19th century England about highwaymen. The harried dad is played by Chris Noth, well-known for his portrayal of Detective Mike Logan in Law and Order from 1990-1995.

Update:Jim Carruthers points out as a comment on blogcritics.org, where this review was cross-posted that
Shurley shome mishtake, Mr. Noth is perhaps better known as the antithesis to the role he plays in this short, as Mr. Big in "Sex and the City".

And how does he get cast as the hot daddy anyways?
Valid point - bad casting? Or just poor product placement?

Mallrats and Walmartians

Various concerns are expressed on the reasons Wal-mart had lower sales than other retailers this Thanksgiving, from product mix to the cleanliness of the stores - online shopping is also factored into the equation as being a determinant of the retail sales equation.

What cannot be disputed, however, is that Wal-mart is the 261-billion-dollar gorilla in the marketplace. The distaste of cultural elitists aside, they provide a wide variety of products from every major manufacturer at a low margin. Being in the CRM space myself, I attribute a large percentage of their success to the supply chain efficiencies inherent in their model. By having the vendors come to them rather than the other way around, and dictating low costs through providing large orders to their suppliers they both drive their own costs down and keep the supply chain filled. It would be difficult for any other single retailer to replicate this phenomenon.

At the same time, Customer Relationship Management requires paying attention to customer needs and maintaining a level of service that ensures repeat business. Wal-mart is severely lacking in this area, taking the approach of 'build it, stock it, price it low, and they will come'. Compare this to the glitzy mall stores, say, in the Mall of America, where I visited this weekend. The stores look good, are well-staffed, over-priced, have more mall-walkers than shoppers and for the most part, do not make a profit. I also visited the Ikea store. This was a phenomenal experience - cost, quality, cleanliness and product mix all put together have ensured faithful customers and consistent repeat business in their niche of home decoration.

That being said, a niche-killer does not a retailing colossus make. There lies the problem. By focusing on excellence in a specific domain, retailers like Toys R Us and Best Buy set themselves up for being undercut in price and volume by Wal-mart consistently and repeatedly. The typical shopper is a selfish creature - given no other inducement than price, she/he will choose price as a purchasing determinant.

While I am not sure if an economic profile of a typical Wal-martian exists, it would not be a stretch to postulate that this is a member of a family with low disposable income, limited need for high-end items and the desire to find everything under one roof. Cote notes,

The target customer for Wal-Mart, of course, is about 80% completely
price-centric and 20% convenience centric. That is, customers are most concerned with price, and then a little concerned with having everything available under one roof



Walmart is in fact, very very good at sensing and responding to customer demand, leading the pack in responsiveness - both in terms of price and product availability/placement. This is again, driven in no small measure by Wal-mart's powerful computing and data mining abilities on their data warehouse.

One postulates therefore, that the Wal-mart data mining engine has segregated the US consumer base into two categories and identified the motivators that influence the first - Walmartians - so as to maximize volume at the low price points of Wal-mart. The second category is defined by the mallrats who would rather shop at Target, even if the same product is at Wal-mart at a lower price. This category is tapped lightly through the Sams Club chain and minor forays into e-tailing. It has not been necessary, so far, for Wal-mart to absorb other big-box retailers, but make no mistake, that would be done with barely a breath lost. The reason Wal-mart would not do so is the same reason that Microsoft is glad to have Apple around - it's not a monopoly when there are more players in the market.

Of Note:
Fast Company's "The Wal-Mart You Don't Know" describes the supply chain process at Walmart

The public image Wal-Mart projects may be as cheery as its yellow smiley-face mascot, but there is nothing genial about the process by which Wal-Mart gets its suppliers to provide tires and contact lenses, guns and underarm deodorant at every day low prices. Wal-Mart is legendary for forcing its suppliers to redesign everything from their packaging to their computer systems. It is also legendary for quite straightforwardly telling them what it will pay for their goods.


PBS's Frontline asks the question "Is Wal-Mart Good For America" - the entire program is available online.

I've posted some more thoughts on retailing

Monday, November 29, 2004

Diplomadic Immunity

The Diplomad provides a sabre-rattling solution to the Cuban situation, soundly rebutted by Dylan Sherlock in his comments and blog.

The Diplomad recommends
... if necessary, at a time of our choosing use our military assets in a direct intervention in Cuba. We've charged half-way round the world to remove the menace and tyranny of Saddam, and yet we have an even greater menace just 90 miles offshore
Dylan Sherlock replies
If the State Department is concerned with reintroducing the Island of Cuba into America's sphere of influence they better not forget that it's not a geographic hunk of land on a map they're dealing with, but a whole nation which has had the last century to learn how to hate you. For whatever reason.
If you want to get revenge on Castro, steal the hearts of his people.
In another post on the Diplomad, the French inability to let go of their empire is scorned
We won't recount France's history in western Africa since WWII. Suffice it to say, that France never reconciled itself to giving up its empire there and, so, it hasn't.
As a post-colonial myself, I find it amusing that the erstwhile powers, the US included, still persist in last-millenium thoughts of control and economic authority. In a world of open markets, the post-colonial countries are free to choose their trading blocs independent of historical identity. While some of the success of post-colonial countries can be attributed to their colonial heritage, a la Sir Nirad Chaudhuri, it is not purely due to a Western education or perspective that countries like India, China and Japan are the rising stars of the global firmanent.

Western intervention across the world in the last five hundred years has produced a fractured world of malformed nation-states, each retreating to identity defined by tribalism and social compacts. Further, as India knows to its regret from its experiments with manipulation of neighboring countries like Sri Lanka, an unstable friend is an easy enemy. That's a topic for a separate post, though and shall be followed up.

Of Note:
Niall Ferguson's cautionary words are a good precis of the British Raj, and it's aftermath

Judicial Freedom

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has had a discordant history. Post the signing of the Rome Statute in 1998, it is only now commencing a few trials. Some large states such as India and the United States have refused to sign the treaty binding them to the dictates of the ICC, expressing concerns about the neutrality and safeguards of the ICC.

An article in the Times of India notes that the ICC can be seen as a more forceful body only if it comes out of the shadow of the United Nations.

Currently, the ICC is chartered by the United Nations, and it would require an amendment of the UN Constitution for true independence, but an independent judiciary is a necessary condition for due recognition of its mandate. The structure of the ICC also does not permit it to suo moto look into criminal matters. Either the UN or the Prosecutor of the ICC must bring matters such as the current case involving the Democratic Republic of Congo before itself.

From the Rome Statute, the legal powers of the ICC are:

  1. The Court shall have international legal personality. It shall also have such legal capacity as may be necessary for the exercise of its functions and the fulfilment of its purposes.
  2. The Court may exercise its functions and powers, as provided in this Statute, on the territory of any State Party and, by special agreement, on the territory of any other State.

The ICC exercises its jurisdiction if

  1. A situation in which one or more of such crimes appears to have been committed is referred to the Prosecutor by a State Party in accordance with article 14;
  2. A situation in which one or more of such crimes appears to have been committed is referred to the Prosecutor by the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations;
  3. The Prosecutor has initiated an investigation in respect of such a crime in accordance with article 15.
A step was taken in the direction of independence of the Court by the signing of a relationship agreement between the United Nations and the ICC on 4th October, 2004.

The United Nations recognizes the Court as an independent permanent judicial institution which, in accordance with articles 1 and 4 of the Statute, has international legal personality and such legal capacity as may be necessary for the exercise of its functions and the fulfilment of its purposes.
The relationship is a strong one, though, as

The United Nations and the Court shall make every effort to achieve maximum cooperation with a view to avoiding undesirable duplication in the collection, analysis, publication and dissemination of information relating to matters of mutual interest. They shall strive, where appropriate, to combine their efforts to secure the greatest possible usefulness and utilization of such information.


The United Nations itself has endorsed the essential importance of an independent judiciary by its adoption of The Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary in 1985. For many states, such as India and the United States, an independent judiciary is a safeguard against executive and parliamentary excess.

Thus, the ICC could serve as a check on the excesses of the member states, but only if it were independent of any inducements or concentrations of power from these states. A court is incapable of rendering judgement if its judgement cannot be enforced. Following this argument to its logical conclusion, the International Criminal Court would need an enforcement arm to be truly effective - an International Police System, as it were.

The refusal of large states to be bound by the terms of the Court set a bad example for smaller states. At the same time, the danger of the tyranny of the global majority of weak states cannot be under-estimated. The question of whether it is better to have a single, strong global policeman, or an army of petty warlords policing the world in their own image is not an easy one to answer.

Of Note:
ICC Resources at the Citizens for Global Solutions website has a variety of documents and news on the ICC

"The International Criminal Court: Global Politics and the Quest for Justice" provides an overview of the history and controversy surrounding the ICC

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Last Wilderness

Sir Edmund Hillary has criticized a US-British plan to build a 1600-km road through Antarctica linking McMurdo Station to the Amundsen-Scott base. He also chastised the UK for neglecting the huts used by Robert Falcon Scott and other early explorers.

He was in Antarctica for the christening of the Hillary Field Centre at Scott Base, a large warm store building. Sir Hillary had also erected the first building at Scott Base, the Trans-Antarctic Expedition hut. Apart from these ceremonies, the great explorer also commemorated the 25th anniversary of the crash of the Air New Zealand plane into the slopes of Mt Erebus in Antarctica. More than 250 people were killed in the disaster

The new road has been deemed environmentally acceptable by governments. It is in its third year of construction and has not yet advanced beyond the Ross Ice Shelf. McMurdo Sound is blocked by a giant iceberg, B15, hindering supply operations. Last week, the biggest chunk of the berg, B15A, ran aground and might make it impossible for ships to dock. It could take decades to melt and is a key impetus for the new road.
Professor MacAyeal says the iceberg has been acting like a big old surfboard in its haphazard course.

Two years ago it bashed up against Cape Crozier, blocking the resident Emperor colony's access to the open sea and not one penguin survived that year's breeding season.

B15A is also having a peculiar effect on Mt Erebus, the active volcano on Ross Island.

Eruptions have diminished markedly since the big berg began rubbing up against the island and bizarre acoustic sounds and tremors are being felt far into the Pacific.

"Mt Erebus is like a little baby that is being burped by a mother iceberg."
.........
"B15 demonstrates the power of the Antarctic continent.

"It is the only continent Man hasn't been able to permanently inhabit.

"It is the greatest wilderness on the planet. We really are here at the whims of the weather."


The issues over the construction of the road join the growing concerns of Russian drilling into Lake Vostok and other similar activities in the last human frontier on Earth. Perhaps related, Charles Cockell, Microbiologist with the British Antarctic Survey has proposed seven conservation areas on Mars that would be protected from future explorations and debris, unlike the despoiling of the Moon and now Antarctica.

Of Note:
Gap Adventures' Classic Antarctica Tour
The Classic Antarctica voyage is the ultimate introduction to the Great White Continent. Departing from and finishing in the port of Ushuaia, Argentina, this tour includes many of the wildlife and scenic highlights of the Antarctic Peninsula, Drake Passage and the South Shetland Islands. Enjoy wildlife viewing, visits to scientific bases and time to take in the breathtaking scenery of icy waterways, glaciers, icebergs and rugged mountains.
- $1780 USD

Take Lonely Planet's Antarctica along,
and 81:03 by Antarctica for listening on those long nights.


Mt Erebus

Confidencias - A Portuguese Blog

Interesting blog - Confidencias - in Portuguese - Google English translation probably does not do it justice.
now your eyes follow this to run of letters, your nose try to guess the aroma that they emanate, your palpita heart in the sighs of the brief seconds where you read me there it are, the night becomes gloomy in the freshness of moonlight, becomes gloomy enters the luminosity of the stars continues to follow the letters, to devagar. the heart exalta, the body vibrates in joy, smiles. in running of the letters, in the dark one of the night, the words are freed and written in the paper: my love, these letters are for you, love you.

blogpic
Some other interesting blogs are in the blogroll. One wishes one could understand more languages - I am conversant with French, German, and Hindi, besides English.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

An Age Of Discontent

An excellent article by Robert Samuelson, in Newsweek, titled "The Republic Of Turmoil" reviews a new one-volume economics history of the United States,"An Empire Of Wealth"
The supposedly placid past, once probed and explored, usually turns out to have been as jarring as the disruptive present. Something is always assaulting our sense of security and stability. We Americans say we like change, but we want it without troubling side effects. This is a mirage.
......
Gordon has written the best one- volume economic history of the United States in a long time and, perhaps, ever. Highly readable and fact-filled, it's basically optimistic. Gordon argues that America's success is rooted in a society that rewards people for being ambitious, taking risks and trying new ideas.
A discomfort with the present time is characteristic of fin de siecle civilizations. The cultural excesses also associated with fin de siecle times are perhaps engendered by a feeling of fatalism & changing mores. The late 19th century saw great revolutions in society. The changes of the late 20th and early 21st century may not seem as significant, but it cannot be denied that there an scent of change in the air, of social comment and barely suppressed discontent. Whether it is the conservative desire to turn back the clock to the days of Mckinley or the progressive call to arms via Mosh, the Age of Enlightenment may be giving way to a new age.The nature of the social evolution at stake may not be clear for some time to come. The revolution already engendered by globalization means that it will transform the entire world like few other human transformations have done.

Also Recommended:
Samuelson's own "The Good Life and Its Discontents : The American Dream in the Age of Entitlement"
Joseph Stiglitz' Globalization And Its Discontents

Friday, November 26, 2004

Tripping In The Twin Cities

Great trip so far in Minneapolis - staying across from the Mall. Everything was closed when we arrived, so we ended up going for a scrumptious buffet to the Mystic Lake Casino Hotel. The vast array of selections in the buffet included prime rib, roast turkey with all the trimmings, mahi-mahi, and what I thought was the best item - roast leg of lamb with mint sauce.
Mystic Lake
Did not try to catch any of the 5 AM sales - been there done that. The dealhunter sites - shall remain nameless - had most of the deals up for about two weeks. Portable DVD Players have dropped in price. We will pick up some LittleTouch Leap Pad books from Target - they've got a steal on them. Great product - if only the books were laminated. Apparently FAO Schwartz's New York store will reopen.

Came across 8 roadkill on the way from Milwaukee - 6 deer, a possum & a dog. The DNR of Wisconsin has a variety of information on deer, roadkill, and their CWD(Chronic Wasting Disease) Eradication Zones.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Mosh Continues

Post-election, Eminem's Mosh video, directed by Ian Inaba of the Guerrilla News Network has been redone with a new ending.
The original version of the video ends with Eminem's black hoodie mob casting their vote in an act of defiance against a corrupt and illegitimate regime. But voting was only part of the video's message. It was a larger call to arms for a generation alienated by a system that only sees young people as consumers, criminals or cannon fodder.

In this alternative ending for the video, we remind all those who were inspired by the first version to not give up the fight. In our corporation-controlled duopoly, sometimes you have to take other measures to have your voice heard.

The video now focuses on taking the people's dissent into the corridors of power. It's probably better to watch the video yourself. Strangely though, the earlier version is still the one getting airplay across the media.

I've been listening to "Encore" a lot over the last few days - I, for one, do not think he is played out. The music is great, the rhyming spectacular and the humor entertaining. My fav: "Ass Like That"

Credit Risks On The Frontline

Excellent program on Frontline today - The Secret History Of The Credit Card - ref Steve Rhodes at blogcritics.org

In typical Frontline fashion, various facets of the credit card industry are explored, with interviews featuring consumers, lobbyists, industry insiders and regulators.

Bill Janklow, erstwhile governor of South Dakota describes how Sioux Falls, SD, became a leading credit card processing center in the United States.
"It's unbelievable, the lack of sophistication that we have as a society to deal with what I'll call consumer credit," he says. "It really is unbelievable. Do I think I helped foster some of that? The answer is yes, I do."
Elizabeth Warren's views are very interesting - she is the author of The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke. She points out that this is the only industry that can retroactively change the price of a product after it is purchased. She cautions that the American consumer might soon reach a tipping point and refuse to put up with usurious terms from the credit industry.

An individual named Yingling who is a lobbyist for the industry has a sinister air - straight-facedly defending the rights of the industry to do whatever they pleased unilaterally. He insists on being the spokesperson for the industry and considers the ending of usury ceilings a good thing for the consumer.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, that regulates financial institutions, weighs in, describing how the OCC can enforce actions against fraudulent practices by banks and large institutions. The Frontline investigation, however, goes on to show how the state Attorneys General are being stifled and limited in their ability to deal with consumer issues by the OCC in a 'turf battle' between the federal agency and the states. The OCC's directive OCC AL 2002-3, is an interesting directive that provides "Guidance on Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices"
Banks and their operating subsidiaries should exercise diligence to ensure that, in marketing their products and services, they avoid violating applicable standards concerning unfair or deceptive acts or practices. Failure to comply with statutory and regulatory requirements may lead to administrative actions, including enforcement actions to address violations and to ensure appropriate corrective action; lawsuits; and civil penalties.
These guidelines however are tantamount to requesting a tiger baring its teeth not to eat its prey. Most terms are framed as guidelines, rather than explicit prohibitions.

The principle of more explicit disclosure, as pushed by Senators like Senator Chris Todd, has been stifled by financial industry lobbyists. He joins the crescendo of warnings, and hopes the industry will see sense before it is too late.

Probably the most interesting person interviewed in this compelling program is a secretive person called Andrew Kahr, who is a consultant for the credit card industry who came up with ideas such as lower minimum payments. He also invented the idea of a combined brokerage and checking account with a debit card. Some googling reveals that this individual was the founder of Providian, the giant San Francisco credit card company that was tarred and feathered for fraudulent and deceptive practices.

It is in fact interesting that a good portion of this Frontline episode is dedicated to describing Providian, and interviewing Andrew Kahr without connecting the dots.

An article describing some memos sent by Kahr to the Providian management states
In lending to the kinds of high- risk customers Providian specialized in, Kahr wrote, the "problem is to squeeze out enough revenue and get customers to sit still for the squeeze.".....
"Making people pay for access to credit is a lucrative business wherever it is practiced. . . . Is any bit of food too small to grab when you're starving and when there is nothing else in sight? The trick is charging a lot, repeatedly, for small doses of incremental credit.
Not surprisingly, Andrew Kahr opposes the concept of additional disclosures by the credit card industry in the Frontline program.

The excesses of the credit card industry have the potential to trigger a 'universal default' on the capitalist system. In a free-market economy, one that regulates itself, this might itself be just what the system needs. Then again, the lure of easy credit and the threat of being denied the same might mean a perpetuation of the current status quo for a long time to come.

Recommended Reading:
A Piece of the Action : How the Middle Class Joined the Money Class
Credit Card Nation: The Consequences of America's Addiction to Credit

Interestingly, googling "Credit Card Reform" for a strange reason returns most top 20 results in Australia - can Down Under be showing the way?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Review: Do Geese See God?, We, I've r

One has begun to look forward to Tuesdays and Amazon Theater's short film releases. The latest offering "Do Geese See God" is directed by music video director David Slade, and stars Blair Underwood.

Without giving too much away, the short film packs quite a bit of punch in it's tale of an urban man who must be at certain places at set times, directed by voices from animated vaudeville shorts, a bum's cell phone and subway payphones. The man is evidently searching for answers, and his Sisyphean labors are doomed to repeat until he finds them. He perhaps does so, in a bouquet of flowers, but then again, that might be another loop he must break, much like the quotidian realities we weave.

The product placement, as always in these made-for-retail shorts, is tight, though at times unaccountable. viz. a bum wearing K-Swiss Men's Classic shoes and toting an HP IPaq. The title is a common palindrome, made trite. It was perhaps better used in Wierd Al Yankovic's song 'Bob'. The inner salvation is mystical & ephemeral - a CD titled "Salvation Lies Inside" features a cartoon of dancing mice, the smell of a bouquet of roses is disturbed by the honking of car horns.

Blair Underwood puts his emotive skills to great use as Dr Awkward, his tension palpable, and amplified by the resonant beat. The soundtrack also features Pop Goes The Weasel, and at the climatic moment, Mozart's "Piano Concerto No 21".

David Slade has a full-length film coming out next year, Hard Candy, and has made various music videos.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Synchronicity

Today is the death anniversary of two fine people - both very different and of significance in different fields. John F Kennedy left his mark on a nation in a manner unparalleled in his job since. Aldous Huxley threw open doors that few had opened, hinting at the new world that lay beyond.

Another instance of two notable individuals seeing their demise on the same day in the same year is that of Mother Teresa & Princess Diana.

Mathematically, not very surprising of course.

Visiting Minnesota

I'll be visiting Minneapolis this weekend - should be fun. Photos et al will be posted. Hope to catch a couple of films as well, besides sampling the good eateries. Happy holidays!

The Bloviating Factor

Garry Trudeau does his take on the Bloviating Factor in the Sunday Doonesbury strip. I love it when Rev says "A gift from on high - Bill's vibrator".

This joins other classicisms such as Wonkette's "The Falafel must have gone to his head" and pointers on Bill's own "Let's Misbehave", via Majikthise.

Earlier this year, the Great Bloviator seemed to have toned down his rhetoric, if one can call it that, and the show was actually interesting. Post-facto the falafel factor, he seems to have taken on his detractors and Those Who Trespass head-on, which isn't such a bad thing, really - quite Irish, indeed.

Tales Of Passion

More thoughts on The Passion

One does not perceive it as overtly religious, contrary to expectations. The challenges depicted are central to the human condition. It is a very political film. The power sharing between the gubernator and Herod Antipas are evident, as is the covert relationship between the Jewish leaders and Pilate. The social pathos of the citizens is heart-breaking. Times were hard then, even without the oil curse.

The story excludes much, while still retaining a lot of the ambiguity of the events depicted. It is as if it were purely a slice in time, with no pre- or post-facto reality. The motives behind Judas' and Jesus' actions are barely explored. The subsequent events are barely referenced. The seed sown that day had repurcussions later, with the revolution of the Zealots.

Besides Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles, apparently only John was present.

Motives of Judas - greed, jealousy, Jesus' betrayal of the Nazarene creed, Peter as instigator, member of the Zealots

Simon of Cyrene is depicted well - the unwillingness of the stranger to be involved in political matters in a strange land.

A thought - Jesus' religion as a religion of women - cohort of women believers, inspired by Mary Magdalene. The appeal of Mary Magdalene and her apparent disawoval by the Roman Church is of special interest in this regard.

Mary, mother of Jesus has a compelling presence - she seems to be the only person who can see the agent of Discordia who tempts Jesus. Another aspect of the woman-centric appeal of the religion.

I have a special interest in this particular Mary - my family has ancestral ties to Murree in Pakistan, supposedly named after the resting place of the Mother Mary.

Recommended Reading:In Search of Jesus: Last Starchild of the Old Silk Road

Tomb of Mary

The wheel turns, and we move on.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Peace In The Name Of Love

I just finished watching The Passion, after putting it off for a very long time. As a film qua film, it is powerful and well-made. It draws a lot from films like The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, particularly in the early scenes, but has an original auteur-like flair.

As I began this review, I came across this positive piece on an anti-violence march in Cologne - a much needed reaction that multiplied, can make a difference. Of course, one would expect apologies by Government bodies when they kill in the name of peace, just as we applaud peace in the name of love.

The Bodhisattva Jesus did just that - his underlying compassion made him powerful, yet he died a Buddha, as he realized just before death that "It has been accomplished". The life condition at death is that which persists, into the undiscovered country.

To take on the karma of so many people is the burden of a Bodhisattva, for they remain on the earth to strive for the happiness of others. It is the price they pay for their compassion.

march

First Blood - The Real Ending

Perhaps capturing the zeitgeist, First Blood, the premier Rambo flick is being released as part of an Ultimate Edition DVD Box Set on Friday - the clincher to watch this one is the alternate ending for the first film never seen except by a few test audiences where Rambo commits suicide.

The frustration of the lone warrior against insurmountable Statist odds was probably too hardcore to convey in a jingo-istic film, the film-makers opting for the winner-takes-all ending. Of course, the real ending would have meant no sequels, unless they were titled "First Blood: Ghost Strike" and "First Blood: The Resurrection". Unfortunately, though, we were given First Blood: Kill Commie Charlie" and "First Blood: Blood Flood"

The new boxset follow on the heels of the Special Edition set last year, and mark a lamentable trend to milk the back-catalogs and the last years of the current DVD format. Worthy only to be viewed via Netflix, this is a film few haven't watched, if only as part of the attack of the innumerable clones.

Richard Crenna's Uncle Sam may not have the same resonance any more that it did when the film was released, and Rambo may have become the most common global term for mindless American-style heroism, but the film has had far-reaching, though trite, implications on the American Thriller, if not on the American psyche.

Not all such films are so effective - Indian films in the 1980s strove hard to display the angry disaffected hero fighting against social problems. Society did change, although not because of these films, at least not directly. As a matter of fact, the hidden subtext in these films, as in Rambo, Death Wish, Star Wars etc. is a warning against fighting evil lest you are willing to deal with the consequences and effects on your family and self, besides the world. The price paid is through redemption, yet that redemption often comes at a terrible cost.

Somewhat unrelated, but I predict the death of Amidala under dire circumstances in Star Wars III: The Revenge Of The Sith, and the subsequent turning of Anakin to the Dark Side.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Love Thy Enemy

In an unusual approach, Microsoft is providing the Firefox browser for download at their WindowsMarketplace site, ref Boingboing - and giving it rave reviews as well. Perhaps they are just spreading the love.

Mozilla Firefox is a fast, full-featured browser for Windows that makes browsing more efficient than ever before. Firefox includes pop-up blocking; a tab-browsing mode that lets you open several pages in a single window; integrated Google searching; simplified privacy controls that let you cover your tracks more effectively; a streamlined browser window that shows you more of the page than any other browser; and a number of additional features that work with you to help you get the most out of your time

While this might seem odd, Microsoft is possibly acknowledging the alternative, while still touting the benefits of tight integration between their browser and the Operating System. Firefox is a wonderful tool, although it isn't quite enterprise-ready yet. For example, it does not use the Group Policy settings of Windows, and stores its information in an external location to the registry. It is likely that Microsoft is planning a generational shift in browsing technology that might mean current browsers are left far behind - strange things lurk in Microsoft Research (C.A.R.Hoare, for one, and The World Wide Media Exchange, for another)

Best case scenario: Microsoft decides to start supporting independent browser development in a shared development model with the Mozilla foundation. Funds are provided and co-development provides bounties to everyone. That way, Big Green gets to keep an eye on the competition, and is seen as what it normally is not - a team player.

For some reason, the styleswitcher I have on my blog in the left sidebar doesn't work right with Internet Explorer. All it does is store a cookie and specify the stylesheet to be used. It works just fine in Firefox. Inputs are welcome.

In case the WindowsMarketplace item is pulled down,here is a permalink to Firefox via Microsoft
firefox

Watching The Wire

I'm starting a marathon of watching The Wire from the beginning - never really done it and always meant to.

Gripping, dark, urban post-noir

Great writing - more later

Amazon seems terribly slow today - not good, the weekend before Thanksgiving

David Simon on the commentary,

...story about the American city, and how we live together...how we are all compromised by the institutions we belong to


It's a story of the excluded, and marginalized in society. The cops and the FBI in the Wire are far smarter than their counterparts in the Sopranos. The layered stories should develop pretty well - lots more to sift through and digest

Unusual Gifts

A gift for a special someone this Thanksgiving, perhaps...

ad

Other gifts worthy of note:

Bitter women coasters
Jaded and disgusted by love? You're not alone! Our Bitter Women Coasters by Anne Taintor feature vengeful male-bashing ladies, and are a must for any well-stocked bar! The themed set contains six coasters,
Coasters

get-lucky dice from RedEnvelope dice
Getting lucky just got easier. Our set of four pewter dice is inscribed with action words, body parts and parts of speech. Take turns rolling the dice and acting out the various commands such as "Brush lips against back." Includes one wild-card body part best left to the imagination


Need more? Findgift.com has some ideas.

Finding North in Texas

Sometimes where you are heading isn't where you end up going. Especially in the post-modern urban zeitgeist. Finding North is a film about friendship, romance and a road trip featuring a 30-year old Jewish princess and a casual gay New Yorker mourning the loss of his husband.

She encounters him, first as a jumper from the Brooklyn Bridge, then assumes he is a birthday stripper and ends up tagging along with him to Texas, where he must fulfil a series of oddball tasks set him as a coda on a tape left him by his lover. The characterization is strong, the humor pithy and dark, and lessons are learnt without being boring.

Intelligent direction by Tanya Wexler is coupled with gentle acting by John Benjamin Hickey. Wendy Makkena's slightly off-the-wall Brooklyn jitter is right at home in Red State Texas. The Texans are warm, friendly and accepting even though the local movie theater shows a sign saying "He said Commandments, not Suggestions"

Films like this should possibly be required watching for anyone contemplating the gay marriage debate. The denouement is perhaps the dark scene in the cemetery where Travis lays to rest his past, in a way and moves on to find North, jellybeans, love and all.

"Sure as hell can't get any further South, might as well start finding North"

That sounds like pretty good advice for a fractured world.
Finding North

Friday, November 19, 2004

Neat T-Shirts

tshirts
Great tees and sweatshirts with some cool imprints over at Sophisticated Shirts

I like the one with Sherlock HolmesHolmes

Their shipping line has it "we ship the entire EARTH". The company behind these shirts is "America's T-Shirt Catalog" based in Indiana. Good stuff:) Gonna get me one



Hosted Stories

I'm providing permalinks to Cory Doctorow's story 'Anda's Game under the Creative Commons License in html and txt form in the left sidebar. Please send me other versions if you would like me to host them

Please mail me if you would like to host any other stuff.

Also, I would like advice on how best to upload and host articles I've had published in newspapers/magazines, etc.

Mac-a-ro-nies

Mac-a-ro-nies is an intelligent, interesting blog that is unafraid of taking the other, less-espoused side. A recent example:
Two third-party candidates are performing a public service. Ralph Nader and David Cobb have sought recounts of ballots in the race for president. The recounts will test the accuracy of Diebold Election Systems, Inc. voting machines. By taking the initiative, the candidates for president bypass the issue of standing to challenge election results most citizens would face. They also get good publicity for themselves. But, nothing is perfect. I commend them for assuming the cloak of 'statesman'.
Do not confuse this person with the European word from the 18th century for people who adoped high fashion once they went on the Grand Tour

The word came to denote the people who dressed in high fashion with stripes and tall, powdered wigs with a little hat on top - so high that it could only be removed on the point of a sword.
The word 'macaroni' came to refer to a person who exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion and it eventually became a pejorative term. Exceeding the 'ordinary bounds of fashion' was what the macaronies did best - in terms of clothes, eating and gambling. It was certainly not at all the image of a man that was expected by British society at the time. The term macaroni, then, may have been used as a form of insult.

Macaronies were considered liberal to the extreme, in a pejorative sense. Ref Christopher Anstey's poem "Liberality, or the Decayed Macaroni"
Alas! what Misfortunes attend
The Man of a liberal Mind!
How poor are his Thanks at the End,
From base and ungrateful Mankind!
....
My free and humane Disposition
(Thank Heaven) I ever have shewn
To all in a helpless Condition,
Whose Fortunes I'd first made my own:
liberal. Free, bountiful, generous; also gentlemenlike. (Dictionarium Britannicum, 1730)

Those aren't such bad attributes to espouse, methinks.
Macaroni

I'll Have Wings With That

Unusual controversy sparked between Hooters and Ker's Winghouse over whose idea it was to serve babes with beer.Crawford Ker played college football for the University of Florida Gators.Crawford was a 3rd round draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys in 1985. He spent six years with the Cowboys where he was team captain for 4 of those years and was named to the Cowboys "Team of the 80's". Crawford left the Cowboys and played for the Denver Broncos for 2 seasons.

Crawford retired after the 1993 season and opened the original WingHouse in Largo, Florida in 1994. There are now 13 Winghouses in Florida.


winghouse calendarThat's a great offer - worth considering if you like your beer and babes in the privacy of your own home.

My money's on Ker's Winghouse - hopefully opening soon near me.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Kyoto or Bust!

The Kyoto Protocol, the UN's longtroubled pact for combating global warming, finally got the green light on Thursday, with February 16 announced as the date when it will become a binding treaty.

Russia ratified the Kyoto accord in a ceremony in Nairobi enabling the Protocol to enter into force 90 days from the 19th of November, 2004 - thus the Protocol will come into effect on February 16, 2005. This is nearly seven years after the framework was agreed upon by the UN Framework Convention On Climatic Change at the 1992 Rio Summit.

Soon after taking office, President George W Bush branded the Kyoto Protocol unfair and refused to ratify the accord, even though the United States had signed the agreement in 1997. The concerns expressed by the United States are because the primary onus to make cuts is on the largest developed nations, and not on growing nations like China and India.

Only four industrialised countries - Liechtenstein and Monaco, plus Australia and the United States - now remain outside the Kyoto Protocol.For the protocol to come into force it needed the support of countries that accounted for more than 55% of the industrialised nations' 1990 greenhouse gas emissions. When the US said it would not sign up, this crucial threshold looked out of reach but Russia's approval has finally swung it, taking the percentage of emissions covered from 44.2% to 61.6%.

Concerns about the Greenhouse Effect are not new, first voiced by Jean Baptiste Fourier in 1827. The post-World War II boom saw a rise in CO2 emissions worldwide. A red flag was raised in 1979 by the US National Academy Of Sciences, warning that a 'wait-and-see attitude may mean waiting until it is too late'. While that might seem like a line from The Day After Tomorrow, recent readings are troubling. The year 1998 was the warmest since formal readings began being collected, and nine of the ten warmest years in the record are all post-1990. Various scientists have termed the major storms experienced worldwide signs of growing Global Warming. Reinsurer Munich Re estimated the cost of climate-related disasters in 2003 at $60 billion.

The implications of the ratification of the Accord are yet to be determined. It is to be hoped that the retreat of the largest producer of greenhouses gases from the treaty will not have left this tiger without any teeth. At this point, despite ratification by the industrialized nations, most do not have controls and processes in place that can effectively track the usage of GHGs.

The market that will doubtless develop in 'emission credits' will bring interesting side effects. Countries could form new trading blocs that carry significant economic clout as well. By not being a part of the Accord, the United States could be excluded from these trading blocs.
doonesbury global warming

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

By Jingo!

The current Patrician of Ankh-Morpork is Lord Havelock Vetinari, who has proved to be quite different from his predecessors.. Most members of the office were content merely to guide and serve. Lord Vetinari, instead believes in calm sense and rule over less intelligent, benighted peoples is best done through guiding them.
Under his rule, crime has dropped (well, illegal crime, anyway), Ankh-Morpork has prospered, and provided one doesn't commit suicide it's a decent place to live. His Lordship is against unnecessary violence (while being bang on the side of necessary violence, of course), and is remarkably tolerant - he will allow anything which does not threaten the wellfare of the city. Well, he does have anyone caught practicing mime inside the city walls hung upside down over a scorpion pit, but that's really his only failing, if you can even call it that.
The Vetinari family motto is "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". He is a master at seeding the right person in the camp of his rivals, and in fact, if his rivals do not realize it themselves, making them into better rivals. In doing so, he often solves a problem before it is a problem, by making it into a problem that can be solved.
'And these are your reasons, my lord?'
'Do you think I have others?' said Lord Vetinari. 'My motives, as ever, are entirely transparent.'
Hughnon reflected that 'entirely transparent' meant either that you could see right through them or that you couldn't see them at all.
It reminds one of the current political adviser of the President, Karl Rove. Early in his career, he stole letterheads from a rival's office and printed fliers romising "free beer, free food, girls and a good time for nothing". He then distributed the fliers in Chicago' s red-light district, rock concerts and homeless shelters. It takes a special kind of intelligence for a prank of this sort. Other whisper campaigns are rumored to have been his handiwork, including the one against John McCain.
"Karl is enormously powerful, maybe the single most powerful person in the modern, post-Hoover era ever to occupy a political adviser post near the Oval Office," John DiIulio, a former presidential adviser, wrote in a notoriously frank email to a journalist from Esquire magazine, after resigning in 2001. "Little happens on any issue without Karl's OK, and often he supplies such policy substance as the administration puts out."
Lord Vetinari says in The Truth,
[The news] reached the cold but incredibly accurate ears of the Patrician, and it did that fairly quickly, because you did not stay ruler of Ankh-Morpork for long if you were second with the news. He sighed and made a note of it, and added it to a lot of other notes.
As Wikipedia has it,
Strangely enough, Vetinari has no lust for power. The sole reason for him ruling the city is that he is fiercely loyal to it.
Karl Rove has similar aspirations
Rove, the President's most trusted political strategist and arguably one of the shrewdest man in Washington, won't publicly acknowledge the outcome of the midterms as any kind of personal affirmation. He'll attribute the Republican gains in the House and Senate to the intelligence of the voters or the general mood of the country. Or, more likely, he'll point to the President's appeal - Rove has no time for basking in past successes. This self-described "very competitive guy" is already moving on to the next big thing
His vision is focused on larger things than a re-election. Much like Lord Vetinari, who is duly relected yearly by a committee of Ankh-Morpork's leading families, Karl Rove is looking beyond everyday politics. The Guardian believes he would like to establish a Republican hegemony similar to that effected by William Mckinley with his defeat of William Jennings Bryan in 1896

Of course, the one difference with Lord Vetinari and Karl Rove is that Vetinari rules in absentia of Ankh-Morpork's King, sitting on a chair below the empty Throne of the city. It would be hard to deny the genius of this masterful politican and king-maker, although his detractors have considered Karl Rovian a synonym for Machiavellian. People tend to credit him with much, even when he isn't involved. I'm sure he wouldn't mind that at all. I mean, Lord Vetinari, of course.

Lord Vetinari

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Review: Agent Orange

Amazon Theater gets more and more interesting. After last week's short film - Portrait by relative unknown <>, this week's offering is 'Agent Orange' by well-known director Tony Scott, who did films like Top Gun, Man On Fire and Enemy Of The State. He comments on Amazon Theater over at Amazon.

This film is a rapid video montage done using a hand-cranked camera and set in the confines of a subway station, possibly in LA. The visuals are rapid, imbued with green, yellow and orange hues, and set to music from Mozart's Marriage Of Figaro,Ruggiero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci and what sounds like Kid Rock's Baby, Come Home

You know I checked in New York City

On the streets and on the subways

And I looked around that tired town to find the one who loved me


I looked out in the Hamptons thought she'd be hangin' with them rich folks

But no she wasn't anywhere hangin' on the east coast


As usual, Orange Boy and Orange Girl are decked out in accoutrements drawn from Amazon's product list, such as the Fossil Orange Metal watch and Chuck Converse Taylor Hi-Tops in Tangerine. The innovative pi/2 discount by Amazon if you query and then buy via a9.com is an added bonus

In short, Orange Boy notices Orange Girl in the hubbub of a subway station, digicams her, see her again, misses her, posts wanted ads for her that do not last, and finalement, they meet, exchanging IM greetings to live Happily Ever After.

Trite and commercial, yet this short film encapsulates post-modern disconnectedness, the splintered transient urban life and impermenance of it all in a powerful manner. Notably, the only spoken dialogue, apart from station announcements, is a voice over soundbite intoning "The Best strategy is to move quickly"

Burning The Self

Self-immolation is a terrible, yet somehow non-violent mode of protest. The recent attempt by an alleged FBI Information in front of the White House may be an isolated incident, but the form of protest is not new. Thoughts on self-immolation as a mode of protest are at blogcritics.org

Self-immolation is a nihilistic action at best, it achieves no results for the individual, apart from bringing to society's attention the alleged wrongs.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Playing Anda's Game

Cory Doctorow has posted a spanking new and good story called 'Anda's Game' at Salon.com under a Creative Commons License(day pass or subscription reqd. - a kind of DRM, methinks). To make it easier for you to read - I'm providing Anda's Game text and html versions - also under a Creative Commons License.

As is par for Cory's work, the topics are cutting edge - dealing with ebay-driven in-game economics, dietary restrictions on kids,anti-globalization criticism, puns on the Bradbury/Moore controversy and female rights a la SuicideGirls(?). In another time, a little girl might play with a golliwog, a Barbie or a teaset. In this post-modern age, she is a skilled character in a game that borrows from Everquest, Ray Bradbury, Quake and Tolkien - more a killer than a wayfarer. Her participation in, and then disavowal of, an in-game conspiracy to terminate characters who produce in-game gold to be sold for real money on ebay, is bracketed with the onset of youthful diabetes, induced perhaps by the sweetshops just outside the 500 m sugar-free zone at her school.


"Anda, I don't think it's healthy for you to spend so much time with your game," her da said, prodding her bulging podge with a finger. "It's not healthy."

"Daaaa!" she said, pushing his finger aside. "I go to PE every stinking day. It's good enough for the Ministry of Education."

"I don't like it," he said. He was no movie star himself, with a little pot belly that he wore his belted trousers high upon, a wobbly extra chin and two bat wings of flab hanging off his upper arms. She pinched his chin and wiggled it.

"I get loads more exercise than you, Mr Kettle."

"But I pay the bills around here, little Miss Pot."

"You're not seriously complaining about the cost of the game?" she said, infusing her voice with as much incredulity and disgust as she could muster. "Ten quid a week and I get unlimited calls, texts and messages! Plus play of course, and the in-game encyclopedia and spellchecker and translator bots!" (this was all from rote -- every member of the Fahrenheits memorised this or something very like it for dealing with recalcitrant, ignorant parental units) "Fine then. If the game is too dear for you, Da, let's set it aside and I'll just start using a normal phone, is that what you want?"

Anda is an individualistic spirit, well defined and smart, though the ma and da characters are a bit thinly drawn and stereotypical.The language is very British, as is the spelling. The story joins Cory's significant and growing corpus of work, including my favorite, Eastern Standard Tribe. Quite some food for thought here, as well as a gameworld that begs to be explored, written about and played.

The concept of in-game dynamics and offline resonances was experienced recently in the MMORPG "A Tale In The Desert" with some in-game racist comments. Virtual economics is a dynamic field, with the Everquest economy larger than that of Bulgaria, and virtual economic disputes being settled in human courts.

Update: Excellent reviews of the story are provided by Derryl Murphy and the Mumpsimus

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Searching For Stupidity

While most organizations are in search of Excellence, it is perhaps more instructive to learn from Stupidity. After all, it's the flameouts, snafus and 'Himalayan blunders' that make the difference between being on top and not.

Merrill Chapman's In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters anecdotally tells of high-tech marketing disasters, and in the telling, covers the fabulous history of information technology, from SoftRAM to WebVan.

Talking about "In Search Of Excellence", he notes that
Most of In Search of Excellence ... functions as the corporate equivalent of the Kama Sutra...America's affair with excellence seems endless...Yet, despite all the talking, walking, and communicating, high-tech firms kept doing stupid things. Again and again and again.
He also points out that the book was intended as a balm for the wounded American corporate ego after the Japanese successes of the 1980s, and featured only American companies, many of which later flamed out, although the obsession with excellence never did.

This book is intended as a riposte to Excellence, besides a personalized history of technology. Several ancedotes stand out, including why CP/M never made it as the operating system for the IBM PC (think pricing: $240 vs $40), the demise of the video gaming industry in the 1980s (E.T.) and

He goes looking for idiocy in high places, and finds it. He remembers the TI99/4A, a home computing system that
  • Was shipped with no way to write software for it
  • Threatened publishers who did figure out how to write software for it
  • Hid the existence of a built-in language to write software
  • Provided no storage system
  • Lost $50 per unit shipped

The misadventures of MicroPro and the demise of WordStar are lovingly detailed, the author having been product manager at MicroPro, including the signal idiocy to provide two versions of the same software with the same name, yet different markets and probably the first use of 2000 in a product name with WordStar 2000 in 1984.

Comparing the lists of the top ten software publishers from 1984 and 2001, he notes the only commonality is Microsoft. He postulates the point, possibly considered establishmentarian by some, that they were the only ones not to make a fatal mistake. A chapter is dedicated to debunking various myths about Microsoft, including poor quality and market monopolies, assigning the success of Microsoft to Zen-like marketing.

The centerpiece of the book is a collection of dated advertisements for equally dated computer products. My favorite is the one for OS/2 warp, intoning "The Borg is here", perhaps ungrammatically.

Other books have studied the success of some companies and the failure of others, notably Good To Great by Jim Collins and The Innovator's Solution by Clayton Christensen. All dwell on the disprutive nature of success and the inability to stay successful. Rarely, though does a book use stupidity as a measure of success. It is surprising how now-ancient events have a strangely familiar ring, but then people don't really learn from their mistakes and stupidity, do they?

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Neo soul - John Legend

I've posted a review of John Legend's song Used To Love You at blogcritics.org. I find this a pleasant listen, as well as a good video.

On closer watching, the backstory is quite deep - apparently, John has had past troubles with the lady over her dissatisfaction with his mode of loving. Another member of the church is more expansive, in a bling-bling way. Another lady perhaps fancies John. And I think the pastor has a thing for a certain other member.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Scram, a journal of unpopular culture

Scram, a journal of unpopular culture has some eclectic material, put together by the editrix, and others. As the caption has it,


SCRAM is a magazine dedicated to rooting out the cashews in the bridge mix of unpopular culture. Since 1992 we have chronicled the neglected, the odd, the nifty and the nuts.


Rod Mckuen's 68th Birthday - notes from the Hollywood Walk of Fame by diehard fans of the singer/songwriter - is a good example of the content.

Well, doll, you really had to be there, but I'll try to convey something of the magic with mere words... we met up at 2pm on Rod's star, directly opposite the Scientology personality test center and in front of a T-shirt and souvenir shop. The first order of business was to deck the star with wild roses, because our birthday boy has made it known that he's strong, but he likes roses. Folks then took turns sharing their favorite pieces of Rod's amd their own poetry, while the sax, guitar, bongo (singular) and Maggot's weird gourd/xylophone combo offered mostly tasteful accompaniment


Hi-horse cover

Some cool links on their site, including, The Catalog of Cool and Hi-Horse Comics


Music is a Strange Hobby

Excellent first thoughts on U2's new album,How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, detailing much of the musical excellence that one's come to expect from U2.

There's also a challenge facing music fans and critics alike when listening to How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb: Is it good enough for U2 to be U2 and create good songs in their signature style or must they continue the Achtung Baby-Zooropa-Pop trajectory of constant reinvention and pushing the limits of their sound? Your answer to these questions will probably have a lot to do with your reaction to the new album. I'll break it down, song by song.
A more detailed review is at blogcritics, but still early thoughts.

The album title is provocative, and warrants further deconstruction. It reminds one of college textbooks, or hobbyist manuals, but who would be in such a college, and what kind of hobby? Apparently, the answer to the eponymous question is 'Love', which is somehow not quite satisfying.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Amazon Theater's Portrait - Ugly Duckling And The American Dream

Amazon.com has launched Amazon Theater, a venue for short films online. The first offering, Portrait, can be reviewed at two levels - firstly as a vehicle for product placement - the film is choc-a-bloc with featured Amazon products, ranging from the Jabra wireless headset, the Nokia 6600 Phone and the Nordstrom tote. In fact, the credits at the end of the nine-minute film cover more products than people. Amazon is after all, a vehicle to sell products, and at least this is more an aboveboard vehicle than the hidden placement a la films like The Cat In The Hat.

The second way of looking at Portrait is as a film qua film. It is a film encapsulating in its short length corporate cat-fights, compulsive eating, spam filters, the myth of the beauty inside, and above all, the American fascination with the Ugly Duckling tale.
esther before esther after
In brief, the story is about 4 corporate divas, one of whom is not as svelte, glamorous or sharp as the rest. She answers an email that got through multiple spam filters - one sent by Bud's Glamour Shots and has her portrait taken by them. She shows the portrait to her 'friends', only to meet ridicule and scorn. She goes home, and cries herself to sleep. The next morning she wakes to find herself, and the portrait, transformed to something out of the glamour magazines.

A longer film, and perhaps a more satirical director might have turned this story into Dorian Gray meets the Ugly Duckling. Instead, the remaining frames deal with Esther's showing herself off in front of the corporate honchos, and to drive the point of the 'moral' in, the head honcho has her portrait done, only to find her true nature coming out.

Cinematically, the film is structured as a play, retaining the three unities, and features good acting by the cast, which includes Minnie Driver. It is directed by Jordan Scott, better known for music videos

The combination of consumerism and the American dream is not new, but the introduction of Amazon Theater is an interesting step in an unusual direction, and subsequent entries shall be awaited with interest.

Halo 2 - Reviewed

The deed's done - I picked up Halo 2 pursuant my previous post. I was unable to resist. The store was close, the display more tempting than one could imagine. First impressions are at blogcritics.org.

XBox Live experiences & review will be posted once I've spent enough time online with other Master Chiefs. I hear one can even play as a Covenant member.

I'm off to save the world!

The Slacker's Guide To Winning Elections

After Michael Moore's smart but wasted effort to get out the slacker vote, we now learn that the reason they didn't bother voting in the end was because they were hacking the vote. The knock-yer-socks-funny expose is at IMAO.

Frank: So was it hard hacking the vote?
Hacker1: Sorta, but Diebold gave us easy to follow instructions.
Hacker2: We totally owned all the votes.
Hacker1: Totally.
Hacker2: It was funny to see the Democrats try and cheat the old-fashioned way. They can bring in all the dead people they want
to vote, but we'll just change their votes to Republican in the end.
Hacker1: (laughs) I bet you didn't know this, but Michael Moore voted for Bush.
Hacker2: (laughs) He doesn't know it either.


I guess that would be a good plot for a Kevin Smith movie

slacker

SlackersGuild had a 'Get out the vote' message - unfortunately the slacker editor posted it on the 4th of November.

Carpe Diem et Jugulum

Note: An abbreviated version of this post is at blogcritics.org - I welcome your comments.

A tide has turned once again in the affairs of men, a chance to break the oil curse that haunts our most ancient lands. The old man of the desert has passed on to another oasis - ironically on Armistice Day.

Yasser Arafat's much-rumored demise became truth early Thursday in Paris, city of lights. His last days were murky, as was much of his life.Yet he was given in the end, that rarest of gifts, a death serene and not by the sword. The challenge of the leadership of the Palestinian peoples is second only to the gravity of seeing a leading actor on the stage pass, his hour done, his role ended - the lion in winter is now no more.

The fact that his biography on wikipedia is disputed is apposite, given that much of his life was spent in dispute and Muhammad Abd al-Rahman ar-Rauf al-Qudwah al-Husayni had a colorful, variegated, violent, hated yet loved time. He was part of another era almost, one where dark deeds were done dirt cheap, one where absolute friends were constant enemies, and one where to love one's country might have been deemed a crime.

Known for memorable quotes like


"I come bearing an olive branch in one hand, and the freedom fighter's gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."
he had made more enemies than friends, yet many will be called on now to say a fair word, not in defence but in respect. He was close to Indira Gandhi, the assasinated Prime Minster of India.

Indira Gandhi had immense liking for Arafat and the PLO leader would not get tired of calling her "my sister, my sister". Arafat was overwhelmed when Mrs. Gandhi visited his high security headquarters in Tunis in April 1984 and, this correspondent accompanying her, saw the genuine concern the Indian Prime Minister had for the PLO leader. She went to Tunisia while on her way back to Delhi after paying a state visit to Libya at the insistence of Col. Muammar Gaddafi. That, unfortunately, turned out to be last of her foreign visit; she was assassinated on October 31, 1984. Arafat was the one who cried bitterly.

His people are hard-headed, wronged, and hurt. Yet they have often harmed their cause. And the man who could have made a difference, perhaps indeed did, is now as silent as the dunes of the desert. He was after all, not the Mahdi, nor a Leto Atreides.

The words from Terry Pratchett's Carpe Jugulum come to mind,

It wasn't that they didn't take an interest in the world around them. On the contrary, they had a deep, personal and passionate involvement in it, but instead of asking "why are we here?" they asked "is it going to rain before the harvest?"

A philosopher might have deplored this lack of mental ambition, but only if he was really certain about where his next meal was coming from.

In fact Lancre's position and climate bred a hard-headed and straightforward people who often excelled in the world down below. It had supplied the plains with many of their greatest wizards and witches and, once again, the philosopher might have marveled that such a four-square people could give the world so many successful magical practitioners, being quite unaware that only those with their feet on rock can build castles in the air.


Arafat
It is to be hoped that the people of Palestine can indeed build their castles, and move on past this moment in history once the mourning is over, and that the hot-headedness of his people is not a cause for further pain and suffering - there has been too much of that already.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Willing To Swap

Look no further to satisfy your wildest dreams - a moment you've been waiting for. The fulfilment of a fantasy so unreal it will make your grandmother blush.

I can't believe I'm willing to make this offer. After waiting, and waiting, having my hopes dashed time and again, promises made and not kept, the day finally dawned on Tuesday, the 9th of November. By all rights I should be home with the fulfilment of my dreams - the one I've waited two years for.

Somehow, though, I'm not. Call it sacrilegious, but I wish it was about a year hence and I had with me what I'm really waiting for.

So here goes - I'll give you Halo 2 on the PlayStation 2 - if you'll give me GTA - San Andreas on the XBox now.

I mean, think about it. Consider Master Chief pounding across your television screen on your PS2. The fragfest, the Covenant Elite, the protection of Earth. Double-handed weapons and maneuvering the Ghost - nothing could be better, right?

Well, I'd rather be pounding the streets of Los Santos, while I rake up respect. I wish I was playing in the casinos of Las Venturas, jacking a Triad vehicle or just flexing my muscles in the gym.
gta sa
Unfortunately for me, though, those mysterious exclusivity clauses in the Rockstar contract preclude my satisfaction. Therefore I must either satisfy myself with the older members of the Rockstar family, or forfeit my passion for the doubtless satisfying but inadequate pleasures of the new chief on the block.

halo 2

Note: I couldn't really resist and bought Halo 2 yesterday. My first impressions are at blogcritics.org

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Reshuffling The Deck

The first rearrangements in the house of cards that is a political structure, happen soon after an election. The reinvigorated Bush adminstration has announced the resignation of the head of the Justice Department, John Ashcroft, and the Commerce Secretary, Donald Evans. Link to handwritten letter of resignation here. Also, Drudge 'reported' this a couple of days ago - hmmm

According to the BBC,

Correspondents say Secretary of State Colin Powell, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta may also be considering their future.

On Friday, the State Department official in charge of counter-terrorism, Cofer Black, who reports to Mr Powell, announced he would be stepping down


In other countries, an appeasement of the multi-facted parliamentary parties is done by bloating the cabinet - India's cabinet has had 30+ ministers. The power of the cabinet, however, is often muzzled by checks and balances. A reshuffle can be done to return favors or to silence critics. This serves to keep a healthy tension between the head of state/prime minister and the cabinet. Oftentimes, though, the cabinet is only a rubberstamp for the policy dictates of the boss. In reality, all cabinets serve as mouthpieces for the bureaucrats & civil service.

As Humphrey might say, Yes, Prime Minister!

humphrey yes minister

Bollywood Bound, Netflix First

Netflix has been promoting innovative independent film-makers via it's Netflix First program. It has tie-ups with documentary and independent film labels such as Docudrama to bring some pretty interesting pictures to us.

A few of the films in the Netflix First collection include

  • No Maps For These Territories - Profile of the influential writer William Gibson who coined the term “cyberspace” and wrote seven science fiction novels including Neuromancer and the short story and screenplay for Johnny Mnemonic. The film features original music by Bono and The Edge from U2.
  • Croupier - Director Mike Hodges sticks a knife into London's gambling underbelly and lets it rip in this smart, sexy crime thriller. Would-be writer Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) lands a job as a croupier so he can stand behind the dealer's table and watch the passing parade of human desperation.
  • Such A Long Journey - Set against the backdrop of the 1971 India-Pakistan conflict, Such a Long Journey is a funny, heartfelt drama that underscores both political and personal crisis. Roshan Seth is a bank clerk and family man whose life begins to slowly fall apart despite his best efforts. Mixing family drama and political intrigue, this adaptation of Rohinton Mistry's acclaimed novel is a masterpiece of modern Indian cinema.

Most of the films are documentaries, and therefore may carry the bias of the documentarian. Some film-makers acknowledge this openly. Others, leave the message in the medium for the discerning viewer. For example, one of the films in the collection is Voices Of Iraq.

The producers of this groundbreaking documentary distributed 150 digital video cameras across Iraq to enable everyday people -- mothers, children, teachers, sheiks, even insurgents -- to voice their perspectives on issues such as war, terror and the democratic reform. The result is a unique tableau documenting Iraqis' lives and their hopes as they struggle with years of turmoil and striveto build a civil society.

This is indeed an interesting documentary, but one must take into account the producers, Voices Of Freedom have a right-wing slant, per the reviews on Netflix, and therefore might lack some objectivity.

VOICES OF IRAQ begins as though it really will give you a host of different voices (and maybe even different views) of the Iraqi people today. Initially you do hear conflicting reports (It was better under Saddam; it was worse. We are living in fear and destruction; we are making real progress). Then, slowly, the footage and verbiage turns amazingly positive and glowing, while anything negative is relegated to the period prior to the US attack. We are treated to so much footage of Saddam's horrors (including a mention of how he favored Al Qaeda people over any other Iraqis--a first, as far as I know, since Osama bin Laden has spoken out directly against Saddam) that the movie forgets it's supposed to feature Iraqis talking about today. "Now" does not exist in this film. Nowhere do we see the U.S. attacks, bombs going off, anything that might be construed as bad for this "Iraq," which is a wonderland where electricity works, water flows, people laugh and pursue their dreams of a better life--and (almost) everyone loves America. Who, exactly, passed out these 150 video-cams, and how did they choose such a select group of happy campers? Who chose the locations in which to film, avoiding any and all bloodshed and violence (except of course in the former Saddam footage)? Why does nothing shown here jibe with what we are reading or seeing in our American or international news? According to the British journal Lancet, approximately 100,000 Iraqi civilians are now dead in the wake of America's attack. This despicable documentary gives them no hearing, no justice, not even an f-ing nod of the head. Shame on the sleazy group that is foisting this pernicious propaganda on the American public just prior to election day.

Netflix First thus fulfils one of the elements of good film criticism, serving as a medium for discourse about film.

I recently saw a documentary titled Bollywood Bound through this program. It is a study of four post-colonial Canadian-born and raised Indians, coming back to India in an attempt to rediscover their identity, as well as strike it big in Bollywood, India's version of Hollywood. Bollywood produces many more films than Hollywood, about 800 a year. Most are generic song-and-dance routines, although, some filmmakers have been stretching the envelope, both in Bollywood terms, as well as of film itself.

The film ably captures the emotions of the colonial diaspora, bringing together East and West, amalgamating tony Canadian accents with Bombay slang. Bombay, itself, comes across as a city to rival all cities, a city filled with gusto, a Maximum City
.
Highly recommended as a tonic to wean one away from reality shows, Bollywood Bound is a movie to watch.

india collage



Finalist - Silver Clitorides October

A story of mine(warning: adult) has been nominated and is a finalist in the October Silver Clitorides awards.

It's a fanfic on Joey, the spin-off from Friends. I do find the show rather funny, and it's a treat to watch Drea de Matteo.

I've been thinking of continuing it in some other directions. Will do so, soon.

Chillingeffects has some FAQs on Fanfic, although I like the Literotica fanfic disclaimer:

The stories in the "Celebrity" section of Literotica are all fictional parodies - none are true, nor are they approved of by the celebrities named in the stories. Authors write these fictitious stories about famous people for the same reason that Larry Flynt made fun of Jerry Falwell, because they can. The Supreme Court of the United States, the country where this site is located, has ruled that parodies involving famous people are perfectly and totally legal under the United States Constitution. The specific case law on this was decided in the case of "Hustler Magazine, Inc. et al. v. Jerry Falwell" in 1988. No harm is intended toward the celebrities featured in these stories, but they are public figures and in being so, they must accept that they are fair target for parodies by the public. We believe in the first amendment, and more broadly, in the basic principle of free speech and this section may push the boundaries of that principle, but the United States Supreme Court has approved of this type of material. We believe that the Supreme Court was correct in their decision.
Here is a random story selector for the literotica celeb/fanfic section


Monday, November 08, 2004

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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader