Sunday, January 28, 2007
It was actually pretty awesome to watch. Williams’s opponent was a slim young Russian girl, and I think the announcers mentioned she was the number one in the world. But Williams’s size and power clearly intimidated her. The American was bigger stronger, and her fitness clearly trumped whatever skill the Russian had.
Last night I went on the internet and checked out a few mainstream sports articles to see what the pundits had to say about the match and the usual meaningless sports clichés popped up. “Williams had skill and desire. She has the will to win.” Etc… No one seemed to mention the obvious, that Williams had a clear advantage in weight and muscle. Some recently archived stories on ESPN laughably pointed out that Serena Williams was out of shape and was unlikely to go far in the tournament. Out of shape? Sure, her body fat percentage might be higher than that of some skinny pony tail in a skirt. But does that really matter when her shoulders are twice as wide and her arms ripple with muscle?
Look, female tennis is no marathon. Unlike championship men’s tennis, women’s tournament matches are two sets and out; there is little chance that a championship match can actually drag for hours on end. The premium here is not on distance running, where Williams’s bulk puts her at a disadvantage, but on skill, wiles, and power. There seems to be little of the later attribute on the women’s tour, which explains why the female professionals can afford to skip the body building and work more on their finesse game.
When someone like Serena Williams comes along and combines muscle with skill, the other women on the tour are helpless. They can only hope that she defeats herself by hitting the ball into the net or out of bounds. Otherwise, they will simply be overpowered.
The obvious follow up question is, why don’t the other players on the women’s tour follow Serena’s lead and bulk up? The extra strength would give any player an instant advantage over the will o’wisps of the tour, potentially turning the fair players into good players and the good players into great players.
I think the answer is vanity. Many of the good female players, especially the Russians, are scrutinized for their looks. The so-called pretty players are more marketable, and in order to stay “good looking” they have to stay slim and force their bodies to fulfill the contradictory roles of being both models and an athletes.
The players that are able to pull off being slim and winning at championship tennis are almost certainly highly skilled, but they are also powerless waifs. Luckily for them, the women’s tennis tour has few really strong women in the running, so a lack of power is not a real handicap. But, when someone does come in with the skill and the brawn to back it up, the playing field immediately falls in this uberwoman's wake like so many fragile twigs.
Women’s tennis is long overdue for a revolution in training that places a premium on muscle fitness. The bodybuilding revolution that occurred in men’s athletics during the late 80’s and nineties greatly improved athleticism in tennis and basketball. But, sadly I think that there are too many body image hang-ups that prevent mainstream female athletes from bulking up. That’s too bad because the women’s game would only benefit from an increase of speed and power, and the stronger brawnier female players could serve as the perfect foils for a society that stupidly equates feminine health and fitness with skinniness.
Friday, January 26, 2007
That came off stupider than I want it to...let me try again. Generally speaking, projects such as this usually hew close to their creator's lives; they're so personal, in fact, that whatever thought process creates clearly seems to exclude ideas from other material that treads the same ground. Consequently, a lot of just seems like its the first time they've thought about it.
Preamble done, that was a foolish thing to assume on my part, and Gene Yang has clearly done most of the heavy lifting before setting pen to paper. He's got a straightforward, approachable style that communicates what he wants to well, which he does in three storylines. One is the tale of Jin Wang, new to neighborhood (the ABC of the title), and all that entails. One is a personal version of Sun Wu-Kong, the Monkey King, tale of finding enlightenment. Lastly is a sitcomy surburban tale of Danny, the straight man, and Chinkee, the embodiment of every Chinese stereotype put together (Excepts cats? Dude, we eat dogs.) The style Yang hides a pretty bit of formal play with the three threads of story presented that I quite liked. Maybe a little more obvious than in an adult book, or maybe from my own affection for magical realism, but I had no trouble with it, and I found it two-thirds elegant. But without really meaning to, I want to skip the obvious praise the book generally deserves (better done by others anyway) and jump into what complicates my reading of it.
Everything in the Monkey King portion is troublesome, and by the end the weight of the choices tumbles it under. The Monkey King, who wants to be accepted into the god's dinner party, seeks skills and powers to be accepted, and when he isn't, punishes those who reject him, even as he clearly rejects his own God-given nature by wearing shoes. Anyone else see how problematic conflating a personal quest for acceptance among peers, and authenticity and all that, with the symbolism of wearing shoes? This is trouble enough if we were just talking culture, and mixing civilzation and class, but mix in race (which here is unavoidable) and being a natural monkey, and you have a pretty confusing approach to take in. Unless you want to combine it with a bit about civilization itself, via animals.* Complicated as this approach already is, it's further hampered by being paired with only the most cursory depictions of everyone else. Mildly arrogant, (in the other threads, casually racist as opposed to rabidly so), the minor gods wear shoes, and are none worse for it--they don't seem to be that natural either. The Monkey King is a stand in for people like Jin, right? Chinese descent seems tied to monkeyness, unless it isn't.
The travails of the Monkey King, and his inability to accept his place in the world (as opposed to say, finding his place), sadly all represented by acceptance into civilized things, hits another snag when the Buddhist monk who he traditionally aids (as he grows in maturity) turns out to be a disciple of Christ who'se going to lead them to baby jesus. We're not just in a variant telling, which considering Heaven usually invites the Monkey King who then misbehaves, as opposed to the latter trying to crash the party, we're in a whole different story. Which is fighting every last element of the story Yang is appropiating.
The appeal of using the Monkey King is understandable, I don't know any other specifically Chinese myth that would have an ounce of recognition that the Monkey King has, but considering that the character is clearly meant to stand in for universal Christian principles, it's far too specific. This and changing details, it's lost clarity to boot. But I'm going to skip talking specifically about using the Monkey King to go to Bethlehem--even uncomplicated by viying images, it's mostly a digression of subject from the book proper that doesn't take.
But the formal play from earlier is when all three storylines combine into one. And while I like the way the other two do it, the Monkey King just can't make it. And it's not that its too fantastical to combine with the other two, more-or-less naturalist stories, but that combining the minority experience with acceptance via Christ, which I presume is personally true for Yang, is a hugely complicating mash. This is where the being a monkey and accepting the natural order (and rejecting all civilizing symbols) is unavoidable. I understand the notion that ethnicity (as race and not as culture) is inescapable, but this enlightement delivered as monkeyness?
Not everything is a symbolic, I suppose. The review I referred to above thought Wei-Chan's later appearance in hip-hop gear and driving a tricked-out spolierific car was about the embrace of materialism and wealth (and it may be, but now I'm mixing cutulral critique about immigrants with ABCs), but it's also a prominent Asian/Asian-American subculture by itself, as visible to those around it as the Christian contigent. And then, American Born Chinese becomes a personal tale, about how the author accepted himself as he always was.
But identity is only half what you make yourself to be, and half what other people see. Active take: It's what you make yourself, including how your reactions. It's a social construction, it's a relationship to others, your culture (of origins and otherwise), and you can't approach it without acknowedging the role other people play in it in a larger way. It involves the play between cutlures and expectations, as much as any personal desire to be outwardly anything. It's not just accepting the nature that you can't change personally as much as it might be accepting everyone else.
Big, fat, complex topics (and my own hang-ups) aren't going to be fully covered in any one book (or blog post), so this shouldn't take away from an impressive, strong book. Perhaps, from the creator's view, even a success. But hopefully, this is just the opening shot.
*Babe: Pig in the City is good for that.
The presence of Starbucks inside China’s Forbidden City museum has always been a convenient source of lazy ironic commentary for travelers to the nation’s capital. “Would anyone put a Starbucks in the Pyramids of Egypt?” or “Wait, isn’t China communist (smirk).” But lately the subject has stirred up a lot of attention in the Chinese media and on the internet. CCTV anchorman, Rui Chenggang, originally started the anti-Starbucks-in-the-Forbidden City movement on his blog, which has already attracted nearly a million hits. Popular opinion certainly favors throwing Starbucks out of the Forbidden City. But there has been an upwelling of contrarian sentiment as well.
Who put Starbucks in the Forbidden City? The consumers, that’s who. People could probably think up ten thousand reasons why Starbucks shouldn’t be allowed in the Forbidden City, but there will always be a selection of people who will support Starbucks’s presence in the museum. They embrace Starbucks’s entrance into the Forbidden City with their own actions. No matter what they are saying, if they buy coffee at the Starbucks in the Forbidden City, they are supporting its presence there.
Of course the real question is: do we want Starbucks out of the palace? If we do not force Starbucks out, the CCTV TV anchors will certainly be unhappy. If we ask them to leave, then people will not be able to relax with a coffee in the museum. Certainly people were willing to drink coffee in the Forbidden City to begin with.
Some people say that Starbucks’s presence sullies the “spirit” of the ancient palace. But I think that there is a real contradiction here. If you say that western things pollute the “spirit” of the museum, then let me see you also get rid of light bulbs, air conditioners, and water pipes. Don’t think I’m just arguing for the sake of arguing. I just want to say that what unimportant things have entered the Forbidden City? Who gets to decide what does and does not enter the Forbidden City?
I have not seen any answers. Who does the Forbidden City belong to? Does it belong to “all the Chinese people?" If Zhang San likes to drink coffee in the Forbidden City then he will be upset when you drag Starbucks out. If Starbucks remains there, then Li Si thinks that it is a stain on Chinese traditions and he’s not satisfied!
Clearly Zhang San can not decide whether Starbucks enters the Forbidden City, Li cannot either. Even if “all Chinese people” decide to defer this decision to the State, then there will still be criticisms with the final decisions.
Do you want to end the controversy? Do we want to avoid similar questions? The solution is simple: clarify the issue of ownership.
That’s right. Like all state-owned assets, we should clarify issues of the Forbidden City’s ownership. In other words, we should sell the Forbidden City! We could sell it to private persons, private enterprises, public companies, even foreign nationals and companies.
It doesn’t matter who we sell it to. What is important is that we sell it, and its ownership is clarified. That way the Forbidden City will probably receive even better protection then it does now. I believe that anyone willing to spend huge amounts of money to buy the Forbidden City will take excellent care of it. At the very least they will be better then a bunch of muddleheaded bureaucrats. This is an important point, and I hope all those “protect the people’s cultural heritage” folks are listening.
I’m just bringing this up in passing today. As to why I think we should sell the Forbidden City, wait a couple days for my detailed exposition.
One last thing, though. I know that most people won’t accept my suggestion. But, I’m also a citizen of this country. If the Forbidden City really belongs to “all Chinese people” then I want to stand up and give my opinion on this property. If I do not even have the right to my own opinion, then do not fool yourself into thinking that you will get something good out of this “state asset that belongs to everybody.”
There are some interesting omissions here. For one, Zhou does not acknowledge the anti-Starbucks-in-National Treasure issue from the perspective that Starbucks brings crass commercialism into a major Chinese cultural site. He recognises Starbucks only in terms of "western influence," not a commercial one. Maybe he'll cover that in a more detailed future post.
Monday, January 22, 2007
I think that people view laptops like consumer electronic devices. Like an iPod or cellphone, this is a piece of equipment that you take with you to fulfill specific functions, which I suppose is reinforced by the relatively limited number of things that "laptop people" put their computers to use. As one of my coworkers said, "What can you do on a desktop that you can't do on a laptop?"
Play Oblivion, for one. On a computer that's less than $1000 for another. Desktops to me seem to be "hubs:" devices that other devices hook-up to, which makes it a center for multimedia interaction rather than a single device among many. I think this is a fundamentally different type of experience than with laptops, and I suspect (though obviously can't prove) that any individual spends a lot more time on a desktop versus a laptop. We think "write papers," "games," or "work" on a desktop, things which require dedication, long periods of effort, and multifunctionality. We think "watch a movie on a plane when I have nothing else to do" on a laptop, or else do a quick check of e-mail, or bring the laptop to transport a presentation, things we associate with ephermerality, boredom, or obviously portability.
Of course, the advent of high powered, expensive laptops does blur the line a bit, but by and large, I think there is a fairly wide consumer divide between the two media. What do you all think? And by the way, I'm definitely a desktop person. If/when I go back to grad school, I'll get a laptop, but only to take notes during class. The desktop is where I'll be doing my work and interacting with others.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
You may have heard that an American aid worker was killed in Iraq yesterday, along with three security contractors (two others were wounded, one in serious condition). Well, that was my organization, and I find myself becoming quite sad at random times during the day about their murder, and hers in particular. I didn't know her well - barely at all really - so there's no reason or perhaps even value in conveying my condolences to her family, if I could even find them. But she had come by the DC office in December, where we chatted about work-related things and more generally about her reasons for being and returning to Iraq, her feelings of being back in the U.S., her work and how fulfilling it was, and a few other topics.
So really, I barely knew her. Nevertheless, she left a wonderful impression, so much so that I commented to my girlfriend about her - that here was a beautiful, energetic young woman (barely older than me) who was returning to perhaps the most dangerous places in the world. How she is so much braver than I am in her dedication to what she believes in, with a richness of experience and vivacity that I envy and appreciate. And all this in just a couple short conversations with her. It saddens me that that's all there will be, and it frightens me to think how she must have felt at the end. It...reminds me to value all those brief interactions and relationships more, and I regret not having had this feeling earlier.
So, while I'm not allowed to tell her name or really anything of her background to anyone, she's in my thoughts and memories, brief and meaningful as they were.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
"I love France, I hate the French."
I'm sure her reasons are far more profound, more deeply experienced, and more justifiable than mine. Be that as it may, my girlfriend and I are going to Turkey in March. On the way, we have to stop in Paris for four hours. And for that, they're making her get a transit visa (she's a citizen of a "South" country). Two weeks of paperwork, two trips to DC, and $80 later, they'll let her remain in one of the crappiest airports in the world for four hours. What an honor.
Now, I suppose this is far better than the time when we were trying to go pretty much anywhere in South America, where the price of the visa was $20-$1000, and all the governments required an additional $3~4000 "deposit" which would be "returned" three months after her departure.
I love travel, and I hate it.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Friday, January 12, 2007
The original can be found at:
Chinese Foreign Affairs Department spokesperson, Liu Jianchao, denounced accusations made in the “Human Rights Watch” organization’s recent publication of the 2006 China Human Rights report, and expressed China’s opposition to any country willing to use human rights as an excuse to increase political pressure or interfere with China’s internal affairs.
Liu Jianchao remarked: “The ’Human Rights Watch’ organization has always carried a prejudice against China, and its human rights reports on China are always produced with a political agenda in mind and are not done out of good faith. The content of the reports is usually untrue.”
Liu continued, “the Chinese government has continuously labored to advance reform of the Chinese legal system, establish completely democratic legal institutions, create a peaceful, just, and harmonious society, and realize peoples' development according to the principles of our nation’s constitution, which both respects and guarantees human rights.”
“If the organization really wants to help advance China’s human rights situation, it ought to fairly appraise the improvements that China has made in the field of human rights, cast off its 'colored glasses,' and view China with an attitude that is both just and fair.
Every country has to deal with its own set of circumstances, and it is normal for there to be differences in the the way human rights exists in different countries. China is willing exchange views with other countries on terms of equality and mutual respect.”
Wow, there's an English copy too on the Xinhua news site, and it is in much more of an ass kicking mood than the Chinese version. Check it out and compare it with mine. Funny how China is always so harsh in the English language media and more conciliatory in the local media.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
And there is of course the moral aspect, that the U.S. really does owe the Iraqis a stable, functioning government. But, a 20k temporary troop increase is not the answer. If the U.S. were actually committed to this war, a draft is the answer, but I have my doubts that even that would help things at this late juncture without political solutions and engagement. And, believe me, Iraqi politics is a nightmare, to say nothing of the region.
Two things Bush said get to me:
"We also need to examine ways to mobilize talented American civilians to deploy overseas — where they can help build democratic institutions in communities and nations recovering from war and tyranny."
That would be great, except the Administration cut off all non-security-related funding in Iraq last year. Congress had to earmark additional funds for these activities, not the federal administration.
"Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have."
If Bush was referring to Maliki and other Iraqi politicians' obstructions, fine. But if Abu Ghraib was considered a restriction, I'm terrified. Beyond that, though, I don't think Bush has gotten the necessary support from Maliki. There is a reason that he and others have used and protected certain aspects of the insurgency, and that has to do with their own political power base (which is fragmented partly because of its horrendously complicated electoral system). But given the threats that Bush outlined about Iran, terrorism, et al, and the inherent weakness of the Iraqi government, I am extremely skeptical that Iraqi officials feel any kind of meaningful pressure to share oil wealth, quell the insurgency, and halt Iranian and Syrian support in a way that would not be shoving a resolution down the throats of the other sectarian groups.
Well, good luck to Petraeus, who has done an excellent job thus far, but is probably overmatched by the situation on the ground right now.
Tuesday, January 9, 2007
I'll start feeling the benefit of these savings in about a year and a half, when I've paid off Leopold and this here ticket to kingdom of His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej I got yesterday.
Thank you, Slate's Ad Sense, for keeping me entertained. And there's also this "Transformer."
Monday, January 8, 2007
Indeed, I picked up a Wii today. Mine is now named Leopold, and my computer is Bloom, for what that’s worth. Anyway, a friend of mine has judiciously been checking the Wii’s availability at the local gaming emporium since its release last year...clearly we wanted it, but only when we could just step in and pick it up.*
I don't know what to say that hasn't been covered by every other venue, but it's my first console system that wasn't originally given to me by my parents (ahh, Power Pad), so as someone called it today, it's my first grown-up system. Bit strange, since for me it has no killer app , so I didn't pick it up for one compelling reason (Golden Axe). I wax pretty effusive when talking about it, even with the polite nodders who would never think of buying one and foolishly allow me to think all the things I think about it out loud. Like its relative affordability, great design, low power consumption, the general good karma of the company behind it, ease of use. You know, like Apple. Except, you know, populist and welcoming. But the fascination with it is clearly that created not just a hot purchasable item, but a social event of sorts. Mothers I know who never touch these things will play with the Wii . Why, with the messageboard in place, it's truly a purchase for a household--a person to person social creation. Mind you, the Nintendo GameCube, other than a few, potent franchises (Mario, Zelda...) seemed to hold its own only through its party games, so it's not a new idea to them. While the other systems allow for side-by-side play, none of them encourage it the way Nintendo does, which may allow it to claim at least the number two spot in the console market. As made evident by the xbox, tech specs (though not too shabby in either incarnation), matters less if players have an easy, intuitive way to connect with friends.**
I don't know what to say that hasn't been covered by every other venue, but it's my first console system that wasn't originally given to me by my parents (ahh, Power Pad), so as someone called it today, it's my first grown-up system. Bit strange, since for me it has no killer app(I actually own games for systems I don't own)
, so I didn't pick it up for one compelling reason (Golden Axe). I wax pretty effusive when talking about it, even with the polite nodders who would never think of buying one and foolishly allow me to think all the things I think about it out loud. Like its relative affordability, great design, low power consumption, the general good karma of the company behind it, ease of use. You know, like Apple. Except, you know, populist and welcoming. But the fascination with it is clearly that created not just a hot purchasable item, but a social event of sorts. Mothers I know who never touch these things will play with the Wii . Why, with the messageboard in place, it's truly a purchase for a household--a person to person social creation. Mind you, the Nintendo GameCube, other than a few, potent franchises (Mario, Zelda...) seemed to hold its own only through its party games, so it's not a new idea to them. While the other systems allow for side-by-side play, none of them encourage it the way Nintendo does, which may allow it to claim at least the number two spot in the console market. As made evident by the xbox, tech specs (though not too shabby in either incarnation), matters less if players have an easy, intuitive way to connect with friends.**
But now I'm meandering, and I still have to
But now I'm meandering, and I still have toset up my wireless router so I can register Leopold with the proper authorities—and I can be reunited with the 70ish-fitness-leveled Mii I created on my friend’s system the first time I played...and maybe I'll get around to that post about the video game as the next great novel.
*I'm not sure how it is with you folk, but I passive/aggressively add barriers to things that are luxuries. Like go to a movie I have marginal interest in only if
**Xbox Live being that machine's killer app far more than Halo ever was.
Sure, the heavy weights have retired. The comic titans who roamed the Sunday pages in the golden days of the 80's and 90's, Peanuts, The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, and above all, Bloom County have all faded into memory. But somebody has to carry the torch! Where's the irreverence? Where's the social commentary? Who, by god, is going to bring on the funny? A half dozen Far Side clones don't hack it I say, and neither does "workplace humor" or Gary Trudeau.
This brings me to the most embarrassing spectacle of the Sunday Comics: page two's Opus. Perhaps one of the funniest and creative strippers of all time, Berkeley Breathed needs to improve or retire again before he does serious damage to his legacy. Take yesterday's strip for example. It makes no sense! Dancing idiots? Where does that come from? Is this some kind of pop culture sensation that I don't know about? Some TV show with dancing animals? What's with the crass sexuality in the last two panels? Sexual attraction is not its own punchline, and Mr. Breathed should be the first one to recognise that.
Remember the old days? The zany ideas, the lapses into absurdity, the great artwork. Back then pop culture was just a tool Breathed used to push along his far out ideas and rockin' art. Today, they are an ends and not a means. The results are insipid, not creative.
Breathed was forgiven when he abandoned Bloom County for Outland. Outland, although far inferior to Bloom County, was still a fine vehicle for Breathed's creativity and his occasional flashes of genius. Disturbing trends were on the rise even then though, as Outland's shameless pandering to the crowd, and pop humor began to rear their ugly heads. When it finally left the papers, Outland retired to sighs of relief. No one likes to see the master start losing his touch.
My worst fears have been realized with the release of Breathed's newest strip. The magic that once infused Bloom County, and occasionally emerged in Outland, has been paved over with Opus's sad, crass, pandering nonsense.
His illustrations are still strong though. Yes! Read Opus for the illustrations! A damnable endorsement indeed.
Friday, January 5, 2007
Thank you, Congressman Waxman, for not putting up with this crap. Just how much power does this President think the Constitution grants him? Nixon's imperial presidency has nothing on this man.
Thursday, January 4, 2007
Sure, its a little dirty and somewhat chaotic. But, I've been to Shanghai, Xi'an, and Beijing, and believe me, Guangzhou is the best city in China. Ask any dignified Beijing or Shanghai resident and they'll certainly tell you, Guangzhou is full of shifty, no-good, hustling vagrants. Don't listen to them. It’s all sour grapes. I think the nicest city folk in China live in Guangzhou. Sure they can be rough around the edges, but most are helpful and friendly. Warm smiles greet you in the shops and on the street. Unlike the jerks in Shanghai, Guangzhou locals make an effort to communicate with outsiders in Mandarin, and con artists don't curse at you when you ignore them like they do in Beijing. Public transport there is great. Guangzhou has one of the most civilized subway systems I've ever seen and the cabbies are real characters. The food is also out of this world, a fine departure from the bland Huaiyang-style stuff in Shanghai and the stomach-churning Beijing "delicacies" in the capital. Dim sum for me is the centerpiece of Guangzhou dining, but there you will also find some terrific Thai and Vietnamese fare as well. Look out McDonald's! Real Kung fu rules the fast food scene on the Canton streets.
Yes, so when I travel to China, I don't bother to visit the old capital or the so-called "New York" of the East. I prefer the old charm of Canton any day of the week.