Monthly Archives: November 2012

Links and Thinks 2012-11-29

1) Scott Sumner looks at Singapore: “It seems that Singapore is a place where the poor and rich do really well, but the middle class only so-so.”

2) 72 year old man models teen-girl clothes. Apparently he has nice legs.

3) The worst of Black Friday Shopping Mayhem. I went once a few years ago. Never again.

4) Ahn Cheol-soo drops out of the Korean presidential race. He may be an impressive guy, but I always thought he was a little too pristine for the bare-knuckled slamfest that is Korean politics. Anyway, looks like the specter of 1987 still hangs upon the Seoul skyline.

5) Speaking of South Korean politics, Ask a Korean has nice profiles of all three candidates (or rather, two candidates and one ex-candidate): Moon Jae-in, Park Geun-hye and Ahn Cheol-soo; as well as the road ahead.

6) I wasn’t all that interested in the David Petraeus scandal, although I found this pretty funny, and I thought Dan Drezner has some interesting insights from an academic’s point of view into the mindset of Paula Broadwell. It was only when I was skimming through an article about Jill Kelley when I had that “WTF!” moment. And if you thought honorary consuls were all about, like, stamping visas into passports and stuff, here she is trying to parlay it into 80 smacks.

7) Book vending machines. It’s like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

8) Coffee as impediment to Korean reunification, or should we say, Cultural Learnings of South Korea to make glorious nation of North Korea.

9) Fox News anchors making stupid, callous or misleading statements (this might become a regular segment on this blog).

10) There are legitimate criticisms to be made of the Obama administration on issues economic.

11) Paul Krugman/James Bond Films.

Advertisements

Savita Halappanavar

This is obviously a tragic and very distressing story. You can read more about it here, here, here and here.

At times like these, one cannot but help think of that famous quote from Steven Weinberg, the Nobel Prize winning physicist:

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things.  But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

But why does religion make good people do evil things? And let’s face it, denying a woman – a woman in awful pain, a woman who was dying – a life-saving medical procedure in order to uphold a rather ambiguous religious policy, is an evil act. As evil as denying condoms to Africans whose populations are being decimated by AIDS.

It seems to me that this is a strategy for “upping the ante.” The act is, prima facie, so heinous that, having committed it, you are now “all in.” God must exist and Catholic dogma must be true, otherwise you are complicit in an act that is nothing less than the epitome of horror, of madness, of unspeakable, unforgivable evil.

The modern European witch-hunts lasted three hundred years and executed 40,000 people, most of them women. Why did the belief in the existence of witches last so long without the least shred of evidence? One suspects that, at some point, the very idea that there were no such thing as witches, and that all those women had died for naught, became simply too awful to contemplate.

An army marches into battle. Having crossed the treacherous river, it burns the bridge down. There is no turning back now. Full steam ahead.

Crunch!

Last week, I was… um… jogging up a flight of stairs, my 15-inch MacBook Pro clutched in my hand when… well, you can guess the rest.

Yes, I stumbled and slammed my precious laptop against the sharp metal edge of a stair. I couldn’t have thrown it any harder.

Anyway, this was the damage:

Given how hard it hit the stair, I’m amazed at how little damage it sustained. Of course, the SD card slot is useless – but I never used it anyway. The only nuisance is that – for whatever reason – the headphone jack is now blocked. And, as far as I can tell, everything else is working fine.

Anyway, hooray for unibody frames.

And kudos to Apple.

Movie Review – Amor en transito (Love in Transit)

Spoiler Alert! Major plot elements are discussed in this review. Don’t read this if you intend on watching the movie! It is, as of now, available for streaming on Netflix.

The Argentinian film Amor en transito (Love in Transit), directed and co-written by Lucas Blanco, has all the promises of a great romance – namely, a beautiful female lead and an ugly male one. Actually, multiply this by two – with, not uno, but dos ravishingly beautiful female protagonists (Sabrina Garciarena as the elusive, mercurial Mercedes, and Veronica Pelaccini as the defeated, defensive Micaela). Garciarena is well-cast here – pale, cool and diamond-hard. Pelaccini, on the other hand, is a little too glamorous and a little too sunny to be convincing as a lonely, world-weary barmaid – but hey, this is Buenos Aires and, ask yourself, have you ever met an unattractive Argentinian woman? As for their romantic counterparts, well, they can only be described as Dopey and Mopey – with Damian Canduci as Juan (Dopey) and Lucas Crespi as Ariel (Mopey). Throw in the airy, southern light of beautiful Buenos Aires and we have ourselves a movie.

The film begins with each character arriving – separately – at the airport. Ariel, it seems, is leaving Argentina, and so is Mercedes, while Micaela stands forlornly at the window staring out at the jetliners. Juan has just flown in after many years in Europe, and we soon learn that he is in town in search of his girlfriend who had left him to visit Buenos Aires and never returned. As the film unfolds, we discover that that there are actually two stories here – two disparate tales of courtship and romance – that between Mercedes and Ariel, and between Juan and Micaela. Each couple meets accidentally, and what follows is fairly standard fare – the usual flitterings over the uneasy minefield-laden rituals of courtship. Both relationships are, in their own way, interesting – but this is ground well-ploughed: conventional, stolid, soap opera-ish. The only question of much interest is, “How are these two stories connected?” At points, you even wonder if they are connected, fearing that what you are watching are two discrete narratives haphazardly stitched together – perhaps we could call it Love Stories of Buenos Aires or some such thing. Or maybe the very lack of a connection is the point – and the most we can expect is to fumble towards an end without resolution – to leave the theater with that queasy feeling you got after having watched Lost Highway.

Luckily for us, a connection does actually exist between the two romances. And that connection comes about thirty minutes into the movie in a form of a message left on Mercedes’ answering machine from Juan – one romantic camp making contact with the other. This lays bare the central problem that is at the heart of the film – namely, now that we know a connection exists, how are we to make sense of the narrative?

To give the game away, we eventually realize that the film is adopting temporal shifts in the story. The two romances – Mercedes and Ariel vs. Juan and Micaela – are not happening contemporaneously. The Mercedes/Ariel relationship precedes Juan/Micaela. The girlfriend that Juan came to Buenos Aires to find, is Mercedes. The reason that Mercedes never returned to Spain is her involvement with Ariel, the very story that we have been watching. In the linear sequence of scenes, the solution has come before the problem.

The nonlinear movie – shifting scenes out of sequence – is old hat now, well-versed as we are in the likes of Momento and Go. And of course, any film that adopts temporal shifts begs for comparisons with Pulp Fiction. In both movies, the beginning (the diner scene in Pulp Fiction, the airport scene in this one) is also the end of the movie and the middle of the story. But whereas Pulp Fiction only adopts a handful of time changes, with each event forming an independent story of its own (Vincent and Mia, Butch and Marsellus, Jules and Vincent), and each vividly different from the others, here the changes are more rapid, more subtle and more elusive. There are no easily identifiable guideposts or blatant clues that indicate that nonlinear storytelling is being used. Perhaps this is necessary in a movie about people on the move, forever transitory, elusive, ephemeral. But there is ever the danger of losing the audience – one is asked to work awfully hard, and you have to wonder if the reward is worth it. Even when you have got the solution, you must pay close attention to figure out your place in the timeline as the movie progresses. It’s one thing to have the impossible-to-forget image of John Travolta in a UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs T-shirt serving as your temporal guide (first seen, if you recall, as he enters the bar and engages in a stare-down with Bruce Willis’ Butch, and only later in the movie seen wearing it after having disposed of the body). It’s quite another thing when our temporal guide is something as ephemeral as Micaela’s hairstyle (the transition from straight to pulled-back to frazzy). Might I suggest that building your movie on a narrative frame as delicate as Veronica Pelaccini’s hair – as beautiful as it may be – might strike one as a tad whimsical?

Our struggle to make sense of the narrative is the force that propels the movie forward – otherwise, all we have is a fairly standard pair of love stories without a narrative arc. For the characters, there is no mystery, no question that needs resolution. They fall in love, they have relationships, they break up, they forgive. They go about their lives. The structure of the movie’s story – the problem, the complication, the eventual denouement – is independent of the characters. This is especially true in how the director, Lucas Blanco chooses to end the movie. As we march towards the end of the film, he heightens the tension by shortening the scenes and compressing the time that elapses between the scenes. Again, there is no tension in the narrative. Everyone is going to the airport. And we know now – having watched the beginning of the film – that there will be no climactic end. Juan will not arrive in time to find Mercedes, and Micaela will arrive too late to find Ariel. The denouement, as everything else in the story, happens in the form, not the content.

A film as artificially-constructed as this will, inevitably, stretch plausibility to its limit. And there are plenty of places where the stitchings show. One may swallow (with difficulty) the idea of a woman forgiving a strange man who has just crept up behind her and put his hands over her eyes. A man who then proceeds to offer her a ride home. But when the same man shows up the next day at the bar where she works and proceeds to lose his temper with her, it strikes me as more likely that she would get a restraining order than offer to take him out on a date. But the real weakness of the movie – the place where the artifice of form threatens to crack open the content – is the relationship between Ariel and Micaela: it simply isn’t believable. To be convincing, it pleads for the same care and attention as the other two love stories. Instead, it is a treated as a necessary evil, a bridge to get to the ending – and it feels hollow and hurried. We have to stop and think about why this relationship is even necessary. It has to do with the decision to make the airport scene the bookends to the film. All the characters need to get to the airport – Juan is arriving, Mercedes is leaving for Spain and Ariel has decided to follow her there. But why is Micaela going to the airport? To follow Ariel. Ergo, she must be in love with Ariel. Thus a love story between the two of them must be grafted onto the movie, and it feels grafted. It seems to me that the better solution would have been to dispense with the airport scene altogether. Why not have Juan first meet Micaela at her bar? This would circumvent two other weaknesses of the plot – Juan creepily covering her eyes at the airport, and his showing up – purely by chance – at her bar the next day. Instead, they meet at the bar, she proceeds to treat him rudely and he gets annoyed with her, and things can begin from there. Not having to get them all back to the airport would mean they could dispense with the Micaela/Ariel romance (this in itself is too much to swallow – that the two couples, purely by coincidence, will swap partners). There could be a single airport scene at the end of the movie when Mercedes and Ariel leave and Juan arrives. And the film could end with Juan and Micaela reuniting after her ultimatum, which is the natural final scene of the movie anyway. The airport scene as bookends to the movie feels very much like a filmmaker being stubbornly wedded to an idea, much to the detriment of the movie. And – although I hate to say it – you have to wonder how much of the insistence on the airport scene was colored by the long arm of Quentin Tarantino’s influence.

Ultimately, Amor en transito is about the triumph of form over content. Juego… solo se trata juego… we are told at the beginning of the film. A game… it is just a game… At first we believe that it is a game played between the characters. By the end of the movie, we realize that the game is between the filmmaker and the viewer, between art and life. In a sense, Amor en transito is a reflection of life itself. Life is a banal thing – full of random, haphazard events, the stochasm of ups and downs, triumphs and failures. Life’s story, the stories that give it sense, is a structure that is imposed on it. Life is trite, mundane and tedious. Art gives it meaning.

Barack Obama – First Asian American President

There has been some chatter about why Asian American voters overwhelmingly favored Obama over Romney. Paul Krugman has the data here. In short, Black, Latino, Jewish and Asian households are more Democratic than one would predict from their income, and conversely, Southern Whites are more Republican. In that sense, one needs to spend as much time explaining why poor Southern Whites vote against their economic interests as do wealthy “urban” voters.

Regarding Asian Americans, it’s generally acknowledged that they tend to be more conservative than the average voter. Take the Korean-American community. What characteristics define this group? Let’s see… disproportionately Christian (especially of the evangelical variety), regular church-goers (ever gone near a Korean-American church in Los Angeles on a Sunday? Jam packed…), business-oriented and entrepreneurial, suspicious of government, almost a reflexive hatred of taxes, extremely uptight about sexual issues… Remind you of any political party you know?

(This Pew Research Center article suggests Korean-Americans are conservative even by Asian American standards).

Thus Asian American voters have always been in a bit of a quandary come November 5th. Do you vote for a party that is more likely to look out for your interests, but with whom you fundamentally disagree with on practically every issue? Or do you vote for a party that hates you and wants nothing to do with you, but with whom you agree with philosophically?

The answer – at least in 2012 – has been the former rather than the latter. Why? Well, the obvious answer is race. The Republican party has become the party of angry white men – and, as much as the prime mover in the party, the Tea Party arm, tries to portray itself as motivated by economics,it is in fact animated by race. This is no party for Asians. A corollary to this is the issue of immigration, an issue that is as much Asian as it is Hispanic.

But I would like to offer two additional reasons why Obama got the Asian vote.

The first is Birtherism. If you don’t understand why Asians would react negatively in an immediate and visceral way to accusations of being a foreigner simply on the basis of a funny-sounding name and the color of one’s skin, well, you obviously don’t know anything about being Asian American.

The second reason is that Obama, clearly, likes Asians. He’s comfortable with them. This is self-evident, and is it so difficult to understand? His sister his half-Asian, his step-father was southeast Asian. These are not token relationships. They are bonds that are real and profound and long-lasting.

Toni Morrison once famously claimed Bill Clinton as “our first black President.”

After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.

Well, how about a skinny, geeky guy who likes taekwondo, is addicted to his Blackberry, nagged his sister to study harder, and hails from Hawaii?

I gotta say it…

Our first Asian President.

Hello

I’m up to my eyeballs with work. And I’m trying to finish my collection of short stories, and polish up a screenplay I’ve been working on. I also have a demanding wife and two small children…

So I decided to start a blog.