Monday, December 27, 2010

Best movies of 2010

Winter's Bone

A film noir about hicks in the backwoods that treats its subjects (and its audience) as sophisticates rather than bumpkins.

Poverty is the main character of this movie. We don't like seeing him anymore in American movies, but he almost always is an excellent actor. Damn, he did a good job here.


A high-concept art house film that's secretly a buddy movie.

Beautiful cinematography, dialog, and soundtrack. The movie is gorgeous and everything you imagine a French movie could be. Two friends fight over a man. A very simple concept, but how the characters in this movie choose to fight!

Watching it with my friends, I found the movie could be viewed as a tragedy or a farce. I say it's a farce, perhaps because I can see myself getting into the same situations the characters do, so I was able to laugh at them.

Black Swan

Psychological torture porn.

I think this movie is Natalie Portman's All About Eve. Portman, like the character she plays, is aging in a industry full of fresh faces and has a squeaky clean image she needs to get rid of if she wants to stay around.

The cinematography sometimes overreaches in an attempt to look artistic, but the movie was unlike anything I had seen before.

You may feel somewhat like a monster when you've finish watching it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tell it to the birds: 1860

Lovers have a rage for talking of their martyrdom. Rather than be silent, they would tell it to the birds that fly, or the cloud which passes.

--From Catherine--

According to Google Books, the phrase made its way into the English language via a translation of a French novel. It seems to have taken awhile for it to gain the tone of sarcasm with which we associate it today.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Freedom of expression: 1605

But all these inconveniences, and many more I have not mentioned, would cease, if some intelligent and judicious person of the court were appointed to examine all plays before they are acted, not only those made about the court, but all that should be acted throughout all Spain; without whose approbation under hand and seal, the civil officers should suffer no play to be acted; and thus the comedians would be obliged to send all their plays to the court, and might then act them with entire safety; and the writers of them would take more care and pains about what they did, knowing their performances must pass the rigorous examination of somebody that understands them.

--From Don Quixote de la Mancha--

Don Quixote goes mad from reading fantasy books, mistaking them for true stories. People burn books; it's portrayed as a good thing to do. And there are long passages, like the one above, where characters endorse government censorship.

Paternalism was seen as something all right thinking people should get behind.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Potty humor: 1605

Now, whether the cold of the morning which was at hand, or whether some lenitive food on which he supped, or whether the motion was purely natural, which is rather to be believed, it so happened that Sancho had a desire to do what nobody could do for him. But so great was the fear that had possessed his heart, that he durst not stir the breadth of a finger from his master; and to think to leave that business undone, was also impossible: and so what he did for peace sake, was to let go his right hand which held the hinder part of the saddle, with which, softly, and without any noise, he loosed the running point that kept up his breeches; whereupon down they fell, and hung about his legs like shackles: then he lifted up his shirt the best he could, and exposed to the open air those parts which were none of the smallest. This being done, which he thought the best expedient towards getting out of that terrible anguish and distress, another and a greater difficulty attended him, which was, that he thought he could not ease himself without making some noise: so he set his teeth close, and squeezed up his shoulders, and held in his breath as much as possibly he could. But notwithstanding all these precautions, he was so unlucky after all as to make a little noise, very different from that which had put him into so great a fright. Don Quixote heard it, and said: "What noise is this, Sancho?"

--From Don Quixote de la Mancha--

All those poop jokes they have on TV? Just subtle homages to Don Quixote.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why that hot chick/dude doesn't dig you: 1605

Heaven, as you say, made me handsome, and to such a degree, that my beauty influences you to love me whether you will or no. And in return for the love you bear me, you pretend and insist that I am bound to love you. I know by the natural sense God has given me, that whatever is beautiful is amiable; but I do not comprehend that merely for being loved the person that is loved for being handsome is obliged to return love for love. Besides, it may chance that the lover of the beautiful person may be ugly; and what is ugly deserving to be loathed, it would sound oddly to say, I love you for being handsome; you must love me though I am ugly.

--From Don Quixote de la Mancha--

And this was in a comedy!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Legalizing prostitution: 1605

"...for the office of a pimp is not a slight business, but an employment fit only for discreet persons, and a most necessary one in a well-regulated commonwealth; and none but persons well-born ought to exercise it; and in truth there should be inspectors and comptrollers of it, as there are of other offices, with a certain number of them deputed, like exchange-brokers; by which means many mischiefs would be prevented which now happen..."
--From Don Quixote de la Mancha--

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Game: 1605

And so, in process of time, the devil, who sleeps not, and troubles all things, brought it about, that the love which the shepherd bore to the shepherdess, was converted into mortal hatred; and the cause, according to evil tongues, was a certain quantity of little jealousies she gave him, beyond measure: and so much did he hate her from thenceforward, that, to avoid the sight of her, he chose to absent himself from that country, and go where his eyes should never behold her more. Torralva, who found herself disdained by Lope, presently began to love him better than ever she had loved him before." — "It is a natural quality of women," said Don Quixote, "to slight those who love them, and love those who slight them: go on, Sancho."

--From Don Quixote de la Mancha--

Of course Don Quixote would say something like that. Everything a knight-errant did was to pick up a chick, why shouldn't they be pick-up artists?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The poor: 1605

In the meantime Don Quixote tampered with a labourer, a neighbor of his, and an honest man (if such an epithet may be given to one that is poor), but very shallow-brained.
--From Don Quixote de la Mancha--

The elite today would never say such a thing, but they sure seem to act like they think it's true.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Literacy problems: 1605

You must know, then, that this gentleman, at times when he was idle, which was most part of the year, gave himself up to the reading of books of chivalry, with so much attachment and relish, that he almost forgot all the sports of the field, and even the management of his domestic affairs: and his curiosity and extravagant fondness herein arrived to such a pitch, that he sold many acres of arable land to purchase books of Knight-errantry, and carried home all he could lay hands on of that kind....

...With this kind of language the poor gentleman lost his wits, and distracted himself to comprehend and unravel their meaning; which was more than Aristotle himself could do, were he to rise again from the dead for that purpose alone.

--From Don Quixote de la Mancha--

"Don't read too much kids, it'll make you poor and might just make you go insane!"

I like anything that begins so subversively.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Obama to gays: if you want equal rights, become a Republican

"Instead, the Department of Justice argued that the immediate effect of her decision should be to prohibit the military from discharging openly gay service members who belong to the Log Cabin Republicans."

--From Reuters, via Drudge--

With incentives like this, how can any homosexual be a Democrat, or like myself, an Independent? The writing is on the wall people, we must become Republicans and join the Log Cabin! Look at the benefits!


I've filled out my change of party application and sent it in. I may have overdone the postage, but the purple-heart stamps seemed especially appropriate:

It's only safe to be "out" in the Republican Party.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Happy Labor Day


I think beer would be the obvious drink for Labor Day; Chinese beer, since they do most of the labor.

Sunday, September 5, 2010



Every line on the street in China is a suggestion. That's how they drive anyway (and I would say they are some of the best drivers in the world).

From what I heard, to get a drivers license you need to win a lottery. Even if you win, you can only drive on highways in your home province. Everywhere else you have to use back roads. The Chinese government is also happy to take away your drivers license, for anything, so people wont report accidents to them or insurance companies.

You also aren't allowed to drive your car if it has a dent. If you get in an accident, you pull into a nearby repair shop and settle the damages, in cash, with the other driver. Witnesses will help determine who was at fault.

In America, we give people tickets and fine them, but usually let them continue to drive. In China if you're a bad driver they take you off the road entirely. All together their system seems safer and to involve a lot less paperwork and judicial oversight. I saw no car accidents when I was there. That's not to say the Chinese system was planned. The government's bureaucracy is so completely unusable that an informal system has taken over.

I've blogged before about how sidewalks double as parking spaces, but small streets also double as sidewalks, even if the streets have sidewalks around them.

There will be people everywhere with cars driving through them. You wont notice the cars coming up behind you and it can be a little scary.

In America there are often lanes going slower than other ones. In China, everyone in the slow lane would move into the faster ones, then switch over just before they had to make a turn. It's very fluid. Everybody is cutting in front of everybody else.

I've been on highways where people were driving on motorcycles, against traffic.

There doesn't seem to be any road-rage involved. I saw one incident where a truck driver had turned too late and was stuck. Everybody, even people in other lanes, honked their horns once or twice, then a police officer walked over and looked at the driver. The sense of shame he must have felt! I think that's all they need.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Lawn work

You need the weeds pulled out of a lawn. Do you have someone spray chemicals? No. It's cheaper to hire someone who does this all day long for a living:

Note: I filmed this in a park, with HUGE expanses of lawn. I guess it pays better than weeding a rice paddy, but still!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Road work

From what I saw, when they are tearing up a road in China they don't close it down. A machine will jack-hammer starter holes in the entire street surface, but cars will still be using it, even with the holes.

It lets the road be used as much as possible, causing the least disruption. Not that people wont stand around and gawk at the racket.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Things I thought in China (part 2)

I saw a cow in an abandoned field, grazing on a bush.

The Chinese like to offer Americans Coke for lunch, but rarely have it themselves.

I saw a woman in a shed. A shed where one entire wall was a mirror. She was watching TV sitting in front of an electric fan. The shed was at the end of a small alley filled with garbage bags on a street with no lights.

I had strawberry yogurt along with my breakfast. When I opened the container it was white and liquidy. I reached in with a spoon to stir up the strawberries, but there were none. It was meant to be drunk and only had the lightest hint of strawberries.

I saw a bumper sticker today; the only bumper sticker I've seen here.

You can make all sorts of faux pas and no one will correct you, or even act like they notice. But sometimes, just sitting somewhere, a stranger will walk very close to you and give you a dirty look.

I have never seen anyone wear a seat-belt.

It is very rare to see a Chinese person with a dog, but if you want to be garunteed to see one, go to a park which doesn't allow dogs.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Walking down the street the sidewalks are literally lined with shops. Smaller streets, with less traffic, are home to street vendors, who cook food in the shadows.

Many stores are completely open to the outside. Convenience stores especially.

No shirts, no problem

Produce sellers are the best. They let their wares almost pour into the street.


You just want to walk everywhere and see everything. Sometimes you luck out and come upon a night market.


It's flower stalls, fruit stalls, fish mongers and butchers. All close together, all open to the air, all inviting you to come and see their wares.


Fish mongers


And you're never far away from somewhere selling food.

The Fubo Burns The Fairy Grass

Monday, August 30, 2010

Green jobs will go where all jobs go

The factories I saw in China were closer to being green than anything I've heard about in America. The workers lived within walking distance of their jobs and ate communal meals. Sunlight was used in place of electric lights, fans instead of air conditioning. Nothing was purchased unless it was absolutely necessary, there weren't even chairs, most people stood while they did their jobs. Cleaning was avoided, the architecture was simple and reusable.

If the factories I saw were hooked up to nuclear power plants (the Chinese are building them) and the plastics were replaced with something biodegradable or recycled (which will happen naturally as prices for those items come down) the factories would be greener than anything possible in America.

So how can we compete?

Right now our green jobs only exist because we subsidize them with money the government borrows. They aren't profitable. We don't even know if the technologies we've chosen to invest in will be the ones favored in the future. Meanwhile, the Chinese have an economy that can turn a profit, create jobs, and produce things people are willing to buy. We don't have that experience. If the green economy ever materializes, the Chinese will have no problem taking every job we've created away. They can do it cheaper and greener. They only have to take the jobs they already have and make them green, while we haven't even figured out how to make jobs, let alone green ones.

While we've borrowed money hoping to be prepared for tomorrow, the Chinese have been making money dealing with today's world, and developing the flexibility to deal with tomorrow's. America's "green jobs" are jobs for a future that may or may not come, and even if it does, probably wont want them.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Tampa Theatre Marquee

Today I went to the Tampa Theatre to see a one-time only showing of the newly restored 1927 movie Metropolis.

It's always great to see movies in this theater because inside it looks like this:

The stage with organ raised

It was considered a "movie palace" when it was built in 1926 and may have shown Metropolis on its original American tour.

Here's the trailer:

The movie had only ever been shown in its original length in Europe, after which it was shortened for world distribution. The cut parts were thought lost forever, but they recently found 25 extra minutes and what we saw was the result of their incorporation.

The Tampa Theatre is one of only twelve theaters in America to screen the movie. Our theater wasn't the first to screen it, but it was the first in North America to present the movie with the original score, played by organ, as it was originally shown in Europe.

I got there an hour and a half early and found a line:

Line for Metropolis

The movie sold out. (1400 people can be seated in the theater.)

This is one of the people who made the show such a success:

Dr. Steven Ball

He came from Michigan to play our Mighty Wurlitzer Organ, the 1920's version of surround-sound. He replaced an entire orchestra, even pushing buttons to control percussion instruments. Well, he almost replaced an entire orchestra. He did have to pound on the organ when someone on screen was pounding wood.

This is him at the organ's controls:

Dr. Steven Ball on the organ

While the movie was playing the organ's controls retracted part-way into the stage and the organist watched the movie along with the audience, making sure the sound stayed in sync with the action on screen.

The organ is a powerful instrument, they said there are ten tons of it hidden in the walls. When you saw machines moving on screen, the organ would have a sound effect for them and you could feel the sound in your body, like you were right in front of the machines. All the sound effects were incorporated into an orchestral score, and it was amazing to hear one man perform everything so well.

The movie itself was good. It had strong political messages often presented in Christian terms that weren't offensive (I say that as an atheist) and also seemed pertinent to our times.

It's a sci-fi movie where poor workers and elite thinkers live in separate communities. They don't understand each other, even though they need each other to survive, because they never intermingle. Kind of like America today.

The heroine is a community organizer working out of a church. She tries getting the two sides together, telling them they are all brothers. She literally brings a group of poor children to the rich community and says "Look, these are your brothers!"

Some of the political messages are easy to spot, because they are shown in bold text on screen (with exclamation points). In the movie, the heroine is mainly talking to the poor. She doesn't want the workers to be violent because the elites are their brothers, and someone is sure to come along soon to bring them together. In reality, she's talking to the movie audience, both the workers and the thinkers.

"Look, these are your brothers!"

Something to remember in the heat of American politics, because we all need each other and attacking each other will only destroy us.

I will leave you with that thought, and some shots of the theater's decorative details:

Theatre detail

Theatre detail

Theatre detail

Friday, August 27, 2010

Advertising = Art

I had a wonderful time walking around Xiamen. The city doesn't come alive until after dark. Many buildings are covered in garish advertisements and amazing light displays. But it's not unusual to see streets and alleys with no lights, even street lights. It might sound scary, but you feel safe because there are so many people. And even in dark alleys there might be vendors grilling food or people sitting in the street in front of their businesses.

The advertising I saw at night in China makes me realize there is an art movement we in America barely know about. Strange to say, the art form is advertising, and in Xiamen I saw works that could rival anything by Michelangelo. We work so hard to keep our cities clean of billboards and signs, and what do we have? Boring architecture to look at. But in China every modern building is an art gallery, some with displays that change by the week.

View of one block

Club decoration

The end of an alley

This is all one building, note how the advertising (using Western models), is incorporated into the building's decoration:

Club decoration

Club decoration (close up)

This is the front of the building, many of these signs have motion:

One big sculpture of light:

More examples of common place decorations/advertisements:

Lobsters anyone?



Even places as mundane as pet hospitals and gynecological hospitals can light up a neighborhood:

Amity Gynecology Hospital

Pet Hospital

Update: I take my ideas on a walk, and they seem to have legs.