Against the Grain

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Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

My Foolish Review of “Fool” by Christopher Moore

Posted by Patrick on 24 Feb 2009

I picked up Chris’ new book the day it came out – I hesitated to read it right away because I knew I was going to attend the book signing stop in Denver, and I’d hoped to be able to hold out that long. However, I couldn’t actually resist for more than a few days, and I dove in anyway. What I found is that, like so many of Chris’ other stories, it starts strong and maintains momentum throughout.

Surely, you can’t take Shakespeare and make the bard’s plays better. Surely you can’t twist fate from some of the most widely-read scripts in the history of the world and make them better. Well, of course not. Chris doesn’t try to do that, either. He is recognized as one of the great satirists of our time, and with good reason. Fool doesn’t offend the purist, and doesn’t disappoint those seeking heavy doses of the elixir Chris provides.

I know that many have not yet read the story, so I shan’t spoil it for you, but it is a glorious mashup retelling of King Lear, with convenient borrows from other Shakespearean works, and from the perspective of Lear’s fool. In the play, the fool has no name – I found it great to have Chris name him Pocket (after his diminutive stature). We learn about his upbringing, about how he came to be the fool in Lear’s court, and about some serious misadventures in medieval Europe which spin the tale.

If you are familiar with King Lear proper, or even if you are not, you will love the tenacity that Chris brings to that world. I wouldn’t recommend reading “King Lear” before investing in Fool – there is certainly enough information in the story to carry it without foreknowledge of the plot.

But, the story is not for everyone. Even Chris says, as he is known to do, that it’s a bawdy tale packed with action and “action”. If you’re a reader easily offended by bad words and debauchery, you probably wouldn’t like the story at all – and let me recommend Pride and Prejudice as an alternative read.

Overall rating: 9.8/A+

Posted in culture, opinion, random, reading | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Taking Bets on Hayden’s Closet Status

Posted by Patrick on 10 Dec 2007

We all read the interview or saw the video online where Hayden Panettiere is quoted as saying that she’d love to have an affair with Angelina Jolie, among other hotties with whom many men also want to have an affair.  She’s saying that she’s ok with the media portraying her as a lesbian candidate but didn’t come out and make a statement in either direction about what her reality is.

Before I get down this path, I want to say first that I tolerate all people and their lifestyles as readers of this blog; I don’t bash many types of people simply because of who they are – where I draw my line is when one group of people aims to infringe on the rights of others or the rights of unsuspecting bystanders.  In this case, that is – in the context of this post, if the subject is homosexuality or bisexuality, that’s fine with me.  I have several friends who are one or the other, as many of us do, and I accept people who lead this lifestyle alongside my peers.  For the record, I have voted in favor of gay rights every time I’ve voted on an issue because I believe the old Christian principles, while valuable and influential to a large audience in the US, infringe on the rights of those who may even practice another religion.

Sorry for the diatribe; I want to check my guns at the gate before proceeding.

So, let’s set some odds on Hayden’s quoted relationship candidates and the chances that the hookup will ever happen. I’ll open with these:

Hayden and Angelina:  75:1
Hayden and Charlize:  50:1
Hayden and Jessica Alba:  200:1
Hayden and Kate Beckinsdale:  100:1

Hayden and any currently-declared celebrity B/L:   15:1

At least 1 year passing with no announced hookups:  7:4

What would I pay to see?  How about an episode of Heroes where Hayden and Kristen Bell get steamy; yep that would hold my attention.

Posted in culture, entertainment, heroes, hotties, opinion, TV, women | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Movie Review: The Golden Compass

Posted by Patrick on 7 Dec 2007

I went to see the long-awaited “The Golden Compass” today, based on the first story of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman.  Before I try somewhat feebly to comment on how this movie played out socially and theologically for the uber-religious freaks that think all movies that mention God are evil in echelons of ways, I want to talk about the movie itself and how it relates to the book.

***SPOILER ALERT:  Below this line, I am giving away the movie in bits and pieces.  If you don’t want to read a spoiler for any reason whatsoever, you should stop reading this post here.  Thanks for visiting and have a splendid day.***

I knew from the outset of this movie that we’re looking at an episodic event, since the movie’s opening sequence features a cut in the world made by the subtle knife (from book 2).  It turned out that I was right, and that gave me a bit of a “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” shudder before 5 minutes had even passed.  I was disappointed, but I think it was tastefully done, and it helps to set the stage for the movie for people who’ve not read the story.  Dakota Blue Richards’ opening voiceover about the existence of other worlds as that sequence is playing does well to set the story, but if you’ve read the story you know that she doesn’t understand the “other worlds” concept and traveling between them until the second book; it gives her narration a bit of a retrospect — are we going to see something present-day at the end of the trilogy’s movies?  More on that later.

Despite the 1h54m runtime, I thought the anachronism in the movie (scenes extracted out of order from the book) made sense to me, though I felt penalized because I knew the story when events didn’t fire in my pre-set sequence.  An example of this is the first sequence with Lyra – they are playing and talking about the gobblers, and then she finds herself stuck in the retiring room coat closet.  This is the other way around in the book if I remember properly.  There are several other occurrences like this that are subtle, but they still play well with the story.

What I would have liked was to leave the witches’ liaison intact where Lyra uses the alethiometer to identify Serafina’s cloud-pine branch outside.  It made sense later, because the witches were flying without it in the big battle scene.  In the story, I thought this was a critical point.  It was unclear how Serafina and her clan were able to come to aid at Bolvangar – and overall I felt the roles of the witches were downplayed, probably on purpose to appease the anti-magical-people-in-fictitious-movies sect of organized western religions.

I want to say now that I detested the ending of the movie, but I understand why it is this way.  The second story is pretty short in movie terms, as it’s the shortest of the three stories in the trilogy.  But it certainly does lead us to believe that “The Subtle Knife” will be even more episodic than this movie was.  We are going to see the opening sequence of the second movie leading Lyra and Roger up to watch Roger die and everyone will step into another world for the first time.

Now, let’s discuss briefly the religious impact of this movie and why religious “experts” are crying out against it.

First, I have to say that I am not devoutly dedicated to any religion, but I am a Zen Buddhist of the Rinzai sect; my primary temple is in Kyoto as is the master to whom I pledged.  For you Protestants, think of it as the church where you first began to accept/practice your current denomination.

Now that the table’s set, let’s chat.  There is a lot of public outcry over this movie.  People say that this movie defies God (each word is a separate link).  People generally complain that this movie is written by an atheist, that they google the book and the results are controversial topics like “female castration”, that the movie is about kids who set out to kill God.

First of all, these people are idiots.  Maybe I shouldn’t say that — these people are f’ing idiots.  Yes, that’s better.  Ill-informed religious propaganda based on search results from Google, of all places, and based on the author’s personal religious views. People who say that this book movie is about kids who want to kill God, well, they are not only wrong, they are f’ing wrong.  If you want an accurate plot summary of the movie, go look at IMDb — not Google, not your church’s bulletin board, not your archdiocese email distribution list, and certainly not what your church-friend’s-friend’s-pastor’s-uncle is saying about it.

Secondly, Phillip Pullman didn’t write the screenplay, it was Chris Weitz.  Chris Weitz adapted the screenplay from the novel by Phillip Pullman.  Quick you freaks, go Google Chris Weitz and see if he’s an atheist that wants to kill God or write an anti-religion manifesto.  Go stand outside New Line Cinemas and see if you get drag Chris Weitz into the parking lot and throw holy water on him and flash aluminum foil crosses in his eyes so he might go blind.  Let me know how that works out.

Thirdly, Pullman’s book isn’t based on his own ideas (gasp! oh noes!1!!1), whether he may support the ideas or not is irrelevant.  For anyone who has actually read some literature in their lifetime and who has an average level of intelligence, it is more than obvious that Pullman’s stories are based on John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost.  His Dark Materials is based on it, and the actual term “His Dark Materials” is taken directly from it, as in the verse cut below:

Into this wild Abyss,
The womb of Nature, and perhaps her grave,
Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th’ Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds—
Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross.
John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book II

Next time you want to bash a movie because it doesn’t bode well from google, but the trailer looks good, and it’s rated PG-13, here’s a news flash – it’s probably a pretty good movie.  People are saying that it’s trying to promote atheism within children, which is of course a lie, but those people are the same ones who were on the “ban HP books in school libraries” bandwagon because it was about wizards and witches and wanted it replaced with C.S.Lewis’ books about wizards and witches.  I don’t buy your uninformed arguments; I choose to act of my own free will, I choose to let my opinions be formed by myself and not by those who seek to propagandize their discontent, I choose to believe what I feel is best rather than blindly obey out of sheer ignorance.  If you think that’s wrong, fine, but I don’t want to hear about it.

Summary

I thought the movie was slightly above mediocre; I’d give it 3 of 4 stars if I had to rate it.  The acting was ok, the locations were beautifully framed and the chosen scenery was great. The CG and other effects were very good.  The theme sung by Kate Bush at the end I thought was awful – it sounded more like a balladic jam session with a choir.

Dakota Blue Richards stole the show in this movie, but I really wanted to see her be afraid and act like she was actually overcoming something. Maybe we’ll see that in the next book.

Nicole Kidman was about as hot as she has ever been; I thought she played the role of Mrs. Coulter fairly well. But I really wanted to see some emotion out of her, and we didn’t get much except for the deceitful undertones we got from Mrs. Coulter in the story.

Posted in culture, idiocy, movies, omfg, opinion, reading, sociology | Leave a Comment »

What America Can Learn from Japan

Posted by Patrick on 13 Nov 2007

As an American who lived in Japan for 7 years, and very much would like to again some day, returning to life in the US a few years ago was an incredible culture shock.  It was tougher to adjust in moving back to the US than it was to adjust when I arrived in Japan, despite the fact that I’d lived here for 22 years before I first went there.  In the past three years that I’ve been here in Denver, it’s become more and more challenging to accommodate the average American without flipping out and losing my patience.

What I’ve come to grips with, after some lengthy deliberation, is that I expect too much of the average American by having any expectations at all.  Yes, that’s right, it’s too much to ask to carry a single expectation of the average American.  Many people will say that’s a hypocritical statement, or that I’m just bs’ing because if I’m an American it has to apply to me too.  Sure. Fine. Whatever.  Yes I’m a US citizen, and I hold a green card for Japan, and it’s ridiculous how the average person in this country conducts himself.  The average American, in my definition, possesses at least the following qualities:
1.  self-awareness is paramount; surroundings more than 10 feet away are oblivion, unimportant, and probably shouldn’t ever have existed
2.  if person A has more money than person B, person A indirectly (and sometimes directly) makes it known
3.  American women are the most deceitful female of any species in existence; especially in front of other women
4.  between 15 and 40 pounds overweight and not going to do a damn thing about it.
5.  drives an obscenely large vehicle with obscenely bad driving habits and thinks obscenities towards those whose abidance by traffic laws inconveniences them

Why?  What is it about America that could possibly improve, you may ask?  I ask that question in reverse — what about America doesn’t need to be improved to be on par with a tiny (by comparison) country like Japan?

American society is devolving.  That is to say, it is doing the exact opposite of improving.  Japanese society, on the other hand, is continuing to improve – or at least remain unchanged in either direction.  By a global standard, no change is actually a significant improvement.  Granted, the culture of Japan has a several thousand year head start on American culture, but let’s face it; the culture in America really isn’t defined even after 225 years of having a country.  Perhaps Americans own the cultural patent on the fast food drive thru; beyond that there isn’t much.

So why is Japan so “great” when compared to the capitalist American society?  There are a few things about Japan which all people (in Japan) do that the average American would probably think “ok, and?” or “so what?” to, because the average American is incapable of compiling a proper conscious thought to actually understand that sometimes different = better and other times different just = different.  A few of my observation points about Japanese society:
1.  The elderly hold the highest social respect position – they are honored people in society.  Elderly drivers over age 70 (I think) have a special decal for their car which basically informs everyone around them that it’s an elderly driver and essentially to get the hell out of their way if there is a gridlock.
2.  Women run the family finances, but at the same time, women are much more frugal, pragmatic and conscientious about managing the family’s money.  Japan is a cash-based society; that is, most employees are paid in cash to this day.  They don’t know what the hell a check is in Japan, nor do they care.
3.  Children are honored citizens in society; there are several national holidays for children.
4.  Handguns (yes, I went there) are outlawed nationwide.  You do not have the right to bear arms.  If there is ever a violent crime, most often the weapon of choice is a chef’s knife.
5.  Most importantly I think; it doesn’t matter who you are, what kind of car you drive, what kind of job you have, what brand of clothes you wear – what matters is that you are an upstanding, honest person whom those around you can respect and trust.  You must represent yourself as a person that others would care to be around based on your core values and not your outward appearance.
6.  The average Japanese person is between -10 and +5 pounds of their ideal weight; the Japanese diet consists primarily of vegetables and fish.

So, without continuing for a longer spell, I’ll conclude this mini-tirade with some thoughts.  Manifest Destiny grew America to too large of a size too early in its existence – that was out of pure greed and desire to prosper in previously unmapped, native lands.  The Monroe Doctrine basically installed the US as the conflict cops of the Western Hemisphere during the same era.  Nearly 200 years later, are Americans any more conscious, on average?

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Posted in culture, Japan, opinion, research, sociology | 3 Comments »

Writers Guild Strike Affecting “Heroes” Season 2

Posted by Patrick on 7 Nov 2007

Tim Kring said in an interview from the picket lines the other day that they had to re-do the ending of episode 11, in the event that season 2 has to end at that episode.

First, I want to say that this is a disgraceful embarrassment of American society to have union workers out picketing. It’s a centuries-old negotiation tactic steeped in negative reinforcement with those affected indirectly by the work stoppage. Labor unions are ok in some ways and not ok in others, but this is the very reason that industries don’t like to work with them. Honestly, there are probably as many good writers not in the guild as there are in it. When work stoppages like this happen, I wonder how seriously the other side of the bargain considers bringing in non-union people who’d work for the last offered proposal (it’s probably a high%).

Secondly, Heroes is really good this season. At seven episodes deep, and with the ending of episode 7 (so many ?s there) I can’t see this season winding down in 4 more episodes. I could see it going into a mid-season break like season 1 did, but there’s no way the entire second season story can wrap up in 168 more minutes of screen time. I’d be impressed and disappointed with that if it really happened.

Thoughts?

edit — Sorry, but I have to turn off comments on this post for awhile because a lot of spam is getting through the wordpress filter and I don’t want to manage it manually.

Posted in culture, heroes, opinion, TV, wtf | 5 Comments »

What are YOU reading next?

Posted by Patrick on 24 Jul 2007

I’ve heard it called the AH (after Harry) era, the post-HP era, the “end of the tunnel”, the second age of children’s literature, and a few other things.  I’m talking about the going-forward nature of all the millions of Harry Potter fans that, after having consumed HP:DH to their heart’s content, now find themselves in sheer lack of anticipation for another book in the series.

So, the question is out there:

What are you reading next?

For me, the answer is that I’m reading ハリー・ポッターと謎のプリンス which would be the Japanese translation of HP:HBP.  I do it for language study – the Japanese language is so much more consise than English.  HP:DH in Japanese evidently doesn’t even have a release date yet, but it is usually around 1 year behind the main language translations.

After that, I don’t really have a plan.  Open for suggestions!

HP:HBP Japanese translation. Can you tell what scene this is?

Posted in culture, harry potter, japanese, reading | 6 Comments »

Try Driving in Japan

Posted by Patrick on 23 Jul 2007

Americans in general are such awful, inattentive, road raging drivers that I’d like to see the average person attempt to drive in Japan.  And for many reasons; I’ll try to explain.

The first obstacle to overcome is that Japanese traffic is on the opposite side of the road, and the driver sits on the right front. It’s like the UK – well pretty much like anywhere except the US and Korea.

Second obstacle for Americans is that the highest speed limit in the entire country is 100km/h — that’s about 63mph, and that’s on the multi-lane expressway.  In town, the speed limits are between 40 and 60km/h, and most of the time around 50, which is a measly 31mph. 

Third obstacle to overcome for Americans: it is expressly illegal to drive your car and use your cell phone at the same time.  I think that does the trick for every woman and lots of men reading this post.  Police can and will stop you and cite you for this very reason; it is not a secondary offense at all.

Fourth obstacle to overcome is the pure volume of traffic.  Tokyo is a city of 35 million strong.  Do the math.  But what’s amazing about Tokyo traffic is that it flows much more nicely than any major American city despite its size.  I cite superior city management and superior traffic engineering as reasons for that.

Fifth obstacle to overcome is noise pollution.  You will be ticketed if you try to ride down the highway with your 15’s bumping, or if you try to cruise the ‘hood with your windows down and system up.  That should rule out all the thugs, wiggers, wannabes and all other hood rats that think bump is cool, because it *was back in 1990, but holy hell it’s played out.

Now, suppose you’re an upstanding citizen and overall responsible driver and you manage to overcome those things.  Let’s talk about traffic law and accident law briefly.

First, understand that it is not America.  You do not have the bill of rights, but some of the same rights do apply.  One important thing to note is what it takes (as a citizen) to get a driver’s license in Japan.  Drivers Education is compulsory, as in it is required, and because of that the 6-month set of classes run about $2000.  Less than half pass on the first attempt.  Licensing is broken down similarly to the US, except that manual and automatic transmissions are licensed separately (and yes, they are separate driver’s ed classes).  Your drivers license has a colored bar on it that shows the expiration date.  The color of the bar is significant – it denotes how long you’ve been licensed without a ticket or accident.  If you get the gold bar – that’d be the highest rank, so to speak – people are pleased with you.

For the first year that you are licensed, you’re required to place a mark on the rear of your car indicating such.  It’s a standardized yellow and green chevron mark that just screams “new driver”.  We need that in the US, for real.

So, on to actual driving.  Police don’t normally set speed traps, though they do use motorbike cops on the highways sometimes.  No, in most places, they use video and camera surveillance to nab speeders.  You do NOT want to be caught by one of these.  They mail you a printout of yourself driving your car complete with date, time, location, speed limit and speed, and the date that you are to appear in court to face charges.  Here’s the kicker.  If you are fined for speeding, expect to pay no less than $500 in fines plus a little more cabbage for the film, postage, court costs, and everything else that had to be bought to prove your guilt.  In more severe speeding cases, the fines are in the several thousand dollar range — yes, thousands.  And, if you lose your license, guess what.  Drivers education classes are required to get it back, and those are still expensive.

Now, let’s have an accident, though this is the one thing you absolutely do not want to do in Japan.  Japan uses a system of relative negligence when handing out guilt in accidents.  This means, if you are involved in an accident, you are always going to share a part of the fault/guilt for it.  I believe the only exception to this is if you are outside your car and it is properly parked at the time of the accident.  If you are sitting inside your car, parked, not started, and someone backs into you, that’s about a 5% fault rating.  On average, an accident is somewhere between 80/20 and 50/50 when both people are driving.  What this means is that you try your damndest to *avoid an accident – whereas in America people are so fraudulent that they’ll allow an accident to happen when it’s not their fault and try to collect some insurance money.  Vulturous punks.

Suppose you run off the road and hit a telephone pole.  Guess what, you’re buying a new one.  Hit a phone booth, same.  Run over a fire hydrant, woe be unto you but you’re paying for that plus the cost of the water and the labor spent to cap it off.  No, the Japanese do not play when it comes to that kind of stuff.

Now, for the worst-case.  If you run over someone or otherwise kill someone in an accident, basically your life is indebted to the family of the deceased.  It’s going to cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in penance to the family; just forget about ever having a life again.  The rule of thumb there is that you will regularly show up at the family’s residence and pay penance (and yes I mean *pay) until the family believes you have earned their forgiveness.  It is literally tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars later in many cases.

So, buckle up! Ready to tackle Tokyo by car?

Posted in culture, international, Japan, japanese | Tagged: | 9 Comments »