Monday, May 30, 2011

old spice guy wants it to be sweet christmas!

Isaiah Mustafa, aka the Old Spice Guy, wants to be Luke Cage so bad he can smell it. Here's what looks to be a trailer for a Luke Cage movie or possibly a Heroes for Hire TV show. No official Marvel branding (you know, that cycling of comic book panels behind the logo at the beginning of just about everything Marvel these days since the 1st Spider Man movie) so it's probably a bit of self-initiated publicity.

Look at the clip. Now look at Blade III. Now look at the clip. Ladies, why isn't this movie getting made?

If this is a very public audition tape to Marvel for a spot in a Heroes for Hire adaptation, who would you like to see cast as Danny Rand, aka Iron Fist?

can you really be late after the end of history?

An interesting if brief interview with Francis Fukuyama, perhaps best known for his The End of History and the Last Man . Rather than being consigned to the scrap heap of immediate post-Cold War triumphalism like Samuel Huntington and his thesis on The Clash of Civilizations , Fukuyama has a new 2 volume book in the works called The Origins of Political Order , with the first volume already in stores. The goal? To describe the development of political institutions since the beginning of history.

Nineteen years have cooled Fukuyama's triumphant enthusiasm for liberal democracy. Now he's not sure an American-styled, voter-driven political system is the cat's meow. Noting the successes of post-Mao China, Singapore, and pre-bursted bubble Japan, he can see the positive in more authoritarian forms of government. Rather than responding to the beliefs of the anti-intellectual masses and ending up in constant gridlock through checks & balances, authoritarian governments have the advantage of decisive and effective decision-making. This efficiency, however, often comes at the price of popular support and, in the long-term, stability.

But rather than learning his lesson, Fukuyama falls back on the intellectual crutch of meta-narratives. In his new book, he lays out the three characteristics of a modern state: formal bureaucratic institutions, the rule of law, and accountability. Based on these characteristics, he traces the development of the "modern state." The first volume covers pre human history up through the French Revolution. Volume Two should carry us up through today.

Eschewing the traditional eurocentric narrative that begins with England, Fukuyama finds the roots of the modern state in ancient China with its meritorious civil service exams and governance through bureaucrats. But the lack of high-level abstraction in Chinese thinking, he argues, is responsible for China falling behind Europe in the 17th through 19th centuries.

While the more localized questions he raises are interesting, the overall premise of Fukuyama's treatise, that there is such a thing as a "modern state" and history progresses towards its achievement, smacks of the same Hegelian dialectic that produced _The End of History_. Jacques Derrida 's criticism of that "New Gospel" of the "Christian eschatology" equally applies to the themes of this new work:
For it must be cried out, at a time when some have the audacity to neo-evangelize in the name of the ideal of a liberal democracy that has finally realized itself as the ideal of human history: never have violence, inequality, exclusion, famine, and thus economic oppression affected as many human beings in the history of the earth and of humanity. Instead of singing the advent of the ideal of liberal democracy and of the capitalist market in the euphoria of the end of history, instead of celebrating the ‘end of ideologies’ and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, have so many men, women and children been subjugated, starved or exterminated on the earth.
Although he couches and hedges his support for liberal democracy given its obvious failures since the fall of the Soviet Union (the global financial meltdown caused by the prophets of profits and de-regulation of American capitalism being the most recent and persuasive), Fukuyama's "modern state" at the apotheosis of historical development nonetheless stands in the shadow of this form of government; the characteristics of a "modern state" are very much the definition in abstract of a liberal democracy.

It's interesting to put Fukuyama's assumptions about the way the world works next to the methodology of Michel Foucault where progress as the structure of history is denied and power, rather than being concentrated in the form of a state or held collectively by the populace, works by investing itself at ever more microscopic levels into the body politic from dispersal across the social rather than in its accumulation.

Big stories make for flashy, attractive tropes that are easily assimilated into the popular mythos. Witness the recent box office success of 5 Fast 5 Furious. But easy to digest doesn't necessarily make it healthy. Diet, Nietzsche suggested, makes the character of a civilization. And I don't think he was just talking about brats and beer.

top 5 for the week of 30 may 2011

Yay! It's a bank holiday which means no work today. Not that I don't like my job or anything. I actually love it. But, ya know, everybody loves a 3 day weekend (or more).

Honestly, since arriving in London last week, I haven't had a whole lot of time to listen to music. Now that I'm finally able to settle into a routine because I have a place to call home for the next 3 months, that should change. I just looked over my previous top 5 lists and noticed than none of them include The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. How can that be, you ask? Don't you love them? Yes, I do, which is why this top 5 is dedicated completely to them. Still haven't decided if I'm going to try to see them in London when they come through.

1. the pains of being pure at heart - heart in your heartbreak

2. the pains of being pure at heart - a teenager in love

3. the pains of being pure at heart - young adult friction

4. the pains of being pure at heart - come saturday

5. the pains of being pure at heart - falling over

Sunday, May 29, 2011

obama enlists night elf mohawk as special envoy to china

Apparently hard time in China no longer just includes applying lead paint to children's toys and poisoning toothpaste. Now you can be sentenced to 12 hours a day farming gold in Azeroth in addition to physical labor and political indoctrination at some Chinese re-education camps according to a former prisoner at the Jixi re-education through labor camp in Heilongjiang province. As reported to the Guardian:
"Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour... There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn't see any of the money. The computers were never turned off."
For those of you who have no idea what this means, let me explain briefly. In a game like World of Warcraft, a player purchases items or abilities for use in the game through currency generated and collected while playing the game. Defeating monsters, completing tasks and quests, and other activities earn your character gold.[1] Gold can be exchanged directly from one character in the game to another. You might do this to help a beginning player or to pay for goods or services rendered to your character by another character. Gold farmers earn this in-game money through hours and hours of boring, repetitive play (grinding) and then trade it to another character in exchange for real money, dollars and pounds, deposited into real bank accounts. In other words, virtual money becomes real money for the gold farmer.[2]

Some crazy facts & statistics about gold farming in China:
  • approximately £1.2 billion (over $2 billion USD) worth of virtual currencies were traded through China in 2008
  • 80% of all gold farmers are in China
  • there are roughly 100,000 full time gold farmers in China
  • a 2009 law in China makes it illegal to trade in virtual currencies without a license from the central government
It's long been "sound" economic policy to export low-skill, labor intensive jobs overseas while retaining the bulk of the surplus value for the home country, or, as the nature of businesses change, the transnational entity. But now we're exporting our supposed entertainments as well. This is more than tourism to underdeveloped nations like Thailand, Brazil, or the Philippines to take advantage of inexpensive accommodations in beautiful, exotic locales, five star food and drinks at fast food prices, and, increasingly, cheap sex with economically exploited women (and children). We're literally paying people to play the game for us, doing all the grinding while we enjoy the benefits of the work through shiny gear, flashy spells, and such.

This problem of so called gold farming has led some companies hosting MMOs like Blizzard and NC Soft to block Chinese game accounts in attempts to thwart the trade. Non-tradeable currencies like prestige, honor, and valor points which must be earned by the character are alternative methods to eliminate the secondary, and for the game companies, undesired, market in gold. The problem with these alternate currencies, however, is that their usefulness primarily manifests at the upper experience levels of play. High level characters can often generate money rather quickly but value these other forms of currency more as the sole way to purchase much of the best equipment in the upper echelons and later stages of the game. Low and mid tier characters, on the other hand, still rely primarily on tradeable currencies for advancement, meaning the demand for cheap gold, even when collected in conditions virtually amounting to slavery, is unlikely to diminish anytime soon.

Beyond the annoyance of gold spamming adverts in the open chat channels, gold farming has another more immediately detrimental effect on the in-game economy. The availability of so much cash without the corresponding investment in labor by the players actually logged-in to play means prices are heavily inflated in the marketplaces of games like World of Warcraft. It's like the Federal Reserve just continuing to print money, except the printing presses represent thousands of hours of forced labor by political prisoners who get no pleasure out of the game. Prisoners are expected to keep playing until they can barely see things. And I doubt very much Doritos and Mountain Dew are on tap.

Prisoners aren't even allowed the small pleasures of leveling up.

The nerd in me wonders if the owners of the prison camps have calculated the strategies to maximize their profits. Do the prisoners group up to complete lucrative dungeon runs? Are certain classes and professions prized more than others? Do they cooperate to collect rare materials and craft them into extremely valuable gear to be sold at in-game auction houses to fetch gold? Or do they just kill monsters, collect the drops, and repeat? It seems to me somebody could make a fortune consulting for Chinese prison camps to answer these questions and determine what gameplay generates the most wealth. Not that I'm advocating any "light treason" and violations of fundamental human rights. But it does beg the question how invested the prison officials are in getting rich off inmate labor through virtual currency trading.

Do you think when officials from the United States and Europe meet with their Chinese counterparts, they discuss World of Warcraft? Does the issue of gold farming in prison camps enter talks about human rights and trade? Or does the perception that video games are for kids, are just for fun, and what is being bought is virtual obscure the underlying issue of prison labor products being widely and openly traded on the international market, even in the US where there is a ban on importing such items when they are physical, durable goods? How should US laws handle the exchange of virtual goods for real dollars? Or should the law not get involved at all?

Now that the real and the virtual worlds so freely mix, it's hard to keep track of what is valuable since all value is relative. It's a strange new world where an accounting could in all seriousness be required to determine if my game character is worth more money than my car. As an attraction at Disney World proclaims, welcome to the world of tomorrow.

[1] A player is a real person. A character is the proxy of that person in the game, also called an avatar or a toon.
[2] I'll avoid a lengthy and technical commentary on the exchange of the real for the virtual a la Marx or Baudrillard. But it is interesting to think how effort measured by time is now fungible between serious pursuits (work) and entertainment (the game).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

first impressions of london

I've been in London about a week now and I thought I'd summarize some of my impressions for you.

Cost of Living

First, this city is very expensive, especially since the dollar is trading against the pound at a ratio of about 1.77 to 1. What I wouldn't give for those days of a strong US dollar. Well, I guess I gave about $17,000 because that's what the tanking economy drained out of my 401k account. Thanks again, American bankers, your greed is exceeded only by your stupidity and ability to effectively lobby the US government.

British Charm

People here are not very nice. They're not exactly rude, just not very nice. I've had people push and shove me, put their hands on my backpack, put their hands on my luggage, and walk directly into my path without so much as a "sorry" or "excuse me." It seems you literally have to knock something out of somebody's hands in order to get an angry and accusatory apology. My Aussie boss agreed with this impression of Londoners but a friend's roommate, a native, commented that this is just the way of life in a big city. True, I am from the South (Austin and currently residing in Atlanta for school) which is known for its manners, but I never noticed such incivility even in New York. People don't talk much in NYC, that's true, but they also tend to keep their hands and bodies to themselves.

Also, people don't talk much on the tube unless they've been drinking. Then they will shout boisterously the lyrics to some pub song, often in chorus with a bunch of equally inebriated lads.

Tea & Biscuits

It's not just a stereotype, Londoners really love their tea and coffee. Every meeting I've been to this first week at work has started off by getting tea or coffee. People meet up to have a coffee and do business by having a coffee. However, my work day has yet to be interrupted by tea time and no one's put out any eyes with an errant pinky. The worldwide monolith that is Starbucks is present here. But the local dog in this fight as far as chain coffee shops is called Costa. It's far and away the most present coffee chain I've seen. But there's also a smaller chain called Caffe Nero.

Biscuits mean cookies, not those doughy, delicious bread things you get in the South with breakfast. I've only been to one meeting where biscuits were served. They were pretty tasty. I've yet to sample a crumpet.


Speaking of coffee shops, the wi-fi culture here in London is very different than in the States. Whereas most coffee shops, cafes, diners, and even fast food restaurants offer free wireless connectivity to lure the perpetually digitally connected in the doors to spend money, most London businesses do not. Places do offer wireless internet through BTOpen, but you have to pay for it. This may have something to do with the culture of takeaway, which I will mention next.

Starbucks does offer free wireless at their shops if you have a Starbucks card and you register it online. I may have to get one, hopefully with the Union Jack logo on it, in order to access wireless when I'm away from my flat.

One other thing... unlike the US, where a lot of people don't password protect their wireless and many who do leave the password defaulted to "password" or "admin," wireless access in the UK is guarded jealously. I think it may have something to do with download caps on most home internet plans. If you have to pay for data per megabyte or gigabyte, you certainly don't want your neighbor piggybacking on your connection and driving up your costs.


Ah yes, the culture of takeaway. In London, this means more than simply picking up your food or coffee and taking it with you, the "to go" option of America. When a business asks you if you want it "takeway," they're asking you if you want to pay the premium for sitting down and enjoying your food or beverage on the premises. Most places will show you the price for an item listed as takeaway and to sit (though I don't think "to sit" is the actual verbiage). Also, I have yet to see a drive-thru in London.

Top Up

This means add money to your card or plan. You can top up your Oyster card (for the tube), your pay as you go phone plan, your Starbucks card, and probably a whole lot of other things. I'm not sure where this phrase came from.

The Tube

Like most big cities in America, mass transit is preferred to driving a car. The same is true in London. The most popular way to get around is on the Underground railway system often referred to as "the tube." You can buy single-use tickets based on destination but use of the Oyster card, a prepaid travel card that gives you a 30% (I think that's the amount) discount on fares, seems to be preferred. The Oyster card also covers transit on the Overground trains, the National Rail, most busses (yes, the double decker kind), and some boats and ferries (I think). I've been using the heck out of my Oyster card to get around London. But it's comparatively expensive to American subways. Even a very short ride will cost you about £1.30 during peak hours (about $2.30).

Oh, and unlike the NYC trains and SF's BART system, you just hold your Oyster card up to the reader at the turnstile; you don't have to insert your card and let it crank through the machine. How's that for modern technology?


No, I haven't gotten myself behind the wheel of a car here in London. I only rode in one for a very short period of time as my landlord took me to get our lease witnessed and then dropped me off at the tube station so I could make a meeting.

Instead, I'm going to talk about cars from the perspective of foot traffic. I'm still getting accustomed to the fact that Brits drive on the wrong side of the street in the wrong side of the car. In a lot of places where pedestrians are also likely to be tourists, they've written on the street "look right -->" or "<-- look left" (yes, with the arrows) in front of the crosswalk to indicate where traffic is coming from. Still, I get a little afraid when I see no one in the driver's side of the car.

There does appear to be something like Zip Car or car2go service here in London but I'm neither foolhardy enough nor in need of a vehicle to try it out. I'll stick to the tube and the sidewalks, thank you very much.


Like most big big cities (NYC), trying to find a place to live in London is really, really expensive. Most people can't afford to do it alone. That's why flat sharing is so popular here. Basically, lots of people have roommates to make their bills. And here I thought Mark tolerated Jeremy (yay! for you if you love Peep Show) living with him because they were old school chums but no, Mark actually wanted help paying the wildly expensive cost of living expenses in London.

Expenses are so high here that people will even temporarily let out their rooms for a few months or just a few days to help pay the costs of housing. I understand NYC has a similar gray market economy in housing, complicated by rent control.

Medieval City

One final comment for this blog entry, but I'll be sure to keep sharing my thoughts on my stay here in London.

London is a medieval city. You can see that in the sameness of the brick architecture, the cobblestone streets and sidewalks, the low pressure plumbing, and many of the major tourist attractions. But where it becomes particularly salient is trying to navigate the city at street-level topside. The streets are windy, branch out, and terminate suddenly like the limbs of some kind of alien tree. And a tree is probably the best metaphor to describe the why. Unlike most American cities, which are intentionally laid out on a grid system, London is a medieval city. The streets kind of grew up around the city and the castle slash palace at the heart of London without any aforethought or planning. Combined with really poor labeling of streets, this makes it nearly impossible for a newcomer to navigate the city without GPS or a really good map. I have not tried to jailbreak my iPhone to make it work on a UK SIM card for talk and data, so I am left at the mercy of getting lost all too often.

Rather than label streets at intersections as American cities (Japanese cities, towns, hamlets, and villages too, by the way), in London they will often only post a sign somewhere along the street. As you can imagine, this makes figuring out where you are pretty confusing. I will say that in the sort of heart of London where I was yesterday for a meeting, most of the streets were labelled at the corner where they met the major street.

Oh, and the main street in most neighborhoods is called the High Road. Kinda like Main Street in the America of yore.

Next time I'll try to talk about some of the British chains and brands, my time at the London Eye hostel, toilets & bathrooms, the two-tiered taxi system, food & a multicultural city (hint: fried chicken is supremely popular here), my landlord, warm beer, the weather, day & night, the relatively inexpensive costs of getting to other parts of Europe, CCTV & the surveillance society, and who knows what else. Maybe if I have time to turn on the telly I'll say something about it. Oh, and sports. They love their footy here


Monday, May 23, 2011

top 5 for the week of 23 may 2011

I heard the Velvet Underground and Animal Collective playing at this little bar / coffee shop located on a boat on the Thames yesterday. Not these particular songs. I can't remember which songs I heard. I was more surprised that these American acts were playing at a mainstream-ish British bar. It was a very welcome break from the sounds of British boy bands and pop music that has been the soundtrack of my hostel stay.

1. velvet underground & nico - all tomorrow's parties

2. animal collective - what would i want? sky

3. spoon - trouble comes running (this album was available on my delta flight to London)

4. the national - england (another album available on my delta flight; plus, it's a song about England - how much more relevant can it get?)

5. brown eyed girls - abracadabra (another album available on the flight plus the best music video ever made. evah.)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"Is buying sex a better way to help Cambodian women than buying a T-shirt?"

While the tagline of Ken Silverstein's recent article in Slate is quite inflammatory and some of his comments thoughtless, the overall gist is that, given two awful alternatives, sex work in Cambodian seems to many young women the lesser of two evils. The reasons lie with both the horrible conditions that textile workers endure, and although Ken mentions a bilateral agreement between the US and Cambodia that was supposed to improve the conditions of workers in exchange for privileged access to American markets, he spills more ink arguing that conditions of the women working as prostitutes, bar girls, masseuses, and in other branches of the sex trade aren't that bad.

He takes to task Nicholas Kristof in a 2008 New York Times article for describing textile work as an "escalator out of poverty." Unfortunately, he doesn't seem concerned to scrutinize his own assumptions about sex work catering to sex tourists, once predominantly middle aged Western men but increasingly drawing from the booming corners of Asia, or reflect more deeply on the continuing colonial economic exploitation that creates this diabolic binary.

He dismisses as overblown the numbers of women trafficked for sex as the "hyperbolic, fundraising claims of anti-trafficking" groups and puts the number of trafficked women at 10 percent. From what orifice did he extract that estimate? Also, telling, he comments on the percentage of women trafficked for sex work but not for the also inhumane textile industry.

He plays a game all too familiar to audiences familiar with the debate with the arguments about porn in the United States. One of the oft-sung refrains against Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon's criticism of porn is that the women who perform in porn (or are prostitutes, strippers, escorts, and such) are not the hapless, abused victims of the radical feminist perspective. Rather, most are happy, healthy women with high sex drives who enjoy making money doing something they really enjoy. Unfortunately hard numbers are hard to come by. Both sides marshall a handful of examples (see Linda Boreman aka Linda Lovelace contra Nina Hartley) but do no statistical analysis.

Silverstein falls prey to the same fallacy, detailing prolifically his various encounters with sex work throughout the brief article. But rather than serving as a confession (see Foucault contra Albert Camus, _The Fall_), he recounts a self-serving trope narrative of white men saving brown women from brown men (and other white men) a la Spivak's _Can the Subaltern Speak?_ He asks to be dropped off at a corner but the driver takes him to the front door of an infamous sex club on the same block. Or how he went into a bar not looking for sex but was offered it proactively by the club owner. That she was attractive but not interested deflated his desire whereas less sensitive men might not have acted the same. Or how he bought off a young woman's bar fine so that she could go home early to rest. And he, being the noble white protector, declined her half-hearted invitation to company.

His few interactions with a limited number of women, none of who openly admits to being trafficked but shows more candor in answering "is this a good job?" (their answer? no), isn't enough to speak to the problem of human trafficking for sex work or otherwise in Cambodia. It also lacks any sound basis to discuss the problem of sex trafficking in other countries. While few women are probably trafficked into the Philippines, a substantial number are trafficked out of that island nation to stock the military brothels of Okinawa and the anything's a go-go sex district of Thailand. Or the problem of human trafficking out of former Soviet states like the Ukraine. Amsterdam decided not to continue to "let the good times roll" in it's internationally infamous Red Light district in part because of the problem of trafficking to fill the wild and woolly streets with young flesh.

Silverstein also makes much of the fact that, when asked, many girls say they aren't forced or pressured to have sex with clients, at least by anything more than poverty, desperation, and premium exchange rates. But the point isn't that all young women who work in the sex industry are trafficked or that all of them are beaten or abused to perform sex acts. It's not that there are no women in the sex industry who enjoy their work. Silverstein saves the harder question for last, quoting labor-rights activist Tola Moeun of Community Legal Education Center.
A lot of women no longer want apparel jobs... When prostitution offers a better life, our factory owners need to think about more than their profit margins.
The fight, really, is about changing the changing consumption patterns in the Western world. Nike, Aeropostale, JC Penney and others treat Cambodian garment workers the way they do to keep prices low and maximize profits by providing cheap goods to eager markets. He points out that the typical garment worker makes .3% of the total value of her labor to Western companies ($750 yearly in wages including overtime on already long, difficult hours in unsafe conditions to the estimated $195,000 in profit off the garments made by her).

But the pattern of consuming sex also has to be changed and there are many factors at work here. Economic and racial theories filtered through colonial views and a global sense of entitlement. The nearly universal disparity in men and women's wages and value of their work. Family planning, family responsibilities, child care... the list goes on.

Faced with unpleasant situations with no easy solutions, it's not uncommon to find people downplaying the seriousness of the harm to cope. Others try to spin the negative into a positive with selective use of facts (see the aforementioned Kristof article). But retreat and ignorance don't make the problems go away. They just make go away out of sight.

No, buying sex is not a better way to help Cambodian women than buying a t-shirt. The solution can't be easily compacted into clever phrases. It requires real work; the kind of work that can't be outsourced overseas to increase profit margins and keep product costs low. It requires sacrifice and restraint, putting what's right above what feels good, whether that by affordable jeans that fit or a comely young Cambodian woman draping herself around your neck and offering you a massage and boom boom for less than the cost of a fast food meal. Cheaper is not always better and that's true of jeans and human life & dignity.

something happened to me on the way into london...

I was detained at immigration today at Heathrow Airport as a "mandatory refusal." Apparently even though I am not getting paid for my legal work this summer, I still needed to obtain a certificate of sponsorship in order to enter the country. I guess things would have been easier if I had not replied that I was in London for an unpaid internship. The standard procedure is to put mandatory refusals immediately on the plane and send them home. But the woman at immigration was very nice and helpful. I forgot the exact word she used to describe my entry, but she informed I will be detained the next time I try to enter the UK to be asked a lot of questions about my time here.

I was able to purchase an Oyster Card at Heathrow airport. Hooray! That's made getting around the city a lot easier. Figuring out the train changes to get to the area of London where I'm staying wasn't too difficult but my inherent inability to discern direction led me far astray once I was above ground.

I ended up doing some accidental sightseeing. Misled by signs that said London Eye (that's also the name of the hostel I'm staying in), I walked over to the London Eye pier where the famous ferris wheel and glass building are. I also saw Big Ben, the House of Parliament, Westminster Abbey from the other side of the Thames. Unfortunately at that time I was also hauling around all of my luggage. My poor Wakamatsu...

Still looking for a place to live for the next 3 months. And trying to get a cell phone. Hopefully with GPS to correct for my lack of a sense of direction.

Apparently I left my laptop charger in Atlanta. That wasn't going to work, ya know, with that whole work thing. So I had to head out to the Apple Store in Covent Garden. Getting there by train wasn't too difficult. Finding the store, on the other hand, was. I wandered around the shopping plaza for awhile looking for it. Again, no sense of direction. On the weekends the place is full of people and also street performers. I saw a guy painted in silver body paint pretending to be a statute. And a musician playing covers of American pop songs (like "my heart will go on...") Eventually I found the store. $95 dollars for a charger that only works in England.

This trip hasn't exactly started out well, has it?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

ACL festival 2011 lineup is finally here

Click on the link to see ACL 2011 to see the lineup.

Monday, May 16, 2011

top 5 for the week of 16 may 2011

In anticipation of my summer job in London, today's top 5 exclusively features English acts.

1. morrisey - the more you ignore me, the closer i get

2. buzzcocks - ever fallen in love

3. radiohead - india rubber (probably my favorite radiohead track. ever.)

4. frYars - the ides

5. mystery jets - hideaway

Friday, May 13, 2011

"the casenote is done, man"

The write-on competition for law journal suuuuucked. For those of your unfamiliar with this particular travail, first, count yourself lucky and second, let me explain. Given a nearly 200 page packet of cases, we, the 1Ls hoping to make law journal as 2Ls, were asked to submit a casenote. That casenote condensed the law contained in the numerous cases contained in said packet into a narrative describing the line of jurisprudence, or case law and legal theory.

It really was 11 days of hell, made all the worse for procrastinating. I came home to Austin from Atlanta to see my family but also because I though being away from all the distractions of my many possessions in my apartment and small number of friends would keep me focused throughout the ordeal. #timemanagmentfail Unfortunately, after finishing exams, I didn't really want to do anymore "school stuff." I put in about 4-5 hours a day for about the first four days. Then came the weekend, Mother's Day weekend, and more family. Getting back on track this week was nigh near impossible. Excelsior!

But it's over and done with now. I submitted the casenote and Bluebook quiz (ah, the bane of my existence) this morning. Now all that's left to do is wait. We aren't notified until sometime in June? Hopefully by that time I'll have put this whole excruciating ordeal out of mind.

For other 1Ls / rising 2Ls around the country who may not have completed your write-on competition yet for law journal, good luck. And if you're brilliant enough to have graded on where you're attending, I hate you.

That is all.

Hopefully I can manage to get myself into the sun at Barton Springs Pool this afternoon.

Over and out.

Monday, May 9, 2011

top 5 for the week of 9 may 2011

Another Monday track list dedicated to the Lone Star state.

1. the black angels - young men dead

2. explosions in the sky - greet death

3. ...and you will know us by the trail of dead - another morning stoner (sorry for vevo)

4. spoon - the underdog

5. stars of the lid - dungtitled (in A major)

6. oh no! oh my! - i love you all the time

7. flaming lips x neon indian - is david bowie dying? (i was born in oklahoma so here's a home state collision)

8. ghostland observatory - sad sad city

Friday, May 6, 2011

weirdest searches bringing people to this blog

5. bdsm rape
4. win butler slash fiction
3. blowjob cartoons
2. animal porn legal

And the number one weirdest search that brings people to this blog...

1. a link from a penis pill review page

UPDATE: Just in time for Mother's Day, the search "BDSM torture moms" brought somebody to this blog. Apparently my labels can combine to form some pretty messed up topics. Kind of like a Voltron of perversion.

やった! (yatta!)

A few weeks ago I posted a link to an article about the Animal Legal Defense Fund's lawsuit to free Tony the Tiger, a Siberian-Bengal tiger, being held in a cage at a Louisiana truck stop. Today, victory for Tony was announced when a East Baton Rouge District Court judge granted ALDF's request for a permanent injunction against the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries. The Department is enjoined from renewing the annual permit required to allow Grosse Tete Tiger Truck Stop to exhibit the big cat under Louisiana law.

True Blood's Kristin Bauer recorded a video urging support for ALDF's campaign to free Tony. The star power behind the campaign went supernova when Leonardo DiCaprio encouraged his facebook and twitter followers to help end the inhumane conditions of Tony's captivity. Thanks to these celebrities and others (hopefully a few of this blog's readers), ALDF went into court with 31,000 signatures petitioning the state of Louisiana to deny the permit to Michael Sandlin, owner of the truck stop.

I have a personal connection to this story through one of my closest friends, Matthew Liebman, who is a staff attorney for ALDF and was in court today in Louisiana advocating on behalf of the law (former Louisiana Representative Warren Triche, a co-plaintiff in the case, had authored the bill banning the private ownership if big cats), animal welfare, and general decency. Every time I doubt my reasons for going to law school, Matt always pulls off something amazing like this to remind me that lawyers can make a difference. Thank you Matt, the ALDF, Warren Triche, and the law offices of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell, & Berkowitz, P.C., who provided pro bono assistance on this case.

The ruling only enjoins the Department from renewing the permit which means that Tony will remain on exhibit at the truck stop until the current permit expires in December of this year (2011). ALDF is working with the Department to help find Tony an appropriate sanctuary. Stephen Wells, Executive Director of ALDF, had this to say.
Today, the law was upheld in the state of Louisiana, which has explicit regulations designed to protect tigers like Tony... It is an incredible victory for ALDF, the tens of thousands around the world who have supported this campaign, and most of all, for Tony. We eagerly look forward to the day that he leaves behind the noise and fumes of the Tiger Truck Stop for a new life of freedom that he has never known.
You can read the press release or find out about other campaigns and ways to get involved with animal welfare at the

UPDATE: Yay! Matthew's in the New York Times.

top 3 signs you're trying too hard

1. you're wearing a fedora but you're not on your way to a jazz club or the set of a Maltese Falcon remake
2. you're a white guy from the suburbs with dreads
3. you write lists complaining about people trying too hard

Thursday, May 5, 2011

13 assassins

SPOILER warning: Significant plot points are revealed. Read at your own peril.

Walking in to 13 Assassins this evening, I didn't know it was a remake of a 1963 black and white film of the same name directed by Eiichi Kudo. All I knew is that it was a samurai drama (jidaigeki) directed by Takashi Miike. The Miike name was enough to get me to the theater.

Miike is perhaps best known in the West for his disturbing "love story" film Audition and yakuza revenge piece Ichi the Killer. I've also seen Gozu and Dead or Alive 2. Based on these four films and things I've read about his rather lengthy filmography, I had certain expectations going into 13 Assassins. The fact that it didn't meet this expectations in no way is meant to denigrate the film.

13 Assassins is a movie about samurai, plain and simple. While that does mean guys cutting into each other with swords, samurai movies, at least Japanese samurai films, often revolve around a lot more (for instance, see: Twilight Samurai. But see: the 26 original Zatoichi films). Their is imperial politics, the relationship of retainer to lord (and ronin - masterless samurai), honor, family, and such; 13 Assassins pulls in all of these. But there's a good amount of hacking, slashing, bloodshed, and decapitation, too.

The plot, in brief, concerns the assassination of one Lord Naritsugu, son of the previous Shogun and brother to the current. He's a depraved noble, convinced that his birthright gives him not only the right but the duty to rape and murder those whose station in life is to serve him. With the announcement that he will ascend to the rank of Shogun's council and basically be the second-in-command of Japan, a plot is set in motion to make sure he never gets home to take that title. Under secret order from the Shogun, Shinzaemon, a veteran of the Shogun's guard, collects 12 other warriors to help him kill Naritsugu and his army of 200 men at the small town of Ochiai.

There are several of your basic warrior archetypes here. Just to name a few... Hirayama, Shinzaemon's pupil, is the swordsman of unmatched skill. He wields two blades in the final battle a la Miyamoto Musashi and is a general terror. Then there is Ogura, a youth full of devotion but who has never killed a man before. He takes his first life, is shaken by it, and receives reassurance from the more experienced samurai, transitioning him at last into their brotherhood of blood. Shinroukuro is Shinzaemon's nephew, a warrior disillusioned with samurai ways but brought back into the fold, and Sahara, a spear-wielding ronin who fights not for honor, ideals, or his master but demands payment up front to extinguish his debts, take care of his family, and to afford a brief taste of the luxuries he has never known. And then there's Koyata Kiga, a feral hunter released from a trap by the heroes while they are lost in the woods. He guides them back to the road and joins the 12 samurai in the final battle at Ochiai. Unlike them, he fights primarily with the very un-samurai weapon of rocks and slings, either tossing the rocks or using them as a makeshift flail.

Miike's movies are known for the grotesque, surreal, and sometimes downright ridiculous. The torture scenes in Audition, Ichi's masochism, or pretty much the entirety of Gozu including the brutal murder of a small dog, a cow-headed woman lactating, a suit of human skin, and a woman giving birth to a fully grown man. 13 Assassins has precious little of that. The international version of the film, at 126 minutes, is 15 minutes shorter than the Japanese version. Perhaps Miike's signature shocking imagery and gore were cut either for time or sensitivities of foreign film-goers.

There were a few moments that seemed to show Miike's touch. For instance, one of Naritsugu's examples of cruelty was cutting the arms, legs, and tongue out of the daughter of the peasant who led a revolt against him. She is presented to Shinzaemon fully unclothed, writhing in her painful, pathetic state, to persuade him of the necessity to kill Naritsugu for his inhumanity. And while hiking through the wilderness, Kiga catches a big bug and sucks out its guts. Visually, it's depicted in quite a staid manner. Some members of the assassin's cadre are plague with leeches at one point, but this is mostly played for laughs rather than disgust or silliness.

The sword fights, where I expected to clearly see the hand of Miike at work, were relatively subdued and mild. Like the genre from which it springs, in 13 Assassins, most people are hit with the sword and then fall down to die. Limbs are not dismembered with explosive fountains of blood. Fingers are not chopped off in close up. Nobody gets stabbed through the eye in magnificent CGI glory. People are hit with the sword. They fall down. They die. That's pretty much it.
There are three notable exceptions. First, in the first example of Naritsugu's cruelty, we seem him attack the young Uneme Makino from behind and repeatedly hack into him. Blood splatter Naritsugu's white kimono with every blow but we don't see the blade hit the body. Young master Makino, a newlywed, had come to investigate why his wife Chise was delayed. Naritsugu had earlier dragged her by her hair across the floor into his room and raped her. The elder Makino, Uneme's father, relates this personal grievance against Naritsugu to Shinzaemon first before revealing the horribly disfigured to elicit the veteran's cooperation.

Second, during the first encounter between the assassins and a band of ronin paid by Naritsugu's retainer Hanbei, Ogura's sword gets stuck in a man after he cuts deeply into his shoulder. Ogura struggles to free his blade while the man attempts to strike him with a short sword. But the gore isn't played up here and it's not meant to be over the top, at least in the international cut.

Third, when Shinzaemon finally faces down his old rival Hanbei at the end of the film, he decapitates the man after admonishing him that they had been equals in skill in the dojo, implying that when the civility of the dojo is gone and it's life or death, Hanbei had always been outmatched. It wasn't just lucky breaks that moved Shinzaemon ahead, as Hanbei alleges, but a real difference in the character of the men. Hanbei's head comes off, but not on screen. We do not see the sword cut through his neck or blood spurt from the wound. Instead, we see the head fly from off screen onto the ground with an absence of arterial blood spray.
With his final guard defeated, Naritsugu is left to take on the hardened warrior Shinzaemon. Naritsugu kicks the head of his faithful retainer. But this isn't for laughs like the CGI cockfight in DOA2. It's a final example of the utterly malevolent heart of the Lord. Shinzaemon prevails and decapitates his foe but again without a lot of red-dyed corn syrup.

(NOTE: I had to take a bathroom break during the final battle in Ochiai right after Hirayama and Ogura die. I suppose there may have been Miike-type ultra-violence during that 4 minutes I missed.)

All of the assassins save Shinroukuro and Kiga are dead at the close of battle at Ochiai. Kiga runs off to try to woo his beloved Upashi, wife of his boss and the reason he was originally caught in the trap. Shinroukuro, encouraged by his uncle in his dying breath to lay aside samurai ways and do what he wants, considers becoming Japan's greatest bandit or perhaps sailing to America and sleeping with lots of (white) women. The two part ways headed in opposite ways through the bloody, burning carnage of the small town.

Comparisons to The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven are ready. But there's also a more recent American movie that explores similar themes: 300. A charismatic leader, a small band of hardened warriors fighting against an impossibly large odds, swords, a depraved and decadent enemy leader. Both 300 and 13 Assassins are based on supposedly actual historical events. But in 300 the heroes go out stop the enemy from invading their home, therefore assuming a defensive role, the 13 assassins are sent out on a mission to kill Lord Naritsugu. And 13 Assassins obviously hews much more closely to reality than the over the top cinematic action of 300.

One flaw in the movie, one that 15 minutes of cut footage probably wouldn't remedy, is the large number of heroes, for the most part, don't really stand out as individuals. Unlike another recent American movie, Lord of the Rings (or the dwarves that press Bilbo into service in The Hobbit), it's difficult to keep many of the 13 assassins apart. They are initially introduced and then, besides a single-dimension portrait (the comic relief guy, the demolition guys, and others that don't even stand out), they're all guys in dark clothes with swords. But this a criticism that gets leveled a lot of films. Video games, too. The Ocean's 11 remake did a good job of crafting a unique identity for each of the almost as large cast of role-players.

13 Assassins is a great film but it's very much a period piece following the conventions of the genre. It starts out slow, establishing the intricacy of politics, personal relations, and depravity that launch Shinzaemon and his followers on the road to Ochiai. The second third has a little more action as the heroes take to the road, have a limited confrontation, and begin putting their plan into effect to force Naritsugu and his army to Ochiai. The third and final act sees the heroes fortify Ochiai before the epic battle of 13 against 200 unfolds in all its violent, explosive, moving walls, sword swinging glory. No buckets of blood or flying limbs but 13 Assassins is a thoroughly enjoyable, dramatic tale of honor and duty in pre-Meiji Japan.

UPDATE 30 May 2011: You can now pre-order 13 Assassins on DVD or Blu-ray .

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

free press summerfest 2011

Been watching this music fest up and coming in Houston for the last couple of years. It looks like a summer version of Austin's fun fun fun fest (moving this year from Waterloo Park to Auditorium shores). The lineup has been solid in the past and looks to be great again this summer. To check out the full schedule and buy passes, go here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

osama bin laden is dead

I'm not going to declare "mission accomplished" or do the dougie now that Osama bin Laden is reportedly dead. It was just and it was necessary. But killing and war aren't sports. We shouldn't celebrate when we kill somebody, even the purported mastermind behind a plot that killed many innocent Americans. War is a necessary evil but it's evil nonetheless. We should never forget that. Still, these pics are quite amusing. Proof that the internet never sleeps.

Waiting for the Osama bin Laden Is Dead (remix) of this song to come out. I'm officially taking credit for the idea, interwebs.

miss geo

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I love music and I love to promote interesting new artists. Here's Miss Geo, née Abby Gutierrez, of Rhode Island. She's got all the usual indie chops in order: DIY release of her first album, an ear worm of a single, and blog buzz.

I've seen comparisons to Smashing Pumpkins and Teagan & Sara. I think she just writes great pop with extremely clever hooks. Broken Wrists is just good, clean pop song. The Story exudes that 60s AM radio sound that's so fashionably hip these days (Dirty Beaches, Best Coast, Tennis).

You know I never promote a band without giving you a little taste for free.

You can check out her band page on Facebook, which includes a few more tracks to stream, and tumblr. She's currently in studio working on a follow-up record. Color me excited.

You can download The Story from Amazon, or, if you're like me, purchase the physical CD for your collection.

Update 17 May 2011: Received the promo wristband in the mail. <3<3<3 and thanks!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

the panel heard 'round the world

Superman: a world citizen

I know I keep promising to talk about the female form in comics and Wonder Woman, but timeliness...

This week Fox News opened a new ridiculous front in the evolving (pop) culture wars (see: Mass Effect is interspecies gay porn, Bulletstorm encourages rape). In its record-breaking 900th issue, Superman announces his intention to renounce his US citizenship before the UN, stating:

Superman's comment is sparked by his visit to Iran to protect anti-government protestors and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, notably not a fictional proxy, accusing him of intervening to promote American interests.

The Escapist covers the story and notes that Fox News is mostly even-handed in its reporting. User comments, on the other hand, contain enough venom to kill the world's population 100x times over.

Fox's "friends" can't seem to differentiate between Superman not wanting his actions, which still fully promote American values of individualism, freedom, and democracy, from being constructed as projections of the White House and Superman being anti-American. Such an all-or-nothing, you're-either-with-us-or-you're-a-terrorist is the same un-nuanced, black & white, jingoist nonsense we spent 8 years suffering through with George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld running the show. It comes as no surprise to me that regular viewers and browsers of the Fox News worldview would react so violently negative to Superman's announcement.

Rather than being anti-American, Superman seems to be acknowledging the weakness with being associated with a particular nation that spent 8 long years dividing the world into allies and enemies with its foreign policy pursuits. He's setting aside his national citizenship not because he's turned his back on America or his Smallville values but because the most effective way for him to promote those very values for the entire planet is not to be seen as a tool of a crusadin' cowboy president of a single nation. Superman protects the globe from bad guys and as such serves humanity. He is a symbol of the goodness of humanity, not just 300 million instances of it.

But the right-wing nut jobs are out in full force, crying a conspiracy of the liberal media to attack and destroy this nation by undermining its whatever. I'm not sure what they think is being undermined here other than chauvinism masquerading as "patriotism." Because there's only 1 way to be "American" and anybody who doesn't follow the party line espoused by Rupert Murdoch's collection of talking heads, Rush Limbaugh, and Newt Gingrich just isn't a "real American."

For instance,
The liberal, America hating scumbags who now run DC Comics are just adding another feather in their cap with yet more anti-American culture and tradition jihad. Fuck 'em.
This is why I don't go to movies or even rent anymore. I'm not making the left loons of Hollywood any richer to support their campaign of American hate.
Us & them, friends & enemies, white hats & black hats. It's sad that American political discourse is currently governed by the same mentality that dominates elementary school playgrounds.

Notice that Clark Kent isn't renouncing his US citizenship or defecting to a hostile foreign power. Because Fox's "friends" certainly didn't. The man beneath the red, blue, and yellow cape and tights still firmly believes in the American experiment. It's just when he has to serve as the shining beacon of that experiment, he doesn't want his message to be swallowed by global attitudes towards recent American foreign adventures. Jim Lee and Dan Didio, co-publishers of DC Comics, have been trying to make this point.

Oh yeah, and by the way guys, Superman is a fictional character...

top 5 for the week of 2 may 2011

This week's extended "top 5" are all bands from Austin to honor my home town. I'm at home getting ready to spend the next 11 days in the hell that is journal write on. Enjoy!

1. masonic - forgiven (i originally wanted to include brand new day but the internet has systematically eliminated the awesome jennifer christen vocals and replaced it with a godawful female lead. so instead, this song from the same album, with the lovely jennifer on vox.)

Masonic - Forgiven
Found at Forgiven on

2. the gloria record - a lull in traffic

3. the octopus project - i saw the bright shinies

4. the octopus project - music is happiness

5. okkervil river - our life is not a movie or maybe

6. ghostland observatory - dancing on my grave

7. i love you but i've chosen darkness - the ghost (if you've ever heard me complain about my ex ruining my birthday present to see ilybicd, this is the album they were supporting...)

8. the impossibles - stand up, fall down, get crushed (a peek inside one of austin's best venues with for the final show of one of austin's most beloved bands nobody else has heard of)

9. the impossibles - get it + got it = good

10. explosions in the sky - greet death