日曜日, 11月 23, 2003

Porn for biological anthropologists

He pressed a kiss two centimeters anterior to her temporo-mandibular joint and fluttered more down the ascending ramus. Resting his head against her pectoral girdle, he lavished attention to her sternum, easing from the manubrium to the xiphoid process. While one hand traced the lordosis of her vertebral column, the other caressed her sartorius from its insertion at the medial surface of the tibia to its origin at the iliac spine.

Once again, he marveled at the generous carrying angle of her femurs, at the elegant tilt of her pelvic bone, at the beautiful orientation of her iliac crests. It took thousands—nay, millions of years of evolution to produce this wonder, this glorious bipedalism. That thought alone made him mad to examine her linea aspera.

土曜日, 11月 22, 2003

Culture clash

It was something straight out of a Lonely Planet book:

My postdoc boss and I were in the darkroom in a different part of the med school when we heard a distant buzzing. When we returned to the lab through the connecting corridor, it was obviously our building's fire alarm. So we dutifully hurried downstairs--straight into a circle of irate policemen.

In between yelling at us for coming out of the building thirty minutes late (the alarm had been on for that long) and yelling at us for not acting terrified, they informed us that such loitering could be punishable by jailtime. My postdoc was obviously upset and reacted in the typically Chinese fashion: she smiled politely at the policemen.

They, of course, thought she was amused and yelled louder. Her smile widened painfully. They yelled even louder.

In the end, we explained that we were in another building entirely and never heard the alarm. It took much longer for the policemen to calm down. The entire affair could have been avoided if someone'd bothered to read any travel guide.

日曜日, 11月 16, 2003

I love my roommate. I really do. But did she HAVE to play this when I'm cramming for my chemistry midterm:

I tried so hard
And got so far,
In the end, it doesn't even matter...

Is she trying to tell me something?

土曜日, 11月 15, 2003

Master and Commander

I just got back from a packed showing of Peter Weir's Master and Commander. Let me just say it now:

I can't believe they spent $130 million to make this movie.

This is a beautifully crafted, beautifully acted film. It's an epic in the Doctor Zhivago sense, with sweeping landscapes, a long, occasionally episodic story arc, and a perfect cast. It's not a Russell Crowe movie--because the star of Master and Commander is the 19th century British navy. Unlike The Last Samurai, there were no places where you wanted to roll your eyes and say "Oh come on." It's not entertainment--it's an experience.

And that said, I'm prepared to bet that half the audience members were bored out of their minds.

Like many of them, I went in the theater expecting Gladiator on the great sailing ships. After all, the trailers promised non-stop action. The first sign that I was wrong was the movie score: it doesn't exist. We don't get Hans Zimmer's standard "combat scene music" to rouse our excitement--instead, director Weir lets the creaking of a wood, the groaning of the rigging speak for themselves. Throughout the film, Weir makes similar choices-- Master and Commander doesn't feel like a movie.

For one thing: what movie would cut away from the suspenseful pursuit of an elusive enemy to show us 19th century British humor, the swimming iguanas of the Galapagos, and two best friends playing music into the night?

I want to ask: which Hollywood executive lost his mind and greenlighted this film? I want to grab him by the shoulders and shake him. "What in the world makes you think that this movie will make money?" And then I want to shake his hand and thank him being gloriously unpractical.

金曜日, 11月 14, 2003

One of the best things high school ever taught me was how to fall asleep with my eyes open. With a bit of practice, I could even manage while automatically responding someone's conversation. ("Ah....interesting....how did that happen...was it fun?" *zzzzz*)

Recently I've discovered a new skill: doing grammar drills with a partner in Japanese class while my brain is still asleep.

I'm taking basic Japanese--and it's the first language for which I've had to consciously conjugate verbs and adjectives. The more I learn other languages, the more I appreciate Chinese: no verb tenses, no plural nouns, no adjective forms....

Better yet, when I was in high school, it was the fashion to write run-on sentences that utterly disregarded traditonal parts of speech. Luckily for me, I already wrote in that manner and got high marks in class. It was the only time my ignorance of grammar earned me much praise.

月曜日, 11月 10, 2003

Why the blog?

I originally had a long, unremittingly earnest post on intellectual curiosity and continual self-education....Fortunately, Blogger took one look at it and ate the whole thing. Never let it be said that blogging software doesn't have good taste.

I've been reading a blog for close to two years and writing my own "little girl's high-tech diary" for six months. Jaquandor's Byzantium Shores is as close to the ideal as it gets: politics, literature, music, and culture, and just the right amount of Women Who Leave Britney in the Dust. He has excellent tastes in authors (Guy Gavriel Kay!) and music (John Williams!), but an ill-fated love for the Buffalo Bills. He encourages his readers to begin blogs, and so the idea's been rattling in my brain vault for a long time.

It's only recently, however, that I've felt a need to blog. Our generation has bought into the idea that college expands your horizons, helps you discover your true self, and seduces you into the Democrat party. Alas, you still spend most of your time sleeping through class, grubbing for grades, and shuffling about with a herd of friends. We fear loneliness, so we dislike spending time with just ourselves.

I feel like I've fallen in a mental rut. My politics have largely petrified, and I've developed six prepared responses to any political question. (No. 3: "Liberal media bias!") Of the last two books I read for pleasure, one was a trash romance with lots of ripped bodices. As for the last time I wrote creatively....never mind. My brain's bloated with trivia like a pregnant woman, but when I look in a mental mirror, I only see that I'm fat.

I don't begin this blog with any purpose except to train myself as a contrarian. No, I'm not developing a social conscience at last--my only targets are my own preconceptions and prejudices. It's a last-ditch attempt at self-education. And I write knowing that some day, while checking on stocks in the comfort of my middle-class condo, I will accidentally click on these archives and wonder what all that fuss was about.

Last Samurai, cont'd...

Did a bit more thinking about The Last Samurai...

It was rumored to be a Dances With Wolves in Meiji Japan, and I can see the similarities. Indeed, the film is at its weakest when Tom Cruise's character plays the morose Westerner who just fits in so well. >_<

But while I'm always annoyed by the patronizing Hollywood stereotype of noble savages, I didn't feel the same way about the samurai. Sure, there's a geek fanboy ("Look! Ama Kakeru Ryuu no Hirameki!") kind of admiration which I happen to share, but the samurai have always inspired this reaction.

It's also fascinating to compare an American reaction to this movie to a Japanese reaction and a Taiwanese reaction. The American one will have that large fanboy element. As for the Japanese--I have no idea. Is it fashionable over there to act cynical about the imperial past? Or are they proud of their ancestors' achievements? Also, the movie develops quite a negative slant on the Meiji modernization. Which side will Japanese viewers take?

As for a Taiwanese reaction:

As I watched both the samurai and imperial soldiers train and fight, I couldn't help thinking: we were next. They killed each other for a few years and then started conquering the rest of Asia. Of all the former colonies, Taiwan still retains the most positive impression of the Japanese. But you still feel a frisson of fear when you survey all that stoic discipline and fanatical loyalty. It's dread, admiration, pain, and pleasure all rolled in one.

Historical memory can be such a double-edged blade.

日曜日, 11月 09, 2003

The Last Samurai

Just attended an advance screening of The Last Samurai, starring Tom Cruise; it was free because the director was an alumni.

Let me begin with a perhaps outrageous prediction: You will like this movie better than Return of the King. Not because The Last Samurai is a perfect movie--Tom Cruise in samurai armor looks ridiculous, no matter how good he looks with a beard. And the dialogue is not bad, just utterly predictable. Though the director makes some brave decisions, it all seems so inevitable in retrospect.

BUT: This is a very Japanese movie, just like how Hero was a very Chinese movie. You see how Cruise's character (and the director himself) are seduced by this exotic vision of Japanese honor. The way the Westerners fawn over bushido is quite irritating. Yet--this IS Japan's national myth. As such, it's not as good as the Rurouni Kenshin (not to say the RK OVA), but this will be the closest to it we'll ever see in a Western film.

Aside from some parts of the dialogue (and Samurai Tom), it is a fine film. The cinematography is beautiful--more importantly, the katanas in this movie are ABSO-F#$%ING-LUTELY gorgeous. If your heart swells at the click of the blade as it leaves the scabbard, at the sight of galloping horsemen, at the music of Buddhist gongs, then this is your movie.

Though I found the worship of 武士道 a bit heavy-handed, it was a refreshing change from the sophomoric American obsession with sex and teenage woes. I'm also glad to see the Japanese characters as the true emotional centers of the story. Tom Cruise is the outsider through whom we're introduced to the story, but it's Katsumoto, Nakao, Taka, and Ujio who carry it. They are the true stars.

And that makes all the difference. Return of the King will undoubtedly be a memorable movie, but it's still about Hobbits and Elves and Kings of Men. The Last Samurai takes us back to a place we've only known through anime and gives it flesh and blood--lots of blood.


The upside of beginning projects on a whim, obsessively tweaking them, and abandoning them after near mental breakdown: you quickly develop a steep learning curve in any subject. Jane Austen taught me Regency manners, Gladiator got me into reading Gibbon, and Star Wars Galaxies led me to learn all about vertex and pixel shaders.

So three hours ago, at around three a.m., I decided I wanted a blog. Alas, I only knew basic HTML tags from Livejournal posting. And now, at 6 a.m., I'm exhausted and can't keep my eyes open, but at least I have a decent sidebar. Now I'm off to bed. Always quit when you're ahead.

The high ambition, therefore, seems to me to be this: That one should strive to combine the maximum of impatience with the maximum of skepticism, the maximum of hatred of injustice and irrationality with the maximum of ironic self-criticism.

--Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian