Thursday, March 30, 2006

I heart Chicago

God I love this town: City Council will not enforce new immigrant legislation.

Animated Flash Map of Iraq Casualties

Via BoingBoing, here's an animated flash map of Coalition casualties. Gruesome when you really start to think about it, but a pretty easy way to see that the violence is truly escalating over there. I wonder if Dubya's seen this?

She Wants Revenge

I first heard/saw these guys on MTV2 late one night while I was basking in the sentimental glow of Beavis & Butthead reruns. What I saw was the video for "Tear You Apart", directed by Joaquin Phoenix, so expect to see it if any of you still watch MTV regularly (yeah right). It's off their recently released self-titled debut, a great little gothy synth-pop album with heavy Depeche Mode and Interpol influences. I have been surprisingly taken with album. Maybe I'm just a sucker for tasty retro synths, which this album has in spades. Maybe I'm a sucker for dark love songs. Songs with plenty of heavy passion, but with a little S&M kick to keep things from getting too serious and emo. Think, "My heart aches for you, my soul burns for you, I can't bear to be without you. Now tie me up and tell me what a bad boy I've been." Good stuff. At the very least, it's a guilty pleasure.

FYI: They'll be performing on Conan next Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on whether you believe the day or date on their website.

And you thought "The Backlash" was scary

A good article is posted over on Salon today about Tom Delay and the extreme Christian right. It's enough to scare you shitless. So, put a little karmic balance back in your life is my recommendation. Go enjoy the gloriously warm weather, then read this little nightmare of a horror story.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sam Barnett's Flickr

When you get a chance, go head over to Sam Barnett's Flickr page. He's been doing photography for several years now, and he's been kind enough to take me along on several of his photo jaunts. After much pleading, he's putting the best of the best up on Flickr. At the moment, the subject matter is mainly urban photography, as he's an urban historian/planner at heart and in profession. His pictures of New Orleans he took this last December are a great first hand account of our government's inability or indifference towards repairing the damage done by Katrina. But, on the lighter side though, you've got Whiting, Indiana's Pierogi Fest, the usual suspects, and this shifty bastard.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

And now for something completely different...


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Yukio Mishima's "Wild Horses"

Ed.: Actually, I'm nearly done with the third book, so I thought I'd better get this posted. I had originally self censored it for fears that it was the insane ramblings of a madman. But, the only reply I got after sending it to a few people for comments recommended I post it, so here it is:

I've just finished the second of Yukio Mishima's Sea of Fertility tetrology, and it did not disappoint. It's a tale of Japan and the social turmoil she experienced in the 1930's. It's protagonist, Isao Iinuma, is the reincarnation of the first book's protagonist Kiyoaki Matusugae. While one might think this is a convenient plot device, it becomes very believable to the reader as it is viewed through the eyes of Honda, Kiyoaki's friend. Honda is a judge, 20 years after the first book ended, and he has become the embodiment of his profession, viewing the world with a cool detachment marked by order and rationality. The evidence of Kiyoaki's rebirth initially fills him with doubt, but his acceptance of the impossible becomes the reader's acceptance as well.

The book has a darker tone than the first, with an almost unnerving obsession with ritual suicide (seppuku). Not the sort of thing to be reading in the cold darkness of February, but, rest assured, I made it through. (It could have been worse, I could have read Ayn Rand.) This is seen most notably in a novella in the book, the history of the "League of the Divine Wind", which tells of an attempted coup by a group of Samurai fiercly loyal to the emperor and their Samurai ethos in the face of the stunning changes brought on by the Meiji Restoration. (The Meiji Restoration sought to modernize Japan in order to protect her from and compete with imperialistic Western nations). This story though not only foreshadows later events in the book, but succeeds, in the opinion of this reviewer, in convincing the reader that such men and their actions are not motivated for personal gain, but through purely altruistic beliefs.

Having finished the second installment, a theme has begun to emerge. This, as is most boldly revealed in the tale of the League of the Divine Wind, is Mishima's idea of purity. In the first book, he dealt with the purity of love; in Runaway Horses, he deals with the purity of loyalty. In realizing this I think I've discovered the personal appeal Mishima holds for me. Something which until now, has been a mystery to this reader. Being a white, liberal Westerner suddenly feeling a kinship with an Asian reactionary who died after commiting ritual suicide, is surely cause for examination, wouldn't you agree?

Mishima's notion of purity is not childish or naive, and neither does he express the anger and self-righteousness of a zealot. Mishima admits that the world, as it is, and even more so, simply the nature of existence, is one that embraces and celebrates diversity and multiplicity, not singularities or purities. But while believing this, he also cannot deny the want, the need people have for pure or singular ideas. In fact, it is this contradiction that drives the action of the book. Mishima acknowledges that searching for such purity, whether it be Love, or Loyalty, or Truth, is an inherently self-destructive pursuit. Still, Mishima considers the desire and pursuit of such notions, though inevitably leading towards the destruction of either the object of pursuit or the pursuer, as a noble and worthwhile endeavor.

Now, leaving all discussion of the book aside, I cannot help but ponder the impasse such conclusions present. Most importantly, why do we, or more specifically, I, seek such purity? I can't deny the fervor with which I feel and argue a point of truth, or the beauty of a song that has spoken to me with its own voice. I can't deny the fire that feel burning deep inside me, one that both scares and exhilates me.

I have admittedly been greatly influenced by my own readings of Buddhist teachings and philosophy which talk of the illusion of duality. Seeing all as one is wisdom to be sought. Being able to see past the illusion of what separates the individual from the world, life from death, positive and negative is the place where true wisdom is kept. The traditional symbol of the yin-yang represents this; two equal forces of white and black, but all held within the same circle.

Or maybe as the great sage, Beavis, has taught us, "You have to stuff that sucks to have stuff that rocks." (paraphrased of course) ;)

Cutting such mental masturbation short, I'm, well, perplexed by what the answer could be. Is this just some way of trying to deny our own mortality? In grasping something pure, do we seek to commune with something timeless, something that cannot die, and in doing so achieve a sort of immortality ourselves? This answer doesn't satisfy me though, and I don't think Mishima would either. If this were one of the many paths to enlightenment, our protagonist would keep being reborn. (Another reincarnation is foreshadowed in the next book, The Temple Of Dawn.) I prefer to think that in trying to attain such purity, we seek to assuage our own inherent, subconscious doubt of our own existence. In achieving something pure, we deny that all is one, and in doing so, we can deny that we are not separate from the world. I think that Mishima would answer that though by saying that the price of achieving such purity is always destruction, for, as ever, all is one, and to deny that is to deny one's self.

All in all, a pretty good book.


Here's a useful, fun little site that'll let you download video files you would otherwise have to stream over the web: KeepVid. They've got videos from around 3 dozen sites available, including Google Video.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Velvet Jesus

Craig's List silliness. Sorry, this gets funnier the more I look at it.

The Future Of The Future has a great article today titled I, Nanobot, with a good run down on nanotechnology and where it will be leading us. The author claims it's the biggest thing to happen to life on this planet since, well, life began. A must read.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Yanni: Wifebeater

Yanni's been arrested for domestic abuse. This was sent to me by Mike Lawler. His original email was too funny, so I'm quoting it here:

Can you imagine the 911 call? "My boyfriend beat me up. His name is Yanni", followed by uproarious laughter. What kind of woman can't take Yanni in a throw down? He's Yanni. Is there surveillance footage of this? I need it! It would have to be the most theatrical fight ever.
Who's next? Vern Troyer, Webster, Garry Coleman?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Chester Hajduk's Cup of Coffee

Attention all baseball fans: head immediately to Chester Hajduk's Cup o' Coffee. Written by Jake Berlin, it's a must read. Really, he should be writing for a major paper. Cubs fans be warned, it's a White Sox focused blog, but the content would interest any fan.


Last night, while the rest of the proles were watching the circle jerk that is the Academy Awards, I decided to actually watch a film. I'm funny like that. What'd I watch? Casshern.

A Japanese film, yet to be released stateside (but coming soon apparently), was recommended to me by Bob Busch. I believe I saw a trailer a year or so ago when I went to see Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence, but luckily I had Bobby to remind me. I watched the movie just hoping to catch some visual eye candy (or heroin as Bobby put it, and he was right), but was surprised to have found much, much more.

The movie is an absolute visual stunner; soaked with surreal CG landscapes and action scenes, intricately sculpted sets, smart camera work, all topped off with precedent-setting digital effects added in post. You can tell the makers set off to use every trick and technique available to them, and they pulled it off with great aplomb. But, like some movies (*cough* Star Wars prequels), it doesn't make the movie feel artificial, thanks a plot solidly grounded in very human characters. Human characters played by real, live humans as well; there are no CG characters in the movie at all. (There are enormous armies of robots at points, but they're just there to kill and be killed). As such, the acting is genuine and the performances moving, no actors with stilted cardboard expressions anyone would have talking to a tennis ball on a stick.

This is what makes the movie worth watching. The themes explored in the movie deal directly with what makes us human; what drives to do the awful things we do as a species. Yeah, it's a pretty contemporary theme. It does not however descend into moralizing by pointing fingers at any country in particular (*wink wink*). What drives us to kill, what it says about us, and how we can find redemption. The movie ends beautifully and had me quite moved.

Having said that, this movie isn't for everyone. Clocking in at 2 hours 20 minutes long, it's an epic. The plot moves slowly for the first half of the movie, and can be quite confusing at times, though the threads are woven together quite well by the end of the film. You'll half to suspend a great deal of disbelief while watching to comprehend the stunning mix of themes and inspirations the creators drew from: Frankenstein, the New Testament, 70's anime, 60's live action sci-fi kung fu, Akira (the anime film), Akira (Kurosawa), Soviet propoganda, Nazi's, and the usual dose of Eastern Mysticism. And it's all set in an alternate timeline/universe, which only adds to the confusion/fun.

Having said all that, I if I could sum the movie up in one sentence it would be this: Final Fantasy come to life. Now, before you think I'm selling this movie short, lemme say a few more words. I know there are a lot of readers of this blog out there who still see computer games as child's play and mindless diversions for the teeming masses. Granted, many of them are, but some of the most popular are popular precisely because of the depth of storyline, characters and gameplay. Games are also not a passing fad. The same was said of those "moving pictures" a hundred years ago, and look where they are now. The line between movies and video games is becoming more blurred by the second, and will at some point cease to exist altogther, mark my words.

I've always been a big fan of Final Fantasy. I've always managed to play at least part of most of the games, and the appeal to me has been the depth and originality of their stories. The characters, their relationships, and moral themes of the games are always as complex, detailed and meaningful as anything you'd find in a movie, novel or TV show. Grandiose in scope and always visually stunning. The franchise is a legend in Japan (and America) with an army of loyal fans who share the same passion for it that I do.

Having said all of that, in the end, I found the movie to be a rare example of a film that made me think and touched me emotionally. It's heartily recommended by this reviewer.

Phrases you can't use anymore

I officially declare the following phrases taboo because they can be used to describe anything, and as such have no meaning:

  1. Social construct
  2. Viral meme
  3. Zen

Feel free to add your own in the comments.

My new favorite baseball stat: DPRP

I knew my previous post about Baseball Hacks would hit with somebody, and it did. Mike Lawler dove right in and came up with a stat that I think is interesting as hell. Without further ado, I give you Dollars Per Run Produced.

Mike used 2005 season stats to calculate runs produced, then divided by last year's salary paid to that player to find the best and worst values last season. A minimum of 200 at bats was used to screen out players with injuries, etc.

Worst Value
TeamLastNameFirstNameRuns Prod.DPRP

Best Value
TeamLastNameFirstNameRuns Prod.DPRP

Not a lot of surprises in the worst values list, with the king of all flops Sammy Sosa leading the way. Glad to see Mike Piazza put in an appearence as well. Time to retire Bernie.

One the flip side, in the best values category, you'll see 5 Indians in the list. Something to fret over Sox fans?

Friday, March 03, 2006

Lazy Muncie

Unless you've been living in a cave half-sedated for the past couple of weeks (Sam, sorry 'bout your teeth man), you've seen SNL's Lazy Sunday skit. Funny stuff. Best line: "Call us Aaron Burrs 'cause we're dropping Hamiltons".

And you've probably seen the (lame) West Coast reply. Well, Indiana's getting in on the act. Check out Lazy Muncie for a reminder of why you've either left or stayed in Indiana.

Thanks to David Greenberg for sending that along.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


"The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are." - H. L. Mencken

Anagram map of Chicago's El lines

There's been a runaway meme over at Boing Boing; people have been posting maps of cities' public transit lines with anagrams instead of the proper stop names. Finally, somebody's posted one for Chicago. Simply silly fun.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

March Madness?

I found this story via Boing Boing. Someone had posted a CBS newsstory to, but CBS had ordered the story pulled, preventing people from sharing and enjoying this story in the name of protecting profits. Bollocks.

Admittedly, I started watching it expecting to get a cheap laugh at a disgustingly saccharin human interest piece that does more to ridicule it's subject than celebrate them. (I delight in schadenfreude, you know you do to.) To my surprise, this wasn't the case at all, and the excitement of the crowd at the end was contagious. I will say no more; go watch it yourself.

Unseen: Civil Rights Struggle Photos Unearthed

An photography intern at The Birmingham News recently discovered a treasure trove of old photos from the 50's and 60's while searching an equipment closet for a lens. The negatives were found in a box marked "Keep. Do Not Sell.", and contain some absolutely stunning photographs of people and events in Birmingham during the height of the civil rights struggle. In total, around 5,000 photographs were found, most of which had never been published.

EDIT: God do I hate that fucking flag.