Like most people lately, I've been keeping my eyes peeled towards the Winter Olympics currently being held in Torino, Italy. So far, it's been a pretty good show. The compettion's been great, the scenery beautiful, the Italians have been generous hosts.
But it's the coverage that stinks.
NBC admittingly is doing a far, far better job than CBS ever did when it covered the Winter games back in the 1990s (when the only things the Columbia network seemed to cover were "Challenging Olympian Life Story!" or "More Figure Skating!"). So far they've kept those hideously annoying life stories to a minimum, and the skating far more toned down than last time around in Salt Lake City. Plus Bob Costas is still his old sarcastic self, as demonstrated by his jabs at the seemingly random disco soundtrack during the Parade of Nations.
By the way, what was up with that? I know the Europeans love their dance music, but why play only American and British acts from that period during an international event? And some really, really campy songs at that? I'm sorry, but intoducing countries with Van Halen, Donna Summer and the Village People? Ummm...I don't get it.
Anyways, back to NBC. The Peacock can still do a hell of a better job than this. Perhaps more live events should be in order. I know there's a time difference, but it doesn't hurt if you try, plus you can always tape them and play them all over again when the schedule of daily events is over in Torino.
Also, can NBC please quit with the editing for time? Last night I watched the women's ski jumping. The network focused on the American players for a bit, then on the Norwegians, then on a Canadian, and then some Swedes. But that was it. Never mind the Japanese jumpers or some other European entries. They might have been on the TV score board. But if you hadn't seen that, would you've even known that they even tried? Nope. They were edited out. Sorry!
NBC, please learn from the CBC or the BBC: show the games live; don't heavily edit them; avoid at all costs heavy commercial interuption; and for the love of God, please don't show any more "Challenging Life Stories." The public isn't interested.
If there's one thing I really hate about CNN Headline News, it's Nancy Grace. Airing right around dinner time, Nancy Grace's show primarily centers itself on missing people, interviewing the families of those missing, speaking to people involved in the justice system, and passing off theories over who could be responsible for the crime.
What's so irritating about Nancy Grace is the utter lack of objectivity in her journalism. Instead of remaining apart from her guests or subject matter, Grace instead becomes a part of it, too much a part of it. Week after week after week, Grace's show can remain on the same crime, interviewing the same people again and again, and then pass judgment--even gleeful judgement--over who she believes committed the crime. A brief viewing of her show turns quickly into ad nauseam, both for her utter lack of serious journalistic skills, and the sheer brutish capitalization of her name and fame on the deaths and disappearances of others. All of this adds up to Grace epitomizing everything that is wrong with American journalism in the first half of the 21st century.
Take Natalee Holloway, the Alabama teen who went missing in Aruba last year. Grace, along with Greta Van Susteren, aired week after week after week of coverage of the missing teen to the point where media coverage had reached exhaustion. In all due respect of the Holloway family, of all the thousands of missing Americans in those many weeks of coverage, blonde, attractive and white Natalee was more important than everyone else. Of the two thousand-plus Americans and tens upon tens of thousands of Iraqis who have died in the war, Natalee was more important than everyone else. It was the triumph of missing white woman syndrome.
Nancy Grace would have been an English professor had not her fiancé been violently murdered in 1980. It changed her direction to become a prosecutor, and a very successful one at that. However, the Georgia Supreme Court has twice cited Grace of exceeding the limits of closing arguments, as well as illegal conduct during a trial in the 1990s. Last year, the Federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said the Grace "played fast and loose" with facts in a trial 15 years before.
And now here she is as a media personality, droning night after night on the misfortune of others, sucking tragic events dry like a feasting vampire for her own fame, and passing guilt with a black-and-white worldview that would make Donald Rumsfeld blush. For a person who worked in the criminal justice system for over a decade, one should expect a former lawyer to follow that simple line innocent until proven guilty. But not Grace. Using her own personal tragedy as a pretext, Grace revels in passing staunch judgement on suspects--a primetime lynch mob followed by a very public national crucifixion--even if she's wrong, which she has been.
Do what any reasonable human being should do: turn Nancy Grace off. To use Stephen Colbert's "truthiness," Grace has little to offer there.
A few nights ago, my friend Yoshi and I went to one of the local theater's where they're currently having a classic film festival and saw A Clockwork Orange. I've never seen it on the big screen before, but after viewing it, I realized just how much of an amazing of a movie it is, and how much of a freakin' genius Stanley Kubrick was.
Even if the movie is nearly 35 years old, the idea of its premise still gives the chills. Set in a future Britain where civil society is on the brink of total collapse, young Alex and his gang of droogs nightly roam the city--presumably London--beating people up with no reason, raping devotchkas (women), killing, and then calling it a night. The British government, desperate to restore some semblance of order, snatch Alex after a botched murder and launch him onto a scientific scheme promising total reform. The reform, in reality, is psychological torture, subjecting Alex to endless films of rape, murder, more rape, and finally Nazi rallies and aggression. Alex comes away brainwashed, reformed scientifically but not internally. It later drums into questions regarding morality, and the tools that higher powers will use to coerce power.
What I love about A Clockwork Organge is Kubrick's attention to detail. Being a lover of anything historical, Kubrick had a knack for placing historical items into the most routine of things. Alex's gang, for instance, wear 19th century bowler hats, white shirts, suspenders and trousers that wouldn't have been far removed a hundred years ago if not for the sinister eye mascara, ridiculous cod pieces, and combat boots. Other gangs wear Napoleonic bearskin hats, German military caps and Nazi-era Stahlhelm helmets. The past is never removed, even from an undated dystopian future.
Another thing which struck me was how Kubrick used art to show just how far society had aesthetically gone in the undated year of Clockwork. From the beginning of the film, when we're introduced to Alex and his droogs in the Korova Milk Bar, a slew of dismembered over-sexualized mannequins surround the gang, often crouching down in their giant wigs to show their large breasts or sitting down to spread their legs to form tables (a gang member has his feet comfortably propped up on one as he sips his drugged milk).
Paintings throughout the movie often resemble the mannequins in the Korova. In Alex's room, a painting of a woman joyfully spreading her legs hangs above his bed. In other scenes, paintings in the background depict horrid facial disfigurement and breasts getting cut off. In the future of Clockwork, modern art has transformed into a highly psychosexual form, aesthetically pleasing and widely accepted without any real thought of what it really means perhaps due to the ultra violence surrounding all of society.
Then there's the music. Alex adores all things Beethoven--especially the Ninth Symphony--which we hear throughout the movie. One part which struck me was the haunting synthy opening song, again at the first scene where we meet Alex and co. at the Korova. I later researched that it was hardly a new song, but rather over 300 years old, called "Funeral Music for Queen Mary." Is it really supposed to be thinly disguised funeral music for England? Hmmm...
From the Cockney-Russian slang, to the costumes, to the haunting music, to the politics, A Clockwork Orange is still a violent, shocking, and deeply disturbing film after all these years. And as horrible as it sounds, it's still a feast for movie lovers. It doesn't get old. Even if some of the film screams "that's so Seventies!" it holds its age very well, and still entertains in a strange dark, dark humor sort of way.
I don't know how I missed this earlier, but a few days ago on the 23rd, President Bush was visiting Manhattan, Kansas speaking at the state university there when someone from the audience asked if he had seen Brokeback Mountain. Bush seems caught off guard by the comment and doesn't really know how to react to it.
I guess it was pretty embarrassing for the administration, because several days later when Laura Bush and Education Secretary Spellings were in Mississippi, the CNN reporter on the scene--who I forgot already--mentioned that no one had yet asked the two if they had seen Brokeback Mountain.
So if you want to embarrass a president who claims he's a Westerner and a rancher, please mention a gay cowboy movie.
If you want to see one of the coolest places in San Francisco, I recommend this place.
Fort Point is one of those places that not many people outside of the City know about. Probably because you can't really see it unless you look really hard. And once you're there, you have the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Fort Point was built between 1853 to 1861 by the U.S. Army to guard the entrance of San Francisco Bay. Made of brick with multiple gun ports staring out into the Pacific and into the harbor, it is one of the only forts of its kind built on the entire North American West Coast. Built with the idea of protecting the city from the British and later the Confederates (who thankfully never came), the fort saw no military action, and after the turn of the century, became a depot and training center.
When the Golden Gate Bridge was built during the 1930s, several of the engineers plans included demolishing the fort altoether, since it lay right below where the bridge would lay. But a solution was found by building an arching overpass over the fort. Thanks to that plan, the fort is still here today.
Walking around the fort is like stepping back into time. Inside, several century old naval cannons aimed out at the ocean stand behind thick, thick brick walls. The soldiers and officers quarters are also open to visitors, where you snoop around in their sparse rooms. The federal National Park Service do their job by showing that this was not a comfortable place to be stationed at. It was cold, windy, relatively isolated, and probably at times, excruciatingly boring.
If you close your eyes, you can imagine soldiers in their Civil War-era blue uniforms, marching up and down the corridors and the inner court of the fort, loading and unloading cannonballs, greasing their guns and drilling more, all at the same time with a howling wind and chill-to-the-bone air.
With the military long since gone and now a low-key tourist spot, it's probably one of the best places to get pictures of both the bridge and the City. Check it out.
According to Google Earth, my home here in Davis, California is approximately 678.43 miles from Canada. Or more specifically, a pair of small rocks sitting in the Juan de Fuca Strait just outside of Victoria, British Columbia is the closest piece of Canada (never mind consulates) that is close to me.
In other words, it's pretty damn far away.
Normally I don't read political weblogs. It's not that I don't like them, but rather that political blogs can skewer anything their authors wish to present. I can paste an article from a newspaper or other source I like, write a lot about it, argue for it, and there voila, press enter and publish it. I am sure there are many fine political blogs out there, Left and Right, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, and I know I too have sometimes have done my share of politics here, but mainly I try to avoid it. Doing that kind of political discussion is simply way too easy, and just lacks the same bite or piece de resistance that other modes of media may have.
But forget all that: I'm going to talk about Canadian politics.
Now since I am an American, I cannot vote in their federal elections. Nor will I probably ever. But what's so interesting for me, as a political science major and as someone who knows the parliamentary and presidential systems, is just how interesting it is to watch from afar. Unlike the U.S., where we have two main catch-all parties and some minor ones in several state legislatures, Canada has four large parties nationally and many other ones in their provinces, each appealing for many different audiences.
On the federal level, you have the centrist Liberal Party--the governing party--who spent 75 out of the 100 years of the 20th century as governing the country. But presently they're in trouble, as allegations of financial corruption have become very public.
Then you have the Conservative Party. This party is a relative newcomer to the scene, created out of a unification of two other right-of-center parties, the old-time Progessive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance. Currently they're ahead in the polls, and seemed poised to win more seats in Parliament tonight that might give them a government (or for us Americans, an administration).
Then you have the Bloc Quebecois, a separatist party based in--yes, you guessed it, Quebec--that has been around for a little more than 15 years and wants greater sovereignty for that province. They generally are to the Left.
Then finally you have the New Democratic Party, known mostly as the NDP. A Leftist party affiliated with the Socialist International, they are as close as a mainstream North American party can get to similar parties found in Western Europe.
If the polls are correct, the Conservatives will more than likely get a very (and I mean very) slim majority to have a Prime Minister. Much of this is due to the Liberals falling popularity over their Quebec financial scandal and the poor campaign they have run. Also, after nearly 14 years of Liberal rule, people maybe simply tired of Liberal governments and will vote for others, like the NDP and the smaller Green Party.
All of this is good news to the Right. Even though their party leader (and therefore defacto prime ministerial candidate) Stephen Harper is seen as largely lackluster, dull, and to the eyes of some, too close to American Republicans and their socially conservative agenda, the Conservatives just may have their first government since 1993. Disillusion with the Liberals will mean votes being split to other parties, and in some cases, may also just switch some voters from the center to the Right.
If the Liberals never had the Quebec financial scandal and were not in power for the last 14 years, we very well would otherwise write-off Stephen Harper and the Conservatives as being serious contenders. But 2006 seems to be their year. Combined with a strong campagin, plus weak Liberal credibility and general tiredness of their long rule proves that it isn't entirely necessary to have a strong, charismatic party leader to win an election. But it always does help.
And what about the United States? Well, from here in California, Canadian politics seems more as a Trivial Pursuit question than something that could otherwise directly affect people's lives. It'll be something that some people will see on C-Span when they flip through the channels tonight. Perhaps in the northern border states, the election will have more of an impact. But 678.43 miles away? Not so much.
Or really? Canada sits on one of the largest oil reserves in the world. With the increasing crises over Iran's nuclear program and veiled threats to turn off Western oil taps if tensions increase, oiled eyes will look elsewhere. If Canada gains a Conservative Prime Minister, or more really, a closer ally to Washington than the Liberal Party has been in the last five years, those 678.43 miles will seem a lot closer.
This brings into question the other parties--the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP. If both of those parties gain more seats in Parliament tonight at the Liberals expense, and the Conservatives do in fact win, then the Conservatives will not command a majority of seats to push a conservative agenda or a far closer relationship with Washington. Instead, they will have to find legislative allies to continue a government, or else face a no confidence vote that would bring yet another election.
I've worked myself all the way to this point, and after years of reading assigned books, writing essays, having group discussions, and presenting projects in front of an entire class, all of it came down to me in a funny-looking black tunic and hat, shaking hands with the chancellor, and receiving an envelope enclosing papers on joining the alumni association. Sadly, you don't get the diploma at the ceremony, but a few months later in mail.
It was a bit anti-climatic then, I have to admit. But thinking about it now, it was a good feeling. A friend of mine, who now works for the federal government, told me that the best part about graduating is not exactly having your name called out on the arena PA system, with your friends and family all shouting and screaming your name, and shaking hands with the chancellor, but rather that first moment of coming out onto the arena floor. Thousands of people seated above you, like spectators at a Roman coliseum, cheering you on with a jet roar of clapping hands and whoooops. They don't know who you are exactly. But they know they're cheering for the whole class. And that...well...is a great feeling.
And now comes life after college. The whole thing is done. It's the Real World. Gone are the days of going to class and taking notes during the lecture. In are the times of filing documents, taking phone calls, learning about pension and medical benefits, and working 8 to 5.
Houston, all coordinates are set to go.
But before I can get there, other things have to be put into order. Like finding a job in the first place. So far, I've turned in around six job applications all over the Davis area. If something doesn't materialize here, then Sacramento or San Francisco are always probabilities. They're big cities with big job markets. Maybe something there, or even here, or maybe somewhere else.
It's times like this where you have all the energy in the world. Except it's the time when you shouldn't.
It's also the time when you realize that you have a weblog called "Another Coffee Cup" that you haven't contributed to in over three months. That's not totally true. My girlfriend Allison brought me into the world of Livejournal, where there's some posts about me ranting about why people bother with North Dakota's existence and album covers. But that's all there is really. It's here.
Me and Allison are a recent development. We've been going out for about a month now. She's a great girlfriend. More on this later
Having been back from the Northwest for over a week, I've had some time to think about the places my friends and I visited. Being so different climate and scenery-wise from our little planet called California, it was hard not to notice the differences (and similarities) to where we're from.
Vancouver: Our first real stop on our trek was Vancouver, British Columbia, and our first international border crossing for the trip. Having driven up Interstate 5 for about two and a half hours, we reached the U.S.-Canadian border at Blaine, Washington. In the past, I've always gone across the border either through the ferry or by airport, and never through driving. The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) guard was like any typical customs official: unsmiling, asking us what we were doing in Canada, where we were staying, if we knew anyone, if we were taking any alcohol or firearms into Canada...and then let us drive on. The process was so remarkably easy. I thought the wait would be longer.
After driving up BC Highway 99 for around twenty minutes, we reached the outskirts of Vancouver and eventually the city itself. One thing that we noticed was the lack of major freeways going through the city. Unlike, say, Seattle or worst yet, Boston, Vancouver managed to avoid having behemeth spaghetti noodles of expressways criss-crossing the city. Highway 99, for instance, seems to melt into an urban city avenue.
One thing that strikes you about Vancouver is the scenery. Because of where it's situated, you see as you descend down Granville St. (one of the main roads that runs through downtown) giant mountains rising on the other side of the Burrard Inlet, the bay that separates Vancouver proper from its northern and western counterparts. It's a stunning view. I've been to Vancouver three times and I have yet to get sick of this view. Each time I've gone, these mountains rising on the other side of the bay always seem to be shrouded in clouds.
Culture-wise, Vancouver felt alternative. Or at least the downtown part did with the stores selling old '80s t-shirts, old U.S. military and Canadian Forces memrobilia, clubs with Britpop nights, and Star Wars vintage lunchboxes. Fashion-wise, however, a friend of mine thought young Vancouverites dressed liked it was still 1997. The Californian fashionista was talking.
Portland: After driving back to the U.S., we went to Seattle for a day, and then finally down south to our next major destination. Portland, Oregon lacks the scenery of Vancouver or the caffiene-fueled vibe of Seattle. But what Portland does have is livability. Being Oregon's largest city, Portland you'd think would be more cosmopolitan. But actually the city feels more like a big small town. Besides, it's a great place to hang out. Any city that has Powell's City of Books is good in my books.
Maybe it's the urban planning. Although it has the skyscapers and the freeways, downtown is studded with trees and a fully functional tram system. People live in downtown Portland. Which is great. More American cities could use Portland's example. People shouldn't be leaving the inner city. They should be living in it. And Portland seems to be doing that.
We stayed in the Hawthorne District, one of the more Bohemian parts of town. Punk-rock guys and girls with tattoos, short-dyed hair, tight jeans and skirts dominated. Cafes, retro shops and indie record stores gave the scenery.
Oregon's different. For such a big state, it has a fairly small population at around three million or so. Coming from California, which has a larger population than all of Canada, its largest city has barely a bigger population than our own state capital, which is considered as one of the smaller medium-sized cities in the Golden State. For Oregon, like the Beck song, Portland is where it's at. There's nothing else that comes close to it in the entire state.
Oregon also has quite a lot of different laws. For one, there's no sales tax in the entire state. None. Nada. Zilch. Except for a few things, like hotels or car rentals, I believe, all other consumer good have no sales tax. The price that you see on the label is the price you're going to get. Oregon has laws that also help employees in the gasoline station industry. Car drivers cannot fill their own gas. Instead, everything is full service, with an attendee filling your gas up, cleaning your windows, with little to no involvement on your part besides making coversation or telling the attendee that you want regular. Finally, all elections in Oregon are done not through polling stations but rather through mail. Oregon is the only American state to do elections this way.
Olympia: While on our way back to Seattle from Portland, we made a two hour stop in Olympia, Washington's small state capital. Olympia makes our Sacramento seem like Los Angeles. A really confined town spread closely along the waterfront, Olympia has a nice capitol building and some really cool antique shops. One shop we found had a framed letter on the wall. It was a land grant to one of the region's earlier settlers. The land grant was signed--there in his hand-writing--by President Abraham Lincoln, dated 1864. Obviously, it wasn't up for sale. Next to it was a grant signed by President James Buchanan, one of our more worse presidents. It was for sale at a reasonable price.
Olympia was comfortable in that small town feeling. It also had an alternative vibe to it, which reminded me of my native Santa Cruz in a non-hippie sort of way. Riot grrl and a lot of early grunge came from here. Aberdeen, Olympia, Seattle; the Alternative Triangle. For a relatively small town like this and the number of acts and labels it's produced, I was impressed. I liked that. A lot of creativity in a single region.
Seattle: Our final stop came in Seattle, the Northwest's largest city. Like Vancouver, it was also my third time here. One thing that I'd forgotten was just how hilly Seattle is. While Vancouver and Portland have their slopes, Seattle has at some places San Francisco-esque hills that give the legs some excercise to go up.
After meeting up with an Australian friend, we made an obligatory visit to the Pike Place Market to watch the fishmongers toss their trade. The world's first Starbucks from 1971 is just down the road along a string of nearby shops.
Seattle has some cool distinct neighborhoods, particularly the University District and Capitol Hill. While the University District carries on with a student vibe that made me feel at home, Capitol Hill was hip and happening. Located--as you guessed it--on a hill, the place is filled with taverns, pubs, clubs, cafes, shops, and other cool little venues.
What caps Seattle off for me are the ferries. Because of the number of islands out in Puget Sound located directly adjecent of the city, Seattle is a terminus for going out and exploring its surroundings. My friend and I took one ferry over to Bainbridge Island. While on the ferry, we got a million dollar view of the city during sunset. It made everything on the trip worth it, standing their on a ferry, far from home, watching Seattle slip into night; its lights coming on over a rapidly fading sky. Mt. Rainier, once looming in the daylight, quicky washed to black like it wasn't even there.