Earlier this morning, thanks to a referral from Seeing the Forest, the hit counter passed 59,000. Thanks for visiting, especially during this relatively slack period.
The past couple of days have seen a total dearth of posting, which I regret. I'll have more later today, including a recap of some items I've noted over the past couple of days.
The work situation continues to be a headache. I'm playing it safe and avoiding non-work-related sites for the time being, which has obviously had an impact on my posting (that, and the fact that I've been facing a serious deadline this week). As I've said, I'm sure the situation will reach some sort of equilibrium presently.
More to come later today. Right now, I'm going to take The Girls to the library.
A minor but nonetheless annoying bit of unpleasantness greeted our family this morning: Some punk broke the rear window of our Subaru Outback station wagon. Nothing was taken, fortunately; it appears to have been nothing more than random vandalism. But the estimate for replacing the window proved surprisingly high: The dealership quoted us a price of more than US$600, well in excess of our deductible. I've spoken to our insurance company, and while I'm sure the actual cost of replacing the glass will be less than what the dealership would charge, it's nonetheless sure to be several hundred dollars. As a result, this punk's little expression of destructiveness will cost our family not only the deductible, but also the no-claim bonus our insurance company would have offered later this year. As I said, it's hardly a major crisis, but the very senselessness makes it irritating.
Update: While cleaning up some of the shattered glass, I was approached by a neighbor who reported that the back window of his pickup truck had been broken out the night before, some time between midnight and 4 a.m. He'd already had the window replaced, and the glass people told him that they'd been very busy a few streets over with exactly the same thing.
We called the glass repair service, but unfortunately the rear window for our year of Subaru Outback wagon was out of stock. In a rather comical episode, my lovely wife and I managed to make room in our rather small garage to park the car overnight. We certainly didn't want to leave it outside and find our CD player gone come morning. Crystal tells me that the glass people are working on it now (Thursday afternoon), so all will be back to normal shortly, we hope.
Art preservationists have succeeded in restoring a 15-th century painting depicting sinful women being dragged down to Hell. "The Coventry Doom," was painted around 1430 but so badly damaged that until recently it was considered destroyed, according to the BBC.
The work, once thought to have been destroyed, has been returned to former glory after 10 years of restoration.
Vicar Keith Sinclair said it was "a hugely significant moment" for his church and for Coventry.
The painting, which also portrays people on the right of Christ being raised from their tombs into heaven, has had a charmed life.
It was whitewashed over in the 1560s at the Reformation and uncovered by the Victorians, who applied a varnish that within 20 years had darkened the artwork so badly that it was assumed to be lost forever.
The varnish has now been removed by a team led by the church's Architect for the Doom, Alan Wright.
Dude, it totally r0x0rz to have a title like "Architect for the Doom."
bush labor dept. advises corporations how to cheat workers
This Administration truly has no shame. As the Bush Administration no doubt plans to tout its so-called "accomplishments" for the American worker during its re-election campaign, its own Labor department is providing employers tips on how they can take advantage of Federal rules to avoid paying workers overtime.
The Labor Department is giving employers tips on how to avoid paying overtime to some of the 1.3 million low-income workers who would become eligible under new rules expected to be finalized early this year.
The department's advice comes even as it touts the $895 million in increased wages that it says those workers would be guaranteed from the reforms.
Among the options for employers: cut workers' hourly wages and add the overtime to equal the original salary, or raise salaries to the new $22,100 annual threshold, making them ineligible.
The department says it is merely listing well-known choices available to employers, even under current law.
"We're not saying anybody should do any of this," said Labor Department spokesman Ed Frank.
Yeah, right. And the Justice Department goes around advising the Mob on how to avoid money laundering and racketeering rules.
The Bush Administration's shameless pandering to its corporate cronies makes crystal clear the fact that it cares not one whit about the general welfare of average Americans. It's undeniable that Bush favors the continued enriching of the few at the expense of everyone else's welfare. Bush obviously regards the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small minority, the stagnation of the middle class, increasing work hours, diminishing real wages, and lowered standards of living for average Americans not as troubling trends to be combatted but Good Things to be accelerated.
Bush's apologists are quick to cry "class warfare," but the real class warfare is what Bush and his minions are perpetrating, not when loyal Americans point out the actual costs of his misguided and mendacious policies. This latest sordid move is absolutely indefensible: Spending taxpayer dollars advising corporations on how to cheat hardworking Americans out of the salaries they deserve.
Great googly moogly! A UK paper apparently lifted a recent "bad movie sex scene" listing wholesale from the awesome pop culture Web site RetroCrush. The paper disguised the story's origins, attributing it to an imaginary readers' poll in an apparently fictitious film magazine. Worse, the story was then picked up on the AP wire, going on to appear in a host of respectable newspapers and magazines under its bogus attribution, giving no credit to its true author.
Even more mind-boggling is the sneering shamelessness with which the Daily Star greeted RetroCrush Webmaster Robert Berry's inquiry into the matter. Here's Berry relating the tale:
On 1/05/04 I spoke with a the News Editor of "The Daily Star" named Kieran Saunders and what he told me takes the cake.
He said, "Well, if it's on the internet it's up for grabs. You can't copyright anything on the internet." I told him that was untrue and he then refused to speak with me further, and said all future communication needed to be sent to their legal contact, Steven Bacon in London. I even tried to call back an hour later to speak with the actual author of the piece, and Saunders answered the phone, stating, "I told you never to call here again, speak to our legal group" before ending the call.
Rarely does a more blatant instance of plagiarism occur among professional publications. The shamelessness with which the Sun responded to its getting caught is truly beyond the pale. The only proper response is to fire the persons involved and issue a profound apology without delay.
The respectable publications that unwittingly participated in the fraud are not to blame, as they merely picked up a story that they could assume in good faith was attributed correctly. However, they owe it to RetroCrush, their readers, and their professional integrity and credibility to run a prominent correction at once.
Sometime between New Year's Eve and now, when I wasn't looking, the hit counter passed 58,000, and now stands at 58,446. Thanks for visiting, especially during this relatively slack period.
The holidays have been a failry low traffic period for Planet Swank -- due mostly, I suspect, by a dearth of posting driven by both holiday distraction and the work situation -- but that's no excuse for neglecting to pay at least cursory attention to the site stats.
I'm in a training class right now, but hope to be back with more posting when it concludes.
With several recent high-profile Hollywood films -- including Kill Bill and The Last Samurai -- featuring Asian themes, The New York Times wonders if American audiences are getting a cliche'd and distorted view of Japan and China through the cinematic filter.
Through the same sort of Hollywood kismet that produces concurrent movies about deadly asteroids and exploding volcanoes, the theaters are suddenly overrun with images of Japan. Tom Cruise is thundering across the battlefields of Meiji Restoration Japan in "The Last Samurai," in pursuit of the doomed Bushido honor code and the enlightened spirituality of Zen Buddhism. "Lost in Translation," Sofia Coppola's portrait of alienated Americans in Tokyo, is one of the indie hits of the year. Nearly half the action in the first volume of "Kill Bill" (the second appears next month), with its rapturous, over-the-top homage to yakuza, manga and other Japanese genre films, takes place in a surreal movie-land Japan, subtitles and addled accents flying.
It's not just the setting that unites these movies. They are the objects of heated debate, particularly among Asian-Americans and Japanese, about whether Hollywood's current depictions of Japan are racist, naïve, well-intentioned, accurate — or all of the above.
Reservations about "The Last Samurai" started with reviews that castigated the movie for its stale portrayals of Japanese culture, as well as the patronizing narrative of a white man teaching the rapidly modernizing Japanese how to honor their past. Tom Long, of The Detroit News, wrote that " `The Last Samurai' pretends to honor a culture, but all it's really interested in is cheap sentiment, big fights and, above all, star worship. It is a sham, and further, a shame."
Meanwhile, in an unfortunate incident: a consultant retained by a party planner for the Los Angeles premiere of "The Last Samurai" put out a public call requesting "beautiful Asian women" willing to dress up and "mingle in character . . . to create the ambience of ancient Japan, circa 1870's." The ad was pulled after the consultant received numerous complaints about the treatment of Asian women as attractive set-pieces — as well as the notion that all Asian women are equivalent. "Hollywood clumps us all together and it does not matter whether we are wearing kimonos or hanboks or saris," Sarah Park wrote in a letter reprinted on www.aamovement.net.
Certainly soliciting for "beautiful Asian women" to act as hostesses is an act more worthy of a fevered personal ad than a professional publicist's vision. And the eagerness of Hollywood to pander to audience's least common denominator can certainly result in stereotypes run amuck.
(Curiously, as Musashi noted last year, some Asian-American filmmakers have even been criticized for not "portraying Asians in a positive light. This criticism seems particulalrly out of place when applied to a film with an all-Asian cast. The can't all be noble spiritualists or obsessive students; someone has to be the bad guy. As Better Luck Tomorrow auteur Justin Lin would no doubt agree, restricting Asians solely to positive roles is as limiting as typecasting them in an unflattering light.)
But audiences should be willing to keep an open mind regarding the influence of Asian cinema on American film. Quentin Tarantino would be the first to tell you of his admiration of Shaw Brothers kung-fu flicks, Japanese gangster movies and John Woo bullet fests. His breakout Reservoir Dogs, as many have observed, is heavily imitative of Hong Kong triad tragedies. Yet Tarantino also presents his films with a relentless seasoning of American pop culture. The message is obvious: Asian culture is part of American culture.
And why not? Anime itself -- undoubtedly a uniquely Japanese art form -- is heavily influenced by American cartoons, including Betty Boop and early Disney works. (Some might say the Disney studios returned the compliment some time later.) John Woo's admiration of musicals like West Side Story is evident in his Bullet in the Head.
And the master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa devoted several films to Japanese-themed interpetations of Shakespeare plays. Throne of Blood and Ran are considered among Kurosawa's many masterpieces, and there's little worrying about whether Korosawa portrays the films' themes in the proper Western tradition. (Entire books have been written on the influences of Westerns on Kurosawa's films, and the later reciprocity with flicks such as A Fistful of Dollars.) Rather, Kurosawa's ability to provide a decidedly Japanese take on some of the cornerstones of Western literature is considered a mark of artistry.
Of course, Kurosawa's genius is equaled by few. Certainly Tarantino aspires to such synthesis with his ultra-violent homages to Hong Kong and Japanese films. Time will tell if The Last Samurai or Kill Bill are considered classics of film, or merely entertaining fluff easily -- and properly -- forgotten. Viewers must judge for themselves how respectful each film is to its source material. Personally, I haven't seen either one, so I'm withholding comment. But at least in Tarantino's case, drawing inspiration from volumes of Asian popular culture, yet making a distinctly personal artistic expression, is part of a process that has occurred on both sides of the Pacific. He should be judged on how well he's succeeded, not for merely making the attempt.
In the supercharged air of Shibuya, Tokyo's fiercely hip teen quarter, music videos by Japanese pop stars topping the charts throughout Asia boom from towering outdoor liquid crystal display screens.
The streets below are clogged with young women wearing the Japanese schoolgirl look -- streetwalker's makeup, sexy stockings and plaid miniskirts -- styled by fashion magazines as the height of child-delinquent chic.
Under a galaxy of neon, cubicle-sized stores sell trendy trinkets, including phone mascots -- cute characters first dangled off cell phones here years ago, now common in Seoul and Hong Kong and seen in New York and Paris.
In the cacophony of cool, foreigners mingle with streams of Japanese into the entrance of Mandarake, the world's largest Japanese manga (comics) and anime department store.
They buy original celluloids, or cels, from Japanese animation, along with comic books, action figures, posters and compact discs. Online orders come in daily to operators speaking Japanese, English, Spanish, French and Korean.
Company President Masuzo Furukawa is direct about the reason: "If it's Japanese, the world wants it. Japan is hot."
Even as this country of 127 million has lost its status as an economic superpower, Japan is reinventing itself -- this time as the coolest nation on earth.
Analysts marvel at the breadth of a recent explosion in cultural exports. Many argue that the international embrace of Japan's pop culture, film, food, style and arts is second only to that of the United States.
Of course, regular -- heck, even occasional -- readers of this blog know that I've been an avid consumer of Japanese pop culture for some time. Now that it's beginning to attract mainstream notice, it'll be interesting to see what changes are in store.