2016年6月21日 星期二

See You in September

I'm fixin' to go on vacation soon, so you have a good summer now, ya hear?

If y'all got the time, feel free to tell me about whatever books or movies or comics y'all passin' the time with.


"Crisis Economics" by Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm (2010)

"Many politicians and policy makers seem blithely unaware of how little leverage the United States has with the countries financing our twin fiscal and current account deficits.  They tell China it can't buy up American companies, and they threaten to take protectionist measures if China doesn't revalue its currency.  That's very quaint - and foolish.  In effect, China is underwriting U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, never mind the bailout of the financial system and any costs associated with reforming health care.  Biting the hand that feeds us may play well with voters at home, but with China it has its limits.

"Is China's path to global hegemony free of obstacles?  No.  Only 36 percent of China's gross domestic product comes from consumption.  In the United States that figure is upwards of 70 percent.  While U.S. domestic consumption is too high, China's remains far too low.  For now, its continued survival and growth depend heavily on cheap exports to the United States, which are in turn financed by the sale of debt to China.  This perverse symbiosis ('They give us poisoned products, we give them worthless paper' explains Paul Krugman) poses a threat to China's long-term interests."

Nouriel Roubini is an economist born in Turkey to a family of Iranian Jews.  He teaches at New York University and has his own consultancy firm.  Co-author Stephen Mihm "writes on economic and historical topics for The New York Times Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other publications."  He's also a professor of history at the University of Georgia.

Their book, Crisis Economics, advocates the study of economics and the implementation of economic policy from a boom-and-bust point of view, meaning that economic crises are viewed as the norm within any economy, and that a government's role is not to overcome any and all such crises (an impossible feat), but rather to prepare for them, and deal with them in the most effective manner where and when they occur.

This book is divided into ten chapters, with "Conclusion" and "Outlook" sections at the end.  The financial crisis of 2009 is discussed in detail, as is the Great Depression and how it affected later decades.  Speculative bubbles throughout history are explored, as are cycles of recession, recovery, and subsequent recession.  Economic theories are put forth, as are strategies for alleviating future breakdowns in the financial system.

It's a long, detailed book that will alienate most people.  I, however, thought it was extremely informative, and I read parts of it twice.  If you're wondering what's really going on with regard to global finance, this book is a good place to start.

This said, Crisis Economics is definitely not easy reading.  Those put off by its level of difficulty would do well to start with a couple of movies: The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short.  After understanding the concepts thrown around in those two movies, you'll be a lot closer to understanding a book like Crisis Economics.  If you walked away from those two films entertained but still mystified, you'll probably be avoiding this book anyway.

2016年6月16日 星期四

Everything Wrong With ComicBookMovie.com

I used to love ComicBookMovie.com.  It was interesting, it was informative, and they usually had the breaking news on the upcoming superhero films before anyone else.

But before I continue, maybe you should visit the site for yourself.  Click on the link above, read through some of the articles, and arrive at your own conclusions.  

Don't worry.  I'll go have a coffee and come back.  We'll continue after you're done there.

All caught up?  Good.  Now on to the hundred reasons why that site kind of sucks now.  I'll be going through their site as I do it, so don't be surprised if some of my comments correspond more closely to news items from the day(s) when I was writing this.

1. Many of the Articles Have Nothing to do with Comic Book Movies

An article about Tom Cruise and Cobie Smulder in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back?  Yes, I realize that Smulder was in the Avengers, but Jack Reacher is still not a comic book movie.

Funko POP! vinyls based on Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns.  Also not comic book movie-related.

First TV spots for Ghostbusters reboot.  Not comic book movie-related in any way, shape, or form.

Transformers: The Last Knight.  Also not a comic book movie.  Yes, there was a comic book at one time, but this movie franchise is based on a toy line, not a comic book.

New trailer for Disney's Pete's Dragon.  How does this have anything to do with anything that anyone wanting to read about comic book movies would like?

Also several reports about video games.  None of them having anything to do with movies that are based on comic book characters.

2. Many of the Articles are Insubstantial

The "rumor-based" articles on this site are a separate category altogether.  Aside from these, many of the articles are based on quotes from people we could have gotten elsewhere.

In "20th Century Fox Registers Two Possible Titles for the Wolverine Movie" we learn that a report, from "a very dubious source," claims that the next Wolverine movie will be titled "Weapon X."  Then we learn that the @XmenFilms Twitter account has registered both "Wolverine: Weapon X" and "Weapon X" as possible titles for the upcoming movie.

So what has anyone learned from this article?  Nothing.  Only that Fox is possibly going to use these titles for the upcoming Wolverine movie, not that Fox will actually use them.  Fox might even go on to register other names for all ComicBookMovie knows.  Was this information worth wasting anyone's time with?  I think not. 

3. Many of the Articles are Predicated upon Rumors or Hearsay

These are by far the most irritating articles on this site, even worse than the "click bait" articles discussed below.

To be fair to ComicBookMovie, they will usually preface such articles with the tag "RUMOR," but this does nothing to remedy the fact that these articles are still a waste of space.  In "RUMOR: Massive ALIEN: COVENANT SPOILER Relating to Katherine Waterston's Character" merely reiterates what someone at another website heard about a movie that just started filming.  Even willfully forgetting about the fact that Alien: Covenant isn't a comic book movie, one wonders how this is news in any way, shape or form. 

4. Many of the Articles are "Click Bait"

Anything written by Josh Wilding is a prime example.  Instead of writing a single, readable article he'll think of a list that is only tangentially connected to the world of comic book movies.  Say, for example, a list of comic book sex scenes that will never make it to film, or 10 reasons that the Robin character appeals to pedophiles.  Then, instead of posting the items in this list together as one entry, he'll divide the list into separate entries that the reader has to click through.

Why do he and many other online authors do this?  To up the traffic on their page.  By dividing his article by 10, Wilding and "authors" like him multiply the number of clicks on each entry.  Thankfully people are starting to see through this tactic, but its continued existence on ComicBookMovie is annoying to say the least.

Also counted as "click bait" are articles with deceptive titles, and articles featuring photo shoots of actresses who've appeared in comic book movies.  Hey, I like looking at pictures of Jessica Alba as much as the next guy, but I don't need to visit a site about comic book movies for that. 

By the way, if you clicked the link above you just proved my point.  Why not just look here instead?

5. Many of the Articles are Biased 

This was particularly evident after the release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  Now I'm not saying that movie was perfect, but many of the titles of the articles used to describe it displayed a definite bias against the DC properties.  Phrases such as "damage control" and "disappointment" were often used in articles that supplied NO evidence of either "damage control" or "disappointment" whatsoever.

I think that what was going on in this instance was simply a website's reaction to its readers.  ComicBookMovie knew that much of its readership expected, or even wanted, that movie to fail, and many of the articles on their site (and others like it) became a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that colored the public's perception of that film.  The zeal with which many comic book fans attempt to arrive at a consensus regarding certain films is unsettling, and more unsettling still is the role that sites like ComicBookMovie play in that consensus-forming process.  The way in which many of their writers select topics, title articles, and even questions of style cause many to wonder at their supposed "objectivity."

6. Can It be Fixed?

Yes, it can, but this site's editorial staff - if it even has an editorial staff - needs to pay more attention to content.  Getting rid of Josh Wilding would be a huge step in the right direction, and would reduce the recurrence of formalized lapses by at least half.

What this site really needs to do is to think about who their audience is, and how to expand this audience without watering down their content too much.  A certain appeal to the masses is to be expected, but as matters stand this site is alienating many people. 

I for one, hope they figure it out.  There was a time I really enjoyed this site, and I think that with more effort they can get back to doing what they (formerly) did best.

2016年6月14日 星期二

"The House of the Spirits" by Isabel Allende (1982)

"'And this,' she would say, 'Is your uncle Juan.  I loved him very much.  He once farted and that became his death sentence: a great disgrace.  It was during a picnic lunch.  All my cousins and I were out together on the most fragrant spring afternoon, with our muslin dresses and our hats full of flowers and ribbons, and the boys were wearing their Sunday best.  Juan took off his white jacket - why, I can see him now!  He rolled up his sleeves and swung gracefully from the branch of a tree, hoping that with his trapeze artist's skill he could win the admiration of Constanza Andrade, the Harvest Queen, with whom, from the moment he laid eyes on her, he had been desperately in love.  Juan did two impeccable push-ups and one complete somersault, but on his next flip over he let go a loud burst of wind.  Don't laugh, Clara!  It was terrible.  There was an embarrassed silence and the Harvest Queen began to laugh uncontrollably.  Juan put on his jacket and grew very pale.  He walked slowly away from the group and we never saw him again.  They even looked for him in the Foreign Legion.  They asked for him in all the consulates, but he was never heard of again.  I think he must have become a missionary and gone to minister to the lepers on Easter Island, which is as far away as a man can go to forget and be forgotten because it's not on the normal routes of navigation and isn't even shown on Dutch maps.  From that day on, he was referred to as Juan of the Fart.'"

Isabel Allende is a Chilean writer born in Peru.  In 1989 she moved to the United States, where she has received both numerous awards and widespread recognition.  The House of the Spirits is probably her best-known novel, and it was adapted into a film starring Jeremy Irons in 1993.  The version I read was translated from the original Spanish by Magda Bodin.

The novel follows the trials and tribulations of the Trueba family, of which the fiery Esteban Trueba is the undisputed head.  Esteban comes from poverty, but later builds a fortune from a combination of his family's estate and assorted business interests.  Early on in the novel he marries Clara, a woman gifted with paranormal powers, whose contact with spirits gives both their house and the novel itself its name.

It's a brilliant book full of wonderful ideas.  In tone it reminded me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's (much earlier) 100 Years of Solitude, but it's still very much its own entity.  Allende uses her characters' eccentricities to paint a rich portrait of Chile's political upheavals, and after reaching the book's conclusion I was only sorry that it wasn't longer.  The book's final chapters are a harrowing account of torture and heartbreak, but Allende somehow manages to end the whole thing on a high note.  It's a masterful work of fiction, and I highly recommend it.

2016年6月6日 星期一

"Tales from Shakespeare" by Charles and Mary Lamb (1807)

"The two chief families in Verona were the rich Capulets and the Montagues.  There had been an old quarrel between these families, which was grown to such a height, and so deadly was the enmity between them, that it extended to the remotest kindred, to the followers and retainers of both sides, insomuch that a servant of the house of Montague could not meet a servant of the house of Capulet."

Charles and Mary Lamb are remembered for their Tales from Shakespeare, though they also adapted several other stories for young readers.  They were institutionalized on and off throughout their lives, and Mary Lamb stabbed their mother to death during one of her many breakdowns.

Tales from Shakespeare includes adaptations of all the Bard's most famous plays, and also a few of the less famous ones like Timon of Athens and Cymbeline.  On the whole it makes for fairly repetitive reading, given the cases of mistaken identity, women disguising themselves as men, siblings separated in infancy, and surprise marriages that proliferate in Shakespeare's plays.  The most famous of his plays still entertain, but the lesser-known entries suffer from a reduction to plot points.  In these lesser-known entries it is Shakespeare's poetry that made them famous, and in the absence of this poetry they become tiresome and predictable.

This book is an easy read, but it's a far cry from the real Shakespeare.  Kids wanting to learn about his plays would do better to seek out movie adaptations, and adults would find Shakespeare's original works to be more profitable reading.

2016年6月1日 星期三

Sex: 4 Documentaries

I've been watching a lot of documentaries on Netflix.  I also think about sex a lot, so I suppose it's only natural that thoughts on sex would lead me to documentaries about sex-related topics.  Of such documentaries Netflix has quite a few.

But before I get to the Netflix documentaries, I should talk about American Pimp, which is not on Netflix.  I first saw this documentary several years ago, but I re-watched it recently.

American Pimp is a documentary put together by the Hughes Brothers, who are still making films today.  Their documentary contains several interviews with pimps and their "ladies," and is probably one of the most quotable documentaries ever made.  I'm not saying that I have any great respect or admiration for pimps, but being likable (and funny) is what many of these guys do best.

I was thinking about American Pimp as I was scrolling through Netflix a few days later.  There I found After Porn Ends, a documentary exploring the daily life of several ex porn stars.  Several stars of the 70s, 80s, and 90s are interviewed in this film.

After Porn Ends led me to Hot Girls Wanted.  This is a documentary about "amateur" porn stars in Florida, most of whom are between 18 and 19 years of age.  They are by definition very young women, who often leave small towns and broken homes behind for a "career" that lasts, on average, several months at best.

After Hot Girls Wanted I saw Tricked, which explores the legal ramifications of prostitution.  Various lawyers, cops, and ex-prostitutes attempt to make a case for criminalizing prostitution, but one wonders whether all of their laws and law enforcing aren't just amplifying the problem they're trying to address.

Of the four, Hot Girls Wanted is by far the best.  This documentary really stayed with me, and as I sit here typing many unpleasant scenes from this film come rushing back into my head.  It gets DARK, but it's worth watching. 

It's also a film that had me wondering what "consensual" means in the context of a young girl flying across the country to seek fame and fortune.  Several of the "performances" shown in this documentary verge on rape, and one can't help but feel sorry for these girls and what they've gone through.  Yes, in a legal context they're "consenting adults," but some of the movies they're coerced into appearing in are nothing short of horrific.

After Porn Ends is also pretty good, though it doesn't pack the same kind of punch as Hot Girls Wanted.  It's good to know that not everyone who does porn is scarred by the experience, and that many of those who are scarred had issues before they were ever part of the industry.  I'm not trying to argue that exploitation doesn't happen, but I like that the filmmakers went out of their way to present a balanced picture of what it means to be a porn star, both during and after a career in the industry.  I have no doubt that such a career would tend to follow you around for the rest of your life, but it's good to know that not all of them bear the scarlet letter for the rest of their days.

American Pimp?  It's somewhat cartoonish, and despite attempts at portraying "the other side," the Hughes Brothers clearly want to present an entertaining documentary at the expense of the women who suffer at the hands of these pimps.  I think that pimp in Nevada would be an interesting guy to talk to, but most of the women in this film are presented as little more than cattle, to be used and abused at others' discretion.

Tricked is definitely the worst of the four documentaries - and I'm not just saying this because I generally advocate legalizing prostitution.  

For one thing, it's not enough to say that "We shouldn't do these things, because these things are illegal."  This documentary should have explored the "why" behind these laws, and discussed other strategies for limiting the abuses of pimps.  Of course I'd agree that human trafficking is wrong, but by relegating this form of activity to the category "Crime," the state is in many ways denying prostitutes their rights and proper recourse to the law.  

I think that our society's attitude towards prostitution mirrors its attitude towards drugs, in that all of the laws they're trying to enforce can be reduced to the same set of empty moral platitudes.  We need a more pragmatic approach to this problem, and an approach less informed by the Old Testament.

That's my opinion, anyway.  It may be altered by two other documentaries on Netflix, which I'll probably watch soon.  One of these is about strippers, and the other is about sexting addiction (really, that's a thing now).

Sex?  There's plenty of it to be seen, and still more of it to be contemplated.  I'll let you know if I come to any further conclusions about it.  In the meantime, you could do worse than spend a couple hours watching either Hot Girls Wanted or After Porn Ends.