Friday, December 10, 2010

I'd make a great 1950's housewife, apparently.

The Mrs had an event to prep for where she had not as much time as required. And given I've nothing but a wealth of time... well, you can see where this is going...
Tossed salad, tea sandwiches and dessert.  Cleaning, cutting, slicing, soaking, marinating, chopping, scoring and mixing.  I can see why 50's housewives lost their shit and fomented the women's rights revolution.  Tea sandwiches are a bitch.  Why can't you have crusts?  And how much crazy spread do you need to make sure that bread doesn't get soggy?  Not to mention, in Liberia, bread is a pain to deal with/cut/curse at while it comes apart in your hands.  Never in my life have I so much desired a loaf of Wonder Bread.
Must go do something manly now...

Japan, still awesome - "Pole-dancing craze whips up a storm in Japan."

Pole-dancing craze whips up a storm in Japan:
"'...The sport has two streams,' said Tina Burrett, a spokeswoman for the International Pole Dance Fitness Association, speaking at the sport's third international championship held in Tokyo on Thursday night.

'One is associated with the stripping and sex industry, but I think today the more dominant stream is actually connected to fitness.'

Burrett said that 'the reason why it has become so popular with a lot of women is that, not only does it allow someone to express their sexuality, but it's actually an incredible workout too.'"

We Win! - "...Nearly 90 percent of Liberians questioned had paid a bribe, the highest of all countries..."

Oh, Liberia...

Corruption Rises Over 3 Years, More People Paid Bribes - Bloomberg:
"Corruption increased globally over the last three years as more people paid bribes in countries across the world, according to a Transparency International survey...

Nearly 90 percent of Liberians questioned had paid a bribe, the highest of all countries, followed by Uganda with 86 percent, according to the report..."
Plus, irony! - allAfrica.com: Liberia: LACC Celebrates World Anti-Corruption Day:
"The Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) yesterday joined the world over to celebrate World Anti-Corruption Day, ceremony which was held at the Monrovia City Hall.

Speaking during the opening of the program, the LACC Chairman, Cllr. Frances Johnson Morris said Liberia’s commitment to fighting corruption remains a primary agenda to promoting peace and stability."

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Now they're just teasing me, getting my hopes up - "Liberia Hosts International Broadband Connectivity Workshop."

Liberia Hosts International Broadband Connectivity Workshop | Liberian Observer:
"The Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) has announced that for the first time in the history of Liberia, the country will shortly benefit from an international broadband connectivity.

The broadband connectivity, according LTA officials, will potentially connect 24 African counties ranging from Morocco to South Africa.

As a result of such effort, several telecommunication experts from across Africa and Europe have converged in Monrovia to validate the West Africa Telecommunication Regulatory Assembly (WATRA) guidelines on access to submarine cables."

I think that's pretty much the definition of ironic, right there.

But I've been confused on the definition ever since the Alanis song.  Damn you, catchy pop music!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

I've Read - geek stuff.

Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher was awesome.  I'll drag out the same quote about the Dresden books every time I throw up a review here about his books - they're described as "Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer starring Philip Marlowe" by Entertainment Weekly.  If that sounds at all like something you'd like, then the Dresden books kick all sorts of ass.

The latest book is actually a series of short stories, some of which have appeared in various anthologies over the years, but the last story is actually brand new, and picks up right after the end of the latest novel Changes.  Entertaining stuff.

I was living in Japan in 2006, when Olivia Munn broke out on G4's Attack of the Show.  Not being a gaming geek, I probably wouldn't have caught her anyways, my geekiness running to the comic book/sci-fi TV & movies end of the spectrum.  But I had heard of her, flitting about on the edge of my periphery and seeing her name checked sometimes online - usually during the SDCC coverage.  And when there was a bit of a blowup when she picked up her Daily Show gig I thought she was getting a raw deal by the self appointed PC police.  Anyways, in the month I was back in the States between Japan and Liberia, roaming bookstores and getting my bibliophile fix I saw her book Suck It, Wonder Woman!: The Misadventures of a Hollywood Geek.

It speaks to the level of my geekiness that the first thing I notice on a book featuring an attractive woman ripping off her clothes is "Hey, is she doing a Clark Kent/Superman homage there?"  [Yes, I have issues, and they are legion.]  Then the title - "Suck It, Wonder Woman! - now, I dig on well written WW, but that's just funny.  Picked it up and flipped through a bit and happened upon the page where she describes her family - "You know the Joy Luck Club?  the women in my family should form a new club - The Oh Shit You Some Crazy Asian Lady Club."  At that point I knew it'd be a book I picked up.  And did, thusly.  And while I think Munn is still getting her feet under her on The Daily Show, the book is hilarious.  And while I can't really relate to some of the "girl coming of age" stuff, it's to her credit she tells the stories in a fun and engaging way.  Plus, and I guess not so surprisingly, I found some of her tales really incredibly poignant and emotional.  The one that sticks with me is when she writes of her and her grandmother.  Really moving.

Overall, great book and a lotta fun.  Munn is clearly "One of us!  One of us!" even if she commits the heinous crime of choosing BSG over Firefly.

Finally, picked up and read Greg Rucka's 3 volume run on Wolverine.  The TPBs are outta print - but you can find them used on Amazon or ebay - and I remember reading most of the stories in singles way back when they came out.  I remember reading somewhere or another that his run on the character wasn't well received, but I can't imagine why.  I'm a big fan of Rucka's, in general and thought he did a great job here.  The standouts bookend his run, featuring the incredible work of [Transmetropolitan, The Boys] Darick Robertson, who unfailingly does impressive work.

I've Read - more books on Africa...

Funny, in the mildly ironic way, not the "ha-ha" way, that I'm now living in West Africa.  Focused quite a bit on "African" culture & history in college.  [Yes, yes 'Africa' is not *one* place.  It's shorthand for the lazy.  Like me.]  There was a time, long ago and long since dumped from my brainpan, when I could label a blank map of Africa with every countries' name.  Remember at least one history seminar on the Mau-Mau rebellion in Kenya.  Another on South Africa - my longest paper in college was on Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the KwaZulu - and another cross cultural course comparing early development in Africa, the Mideast and South America.

Plus, I was probably the only caucasian at the Naval Academy with a Malcolm X poster on the wall.  And you can't understand X in the 60s w/o also understanding how the Pan African movement affected his development.  [And nothing about nothing, but X still beats Dr King, even years later, for me.  The right of self - defense always trumps non-violent resistance.  And King's tactics don't work anyways w/o the unspoken threat of violence from X or the Panthers.  But I, hugely, digress.]

The optimism and romanticism of youth, combined with the time in the early 90s where South Africa emerged from Apartheid and before the Rwanda genocide, you could feel positive about the narrative of an emerging "Africa."  The societal and structural problems they'd hit up against - like the Ethiopian famines in the 80s - could be met with aid from Western nations as the continent marched forward and progressed.  Maybe naive, in hindsight.

The last 20 years, despite some successes, the "story" of African countries all too often is one of thuggish dictators propped up by the military and sham elections, tribal and political warfare, and corruption.  The 21st century, so far, hasn't been kind.  And now I live in a country that, only 7 years ago, emerged from 14 years of civil war, which had been preceded by 10 years of dictatorship under Samuel Doe, who came to power in a military coup in 1980.  It's... interesting... where life takes you.

But anyways, wherever I live I like to know a bit about the history and culture.  [Hence my Liberia Primer back when I was still in Japan before I got here.  And reading a couple books when I first got in country - The House on Sugar Beach and Masks of Anarchy - reviewed here.  So thanks to the kindness and recommendations of a fellow ex-pat I added a couple more tomes to my Africa library [in my head.]

China Safari: On the Trail of Beijing's Expansion in Africa by Serge Michel & Michel Beuret details, well, exactly what the title suggests - how China is rapidly expanding its influence and trade throughout the continent.  It makes a good case for how China sees Africa as the stepping stone to a powerful economic empire second to none in the world.  And it is, in that respect, an excellent book providing a very thorough overview of all the geopolitical implications that situation engenders.

What I didn't enjoy about it had a lot to do with both tone and writing style.  Maybe it had to do with having multiple authors, or the authors - who I think are French? - possibly not having English as a first language? - I don't know.  But the book could've used a good editor.  The 'voice' of it is all over the place.  It can't seem to decide whether it's going to be a scholarly, objective bit of reportage or a snarky, sarcastic, hipster gonzo vice guide to China's crazy adventures in Africa.  It was... disconcerting.

The other issue I had for the writing is that it reading it made me feel a bit racist.  Which sounds crazy, but the thing is that the people it portrays come off not as people, but as caricatures and stereotypes.  Chinese are unfailingly money or reputation obsessed workaholics, oblivious to how they're stomping all over Africa while the Africans are either lazy and shiftless or "the oppressed."  I don't know.  Just something about it rubbed me the wrong way.

Ultimately though, if you want an understanding of the moves China is making in Africa, this is a worth a read.

Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa by Dambisa Moyo was really excellent and a book I'd wanted to read ever since I came across it online, back in Japan.  Can't recall how she and her book popped up on my radar, but I posted a bit about her and her ideas, including vids, on the blog back in April.  So I saw that neighbor folks had a copy, I begged to borrow it.

In brief, it was excellent and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  A short book, only about 150 pages, and a quick read.  The book is, basically, divided in two.  The first half addresses the why's and how's of why aid to Africa has failed and how it's done more harm than good.  The latter half addresses what should be done instead of aid that would ensure growth and higher standards of living for folks there.

The first half was brutally effective and convincing to me.  She, point by point and step by step dismantles the arguments for aid as it works in Africa today.  The system is clearly broken and in many ways engenders corruption, bad governance and an entitled and dependent mentality that does far more harm than good.  The latter half was also well written, but honestly, not being an economist, the validity of economic arguments are a bit over my head/above my pay grade.  All I can say is her arguments seem very convincing.  Recommended if you're interested in this kind of thing, even a little.

"..western culture since the middle ages has overvalued the tragic and undervalued the comic."

Wide ranging, and quite brilliant actually, essay on the role of comedy in novels and society.  Short excerpt here, much more at the link.

Divine comedy « Prospect Magazine:
"..western culture since the middle ages has overvalued the tragic and undervalued the comic.  We think of tragedy as major, and comedy as minor. Brilliant comedies never win the best film Oscar. The Booker prize leans toward the tragic...

But why this pressure, from within and without? There are two good reasons. The first is the west’s unexamined cultural cringe before the Greeks. For most of the last 500 years, Homer and Sophocles have been held to be the supreme exponents of their arts. (Even Homer’s constant repetition of stock phrases like “rosy-fingered dawn” and “wine-dark sea” are praised, rather than recognised as tiresome clich├ęs.)

The second reason is that our classical inheritance is lop-sided. We have a rich range of tragedies—Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides (18 by Euripides alone). Of the comic writers, only Aristophanes survived. In an age of kings, time is a filter that works against comedy. Plays that say, “Boy, it’s a tough job, leading a nation” tend to survive; plays that say, “Our leaders are dumb arseholes, just like us” tend not to.

More importantly, Aristotle’s work on tragedy survived; his work on comedy did not. We have the classical rules for the one but not the other, and this has biased the development of all western literature. We’ve been off-centre ever since.

But of course Europe in the middle ages was peculiarly primed to rediscover tragedy: the one church spoke in one voice, drawn from one book, and that book was at heart tragic. All of human history, from the creation, was a story that climaxed with the sadistic murder of a man by those he was trying to save, whose fatal flaw was that he was perfect in an imperfect world. The nicest man ever, he is murdered by everybody. Not only is this tragedy; it is kitsch tragedy, overegged, a joke. It cannot survive laughter, it is too vulnerable to it. And the Bible, from apple to Armageddon, does not contain a single joke.

The church spoke with one voice because it was on such shaky foundations. The largest and richest property empire of all time had somehow been built on the gospel of the poor. All other voices had to be suppressed, even dissenting gospels. Only once a year, in carnival, on the feast of fools, could the unsayable be said. A fool was crowned king, and gave a fool’s sermon from the altar that reversed the usual pieties. But these speeches could not be written down or circulated. They existed in the air, for a day, and were gone. By the late middle ages, the paralysis was almost total. If you change one word of the old Vulgate Bible, the whole thing comes under suspicion. All you could hear was a single voice reading a single book, the Vulgate, a Latin translation from a Greek original. When Erasmus finally retranslated the Bible, threw it open to interpretation, he caused a crisis that ultimately tore the church apart.

The problem is not specific to Christianity. Islam has always had a problem with comedy at its expense, as Salman Rushdie showed in The Satanic Verses. In Medina, in year two of the Hijra migration, with Mecca not yet fallen, the Prophet asked the faithful to kill the Jewish-Arab poet Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf for reciting his poems satirising the Prophet (and joking about Muslim women). The faithful obliged.

It is interesting, but unsurprising, that all the satirists murdered and allegedly murdered on Muhammad’s orders were, among other things, Jewish. With its vigorous tradition of Talmudic debate, and with no Jewish state to stifle or control that debate, Judaism never fell into the paralysis of the younger monotheisms. It was, to put it mildly, never state-approved. Judaism, excluded from the establishment in so many Christian and Muslim nations, has consequently produced a high proportion of the world’s great satirists, comedians and novelists. And, in Yiddish, it produced perhaps the world’s first compulsively comic, anti-authoritarian language, with its structural mockery of high German...”

Values!

Dilbert.com

Monday, December 06, 2010

Have changed blog disclaimer.

Have changed blog disclaimer.  It just felt right.

[Yes, procrastinating.  Shut up.]

Great Internets Cull of Dec 2010.

Google Reader Feeds/Blogroll from 137 to 70.

Following on Twitter from 194 to 99.

Maybe now I can get some shit done.  First up, catching up on email.

Marriage is about helping, balancing one another.

Observation...

I help the Mrs keep a bigger picture perspective, not get overly wrapped around the axle on the details, stay sane.

She keeps me from taking up arms to overthrow the one-world government run by the Illuminati and/or founding my own cult based on the worship of sushi, cheesburgers, sex and my own inherent infallibility.

So there's that.

I probably come out ahead in that exchange.

Finally, politics I can fully endorse.

The sight of women's breasts won't deter Islamists – they're obsessed with sex – Telegraph Blogs:
"Peter Skaarup, the foreign policy spokesman of the Danish People’s Party, wants footage of topless women at beaches to be included in a video shown to prospective immigrants, in order to deter religious fundamentalists."

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Wisdom of Dennis O’Neil.

Excerpts from the esteemed writer & comic creator's old ComicMix column.

Morality and such, by Dennis O’Neil - ComicMix news:
"...people use the word “immoral” when they mean something like, “I really, really don’t like this.”"
Dennis O'Neil: Heroes and Villains - ComicMix news:
"I once heard Garrison Keillor ask, forlornly, whatever happened to the old men in brown suits who knew what to do. The answer is, they never existed. But people thought they did."
Nudity and the Editorial Process, by Dennis O’Neil - ComicMix news:
"Father does not always know best and either does Mother. Like generals, they’re fighting old wars and kids are caught in new wars, which means the kids have to find their own way, which is a process of experimentation, which means that Junior and Pops can’t and shouldn’t march in lock step..."
The Evolution of the Superhero, by Dennis O’Neil - ComicMix news:
"...in a universe that is essentially absurd, in a civilization in which civic leaders are not to be trusted, an individual has to create his own meaning which involves, among other things, creating a personal code of behavior..."