Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Years!

Hoping everyone sends off 2008 in good spirits! Welcome 2009!

East Bay December 31, 2008

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lay Away Away

Just the other day I did a very frugal thing, I returned to a store with an on-going sale and asked for the difference in charges from the previous non-sale week's purchases. Yes, you can do that in most chain stores. Anyway, the lady said, "Okay, we owe you." Then we both stood there for a long time before she realized I had paid in cash and said, "Gosh, no one pays in cash anymore." Exactly!

This is exactly why our economy is in the crapper. People spend money they don't have on things they don't need. The average person owes $4,200 in credit card debt. $8,100 if you count per household. That is averaging in the 25% that don't even own credit cards. What that tells me is we've been a society living on borrowed money and borrowed time. We lived beyond our means in a false pretense of being a part of the so-called middle class.

So, it's no wonder the sales person was shocked to learn I used cash to pay for my purchases. Instead of seeing me as an anomaly, retail shops should expect people to spend with money they have. If they don't have it, then they should either save to purchase objects or at least use the lay away method. Request the shops you frequent add this payment option if they don't already do so. Lay Away is where stores put an item aside for you and you pay in increments until the item is fully paid off. Then and only then are you allowed to take the item home.

How else do you think we an change our horrific spending habits?

To Cuss or Not to Cuss

I'm not one for social norms. I swear like a sailor when I know I should not. My students are either appalled or disgusted-- same goes with family and friends. I think it highly hypocritical, for example, to only stop cussing in front of children. Frankly, if I did not fear complete alienation for a child, I'd probably allow her to cuss to her heart's delight. What do you think?

Monday, December 29, 2008

My Kind of X-Mas

The first x-mas tree I purchased resembled the Charlie Brown one. My decorations came from a bag of miniature safari animals. Think plastic green army men but in colorful safari animal forms. I loved the tree and my ornaments. Since then, my trees have grown to respectable sizes with the last being 7 feet tall. Always I got them from Delancy Foundation, an organization that helps out ex-convicts. I found it exciting every time one of the workers wielded a chain saw to help me trim my tree. But, last year I didn't feel right getting a tree, even from a farm and chopping it myself. So, I got a living yuka tree and decorated it instead. It was a hit (see pix to right).

I also have another ritual that began in college. I wait until after x-mas and even after new years to purchase "new" ornaments. I usually can get them for 75% off. I then package them and store them for the following year. Because I have short term memory, every time I open my decorations the following year, I am pleasantly surprised. It's like getting gifts you know you'll like.

What did you do this year to celebrate x-mas?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Gritty Feel Good Film - Slumdog Millionaire

How can a feel good film be gritty you ask. This oxymoron was achieved with delightful results in "Slumdog." Based on the book "Q and A" written by Indian author, Vikas Swarup, and directed by Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting," "28 Days"), the film is about a kid, Jamal, who grew up in the slums of Mumbai but rose to become a popular contestant in India's equivalent of the game show "How to be a Millionaire." Though a person from such modest means should not have such a vast knowledge required to answer the game show questions, we quickly learn that Jamal's rich life experiences allowed him to possess obscure information. The tale of his life is what unfolds for the majority of the film.

There's also gems such as the music soundtrack with collaboration from M.I.A. that really added to the energy and intensity of city living in India. It was also very cool to see the insides of a "call center" now ubiquitous in countries like India and the Philippines. I'll write more about that another time.

Already winning prestigious film festival awards, accolades from critiques and audiences worldwide, it is also capturing Oscar buzz. The LA Times, NY Post and Chicago Sun Times all chose it as the #1 film of 2008. Cannot say enough about this fascinating movie. Watch the film and get the soundtrack.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Retail Showrooms - The Future of Shopping

Coming back from the farmer's market this weekend, I noticed another retail store closed down. This time it was my local camera shop. On rare occasions I printed digital pictures there, totaling a few dollars at most. More often I went there to check out the latest cameras, comparing their features then returning home to purchase it on the internet for a fraction of the price. Crap, no wonder it went out of business.

I'm not unique in my "shopping" methods. All across the nation Americans are using retails stores as showrooms to: check on a size of shoes or garment; play with an electronic product or even flip through pages of a book. But then we return to our computers and surf the net for the best deals. Stores cognizant of this trend have offered on-line stores along with their rock and mortar ones.

I predict that soon retail stores will only serve as showrooms for e-commerce. Retailers like Macy's will close most their stores save a few for showrooms. You can go there to check out the products, ask questions from live "consultants" and order your items from the rows of computers available. Of course you'll get some kind of discount from purchasing online from one of these computer terminals.

Virtual stores will also broker deals with places like Macy's so their Customers then can get some sort of code from their showroom visit to purchase items from home through their virtual store at yet another deal (with code). Details details.

Point is, showrooms will take over rock and mortar stores as we know it. The sooner the retails establishment realize this, the better off they will be. It may not yet be too late for them. Re-invention is key in our internet age. Too bad print media never quite caught on.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

My Holiday Film Picks

Hey, movies are doing well during this economic situation. Hitting the theaters is one of the few things we can still afford to do and it helps us escape. So, I compiled a list of my favorites films that you can check out over the holiday season.

Come on, a hot hapa, geeky hero and a rag tag multi-ethnic crew fighting against white "agents"? You gotta love it. This cool and influential sci-fi remains THE all time favorite film for me.

Brilliant indictment of classism as presented in a futurist film noir style. Also free on at the moment.

Three Iron
This is one movie that takes the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” quite literally. Also serves a good representation of Korean "art house" films by master director Kim Ki-Duk. This is my favorite of the past five years.

"All these memories will be lost... Like tears in the rain..." That says it all. Oh, and in this future we speak Chapanese.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Burning bed that melts plastic tulip in hand. Now, that's insane. See how Spanish women deal with stress.

My Sassy girl
Tear-jerker comedy like only the maudlin Koreans know how to make. Girl finds boy, girl runs away from boy, boy becomes love slave, they part and reunite—maybe. Oh, and I'm referring to the original Korean version and not the sad American remake. Watch for the new trend of US remaking Korean films only a few years after the original was made. Will blog more about that another time.

Dark City
Another great sci-fi film noir (aka cyberpunk) that asks the question and attempts to answer, "what is the meaning of life?".

There are so many more I can recommend but start here. Enjoy!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Giving - Statement about Poverty

Over a decade ago, while researching in Communist Viet Nam, I expressed to my friend, a student from a prestigious economic university and son of a cadre, that for a socialist country, Vietnamese folks sure seem money conscious, almost greedy. He sighed in agreement but explained it was not always that way. “When we were all poor, neighbors really took care of each other. We always knew we’d be okay because we behaved like a close family.”

During this economic downturn, I often think about poverty. I believe that those who give the most are those who have the least. I’m a self-professed cheapskate, but even I find myself giving more than normal. In the last few months I’ve donated to more political campaigns than I have my entire life. I also tip more than I ever thought I was capable of. Something about empathy that moves people to give in ways they don’t even do when they are well off.

So, if you’re affected by the doom and gloom of the global economy, do you view things differently? Do you find yourself more generous and humbled? I’m curious.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Little Girl of My Dreams

This is the cutest fan video for Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" song! The little girl, Arianna, is adorable beyond belief. My little girl (if I had one) would dance her heart out like what you see here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Perfect Holiday Gift

What do you get the women in your life with everything? Well, a fruit preserver of course. For only $10, these ingenious containers, named Banana Bunkers, can keep your bananas from premature bruising. Girlfriends, moms and even grandmas will love them. Trust me.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sarah Conner Chronicles and Salvation - Terminator

With the BSG hiatus, I have to get my sci-fi fix somehow. Thank god there's "The Sarah Chronicles" (SCC) to keep my spirits up weekly. Briefly, this series is about how Sara Conner trains her son, John Conner, to kick ass as the future leader of the human resistance. Essentially we get to see how the kid becomes this brilliant military strategist against legions of terminators.

The best aspect of the series for me deals with A.I.-android capacity to understand and imitate human emotions. Before SCC, we knew that armageddon began when an A.I. developed at Skynet industries discovered self-awareness and self-perseverance. We understood from the the Arnold Schwarzengegger terminator, that they can evolve to have emotions and to know right from wrong. But, in the SCC, we learn that much of these emotions were not a product of evolution as much as taught and cultivated by humans themselves. In the quest to create perfects A.I. metal "humans," the real humans brought on their own destruction. This comes hand in hand with the android's curiosity, sense of survival or need to destroy (and or be like their makers) that motivates them to learn about them.

The question remains, when will the terminator be so close to being people as to be humane, ending their desire to destroy humans? Inversely, when will humans come to terms with alternative lifeforms and be open to sharing the planet with them. It's the age old sci-fi question really.

In "Salvation," the forth installment in the Terminator franchise, this time directed by McG (Charlie's Angels, the O.C....) and staring Christian Bale (American Psycho, Machinist, Batman...), we get a glimpse of a different reality from the original Teminator (which remains the best IMHO). How different and how much is happening in SCC relates to the "Salvation"? Since in the trailer we hear John Conner saying, "This is not the future my mother warned me about," anything goes.

I look forward to the rest of the season of SCC and "Salvation." What do you think? Catch the cool trailers below. Illustrations above and clips below reminds you of anything, say, "Matrix" or "Transformers"?

Very Cool Unofficial Teaser

Official HD Trailer

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nothing in Life is Free, Except for NPR (statement about our failing economy)

I suffered through the rising food costs, crazy ass gas prices, and now I must endure the sizing down of my beloved NPR. National Public Radio announced they have a $23 million shortfall due to a decline in corporate underwriting. So, in reaction, they are cutting 85 jobs (7%) from their staff of 889. Additionally, they will cancel their two shows, "Day to Day" and "News & Notes" in March 2009.

Gosh, I'm such a hardcore NPR listener that I actually paid money to see the late Robert Altman's final movie about NPR's "A Prairie Home Companion." I was the only non senior citizen in the theater. Point being, I'm sad to know I'll be hungry, immobile and now ill-informed.

To be honest, I think in the decades that I listened to NPR, I gave only $20. Shameful admission for sure. It seemed like I was never in a good position to give but that's just bullshit excuses. The truth is, being a cheap bastard, I loved the idea of getting quality radio programming for FREE. Well, I was wrong to think this and will be sending my grocery money to NPR today. It's the right thing to do.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Meaning of Failure

The recession is not looking good - under statement of the year. Aside from NPR, Yahoo is laying off 10% of their employees. They follow many other suffering industries. My heart also goes out to those who got or are getting the pink slip due to this economic crisis. Not that it will make things easier, but here is my attempt at offering solace through words. It comes from J. K. Rowling's (of "Harry Potter" fame) 2008 Harvard Commencement speech, "The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination." Her words are below.

...What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure...

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life...

Monday, December 8, 2008

I Love the Clintons

There, I said it. I don't know when it got trendy to hate on the Clintons, but I for one happen to think they are amazing thinkers and leaders.

I still cannot get over that Clinton was impeached for screwing around with an intern (even Nixon resigned before he was formally impeached). So, he's a cad, big deal. Latin American named him Lover of the Year but, yet we punished him. We had so much better things to do at the time then to hold up the president in court for a ridiculous "sex scandal." Since leaving office, Clinton has raised millions for humanitarian projects around the world. Let's wait and see what the "village idiot" (aka Bush Jr.) can do post presidency. I'm guessing another long-ass vacation to match the one he's had this past 8 years.

Oh, and why did people hate Hilary so much during the presidential primaries? My most intelligent democratic friends could not stand her because, why? Well, here are a few choice words: "Something about her I don't trust." "She's a crybaby bitch." Or my favorite, "She just wants the job too badly." All of this does not talk about her intelligence or ability to lead a nation. It does speak to underlining misogyny if you ask me. And yes, some of those who hated her were women; talk about self-hate. I attest that Obama got the nomination because Americans are more sexist than racist, though not by much.

Saturday Night Live

Why are the Clintons so fabulous? Well, some of you may be too young to remember, but when Clinton won his first term, he said the American people will be getting "two for the price of one"; implying that Hilary would also be aiding him in running the country. Why not? She was very gungho about bringing universal health care. Yes, the American people were too brainwashed by cold-war propaganda, claiming we'd die in lines waiting to get substandard medical care in a socialist system, to accept the promise of health care for all. Still Hillary's desire and vision was there to make change DECADES AGO. And let's not forget this hippie power couple promised rights for all including gays.

In both the heath care case and gay rights issues, the Clintons learned the hard way as Washington outsiders that: America was not ready for "radical" change, and without support of the old guards in DC, nothing was going to move quickly. So, now years later, as old hands in politics but no less idealistic, the Clintons are back. Though now with the baggage of being overexposed, they get haters from the left and from the right. No good reason really other than because the Clintons have been around long enough to garner disdain from enough folks out there.

So, congrats newly appointed Madame State Secretary (and her hanger on, Bill, too). I feel safer already and confident our international image will change. Hillary 2116 and Chelsey 2024, unless Michelle wants to throw in her hat then Michelle 2024 and Chelsey 2032. That should be fun!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still - Why Keanu?

The Day the Earth Stood Still directed by Scott Derrikson and starring Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly opens in Imax and regular theaters December 12, 2008. If it is anything like the original, it should be good. This tale of forewarning about the survival of Earth is as relevant in 1951, when the original showed, as it is today.

I'm certain it will be really excellent based on the original plot and trailers (below). What gets me is this, how does just about the worst actor out there, Keanu Reeves, land such choice rolls in great films? Matrix? Dangerous Liaisons? My Own Private Idaho? I love Keanu, I do. He can just stand there and I'll give him an Oscar; but really, why are the casting directors so blind? Or do they turn to mush too when Keanu enters the room?

In any case, I do think he is best playing rolls like a monotone alien. Neo from Matrix, on the other hand, definitely should have gone to the first choice, Will Smith. That guy has a decent range of emotions making him a very good actor. Keanu, however, played the airhead messiah to a tee. But, for some reason I don't think that's what the director was looking for. Morpheus, a mere mortal, was much more charismatic. Even Anderson, a machine, was more dynamic in comparison to Keanu's character.

Why do you think Keanu gets just juicy rolls?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Killing Myself for Christmas and other Cheery Holiday Tunes

As I was getting ready to decorate my Yuka x-mas tree and put on some holiday music, I realized I have really cynical or morbid taste in Christmas tunes. Maybe it's because I think holidays are capitalist inventions to bring consumers to a frenzy where they happily overspend and hoard useless items under the guise of "giving". Or maybe because to me holidays conveniently exist to excuse people's bad and thoughtless behavior for the rest of the year. Dunno, but here are a few of my favorite toe tappers for the Holiday Season. Enjoy!

Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight) by the Ramones
I love you and you love me
And that's the way it's got to be
I loved you from the start
'Cause Christmas ain't the time for breaking each other's hearts

I Will Be Hating You for Christmas by Everclear

I must be losing my mind
Theres gotta be a better way to deal with the pain
There's gotta be a better way to deal with the hate
Wish that I could find some way to make you go away
Wish that I could have a drink and make you fade
I wish that I could have myself a drink and make you fade
I wish that I could have a drink and make you go away
Yeah make you go away
Wish that I could make you go away
I will be hating you for Christmas
Yeah I will be hating you for Christmas...

Killing Myself for Christmas by Sick Puppies

I could slice my wrist but you know it'll only get real messy
(Angry parent: Look at the mess you made)
I could shoot myself but you know they would never recognize me
(Angry parent: That's not my boy, that's not him)
I can take that mistletoe
And hang myself from the Christmas tree
(Angry boss: That Christmas tree is coming out of your parking money)

Another Lonely Christmas by Prince
Oh baby, last night, oh, I spent another lonely, lonely Christmas
Darling, baby, U, U should've been there
Cuz all the ones I dream about
U are the one that makes my love shout
U see, U are the only one I care 4, yeah

My mama used 2 say always trust your lover
But now I guess that only applies 2 her
Cuz baby, U promised me
Baby, U promised me U'd never leave
Then U died on the 25th day of December

Santa Baby by Ertha Kitt

Santa baby, slip a sable under the tree, for me
I've been an awful good girl
Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight
Santa baby, an out-of-space convertible too, light blue
I'll wait up for you dear
Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight
Think of all the fun I've missed
Think of all the fellas that I haven't kissed
Next year I could be oh so good
If you'd check off my Christmas list
Boo doo bee doo

Christmas in Jail by the Youngsters
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year
They are singing down the Street
While everybody is having Christmas turkey
They given bread and water to eat
Wore my shoes pacing the floor
Got rocks in my head
I wished I was dead
Ain't gonna drink and drive no more

Things We Don't Need Anymore by Jenny Owen Youngs
Hark the herald angels sing
But not for us my dear
I can't recall a single thing
Worth celebrating this year

Watch the clock and pace the floor
Shut my eyes and slam the door
Tear down the lights
We don't need them anymore...