April 2009


Hometown hero Gavin Newsom officially announced his candidacy for Governor of California on April 21st, flaunting his technical savvy by simultaneously championing his cause on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. Not being as cybernetic as most of my peers I was forced to enjoy the video spectacle and was once again struck by how embarrassing it is when our supposed leaders pander to the people by utilizing shitty resolution for the sake of networking. Show a little class and stream your own videos.

There’s nothing particularly striking about his pep talk, aside from my being struck with uncontrollable laughter as soon as his well manicured mug appears. San Francisco is hailed as the nation’s leader in universal health care, ecological innovation and retaining teachers amidst grievous budget cuts. He repeatedly uses the term “we” instead of the political assertion of “I”, which has become something of a hallmark in all of his communiques. He is not running for governor so much as we are all being invited to run for governor. I guess this means I’ve been traveling the state with an SFPD escort all this time. The message is that San Francisco is doing better than California and the allusion is that it’s because we’ve had Gavin Newsom at the helm, single-handedly steering us into calmer waters as the rest of the world drowns in a fiscal tempest. The “green economy” is our guiding light, as evidenced by happy laborers installing solar paneling. Voters and the Board of Supervisors, advocates and PACs are not invited to share in the glory of our solar panels.

The elections won’t take place for another year but this never prevents pollsters from harassing the recluses and bored housewives who generate public opinion. If Jerry Brown and Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who are both assumed to be entering the race, run then Newsom places third. If Senator Dianne Feinstein throws her hat into the ring he drops to fourth, but he has commented that if she does he will bow out– as long as she announces her candidacy early enough. In an effort to court less slick Democrats Newsom has been spotted meeting with under-enlightened prospective voters in traditional hicktowns San Diego and Stockton where he plans to replace their images of gay marriage with his successful chain of yuppie eateries and wine bars.

So will the San Francisco model work the length and breadth of a state as large and diverse as California, and more importantly can Newsom convince skeptics he can handle the responsibilities given his track record? Are solar panels the key to economic solvency and can his experience managing lifestyle businesses trump the fact that China owns our collective asses? Perhaps we should examine a little bit of recent history wherein out intrepid leader laid down and allowed a foreign government full reign of policing the streets of San Francisco. (more…)

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Pedisedate

The Potrero Hill free clinic was probably never happy to see my family because I had a reputation. Getting shots meant I would have to be dug out from under a table. There was screaming. There was crying. There was that unfortunate incident with the fire alarm and to this day my mom still doesn’t believe that I pulled it because I could read the word PULL on the knob. I have very vague memories of these incidents and this place, but I know it wasn’t fun for anyone.

When I was very young I was hospitalized twice, the first time for having an extremely high fever caused by croup and the second so they could take my adenoids out. My sister had preceded me in this prestigious procedure as we were both afflicted with frequent ear infections. I have very vague memories of warm medicine being applied to my ear canal by droplet, just as I have a very vague memory of chewing on a popsicle stick and swallowing the splinters. When the doctors decided the best way to stop the ear infections (no cure for rampant stupidity) was surgery I was whisked away, clutching a grotesque and homemade tweety-bird, to the dimly lit hospital rooms of my oldest memories. There was a shot in the arse, an experience I shared with the stuffed animal by squeezing it to death. There was the gas mask, a sweet smell, the hissing, either the doctor telling me to pretend or me simply pretending I was a jet pilot. There was waking up, calling for my mom, someone shoving a kidney shaped pan in front of me and puking blood to the brim twice. There was also one of the tubes falling out of my head at the drug store, but that was much later.

The point is, I was a tremendously fearful and excitable child, quite unlike now. However, I was never restrained or held down, and when I was faced with a team of surgeons and a mask I happily inhaled my way to oblivion. Other children, it would seem, have more conviction when it comes to fending off unwanted medical attention. The modern cure? Pedisedate.

The name is ridiculous, of course, and I was already creeped out when I saw the picture of a doctor leering over his bifocals at a little girl playing video games. This video which is on their website, is accessed through a directory page and I swear to god that when the warning about graphic content popped up I seriously though I was about to witness child porn. Not that the quality of the video is anything to be proud of, or anything that someone looking to invest in new medical technology could take seriously. The fact that you contact them through an AOL e-mail isn’t helping matters, but they’re merrily plugging away through clinical trials and winning praise from all corners of the media. I guess it’s not much different than dentists who have TVs for their patients, but does it just feel like we’re all being pampered and coddled a little too much for our own good?

Initially I’d thought to make mention of this, but let it go figuring there was nothing culturally relevant, particularly insightful or remotely amusing to be shared. Normally I’m not bothered by the various hordes of irrepressibly cheerful and bright-eyed do-gooders who post at corners, clipboards in their eager hands, smiling as though the sun materializes daily only through the power of positive vibes. I mean I’m not normally bothered by them because I’m not normally solicited for money because I typically look like I could use some myself, a trick that often works on the local parade of panhandlers and assorted crackheads and lunatics. However there are infrequent occasions when a bubbly youth will find cause to catch my attention through either naivete or an earnest belief that everyone should be treated equally, and normally I’m not bothered by their mistake. Hell, I’ve even grown more patient with those poor bastards who call me, threatening to send me free vouchers for a program they’re going to sign me up for through the good people at my bank.

The sun has begun to shine and the biting northern winds have slackened, and one of the mysteries of life as confounding as lemmings leaping from cliffs and whales trekking thousands of miles to delight boatloads of lesbians is the re-emergence of poorly paid college students hoping to combine their newly realized understanding that they need to make some money with their as yet annihilated optimism that they can too change the world through simple communication and a love for mankind. People have begun to take note, most stunningly Chicago genius Mimi Smartypants:

STRANGERS I DO NOT ENJOY

Those youngsters who shill for Greenpeace on the sidewalk. It’s not that I have anything against them as people; I realize that they are just hippies with the misguided idea that hassling pedestrians for slave wages is “making a difference.” I am really angry at Greenpeace for using college students in this irksome manner, and I wonder if I should write a letter explaining that I will never contribute to any charity that bothers me in person. I will also explain that because of Greenpeace’s stupid marketing ideas I am actually starting to hate the creatures of the sea,* and if they continue to get their heads caught in underwater blenders (or whatever is the marine tragedy du jour) I will continue to not care as long as you continue with the streetcorner harassment.

*Except for the noble octopus! “

And so, while I will never be as eloquent or as riotous as our dear correspondent of unadulterated Truth, I feel it my duty to add my own gripe to the cresting septic tank of public opinion. (more…)

The Wayward Cloud (2004)
Written and Directed by Ming-Liang Tsai
Starring Kang-sheng Lee and Shiang-chyi Chen

Alienation, longing, an inability to communicate or recognize one’s feelings are all hallmarks of Ming-Liang Tsai’s oeuvre. If his work reached the apex of emotional despair in Goodbye Dragon Inn (2003) than this is his most violent lashing out. In The Wayward Cloud Tsai crystallizes his various stylistic motifs to frame and fully expose his most blatant treatise on the human condition in a modern society. However, the quirky embellishments have become the emphasis, the dry humour has become a rasping cackle, and the emotional depths have been drained dry. This is a movie which finds the auteur pushing for a masterpiece and shooting through the other side, exemplifying the need for restraint even when you’re completely in control.

The Wayward Cloud 1

The story begins three years prior with What Time Is It There?, where itinerant watch peddler Hsiao-Kang (Kang-sheng Lee) becomes obsessed with a girl who is leaving for Paris. Between the uncontrolled longing for an imagined ideal and the religious hysterics of his newly widowed mother Hsiao-Kang teeters on the bring of psychological collapse, strewn across the Taipei concrete like a bloodless corpse. Halfway around the world Shiang-chyi (Shiang-chyi Chen) confronts herself by losing herself in a foreign land. A short film, The Skywalk is Gone (which was a bonus on the Goodbye Dragon Inn DVD), functions as a coda, seeing Siang-chyi seeking Hsiao-Kang but finding the skywalk he used to work on destroyed; Hsiao-Kang meanwhile finds a new career doing porn.

The Wayward Cloud 4

Both characters are back in Taipei but, without ever re-connecting. Shiang-Chyi spends her days alone, not speaking with anyone, collecting the remnants of discarded water bottles to survive a terrible drought. Hsiao-Kang’s producer has taken the government’s message of replacing water with watermelon, casting one lucky fruit in a sensual and sticky scene. They crawl through the motions of their lives: he mechanically thrusts in front of the camera while she scurries through the sun-baked streets like a desperate rodent. The only vehicle for expression come as colorful explosions, musical numbers set to syrupy Chinese pop ballads ruminating on love.

The Wayward Cloud 2

Then they meet, and without any need to catch up or even explain themselves, they fall into line as a couple. One with a very big secret which is never discussed, that Hsiao-Kang works in porn and Shiang-chyi (this is my assumption) is a sexually confused virgin. It begins with all smiles, campy romantic comedy moments and nearly setting the kitchen on fire while cooking the most amazing noodle dish I’ve ever seen. But cracks in the veneer find one dealing with a sudden onset of impotence and the other exploring the back room of the local video store. The course is clearly set for collision, but even I was hardly expecting the final sequence where Tsai destroys the concept of intimacy, love, sex and humanity with one vicious scene of rote sex work run amok. (more…)

My incredibly important work is conducted in a cramped, windowless office built by meth-addled contractors and destined to plunge two stories in the event of an earthquake. Close quarters and a maximum capacity of eleven means that getting along with your co-workers is as important as your level of productivity. We are hardly immune to the quantum physics of offices– we have one co-worker who is universally reviled and despised, whose very presence sends everyone scurrying for headphones if they bother showing up at all. He’s a workaholic who never goes on vacation and is loathe to take a day off for sickness or important events, so periodically we force him to skip a day so we can all get a little break. And we order pizza to celebrate.

A continent away two senators are beginning to push for ways to better socialize the heavily segregated floor. Holding hands in spite of their party affiliations, Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor and Wyoming Republican John Barrasso are trying to build support for their idea of shared meals. The thinking behind these sit-downs is that it would give the members of the Senate an opportunity to interact more as people than as political enemies, creating more congenial relationships which could diffuse the policy gridlock which stifles congressional work. Neither has brought their idea to the party leaders, but Pryor claims to have quietly approached his co-workers and that approximately thirty have lent a kind ear.

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This apartment building has four units which share one hot water heater. Each apartment has one shower and two sinks with an entire occupancy of around a dozen at any given time. As you can imagine this means that having your water become unpleasantly cool in the middle of your ablutions can be a frequent hazard of hygiene. Whenever this happens I remind myself, through chattering teeth, that millions of people throughout the world don’t even have running water.

We had a Beach Boys documentary on TV and everyone in the living room was dressed in summer attire despite the wintry weather outside.Orion, wearing a wetsuit, said, “I was just thinking about that today, how we shit in drinking water. Isn’t that fucked up?” The thought, in less eloquent terms, has occurred to me in the past, usually prompting some well-intentioned and never enacted plan to sink a couple weighted shampoo bottles in the toilet’s reservoir.

I’ve noticed growing attention paid to the concept of dry toilets throughout the third world. It seemed a curious focal point for humanitarian work, but I assumed that it’s a handy device to have in an arid climate where water is scarce; this is true but the merits of these and similar ecological sanitation devices run much deeper than water tables. Nicholas D. Kristof, during a recent trip to Haiti, high-lighted the efforts of the non-profit group SOIL (Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods) who strive to meet sanitation needs while replenishing the nutrient starved land of one of the world’s poorest countries.

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Shanghai Panic (2001)
Directed by Andrew Cheng
Written by Mian Mian, based on her writings

Starring Jaibei Li, Yuting Yang, Wenyan He, Mian Mian

Sometimes a movie can be a failure but still intriguing, as is the case with Shanghai Panic, based on the writings of Chinese literary deviant Mian Mian. Filled with drug abuse, STD’s, prostitutes and homosexuals this quick and dirty digital feature seems like an impossible product from the mainland, and despite it having been banned almost as quickly as it was released what’s more mysterious is how it was ever made.

Shanghai Panic 1

There is no story, just characters functioning as stereotypes: Bei (Jaibei Li) is the pretty-boy lagabout, popping ephedrine to stave off his no-future life while wondering if his declining health could indicate he’s contracted HIV; Casper (Wenyan He) is a pot-smoking lesbian nihilist staggering through the streets spouting bitter diatribes between periods of silent oblivion; Fi Fi (Yuting Yang) is the beautiful, caring and resourceful teenaged prostitute who supports her lifelong friend Bei; Kiki (Mian Mian) is the older and possibly wiser club promoter who acts as the adopted mother of this miscreant crew.

Shanghai Panic 4

They hang out, stoned or spun, having aimless debates on the meaning of life, boasting or embarrassed about their sexual histories, complaining about the trials and tribulations of coming from nowhere with nowhere to go. It’s implied that they’re the product of poverty and broken homes, but very little is actually said of parents or the past. Like overgrown children they attempt to support one another, particularly the fragile and clueless Bei as he struggles to confront the possibility of having a deadly disease and the confusion over his sexuality.

Shanghai Panic 2

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