Friday, 16 December 2005
Thursday, 15 December 2005
This is what the river looks like in most parts. The water is very clear and the fish spot you easily, so casting upstream, or keeping low is necessary. Sight-casting for yellows is possible, but infuriating. It is terrible to see how your fly is ignored. On the second day I cast my entire flybox at six yellows feeding actively from the surface, but they ignored everything. I am not sure whether they become fixated on certain food type and size (like trout sometimes do)... Although I knew beforehand that more than two-thirds of the yellowfish diet exists of caddis flies at various life stages, I had no success with caddis imitations. All the fish I caught were on imitations of mayfly nymphs.
Smallmouth yellows are a lot like grayling, so they hang at the inflow and exits of pools, or in the eddies behind rocks, or close to the reed-beds, and wait for food to drift to them in the current. Casting to those lies is the most productive strategy.
My friend caught the fish of the day with this one of just over a kilogram.
I located the Department of Environment and Tourism - the place where you get freshwater fishing licences in most provinces in South Africa. (Sea and shore angling permits are much easier to find, because you can get them at any post office). They told me that in Kimberley, the office for fishing licences is actually in the building of the Dept of Safety and Security. Kind of strange, but maybe it attests to the size of the barbel (catfish) found in the river.
Finding the Dept of Safety and Security was a little difficult in downtown Kimberley, but after three stops at the wrong places, I walked into the office. In contrast to Bloemfontein, I was invited in and sat down opposite an elderly white lady who must have issued fishing licences for a very long time. She told me that she cannot issue the actual licence to me, since the Northern Cape Province has run out of their supply of documents. But, she can provide me with a receipt to show that I did in fact pay for a licence.
You would not believe what a fishing licence valid for a year of fishing in the Northern Cape Province costs. All of R2 - yes two rands!!! And one could have one's car confiscated for not paying that!
Wednesday, 7 December 2005
Eventually after following a trail of these faded printouts through a number of corridors, I arrived at the Conservation Directorate: Fishing Licences, 3rd Floor, Northwing Building. Looking at the counter, I realised that I was face-to-face with height of bureaucratic design principles. The genius of bureaucratic design is that it is an impersonal and faceless application of a rational-legal system. In front of me the glass-fronted counter of the Conservation Directorate: Fishing Licences, 3rd Floor, Northwing Building shone gold and reflected my own surprised expression back at me: It took me a few seconds, before I realised that I faced a one-way mirror.
From my side it is impossible to see the face of the clerk assigned to process me, but of course, the clerk has a clear view of the applicant to be processed according to the rational-legal principles that the Conservation Directorate decided upon. I found it quite hard to communicate, especially because facing your own puzzled reflection makes it hard to maintain the belief that there is actually a diligent clerk on the other side of the glass.
Where the mirror meets the veneered countertop, there was an opening cut in the glass, precisely to the width of a Free State Province fishing licence document and about ten centimetres high. I put my cheek flat on the countertop and tried to speak to the clerk through the hole. Now, if only he also would have put his head flat on his side, then we could speak eye-to-eye. To my dismay, and the detriment of the quality of our interaction, the clerk failed to reciprocate. I assume he must have seen this kind of manoeuvre before, because he spoke to me as if everything was normal, even though I was speaking to his belt buckle.
To avoid further embarrassment, I straightened up, looked myself in the eye and pretended to rehearse a speech. Then I sealed my fate by asking my reflection who decided to put this unfriendly glass in. I could hear his footsteps as he moved away from the counter. I continued speaking to my reflection, only this time no response came from the other side of the glass. I made a face in the mirror – just for the hell of it.
I clicked my heels to attention, gave my best salute, did an about turn and marched out wondering about Chief Director Monde Walaza - the person who heads the office of the Conservation Directorate: Fishing Licences, 3rd Floor, Northwing Building. Surely he is responsible for the golden mirror of bureaucracy.
I am wondering how could Chief Director Monde Walaza so quickly forget the eighties in South Africa? Can he not remember the time of one-way mirrors in government interrogation rooms from behind which those in power anonymously observed those who dared resist the way the state decided to process their lives?
Sunday, 27 November 2005
The principle is not new, of course. I remember the good ol' days of 1980s East Rand garage parties where the person hosting the party would borrow tapes (of the BASF-90 kind preferably) from everyone beforehand. Then the kid appointed DJ would stand with earphones and try and find the damn start to track no. 4 on the double tape deck by doing that Play-Ffwd screechy thing, while the other tape was playing the song of the moment. Every now and again a tape would get eaten, meaning all play was temporarily shifted to one side of the tape deck and possibly a turntable, or (if the owner didn't remove the little plastic bit) the tape would end up with a 5 second recording of "maar wat gaan nou aan? waar's die musiek!?" in the middle of the Danger Zone chorus.
I wasn't popular if I ever went close to the tapedeck at these places. The only song I owned that the birthday girls and boys would play was Fight for your Right by Beastie Boys (in fact it was one of the standard requested tapes, which is why I got invited). For the rest of the evening my good friend and I had to sit outside with a portable tapedeck if we wanted to listen to The Cure or Sisters or Mercy or Fields of the Nephilim. Sad, really.
That's why this new thing is so exciting. I haven't seen it done in Cape Town yet. All I have to do is take along my iPod and buy the DJ a beer and maybe they'll go for it. It's also something I've often thought of at the gym when the dreadful exercise music filters through my earphones - where can I plug my iPod in so that people can really work out? Nothing's as good as Boredoms at making you feel you better pedal boy, 'cause there's something right behind you. I'm not evil enough to suggest Merzbow, though, I still want to share... It's just that I've seen the whites of people's eyes when I start getting excited about new music. So the best solution would be:
- A locked venue with no emergency exits;
- One iPod (mine);
- A good sound system;
- A full backup of my iPod at home;
- Probably lots of alcohol.
Thursday, 24 November 2005
I am really hacked off with Superbike Magazine's centerfolds. They used to be nicely done, but for the last year, they've shown principal errors. The Superbike Mag's art director obviously has NO clue as to the function and spirit of bike magazine centerfolds.
Posted here is this month's centerfold which is a good illustration of what I mean. Now traditionally bike magazine centerfolds are double-sided and removable. On the one side you have the girl on top of the bike or in front of the bike. On the other side you have the girl next to the bike or behind the bike.
The point being that on the one side the girl is in focus and the bike the backdrop. On that side you'd expect a side-bar giving the model's name, vital statistics, list of hobbies, the modelling agency and the name of the stylist and so on. Like the girl on the pic above is Charlotte Marshall (or so they claim) and in the sidebar I want to read things like she loves reading Sartre and is a part-time law student. You get the idea.
On the other side the bike is in focus. In this case the new Aprillia RSV1000R - the most awesome V-Twin superbike on the road and this is the RR (race replica) Factory version (read limited edition with lots of carbon and upgraded suspension). On that side there should be a side-bar giving the specifications of the machine: weight, brake horse power, maximum torque, 0-100mph acceleration, fuel consumption, etc...
Nowadays Superbike magazine only offers a single side - with the babe in front of the bike. The reverse of the picture is covered in advertisements and articles. Which means firstly that you cannot remove the centerfold from the magazine without losing part of the reading material anymore. And secondly, it means that you do not get a good look at the bikes anymore.
Take another look at the centerfold pasted above. She is COMPLETELY in front of the bike! I might as well have parked a pasola behind her, because one cannot even identify the bike (in the extreme background) as the RSV1000R. You can only read the last "...ia" of "Aprillia" between her legs underneath her belly. That goes totally against the spirit of bike centerfolds - reducing it to the level of normal soft porn anywhere.
And then on that point - another change. I have not seen a single nipple on any of the Superbike Mag centerfolds for the last year. I suppose that once they show nipple they have to sell the mag in a sealed cover - so there might be distribution issues coming into play here. BUT the principle is that if you cannot see nipple it is not really a nudie, now is it??? I mean Charlotte even kept her wonderbra on! It is not even respectable soft-porn! And it speaks of a lack of understanding concerning the function and significance of a bike magazine centerfold on the part of their art director! I am very close to cancelling my subscription!
Well, yesterday I turned into a wimp. I bought a car. After spending the last two winters on my bike, I bought this car at the start of summer - the mind boggles. I still have the Africa Twin - it is still perfect - I am taking it on a long trip in December. Only thing is that now I have the cage on wheels too. Who said consumers are more rational when considering large purchases?
Not just any car either, the most unobtrusive inoffensive car imaginable - a Toyota Corolla GLE1600i with aircon and powersteering in standard white. The ABSA bank account and the Old Mutual retirement annuity will probably follow. Thereafter probably a wife, and the baby-seat, and babies for the baby seat, and caravan holidays in Mosselbay or Hartenbos... this Corolla is the start of the slippery slope!
The only way to reverse this decline towards conformity would be to get a trailer with a KDX 200 offroad bike on it. Maybe also fishing kayak strapped to the roof? Come to think of it, I will definitely do more float tubing for bass now that I have the car... There is some hope.
Monday, 17 October 2005
Sadly, even though weblogs are native to the Web, authors rarely follow the guidelines for writing for the Web in terms of making content scannable. This applies to a posting's body text, but it's even more important with headlines. Users must be able to grasp the gist of an article by reading its headline. Avoid cute or humorous headlines that make no sense out of context.It is a bit of a compulsion, I admit, trying to have headline that on the face of it says little about the content, but I very often try to at least hide an easter egg of obscurity in there: a reference to something, a clever pun (can puns ever be?) in the knowing that only the saddest of trainspotters, or those that know me will understand the true meaning. I mean, to use all these straight-forward, obvious titles would mean that we actually think people will ever find and read this blog and we would like them to understand the meaning of it all.
I probably have to get to the topic of my title before I break another cardinal rule. Here's my newest top-10 playlist (errr, containing 11 songs). Every now and again I compile one that reflects what I'm listening to at that point in time. I don't have time to hyperlink to relevant web sites, so use Google if you're interested. Assuming you got this far having read the title.
I Walk the Line - Alien Sex Fiend
Power is On - The Go! Team
'til you Faint - Ghinzu
Disintegration - The Cure
Don't Run our Hearts Around - Black Mountain
Glosoli - Sigur Rós
The Skin of my Yellow Country Teeth - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!
No Hits - Black Mountain
Mine - Ghinzu
War - Sinead O'Connor
They are Night Zombies!! They are Neighbors!! They have come back from the Dead!! Ahhhhh! - Sufjan Stevens
Tuesday, 4 October 2005
Okay, hoe spandeer mens 'n uur -- 'n hele uur! -- daaraan om jou hare reguit te maak met 'n elektriese knyptang? Laat ek die omstandighede skets: Dis Luocheng, suid-oos Sichuan, Rooi China. Dis elfuur die oggend. Die geratel van majiang blokke skud die fondasie van die drieverdieping houthuis soos die ou toppies onder in "Boot-vormige Straat" hulle klippe af kry. Pragtige nag gespandeer in 'n klein dubbel-kamer (i.e. twee beddens, goddank) teen wat sou uitwerk op R8 per persoon. Aha. Dus twee persone. Ek het die fout gemaak om my trippie te deel met 'n ditzy chick wat saam met my skoolhou, en nie juis die beeld uitstraal van een wat alleen die wildernisse kan aandurf nie. Niks anti-chick daarin nie -- dis net sy, regtig. So toe dink ek wat de hel, zou ba.
Die kamer het een elektriese lig, maar maak op vir alles in karakter: uiteindelik 'n regte authentic Chinese plek. Luocheng is nie op die Lonely Planet kaart nie, dis hoe lonely dit is. Klein dorpie aan die onderkant (gatkant) van een of ander rivier, bekend vir sy erm "Boot-vormige Straat". Moennie vir my vra nie. Dis 'n mooi ou straatjie, seker 500 meter lank, houtgeboue aan albei kante, lang oorhangende teelafdakke, honderde stoele en tafels vir die ou toppies en hulle blokkies. Daar's 'n stuk of vyf skeerplekke waar mans agteroor sit en sigare rook, terwyl iemand hulle hele gesig skoonskeer. Jy't reg gelees: voorkop, wange, neus, die lot. Hulle word witgevryf sodat net hulle ogies uitsteek. Dit lyk soos 'n klomp albino Chinese met sigare. Lame-o vergelyking, maar akkuraat.
En tussen-in herken ek die twee wonderlike karakters vir Luguan, oftewel dan Hotel. Ons dring binne met ons backpacks en 'n ou tannie -- bless -- so groot soos 'n kleinerige Hobbit gryp my aan die arm en trek my die trappe op, na 'n view van teeldakkies en 'n netjiese klein kamertjie met twee beddens (dis belangrik, die twee beddens). En toe se sy die belaglike ding van R8 per persoon, wat ek eers dog is Chengdu-taal vir "baie meer as R8" maar uiteindelik word my queries verwerp en ek oorhandig toe R20 en voel sleg toe sy al die pad af hardloop vir my kleingeld.
Okay. Maar behalwe die lig is daar geen ander elektriese opsies in die kamer nie, en ditzy chick besluit sy kannie rural China face sonder plat hare nie, so hier's die solution: as dit 15 minute vat met 'n werkende knyptang thingy, dan vat dit seker 'n uur met 'n non-werkende een.
Les: nooit weer met enige iemand anders toer nie. Vergeet dit net.
Okay, so terwyl ek wag het ek CS met die local gentry gespeel in die local internet cafe, en hierdie hele ding geskryf op my Pocket PC, wat lank vat met 'n stylus.
Die National Day holiday, wat eintlik 'n week lank is, is in volle swang. (Swang is 'n weird woord as mens dit skryf.) Oral loop oor van toeriste. Die polisie geniet hulle self gate uit. (Remind my om eenkeer te vertel van die SHE konsert in Xi'an, regarding die polisie.) Maar in Luocheng is daar niks, niemand wat soos toeriste lyk nie. Net ek en die ditzy-ste chick in die heelal.
Thursday, 29 September 2005
I just want to add that flickr.com seems to have been added to the list of banned sites. You might ask how I figure this out? Well, I'm sure there are more scientific ways, but when my browser refuses to connect a few times, or from different computers, I try to use one of the anonymous proxies available on the web. If I then manage to connect it means flickr is in fact out there, but not reachable from China. In the process though I also found some of my favourite anonymizers have also been added recently to the Chinese blacklist.
Steve Biko said (and I might have quoted this before): "The greatest weapons in the hands of the oppressor are the minds of the opressed." It has a special relevance in China, where the people almost completely homogenously support almost anything the government does, but not out of some ideological conviction, but out of either complete and utter disinterest or complete and utter apathy. Or, wait, that's kinda the same thing. Or is it?
Certainly a different kind of apathy from the kind we know in the West. This is almost a time-honoured tradition of ignoring or tolerating government as being some very far flung phenomenon that has no influence on daily life whatsoever. The few Chinese people who do seem concerned express a feeling of complete and utter helplessness in the face of their government's and culture's complete and utter monolithicness (copyright: me 2005).
A good name for this post would have been "complete and utter". Truth is if there was an election tomorrow the CCP government would win 100% of the vote, pure and simple. It's a shame really, that the Chinese have been through so much in the 20th Century, and have lost so much, and are completely and utterly unaware of how oppressed they are.
Chengdu is laid-back, leafy, filled with parks and friendly people. Armies of backpackers pass through here, 3 Gorges-bound or tibet-bound or both. Coffee can be had, and at some places even reasonably. English is considered a language with multisyllabic utterences surpassing the two in "hello". Old men approach foreigners in the street and ask questions like: "What's the difference between 'telly' and 'television' because my dictionary doesn't say." There are antiques markets where you can browse at your leisure, drink beer next to the river, and are not bombarded with ridiculous trinkets and loud "looky, looky"'s while doing so. In short a very agreeable place, not at all Western, but a good, polite, cultured Asian.
Tomorrow off to see the pandas at the breeding centre, then to an irrigation project built in 120 AD to divert the Jiang river, and still in use. Returning to Xi'an is going to make a dull, clunking noise.
Monday, 26 September 2005
Here she is. I got my Fiat 124 Sport Coupe back today after a three week transformation from fire engine red to batman black. It was done in Wellington and the guy did an excellent job, even respraying the dashboard and replacing all door and window rubbers. I still need the left indicator lens, though, part of the reason it initially needed some fixing up, but that's up to Ebay to solve.
Please show your respects by observing a minute's silence for the dog that appeared out of nowhere the night Cerebus and I were driving from Stellenbosch to Cape Town (the damage to the left nose can be seen in the left hand picture). I won that fight, and even though the panelbeater was 4 times cheaper than the big city people, that dog still cost me money.
Sunday, 25 September 2005
News24 reports that China has updated its Internet news policy to "standardise the management of news and information" and this will mean only "healthy and civilised news and information that is beneficial to the improvement of the quality of the nation, beneficial to its economic development and conducive to social progress" will be allowed, adding that "[t]he sites are prohibited from spreading news and information that goes against state security and public interest."
It is obvious what those interests are and what the topics and viewpoints are that are banned: Taiwan, Japan, democracy blah-blah, we've commented about it before (see one of Cerebus's recent posts).
I am now reading Wild Grass: Three Stories of Change in Modern China by Ian Johnson, and it struck me, as someone who have visited but one city in China, how much more goes on below the surface, even though the signs of control are evident. For me it is worrying, given the tacit support China gets from the money-hungry West. The dilemma, aptly summarised by a Chinese reviewer on Amazon in his/her response to the book (after admitting not having read it in the first place), is how do you change the views of millions of people who enjoy the material benefits of modernisation? Here's an excerpt:
Now as a Chinese, I will tell you the truth: People there do not care, they are enjoying their lives too much to care. They have learnt that you have to be indifferent to be able to enjoy. That is to be indifferent to all the unfortunes happening around them and to be indifferent from all the sympathies that foreigners have towards them.Hmmm. Show, don't tell, that's what they taught us in the student press donkey years ago. Cerebus might want to say more....
Saturday, 24 September 2005
Soon to be unveiled... my new BLACK Fiat. This is the hood ornament, still taped up under a layer of undercoat. I wanted to document the whole thing more, but haven't had the time. This picture was taken last week, when I delivered new door rubbers to the panelbeater. It was supposed to be finished last week, then yesterday, then today, now hopefully... DEFINITELY... tomorrow. And then I'll post more piccies on the actual transformation.
Monday, 19 September 2005
[commūn’ion, n. Sharing; participation; fellowship; intercourse]
Clockwise. That is how the bathwater exits into the drain. You only notice it if you make a point of it.
We had elk burgers and oddly non-bitter beer imported from Germany for dinner.
Breakfast will offer smoked reindeer and three kinds of strangely delicious-yet-pungent herring infused with pepper corns—amongst other things. I must remember to try the cheese again.
Our taxi drives on the wrong side of the road.
The seasons are all weird.
The sun never quite sets at night.
The locals speak in gentle little phrases and end their sentences in question marks. Even the neo-punk on the metro politely, shyly, smiles an apology after stepping on my foot.
The letters on their vowels are different, too.
The world is quietly, violently counterintuitive up here. We are so far north that tomorrow’s plane will fly south for two hours before we land in continental Europe, separate, and find our respective connections.
Respective cities. Respective lives.
Respectfully saying goodbye.
The air is eerily clean here. And if you walk along the banks of the islands that create this impressionist city, you notice bathers swimming in the water connecting urban lives. We are staying in a hotel on Södermalm—the island just south of the tiny old city. From our window you can see into the night for miles. The night is defined by a sky that seems to be creating its own light. An ink blue illumination that pulsates in the absence of the sun, creating its own life. It rebels against the darkness. At the summer solstice this lasts for only about two hours, until the sun reappears and reveals an even brighter Stockholm than the one remembered from the day before. The greens, yellows, oranges and browns that define this city are interspaced with the blue from the water and the white sky.
I recreate this memory carefully when I miss him—which I often do, these days. I recreate an image of my lover in my mind, and place him in the room that we shared. I am aware that everything is a construct. Fleetingly I wonder whether I am actually recreating the images as they were, or whether I am acting in an attempt to create a facsimile of the emotion that accompanied those days. It is the same thing: brute fact and emotion, I decide, and I leave it there. I have made peace with the fact that the self is the only knowable, or the only existent, thing. Solipsism does not insult me; does not render me more lonely.
I have a friend who says that I romanticise the past. I protest, denying it, but she is right. In fact, it is worse than that: I romanticise the lover I am with. I call it my nostalgia for the future—that perfect future containing idealised me and idealised him. I suppose it is inevitable that all my relationships end in metaphoric tears. As reality and the banal evolution of our soporific lives slowly erode the ideal I start to hate the projection, blaming my lover for not living up to the ideal. Unfair, cruel even, I know, but for a while it works.
…With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer.
My lover and I have the same first name. He jokes that it is quite useful during sex; that it renders inoffensive calling out one’s own name as you orgasm. I smile at this, and pour him another glass of wine. He is so sensitive, sensual, sensory: he loves the hues of Stockholm, the crystal skies and the remarkable tastes of the food. He claims that one is free to reclaim one’s childhood here—to rediscover the pleasures of the senses as a child might. I think he is being dramatic; the hyperbole makes me frown. I don’t say anything. After our last supper we will make love. Tomorrow the plane will take me south. He will be gone. I need to make our final communion as free as I can. I must keep it light and unencumbered. The memory must be created. And survive.
My lover attended the same conference where I gave my paper. After my presentation on the politics of memory he extended a hand (palm up, I think) and said that he wanted to talk some more. That was four days ago. Entirely random. And here we are, going through the ritual one last time. I will give myself to him completely. I will take from this last night what I need to sustain me into tomorrow. And the day after. And the one after that.
We are on the bed. The curtain is not closed, so from beneath his body I can look through the glass and see the sky. It is not dark in the room. I take slow breaths, I suck in his scent and listen to the sounds our limbs make as they pass over the bright white sheets—in this light they are almost shining. I tilt my head to his ear and whisper,
“This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance…”.
He opens his eyes and looks at me before resuming our play. He is getting close. The breathing is quickening. I marvel at the automatic thrusting that seems to be hardwired into the males of all species. We are face-to-face; he had entered me from the front. I taste the air from his mouth, and as he climaxes I stretch my left arm out across the bed. His fingers are intertwined with mine.
He has not yet taken a breath. As the orgasm subsides, he exhales, and just as he readies to waken to the present, draw in air and open his eyes, I slide the blade gently from just beneath his right ear, across his Adam’s apple and exit a few centimetres later. There is a lot of blood, and I hold tight his spasming right hand, whispering,
“This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you”.
He is already dead by the time air re-enters the severed pharynx; the last breath goes in, not out. The eyes are open and seem almost surprised. He is suspended in time.
I love him most right then.
We disentangle. I cover him gently with the remaining sheet. I shower in water that is slightly too hot for my liking.
After breakfast the shuttle will take me to the airport.
The memory remains intact. I will remember. Everything is as it should be.
It is perfect, our last night.
Thursday, 15 September 2005
Page 285 in the Vintage edition:
"Your body dies, your consciousness passes away, but your thought is caught in the one tautological point an instant before, subdividing for an eternity.
"[...] expanding human time doesn't make you immortal; it's subdividing time that does the trick."
I remember trying to explain this thing in some philosophy class to the lecturer a long time ago. I was thinking like this: we can only be aware of being aware, right? We can, therefore, not be aware of the moment at which we stop being aware, right? So when we die, we will be endlessly aware of the last moment of which we can be aware, eternally. It's so bloody simple it hurts.
The lecturer wanted me thrown out. Less for saying anything heretical, and more for not making any kind of sense whatsoever. So, ever-since I've nurtured this theory of mine, keeping it safe and secret against the slings and arrows of outrageous misunderstanding. I.e. I haven't bothered making it any more coherent. I was figuring, in the end everyone will see I'm right. I will be famous, but very privately in a little world inhabited by every person all on her own, for all eternity.
Great. Well, if you read the book, you'll know the "End of the World" is in fact just such a state of being: the eternal subdivision of time in the moment before awareness and consciousness cease. Cool. And Haruki Murakami invented it completely independently! And he put it in words that makes sense. Here they are:
"... thought goes on subdividing that time for ever and ever. The paradox becomes real. The arrow never hits."
It's like that old thing about always halving your next step, ending up never reaching the other side. So, when you die, time for the living observers goes on the same as before: your body crumples up and turn very dead. But for you, time becomes a little subdividing paradox and you never in fact reach the other side.
Just hope you die in a nice way, then. We'll see, won't we. (And that is, in fact, my theory.)
This post has no links in it whatsoever.
Headline in today's China Daily: Hu: China to provide US$10b for poor countries
Suspicious? Here's the catch:
"Hu said in order to increase assistance to other developing countries, China has decided to accord zero tariff treatment to certain products from all the 39 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) having diplomatic relations with China, covering most of the China-bound exports from these countries."
So, what are the conditions for having diplomatic relations with China? As the Vatican found out:
"As usual, China also repeated one of its own conditions for diplomatic relations: that the Holy See sever its relations with Taiwan. "
So that's it really. If you want a piece of the Chinese pie, you have to sell your soul to Mr. Hu Jintao first. But hey, many coutries have done so, prefering to line their own pockets rather than stand up for their beliefs, like democracy, freedom and the right to have a Starbucks on every corner.
I'm not going into the details again, except to highlight one particular argument in favour of maintaining Chinese characters -- the argument I hear most frequently from what I'd have to call Chinese patriotic laymen.
First, however, the disclaimer: discussing someone else's culture and language borders dangerously on tremendous cultural chauvinism. In fact, it regularly makes little cross-border forays, blows things up and disrupts communications. I make no excuse for this: I am a cultural chauvinist of tremendous proportions. I honestly think Chinese characters are clumsy, arbitrary and above all way too round for my square brain. They are not congruent with the absolute laziness of my mind, and something needs to be done.
So, bring out the guns, Martha, we're going in.
My proposal for simplifying Chinese characters and thereby making the world a safer place for slackers everywhere.
"Too many words sound the same. We need the characters to tell them apart," they say.
Read this bit explaining how Chinese has only around 1280 discrete sound combinations, including those dreaded tones, and how English has around 4030. Just a comparison. No-one is boasting.
Then read about how Chinese seems to have a crazy proliferation of homophonic syllables (including tones) that are written with different characters and have different meanings.
Or... just take my word for it.
Let's move it along. Example time: "Li" in my tiny dictionary has a whole seven pages of entries. That's actually a little unfair, because that includes all four tones, plus the neutral non-tone, which Chinese people can readily tell apart, and therefore won't classify as the same "li".
So, I'll choose one tone (the 4th): There are in fact 37 different characters for 4th tone lì. You can be sure there are a handful more in bigger dictionaries, mostly names. Certainly looks like you're going to need a way to distinguish between them.
Here they are:
疠 痢 砺 砾 立 笠 篥 粒 苈 荔 莅 莉 蛎 詈 跞 轹 郦 隶 雳
But let's loose the ones that would only ever be used as syllables inside longer, multisyllable words.
唳 栎 栗 痢 砺 笠 隶
Leaving eight. So in spoken Chinese all the other syllables are found inside words where the rest of the word would nail down the meaning pretty accurately. The problem seems less severe now.
And, as this learned sage argues, these lì's probably exist as different characters because the written language never had to reflect the differentiation needed when speaking out loud. This brings me to spoken language.
you need so many characters to distinguish the meanings of homophonic syllables
how on earth can people speak Chinese to each other?
What's different in the spoken language? Many things. Most notably there is pressure/responsibility on the speaker to clearly differentiate her vocabulary. We do that too in English. I'm sure everyone does it. It's not more or less difficult to do in Chinese. Chinese writers simply never had to do this, because of the huge overabundance of information carried in the rich complication of each character.
A speaker can't say, for example, shī (诗) for a poem. It's going to be mistaken for louse, lion or corpse. She'll have to say shī gē (诗歌), poem-song to be understood. Or she'll have to add an article and measure word: yī shǒu shī(一首诗): one unit of poem (?). Shǒu will be your measure word for today, and it functions as "one glass of water". In spoken Chinese the measure words have become indespensable in conveying meaning. If Chinese was written phonetically the word for poem might long ago have been changed to simply be shǒushī, with the separate meanings of the syllables rendered completely irrelevant.
Staying with measure words, one caught my attention recently in a children's book: 只 and支, both pronounced zhī. The first is for birds and some animals, and the second is for long, pointy things, like a single chopstick or a Buffy-like stake. At some point, before going to school and beginning the decade-long process that is Chinese literacy, kids must use these measure words without any inkling that they are, in fact, different characters. Then one day in the second grade (or whatever) their teachers mention to them that they are written differently. How, I want to know, would they possibly distinguish between them before they can read or write, and when they have only the sound to go on?
In fact, it gets more convoluted, in that you can apparently use the first one for chopstick-like objects too, but you can't use the second one for pigs. So why have the second one at all? The second one is clearly functionally superfluous. It looks nice, sure. Would make a great tattoo, but that's it.
So here's my culturally chauvinistic solution. The solution, according to me. (I hear the echoing of maniacal laughter.)
Put spaces between words. Chinese characters are all written together, which makes looking up words in a dictionary utterly laborious if you don't know where one word starts and another word begins. (Remember, the are relatively few single character words. Most concepts are two or more characters long.) So the first thing to do is to lump concepts together in the way most Germanic languages link them up to form compound words.
Word breaks would also facilitate information management and keyword searches in Chinese, which at the moment needs quite convoluted algorithms.
Word-breaks would create the needed awareness to proceed to Phase Two.
Drop all the superfluous characters. Tall order. Which would you choose? Easy, actually. There's this list of the most common 3000 characters, in order of erm popularity. Use them. Chinese has this finite set of possible sounds -- around 1280, including (all together now) the tones.
From this list of 3000 we can choose 1280 characters that represent every single initial and final sound and every single tone. One sound, one symbol. End of story. With these characters we could write anything, phonetically, in Chinese.
But, of course, implementation would have to be slow, so here's an idea: when kids learn to read and write we give them reading material carefully written using these characters in their original meaning, so for a while they can then go on, later in their school careers, to learn the rest of the thousands of characters. The difference is that now, when they are stuck, they can go on writing phonetically and later look up the correct characters. These characters will be a well defined core that they can always fall back on. We'll leave it to a next generation to completely abandon the other characters, as this system hopefully becomes mature.
All that remains then is to see how characters themselves can be simplified even more. Many of the core characters will contain strokes and elements relating to meaning, that can now gradually be stripped away. This should be a natural process and should reflect the new developmental pressures on the language arising from a phonetic syllabary. Writing style will surely change, but indications are it will become more congruent with spoken language since the pressures of phonetic intelligibility will be the same as in the spoken language. This is what happened to Korean after the introduction of the Hangul phonetic writing system.
No-one is ever going to do this. Fair enough, but it can work. Perhaps at least choosing a core character set could give foreigners a good place to start when they set about learning Chinese. It could be a good guide for elementary school teachers deciding which characters to teach and in which order. Using word breaks could certainly help in the electronic age, getting the information catalogued and searchable. Implementing this hare-brained scheme might completely change the way Chinese people think. That could be very dangerous. I do know for sure the children I teach could very well do with a little less pressure, from schools, parents and systems, and if they could dispense with the mindless repetition needed to cram 8000 characters into their heads just to read the newspaper, then I would love to help them.
PS. "Disappointingly, ping-pong doesn't come from Chinese; so Mandarin pīngpāng is a rare borrowing from English".
Sunday, 24 July 2005
the blog is up and running, after only two weeks of discussing it. this must rate as one of the most decisive moments of my life - any more decisions at such breakneck speed and my posts will become blurred as well.Cerebus and I quickly realised we're not going to make it alone and Krizz and Thespian joined as well (the latter for one real and several promised posts). So cheers to us for managing to clutter up the Internet with another 80+ Deep and Informed ramblings. Let's see what the next year brings. Hmmm.
cerebus will join soon, as soon as the weight of yet another birthday (july 23rd) wears off.
Wednesday, 13 July 2005
Check out the New York Times report on the revelation that the attacks in London was carried out by British muslims:
"Neighbors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not wish to draw attention to themselves during a time of tension, said Mr. Tanweer had worked at his family's fast-food store selling fish and chips. "When he was 15 or 16, he got all religious, and started praying five times a day," a woman said."
"The neighbors said Mr. Tanweer had attended two local schools and had been known as a soccer and cricket player. "He was more British than anything else," said one of two women who said they were neighbors."
The NY Times prefers to zoom in on only one of the four suspects, who though "more British than anything else," suddenly "got all religious and started praying five times a day" (ironically is the number of prayers expected daily according to Islam - more or less like Christians are supposed to go to Church every Sunday).
What irritates me here is the not-so-subtle perpetuation of the structure of thought that every devout muslim is a latent suicide bomber. Religious devotion should not be treated as a necessary condition for fundamentalist political stances (In fact, I would argue that most religious fundamentalists are on the periphery of the core religious tradition, but that is for another time).
If you compare it to the Reuters article, which I presume the NYTimes journalists used as filler, then a different picture emerges (it also emerges that Reuters uses The Daily Mirror, The Guardian and The Times as source material - what do you think of that Pollen?):
"They were four ordinary British lads from ordinary British homes who loved football and girls... So why did they become the suicide murderers?" The Daily Mirror wondered on its front page.
Neighbours in Leeds were shocked that their young might have been responsible for the blasts.
"He was a sweet guy who gets on with everyone," said Mohamed Ansaar Riaz, 19, in The Times newspaper, of one of the four suspects, a 22-year-old sports science graduate who was said to adore football and cricket.
"He had a fantastic sense of humour and could make you laugh... The idea of him going down to London to explode a bomb is unbelievable; it is not in his nature to do something like that."
The suspect, who was said to help out in his father's fast food shop in Leeds, was described as "sound as a pound" by Azi Mohammed in The Guardian.
"I only played cricket in the park with him around 10 days ago. He is not interested in politics."
Another neighbour, who declined to be named, told ITN News that the "always smiling" sports graduate had spent two months in Afghanistan last year and four months in the Pakistani city of Lahore.
Another suspect, a 19-year-old also from Leeds, was said to have turned to religion after being a "bit wild".
"He went off the rails and his parents were very worried. They wanted to instil some discipline in him; I don't know what happened but 18 months to two years ago (the suspect) suddenly changed and became devoutly religious," a cousin was quoted in The Times as saying.
A third suspect was said to be a 30-year old married father of one and according to an unnamed member of his wife's family they had originally disapproved of him because he was not as traditional a Muslim as they would have wished.
"He does not believe in having a beard or wearing a hat. But he has always seemed a really nice guy and has never been in any trouble that I know of. He has been to Pakistan a few times but not for long periods," the in-law was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying.
Well, if you look past the irritating, "I cannot believe that our nice neighbour turned out to be an ax-wielding serial killer" - then it seems that only one of these bombers could be considered devout and then only after a "damascus moment". Surprise surprise, that is the one on which the NY Times prefers to shine their human angle spotlight. I am not only making a point about selective reporting. I am also making a point about the nature of fundamentalist Islam - most islamic fundamentalists are not really the devout muslims they are made out to be. Put another way, they are not driven by their religious beliefs, rather they mobilise around their religious identity, but they are driven by their politics.
Another Reuters article gives devout muslims the chance to respond:
The Muslim Council of Britain said it was stunned that English Muslims appeared to have carried out the attacks. "We have received today's terrible news from the police with anguish, shock and horror," secretary-general Iqbal Sacranie said in a statement. "Nothing in Islam can ever justify the evil actions of the bombers."
Monday, 11 July 2005
Increasingly, reading three online publications is just as worthless, because the same story and the same text is just repeated ad infinitum... the same stories get repeated under the "Funny and weird" section (usually about China)... the same pictures get published... the same mistakes get made over and over and over again.
Like the story everyone is running again today, written by some sap at SAPA, about the two scientists that have discovered time travel backwards causes to much interference and you can therefore not theoretically travel backwards to other scenarios. IOL first runs this stunning headline: "Quantum Theory rubbished as mumbo jumbo" then follows it up with the SAPA cut-and-paste job, which ends with probably the stupidest, dumbest comment since... well, since Bush crashed his bicycle again. Check this:
"Their theory makes nonsense of the movie Back To The Future, in which the character played by Michael J Fox had to ensure that his prospective parents actually met."
Holy crap! How inane can you get? What, I ask with bitter tears streaming down my grizly cheaks, does this mean? That the writer knows his 80s movies? That the Back To The Future movies were supposed to be hardcore realism? That the makers always defended it as the truth? That Einstein's brain can be reduced to this?
It's just sad, very sad. And it's everywhere... mostly in standardised high-culture languages.
Friday, 8 July 2005
Therefore, from the perspective of the rural areas, the eleven official languages are not a celebration of South African diversity - it is much more of a large-scale language reduction exercise by the South African state, that denies status to many local dialects and so effectively pushing local dialects towards standardization or extinction. A specific local dialect in the Eastern Cape for instance, that possesses a vocabulary and syntax that is somewhere between isiXhosa and isiZulu, would then have to "choose" with which standardized version to align itself - isiXhosa or isiZulu - thus contributing to its own extinction.
Now, if you put this type of spin on the whole debate about the importance of mother-tongue education in South Africa then you'll see that the participants in this debate are often guilty of oversimplification. Here is Max du Preez take on matters, as an example of the type of argument that is often made.
The catch-22 of mother-tongue education being: you need language standardization in order to have broad-based literacy/education. Or you need mastery of a language that would give you access to the world (in terms of communication, but also in terms of coming to grips with a modern world) - and probably English is better for this than Afrikaans, which is better for it than isiXhosa, which in turn is better than Cele or Mpondo or San, and so forth. But language is a tool like any other - if you are not a competent language user in a standardized high-culture language - some of the features of this tool remain unavailable to you. The question then becomes whether you would be better off using a less sophisticated tool, which you could hopefully wield more skillfully. Ai-ai...
Thursday, 7 July 2005
I am interested in the switch by the Afrikaans “taalstryders” away from Afrikaans as a European language to Afrikaans as a homegrown indigenous language. The merits of the whole language debate aside, I am simply wondering whether promoting Afrikaans as an indigenous language is strategically wise in terms of language politics.
The background is of course our constitution that guarantees the official status of 11 languages in South Africa (The official languages of South Africa are Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu). But of course the result of positing 11 official languages is that English becomes the public language no.1, or the universal/official language, whilst the other 10 languages all recede to local/private status. The de facto situation in South Africa is thus almost a kind of “diglossia.” This is more than mere bilingualism – there is a clear division of labor between the different languages that a speaker employs – the one operates as a low-language and the other as a high-language, and they are used for different purposes and in different contexts. In the case of South Africa, the indigenous languages operate as private languages, whilst English fulfils the role of universal or public language.
Against such a background, claiming similarity between Afrikaans and the other indigenous languages make little sense. A much better strategy, but something the pro-Afrikaans lobby seemingly has not discovered yet, would be one of differentiation; in other words to claim that Afrikaans offers capacities that the other indigenous languages failed to acquire (maybe unfairly, but still they cannot offer their speakers the same kind of cognitive resources).
As a result of the apartheid state’s active promotion of Afrikaans, the language now offers a cognitive/cultural resource to its speakers that give them access to a scientific/technical lifeworld. In the language of Gellner (or Gagiano), Afrikaans gives its speakers access to a high-culture in a way that isiXhosa does not to its speakers. Of course this difference between Afrikaans and isiXhosa as cognitive resources is partly attributable to the promotional efforts of the apartheid state that favoured Afrikaans over (other) indigenous languages. But the efforts of the state to promote and standardize Afrikaans, is not the only reason for this difference; it also has to do with the fact that Afrikaans derives from Dutch – a language that already possessed this high-culture capacity. It would be a far more accurate depiction of the language politics in South Africa to say that Afrikaans needed this state sponsorship to develop its latent capacity, not because it was primarily in competition with indigenous languages, but because it had to attain its high-culture status in proximity to an already existing high-culture language, namely English. In other words, the real competition for high-culture status was with English.
By hook or by crook, Afrikaans is thus different from the indigenous languages, because it has cognitive properties that the other languages do not have and therefore offers more cognitive resources in the real world. Empirically it shows, as Afrikaans is after English the most widely spoken language in Southern Africa.
Wednesday, 6 July 2005
Tuesday, 5 July 2005
I didn't do 5 minutes of Internet research for nothing, however. So here's my (somewhat deflated) opinion:
I saw the billboard at Jhb International last week and the first thing I wondered was how long it's been there, as we haven't heard the indignant laments from the usual crowd. The second thing I wondered was is it really true: no word for "foreigner" in nine indigenous languages? Hmmmm.
On the indigenous issue, Krizz talks about the meaning of the word. One of the definitions at Dictionary.com describes indigenous as: "Originating and living or occurring naturally in an area or environment." Ok, so there is some argument for saying Afrikaans is indigenous to South Africa. Whether a linguist will call it an African language is up for debate, as Krizz has pointed out.
The issue of the ad's claim kept bugging me: "nine indigenous languages, 44-million people and not one word foreigner" or something to that effect. Obviously this excludes English (apart from not being indigenous) and Afrikaans. There is... well, foreigner and there is vreemdeling. So even if you regard Afrikaans as indigenous, you can't go around and make the same claim while including it, now can you? That, at least, should tell the DA and FF+ to talk to the hand. (I won't even go into Tony Leon's attempt at Afrikaans in an election ad some years ago: "Dit iz Tony Leon fon di Dehmôquwratieze Pôrrrtay" - what language was that, meneer?)
But. And it's a big, hairy but: is there really no word for foreigner in the other nine? How do these people communicate? What do they call the favourite South African target of all xenophobic outbursts: Nigerians?
Not to worry. It turns out, the ad lied. A quick Internet search turned up no Zulu word for foreigner (score: 1 out of 9), and the Xhosa dictionaries are few and far inbetween (score: possible 2 out of 9), but lo and behold the search results for foreigner in Northern Sotho: lephatle (outsider, foreigner), mofaladi (emigrant, foreigner), mošele (stranger, alien, foreigner), ntopolane (foreigner, victim). Four! The only outcome is for someone to now explain to me that these words actually mean something else. Go for it if your Northern Sotho is better than mine, but the ad might need to go to the ASA for other reasons. (I didn't check the others, sheesh, I have a life!)
At least those supporting Afrikaans as African have one more ally: The Online English to African Dictionary. Look again. African is a language? Not really, they meant Afrikaans. But if the Internet says it is so, who are we to judge?
"Afrikaans is a unique language which started here in South Africa. The language, along with our ten other official languages, enjoys the full recognition and protection of the Constitution."
Ja well, interesting... depending what you mean with indigenous language of course ;-)
In the past white Afrikaans speakers tried to emphasise that Afrikaans is a European language. It was the language of civilisation here in South Africa. Then as the politics changed, there was an about-turn and now people want to claim that Afrikaans is an indigenous language (maybe even an African language?)
The truth is of course that Afrikaans is a creolized version of Dutch. It is basically Dutch with some words and grammar rules borrowed Indonesian (courtesy of the slaves brought from Indonesia and Malaysia to the Cape) and this process of creolization took place on the African continent. Does that make it an indigenous language? Or does it simply mean that in future we may also claim that Afrikaans is actually an Asian language! Might become handy in a world where China is the only superpower...
Point being, it is not that easy to make a living thing like a language fit human's constructed geographical boundaries. And it is as clear as daylight that the DA are taking a cheap shot at a billboard in the hope of harvesting votes from white Afrikaans speakers.
I am not so sure however that most white Afrikaans speakers will be comfortable with the DA's insistence that Afrikaans is an indigenous language (by implication worthy of the same rights and protection as African languages). Most white Afrikaans people would think Afrikaans superior to African languages, because it is also used as a technical and scientific language. But maybe that is about to change if you take a look at the Minister of Educaton, Naledi Pandor's plans for African languages.
Pandor said she could not be swayed from the belief that the indigenous languages had been marginalised, neglected and underdeveloped and that "their strengthening and revival depends to a great degree on what we do in education".
The irony is that Afrikaans is the second-most spoken language in Soweto (amongst blacks) as well as the most widely spoken language on the Cape Flats (amongst coloureds) - but very few white Afrikaans speakers will recognise those versions of the Afrikaans language, let alone claim some form of language-bond. And it is of course also true that those blacks who use Afrikaans as their second language after their African language are not part of the black elite that decide on what happens in this country.
Monday, 13 June 2005
And here's what we wrote about it in the past:
Year of the Male Chicken
blahg blahg blahg
So here you go, Cerebus. Even though you can't see the blog, we can at least still get it to you via email once posted... for now.
Tuesday, 31 May 2005
At the moment I'm hiding away in a place called Ankang, in a bar called 2046. They have such active imaginations here and come up with original concepts every five seconds. I think it's called inbreeding. Nonetheless, I am lost. I have been lost for years now, and I proudly continue the tradition from this bar here in Ankang. Ankang. What can I say? It's this place, you know.
The next thing I might do is get in a taxi and ask where the pretty girls are. You may or may not know that pretty girls are a dime a dozen in China. Very cheap to meet. Unfuckingbelievably expensive to maintain. I only know this from second-hand whatssname. I don't, myself, have the energy or youth to pursue anything vaguely describable as "pretty". Or "girl" for that matter.
For what it's worth I have decided to be officially lost at the moment. This gives me an excuse to say things like "I'm trying to find myself." Which is exactly what I'm trying to do, because it is so dark I can't even see my own body. But not dark enough to take away all physical existance: no, count on it, that would have been too easy. No there is always enough light to make shadows. And it is the shadows we fear.
Top 5 soundtrack albums in chronological order: The Wall doesn't count.
5: Top Gun.
4: The Commitments
2: Kill Bill Volume 1
1: Lou si te yi ne te ran si lei shi ne
Monday, 30 May 2005
We had a great day and caught and released a number of smaller ones - but these two bigger ones we kept for a braai :-) Usually trout don't grow much past a pound in the river - maybe because trout are not supposed to survive in the Western Cape. Our water is too warm during the summer, often the water level becomes too low, some parts of the river even stops flowing.
They are very shy in the river and we had to stalk them, taking turns to sight-fish the pools. The vegetation on the banks of the river is no help either and it was hard to cast into the best spots, because there is simply no room for a proper back cast.
My companion caught his biggest one on an olive dragonfly nymph imitation by casting across a larger pool and retrieving the nymph past some overhanging plants. We saw my trout rise in a pool as we struggled between a fence and the trees on the riverbank. It was impossible to cast upstream as a branch covered the lower entrance to the pool. So I had to crawl through the brush on the bank and enter the river above the pool. Keeping low, I cast a montana nymph into the stream just before the rapids entering into the pool and fed some line at the speed of the current, so the nymph would drift past her lie.
Only on the third cast did the current take the nymph past the right spot. She struck at the fly so violently that there was no need to set the hook. I had to get up from my kneeling position and keep her out of the current, then steer her away from some branches hanging into the water as she wanted to cut my line there, then she made a run for the lower end of the pool using the current against me, but I could turn her and kept her head up, giving her line when she demands it, but bringing her back in as she relented. On the fourth turn she gave up and I could land her without much of a struggle.
Opening her up later revealed that she specialised in hunting freshwater crabs (found a couple of partially digested crab claws) and dragonfly nymphs. But man, she was in really beautiful condition - the biggest trout that I've ever caught in a river. *Sigh* You had to be there, I suppose...
Tuesday, 24 May 2005
I’ve been thinking quite a bit on how exactly to put my thoughts on Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith into words that sum up all the conflicting emotions I have about it. In the end, I don’t think I manage to conjure up stirring prose, but I will back myself against the movie’s script any day.
That Episode III is a spectacle of mind-boggling special effects is undeniable and that alone makes it worth seeing. Whether that makes it a classic that can stand alone on its digitally enhanced feet, I’m not so sure of.
I am admittedly of the faction that feels the prequel trilogy has not lived up to the greatness of the original three films. While I have the Star Wars pinball machine, figurines and tattoo, it doesn’t bring me close to being as serious a Star Wars otaku as some people out there, especially those with a fear of removing packaging. I at least played with my figurines, as my legless 12” Darth Vader can attest after his parachuting accident when he didn’t make the swimming pool. What I’m trying to say is that I dig it, but not obsessively (don’t reread the bit about the tattoo, ok?).
I’m one of millions who have an opinion on how it could have and should have and eventually was done. Yet, we must remind ourselves that the nostalgia associated with the original trilogy stems from a time and place when things were very, very different. In 1977 BJ Vorster was prime minister, television in
Well, then I am wrong.
Or, as Michael Philips in his blog, says in the words of Yoda: “Up, George Lucas has fucked it.”
I think the core of my sadness revolves around how it became to be about George Lucas and not about the movies anymore. By reading a few interviews beforehand (and I could only manage a few – even though the questions were few and far in-between, the answers were all so loooong), the central message to me was: “This is my grand finale, I don’t care who thinks what, it’s my story and I will tell it with my money the way I want to, and I will make history in doing so."
Fair enough. But ROTS suffers from exactly that: a lack of collaboration and critical reflection that could have improved it significantly. As Steve05 commented on IMDB: “Where's Lawrence Kasdan when you need him?”In the articles and interviews I scanned, there where a few tell-tale signs that Anakin’s unhealthy lust for control and power scarily emulates his real-life creator. When Ewan McGregor was asked before the release of Episode II what he thought of “Attack of the Clones,” he shrugged and said he hadn’t seen it. He didn’t know that it was the movie he just finished shooting, nobody knew until Lucas sprang it on the world. To his credit McGregor, once it was explained to him, said it was a shite name. And spare a thought for Samuel L. Jackson who, when shooting for ROTS had already started, only knew Mace Windu was going to die, but not how, why and by who’s hands… guess who wasn’t telling. Cerebus phrased it very aptly one day when he said: “Hy gee nie om nie. Hy druk almal ‘n groot vet pit in die gesig.”
This tendency to refuse input from others crippled the last three movies. Input from others needn’t even have been on the story, seeing as we’re effectively being told only one person can truly comprehend and contribute to it. What about some script-writing assistance? Getting feedback from the actors? All we are left with, and this was my overwhelming feeling while I was watching ROTS, is film-making by numbers, as if someone forgot to switch of the DVD commentary, with the voice of George Lucas in its all-encompassing ubiquity thundering above what was left of the Force, phrasing his thoughts on every scene in plain view of all: “Let’s start with a nice console game tie-in scene” or “This is to show character-development” or “Now we show some insight into his later actions.” I swear I heard it. It was frustrating how the story plodded along from dot to obvious dot, ensuring all the clichéd reference points of modern-day American movie making could be ticked off the list, while throwing in a dash of what ILM can do every now and again. It was like an invisible meta-plot was busy squeezing the film into course notes for Script-writing 101.
Even lenient reviewers have criticised the script (if anyone doesn’t, their reviewing license should be revoked), but what bothered me most was a further extension of the phenomenon above. It was as if Lucas forgot to remove script markers and never wrote the actual words. Cut to scene: Anakin kills off Mace Windu who flies out the window (now you know, Samuel). Anakin grabs his head and says despairingly: “What have I done!?”
May the Force be with us.
“What have I done”? Have we EVER heard that line in a movie? It’s as if Hayden Christensen, while practising how to pout and glare at the script underneath his half-closed eyelids, minutes before shooting, said: “Uhm, George, it just says here ‘Anakin stumbles back thinking what has he done.’ What am I supposed to say?”
“That’s not important! Just say ‘What have I done?’ – that’s what he’s thinking, ain’t it? It’s as good as anything else.”
The Internet is scattered with virtual cringes over the woeful and corny “NOOOOO” when Darth Vader hears he “killed” his beloved Padmé. In a blog discussion, some guy pointed out that there’s a “NOOOOO” in each one of the six movies…sigh
LEIA: Luke, what's wrong?
LUKE: Leia... do you remember your mother? Your real mother?
LEIA: Just a little bit. She died when I was very young.
LUKE: What do you remember?
LEIA: Just...images, really. Feelings.
LUKE: Tell me.
LEIA: (a little surprised at his insistence) She was very beautiful. Kind, but...sad. (looks up) Why are you asking me all this?
KNEEP KNEEP KNEEP goes the red light of utter shamelessness. No further comment.
Poor Padmé. Not only did she and Anakin have to be married for her to become pregnant, as if the midichlorians (remember them?) formed a virtual chastity belt which could prevent conception, but at least in her virginal form (Episode II) she was allowed to fight and do stuff, even if it was only an excuse for us to see her midriff and to set up another straight-to-game moment. In ROTS she became a bumbling, diminutive, soppy, scary-hair sprouting, hallmark card caption uttering housewife sitting around in her yuppie pad looking like she needs some serious Valium. No more Queen, no more Senator, just someone who says “Ani” way too much, as if one of the twins she was carrying was actually forming in her head and slowly sucking the life out of her brain. And later on, the only female Jedi didn’t even manage to pull out her lightsabre or show a last fighting flourish like that Jim Jarmusch-meets-Tom Waits Jedi did. She probably trained the ‘younglings’, they were so useless.
I’ll skip the duration of the pregnancy issue. Baffling. I’ll skip how the bit explaining that Qui-Gon Jinn figured out how to do the post-death communication thing was nastily and sloppily inserted at the end to explain glow-in-the-dark Obi-Wan (and now digitally inserted Christensen) in the original trilogy. I’ll skip the lava that was raining down yet never pierced any cloak or made a nasty sizzling noise on anyone’s skin. I’ll skip the probability of surviving surfing on lava. I’ll skip the security cameras (!) in the Jedi temple. Because those are the things we accept from Star Wars – the little incongruities, the funny plot mistakes – yet, previously the souls of the movies made up for it. This time it rattled the jarring spike of disbelief that stuck into my chest and made me wheeze like General Grievous.
George Lucas himself admits that Episodes I and II respectively comprise about 20% actual story and 80% filler, but that the 20% + 20% was necessary to build context. I like Michael Philips’s idea posted on his blog: “The first movie of the new trilogy should never have been made. The first movie should have had much less baby Anakin and much more young man Anakin. The second movie could have dealt solely with the temptation and transition to Darth Vader, concluding with Anakin deciding to go dark side, and the third could have been wiping out the Jedi. As it is, the Jedi are all wiped out in five minutes.”
The original trilogy had a feeling of space to it. Of distance. They travelled from place to place, planet to planet. In Episode III we’re everywhere in a flash and only to see a different backdrop for whoever’s sulking now. The Interstitial One, who watched it with me, got very frustrated with the continuous flipping, moving, sliding and rightly commented that it’s rarely possible to really take in the scenes: either it’s too busy, or like with that lizard thing, shown too fast, almost as if they’re trying to hide weatherman’s blur. The Interstitial One also made the point that George Lucas doesn’t seem to have a sense of humour beyond cutesy droid jokes. I concur, I got the same impression from interviews.
Star Wars movies have always relied heavily on music to set tone and warn of impending events, but I cannot recall being blasted by wave upon wave of canned music, telling me how exciting it is. Thinking back to Luke’s approach on the Death Star in what’s now Episode IV, there was such a good balance in sound, with Obi-Wan intoning “Use the Force, Luke” and Luke’s X-Wing bobbing like he's on a carousel. Now that’s a great sequence.
Anthony Daniels, who as C-3PO plays the only character that is in all 6 movies, mentioned the following in an interview: "I like being Threepio, and he brings happiness to a lot of people. But I would have liked the character to grow. There’s a beautiful scene cut from Episode III where Padmé asks Threepio if he’s happy. He soulfully confirms he’s not unhappy, but that he wishes Anakin had found the time to complete his handiwork on him. You can’t have everything in a movie or else it would take all day to watch, but I would have liked to have some more intelligent moments."
Enough bitching. Let me get back to some redeeming points… ok… uhm…ahem
- I thought, and not many people agree with me, that Ewan McGregor tried his best, but was ultimately thwarted by the poor script.
- I actually think Hayden Christensen also tried hard, but he’s just damn irritating and shouldn’t have been cast in the first place, so that’s all the good I can say about him.
- Natalie Portman had a shocker.
- For what Samuel L. Jackson had to do, he did fairly well.
- Yoda was good, but I dislike the posturing they make him do since he’s become animated. The scowls and I’ll-kick-your-ass looks.
- Ian McDiarmid as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine/ the Emperor was… good, but was sometimes in two minds whether his gargly voice, screechy voice, or deep and evil Dark Side voice was required.
- R2-D2 can fly. Wow, that would come in handy later in his life… oops.
- Aah, Chewbacca, what a wookie! Even though having all characters feature somewhere in the prequels (except the Millenium Falcon stood in for Han Solo) is slightly contrived IMHO, my eyes dampened for the old walking carpet.
- The others were forgettable. Christopher Lee wasn’t on long enough to make an impression and Jimmy Smits was boring. If I missed someone, that’s the point.
- The fighter fight scenes were awesome, even if they didn't contribute to plot that much.
For me, the best parts of the film came near the end, including Obi-Wan’s rant at Anakin sans legs and skin and the “birth” of Darth Vader all dressed up. When the recreated sets with the original Star Wars look and feel appeared, especially when the Emperor and Darth Vader stood on the bridge, watching the Death Star’s construction and the serious-looking types with their grey, Soviet-style uniforms were bustling about, I started getting excited. I thought of how great it must be to watch those movies on the big screen again and I actually wanted to see more. I would have sat there for another three hours if he continued with a new movie from there – one that plays off in a vast, minimalist universe where funny hairdo’s and corny jokes and people in rubber suits were part of the fun, not a further impediment. But it ended. And you cannot turn back time, even if you liked the Ford Escort.
PS Congratulations to George Lucas for finishing the second trilogy and staying loyal to his, and only his, vision. I just wanted something else. Which says something about both of us.
PPS For a Yahoo poll on people's favourite Star Wars character, go here. Yoda. Han Solo. Darth Vader. That's the current ranking.
Friday, 6 May 2005
What I actually want to write about is one of my pet hates with rugby post-match analysis. It is something I have seen and heard quite often this year in the wake of the poor showing by SA teams in the Super 12 competition. How many times have you heard comments like: "If he only kicked his kicks" or "He missed five penalties which cost them the game"? It sounds all logical and reasonable to say, doesn't it? Well, that's where the problem lies: such quotes depict a situation which cannot happen. Let me explain.
If a penalty kick is converted, play restarts from a centre field kick-off. If it is missed, it is a 22-metre drop-out. This means that each time a penalty is taken, the outcome determines how the rest of the game will pan out. If the first penalty is missed and not converted, the game changes from that point onward. The 22-metre drop-out starts a whole chain of events that will never ever lead to the other situations again where the other kicks were missed. They will never happen again in the same way. There might be other penalties, but they will result from the game as played from the first restart after the first kick. There might be no penalties, hence nothing to miss.
OK, let's take it one step at a time. A penalty is awarded, the kick is taken. It goes over. Restart from the centre. The ball lands in a different place, a different player collects it, does totally different things with it and all the variables of field size, individual player option taking, weather, referee decisions, bounce of the ball etc. come into play. The game cannot lead up to exactly the same situation as when the kick was missed. It can also not be said the same tries would have been scored or the end-result would have been the same. If Team A lost by 2, and someone says "Sheesh, if he only kicked that one penalty he missed, then we would have won," it is a false statement. If he kicked that penalty, the game would have changed and Team A might have lost by 20. They might have won by 5. Nobody knows. Yet.
This means, in retrospective match analysis, at a long shot, only try conversions count, because they lead to the same restart. But it might be another ball used, that' spins differently and gets dropped, so even that's a bit of a risky statement to make. After every event, the result of that event, as but one variable, determines what will happen next.
Sad but true.
That is the flow of time and causality for you. I am of course not even attempting to dabble in mathematical equations and working out the probability of the same sequence of events happening even if a kick was over/ not over, I agree that there is a theoretical possibility, but I will have to see it to believe it, and for that to happen, someone must record a game, figure out a way of going back in time, tweak a variable, and let it play itself out again. And that brings with it my favourite conundrum: if that is done and the result ended up the same, who says we would be having this discussion? I might only have thought of this issue because the team lost and someone said "he should have kicked his kicks." If my team won, no-one would have said it, I wouldn't have thought it and written about it, and you wouldn't have read this. And if you wouldn't have read this, your life would have taken a minor change in direction, even if it's only because 3 minutes of your time wasn't taken up by such rubbish.
I like the concept. Go and watch Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien - you'll see it there as well.
And that, good reader, is my theory...
Friday, 22 April 2005
I usually wait until I have a really bad day and then I go for a wash and a cut. Aah yes, another thing about her - she does not palm regular customers like me off to some shampoo-girl - she personally washes your hair. She takes great care not to spill some water in one’s ears, the way careless shampoo-girls are wont to do. Also, a wash is followed with a very long and relaxing head-massage. This head-massage is so intense that it usually elicits involuntary moaning sounds from me. At first I felt a little guilty about this moaning, but she reassured me that moaning is an important signal in our stylist-client communication, as it indicates to her that she is on the right track... sort of pressing the right buttons I suppose. However, I soon learnt that muttering "yes, baby..." is frowned upon - apparently there is this invisible line that should not be crossed.
Oh and when she cuts your hair she lowers the chair to this perfect height whilst moving around you. And when she moves around you there is the intoxicating smell of her perfume that follows her. Not too sweet and flowery, not too metallic either - an in-between scent... perfection. Whilst normal hairdressers clean the fluffy hair in one’s neck with an electric clipper, this girl whisks out a genuine old-fashioned razor-blade! This action of her pulling the razor-blade over my skin, stimulates a mixture of fear and excitement in me that is truely Sigourney Weaveresque (in an Alien[s] 1, 2, 3 and 4 kind of way). So in short, I really enjoy going to her for haircuts, probably because it is the closest that I can get to a lap-dance without the moral disapproval that accompanies visits to strip-clubs. And in a twisted way my hair-salon visits are hotter than strip-club visits too - especially if (like me) you rate potentiality over actuality.
Over the last couple of visits, she managed to convince me that, taking into account the fact that I regularly wear a motorcycle helmet, the shorter she cuts my hair the better. At first I refused. The ostensible reason (that I advanced) being that my hair is really straight and have a tendency to stand if cut too short. The hidden reason (that I harbored of course) being that really short hair would move me off the five-weekly haircut cycle to a six-weekly cycle. Imagine my horror at simply imagining a whole extra week without her hovering around me, clasped in a chair, covered in a cloak, with the razor-blade being flicked over the back of my neck!
But of course, I have never been really good at winning arguments with beautiful people, so I gave in to the even shorter-back-and-sides suggestion. To be fair, I must admit that having fire-breaks around your ears does wonders for helmet-head, if only because there is less hair to be disturbed. But the shorter sides also meant that some thinning of the top was called for. She has a special pair of scissors for thinning hair that are a couple of teeth short and these only cut some of the hair, her level of enthusiasm regardless, and so thins the hair out. Naturally a major part of my last visit consisted of thinning the top, because she went "medieval" on the back and sides. The haircut was practical beyond believe, no styling required, not affected at all by time spent inside my motorcycle helmet, and so forth. I also think I looked great, albeit in a retro rat-pack kind of way.
After such a haircut comes another special treat. Knowing how uncomfortable it must be to walk around with cuttings of hair stuck under your collar and other irritating places, she offered to rinse my hair and then blow-dry it for me. Of course I noticed the unspoken-but-implied invitation to a bonus head-massage and agreed in a knowing sort of way. And then, while she was running water over my head, she lined me up for an incredible salvo of salon cruelty. First she made a little "u-oh" sound and then exclaimed with shock that she could see my scalp! My back stiffened and my fingers clamped the armrests. Carefully I asked her what it means. She gave me a complete diagnosis. My hair is naturally fine and according to her it is starting to thin noticably at the top. Sweat started steaming from under my palms as I waited for her professional opinion. Based upon my last few visits she came to the conclusion that I am rapidly approaching baldness! I was silent for a moment and then tried a weak joke about the correlation between an over-production of testosterone and baldness, but before my mind’s eye I could see myself losing my toupee in public and I was horrified.
In a soothing voice she told me to relax, because it is not such a disaster as one would think. Apparently thinning of male hair is natural. It is caused by a confluence of factors ranging from genetic predisposition, to nutrition, to stress and even environmental pollution. But there are some things that a victim can do to soften the blow dealt by nature. There are a number of shampoos and conditioners available that stimulate the hair follicles, reverse the thinning of the scalp, clean and nourishes the hair, and these products can slow, if not reverse, the process of balding. Especially if the symptoms are noticed as early as she has done in my case. Together, we can beat this thinning of my hair; she will monitor my situation and help me. To be exact, I am actually in luck, because their salon just that week became a Nioxin supplier and they have the entire Nioxin hair and scalp regimen for sale!
I slumped in the chair as I realised that my favourite hairdresser just made me the target of the cruelest sales pitch. And I walked out to my bike, even more convinced of the depths of female perfidy than before.