Sep 26, 2010

How Times Have Changed

I was reading an article about bad fashion throughout the years this morning and came to a startling revelation: Bjork's swan dress, the dress that horrified my sensibilities in 2001 (did she think the Oscars of were a joke?), is kind of adorable.

I blame Lady Gaga. Straight up. The swan dress doesn't seem over-done costume-y at all anymore. Particularly paired with simple hair/makeup/accessories, what's wrong with a ruffly white animal turned outfit?

Not that I'm going to go out and buy one. Or that I'll ever think of Bjork again without the image of The Dress popping in my mind. But it'll be with more respect that I recall the once infamous.

In 2004 I turned up my nose at any pointed-toe shoe; in 2006, I bought a pair. In 2008, I was disgusted by leggings; now they're a staple of my wardrobe. This fall I plan on wearing a lot of boots. Ankle boots, even. I've always hated boots. Granted, I'll still be very particular about what boots I wear (I'm sorry, but the vast majority make your ankles look fat and/or make you look like you're trying too hard to be fashionable and/or make you look like a prostitute and/or don't fit with the vast majority of outfits and/or are too "ironic rural" and/or....), but still.

Sep 23, 2010

Couldn't Look You in the Eye

While I groan everytime I hear "Oh I heard this great string/acoustic/choral cover of such-and-such rock song" because it's the kind of thing that excites oh-so-cool-college-student-sorts, I have to admit that I'm really digging the creepy choral version of Radiohead's "Creep" used on the trailer for The Social Network:

(for the record, my thoughts on the film itself are "meh", but that may change for better or worse when there's more info out there on it)

The "Creep" cover is apparently some Belgian girl's choir, Scala & Kolacny Brothers. I've been listening to their stuff for much of the morning; I'm a fan. And while the only thing more cliche than covering Radiohead is covering Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", I have to admit, this is absolutely lovely:

Sep 16, 2010

Finally, a Reason to be a Dictator

I'm not a particularly power-hungry person and while I like attention, I'm uncomfortable with being the center for long, so I never really saw myself as the dictator sort. But today I realized I might want to start planning the coup. One great, often-overlooked aspect of complete power: You can wear whatever you like and nobody can say nothing. And they can't laugh at your double negative problem.

Thank you FP for this article/slideshow. In a world of constant turmoil, it's good to see that some people are paying attention to what really matters.

Also, if I were a dictator, I'd totally costume it up, Qaddafi-style.

Also, is it just me, or is Ahmadinejad kind of hot? I mean Holocaust denial and nuclear ambitions put aside...every man should dress like that.


Firefox is telling me that "slideshow" and "Ahmadinejad" are misspelled words. Come on now, this is the internet for heaven's sake...not the decennially-published Oxford Official Queen's English Dictionary. Aren't they supposed to be flexible about these things? If, say, a word has 159,000,000 results on Google (in the case of "slideshow"...or even 29,100,000 in the case of "Ahmadinejad"), can't they put it on a "this is probably a word" list somewhere? And have anything on that list automatically never again be called misspelled?

Yes, yes, I know I can add it to my personal dictionary. But that requires two whole clicks of the mouse. And doesn't stop me from feeling like a bad person for the second or so that that accusatory red squiggly line is there.

Sep 15, 2010

Red China Blues Review

Since pretty much every time I finish a book I feel the need to share it with someone, but rarely do anything about that feeling, I've decided I'm going to start blogging book reviews on recent reads. Or rather, let's call it "my thoughts on some books" because I find the word "review" intimidating.

I originally started this post with something like "here are my thoughts on the six books I've read in the last six months", but after my thoughts for the first one ended up much longer than expected, I realized I'd never finish writing and readers would never finish reading the post if I did five more. So we'll start with the book I read six months ago and I'll catch us up over time:

Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now by Jan Wong

I originally purchased this book for a 20th Century China class that I didn't end up reading it for. And then it sat on my bookshelf for several years, gathering dust and doing little to tempt me. I knew enough about modern Chinese history to get by and didn't see the point of reading this memoir outside of educational value. And I have a problem where I can't really keep characters straight in any book where they don't have European names (a problem that I would like to emphasize is just how my brain works and does not make me racist). Yes, that is a good reason not to read something.

But "I have nothing to read" set in and...well, it turns out I thoroughly enjoyed this smart, informative, and surprisingly funny memoir of a Chinese Canadian woman's experiences through three decades of Chinese history. One of Time's 10 Best Books of 1996, Jan Wong's memoir is easily accessed by Western readers, as she's a Westerner herself, but gives insight into the culture of China that only someone of Chinese heritage who 100% immersed herself in the day-to-day life of the Chinese could give.

Wong originally left her native Canada for China as a Maoist college student during the heyday of the Cultural Revolution (1972), where she was one of only two Westerners attending Beijing University. The rare glimpse she gives of a world more radical than I ever realized (what have I been doing sitting around reading everything on the French Revolution when there was an equally crazy time more relevant to now that I don't ever think about out there?) is nothing short of fascinating. I particularly appreciated Wong's honesty in describing her starry-eyed view of communism in the early days; she'll admit that she snitched on her classmates and punished herself for bourgeois thoughts. Looking back, she admits she was a crazy idealist, but she presents herself as she was. Through her eyes, I came to understand the Maoist mindset better than I ever had before.

She returns to Canada after a few years and comes back to China as a journalist in 1988. As a reporter, she's much more critical, but her perspective as a former Maoist gives everything she says an unique take. She's happy that the end of the Cultural Revolution means more wealth for many Chinese, but she hates that women no longer braid their hair and men no longer wear Mao suits; what happened to Chinese pride? The battle within Wong over how she feels about China is just as interesting as (perhaps part of?) the battle the nation itself has over its identity over the same time period.

While the whole work is certainly worth reading, in a lot of ways the beginning and end of the memoir are just bookends to Wong's account of the Tianamen Square Massacre. I found her first-hand minute-by-minute reporting of the event completely riveting. The level of detail she puts into the account ("Between 3:15 and 3:23, I counted eighteen pedicabs pass by me carrying the dead and wounded.") makes everything very real. Very intense. Terrifying, really.

For some reason I expected the memoir to get boring post-Tiananmen Square Massacre, but in some ways, that's when things really get interesting. As China starts slowly embracing aspects of capitalism (drugs! traffic jams! penis-extension surgeries!), we get to see the beginnings of the China-As-Current-Emerging-World-Power that we know and love today, and it's kind of exciting (though I, along with Wong, found myself strangely sad to see the communist ideals that originally brought Wong to China fall apart).

The writing style is very straight-up informative. Very little poetry and a lot of facts. Wong is a journalist, after all. No dwelling on the way Tiananmen makes one feel like an ant; let's get some numbers: "Tiananmen could simultaneously accommodate the entire twenty-eight teams of the National Football League plus 192 other teams, each playing separate games." I personally found the writing style rather refreshing. I didn't have to analyze much I was reading; it was simple and extremely informative.

Oh, and I was pleased (though I'm sure some purists hate her for it) to discover that Wong made names as simple for Western readers as she could, liberally using literal name translations (Forest Plum Ma, Scarlet Zhang) and nicknames (Fu the Enforcer, Cook Mu). And she always converts yen into dollars when describing the costs of things. Hooray for helping out my hopelessly Western brain.

There are a few patches where I feel the story telling is a little slow (yes, yes, we get it, you were really into trying to be treated like native Chinese, we don't need another example), but in general, I found the book hard to put down.

The end of the memoir feels a little disjointed, as Wong seems to just be throwing together a bunch of interesting stories with little connection to the larger narrative, but as a 21st century reader (aka someone who routinely reads bits and pieces of different things on the internet with no methodology whatsoever), it didn't particularly bother me; I just cared that it was all interesting.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in modern history, whether or not you have prior interest or knowledge of Chinese history (Wong does an excellent job of filling in most of the basics, if you know who Mao is, you're pretty much good to go). Wong's insight into the changing Chinese world is both entertaining and educational. What more can you really ask for?

Sep 8, 2010

Hooray for being offensive toward another religion! Oh, wait, we're totally against it!

Anybody else find German Chancellor Merkel's comments today at an award ceremony for Kurt Westergaard (article here) a little odd?

In honoring the Danish cartoonist who a few years back created waves with his depictions of the prophet Muhammad with a bomb for a turban, she says, "We are talking here about the freedom of opinion and the freedom of the press." Then, at THE SAME AWARD CEREMONY, she calls US pastor Terry Jones to burn copies of the Koran on Saturday "abhorrent", "disrespectful" and "simply wrong".

I'm no expert on what is and isn't offensive to Muslims (and unfortunately don't have any Muslim acquaintances to ask about it), so perhaps burning the Koran is much worse than drawing Muhammad. But I do know that both depicting Muhammad (with or without bomb turbans) and burning the Koran are considered blasphemy in Islam, so why is one good and the other bad? Considering that Kurt Westergaard sparked protests and death threats, I assume that what he did was fairly "abhorrent" and "disrespectful", at least to the Muslim community.

And I wonder if (even in secular Europe), it all comes down to Christian thinking. Bible burning is offensive, right? But what is the Christian equivalent of the Muhammad cartoon? Is it perhaps just a cultural divide keeping the Western world from seeing the offense in a Muhammad cartoon?

Or, other thought: Is it the fact that Mr. Westergaard is part of the press (so why wouldn't journalists love him?) and Mr. Jones is a religious figure (who journalists tend to not like much for several reasons I won't go into here), that makes one a beacon of freedom and another a destroyer of good? Thank you, media, for controlling all opinions.

For the record, I support both Kurt Westergaard's and Terry Jones' right to do what they like. Though I'm disappointed to see the support that both have received in what I consider [insert word that is like racist but for religion there really not one?] activities. Also, perhaps this is just the cynic in me, but I kind of suspect that both may have some ulterior motives; what better way to make a name for yourself than to do something very publicly offensive?

Sep 2, 2010


Because I am both too tired of looking at a giant picture of myself every time my blog comes up AND too lazy to write a new post, here are a few videos on a favorite subject for your viewing pleasure:

The internet is an excellent place for us cat enthusiasts.