Some very troubling news for MMORPG cheats to consider: The Guardian reports that prisoners at Chinese labor camps are now forced to gold-farm for hours on end. “If I couldn’t complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things.” Ugh, don’t subsidize this, people. If you can’t farm the stuff yourself, find another hobby. (Arthas pic via here.)
“Along with modern humans, scientists knew about the Neanderthals and a dwarf human species found on the Indonesian island of Flores nicknamed The Hobbit. To this list, experts must now add the Denisovans.” Researchers discover evidence of a fourth separate species of ancient man in the caves of Siberia. “The implications of the finding have been described by Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London as ‘nothing short of sensational… [W]e didn’t know how ancient people in China related to these other humans.‘”
“When historians look back to the moment when the post-Cold War reign of American power ended, they may well settle on 2010 as a crucial year. Everywhere, it seemed, there were signs that the long-predicted “rise of the rest” had finally occurred, whether in the newfound assertiveness of fast-growing China or the impatient diplomacy of new powers like Brazil and Turkey. Foreign Policy’s second annual list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers fully reflects that new world.“
As above, Foreign Policy has picked its Top 100 Global Thinkers of the year. And, while there are some really atrocious choices on here (for example, the man at #33, who much more deservingly made the list in the next entry too), the article is worth a perusing regardless. (FWIW, #65, #68, and #80 seem really iffy to me as well.)
“‘It’s really wet,’ said Anthony Colaprete, co-author of one of the Science papers and a space scientist at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. He and his colleagues estimate that 5.6% of the total mass of the targeted lunar crater’s soil consists of water ice. In other words, 2,200 pounds of moon dirt would yield a dozen gallons of water.“
In keeping with recent studies, NASA is set to announce that there appears to be quite a lot of water on the moon, which would greatly facilitate setting up shop there. Alas, “the U.S. likely won’t be involved in manned voyages to the moon anytime soon…But other countries are gearing up. China has pledged to land astronauts on the moon by 2025, and India has plans to do the same by 2020. Japan wants to establish an unmanned moon base in a decade.” And, hey, why go to the moon when you can spend a decade in Afghanistan?
Also in the trailer bin, Zhang Yimou of Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower pays homage to the Coens with A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop, the Chinese remake of Blood Simple. (Also, dudes, “Chinamen” is not the preferred nomenclature.)
In Britain’s New Statesman, John Naish looks at the national security and job implications of our falling behind on green tech. “The more the military thinks about green technology, the more it sees how it goes hand in hand with improving operational effectiveness…Afghanistan is the principal driver for Nato nations. Resupply convoys can be eight miles long and they in effect say: ‘Please hit me with a roadside bomb.’ Up to 60 per cent of the convoys carry fuel and water. If you reduce that need for supply, you save lives.”
See also the “clean energy is a national security issue” argument made by Operation FREE (mainly in terms of Iran and its $100 million a day in oil profits): “‘There’s no greater threat to our national security than our dependence on oil.’ Marine veteran and Operation Free member Matt Victoriano told Kerry.‘” To be honest, I could really do without the implicit saber-rattling involved with some of this argument. But let’s face it, that’s how we got a space program.
“The change is negligible, but permanent: Each day should be 1.26 microseconds shorter, according to preliminary calculations. A microsecond is one-millionth of a second.” So, on the bright side, I guess that means we’ll all live to be a little older. The devastating 8.8 earthquake in Chile has apparently permanently shortened Earth’s day.
“Such changes aren’t unheard of. The magnitude 9.1 earthquake in 2004 that generated a killer tsunami in the Indian Ocean shortened the length of days by 6.8 microseconds. On the other hand, the length of a day also can increase. For example, if the Three Gorges reservoir in China were filled, it would hold 10 trillion gallons (40 cubic kilometers) of water. The shift of mass would lengthen days by 0.06 microsecond, scientists said.”
“‘This is the worst nightmare one can encounter,’ he said. Asked whether Georgia and Russia were now at war, he said, ‘My country is in self-defense against Russian aggression. Russian troops invaded Georgia.‘” Well, so much for that whole settling-differences-through-sports shebang. On the day of the Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing, Russia has apparently invaded nearby South Ossetia, next to Georgia, on reports (or is it simply the pretext?) of a Georgian incursion and ethnic cleansing in the region.
It’s still unclear (to me, at least) exactly what is going on over there. According to Georgia president Mikhail Saakashvili (and the current CNN reports), Russian troops have “been amassing at the border for the last few months. They claimed they were staging exercises there and as soon as a suitable pretext was found, they moved in.” According to Russian president Dmitry Medvedev (and some witnesses in the AP story), Russia is going in to protect Russian citizens in South Ossetia from both ethnic cleansing and a Georgian attempt to retake the breakaway region, which apparently Saakashvili has been promising to do for awhile. “Russia ‘will not allow the deaths of our compatriots to go unpunished’ and ‘those guilty will receive due punishment…My duty as Russian president is to safeguard the lives and dignity of Russian citizens, wherever they are. This is what is behind the logic of the steps we are undertaking now.‘” So, somebody‘s up to no good here on Opening Day, and, with competing claims to the region at hand, matters could soon get much worse.
In any case, at the moment we’re calling for an immediate cease-fire in the region, and have reasserted that “the U.S. supports Georgia’s territorial integrity.” More to come, I’m sure.
As I’m sure you’ve heard, Central China experienced a devastating earthquake today, killing thousands. This follows the nightmare cyclone in Burma (not Myanmar), a.k.a. Katrina writ large, which may now have claimed upwards of 100,000 lives. [Donations.] As with the 2004 tsunami, it seems almost criminally obtuse to keep nattering on about superdelegates and movie trailers while such large-scale catastrophes are unfolding. But, what is there to do?
“Today’s American system values upheaval; it’s been a while since we’ve seen too much of it. But Americans who lived through the Depression knew the pain real disruption can bring. Today’s Chinese, looking back on their country’s last century, know, too. With a lack of tragic imagination, Americans have drifted into an arrangement that is comfortable while it lasts, and could last for a while more. But not much longer.” The Atlantic‘s James Fallows examines the unstable financial codependence between China and the United States, and how it could all too easily unravel. “Lawrence Summers calls today’s arrangement ‘the balance of financial terror,’ and says that it is flawed in the same way that the ‘mutually assured destruction’ of the Cold War era was…With allowances for hyperbole, something similar applies to the dollar standoff. China can’t afford to stop feeding dollars to Americans, because China’s own dollar holdings would be devastated if it did. As long as that logic holds, the system works. As soon as it doesn’t, we have a big problem.” Update: Make that 1.53 trillion.
Attempting to be Last Tango in Shanghai by way of Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book, or at the very least to cast straight sex in as taboo a light as the gay love of Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution is, the lurid promise of its NC-17 rating notwithstanding, sadly a bit dull. As with most of Lee’s oeuvre, the film is ravishingly beautiful throughout, and it recreates WWII Shanghai much more evocatively than, say, Soderbergh’s The Good German did Berlin. But, at two hours and forty minutes, the film also feels overlong, and its central conceit — female agent deep undercover, deep under the covers — is burdened with entirely too much in the way of backstory. Lust, Caution isn’t a bad film by any means, but, its occasional explicitness notwithstanding, it doesn’t make for a particularly memorable one either.
As Lust, Caution begins, it’s 1942 in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, and four wealthy women, seemingly above the harsh impositions of wartime, exchange gossip and veiled state intel over a friendly game of Mahjong. Among this quartet are Yee Tai Tai (Joan Chen), wife of the secret police chief (Tony Leung), and one Mak Tai Tai (Tang Wei), the young and beautiful spouse of a Hong Kong importer. But, as we soon discover (after she leaves the game and makes a suspicious phone call in an English cafe), Mak Tai Tai does not in fact exist. Rather, we are to learn in a very extended flashback (it’s Michael Clayton all over again), she is Wong Chia Chi, a resistance agent whose journey to that Mahjong table began four years earlier, as a displaced schoolgirl in Hong Kong. Falling under the spell of a handsome, earnest young patriot (Wang Lee Horn) then, Wong, a lover of movies, begins appearing in nationalistic plays to much acclaim. And, when it is decided by her schoolyard coterie of six that more drastic action should be taken to fight the Japanese invader, she takes on the role of an importer’s wife to lure a key collaborationist, the aforementioned Mr. Yee, to his demise.
But trapping Mr. Yee poses several quandaries for these budding freedom fighters. For one, there is the rather delicate matter of how an inexperienced virgin could pass for a married woman. For another, this Yee is no provincial rube, but a man who’s at once deeply careful and extremely untrusting. Most problematic, Mr. Yee is no ugly, oafish lout, but the one-and-only Tony Leung, and hardly anybody in this world looks better smoking artfully in period suits than Tony Leung. Nevertheless, the kids go for it…with mixed results. And, when a spy is needed by the real Resistance to trap Mr. Yee a few years down the line, they find one ready-made in Wong, who takes on her role anew with even higher stakes. Only now, she discovers, Mr. Yee is more cruel than he first lets on, and very much into the rough stuff, sexually speaking. And, more to the point, once the Pandora’s Box of her own sexuality has been jarred open by Yee, Wong begins to lose herself in the part, to the detriment of all…
WWII spies, steamy, illicit sex…this seems like it should be an enticing concoction, to be sure…obviously it was right up Verhoeven’s alley in Black Book. But, as several reviewers have put it, Lust, Caution turns out to be much more cautious than it is lustful. Even if you factor out the extra hour of padding here, that’s a problem. Ang Lee’s films, among them Crouching Tiger, The Ice Storm, and Brokeback, have always been noted for their delicacy and artful restraint, which is frankly why he may not have been the best choice for this material, about a couple who lose themselves in sexual passion. The much-discussed sex scenes aren’t as puritanically minded as the nightmare visions of Requiem for a Dream, but there’s a definite coldness and frigidity about them, as if neither participant is having very much fun. They’re not so much erotic as they are animalistic, all acrobatic contortions and grunted yelps. I guess you could argue that’s the point — the two are driven not by love at all but by an inexplicable earthy necessity, and Lee even cuts to a growling German shepherd to forward that idea along. But, if that’s the case, if it’s all just physical — then why — spoiler here — when a key slip-up is made by one of the lovers, doesn’t it happen while in the throes of passion, rather than when one is presented with the sight of a shiny (dare I say gaudy?) bauble?
The acting in Lust, Caution is universally good, with special plaudits going to Tang Wei and Tony Leung. And sex is usually handled so sophomorically in films that I feel bad for faulting Lee’s unabashed use of it to further the story along here. But take away those few explicit scenes, and you’re left with a rather conventional snooze of a cloak-and-dagger movie, however lusciously filmed. And even the sex here could’ve used some of the sensuous warmth of Shanghai-born Wong Kar-Wai’s work. Sadly, when it comes to lust and caution in this film, Lust, Caution pretty much foregoes the red-light, and ends up raising more red flags than a Mao rally.
It is the hour of the rat for the Tang Dynasty, chrysanthemums bloom throughout the Middle Kingdom, and opulence comingles with palace intrigue in the halls of the Forbidden City. For the Emperor (Chow Yun-Fat, both fierce and serene), in his Divine wisdom, has seen fit to slowly and secretly poison his Empress (Gong Yi, equally good), by means of a deathly black fungus added to her daily medicine. The Empress, meanwhile, strains to rekindle her romance with the Emperor’s first son (by a previous marriage), the Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), but he only has eyes for a fetching maid (Li Man) in the imperial employ. (In fact, she is the daughter of the doctor administering the poison.) And also residing in this increasingly broke down palace are the Princes Jai (Jay Chou) and Yu (Qin Junjie), both of whom discover they have their own roles to play in the schemes of their feuding parents, particularly after the ailing Empress weaves a plot of vengeance to coincide with the coming festival…
Also milling about the Forbidden City is a cast of hundreds: the cooks, maids, laborers, soldiers, ninjas (Yes, this film has ninjas, or at least their Chinese equivalent), and ladies-in-waiting that make up the infrastructure undergirding the Tangs’ divine rule. Zhang goes out of his way here to emphasize the sheer amount of sweat and toil expected of this teeming support staff for even the most mundane task — It takes at least four servants to administer the Queen’s medicine and considerably more to cart the Emperor to and fro. Yet, Zhang seems to suggest, these people are as much part of the story as the resentful royals. They are the props of the extravagant ritual, rigid hierarchy, and striking beauty that characterize the Tang’s rule, and they are ennobled by knowing and playing their appropriate role in this imperial order. Whether or not you agree with this sentiment (and Zhang himself seems to cast doubt on it by the final shot), it does make for several breathtaking scenes of elaborate ceremony throughout the film.
And, yes, some of these are battles. To be honest, both Hero and House probably exhibited better fight choreography. If you come to Curse expecting a martial arts extravaganza akin to those films, you may well leave disappointed. I found the final Helms’ Deepish “silver versus gold” sequence to be too bloodthirsty (beheading prisoners and such), too unrealistic (here, more than anyone else in the film, physics don’t apply) and too obviously CGI for my taste. That being said, there are a few notable melees interspersed throughout the picture, most of them involving the black-clad, scythe-wielding “Flying Monkey”ish ninjas of the Imperial Army, who tend to swoop down from above and bury their scythes in the nearest possible revolutionary with extraordinary aplomb. (Sigh. Only one movie after Iwo Jima, and war and violence are already being made to look artful again.)
“Fighting over the ‘evolving standards of decency’ underlying the Eighth Amendment’s ban on ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ the 5-to-4 opinions reflect an all-out war between the proponents of a living (or at least medium-rare) Constitution and those who want to see it dead (or perhaps well-done, with a nice pinot).” Slate‘s inimitable Dahlia Lithwick explains the Kennedy-Scalia sniping undergirding the Supreme Court’s very welcome 5-4 decision to ban juvenile executions. To keep things in perspective, the only other nations besides us that have put juveniles to death since 2000 are China, Iran, Pakistan, and the Congo…not exactly what you’d call the Axis of Freedom.
Some food for thought for my Asia-Pacific sections today (by way of Prof. Armstrong): Historian John Dower compares the Iraq imbroglio to Japanese expansion in Manchuria. Before rejecting his argument outright, at least consider the source. Dower knows a great deal about America’s experiences in postwar Japan — more, I’d wager, than anybody working in the Dubya administration.
For much of its running time, Hero is a strikingly kinetic and poetic piece of work that lulls you in with its languid rhythm and sensual colors. As you may or may not know from the ads, a nameless warrior (Jet Li) comes before the rightly paranoid Emperor Qin (a very good Chen Daoming) to tell him of how he managed to eliminate the province’s three most dangerous assassins (an all-star line-up of Donnie Yen, Maggie Cheung, and Tony Leung, with the lovely Zhang Ziyi thrown in to boot.) But, faster than you can say Swift Boat, the Emperor tells Nameless he’s full of it, and offers his own explanation for recent acts of heroism, which are further revised as the film goes forth.
As I said, these various retellings move slowly — even despite the fighting — but with purpose, and are made distinct from one another through color shifts that are at once exquisite and bewitching. But, eventually we come to the end of the story, and therein the problem lies. For, as it turns out, the moral that undergirds our recent contemplations is a pretty reprehensible one (and one you’d think might have been re-evaluated in light of the last century): Namely, that brutal, despicable tyrants must be allowed their cruelties and massacres for the sake of the State.
When this Machiavellian might-makes-right proposition was first uttered by the characters, I thought perhaps I was misreading what was going on. But, no, they go through with it, and almost all of the major characters we’ve been following take a dive in varying fits of nationalistic self-sacrifice, so that the Emperor Qin can gloriously maim, loot, and murder his way into uniting the Middle Kingdom. And, thus the film concludes with the glaring contradiction (pointed out by my friend Jeremy) of mooning over lovers to-be-reunited in “a place without borders” while extolling The Great Wall, still probably the most impressive border every built by humankind.
In sum, Hero is a sumptuous visual feast that’s operating several levels above most schlocky American action pics (including the recent Kill Bills of its US “presenter.”) But the underlying moral sensibility of the final moments is so repellent that it seriously detracts from the film. Call me an incurable Western individualist, but if excusing the crimes of one’s leader for the sake of the (Mother, Father, etc.)Land is heroism, then I’m with Tina Turner. Take it elsewhere, Raggedy Man.
As space cadets around the nation hoped, it now looks like China’s recent foray into the stars will draw dividends stateside…Apparently, Bush is about to announce a US return to the moon. “‘You’ve got the Chinese saying they’re interested — we don’t want them to beat us to the Moon. We want to be there to develop the sweet spots,’ Republican Senator Sam Brownback says.” Now here’s a Dubya campaign initiative I can get behind.
Taikonaut and pioneer Yang Liwei joins the ranks of Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard in leading his nation into the stars. Yet, despite’s China’s recent success, analysts on all sides downplay the idea of a renewed space race…for now.
Second verse, same as the first. With the war in Iraq coming to a close, Dubya’s hawks start turning up the heat on Syria. “I think that we believe there are chemical weapons in Syria,” Bush said yesterday. Boy, that rationale never gets old, does it? Even with India now latching onto Dubya’s “preemption” to justify possibly bombing Pakistan back into the Stone Age, the Bushies don’t even make an attempt to forge a casus belli more in tune with international diplomatic precedent. Let’s just hope China also doesn’t decide to “preempt” terrorism in Taiwan anytime soon. (Second link via Follow Me Here.) Update: Bush and Blair try to kill the Syria war hype, for now.
For Sauron will have dominion over this Middle Kingdom, even unto the ending of the world.A Hong Kong newspaper imagines an all-Asian Rings trilogy.
Usually wrong about most things basketball, the Sports Guy gets one right with his apology for underestimating Yao Ming, the Chinese Tower of Power.
#1 pick Yao Ming looks decent in yesterday’s US-China matchup, going for 13 and 11 in a 30 point loss. More to the point, he didn’t let Antonio Davis dunk on him, which should bolster his ego a bit coming into his first NBA season.
The NBA and the Houston Rockets try to figure out how to market Yao Ming. Looks like Agassi’s just psyched Yao doesn’t play tennis.
What the World Thinks of America, from Gary Kamiya of Salon (premium). A fascinating read.