Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Food Scientists Urge: Stop Biofuels to Stop Hunger

For lack of a more nuanced and intellectual response to this, I say . . . "Well, DUH."
Some top international food scientists Tuesday recommended halting the use of food-based biofuels, such as ethanol, saying it would cut corn prices by 20 percent during a world food crisis.

But even as the scientists were calling for a moratorium, President Bush urged the opposite. He declared the United States should increase ethanol use because of national energy security and high gas prices.

The conflicting messages Tuesday highlighted the ongoing debate over food and fuel needs.

The three senior scientists with an international research consortium pushing a biofuel moratorium said nations need to rethink programs that divert food such as corn and soybeans into fuel, given the burgeoning worldwide food crisis.

Is the whole biofuel campaign really a big boondoggle?

The Global Online Freedom Act

Interesting! Beijing's not going to like this, I don't think:
Republican congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey used a meeting with international human rights group Reporters Without Borders last week to lobby for passage of a bill aimed at curtailing U.S. tech companies' participation in foreign countries' internet censorship schemes. Smith is hoping that the bill reaches the floor of the house and passes before the Olympics begin in August.

. . . "The gross mistake of allowing China to host the Olympics in light of its horrific human rights record will be significantly compounded if we do not speak up and call attention to the human rights heroes who languish in Chinese jails," said Smith, in a little-noted statement issued Friday. "We also need to take action to protect journalists and pro-democracy activists who may otherwise become the next victims after the spotlight provided by the Olympics is gone from the world's center stage."

Smith's bill, HR 275, the Global Online Freedom Act, has been endorsed by more than a dozen human rights groups, including Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Among other things, the bill would make it a crime for U.S. companies to turn over personal information on their users to governments of "internet-restricting countries" who would use the information to repress its citizens. There's an exception for information turned over for "legitimate foreign law enforcement purposes."

Nerd Analysis: Fukuyama on China's "Powerful Weakness"

What do you think?

UPDATE: Blog friend Dignified Rant shares my opinion but writes it so much more eloquently. Get the man a beer! (Just not the brand of misery known as "Taiwan Beer." I wouldn't do that to you, Brian!)

Back to the Fukuyama blurb:

The fiasco of the Olympic torch relay has focused attention on human rights in China. What is the source of human rights abuses in that country today?

Many people assume the problem is that China remains a communist dictatorship and that abuses occur because a strong, centralized state ignores the rights of its citizens. With regard to Tibet and the suppression of the religious movement Falun Gong, this may be right. But the larger problem in today's China arises out of the fact that the central Chinese state is in certain ways too weak to defend the rights of its people.

The vast majority of abuses against the rights of ordinary Chinese citizens -- peasants who have their land taken away without just compensation, workers forced to labor under sweatshop conditions or villagers poisoned by illegal dumping of pollutants -- occur at a level far below that of the government in Beijing.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

50 Influential US Political Pundits

The UK paper The Telegraph has published its list of the 50 most influential US political pundits.

My response? *YAWN.*

We don't need pundits, pundits, and more pundits. What we need is more common sense solutions to real problems, not an ever-increasing bloated self-involved punditocracy spewing talking points all over the MSM.

Besides, do pundits really know more/better than everybody else? I really doubt that.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Nerd News: Taiwan Universities Ranked in Top 1% of International Research Institutions

Interesting nerd rankings for the years 2003-2007 are now available.

As usual when dealing with nerd rankings, take them all with a grain of salt! Still, it's nice to see Taiwanese universities doing well.

Taiwan: New Head for Mainland Affairs Council

Interestingly, President-elect Ma chose Lai Shin-yuan to be the new head of this important post that deals with China. She's been allied with the DPP and the TSU, both of which strongly support Taiwanese sovereignty -- some TSU members are outriht supporters of formal independence.

This is an interesting choice for Ma. An attempt to calm fears that he will move too fast and close to Beijing? Time to wait and see what happens.

Quirky Asia Files: Some Pro-Tibet Flags Are Made in . . . China

I can't make this stuff up.

Oh, and there's more:

Police in southern China have discovered a factory manufacturing Free Tibet flags, media reports say.

The factory in Guangdong had been completing overseas orders for the flag of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Workers said they thought they were just making colourful flags and did not realise their meaning.

But then some of them saw TV images of protesters holding the emblem and they alerted the authorities, according to Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper.

Nerd News: Rank the World's Top 100 Public Intellectuals

Here's a very interesting little exercise by Foreign Policy (link via Tigerhawk).

You may choose 5 from the list of 100 choices.

The choices may be a little tendentious, and they're not at all comprehensive, but oh well. Go take a look and vote in the survey anyway! I leave you with Tigerhawk's commentary: This is "your chance to bury Noam Chomsky."

(As for me, I think also that it's a chance to bury that high priest of the Gaia cult, Al Gore. He's actually listed as a choice for "public intellectual." You must be joking! Also, the survey does also give you an opportunity to submit a name not on the list.)

Enjoy, gentle reader!

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Wal-Mart Rice Riots of 2008! Or Not.

OK, OK, calm down, I'm EXAGGERATING. There haven't been any riots per se!

But enough people have apparently been hoarding rice for Wal-Mart to restrict rice sales.

The world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, is restricting sales of rice at one of its chains - the latest sign of a global shortage of the staple food.

Sam's Club, Wal-Mart's cash-and-carry division, says customers can buy a maximum of four bags per visit.

The limit applies to jasmine, basmati and long grain white rice.

The international price of rice has risen by 68% this year and Wal-Mart said the restrictions were "due to recent supply and demand trends".


Fun with Geography!

I had never noticed this! How funny!

Plus, dinosaurs. What's not to love?

Nerd Analysis: Financial Policy and "We Are What We Learn"

Here is a very interesting little piece about the influence of teachers in financial perspectives.

Poverty, Oppression, and Starvation

Starving for freedom often = starving for food as well.

Some of this sounds obvious, but nothing is so obvious that some elites miss the point entirely.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

French Military Officers Go Back to Waterloo

Better late than never if you want to learn from your mistakes? Take a look. I admit, the historian in me is absolutely tickled pink by this:
Almost two hundred years after the Allied armies secured the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte, French soldiers have returned to the scene of the Battle of Waterloo to learn from the mistakes of their 19th-century predecessors.

A total of 38 senior officers were ordered to spend a day analysing the errors which put a final end to Napoleon’s rule as Emperor and drew to a close 23 years of war.

Brigadier-General Vincent Desportes ordered strategists from France’s Armed Forces Employment Doctrine Centre to visit the battleground because “you learn more from your failures than from your successes”.
If indeed Desportes is right, then his people have a great deal of material to use as learning resources. (Oops! Did I say that out loud? Sorry, sorry, I've had a bit too much Henry V lately...)

Beijing Olympic Watch: Anti-French Feeling in China

Good grief. Anti-French feeling in China?

Apparently the chaos of the Olympic torch's appearance in Paris has ruffled some Chinese feathers. This news item reports that in response Sarko is sending 3 senior French envoys to China.

By the way, do you remember me once saying flippantly that, goodness, nowadays if somebody doesn't like somebody else, one will simply call the other a "Nazi"? The same news article has this to say too:
Christian Poncelet, the leader of the French Senate and first to arrive in Beijing, was met yesterday by a third day of demonstrations around the country, as thousands gathered outside branches of the French supermarket chain Carrefour calling for a boycott of French goods.

Protesters in Wuhan, in central China, were seen waving French flags with swastikas on. One flag bore the words "Joan of Arc equals prostitute, Napoleon equals pervert, France equals Nazi".

*Snort of derision.*

Taiwan versus Greenpeace

I'm sorry if I am evil, but I rather got a kick out of this news item. Greenpeace has always been full of loopy radicals doing loopy things, and it's high time somebody called them out for it.

Meanwhile, if you'll excuse me, I'll go get some shark's fin soup. Nyah, nyah, nyah. (Well, it's a nice thought, but I actually can't afford it!)
TAIPEI, April 24 (Reuters) - Taiwan is drafting a public statement to slam Greenpeace activists who boarded a fishing boat in the South Pacific earlier this week to check for an illegal shark fin harvest, a fisheries official said on Thursday.

The Fisheries Agency will send a protest letter to the multi-lateral Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and to Greenpace, an international environmental group that the government says inappropriately forced its way onto a Taiwan-registered boat on Monday to inspect the shark catch.

"This took place on the high seas, and it was done by a private organisation, not by law enforcement agencies," said James Sha, the agency's deputy director-general. "Their actions were extreme, and they distorted the evidence."

2 Chinese Women Sue CNN for $1.3 billion

2 Chinese women are suing cable news service CNN for "insulting" China. The lawsuit wants CNN to pay $1.3 billion in damages -- $1 for every person in China.

This is patently ridiculous on all levels, hence why I post it.

Anyway, the plaintiffs are particularly upset by Jack Cafferty, who is (admittedly) an abrasive newsman and commentator who's accustomed to making all sorts of harsh comments about all sorts of topics. But hey, look who is actually suing him for talking. Here is a sampling of Cafferty's "offensive" remarks:

A Chinese primary school teacher and a beautician have filed a suit against CNN in New York over remarks they say insulted the Chinese people and are seeking $1.3 billion in compensation -- $1 per person in China, a Hong Kong newspaper reported.

The case against the Atlanta-based cable channel, its parent company Turner Broadcasting and Jack Cafferty, the offending commentator, comes after 14 lawyers launched a similar suit in Beijing alleging that Cafferty's remarks earlier this month violated the dignity and reputation of the Chinese people.

Cafferty said the United States imported Chinese-made "junk with the lead paint on them and the poisoned pet food" and added: "They're basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they've been for the last 50 years."

CNN said Cafferty was expressing an opinion about the Chinese government, but the Foreign Ministry demanded an apology and accused the network of trying to drive a wedge between the Chinese people and leadership.

Huh. I don't see much in Cafferty's blunt comments that aren' accurate. Is speaking the truth "insulting" to China? Some would say so.

Geek Fun: Tabletop Robot Battles with Lasers!

This post and video are dedicated to that family technophile, the Sibling, who is as mad about tech-toys as he is about movies.

But you don't have to be a professional geek to enjoy tabletop battle robots fighting with lasers! It's all basically Robot Laser Tag, but hey! Robots + lasers! What's not to love? (Original link here.)

Best English I've Read Today: Jeremy Clarkson on Potatoes, Greenies, and Madness

Yes, yes, I know the article came out a few days ago -- I've been busy, OK?

Anyway, here it is, from Jeremy Clarkson (the Sibling and I are fans!). He reminds me in this little piece of why I do love a bit of sarcastic British writing. Here's a sample:

A sinister government agency called Wrap (We Rape and Pillage) has spent vast lumps of our money to determine that, in Britain alone, we throw away 5.1m potatoes every day. Apparently this is so morally reprehensible that we should all commit suicide.

Hmm. So we have one part of the government telling us that if we continue to eat too much we will become fat and everyone will explode. And now we have another part telling us that we have to finish everything on our plates because it’s wrong to throw food away.

Is it though? Of course, eco-mentalists argue that rotting food gives off methane gas – a global-warming agent 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. So a potato, casually discarded because you had too many biscuits with your afternoon tea, will cause every polar bear to suffer an agonising death, crying for its mother and thrashing about in boiling seas.

W.R.A.P.! Hilarious!

Hello Kitty Monstrosity of the Day: Hello Kitty High Fashion

When the Coffeepot Dictator (aka Il Barista) sent me this link, I didn't want to believe it. But independent research has confirmed the apocalyptic horror of this cuteness run amok. Here it is:

In a few days, the Japanese edition of the fashion magazine Vogue will feature Hello Kitty wearing designer gowns by Galliano. She will be in Paris, modeling Galliano's fall collection for Dior.

Hello Kitty on the fashion runway? Oh, my! Meanwhile, the entire insanity of this has me humming -- unwillingly but compulsively -- the lyrics to (you guessed it) that laughably bad but catchy song about the catwalk.

(As for Il Barista, I am now convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that he is trying to kill me, slowly and cutely. But I don't intend to go quietly...)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hello Kitty Monstrosity of the Day: the Hello Kitty Cake

The photos are far too horrifying to post! Click on this link if you dare.

Which one "takes the cake" for being the one which will make you scream the loudest? I must vote for these Hello Kitty cupcakes, marching like a Greek phalanx and striking twice as much fear into the hearts of the enemy.

UPDATE: The "Hello Kitty Hell" blog has yet another possibility: a cake pan that produces a three-dimensional Hello Kitty cake. Oh, my.

Nerd News: 19-Year-Old Woman is Now the World's Youngest Professor

Her name is Alia Sabur, and she is now the world's youngest professor. She is only 19. Incredible!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Life Imitates Satire: Al-Qaeda Criticizes 9/11 Conspiracy Theories

The satire from the Onion: "9/11 Conspiracy Theories 'Ridiculous,' Al-Qaeda Says."

The actual headline today: "Al-Qaida No. 2 says 9/11 theory propagated by Iran."

Wait! It gets even better if you read the news story:
Osama bin Laden's chief deputy in an audiotape Tuesday accused Shiite Iran of trying to discredit the Sunni al-Qaida terror network by spreading the conspiracy theory that Israel was behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

. . . One of the questioners asked about the theory that has circulated in the Middle East and elsewhere that Israel was behind the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Al-Zawahiri accused Hezbollah's Al-Manar television of starting the rumor.

"The purpose of this lie is clear — (to suggest) that there are no heroes among the Sunnis who can hurt America as no else did in history. Iranian media snapped up this lie and repeated it," he said.

This is all fine, but I doubt anything can stop conspiracy theorists from spinning their little webs.

Great Moments in Research: Freedom Causes Happiness

This seems obvious to me, but apparently the idea is so SHOCKINGLY NOVEL to some people that here is a whole article about it, written by a professor, no less.

Come on, people, the opposite is true, is it not: "oppression causes unhappiness"?

I should add too that by "freedom" I mean specifically "freedom with personal responsibility and sober judgment." And NO, happiness is not caused by government fiat.

I do, though, have to quote this lovely bit:
The earliest American definition of liberty—stated frequently by the Founding Fathers—is about constraints on personal actions: if I don’t hurt anybody else, I should be free to pursue my own will. As Thomas Jefferson put it in his first inaugural address, “A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.” (PREACH IT, TOM! -- MM's comment; that bold font is my emphasis.) Despite more recent attempts to expand our understanding of freedom to include claims on one another or on government—FDR’s 1941 State of the Union speech, for example, which mentioned “freedom from want”—about two-thirds of Americans still define freedom in terms of doing what they want, being able to make their own choices, or having liberty in speech and religion. Understanding freedom is a matter of no small importance. The Founders believed that it was one of at least three fundamental rights from God, along with life and the pursuit of happiness. These three rights are interrelated: not only does liberty, of course, depend on life, but the pursuit of happiness depends on liberty. In fact, evidence shows that freedom and happiness are strongly linked.
And also take a look at this:
The recipe for happiness is a combination of individual liberty, personal decency, and moderation. And government protects our freedom best when it forgoes infringements on our moral choices but vigorously defends our right to restrict these choices ourselves.

If the importance of liberty to happiness sounds obvious to you—as obvious as the importance of life to liberty—it’s probably because you’re an American. In many countries, you would find yourself fined, imprisoned, or worse for asserting your right to vote, worship, or even open a business as you wished. America is an oasis of happiness-producing freedom in a world that generally doesn’t believe that citizens can handle freedom and doesn’t trust them to try.

As Americans, we understand that people can be entrusted with freedom, which is why we guard it so jealously. But happiness requires that we also use freedom responsibly—which means, both as individuals and as a nation, balancing abundant private liberty with healthy personal morality.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hello Kitty Monstrosity of the Day: the Hello Kitty Pink Helmet

This was a photo snapped by the Sibling on a street in Taipei. Yes, it really is a pink helmet on a scooter. The horror, the horror! What's actually killing me, though, isn't the cute helmet -- it's the PINK railings on the street!

Also: astute readers will notice that in the "dashboard" of the scooter is a plastic cup with a giant straw that says, "I am bubble tea!" Yep, bubble tea, that Taiwanese beverage sensation.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Nerd Journal: Writing Papers and Watching Old Movies

FYI: I have to work on several major research projects in the next few days, so if I'm not blogging, that's why.

Here is a slice of life: midnight again for the umpteenth night in a row, I'm surrounded by papers/books/articles/journals, and I'm poking at my laptop and yelling at it (and at my project) in about three languages. Coffee, tea, and cookies (and empty ramen packets) are scattered everywhere. The TV is on to keep me awake (I can't work if the apartment is 100% quiet because I just fall asleep), so I have a mountain of DVDs.

This time, old movies are the theme: "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (musical fun!), "Red River" (John Wayne!), "Spartacus" (Kirk Douglas!), "My Fair Lady" (musical fun -- and Audrey Hepburn), "Roman Holiday" (Audrey again, with Gregory Peck), and what is probably my favorite classic film set in the ancient world, "Ben-Hur" (that chariot race is legendary, and I love it).

Do you have any suggestions?

By the way, I already watched "Planet of the Apes," but that turned out to be a bad idea, because it only inspired me to yell "Take your stinking paws off me, you d%^& dirty ape!" often -- and for no apparent reason. (It is, I confess, in direct violation of my "polite language only, please" blog policy.)

I also watched "A Streetcar Named Desire," but, in all honesty, I didn't like it very much or Vivien Leigh either (what is it with her and Southern ladies?). Still, that made me run around and yell, "Stellaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!" for no apparent reason.

Quirky Euro Files: the UK's Disgusting Ice Cream Cone

I just got this from the Sibling: an ice cream cone made of sausage, potatoes, gravy, and peas.

The caption to the photo declares, "Horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible."

Even more amusing may be the follow-up story which purports to be an apology, stating:
Metro would like to apologise if our recent article, 'World's most disgusting ice cream', inadvertently gave the impression that the sausage, mash, peas and gravy ice-cream cone concoction featured in it was in some way unpleasant.

Furthermore, it was not our intention to convey any level of distaste or contempt for the new product, and we regret if any elements of the article - such as the picture caption 'Horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, Horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible' - suggested otherwise.

We would also like to thank the lovely makers of the mash cones, Aunt Bessie's, who turned up unexpectedly at our office today with a load of sausage and mash in an attempt to change our minds.

Hilarious! Of course, this does nothing at all to explode the stereotype that British food is generally....well, you know.

Euro Notes: Mamma Mia -- Berlusconi is Back!

The Italian elections are over, and Silvio is back! The Italian government takes a right turn.

(This should make for some interesting news coverage .)

Oh, and Silvio is talking about tax cuts. We'll see what happens. Italy clearly needs some kind of intervention among its many problems.

April 15: Tax Day

It's the deadline for filing taxes for 2007. YUCK! I filed online this year, thanks to a suggestion from the Sibling, and that made the process relatively painless.

I'm tired and very busy, so I'll spare you my usual rant about high taxes, bloated government, and the utter foolishness of taking ever-more money from productive people to give it to unproductive ones -- which is basically taxing virtue to subsidize vice. Also, let it be known that I think it's stupid to tax grad student fellowship money, since grad students barely have enough to live on anyway! Why not just call struggling grad students members of the "working poor" and get it over with?

Instead, I give you the lyrics of the Beatles' song, "Taxman."

Let me tell you how it will be
There's one for you, nineteen for me
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman

Should five per cent appear too small
Be thankful I don't take it all
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah I'm the taxman

If you drive a car, I'll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I'll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet.

Don't ask me what I want it for
If you don't want to pay some more
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman

Now my advice for those who die
Declare the pennies on your eyes
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman
And you're working for no one but me!

Oh, this year, the Sibling and I discovered that we'll get a little bit of money from the recent Congressional "economic stimulus package." It's better than nothing, though I fail to see how giving us a few hundred dollars can "stimulate" anything really, really substantive. For me, it means I get to sweat a little less as I look for plane tickets home to visit my parents...though flying means I'm polluting with carbon emissions and destroying the world (again).

PS: You do know, don't you, that once upon a time in early American history, we didn't really HAVE an income tax?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cute Video of the Day: that Music for "Star Wars"

I've been blogging about "Star Trek" *A LOT* lately. Here's something fun, cute, and musical for all you "Star Wars" fans. See, who loves ya, baby?

Silly Video Fun: Variations on a Theme (the Camelot Song!)

For your entertainment on this cold and wet Friday afternoon, I give you...

The classic sequence from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail":

The scene created entirely from Lego toys:

Finally, in honor of the Cinema-Mad Sibling, La Parisienne, and my dear old school friend Alessandra d'Ambrosio, here is the silly marriage of Monty Python and the original series of "Star Trek":

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Nerd + Geek Joy: Captain Picard is Macbeth

Fresh new from the Sibling:

"Star Trek" + Shakespeare!

Two of my favorite things! TOGETHER! Patrick Stewart live on stage as Macbeth! Here's the playbill cover.


The Sibling has suggested something utterly insane: trying to go see this when classes end in a few weeks. Yes, we are geeks! Yes, we are nerds! Yes, we love both "Star Trek" and Shakespeare, and we are in a state of nerdy excitement.

*MM runs off to ransack her piggy bank.*

PS: Here is "Macbeth" for you, too.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Quirky Asia Files: Japan's Koizumi and the World Ramen Summit

Ramen quote of the day by former Japanese PM Koizumi? Here it is:

"Ramen is not just for Japan, but it is also for the world and the universe."

Also...There's really such a thing as a World Ramen Summit? Really?? I did what any nerd would do. I decided to do a little research on the topic. Apparently at the 2006 Summit, it issued this declaration (it mentions ramen use in disaster relief).

Hm, time to visit the ramen blog!

Ah, ramen. How many starving students has it helped over the years?

Beijing Olympic Watch: Torches, Protests, and Quote of the Day

Well, by now you've heard all about the protests hounding the Olympic torch, so I won't weary you with more. London, Paris, San Francisco -- the torch relay may be abandoned, though China is against it.

The response from China to its massive global PR disaster is both pathetic and offensive. It boils down to "we condemn everyone who condemns China." Nuanced bit of international relations, that. Pffffft.

The responses from the spineless IOC have been . . . Well, I won't waste your time and mine with the IOC!

The quote of the day (or yesterday, as it were) on the Chinese PR debacle might be this, from a British MP who tabled a motion in the House of Commons recently:
"This House, remembering that those nations attending the 1936 Olympic Games in Nazi Germany believed that by participating in the Games the Hitler regime would be civilised, calls upon the Government and individual competitors in the 2008 Olympics in China to begin thinking how they will prevent a 1936 replay with a totalitarian state again using the Games for their own propaganda purposes."
"...a totalitarian state again using the Games for their own propaganda purposes"? Ouch! And deservedly so. What else are the Beijing Games but Beijing politics writ large?

Geek News, Geek Joy: Original "Star Trek" Now Online

It's nirvana for nerds like my Sibling and me.

CBS now has all episodes of the original "Star Trek" series online for your viewing pleasure.

Now for a little dance of triumph: I found out about this before my brother did and had the delight of telling him about it. His immediate email back: "Are you kidding??????"

OK, a caveat: the episodes insist that you watch some commercials along the way. But who cares? Trek whenever I need a break from my books!

Now to argue about which episode of the original Trek was the best. I always loved those darn Tribbles.

Live long and prosper, gentle reader!

Nerd News and Great Moments in Research: Husbands Cause Housework

I found this story rather amusing. Husbands = housework!

Of course, other things also cause housework -- like babies, pets, etc. In fact, being alive at all causes housework. And have you noticed, a house itself causes housework. Even if you leave it alone and don't live in it for a while (if you go on holiday, for example), when you come back, you will have housework!

In a weird twist, I was talking to two different friends at two different times recently, and all 3 of us mentioned the fact that we each needed to clean the kitchen and mop the floor. Apparently, joked one friend, soon there will be some mystical moment when every woman in the world feels the need to mop the floor!

UK: the Village Pub is Under Threat of Extinction

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

From Bronte to Ben-Hur: the late, great Charlton Heston

Hail and farewell, sir, and thank you. Others have written beautiful tributes and obituaries to Charlton Heston, so I'll only add a few random thoughts.

~TCM has rearranged its broadcast schedule to make this coming Friday an all-day tribute to Heston. See the schedule here. That was a classy thing to do, TCM. Good on you.

~BronteBlog notes how Heston was first discovered by Hollywood when he played Mr. Rochester in a production of "Jane Eyre." YouTube has a clip of this 1949 effort. Heston looks so young! But his voice is unmistakable.

~Libertas reminds us that Heston participated in the fight for civil rights in the 1960s. Yes, yes, I know that in his latter days, Heston's politics created some controversy, but I have no patience for self-absorbed, silly young celebrities who picked at Heston -- like yappy terriers biting at the ankles of a Great Dane.

~Heston is timeless, a true legend and icon. We will not see his like -- much less his equal -- again. Here's a slice of life from the weekend, when La Parisienne and I first heard of Heston's passing. Heston's glory days took place far before either she or I was born, yet there we were, on the phone, paying our own respects to the great man by lovingly naming our favorite Heston films. That has to mean something, if two young ladies of the 21st century are thinking fondly of an actor of 50 years past. I haven't been so affected by the death of a public figure since Bob Hope passed away.

~My favorite Heston film? I can't choose one. Heston was always larger than life, and his ability to play huge characters in faraway settings is amazing. I give you my favorite five films, in alphabetical order. What do you think? Do you have a favorite? (Oh, how I love old movies!)
  1. "The Agony and the Ecstasy." (1965) Heston as the temperamental genius Michelangelo is brilliant, and his perfect foil was Rex Harrison as Pope Julius II. This just could be my favorite of all, if I had to choose. It's not Heston's most famous film (that honor is going to be an eternal fight between "Ben-Hur" and "The Ten Commandments," probably), but I really like it in an oddly warm, personal sort of way.
  2. "Ben-Hur." (1959) Of course! This thing is a monument. The chariot race is one of the best scenes in movie history, full stop. Aside from that, though, Heston infused his Judah Ben-Hur with a real sense of character, of emotion and depth.
  3. "El Cid." (1961) Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren, and the medieval Spanish hero El Cid. What's not to love?
  4. "Planet of the Apes." (1968) Heston in outer space! Plus that immortal line about apes--in Heston's absolutely fantastic voice.
  5. "The Ten Commandments." (1956) Spectacular. Anne Baxter, Yul Brynner, and Moses--I mean, Heston. But seriously, can you imagine anybody else playing Moses after you see Heston in that role?
Oh, plenty of people have criticized Heston's roles; some have claimed he had limited range as an actor. Well, depends. He was able to bring the towering epic stature to his grand roles, and I love him for it. He took cinema to a place of fantasy and movie magic -- a great Heston film was bigger than life, and isn't that why we go to the movies?

Requiescat in pace.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Taiwan Photoblogging Part 2 = Tamsui City Sights

Gentle reader,

I promised Taiwan photoblogging, so here is a new installment! Previous posts included cute schoolchildren and a first glimpse of Tamsui.

I have Taiwan on my mind and in my mailbox: this week I received a beautiful art book in the mail, and it had been sent to me from Taiwan--a souvenir from my lucky relatives who had the chance to go abroad! Then yesterday I received a book about Taipei that the Sibling and my mom had purchased at Taipei 101.

Well, enough talk. A picture is worth a thousand words, after all! Here are a few snapshots in and around Tamsui. I'll have Taipei and Taichung photos later!

Here's a look at Tamsui from afar. You get an eyeful both of the harbor and the modern city, with a look too at the mountains beyond. Tamsui used to be mainly a little port town, but it's now a kind of resort, with a cheerful festival air; Taiwanese from all over the island go there for weekends and holidays.

This is the main street through Tamsui. Note all the scooters parked on the side of the road! You can find all kinds of shops here, including a famous pastry shop that makes fantastic little cakes filled with pineapple paste. So good! (My mom brought a box back for me. Thanks, Mom!)

Here is a typical street food vendor. She's making a kind of fried pastry. You might think that they are sweet (like churros), but they're actually not very sweet.

Here are some campaign banners for (now president-elect) Ma. Note how the banners all have a little image of Taiwan the island. Ma did say that he was not going to compromise the island's sovereignty. (Fact, promise, or campaign BS?) My Sibling did go to Taiwan in the days right before the election.

It's springtime in Taiwan, and in the spring, a young man's thoughts often turn to love! My Sibling snapped this charming photo of a happy couple in a back street. I don't know about you, but whenever I'm abroad, I *love* seeing wedding parties. Remind me to explain to you about the "wedding salon" industry in Taiwan too.

Here is an open-air art collection, right in the middle of town.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Nerd Journal: Oh, Joy -- and "Battlestar Galactica"

Just a frivolous personal note:

It's a brand new season of "Battlestar Galactica"! The premiere last night on Sci-Fi Channel is a great thing: new TV to watch!

The Sci Fi Mad Sibling and I are delighted. Besides, it gives me a chance to read fun stuff like this for amusement when I really, REALLY should be working on schoolwork.

If you're unfamiliar with the best sci fi series currently on TV, here's a little education. Now we can argue endlessly and happily about the quality of various sci fi TV shows past and present. (My picks: "Farscape" and "Firefly" for often-overlooked but fantastic shows.)

But for now -- a brand new season of Cylons and humans and people flying planes and yelling imaginary curse words! Plus eye-candy Anders. Heehee!

Hong Kong News: Martin Lee Announces Retirement from Politics

Martin Lee is a long-time advocate of democracy in Hong Kong, and now at age 70, he has announced that he will quit politics.

The Wall Street Journal has a nice little piece about him. You can also go directly to Lee's website.

Lee has been banned from travel to China, and because of his endless support for HK democracy (i.e., direct elections), Beijing has called him all sorts of nasty names such as "Chinese traitor" and "running dog of colonialists."

I am inclined to rather like Lee, and I give you a little quote from his announcement. He may be stepping down from public office, but he vows to "continue pushing for democracy for Hong Kong until we have democracy."

Indeed. Lee's successors have large shoes to fill.

Meanwhile, I can't resist adding, part of a real democracy is a free and open press. Just as Lee the democrat announced his retirement, the latest news from Chinais about civil rights advocate Hu Jia, whose "crimes" included talking to foreign journalists. He has been sentenced to 3+ years in prison; his wife and child are under house arrest. Reporters Without Borders estimates that last year China jailed over 100 journalists and dissidents.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The RAF Celebrates 90 Years

Happy 90th birthday to the Royal Air Force! The RAF is the world's first independent air force -- a bit of historical trivia for you. News blurb here.

I would be no real student of history if I didn't give you this quote by the incomparable Winston Churchill, speaking about the airmen fighting in the Battle of Britain:

"The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. "

—Tribute to the Royal Air Force, House of Commons, 20 August 1940.

(OK, I'm a nerd and I can't help myself: here's the most recent book I read on the subject.)

Satire Alert and April Fool's Funny Video: Al Qaeda says 9/11 Conspiracy Theories are "Ridiculous"

This isn't really an April Fool's prank or hoax (not like the glorious Swiss Spaghetti Harvest of 1957 -- now with video link!), but it's fantastic all the same.

9/11 Conspiracy Theories 'Ridiculous,' Al Qaeda Says

The humorists at the Onion have done well!

Favorite quotes from the Al Qaeda "representative" talking to the conspiracy theorist:
"We flew an enormous airplane into a building, OK? I think it is obvious what caused the building to crumble . . . How would you like it if you spent, you know, two months in a mountain cave, sleeping on rocks, planning something really special, only to have someone else take the credit away from you, saying 'Oh, no, you don't deserve the credit'?!"