Parts Unknown

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Anthony Bourdain seems to be everywhere, not just everywhere in the world but everywhere on TV. He’s the center of ABC’s The Taste, the Travel Channel, PBS’ Mind of a Chef and now CNN’s Parts Unknown. The series premiered with Bourdain heading to Myanmar, a country I’ve wanted to visit for years and years, but couldn’t as I didn’t want to support that military.

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

In episode 1, Bourdain travels to Myanmar, a.k.a. Burma. As you’d expect he meets up with interesting folk over enticing food. Many of his interview subjects had been imprisoned when the military was keeping tighter constraints and they openly discussed politics, their experiences and their expectations for the future.

After a few days in the capital, Bourdain and his mentor take a clunky slow train to Bagan. The town of Bagan looked so inviting and untouched. Yet the train ride seemed so risky. Perhaps when/if I visit Myanmar, I’ll skip the trains, though air travel isn’t much safer.

The episode was fascinating and Bourdain’s insights were wry and wise.

The series is off to a good start, though I’m not sure I’d spend the time on the second episode, which is L.A. Yeah, L.A. has its bizarro pockets and its elegance and diversity, but who doesn’t know that? I watch travel shows to discover places I can’t easily get to myself.

The Chicago 8

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The Chicago 8 dramatizes the infamous trial of Bobby Seale, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Lee Weiner, Rennie Davis and John Froines, who were accused of violating anti-riot laws and conspiracy in connection with the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. The film shows Judge Julius Hoffman’s bias and the defendant’s defiance as is reported in the court transcripts. It’s a film of a chapter of American history of great import as it shows how derailed our justice system can get.

In an article about a play on the trial that the Remains Theater was doing in 1997, the event was summarized as follows:

It went down something like this.

By the summer of 1968, Chicago had been rocked by wide-scale rioting on the city’s West Side after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Mayor Richard J. Daley had issued his infamous “Shoot to kill” arsonists order during that time and he publicly vowed that when the national convention of his beloved Democratic party came to Chicago in August, “outside agitators” would not be allowed to disrupt his city again.

Sen. Robert Kennedy was murdered several weeks before the convention, anti-war protests had continued unabated even though incumbent President Lyndon Johnson had announced he would not seek re-election and his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, marched toward the Democratic convention as his likely successor.

When the convention convened in a heavily guarded International Amphitheater on the Southwest Side, thousands of young demonstrators gathered in Lincoln and Grant Parks, engaging in five nights of violent clashes with Chicago police.

Early in 1969, after months of finger-pointing and blame, eight of those demonstrators, representing a cross-section of the anti-war movement in the country, were charged with conspiring to come to Chicago to stage riots and with rioting. It was the first major use of a new federal anti-conspiracy law that was decried as an unconstitutional violation of Freedom of Speech.

By September 1969, the stage was set for a replay of the Democratic convention, this time in an austere courtroom on the 23rd floor of the Dirksen Federal Building at 219 N. Dearborn St. and presided over by crusty Federal Judge Julius J. Hoffman. (Davis, 1997)

The film captures the feeling of the five month long trial, though it leaves out parts that would have been good like “folk singer Judy Collins having her mouth covered by the hands of a federal marshal as she tried to sing, “Where have all the flowers gone?” in an impromptu concert during her testimony . . . .and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg chanting a mantra-“ommmm, ommmm”-while on the witness stand in a humorous attempt to restore tranquility when the court broke out in one of its frequent bursts of shouting” (Davis, 1997).

We forget how fragile our justice system is and how one judge can contort it to his own ends.  The movie starts a little slow and includes some footage of an orgie that just doesn’t belong as there’s no follow up, but the second and third act are more tightly put together and the historical event should be understood by all.

References

Davis, R. (1991, Sep 15). Return of the Chicago 7: the trial was great theater, but will it work on stage? Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from search.proquest.com on April 22, 2013

N.B. Since Bobbie Seale was removed from this trial, in a very racist manner, some call it the Chicago 7 and others the Chicago 8.

VEEP, Season 2 Begins

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VEEP,  Season 2 starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus has begun!

Season Two opened with the midterm elections and the VP’s party gets crushed by the opposition. Serina, the VP, sees this as an opportunity to reposition her role in the administration and tries to orchestrate a power grab. Gary Cole plays a despised Senior Strategist for the President, who as usual never appears.

The episode flew by with lots of rapid fire jokes and physical humor involving getting the VP out of the Oval Office after she’s gotten her lip stick all over the President’s rug. It’s one of the best comedies on American television, though I have to say In the Thick of It was funnier. I think it would help to show the opposition party sometimes.

Social Media in China

Note: The cliches and vernacular language referring to historic events are used to protect this innocent grad student, not to sound folksy.

Since I’m back in China, I thought I’d share some of my experience with social media here and dig deeper by discovering what some experts say on the topic.

When I first came to China to work in spring of 2009, I could access Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, anything I could think of. Yet 2009 was an important year because it was the anniversary of certain events that I won’t even type here because who knows if I’d have internet tomorrow.

One by one these services disappeared and my colleagues, other Americans and Australians who teach here felt a kind of technology grief, a definite sense of loss and disconnection.

Chinese technology does offer some substitutes, but since I’m not literate in Chinese, I haven’t signed up for them. The government does allow and control social media. The main Web 2.0 services more or less parallel what’s found elsewhere. Weibo is like Twitter; Ren Ren and QQ resemble Facebook; YouKu and TuDou are Chinese YouTubes.

The government does turn off these services and has websites turn off commenting at critical times like last spring when an official in Chengdu was up to no good.

To learn more, I read Thomas Crampton‘s article “Social Media in China: The Same, but Different.” From Crampton, I learned that:

  • Chinese spend a lot more time online than other developing countries. In fact, their usage resembles that of Americans and the Japanese.
  • China is the one Asian country where youth have more online than offline friends. (In most Asian countries face to face friendships outnumber online friendships.) The Chinese live a large part of their lives online.
  • The Web 2.0 services I’ve compared above aren’t exact mimics. Youku and Tudou carry more professionally produced videos, many of which are pirated. Given how much more online video compared to televised video Chinese watch, these services are the defacto broadcasters. They’re actually a lot like Hulu.com.Because Chinese uses ideograms rather than an alphabet, a “tweet” on Weibo can contain around 4 times as many words as an English tweet. Weibo’s closer to a blogging platform than a microblogging one.While Ren Ren with its blue and white layout tries to be the Chinese Facebook, it has more competitors. Douban, Kaixin001, and QZone each attract a different demographic.
  • The Chinese learn about the internet through friends, who are loyal to a particular social media. Thus, Crampton asserts, they come to view the internet as YouKu or as Douban.

As far as the last item above, I think some elaboration is needed. My students seem familiar with many sites, not as many as Westerns, but they use Wikipedia (for plagiarism and, I hope, actual reserach), and they watch videos and play games online. I do take them to the computer lab to work on assignments and many of them go off task and use a variety of computer games, email services and shopping websites. I think their view of the web is rather narrow, because they don’t learn to use computers in school. It’s clear that they’re self-taught, but they don’t only use one service.

I checked to see how universities and their libraries used social media and none of the three I looked at Shandong University of Science and Technology, where I work, Shandong University, a higher level school in this province and Tsinghua University, one of the top colleges in China, had links to Weibo, Ren Ren or other Web 2.0 services. In contrast colleges in Korea, like Sogang University do contain Facebook and Twitter links for the library.

References

Crampton, T. (2011). Social Media in China: The Same, but Different. China Business Review, 38(1), 28-31.

Further Reading

Remembering Roger Ebert

RogerEbert-thumb-550xauto-34161I really was stunned and saddened to hear that Roger Ebert died. He was such a constant in my media life. I loved his writing and his lively discussions on At the Movies with Gene Siskel and later with Richard Roeper.

For a few years I took Roger’s film class through the University of Chicago’s adult ed program. It was tough to get a seat in the class. The first time I took it we watched Paul Schrader‘s films and Schrader even came to our class to screen Light of Day.

The following semester to cut down on students who would have to be turned away when the class moved from Spertus College to a screening room on Michigan Avenue, Ebert chose to focus on films by French director Robert Bresson. Bresson’s films are tough as he rejects everything Hollywood loves: surprise endings, professional actors, music, you name if it’s in a blockbuster, it’s not an element of a Bresson film. I love a good challenge I signed up again. Even in the smaller new space, the class was full and some were turned away. A lot of the people had been taking the class for 18 years by then and many were knowledgeable film viewers. Ebert never put anyone down or carried himself as if he was smarter or better than us. In fact, several times he’d point out that the only reason he was teaching the course was the roll of a die. Hardly, since he was an expert, but he conducted the class with such respect for all.

roger geneUsually the class followed the films of one director and we were able to see his evolution or what made him tick. I recall taking the Schrader, Bresson, Billie Wilder classes, but I think there were others. I do remember winning the Beat Roger Oscar contest in the class one year. Talk about a fluke. I got 8 or 10 books, one autographed, which I’ll have to dig out.

Beyond the class, Roger’s website and reviews continued me to seek out challenging films, to expand what I watched. Thus I discovered great films, old and new.

I admire how Roger wrote, how he curated outstanding web content on his blog, how he taught me to view films and how he exhibited joy in film. He wasn’t just a public intellect, he was a happy one. How often do we see that? He cared passionately about film, didn’t take himself to seriously, was honest about his likes and dislikes – even his early feelings for Siskel. He lived well. I was always awed by how bravely and openingly he continued to live and work while battling cancer.

It’s sad that he lost that battle, but we were lucky to have him all these years. For a reminder of Ebert’s passion and insight, take a look at the Chicago Tonight video, which you can watch online here.

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