Givers and Takers

Today’s New York Times has an interesting analysis regarding states that get more money from Federal government than what they pay in terms of federal tax (the Takers) and states that pays more in their tax dollars than their Federal fundings (the Givers), and their voting patterns. Not exactly what you would have expected.
Givers and Takers by DANIEL H. PINK.

Republicans seem to have become the new welfare party ¡ª their constituents live off tax dollars paid by people who vote Democratic. Of course, not all federal spending is wasteful. But Republicans are having their pork and eating it too. Voters in red states like Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are some of the country’s fiercest critics of government, yet they’re also among the biggest recipients of federal largess. Meanwhile, Democratic voters in the coastal blue states ¡ª the ones who are often portrayed as shiftless moochers ¡ª are left to carry the load.

Movie: The Corporation

An interesting perspective. The Corporation. via kottke.org.

Considering the odd legal fiction that deems a corporation a “person” in the eyes of the law, the feature documentary employees a checklist, based on actual diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization and DSM IV, the standard tool of psychiatrists and psychologists. What emerges is a disturbing diagnosis.

Self-interested, amoral, callous and deceitful, a corporation’s operational principles make it anti-social. It breaches social and legal standards to get its way even while it mimics the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism. It suffers no guilt. Diagnosis: the institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a psychopath.

Profiles: The Long War of John Kerry

Here is another beautiful piece of reporting done by The New Yorker. Now I wish there is something like this on John Edwards, to make us see the candidates more like human beings, with personal history, temperament, in addition to their political stands.

Profiles: The Long War of John Kerry, by Joe Klein, from The New Yorker, 2002.

It is rather long as all other profiles done by the New Yorker. But it is definitely a good read. Here are a few quote from the article:

… Gunn was the leader of the Coalition of Retired Military Veterans and had attacked Senator John McCain during the 2000 Republican Presidential primary in South Carolina. Kerry had written a letter protesting the charges that another veterans¡¯ group had made against McCain¡ªessentially, that McCain was ¡°anti-veteran¡±¡ªand he had got the other Vietnam combat veterans in the Senate to sign it. Now Jim Gunn said to him, ¡°I just want you to know, Senator, that you were right about McCain and I was wrong. Bush lied to my face, and I¡¯ll never support him again.¡± Gunn proceeded to file a bill of particulars against the President on veterans¡¯ issues. Then he sighed and said, ¡°I wish there was a machine that could really say when someone is telling the truth, but you sound sincere when you talk about our issues. I represent seventeen thousand vets in South Carolina¡ªI¡¯m like their union boss¡ªand if you run for President next time we¡¯re with you.¡±

There are detailed narratives regarding his service in Vietnam and how he got his silver star. It is not the normal heroic stories, more like “Apocalypse Now.” There are also interesting exerpt from the Class Oration he delievered at his graduation in Yale in 1966.

In one of our conversations, I asked Kerry how he became interested in politics. His interest was a result, he replied, of seeing the impact of the war in Europe as a child. ¡°My very first memory¡ªI was three years old¡ªis holding my mother¡¯s hand and she was crying, and I didn¡¯t know why, as we walked through the broken glass and rubble of her childhood house in France, which the Germans had used as a headquarters and then bombed and burned as they left. I remember a staircase going up into the sky, and I remember a chimney into the sky. Those were the two images¡ªthat was all that was left. I remember going to the beach at Normandy on a subsequent trip, in 1951, and seeing burned-out landing vehicles, and the bunkers, and playing in those bunkers. And then we lived in Berlin for a brief period of time, with the Communists right on the other side of the sector. The Cold War was very real to me, more so than for most people my age.¡±

The article also contains more detailing on his political lives in Washington, as well as his two marriages. I don’t know if he is a better candidate to defeat GWB than John Edwards, but he is definitely a rather unusal politician, and an very unique individual.

Cold Mountain

It was a Sunday afternoon when we left the theatre. Staring at the dazzling sunshine outside, my thought was still lying in some dark corner of the cinema. It was a good movie. But something was not quite right. It was as if the director was reluctant and bit his tongue, as if a half-told story, a joke without its punch line, or a poem that was missing its most crucial line. The rest was still good, solid, beautiful, and well done. But incomplete.

Then at Cat’s blog, I saw the link to Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain Diary on Salon.com. Mystery solved. Charles Frazier’s writing is quiet and passionate. The writing style itself made me realized what was missing from the movie.

Charles Frazier said:

“I was not then thinking about writing a Civil War novel, and though I am triply qualified for acceptance into the Sons of Confederate Veterans, I remain largely uninterested in the great movements of troops, the famous personality traits of the noble generals and tragic presidents. What I am interested in are those two double graves and what they seem to represent.

“I knew I wanted to write about those old lifeways, but I needed some point of access. I was given such an entry not long after that day on Caldwell Fork when my father told me about an ancestor of ours, a man named Inman who left the war and walked home wounded. The man who killed the fiddler was waiting for him when he reached the mountains. The story seemed like an American odyssey and it also seemed to offer itself as a form of elegy for that lost world I had been thinking about. So I set out on Inman’s trail and followed it for five years of writing.”

These four diary entries made by Charles Frazier painted the missing piece from the movie. Since I didn’t read the book, I can only guess what the book was like based on these diaries. “Cold Mountain” was written as “a form of elegy for that lost world,” while the movie seemed to concentrate more on the horror of war and the beauty of Ada and Inman’s love story. What was absent from the movie was that nostalgia, the quietness of Charles Frazier’s voice. I wonder whether it was because Nicole Kidman’s stardom robed Ada of her quietness, of her anonymity. I wonder if the movie would have been a complete different creature had the director cast completely new actors like LOTR has done. The movie seemed to strive for something more grand, something similar to the English Patient, War, Love, Humanity, Grand Passion; meanwhile, it kept getting pulled back by the book’s original calm yet powerful nostalgia. At the end, we have this slightly confused movie, like a bewildered child, not sure which parent’s order he should have followed.

Bush: Ready to Legalize Martian Aliens

My sister told me about this news item from the Onion while we were devouring our Chinese New Year’s Eve feast. I almost spilled out my mouthful of egg dumpling soup. My Goodess!

So now, after driving sister and her bf to the subway station, and settling down in front of my computer while the dishwasher in in full-force, I checked out The Onion. It is actually just “News in Brief”.

Bush Vows To Discover, Legalize Aliens On American, Martian Soil
WASHINGTON, DC¡ªPresident Bush restated his commitment to the quality and discovery of immigrant and Martian life Monday, calling for increased efforts to register and search for gainfully employed and extraterrestrial aliens. “America must further pursue the quest for a better way of, or undiscovered forms of, life,” Bush said Monday. “To this end, I will commission the INS and NASA to assemble committees and probes to explore potential minimum-wage and minimum-risk endeavors in the service sector of the economy and the Olympus Mons sector of Mars.” Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh criticized the endeavor, saying the social and scientific programs will take jobs and money away from domestic workers and domestic security.

Fiction: Alex and Maria

This was written in 1998, when I had my first attempt at fiction writing. It was part of a longer story, but it was the only fictional part among the rather auto-biographical fare. It was interesting to exercise one’s imagination, and to watch a character came alive on paper was fascinating, too. They somehow assumed their own lives, and started guiding my hand, led me to see their fate, slowly…

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Alex and Maria
by JQZ

June 1996, Paris

Alex sat in front of his desk, hesitating whether he should call Maria. Her unhappiness had been hanging above his head since he started this road trip. During the last year, Maria had hinted a couple of times that she needed more than just living together. He had been dreading that she would mention engagement. He simply was not sure, there was something missing from their life but he had not been able to pinpoint it.

Traveling between countries on the continent fascinated Alex. He remembered how his little finger traced these colorful patches on a globe in elementary school, so much in awe with the concept that there were real people living in those patches, children just like him even. He was wondering how it would be like to walk on those patches step by step, he wished he would not miss any of them, some of the patches were so tiny. He promised to himself then that he would be very very careful not to step over any. Now moving from one glorious city to the next, he could see so much possibilities lay in front of him. He had never experienced such freedom.

Since his road trip began, he had realized that he would leave Maria eventually. He simply could not find the right words. Nor the right moment. The more Maria loved him, the further away he ran from home. He had turned down many temptations in different cities. Even his heart was no longer with her, at least he would try to keep his body faithful to her. It had been hard sometimes, but he managed. Even he himself failed to understand this strange fidelity. Maybe in a way I am trying to punish myself for Maria’s sake. Maybe it could less my guilt.

Maria’s email was odd, but Alex was too happy complying before she changed her mind. He choose not to worry. It was the best way to end it, he thought. “I am definitely not ready to settle down yet.” He reassured himself one more time, “It would be unfair not to give her freedom. She deserves someone who truly loves her. ”

“Hey, Alex.” Fred from the next cube poked his head in, “Tex-Mex, tonight?”
“That Mexican place with the beautiful bartender?” Alex tried to remember. Ever since he arrived in Paris, the group of young consultants went to a different place every night, most time he was too drunk to remember the food he ate, let alone the name of the restaurant.
“Yup. Her name is Mina!” Fred winked. “Are you coming?”
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Sex and the City – Season V

Friends just signed up with netflix, which is like a DVD buffet. You can watch all you want for a fixed price. So we¡¯ve been stuffing our faces like true ¡°pigs¡± in food heaven. As anyone who has eaten at a buffet knows, after a while, you ran out exquisite food, you started going for the not so exquisite ones. That¡¯s how we found ourselves watching Sex and the City ¨C Season V on Saturday evening.

Season five was half the length of a normal season. There were eight episodes only.

Aside from some funny lines and a few comic moments, nothing significant happened in this season. The episodes start to resemble more and more of Seinfield. The writers are running out of things to say, it is screaming for an end.

Above all else, I¡¯d call this season the ugly female clothing season. Every character, in every episode, was uniformly wearing the most ugly outfit possible. They resembled either table cloth, window curtain, or bed-sheet. It is the kind of dress that any woman in her right mind won¡¯t be caught dead in. What was the custom directors thinking?! Carrie, used to be the most fabulous dresser in the show, now was wearing the bucket shaped dresses that¡¯s probably only fit for pregnant woman.

Wait, was Sarah Jessica Parker pregnant? That might explain it!

In summary, unless you are also eating a DVD buffet, skip it.

Too Much To Say, Too Little Time

Crazy busy these days, both at work and off work. I wish I didn’t need to sleep, then I will probably have time to write all that I want to say… I’ll make a short list here that maybe later I could have time to fill in the details for each:

1. Watched Sex and the City season V.
2. Watched Cold Mountain
3. Changed Cell Phone Providers from SprintPCS to Verizon

The Price of Democracy

Really busy these days. Might have to work overtime this weekend and a few weekends to come. 🙁 Just want to write down a few thoughts that have been lingering in my mind.

NPR news has been filled with reports on Iraqi situation, whether to hold free-election early and risk a highly religious government installed by the majority of Iraqi voters.

I remember reading Where is Raed late summer and he was praying that the Americans would stay longer, otherwise, free election in current climate would for sure result in Mullah rule, thus converting Iraqi into another Iran.

But that is the price of democracy, isn¡¯t it? Majorities will is the will of the country, isn¡¯t that the definition of democracy, even when majorities will doesn¡¯t reflect the will of the US or the will of the western world? It is, after all, Iraqis¡¯ decision.

Maybe just like how an individual starts out as a hot-headed youth, goes through the period of many mistakes, and then he learns from the mistakes and mellows out. It was the growing pain. Countries have to go through a similar process. Just look at Iran! Over-imposed models don¡¯t work, at least not in that feverish land. Democracy could either ¡°grow out¡±* of a fanatic movement, like Iran has; or it could be slowly and spoonfed by its own iron-fist dictator, like Turkey.

*I understand ¡°grow out¡± is a misleading word. I have no intention of praising fanatic movement or credit any achievement to such madness. However, when a fanatic movement like the one Iran has endured happens to a country, its citizen soon or later will realize how ridiculous it is and fight for a more rational government. Culture Revolution came to mind as another example. In a way, it is probably a phase that¡¯s meant to happen to a particular country. The genius of democracy is the trust one places on ¡°majorities¡±, on average Joe¡¯s common sense. If one believes in democracy, one should believe in our fellow human beings to have the ability to govern and to tell good from evil, right from wrong, and sooner or later, a better model would emerge and be perfected slowly. But it must be an organic process.

Two Dramas – My First Opera Experience


Our minds work in mysterious ways. My first Opera experience last Friday became more interesting because of a side-drama went on in addition to Rossini¡¯s classic opera. Bay Area Friday busy traffic, a full garage, running in the Opera hall at the last minute, a confident usher that assumed too much, plus an first time Opera-goer could actually produce another comedy in addition to the one on stage–whom Rosina will ended up marry, Dr. Bartolo or Lindoro?

Last summer during the free ¡°Opera in the Park¡± performance in Golden Gate Park, we signed up for opera tickets at a great rate – two for one. Gui filled out the form and got two pairs of ticket, one pair for her and one for me. It averaged $20 per ticket.

The tickets we ended up with were for Barber of Seville at 8pm on Jan. 9th, 2004.

Last Friday I got off work earlier than usual at 5:30pm so I could have time to fight the traffic going back to east bay, picked up mom, and then barfed down a peanut butter sandwich while continued fighting traffic going north to the City. By the time I dropped mom off at the Opera house, it was fifteen minutes before eight. I fished one ticket out of my purse and gave it to mom; told her to go straight in, don¡¯t wait for me. Gui and Matthew should¡¯ve been there already.

I thought I still had plenty of time since the Performing Arts Parking Garage was merely two blocks away. Unfortunately there was a long line of cars waiting to get in. By the time I slowly moved up the line at turtle speed, the garage put up a ¡°Garage is Full¡± sign. I had no choice but to circle around and looking for parking spaces elsewhere. Eventually I parked in the Civic Center garage. It was five minutes before eight, and the Opera house was four long blocks away. I started running in my long wool skirt, trying not to trip. It was drizzling lightly.

I dashed in the front door, all out of breath. The gentleman took my ticket told me ¡°on the left¡±. I walked in the lobby, and saw there were two entrances on the ¡°left¡±, one was stairs going up, and another was a door way on the same level. Since this was my first opera and I never fully grasped all the different classes of opera/symphony hall seats, I had no clue where ¡°Balcony¡± was supposed to be. I decided not to climb the stairs before I figured out where my final destination was. I walked toward the formally dressed ladies and gentlemen holding programs at the left door way, thinking they would send me away if I didn¡¯t belong here.

A middle-aged gentleman with a smoothly trimmed mustache greeted me, ¡°Would you need help finding your seat, Ma¡¯am?¡± ¡°Yes, please.¡± He looked at my ticket and started walking down the isle toward the front of the hall. He stopped by two empty seats on the forth row from the orchestra and gestured for me to seat. I couldn¡¯t believe my eyes, first of all, wow! $20 could buy such nice seat?! Secondly, where is Mom and where are Gui and Matthew? My confusion showed, and I frowned, ¡°Are you sure this is my seat?¡± The nice gentleman seemed a little offended that I doubted his knowledge of the theatre layout. After all, who am I to question him? He pointed the numbers on the seat, ¡°Yes, of course, G123¡±. I saw the 123 engraved on the copper plate and had to seat down to satisfy the stern looking gentleman. He placed a copy of the program in my hand, ¡°Enjoy the show!¡± and walked away. ¡°Thank you!¡± I nodded. In my mind I was screaming ¡°Jesus!! I lost my mom!¡±
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NASA in the Year of Sheep

According to Chinese lunar calendar, the Year of Sheep is coming to an end on January 21, 2004. This lunar year began on Saturday, February 1, 2003, the return date for a NASA space shuttle: Columbia.

This morning I happened upon a radio program on the Mars Rover landing. The JPL scientist was giddy with excitement. ¡°It is a series of miracles! Everything went so well!¡± she continued on commenting on all the high-resolution images that communicated all these never before seen details of the red planet. ¡°The landing site is very likely the remaining of what used to be a crater lake. We are hoping to find some signs of life, maybe not as developed as a KQED listener, but at least some primal form of living creatures¡­¡±

In addition to Spirit, there will be a twin Rover landing on January 24, 2004. Its name is Opportunity. As the robots continuing their adventure around the planet, there will be more and more information beamed back to earth. Us viewers will get to see more fantastic three-d imageries.

I can¡¯t wait.

That February Saturday morning when I woke up to the first day of the Chinese New Year, I remembered the sparkling sunshine danced on my windowsill. I remembered being happy and full of optimism for a new year. Then all was dashed by the disastrous news came out of my radio alarm, it was set on NPR. I started crying and silently protesting, ¡°No! No! What an unfortunate omen that is! Which kind of year is installed for us then?!¡± I¡¯m not really a superstitious person. But this coincident really unnerved me.

¡°It was barely daylight when the breakup occurred. On NPR they’re speculating that it was metal fatigue. The engines aren’t powered at this point in the flight. Seven people on board. First Israeli astronaut. Debris is being found all across north Texas. CNN has a series of photos showing the Shuttle breaking up. They were emailed to them from a man on the ground in Texas.¡± – via Scripting News 2/1/2003

Despite all that had happened in this world in this turmoil year, the NASA engineers finished this lunar year with a ban. Scientists¡¯ stubborn persistence and curiosity may seem naive comparing to politician rhetoric and ambition, but it made me giddy and gave me hope. In the spiritual space, in the world of nature and man, some balance has been achieved. That, is a good thing.

The Year of Monkey is going to start with a promise and wonderment, as Opportunity joins Spirit on that far-away planet.

NASA-JPL: Mars Exploration Rover Mission
NASA: Destination: Gusev Crater

More on LORD OF THE RINGS

A very geeky little verse that I forgot to blog.
From mezzoblue, via zeldman:


One DIV to size them all
One DIV to pad them
One DIV to colour them all
And in the browser style them

haha! I know I know, you have to be a real geek to apprieciate this one! 🙂

Among my Christmas gifts, there was a set of Extended Edition DVD for Lord of the Rings – Fellowship of the Ring. Two discs worth of a newly cut movie that contains 30 minutes extra footage that didn’t make it into the theatrical edition. The movie’s composer Howard Shore had to compose new music to go with this “newer” and “longer” version. Then there are two discs, six hours worth of extra materials that covered the making of Fellowship of the Ring. Absolutely fascinating! Mi and I spent 3 nights watching all 4 discs. My co-worker expressed amazement that I’ve seen all four discs. I told him that I wished I could’ve spent more time with that world. Ah, the power of fantasy!

Here is a good review on this DVD set: Review with Large Images, from dvd.ign.com.

Originally I wanted to get some original conceptual drawings (THEY ARE SO BEAUTIFUL! Lyrical!) to show you. Trying to read one of the disc for its “2000 images”, spent 2 hours fighting with its stupid InterActual Player. It crashed my laptop N times and then continued giving me “video subsystem” errors! Fuming. According to InterActual’s website, it doesn’t work with XP! WHAT THE @($&#&$*#%^*#&%(#*&$#*@*##@*)@!

So you have to wait till i can get to those images from some other meanings. However, Alan Lee was one of the most famouse illustrator for Tolkien’s work. You can get some idea of his drawings here.

Any Lord of the Rings fan that’s worth his salt should own these “Special Extended DVD” sets. I’m going to buy the Two Tower set and will be waiting for Return of the King…

Artificial Morality

Sorry I’ve been slacking. It is just that when you are actually living your life, you are too busy to write about it. 🙂 heehee. I think that is a pretty cool-sounding excuse. Don’t you think?

Holiday is almost over. Here is an interesting article I just stumbled upon and found to be very interesting, geeky, yes, but interesting nonetheless. 🙂

Artificial Morality via Flammifer’s Blog.

Here is a little quote from the article to get you started:

I’m reading a book called “Artificial Morality: Virtuous robots for virtual games”, rather interesting. It’s basically about moral philosophy, but the approach is that of computer-simulated agents. I won’t get into to many details but the main idea is to show how morally constrained agents obtain better results in games like the prisoner’s dilemma – or, in other terms, to explore the rational basis for moral behavior.

Happy New Year, everyone!