Mysterious Force At Work

Due to some strange force of Cosmo, we had a succession of baby visitors (and their parents) to our house recently, aged from 11 months to 3 years old. Our cats and these little humans shared mutual fascination toward each other. It was also interesting to observe how each baby reflects his/her parents’ temperament so accurately. Even at such tender age.

I forgot how i stumbled onto littlevanities photostream. But i’ve been following her creations for a while. Loved her photos and what’s more, her commentaries under the photo. I’m a word person afterall.

Read the commentary at this photo today: Only such pleasures as are prudent and modest, where she quoted a passage from Mila Kundera.

“In everyday language, the term ‘hedonism’ denotes an amoral tendency to a life of sensuality, if not of outright vice. This is inaccurate, of course: Epicurus, the first great theoretician of pleasure, had a highly skeptical understanding of the happy life: pleasure is the absence of suffering. Suffering, then, is the fundamental notion of hedonism: one is happy to the degree that one can avoid suffering, and since pleasures often bring more unhappiness than happiness, Epicurus advises only such pleasures as are prudent and modest. …

The first phrase that caught my eyes was “pleasure is the absence of suffering”. I couldn’t believe my eyes as i read, re-read, and re-read it. How pessimistic one must feel to say something like that! Then as i finally forced myself to get over this phrase and read on, i realized pessimistic was the wrong word. Melancholy was a much better expression.
This, i can agree, although with much reluctance…

“Epicurean wisdom has a melancholy backdrop: flung into the world’s misery, man sees that the only clear and reliable value is the pleasure, however paltry, that he can feel for himself: a gulp of cool water, a look at the sky (at God’s windows), a caress.”

– Milan Kundera, Slowness, p.7-8

Making good progress at my birthday gift book stack. Finished “Predictably Irrational” (from Gui) last week (very interesting, recommended), started reading “The Europeans” by Luigi Barzini (from sis). On p65/267. It has been a hilarious read so far.

It has gem like this sprinkled on every page.
Starts with the United State’s “alarmingly optimism”… [keep in mind this book was published in 1983]

The United States must always simplify complex issues so that the common ill-informed man may understand them. Ill-informed men include those who are extremely well informed in their particular fields but innocent of anything just outside their perimeters, and unfortunately also at times certain inexperienced political office holders, including a few presidents…The United States may appear uncomfortably tactless and arrogant at times. It is the arrogance of the man who knows that he is right, that the problem at hand has only one possible solution for a righteous man, and that anybody who disagrees is wrong.

Europe has the contrary defects. It is pessimistic, prudent, practical, and parsimonious, like an old-fashioned banker. It has learned not to rush into anything, even if it is the obviously necessary or advantageous thing to do. It always prefers to wait and see. It enjoys delving into the complexity of things; the more complexities it can find the better. Europe looks for nuances, the bad side of anything good, the good side of anything bad. It believes the devil is never as ugly as he is painted, the future is never (or seldom) as appalling as one fears, but never, never as wonderful as one hopes. ..It is sagacious, and its frequent miscalculations are often the product of its excessive sagacity.

or this…on how “free flow of armaments” tempt some countries to start wars.

As soon as they acquire enough armaments, credit, a patchy ideology, and a Great Invincible Leader, they invade one of their neighbors. There is not even the need to find a valid excuse. Anything will do. Journalists and historians will later invent suitable philosophic, historical, or economic motivations. That’s their job.

I just finished the chapter on “The Imperturbable British”, can’t wait to read about “The Mutable Germans”, “The Quarrelsome French”, “The Flexible Italians”, “The Careful Dutch”, and “the Baffling Americans.” Here is from the ending paragraph on the British.

Still today, when one asks a Briton, any Briton, pointblank, “Are you European?” the answer is always, “European? Did you say European? Er, er” — a long thoughtful pause in which all other continents are mentally evoked and regretfully discarded –” yes, of course, I’m European.” This admission is pronounced without pride and with resignation.

State of Play

State of Play
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan / Billy Ray
Cast: Rachel McAdams / Ben Affleck / Russell Crowe / Helen Mirren / Jason Bateman / Robin Wright Penn

It is a tightly constructed story about special reporting done by serious journalists at a fictional newspaper “Washington Globe”. In addition to the familiar elements on any major story that could break out in Washington D.C. – a rising star Congress man, a sexual scandal, multiple murders, a possible corporate conspiracy, a couple of truth-seeking reporters, some not so competent cops, many corrupted officials – the plot has enough twists and turns to keep audience interested.

I enjoyed the movie and i couldn’t say i had figured out everything before the main characters did. So that’s quite something.

What interested me even more was the ever persistent undercurrent played out through out the story: the future of traditional paper based newspaper.

When the final credit started to roll, the curious audience who stayed till the end was treated to an educational quick documentary on how a newspaper comes into being – creation of the layout, converting layout into photographic negative, etching the newspaper image from the negative onto an aluminum plate, placing the plate onto the printing press, cutting the final paper, collate the papers into one set, bundle them together, load them into trucks.

It was a bit nostalgic to watch. Even though one of the main characters, the blog writer working along side the serious real journalist, said serious story like this should be read on paper. It is obviously something the script writer wants to believe, but i hope he has enough sense to understand he is simply romanticizing a lost cause.

The Internet is fast displacing the paper based newspaper as the main information source for the readers. It is a matter of time before serious journalist acknowledge the writing on the wall. Given the technology we have today, given the ease of publishing any story on line, why should we keep serious journalist special report to an outdated 19th century technology, as beautiful as it looked on screen, it is so redundant.

It reminded me of the scene in another movie, duplicity, where Clive Own character asked Julia Roberts character running around in a vast office building looking for a compromised copier in some random employee’s office to sent a copy of a “top secret” formula. While all she really needed to do was taking a photo of it with her cellphone and sent it out as an email attachment or a MMS message.

However beautiful and incredible piece of achievement something may look, an industrial process or a dinosaur, when environment changed, then it either has to adapt to that new environment or become distinct.

Still, it was a little sad to watch the end of something so beautiful.

New York Times just ran a great article on exact this topic: Dinosaur at the Gate , By MAUREEN DOWD. Published: April 14, 2009 on-line.

When I ask him if human editorial judgment still matters, he tries to reassure me: “We learned in working with newspapers that this balance between the newspaper writers and their editors is more subtle than we thought. It’s not reproducible by computers very easily.”

I feel better for a minute, until I realize that the only reason he knew that I wasn’t so easily replaceable is that Google had been looking into how to replace me.

Last Last Sunday: Sin Nombre

Started writing this almost two weeks ago, but got distracted and just had time to finish now…
It was a gorgeous day. We had a lovely brunch at Pork Store Cafe on Valencia, comparing to the original Pork Store on Height, the new branch in the Mission has a more spacious and upscale interior. The food was equally tasty.

Afterwards, we went for a hike up the Corona Height, admired the panorama view Downtown SF, the bay, Oakland and the mountains of east bay.

3rd stop was Golden Gate Park. We finally caught cherry blossom in full bloom. So pretty.

Then we headed to Kabuki to watch “Sin Nombre”.

It is a movie that ZM has been dying to see ever since we caught a glimpse of it during preview. I was somewhat interested. Gui and Matthew were not exactly enthusiastic. It turned out to be a great movie. We are all glad we saw it.

The movie had two plot lines. A Honduran girl Sayra embarked on a journey north with her father and uncle, out of Honduras, through Guatemala, caught a train in a small town in southern Mexico: Tapachula, and rode the train through Mexico. Their goal was to cross the border and to enter USA illegally. Another plot line was about a boy Willy Casper at Tapachula, Casper was a member of a deadly gang Mara Salvatrucha. The two plots were brought together in Tapachula. When both of them end up on the freight train going north.

It is easily one of the best movies i’ve seen. The acting was quiet but moving. The story was engaging. The characters were three dimensional. The cinematography was gorgeous, both of the landscape and of the people. The editing was flawless.

As the credits started to roll, both ZM and I were surprised to see a Japanese name showed up as director. Cary Fukunaga.

Matthew looked it up in his iPhone and started reading out Fukunaga’s quick bio while I drove us to dinner. He sounds so fascinating! “Grew up in Oakland, SF bay area. Japanese Father, Swedish Mother. This is his first movie. He wrote and directed.”

During dinner, i became the most lousy companion. I kept on looking up more info on Fukunaga, and almost missed my favorite dish. I kept up with my research after we got home and read till well past mid-night.

He is 32 years old and he is cute! 🙂