Thursday, July 12, 2018

REVIEWS/REACTIONS. Logan. John Wick: Chapter 2. Glow, Season 1. In a Valley of Violence. Bloodline.

"LOGAN" (2017), directed by James Mangold. [2] "John Wick: Chapter 2" (2017), directed by Chad Stahelski. Not bad actioners, actually. But obviously the much better one is "Logan," the tenth installment in the X-Men film series, as well as the third Wolverine solo film following "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009) and "The Wolverine" (2013). Old Man Logan (Hugh Jackman), or the aged Wolverine, defends his daughter Laura Kinney (newcomer Dafne Keen) from the villainous Reavers led by Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) and Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). 

         "Logan" is a very human superhuman movie, compared with other efforts of the genre, thanks to the intimacy and ferociousness of the chemistry between Jackman and 11-year old Keen, who didn't have to do a lot of talking to ignite fire onscreen. Admittedly, I was near tears at the end of the movie. The fight scenes are swashbuckling but not the "Iron Man" kind, the computer effects not too overblown. The movie managed to skirt away from stereotypes and thus gives us a truly dramatic action cinema. Could be the best superhero movie since several Batman flicks.

"JOHN Wick: Chapter 2" is a neo-noir action thriller. That's it. Great fight scenes as well similar to "The Matrix" but not too much to crow about the plot. This movie fits Keanu Reeves' driftwood dead acting style, as hitman John Wick, who goes on the run after a bounty is placed on his head. The only intimate side of the steely as bullet dude remains his relationship with his nameless dog. The movie also marks the first collaboration between Reeves and Laurence Fishburne since appearing together in "The Matrix" trilogy. Well-choreographed fights, like Hongkong Martial Arts movies of yore, I do love. And "John Wick" (1 and 2) got lots of these.

"GLOW." First season. Netflix. The series revolves around a fictionalization of 1980s syndicated women's professional wrestling circuit, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (or GLOW), which I loved. Admittedly. Yet this series? Not much. I lumbered all through 10 episodes, essentially due to lead actress Alison Brie's grip of her sheer comedic talent, but everything was predictably drained, backstories and characterizations and all. Yet critics praise the show. It received a 96 percent approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes, saying "With spot-on 1980s period detail, knockout writing, and a killer cast, GLOW shines brightly." Really. Entertainment Weekly gave the first season an A rating, calling it "a silly-smart masterpiece, with an ensemble cast entirely made up of breakout characters." It was silly, period. "Masterpiece"? Come on.

"IN a Valley of Violence" (2016), directed by Ti West. Stars Ethan Hawke and John Travolta. Plot: A drifter named Paul and his dog, Abbie, make their way towards Mexico through the desert of the Old West to start a new life. But then they made the random mistake of stopping over in a town called Denton. That's it. Paul had an altercation with the local baddie, the deputy, who then killed Abbie. Damn. You don't kill somebody else's dog. You know what I'm sayin'? Remember John Wick? I'd go berserk myself. You just don't kill somebody else's dog. 
         Yes, simple plot but this simplicity is rendered with understated class you'd be glued all through the excursion. Don't be so misled by the title though. This is not so violent, believe me. Topnotch ensemble acting. Well, Hawke and Travolta. But of course that's expected. And the support cast Taissa Farmiga and James Ransone. Remember them in "American Horror Story" and "The Wire," respectively? 

         "In a Valley of Violence" is fashioned after old spaghetti westerns, opening and end credits and all. But in the absence of a kickass Ennio Morricone soundtrack. No problemo. This apparently low-budget western is stripped of gunslinger whambam in favor of absurdist humor (“You, lay down and sleep. And you, lay down and dream on it!”) and non-stereotyped characterization/s. I mean, the bad guys here are just flawed, bumbling roaches. And the main dude isn't the suave pistolero that you'd expect. So if you got nothing big in the area of weekend movie/s, spare this one some time. Better than political argument on Facebook. 

"BLOODLINE" Season 3 or its final season. Unlike the first two seasons which kept me glued due to tightly-drawn characterization and potent storyline, channeled via exemplary acting (especially Ben Mendelsohn, Kyle Chandler, and of course, Sissy Spacek), the last season was lumbering and slow. I labored through it; torn between simply quitting or hmmm let's see how they'd resolve all the shit. But then that's it? The last frame was oh well what??? 

         This series was created by topnotch guys, Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman, who were also responsible with "Damages" and "The Sopranos," pretty awesome stuff. So they should be great. Yes, the first two seasons, sure. But like other series that simply got stuck on endgame, writers didn't know how to really end it all. In the case of say "Six Feet Under" and "Weeds," writers simply fastforwarded time and boom! Done. In the case of "Bloodline," I think they probably finally realized that they piled up shit so thick they didn't know how to make sense of all the crap later and just get over them. You know what I'm saying? So they left us viewers to hey what do you think? LOL! Okay, done. 

SOME of the movies above are available on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

First Amendment. Climate Change. Oil. Media. Stuff.

THE First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, ensuring that there is no prohibition on the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.

         Fast forward to 2000s. We do love oh how we love our Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press. Oh yeah! But we don't like people freely exercising their religion. Or it depends on what religion? You are stereotyped as this if your religion is that. If you don't believe in a God then you are cool? I guess, you believe in yourself. Independent thinker. Yup. Sweet. There is Freedom in America, a lot better than what others work around with somewhere. But our Freedoms live and love within the bounds of the Constitution. That is the fact of living in a society such as ours.

         Hence the practice of one's right boils down to Common Sense. Freedom is all about smart thinking. So if someone calls you a Moron, that's Freedom. Then calls you a MoronPremiumPlus+ that's also Freedom. If someone compares you with the most vile human being who ever lived? Freedom. An individual may call that way. But how do I call that personage? Hmmm. I reserve my right to hush. I'd rather write a love poem. It is my right or common sense to ignore morons.

IN 2016, the Department of Defense spent $585 billion, an increase of $1 billion versus 2015. This is a partial measure of all defense-related spending. The military budget of the United States during FY 2014 was approximately $582 billion in expenses for the Department of Defense (DoD), $149 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and $43 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, for a total of $770 billion.

YES. We need to talk about Climate Change. With or without Irma or Harvey. We should keep on writing and talking about Katrina and Sandy. And all the typhoons in the Philippines and tsunamis of the past. Yet many keep on arguing about the larger politics of polar extremes. This time, pointing fingers don't help. Jose is coming. No, he is not Mexican or Filipino. It is hurricane. These mediapeople and politicians need to spend those expensive airtime telling people where to get refuge or shelter, or enjoining people who got resources in excess to share part of their wealth to a calamity fund--instead of arguing about some Cabinet official's not so smart words. Again, there are 8,008,000 millionaires and 631 billionaires in the US. How many in the world? (Google it.) Yet only $2 billlion approved for this calamity drive so far?

MORE rant. Imagine this. All or maybe 75 percent of the globe's billionaires hand calamity victims all over the world $2 billion each annually, at least, no questions asked. With or without calamity. A Global Calamity Fund that keeps on building up each year as the rich keep on getting richer. Do you know that there are 2,043 billionaires in the world? Some 719 in Asia, and 631 in the US and North America? I am not even talking about millionaires. In the US alone, there are 8,008,000 millionaires. Imagine that!

FACT. Plants and factories run on oil. Plants and factories hire people in thousands. But then too much reliance on oil messes up the environment. Catch 22. Any government wouldn't be able to bring plants and factories up, and help stop trade balance by going further south, if environmental standards aren't laxed (and tax subsidies aren't ushered on the table). That's what happened in China (upon WTO membership in 2001) when American and European 1 percent brought plants and factories there. Now Beijing is spreading investments out globally, and “fixing” their environment by putting money on alternative energy. That is why there are factory jobs in the US again. That is why the Cabinet is replete with Climate Deniers. Do I have to explain when EPA was created? At the time of Nixon? Almost at the same time Washington struck a deal with Saudi Arabia for oil diggings (and importation from Canada et al), and US oil decreased production? We consume oil at 20+ percent annually despite slowed diggings in the West Coast. Figure that one out.

TO respond to a friend and elaborate on how immigrants (living in America) feel about US internal issues, whether they are naturalized citizens, visa-holding residents, documented or undocumented illegals. As long as a human being lives in the US, and as long as Washington's foreign policy and trade relations affect them and their families and their home/origin-countries, they have a right to speak their mind. America is still the most powerful nation in the world, irrelevant of China or Russia. Hence, it is due each and everyone to share their political thoughts. It is a global community with the US up there on centerstage. That's a fact that we in the US have to accept and be responsible with. One major reason why I chose to live here. As do other (famous) writers that influenced me. This is the stage to speak up. Hence the more we take responsibility with our rights the more we could espouse peace, and the more our voice will be heard.

PER capita income in the US is still relatively higher than most countries at $57,300. In fact, higher than Australia ($48,800), Germany ($48,200), and yup! higher than Canada ($46,200). And a lot higher than Russia ($26,100) and China ($15,400). Price of gasoline per liter is a lot more expensive in Hongkong, Norway, Netherlands, and the Philippines than in the US. Cost of electric power $/kWh is more expensive in Denmark, Germany and Spain (41 to 30 cents per kWh) than in the US (12 cents). Healthcare may be better in Canada and Taiwan, and even in Russia, but America can't always be the "best in life" or the "most awesome" all the time, you know. We are still cool. The good things we got may still be better. Or bestest. Mostest. Don't worry too much. Smile!

THE Chinese are the scapegoat. If things aren't doing fine, blame the Chinese. It's as though they invaded and colonized America and other countries just like how Queen Isabella ordered Ferds and Christopher to sail and grab some more land or how Alexander The Great and Napoleon ran over natives in some island and built their Twizzler factories there and forced people to speak Mandarin. It's as though they invented globalization or founded WTO. It's as though when products get here these didn't go through scrutiny by non-Chinese quality control and non-Chinese port inspectors. So on and so forth. The thing about the Chinese? We can diss and shame them anytime, yet they will still sell us lo meins with a Jackie Chan smile. And we buy `em because it tastes goodah! Then we say hey lois meinz is French, right? German maybe? Or Minnesota.

COST or price/s of gasoline in the US may not go up due to several reasons. But I think the apt question is, what is too high in terms of the gravity of our consumption (hence amount of supply as per demand)? The most affordable gasoline price in the world is $0.02 per gallon in Venezuela for a people with average daily wage of $16.14. Next is in Kuwait, $0.88 with $68.69 daily wage. Third lowest is US: $2.57 per gallon for daily wage of $156.34.
          Generally, those countries that produce a lot of oil also have relatively low gas prices. But that'd lose meaning when it comes to consumption. The US is the 3rd largest producer of oil (notwithstanding huge imports) yet it consumes a whopping 20+ percent of global consumption. Kuwait is #8 and Venezuela is #10 in production but they're not even close to the top 10 consumers. You might say those two nations are tiny hence they consume less. (Though Venezuela isn't "tiny.") But then Russia and Canada are the world's largest countries (and 1st or 2nd and 4th in oil production) but in terms of consumption, Russia uses only 3.6 percent (5th) and Canada, 2.8 percent (10th).

         Some oil-producing nations, like Norway, which is the world’s 15th-largest oil producer has one of the highest average gas prices: $6.44 a gallon. European countries tend to heavily tax fuel, and as a result, a handful of European countries are among those with the highest fuel prices. Yet except with Germany at #8 (provided Russia isn't Europe), the world's top oil consumers are hardly Europeans. The Netherlands, for one, is #1 in terms of use of bicycle. It's logic. If it's too expensive then the people work things out on the line of alternatives. I was told by friends there that obtaining drivers license in Scandinavian countries are so painstaking.
         I do believe that if America, especially with many factories going East, lessens reliance on fossil fuel, both industry and humanity, it'd help a lot in stalling the horrors of climate change. I do believe that if America, especially with many factories going East, lessens reliance on fossil fuel, both industry and humanity, it'd help a lot in stalling the horrors of climate change. But then can you imagine if cost of gasoline in the US goes up to $6/gallon or around European standards? That'd be the time when followers of Trump, Hillary, and Sanders will be on one spot. Maybe they'd finally agree. Uh huh.
NEWS. "The Democrats' Religion Problem." Secular candidates have a hard time winning the trust of religious voters, says a recent New York Times story. I concur. According to latest studies, some 70.6 percent of American adults identified themselves as Christian, with 56 percent saying religion played a "very important role in their lives," a far higher figure than that of any other wealthy nation. Meantime, irreligion is growing rapidly among Americans under 30. Yet not enough to swing votes, and if ever they are strong in some states, they are also divided, as what the Nov 2016 attested, as against the traditional religious with a potent mass base.

NEWS COMMENTARY. Observer Moshik Temkin agrees, "Historians Shouldn't Be Pundits." Or pointing at a historical figure (mostly bad ones) to accentuate current bad boy personalities is a bit off kilter. I am referring to all these asymmetrical comparisons that many love to throw out there. You see, comparing Donald Trump to Nixon and Hitler might be good for TV, but bad for history. Or Philippine president Duterte with deposed dictator Marcos, Putin with Stalin etc etcetera. Such a dig on oblique parallelisms (sic) only say many are history-dumb or history-clueless. And it's bad to the young's education. Who wants to read up a 2000-word history on that tiny iPhone? Let's be responsible sometimes.
NEWS. "White House Pushes Military Might Over Humanitarian Aid in Africa." African and American military leaders are uneasy that shifting to a military-heavy presence on the continent could hurt America's long-term interests. Oh well. Meantime, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are planning to propose a defense budget of $640 billion for 2018, a $37 billion increase over the Trump administration's previous $603 billion request. Uh huh.
NEWS. "American Companies Still Make Aluminum. In Iceland." The Trump administration blames China for the decline of aluminum production in the U.S. But where has it really gone? In Iceland. US companies are doing them there, with the Chinese of course. (Iceland signed a free trade agreement with China in 2013.) And BTW, Iceland is the seventh most productive country in the world per capita. And the world's largest electricity (hydroelectric and geothermal power) producer per capita, although 85 percent of their total primary energy supply is derived from domestically produced renewable energy sources. Aluminum, uh huh.

NEWS. "Luxury Cars Offer More Models, but Find Fewer Buyers." Automakers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz have failed to expand their market share by offering more variety, joining the industry's overall sales decline. Do you know how much auto companies spend for their research and development programs? BMW spent 1.32 billion euros last year. Daimler, owner of Mercedes-Benz, bankrolled 6.6 billion euros. 1 Euro is 1.13 US Dollar. Highest annual R&D budget, for all businesses, is Volkswagen's $13.5 billion. Toyota (#7 overall), $9.1 billion. More cars also mean more oil. Of course. You know the annual national budget of Ghana? $12 billion. Samoa? $280 million.
THE United States only has 25.8 internet subscribers for every 100 inhabitants. That is lower than the world's top ten most computerized peoples per capita, with 29 subscribers per 100 inhabitants. The top ten: Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, South Korea, Sweden, Finland, Luxembourg, Canada. Remember on election time, digital tech or computer reliance were supposed to be integral? So it seemed. We thought the 48 percent of Americans who voted in the last elections were mostly online debating on Facebook? Nope.
NEWS. "Movie Ticket Sales Sagging? Time to Bring Out the Toys." Okay, okay. I don't mean "toys." I mean, Toys. The once-catatonic corner of moviedom dedicated to merchandise has suddenly come alive as studios — walloped by vanishing DVD sales and determined to keep fans engaged between sequels — look at themed toys, clothes and home décor with renewed vigor. That's what I'm talkin' about. Recent revenue from licensed products — Wonder Woman action figures, Harry Potter iPhone cases, Scooby-Doo pajamas — totaled $6.5 billion, an 8 percent increase from previous year. Sell-out, hardsell, commercialization? Those words don't figure anymore. You reckon?

IT is logical and natural or the media to focus on the president of the most powerful country in the world. That's just a fact of journalism in any given time. The issue isn't about a clown or a good one in White House. It is how journalists tackle and treat a news story for the common good (of the people). More info dissemination than opinionated "analysis." Which is the true goal of media or journalism. Meantime, Trump as a clown actually works for him. Isn't it very clear yet that he is a man who savors attention, whatever attention that is, clownish the better? That's where his genius resides. Distraction. It is on the other side of the road. Though many doesn't recognize his brilliance, as though all brilliance/s are saintly, which is a flaw in how we as a people view leadership. Now when I talk like this, some people say I am giving Trump credit which is again a form of ignorance. 
        People these days simply want you on either polar extremes. If you don't hate Trump as they do, you are a pro Trump. Sick thinking! That thinking only makes the situation worse? Why. It widens the divide among people which only benefits powers that continually feast on our vulnerabilities. Anger is a form of vulnerability or weakness. Anger isn't strength especially when it is bottled up (ie online). Anger can be powerful if it is translated in pro active moves out there, as persuasion. A motivation for further study and planning. But anger all the time only puts off people, even those who are supposedly part of the choir. I stopped being angry at governments. They abused that anger to blind me more. I need to strategize and work things out. 

        That's how we help usher change. Maybe many are angry due to personal reasons. I have personal reasons why I should be angry at the government. But me I mine is just a small fragment of a nation. I have to know what others, those who are not my partisan friendships, are thinking too.

OF Presidents and Trump. I don't watch (or listen to) President Trump on TV. I never watched “The Apprentice” at all. I don't hate him. I just don't like him. But I am interested in the man because he is the President of the United States of America. If the president is Conan O'Brien or Kim Kardashian, I will read them as well. As a journalist, I receive full text/s of his speeches and whatever he said or says, as I receive other media feeds from White House Press Office from the time of George W onto Obama. Several numbers everyday, 24/7. I read all those news dispatches and official communication. If you are going to talk to me about America's affairs vis a vis working class and the global community as a voracious anti Trump personage, no go. Save it for someone else. But let's talk about the in's and out's, between-lines and hidden-lines, of whatever his government is doing. I like to learn and I'd like to share what I know or how I think. Don't teach me partisan anger or anger per se. I've been there done than that.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

SOME movie/TV series reviews

DUNKIRK” (2017), written and directed by Christopher Nolan. Now this is cinema that is meant to save cinema or the kind of computer technology frenzy cinema that proliferates Hollywood these days, or for decades now. First, check these out for authenticity. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema shot the film on IMAX 65 mm and 65 mm large format film stock. It made extensive use of practical effects, such as employing thousands of extras, gathering boats that had participated in the real Dunkirk evacuation, and using era-appropriate planes for aerial sequences. Nolan's screenplay was a mere 76-page manuscript, which means the movie was approached as more of documentary than a dialogue-reliant drama.

          First of all, the film wasn't the usual Hollywood formula that usually ends with a victory. "Dunkirk" was an evacuation, short of defeat. There are no American in the movie because of the fact that the Dunkirk evacuation, which happened between 26 May and 4 June 1940, in the north of France, was prior to US' involvement in Second World War. America entered the war after the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor the following year. The Dunkirk operation commenced after large numbers of British, French, and Belgian troops were cut off and surrounded by German troops during the Battle of France. In a speech to the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called this "a colossal military disaster."
         "Dunkirk" puts you almost right there. Sound editing shudders not like how a horror banger nails you. It's like an invisible fist punched you in the dark. And you can't strike back, the hit was emotional. The characters aren't the gun-savvy warriors that inhabit most war movies. These kids, those on land (and sea), don't even know how to shoot a gun or how to use one, actually, it seems. Yet the movie was about heroism. You don't need back stories to heighten the dramatic effects. Like where did British Army privates Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Alex (pop star Harry Styles) come from? Or what's the story behind the Shivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy), or civilian mariner/rescuer Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his two sons? The movie tells it as it was, play by play. No qualms, no chasers, no whatever in between. You don't see lots of movies with that kind of sincerity and honesty these days.

SILENCE” (2016), directed by Martin Scorsese, stars Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano, and Liam Neeson. The plot follows two 17th-century Jesuit priests who travel from Portugal to Japan to locate their missing mentor and spread Catholic Christianity. The story is set in the time when it was common for Christians to hide from persecution following the suppression of Japanese Roman Catholics during the Shimabara Rebellion (1637–1638) against the Tokugawa shogunate.

I could navigate this historical reading of Shusaku Endo's fiction account of Japan of the past more than Scorsese's 1988 film, "The Last Temptation of Christ" (based on Nikos Kazantzakis' controversial 1955 novel), which I labored to understand. Written partly in the form of a letter by its central character, Endo's novel explores the theme of a silent God who accompanies a believer in adversity. It was said that the Catholic Endo, who died in 1966, was greatly influenced by his experience of religious discrimination in Japan, racism in France, and a debilitating bout with tuberculosis when he wrote the book.
         I read a number of feedback and comment on Facebook a week after the movie was released in moviehouses. I differ with their views though. The movie (or book) wasn't about Christianity per se. For me, this 3-hour epic is all about, (1) religion as an expression of a people's culture. Thus, "God doesn't grow in the swamp" or "A tree that grows in one climate will not grow in the soil of another," and (2) There is nothing wrong in believing. It's how we believe and apply it in the real world that matters. Ergo fanaticism as professed by the preacher as an individual against common good as universal light.
        Despite Christianity being a minority religion in Japan, it is respected and accepted by the populace. A tolerance that isn't usually seen in a Muslim world or even in America where free observance of religion is written in the Bill of Rights. Most large Christian denominations, including Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodox Christianity, are represented in Japan today. Since the mid-1990s, the majority of Japanese wed in Christian ceremonies which has had a major impact on Japanese Christianity. I have a number of relatives who live in Japan, including my dad's sister who's married to a Japanese. Aunt Concepcion hasn't given up or renounced her devout Catholic faith despite living there since late 70s. Celebration of Christian holidays in Japan puts emphasis on sharing time with loved ones, either significant others or close family.
         "Silence" is a provocation more than a statement. I'd love to comment about the movie as art but then I watched it as historical reading more than an exercise of cinematic aesthetics although the movie isn't bad at all. If I am still teaching, I'd view this with my students as a starting point for a discussion on culture, religion, and tolerance amidst diversity.

LION” (2016), directed by Garth Davis, based on the non-fiction book "A Long Way Home" by Saroo Brierley with Larry Buttrose. Stars Dev Patel, with Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman. Indian-born Australian Saroo Brierley (born 1981), played by Patel, was accidentally separated from his biological mother at age 5. He was adopted by an Australian couple and, 25 years later, reunited with his biological mom. His story generated significant international media attention, especially in Australia and India. "Lion" is his story.

         Superbly acted and finely directed by Davis, his first feature, "Lion" managed to veer away from possible kneading sentimentality by doing away with usually lumbering narrative that spelled doom to a number of true-to-life features. Instead it did away with exploring romantic backstories and cut through the chase and brought us to the heart-wrencher: Saroo's reunion with mom. It was a celebration of life more than a dramatic tearjerker. Fine, fine writing.
         "Lion" is Dev Patel won a Best Supporting Actor nomination for this one at the 89th Academy Awards, alongside Kidman (who also got a supporting actress nomination). The movie also received well-deserved nominations for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Patel is that awkward IT guy in the TV series "The Newsroom." But I guess, you saw "Slumdog Millionaire"? Remember him? Now you do.
          Lost children is a familiar truth in India. According to a Track Child data, nearly 73,000 children or 30 percent are still missing despite a raft of initiatives to better protect and find these kids. Up to 70 percent of the missing children found are victims of trafficking and slavery. India has one of largest populations of children in the world, with more than 40 percent of its 1.2 billion people below the age of 18, according to its 2011 Census. An economic boom of the last two decades has lifted millions out of poverty yet many children continue to be born into dire circumstances with India home to over 30 percent of the world’s 385 million most impoverished children, according to a 2016 World Bank and UNICEF report. That fact makes "Lion" a must-see.

MARCO POLO,” The TV Series. A Netflix/The Weinstein Company production. I just concluded Season 1. The $90 million first 10 episode epic was massively lambasted by critics, calling it "An all-around disappointment." Okay, critics. Chill. Even before I ventured to watch "Marco Polo," I knew and I quite expected there'll be a slew of "cinematic liberties" that'd be traipsing around historical facts. Don't we know that already? This is, after all, a Bob and Harvey Weinstein project.

          Yes, it is true that Marco, with his father Niccolò and uncle Maffeo, passed through much of Asia, and met with Kublai Khan. But you'd surely ask, did the powerful Mongol ruler really trust the European trader that much to believe in most of the young man's advice (especially in regards military warfare)? Did Mr Polo engineer the construction of the catapult that eventually broke into the Great Wall that spelled the fall of the Song Dynasty? Did Marco dude fight like a gallant lieutenant/combatant? It's up to you to google those out but you know. Those are all swashbuckling visual/scripting bullshit. Although the series is based on "The Travels of Marco Polo," this is entertainment, first and foremost.
         But yes it's true that in 1271, Kublai established the Yuan dynasty, which ruled over present-day Mongolia, China, Korea, and some adjacent areas, and assumed the role of Emperor of China. By 1279, the Mongol conquest of the Song dynasty was completed and Kublai became the first non-native emperor to conquer all of China. Scholars also attest that Kublai had strong attraction to contemporary Chinese culture. He in fact invited Buddhist monks in North China to sit as his advisers. Kublai employed people of other nationalities as well, for he was keen to balance local and imperial interests, Mongol and Turk. Those are all said or shown in the series. But historical cinema is a provocation. For that alone, I watched "Marco Polo." True, Netflix and Bob and Harvey lost, all in all, $200 for the two seasons hence the series is shelved. No Season 3. No prob. Who wants Season 3? But I still wanna watch Season 2. I hope I'd watch Marco doing his real professional calling this time: Trader.
        Meantime, critics who often adore politically correct efforts like "Orange is the New Black" and all those other self-deprecating depression yarns (there's a lot, including a philosophizing but morose dog in "Downward Dog") will surely thumb's down this series. But hell I care. The sets that were put up in Italy and Kazakhstan were astounding. The fight sequences that feature the amazing Tom Wu (as Li Jinbao, Marco's guru) and the gorgeous Olivia Cheng (as Jia Mei Lin, assassin mom) were enthralling. Mr Wu is so fun to watch; oh yeah, I am a huge fan of Hongkong Martial Arts cinema.
Well, at least Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj loved the series. He presented creator John Fusco and the "Marco Polo" creative team with an award, honoring their positive portrayal and global presentation of Mongolian subject matter. However, Italian TV actor Lorenzo Richelmy as Marco seems so confectionary cutesy for the gargantuan subject matter. But Benedict Wong as Kublai Khan and the always-reliable Joan Chen as the Khagan's wife, Empress Chabi fit their roles. So for the sake of sheer provocation to dig in more of history, check "Marco Polo" out. I'd rather recommend this to younger viewers than "Orange is the New Black," or "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," or "Lady Dynamite." Uh huh.

AMERICAN CRIME.” Via Netflix. The third season takes place in North Carolina. One of the sub-stories focused on runaway youths. Or homeless youngsters. Such a phenomenon still puzzles and astounds me since I wasn't born or grew up in the US. Yet in my many years here I met and spent time with many homeless/runaways, mostly very young. Some of them I met in summer camps where I taught (organized by NGOs), and in shelters via friends, others I met as I organized concerts and events, many I met in bus terminals, public parks, diners, and Greyhounds. The circumstances that made most of them run were different from realities back home in the Philippines why youngsters leave home.

         Data. The number of homeless children in the US grew from 1.2 million in 2007 to 1.6 million in 2010. The number of homeless children reached record highs in years 2011, 2012, and 2013 at about three times their number in 1983. An "estimated two million [youth] run away from or are forced out of their homes each year" in the United States. Yet the word "forced out" needs to be qualified or defined. The difference in these numbers can be attributed to the temporary nature of street children in the United States, unlike the more permanent state in developing countries. Are they running as temporary way to show their family what they don't approve of? The classic rebelliousness? Or their homes are just that messed up? I once met a group of homeless kids in New York City who told me that they only "take off" on summer time, so when it gets cold, they'd go home. Quite a number say they didn't like their mom's (or dad's) new partner.
         Street children in the United States tend to stay in the state, 83 percent do not leave their state of origin. If they leave, street children are likely to end up in large cities, notably New York City, Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco. Street children are predominantly Caucasian and female in the United States. I don't have the exact data for this but based on my own encounter, yes I do agree most of them are young women, many end up prostitutes (like what was tackled in "American Crime").
        The United States government has been making efforts since the late 1970s to accommodate this section of the population. The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act of 1978 made funding available for shelters and funded the National Runaway Switchboard. Other efforts include the Child Abuse and Treatment Act of 1974, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. There has also been a decline of arrest rates in street youth, dropping in 30,000 arrests from 1998 to 2007. Instead, the authorities are referring homeless youth to state-run social service agencies, yet many of these are cash-strapped and/or understaffed like those that I wrote about when I was in Los Angeles.
        Meantime, another set of homeless youths are college students. Thousands of students at community colleges in the US are considered homeless or "precariously housed," either because they have been thrown out of home, evicted, or sleep in a shelter, car or abandoned building. The homeless college youth accounts for over one million of the young homeless population. According to the Free Application Federal Student Aid, also known as FAFSA, in 2013, over 58,000 students identified as homeless on their application.
          This is a social ill that is bothersome. Is it about the government? Is it about poverty in the house? Child poverty in America is 7 times the rate in Denmark or twice than in Germany. But I believe it's not just economics. The US is not a poor country. Hence I see this problem rooted deep within the family and how children are raised or how children behave within a family setting. I can go on and on and on. I am glad though that despite imperfections in our own home, no one in my family or kinship had to run like the 17-year old Shae and Coy in "American Crime." Very real and true stories. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

STUFF that I talk about: Freedom of religion, Julian's WikiLeaks licks, Superpower band aids, “Low Intensity Conflict,” the Japanese, Gasoline talk, and other stuff (from my Facebook Page).

FREEDOM of Religion? Many years before Donald Trump came to power and "travel ban" got into the heartland like the plague, I have read and heard about a lot of slurs--and namecalling and dissing--of the Christian faith. I myself has been told many times that Merry Christmas! is politically incorrect and culturally insensitive. A friend's child came home once weeping and wouldn't want to go back to school because she said she was bullied by schoomates for handing a Christmas card to another pupil, and was told by the teacher that it is not "correct" to greet Merry Christmas at all. Then these days, I hear of many Muslim people being stopped or questioned for their faith. Recently, children of Muhammad Ali were detained in a Florida airport and asked, "What is your religion?" Is it unconstitutional to make a Catholic or Baptist or Mormon or Seventh Day Adventist etc uncomfortable or awkward or is it unlawful for a police officer or airport staff to stop someone who may be Muslim? Is the word "unconstitutional" or "constitutional" the key? Let's see.
         The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, ensuring that there is no prohibition on the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.

         More than that, America tells the world that this country is where utmost tolerance of Faith happens. I came from a country that is 80.5 percent Catholic Christian yet I see an active co-existence of religions. Almost all summer feasts are a melding of Christian and tribal/indigenous peoples rites. Non-Catholic or non-Christian students are allowed non-adherence to flag ceremony or wearing of ROTC/military uniform, some girls are okay not to wear pants or sports shorts on Physical Education drills etc. No problem. Not even up for discussion. Muslim traders freely and peaceably engage Christians in commerce in open markets. A vocalist for my band years ago who is half-Muslim sings rock `n roll on a usual rocker outfit and then wears burqa when she worships in a Muslim mosque. It is common disrespect to even ask her why. My family and clan have been dealing business with upland tribes (who are not necessarily Christian) for many many years; some ended in intermarriages as well. Muslim Mindanao island has been granted autonomy as a people. (You may google ARMM for more info.) There may have been some pronounced insensitivities leveled at other religions (beyond Catholicism) but those are kept within one's private enclave. In other words, those are not tolerated by community and society and government.
          America is 70.6 percent Christian. In a 2013 survey, 56 percent of Americans said that religion played a "very important role in their lives," a far higher figure than that of any other wealthy nation. Yet recent surveys say the US is becoming less religious. Irreligion is growing rapidly among Americans under 30, says a 2012 study. This is another aspect of people sentiment that, I believe, played a huge part in current election behavior in America. While half of the citizenry profess religion (and/or Christianity) the other half, doesn't. And since only 50 percent of Americans vote, that'd mean the 70.6 percent Christian fraction do matter in terms of voter-groundworking. That'd mean, election advocacy should focus on that cultural data. America cringes over economic woes, irrelevant of adherence or non-adherence to a church. That is a fact. Hence people could come together as one community for common benefits, beyond religion or irreligion. Mutual goodness.

         What's going on these days with Muslim nationals in America should be a wake-up call for the entire nation. We are guilty. As a cop stops a motorist who looks like Arab (hence Muslim?) then lets him go--a neighbor complains about Christmas decors in a family's own backyard then goes back to work. It is not really a question whether it is constitutional or unconstitutional, lawful or unlawful. I believe, making someone feel like an outcast or outsider due to his/her religion is downright inhuman.

SPYING ACCORDING to MR JULIAN. First, I am not saying that Julian Assange's WikiLeaks leaks are untrue. Of course those are SO TRUE. It is as clear as daylight, as clear as a zombie walker's bite off a Walking Dead cast's butt on Sunday AMC. But don't we know all these already? Especially in this era of "internetting”? I am not even talking about Homeland Security's "warrantless" cellphone searches or Mr Snowden's supposed bombshell years ago--and how about going back to McCarthyism and/or the Red Scare from 1947 to 1956, characterized by heightened political repression as well as a campaign spreading fear of influence on American institutions and of espionage by Soviet Union's agents. In fact, surveillances and spying on citizens is a global thingy since way back when. But let's time-machine our app to the year 1947, when president Harry S. Truman took steps to counter the Soviets' influence in Europe via a program called "Containment."

         Even during the Chinese Civil War in 1949 when the United States backed Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang against Mao Zedong's People's Liberation Army, spying was a strategic weapon. US involvement was a focal issue. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) sliced down Truman's defense budget, yet he continued fighting the Cold War (against the Reds) albeit effectively. Spying were all over in ensuing years as the US and allies battled Communism's growing influence: Cuban Revolution of 1959, Berlin Crisis of 1961, conflicts in the Third World (1953 Iranian coup d'état, 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état, Congo Crisis, Vietnam War, coup d'etats in Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Operation Condor, Six-Day War, Task Force 74, War of Attrition, Yom Kippur War, Ogaden War, Angolan Civil War, Indonesian invasion of East Timor etc etcetera). I can go on and on and on and cite Washington involvement/s which Mr Assange supposedly leaked as well, right? Damn, don't we know all these already?
         Then there was the so-called "Second Cold War" from 1979– 1985. Then the supposed end of the "War" when Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan signed the INF Treaty at the White House in 1987. Those were the years when the Soviet economy was stagnant and faced a sharp fall in foreign currency earnings as a result of the downward slide in oil prices in the 1980s. What is the common denominator in those spying years? USSR/Russia and the United States. Julian Assange? Tell me what is the connection. And then he threw another diversionary bone. And damn some of us just bit it. And how Kremlin loves this! Expect some oil treaty singing soon.

         BTW Russia isn't as "poor" anymore as the time of Perestroika and Glasnost. Yet still Vladimir Putin and his cohorts don't know how to diversify. The Chinese helped them out but hey they want to up their game some more. Maybe he needs the art of the deal? I digress. Back to my NBA game. Warning: You ain't going to distract me starting March 14. March Madness, ha! Spying on my ceviche and Blue Moon is fine though. Whatsoever. Whatsover.

IT saddens me to think that some (or a lot of) people aren't aware that when a superpower aids a smaller nation—it is not one-way dole-out system. Such a thing never happened in the history of humankind. The aid comes with certain conditions that are forged via bilateral agreements, summit conferences, and treaties. Nothing is free or “I will rescue you like I am Super Mother Teresa!” in this world. Hence, no nation should exert power over the other just because the former is perceived as “super” against the latter which is seen as “weaker.” 
          There are always negotiations, compromises, then agreements for mutual benefits. Some people need to put more attention to historical data and current events more than the crisscrossing strobe lights of Facebook walls and billboards. Read and find out. Ask and listen. Life isn't a set program. It is a continuum. Years ago, the silent smiley dude from Guangzhou was just handing out Lo Meins somewhere in Haight-Ashbury. Now he's the big boss at Bank of China that just bought out your favorite 5-star hotel. The tiny nation that used to beg money from the IMF recently loaned millions of moolah to the same lending organization. There's no more Cold War, only WikiLeaks. Times change. Powers tilt. And now there are gluten-free ramens.

I WANNA say this again. If I criticize your candidate, that doesn't automatically mean I am for the other candidate. And if I say something good about another candidate, that doesn't follow that I am about to say a bad thing about your bet. I could reverse the equation next. The world doesn't always involve polar extremes. That just happens in election time--because the social order calls for votation of leadership/governance or pertinent issues. But humans are not black and white. We compromise. We negotiate. Then we agree, 4 or 7 out of 10. Then we live our life on our side of the fence—and come out on fiesta time or Super Bowl and enjoy. Enjoy!

LOW intensity conflict or LIC is the use of military forces applied selectively and with restraint to enforce compliance with the policies or objectives of the political body controlling the military force. The term can be used to describe conflicts where at least one or both of the opposing parties operate along such lines. As those who are informed would certainly concur, the 1 Percent is the “political body” that excises compliance. Such subliminal trick in the shadows (sic) is more accentuated by “divide et impera” or Divide and Rule—or gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into pieces that individually have less power than the one implementing the strategy. The concept refers to a strategy that breaks up existing power structures, and especially prevents smaller power groups from linking up, causing rivalries and fomenting discord among the people. Then zoom in on Social Media and how it worked toward that end before election day. Remember The Matrix? The plug at the back of our neck has taken over smart-sense.

I HAVE been receiving press feeds from the office of Narendra Modi, prime minister of India. He is an interesting leader. His policy initiative for "inclusive development" is praised by many financial analysts. "The Indian stock market's greatest hope!" says one. He is also adept at using social media. The second-most-followed leader in the world (with over 17.9 million followers on Twitter as of February 2016), behind only Barack Obama. And ranked #2 behind Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a list of 30 top-performing world leaders by a Japanese market research firm.
         Meantime, look out for India. The long-term growth prospective of the Indian economy is positive due to its young population, corresponding low dependency ratio, healthy savings and investment rates, and increasing integration into the global economy. The Indian economy has the potential to become the world's 3rd-largest economy by the next decade, and one of the two largest economies by mid-century.

         BTW, India is the 3rd largest producer of crude steel. It also has one of the fastest growing service sectors in the world with annual growth rate of above 9 percent since 2001, which contributed to 57 percent of GDP in 2012-13. The IT industry continues to be the largest private sector employer in India. India is also the third largest start-up hub in the world with over 3,100 technology start-ups in 2014-15. India ranks second worldwide in farm output. The Indian auto mobile industry is one of the largest in the world with an annual production of 21.48 million vehicles (mostly two and three wheelers) in FY 2013-14.

FACTS. Or facts to ponder. In re recent Berlin market attack. A record-setting 1.2 million first-time asylum seekers applied for international protection in the 28 member states of the European Union in 2015. That's more than double the previous year. Three main countries of origin for asylum-seekers in 2016: Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Compared with the previous year, the number of Syrians seeking protection doubled to 362,800, the number of Afghans nearly quadrupled to 178,200 and the number of Iraqis multiplied by seven to 121,500.

         According to Pew Research, Germany has been the primary destination for asylum-seekers since 2012 — a position it previously held in the late 1980s and 1990s when it received nearly half of Europe’s asylum applications. Over the past 30 years, at least 3.6 million applications were filed in Germany. That’s nearly one-third of applications in Europe for that time frame.
        In 2015, the highest number of first-time applications for asylum was registered at 441,800 in Germany. After Germany, the other top nations for accepting refugees were Hungary (174,400, or 14 percent), Sweden (156,100 or 12 percent), Austria (85,500 or 7 percent), Italy (83,200 or 7 percent) and France (70,600 or 6 percent).

OIL/GASOLINE TALK. America will not run out of gasoline. Never. Just a little bit of “Hey, easy up on driving to here and there, okay?” Even if Saudi Arabia dries up—Texas, California, Alaska and North Dakota etc still have so much reserves, most of them inactive due to environmental lobbying. The United States is the world's third-largest producer of crude oil—behind Saudi Arabia and Russia. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, the US was the largest oil producing country in the world, following oil discovery at Oil Creek Pennsylvania in 1859. America rose to power due to oil that kicked up industrialization many years ago. Oil is power. It's just that we consume oil so much! Americans rank #1 globally in oil consumption. We consume approximately 19 million barrels on a daily basis, or 6.9 billion barrels per year. President Obama mobilized some oil fields in the West Coast on his first term to slow down a bit importation but faced massive protest from people who love to drive that vehicle but are against diggings. From being a major exporter, the US turned into importer of large-scale products (from oil). That, I believe, is one major reason why Washington let China at WTO (2001) and Russia (2012)--making globalization the name of the 1 Percenter game. China is 4th behind the US in oil production. Canada is 5th—remember the Keystone pipeline issue?

THE JAPANESE. Yes, the Japanese. Their work ethic and fun madness. When I say Work, I am talking about the #3 economy of the world—for a country that is smaller than California. And for a people that are planet earth's top 3 in life longevity. Facts. Do I know Japan that much? I don't pretend I do know a lot beyond fillet'ing a tuna for sushi or “Watashi wa, anata o aishiteimasu!” But I spent some time in Japan in the `90s and I have quite a number of relatives there who intermarried with the Japanese--like my Aunt Connie, sister of my dad. “Kon'nichiwa, oba?” Japan also occupied us in World War II—but that's the past. We forgave and forgot. In fact, Japan is on top 3 of aid givers to the Philippines these days, especially at a time of typhoon calamities. And well, Japan is near where my islands are—we shop, we frolic, we work out there.

         Yes, the Japanese are earnest at work and chill at leisure! Do you know that the fun TV shows “Wipe Out” and “Iron Chef America” were all original Japanese? “Takeshi Castle” and “Iron Chef.” Hello Kitty is Japanese. “Haro, Kiti?” Many favorite Hollywood movies are remakes of mostly Akira Kurosawa gems like “Seven Samurai” and “Yojimbo.” His Kagemusha” and “Ran” also influenced a lot of those gigantic CGI battle scenes. Horrors like “The Ring” (Ringu) as well. My daughter Donna loves Japanese movies. My son Duane's many creative madnesses is shibari contemporary art. Etc etcetera. Do you know that elderly porn is a bestselling UG business out there as well? Who says the Japanese are all work and ninja? An 87-year active fisherman that I met in Shukunegi revealed to me the Secret of Life: “Sake in the morning. Sushi in the afternoon. Sex in the evening.” Anata wa watashi o rikai shite imasu ka? Hontoni? Shinken ni? Dig? Dig.
EVIL HAS NO COLOR. G7 or Third World. Left or Right. Evil Has No Nametag. Evil is Evil. News. The Republican Party's office in Hillsborough NC has been firebombed. As expected, Social Media blared with vitriol, accusations, analysis, theories and stuff. Public opinion is always good in the long run albeit annoying at times. But what irks me, and I say this with due respect to some good friends of mine, who probably said words out of disgust and sadness—is when we categorically single out or liken such darkness to certain groups of people or ideology or even economic standing. I just read some people post that such an evil act (GOP bombing) is synonymous to a Third World mindset. That a poor country is automatically connected to a gruesome display of political (if it is) mindlessness and violence. Which is of course historically inaccurate.

         While election-related chaos and killings do happen in impoverished nations, it doesn't mean they have monopoly of this evil. America has its own share of internal mayhem perpetrated by groups like Weather Underground and Symbionese Liberation Army, Japan has the Red Army and Germany, Baader-Meinhof etc etcetera. If we want to stretch that further, small underdeveloped countries don't or never invaded another country to excise pain and misery upon the vanquished—as the case with superpowers. Makes me expound deeper why at the recent Asean summit, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte presented a visual recitation of the Bud Dajo massacre during the American colonization of the islands in late 1890s/early 1900s when US media went to town criticizing him for killings in his Drug War campaign. It's a simple case of look at yourself in the mirror first before you look at me. Bilateral (friendly) agreements don't bear mutual gains if we start things off with accusations—more than we discuss how to jointly solve problems. Evil is evil. It has no skin color or social standing et al. Yet it lurks in the shadows of humanity's smiley-faced front office. We can minimize or slow its onslaught down by at least being sensitive enough not to point fingers at others who happen to be different from us. Peace!

[Religious art by  Sanjay Patel and Frederic Clay Bartlett]