Friday, January 30, 2009

Spears me baby, one more time!

It's not like Britney Spears is known for being a great songwriter or anything, but I love these two covers of her oeuvre:

I heard this cover by Travis on KCRW years ago. You might have heard it since then. I'll be volunteering during the KCRW pledge drive next week, so if you want to support all the cool stuff that they do, consider giving them a call!

I think this cover was covered for use in the Lindsay Lohan remake of Freaky Friday, so double coverage there.

Pandora turned me on to Yael Naim, probably from my Feist channel. Birthweek circumstances gave me the opportunity to buy some new music so I picked up her record and have really dug it so far.

In case anyone is curious about the treats I had out for my birthweek celebration at LindyGroove last night, I bought three flavors of ice cream and sorbet (Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs, Cardamom and Lemon Basil) from Carmela Ice Cream at the South Pasadena Farmers' Market to go along with a Croix de Lorraine cake that I also purchased there. They were thoroughly eaten, including the Lemon Basil sorbet which had melted.

The birthday dance was a mob and was over before everyone who wanted in could get in. So I guess if anyone is at Memories tonight they can catch up with me there. I'm planning to see The Class in a little bit and eat at Lucky Devils afterward.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Blood in the Gutter and Blood on the Sand

Two considerations today, they're both oddly sexual though all of the links and pics that I will post are safe for work, more or less.

Thanks to Sylvia Sykes who reminded me in her very cool 16 things (one of those Facebook chain letters that I usually ignore but in this case found to be a very compelling read; I mean if you know or know of Sylvia, you're probably at least a little curious about her!) about the author of one of my favorite books:

The Curious Sofa, A Pornographic Work by Ogdred Weary

Of which, this is the first page.

I'm honor and duty bound (no spoilers here!) not to say any more about this book in public, but it's easily one of the greatest technical works visual storytelling genius that I have encountered. However since I've spoiled a little bit in the title of the post, if you understand Scott McCloud's notion of blood in the gutters, then you'll have an idea of what I mean. If you read this and the only consideration you have is that "it's weird" then you probably should read it again until you see.

If you read this and approach me about the book, we will have a conversation.

As a follow up to my post about The Other Sexual Storytelling, I think it intriguing to link to Tony Comstock's latest blog, YouTube, Iran, and Gay Sex. This link is also troubling in an entirely different way. Go read it now, then watch the video and we'll discuss it later.

I'm really not ready to talk about it yet. I haven't built up the context for conversation.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Universo Week of me!

My usual birthweek celebration starts soon (um, I don't know... tomorrow? Schedule below!) And I almost never get presents, at least not historically. I guess people usually don't have an idea of what to give me. Which is why I think it's cool that Amazon now has a Universal Wish List, that lets a user add items from any site they want. This lets me get as obscure as I would like to be. I have included at least a few items that people CAN'T buy, because why break with tradition?

(Oh and the complete series of the Wire is currently available at $134.99, which is 50 bucks more expensive than the price I got it yesterday and still a hundred bucks lower than retail. Go get one!)

Just to give you an idea of my lack of present-accumulating prowess, last December, I got three presents that weren't cash. One was the new Nerdcore calendar (thanks Mike!) and the other was two pairs of boxer shorts - one featuring Stewie from The Family Guy (and boy do I hate that show) and the other emblazoned with a skull and the logo from Miami Ink; since the only person I know who might be interested in that also is a producer on the show, extra-awkward. Anyway, it's nice to have new boxers. At least they're comfortable. But Mike made it clear why people had trouble knowing what to get me: can't get me games because I probably already have them and what else does anyone know about me? Mike does understand that I like nudity and nerdiness, so his present is probably the most me-appropriate item I can remember receiving. The other item in that me-appropriate list was a hand-made clock featuring the cover of the first issue of Zot!, and I took that so dearly that I nearly ruined my life over it. Long story and not for reading.

I really didn't mean for this post to be a plug for Amazon; I think it's interesting to see the items that people crave. That's what I'm after here. I really don't expect someone to go buy me the Vivid-Ed titles or Sex Scenes (how awkward would that be? Maybe awesomely awkward!) but I really appreciate the thought that someone might try to learn me from a consumer perspective. It's also a list for myself of things that I should remember to buy.

Anyway, back to the original reason I was posting. Here's my schedule for the week:
Tomorrow: dinner in Little Ethiopia with a cast of dozens.

Sunday: Farmer's Market breakfast, Pitchcar tournament at Game Empire, open gaming and dancing at the final night at The Derby (I'll be verklempt) featuring Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five.

: Disneyland (free admission, baby!) and The Floor, and probably dinner at Lucky Devils next door! The Floor is probably the coolest dance place I have visited and Lucky Devils has the best veggie burgers (made in store, not packaged) that I have had.

: Paladino's

: Open gaming at Game Empire

: Lindy Groove (I'd like to invite 5 non-experienced folks by Tuesday. Let me know if you want in)

: Stompy Jones at Memories!
Here's a video from The Floor:

I'm gonna plug the hell out of this place, because I want everyone to be there!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, We are Floating in Space.

I have been spending time listening to recordings of Jack Kornfield, a leading Buddhist teacher, over at D.I.Y. Dharma. There's a lot there - hours and hours of listening.

I have never considered myself a spiritual person, and generally consider myself an Atheist, a Discordian, and a libertine. I remember when I first understood that I did not believe in a God; that what people learned was more often than not used to control them. I was riding my bike with a friend and he suggested that the Devil was the person who made you fall off and get hurt. The rational side of my brain suggested that this idea of Satan was there to give people an easy out; that people did not have to be responsible for their pain if some outside force had exerted itself upon them. So I said that I didn't believe in a Devil and shortly thereafter didn't believe in God either.

In my later experience, there appeared to be just as much hypocrisy as benevolence with those of faith. Gang members would return from prison having been baptized born-again Christians, often to repeat their crimes but now forgiven; religion would be used as a means of social exclusion; wars fought mindlessly; religious leaders would suggest ideas that I found disgusting and their followers would simply nod their heads and follow the party line.

That's no different with mainstream Atheism. I'm really bothered that significant Atheists can be so disrespectful to those with other belief systems. I understand where this anger comes from, but I don't feel that it helps in any real discussion. Maybe it helps some folks feel a bit more empowered. I don't know.

I'm neither a fan of the hyper-rational memes being suggested - for instance that the only things that exist are the things that you can see and touch. I've been an irrational Atheist for as long as I've known and that works for me. I feel that the God-meme is a device that can be used in many ways. However, it is fine enough for me to act in kindness and to understand when people don't believe or behave the way I would.

Let's not suggest that I fault people for their spirituality. In fact I applaud the search for meaning in a person's life. There are problems in the application to my reckoning, but it's also kind of beautiful.

I've spent at least a little time studying Robert Anton Wilson and Aleister Crowley, the Kabbalah and the I Ching. I've read the Bhagavad Gita and now I'm listening to Jack Kornfield.

I hadn't seen this video before writing this post, but the song has always moved me:

Spiritualized, Ladies and Gentlemen, We are Floating in Space

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Other Sexual Storytelling

I was surprised this morning to see myself name-checked on Tony Comstock's blog, (one image on link not safe for work, however the post is interesting so check it out!). The post regards the history of the MPAA - those folks who make the movie ratings and the progression of the X rating through the NC-17 rating. I responded again with a consideration about sexuality in narrative, stories where graphic depiction of sexuality is warranted, at least where I believe it to be warranted.

For those not familiar with Comstock Films, they produce award-winning, sexually graphic documentaries featuring couples discussing their relationships and sex lives, intercut with footage of their lovemaking. I've only seen Matt and Khym, but I'm curious to see more.

Here's a portion of my response, with included links:

On the whole though, doesn’t the cinema’s barren approach to sexuality reflect the lack of discussion that society has put into it? That we feel that sex is a “dangerous topic,” means that we associate it with darkness. It seems to me that many folks feel the need to talk about sexuality in hushed tones and thanks to you for endorsing a more open view.

Perhaps strangely, I find the occasional joyful sex trip in comics more than cinema. Even though I grow tired of the industry on the whole, it does seem to have room for folks who couldn’t (or don’t want to) get their stories told anywhere else. A couple of light-hearted porn strips like Xxxenophile (NSFW) or Small Favors makes the porn comics world worthwhile. I still want to see serious discussion of Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls.

The last link brings up the interview I did with Melinda Gebbie a couple of years back. Part two of that interview can be read here: Lost Girl Found. I'm really proud of that interview, so I'd love for more people to read it.

This whole discussion brings up some thoughts to me. For purposes of discussion, I generally think of the label of "Porn" as pertaining to stories told in order to help get someone off, or to inspire its audience to touch themselves or others. More often than not it's the narrative version of a lap-dance or a virtual brothel. It's a very profitable market and has always been, as far as I know.

The question I'm considering at the moment is about that line between Porn and other sexually graphic storytelling (see, I don't even have a word for it yet!). One significant difference is that Porn more often than not has not much to it in a literate sense; the goals of the characters are simple and predictable and it seems that there is really no potential for growth or evolution, those elements of story that make us relate to stories in emotional, intellectual or spiritual ways. I'm reminded of Victorian porn ("I'm spending! I'm spending!") though the formula probably goes back a bit further.

Perhaps it works differently in pornographic novels. Pornucopia, by Piers Anthony is probably the first that I read and for an obscure book which I only read once, I want to assume that it was wholly influential to my sexual worldview, or at least the way I view sex in fiction. It is self-proclaimedly pornographic, but I remember relating to and caring about the characters, especially the main character, Prior Gross. Maybe other porn novels are better, but I haven't read many. This was wild for me, back in my Xanth-reading days. Maybe what made it fun was its airy quality, like reading those pun-tastic fantasy stories.

It seems to me that the other sexual storytelling (would anyone like to suggest a phrase?) is more often than not quite bleak, as Tony Comstock suggested. When an art-house director approaches graphic sex, the results are often depressing. That might have more to do with art-house directors than the notions of narrative sexuality, but what are you gonna do?

Going back to the Fight or Fuck post, I think that these impulses are generally exclusive, and I still endorse an inclusive worldview by far. However, now and then I have a new conversation and realize that the sex and violence aren't mutually exclusive. I would hope that the two activities were separate, but life is occasionally more complex than the way I would wish. Sexuality can be joyful, but it can also be traumatic.

Maybe it's that last that brings out the navel-gazing in the bulk of film-makers. I believe that sexually graphic storytelling has a potential to be much more than that; healing, uplifting, inspiring, revelatory. I wonder if these kinds of stories will grow out of the porn world or out of projects like Shortbus or Comstock Films. All I can hope is that those stories come eventually and that the world is less afraid when they do.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Film Genre: Pornography

If you've had a decent amount of conversation with me, you'll know that I'm an advocate of pornography. At some point I'll have to rehash my history with the genre, but I think I'll save that for later.

Eon Mckai and Kimberly Kane spoke in a class at my alma mater, UCSB. Film Genre: Pornography. Apparently the class started the year after I graduated. I wish I had been there.

I've been following his work since Art School Sluts, and anyone who wants to use a moniker after the lead singer of Fugazi is okay by me. I've try to make it to the DVD release parties when I can. Eon is a decent fella if you ask me.

Art School Sluts, by the way, is as far as I know the first porn film to have been inspired by a comic book and which also preceded it's legit-film adaptation. If you haven't seen Art School Confidential, by Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff, I'm not sure that it improves upon the source material, but Mckai's film is a trippy take on the subject.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What I wore on New Year's Eve

In trying to figure out how to post pictures on blogger, I'm dedicating a post to the guys who made the jacket that I wore on New Year's Eve.

It's from these guys called 7 Lightning Bolt. I picked it up at the Hollywood Farmer's Market, where I get my weekly vegan soul food and raw cane juice breakfast every Sunday. It was during one of these breakfasts when I looked up from the gutter and saw this hanging at the back of their booth. At the time I bought it, it was one of a kind, but they assured me that they'd be making more. If you know me, don't buy it. I'd hate to have an embarrassing fashion faux-pas. Otherwise, they have a lot of incredible, hand-stitched designs.

I want to buy another jacket from them at some point. It'll have to wait until the budget opens up again. Maybe before my birthday.

Tangentially, have I mentioned how much I love the Amazon Universal Wish List? You can add items from any site. Almost no one knows how to buy presents for me, so this invention really brightens my afternoons.

Monday, January 5, 2009

This is how Hollywood feels to me.

I was watching Commentary! The Musical, which is one of the commentaries on the Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog DVD, all done in song. It was in the third act of the commentary when I heard something that reminded me of the brief time I really wanted to be an actor in Hollywood, about the early-to-mid 90s. I even had a stand-up act, which focused on growing up the only Asian kid in East Los Angeles. One of my bits was about how there were no Asian role models for me, except for Short Round from Indiana Jones and Hong Kong Fuey. I've written about that elsewhere, but it bears repeating.

Anyway: here are the song lyrics from the Dr. Horrible website:

Asian in the Movies
Music and Lyrics by Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon
Performed by Maurissa Tancharoen

As far as I'm concerned, the song gets it right. So kudos to Maurissa Tancharoen for expressing this sentiment through a venue that might actually be heard by an audience.

Things haven't changed all that much, Harold and Kumar notwithstanding. Even Whedon's shows, of which I am largely a fan, haven't really ever cast a significant Asian character. There was that one lawyer on Angel, but they never used him for anything.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

When will I ever use this?

Here's a question that is often asked by American High School students with regards to math: "when will I ever use this?"

It seems like a simple enough practical consideration. Most professions don't require the calculation of complex differentiation. One can certainly be a happy and successful person without being able to solve a basic Algebra problem. How is Mathematics an essential realm of knowledge?

For the sake of disclosure, I'll add that I stopped studying math after my freshman semester at UCSB. The first professor in that college Calculus class was so dry that I couldn't maintain an interest, and since I didn't require additional math for my major, I didn't waste the time and money on it. That said, I've had brief conversations with math majors and the kind of stuff that they studied sounds interesting to no end.

I had been considering this notion over the holiday break. I feel I've outgrown the Cold War reasoning that more students should study math and science so that we can beat the Commies in the Space Race. My love for math comes from a much more compassionate place.

In doing my cursory research for this article, I found this column from The Washington Post: What is the Value of Algebra?, by Richard Cohen. In it Cohen supports those same adolescent suggestions that math is largely useless. I can't disagree more.

Here's the weird thing, I feel about math the way I feel about the arts, literature, philosophy, history, even religion and spirituality... it's all vital knowledge. I can attest that as a student I didn't enjoy the way that one subject or another was presented. I can certainly say that I didn't agree with some of the ideas suggested by my teachers; often later I found that it was my perspective that needed to change, while at other times, it was just that the teacher wasn't doing a good job of communicating the information. The thing that I have learned about learning on the whole is that simply because I don't understand something I should not assume that it's not worth the trying.

Putting this in the context of that first question, "when will I use this?" The concrete answer is that you might never use the specific proof that confirms the Pythagorean theorem. The larger answer as I feel it is that the skills you had to learn to make that proof (and possibly simply to understand and apply the theorem) are more worthwhile.

As I mentioned before I resent the notion that math is solely helpful to the military-industrial complex. No slight to my JPL and CalTech friends is intended. The workings of mathematics are fundamental and profound. Mathematics is like a philosophy or even a mantra.

Here is an outline of my understanding of and approach to basic Algebra:
1) Algebra is simple.
2) Write down a first notion (these are often called givens)
3) Write down that notion a second time with a minor alteration (in Algebra these are most often substitution or manipulation) - keeping in mind that one usually should work simply
4) Repeat step three until you find the requested result.

That's not very different from the way I would teach algebra to a middle-school student, save for the one-on-one practical examples that I won't demonstrate here. Practice (after good examples) is the thing that makes math easy.

In the writing of this I was reminded of Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid, who taught Daniel to Wax on and Wax off. In Daniel's rational mind he asked "why is he making me do all this housework?" If you've seen the film, you'll have an idea of what I'm suggesting. Make your body repeat an action and it will come easily. Make your mind repeat a specific meme and it will evolve.

There's a long list of ideas that can be learned from practicing math. The bits I want to appreciate most at the moment are related to the basic exploration of the world. There's that bit of Algebra where one starts with a basic expression. That's not different from starting from some point and ending somewhere else. The idea that one can take their first and continuing steps to understanding a concept that at first might seem alien is very powerful and appealing to me.

That one could study universal concepts that come without political dogma is even more beautiful to me. It's a way of sharing a viewpoint with the world.

Love isn't rational. Neither is math. I'll give this some more consideration before I continue.