Sunday, March 30, 2008

On the inability to outsource depressing weekends

Last semester, one of my professors, who is very involved in tobacco litigation efforts, presented some of his findings, and drew parallels to fast food litigation efforts (in which he is also very active). The problem was, he kept saying "Big Mac" all the time, and decades of subliminal advertising brought the touched-up, false image of a delicious burger to mind ... so on my way home I stopped by McDonald's for a Big Mac. (The last time I'd had McDonald's was before Mi Hermana's wedding in SoCal -- and that was because Mi Cuñado's parents are within walking distance --which in LA means driving-- of the original McDonald's, so we went there. The museum was closed.) I couldn't eat for about a day afterwards, and felt unwell within an hour of consuming ye olde Big Mac. It was a bit like the recent Cheesecake Factory incident.

This weekend I finally watched Super Size Me. Oy. I really liked it, and thought it was clever and insightful. The guy is clearly crazy for eating an all-McDonald's diet for 30 days, though he enlisted three doctors and a nutritionalist to chart his progress. But I thought he did a good job balancing the debate on personal responsibility vs corporate responsibility in light of America's obesity problem. He was able to touch on so many issues, including the debate on the quality (and outsourcing of provision) of food in public schools, the food lobby industry, and American food portions.

Though interesting and insightful, it was just the beginning of the depressing policy-related weekend film binge.

Because my Econ group was thinking of showing clips for our upcoming presentation (and I was tasked with obtaining the DVD), I watched Jarhead. Maybe I'm a little desensitized to war movies because my parents made us watch basically every WW2 film ever made. But I really didn't see how the film, which I know was based on one soldier's memoirs, was any different from the standard war-story genre. The only two things I can think of were the fact that the soldier through whose eyes the viewer is seeing the war never actually fires his weapon, and he never sees action. Most of the movie is his unit waiting around, training for nothing, giddily anticipating killing enemies in the Gulf War. The end focused on the inherent "brotherhood" cultivated not necessarily by fighting and killing but by serving in the Marine Corps in an area where others, including civilians, are fighting and die. Perhaps this key difference was supposed to be emblematic of a new generation of soldiers, fighting in a very different kind of war. But I was underwhelmed and extremely unimpressed, and I don't believe I'm perpetuating the "Greatest Generation" stereotypical crap by saying that. At any rate, there were some good scenes of the men bonding as a unit in the face of their sergeant, an inquisitive media reporter, shared separation from their loved ones back in the States, and climate acculturation. Watching it in 2008, though (and it was made in 2005), there are a few scenes that uncomfortably evoke images of the more recent Iraq war's Abu Ghraib human rights violations.

Still, I don't understand why people rave about the movie. I don't think it was very successful in being the generational war film that it so desperately wants to be. But as part of a larger genre, it was still sad. Especially when based on memoirs.

Then, because my Econ group was also thinking of showing clips from Robert Greenwald's Iraq for Sale, I watched that too. Our upcoming presentation is on private contractors in Iraq, and our focus will be on the (lack of) economic efficiency, (lack of) information for a good cost-benefit analysis, market failure, and (scant) human rights and international law. Yes, we are Law, Policy, and Society students in an Econ class....

The documentary was short but SO depressing, especially after a documentary on greedy fast food companies and a film about an isolating war experience. Greenwald interviews half a dozen families of (civilian) contractors who were brutally murdered in war zones in Iraq, as well as many former contractors, former military personnel, former Abu Ghraib detainees, corporate watchdogs, and human rights advocates. Since I'd just finished compiling my portion of the PPT, which draw on a lot of military sources and international law arguments, it was slightly redundant information overload. But the interviews provided the personal stories that my academic and military-strategy readings lacked, and I couldn't stop watching.

Our group met this afternoon, and it turns out our PowerPoint presentation is so long and we all rant forever anyway, we don't need to show clips from the documentary to stall for time after all.

So I cancelled my plan to see Persepolis at the theatre nearby, which I'd been hoping to do since I found out it was playing there.

The sun was out today, but it was cold, so cold...

Reordering Netflix queue for the happy comedies...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Towards a healthier Epicureanism

A few weeks ago, a clerk at a store told me that the City of Brookline has banned the use of trans fats in restaurants. In class today the issue came up again, because apparently Boston and Cambridge are considering it. It is a growing public policy trend. (For instance, I had no idea that New York and Philadelphia already have similar bans ...) And because it's a policy issue, we hashed it out in class, along with smoking bans and the obesity issue and alcohol.

It was one of the best Econ classes all year!

The 20 minute dash

In an ongoing effort to forget that the semester ends in less than a month, I've been pretending schoolwork doesn't exist. It will come back to haunt me soon, I know (especially the specter of Economics), but for now ignorance is truly bliss...

I liked Run Lola Run. The scenario was simple: Lola's boyfriend Manni accidentally loses 100,000 marks that belong to his mobster boss, and he has exactly 20 minutes to find enough moolah to cover his ass and save his life. Lola's father is some local bank bigwig, and she runs from their apartment to try and get the money. Not to give anything away, but the film revisits her 20-minute sprint several times, each with some minor details (and thus the outcomes) changed. There are also snippets of the futures of random people Lola passes in her rush to the bank. Naturally, I liked the movie because it presented alternative or parallel storylines. Also, going back to my obsession with the philosophy of time and place and history, I really liked how the film presented interlocking influences on Lola's seemingly personal mission -- it was really just an interesting take on the age-old depiction of free will versus destiny.

The soundtrack was ubercool too.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

New fave song

I lovelovelovelovelove Katie Melua's "Closest Thing to Crazy."

Name, rank, and serial number

Someone mentioned The Paper Chase in class the other day, so I watched it on Netflix. Like Scott Turow's One L, which was written about the same time, the movie (based on a book) is about a law school student's traumatic first year at Harvard Law School, especially in Contracts class with the school's notoriously mean but legendary professor.

(Incidentally, what was up in the '70s? Why the sudden pop culture obsession with going to law school?)

At any rate, Hart, the main character, is humiliated class after class while experiencing firsthand the rigors of the Socratic Method; he sees guys in his study group slowly start to be affected by the stress of their first year. But he vows not to cave, and starts seeing a girl (a young Lindsay Wagner, who strangely resembles Meg Ryan) who coincidentally turns out to be the daughter of his Contracts professor, and who is patently uninterested in anything related to the legal realm.

It's really, really predictable. And also rather boring. I also told myself I would not apply a Critical Legal Studies dissection of the film. (Hmmm, CLS was also a product of the '70s....) I couldn't, however, not note that if the film portrayed a realistic law school class in 1973, then women have come a long way in 35 years -- there were very few female students in the movie, and I'm pretty sure over half of all law school students are now female. So if anything, the movie made me appreciate admissions policies that have recruited women. And, since my program involves taking policy-related law classes, I am now also very, very grateful that Northeastern's law school is notoriously progressive and public service-oriented, and the professors I've had (admittedly, only two so far) have been very friendly and accessible, and don't care to perpetuate elitist professional standards and behavior. Go Huskies....

The ending was great: Hart ends up having his grades sent to him while he's vacationing on the Cape, and instead of eagerly ripping open the envelope, he makes it into a paper airplane and tosses it into the ocean.

After that so-inspiring scene, I decided not to read the five Econ articles on the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of military contractors, and instead opted for another Online Viewing film.

A Streetcar Named Desire, which I'd never seen, was excellent. I read the play in high school, but remembered little except the general plot. The acting was stellar. Simply amazing. I was blown away. Vivien Leigh, 12 years after her most well-known role in Gone With the Wind (coincidentally, also about the decline of the South), was brilliant as the neurotic and flirtatious Blanche DuBois, both hiding and hiding from her un-innocuous past. Marlon Brando was equally brilliant as Stanley, the loud and violent husband of Blanche's sister Stella.

Obviously, the story is not a happy one -- it's a tragedy of every level of every relationship imaginable: sister/sister, wife/husband, facade/reality, women/men, teacher/student, urban/rural, modern/past, living/dead, immigrant/native, "high" class/"low" class, children/adults, truth/lies, alcoholism/sobriety.

After watching the movie, I read up on some of the differences between the play and the film, which was changed slightly and censored for its 1951 audience. But even with all the censorship, there are still some bits of dialogue with both shocking and hilarious double entendres.

I really, really recommend the film! I think I originally added it to my Netflix queue when I added all the Academy Award-winning films I haven't seen. For the acting, raw pathos, and social themes alone, it's superb. Wow.

Then on the way to Easter Brunch this morning, I walked by Harvard Law School, and realized I still needed to read the Econ articles...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

... days a week

Oops, I didn't realize the FG would post the "8" meme in parts. Here's the rest...

(I'll omit the "8 books I've read lately" because I blog most of the non-schoolwork ones anyway.)

8 songs I could listen to over and over:

1. Gnarls Barkly, "Crazy"
2. Kelly Clarkson, "Since U Been Gone"
3. Indigo Girls, "Galileo"
4. Dar Williams, "The Hudson"
5. Fountains of Wayne, "Yours and Mine"
6. Plain White T's, "Hey There Delilah"
7. Carrie Newcomer, "Just Like Downtown"
8. Magnetic Fields, "Abigail, Belle of Kilronan"

8 things that attract me to my best friends:

1. They have strong ties to people and/or places.
2. They enjoy a good, long conversation.
3. They're passionate about specific issues and/or causes, and life in general.
4. They're not afraid to argue or discuss ideas, and don't hold it against you forever if you disagree with them.
5. They read.
6. They love to laugh.
7. They value family.
8. They can be homebodies one day and social butterflies the next.

(being and nothingness)

I finished Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles earlier this week, but have been mulling it over for a bit. The Expat lent it to me over Winter Break, with the warning that it could be a little depressing.

It was.

It was also disturbing.

But the entire book is very well-written, and definitely captivating.

Oddly enough, I found one chapter towards the end, which anecdotes a torture scandal, more gruesomely memorable than the surrounding chapters filled with death, emotional cruelty, meaningless sexual excess, and the absence of love. I had to keep telling myself that, like horror movies, it was all made up.

The story is essentially that of two half-brothers growing up in France post-WW2. The book ushers the reader through their lives growing up in the 60s and 70s, during the sexual revolution and endless drug binges. One brother, Bruno, spends his miserable early life unsuccessfully chasing women; then amid his almost nonstop participation in orgies, finds love. The other brother, Michel, is the opposite: he’s basically asexual, despite having the same childhood sweetheart panting after him for decades. Because Michel is a lab rat and Bruno is supposed to be more inclined towards philosophy, Houellebecq alternates between commentaries on how humans can be reduced to and explained by chemical elements (while they’re living and dead), and commentaries on how humans are either incredible cruel or incredibly kind to each other. All in between the brothers’ messed-up lives, that is.

Because of the prologue, which hinted at some 21st-century enlightenment, I expected the end to offer some new philosophy or worldview. Instead, it presented the future as dominated by human clones, which need neither sex nor love to exist.

For the first half of the book, there were actually sentences that were so drop-dead insightful that I had to stop reading, get up, walk around, and think for a bit; they usually weren’t the entirety of Houellebecq’s existential sidenotes, though, just sentences within them.

And now I need to go in search of happiness and meaning... i.e., Prolific....

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Not to put too fine a point on it

The Seattle Times actually has a fairly decent timeline of the whole primary business...

My favorite part:
"September 2004: Washington holds its first pick-a-party primary. It proves
very unpopular."

I like my primaries like I like my ...

This is one of those possibly irrational, anti-establishment viewpoints that betrays my Northwest-native libertarian strain, much like my lone defense of the initiative process in my public policy class....

I was a fan of the blanket primary, before the 9th Circuit struck it down. For the past four years, I've hated choosing a party on my primary ballot, even though I've given money every year to the state Dems. (See old rant.)

And now...
Supreme Court rules in favor of Washington primary
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer via the AP)

"The Supreme Court has upheld the state of Washington's open primary election system.

By a 7-2 vote, the court says the state may use a primary system that allows the top two vote-getters to advance to the general election, even if they are from the same party...."

It's not the blanket primary, it's the "Top 2" replacement that the voters chose after the cherished blanket primary was eliminated on appeal.

Obviously, the political parties hate the decision. The Democrats and Republicans actually argued together before the Supreme Court, against the state. Usually when the parties agree on an issue, I usually overwhelmingly agree with them or wildly diverge from the joint position.

The decision was 7-2. Opinion available for download here.

The majority: Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Souter, and Stevens
Concurring: Roberts and Alito
Dissenting: Scalia and Kennedy

I'm totally, totally excited! This made my day. It quite possibly even makes going to Econ tonight bearable...

Tuesday morning coming down

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of Reese Witherspoon, so I watched Walk the Line last night. (Also because I've had the DVD for about three weeks and need to order a film on Netflix for an Econ project. And also because "Ring of Fire" came up on my music player on the way home...)

I vaguely remember Torgo's lukewarm review of the movie, so maybe that biased my viewing experience. Because other than the scenes where there's singing, I thought it lacked depth. For a movie that was supposed to be about Johnny Cash's singing/songwriting talents and his drug problems, it didn't have the necessary passion, angst, or grit to make it all compelling. All the family arguments and drug/womanizing scenes seemed a little too clean and edited to be effective at any level. The only thing it did slightly better was really hammer home the point that Johnny was really hankerin' after June somethin' fierce. (Joaquin Phoenix's clumsy movements were reminiscent of Hrithik Roshan's lovelorn puppy dog eyes in Jodhaa Akbar.) But at times even their supposed deep friendship and romance wasn't conveyed very well onscreen -- most of the time it was depicted as just June being there for John during his periods of heavy substance abuse. Oh, and there's a fishin' scene that also united them. But that's really about it. It was pretty sterile.

Having said that, though, it was a little addictive, and I couldn't stop watching it, even though it was pretty long. I kept waiting for more scenes with singing. Also, I thought Reese Witherspoon did a convincing job of portraying a complex woman facing social double standards who thinks she has to mask her own struggles with a smile. The title is apt.

The songs were all good, though. And I've been humming "Folsom Prison" all day...

Crazy eights

Memes courtesy of the FG...

8 things I'm passionate about:
1. Family
2. Friends
3. Karaoke
4. The legislative process
5. History
6. Civil rights and Third Wave feminism
7. Shoes
8. Seattle

8 things I want to do before I die:

1. Visit the 3 habitable continents I haven't been to yet (South America, Africa, Australia)
2. Own a home
3. Help achieve universal health care in the U.S.
4. Babysit the niece(s) and nephew(s) all on my own with no drama or problems
5. Write a speech that's quoted in the New York Times (but not necessarily give it...)
6. Devise and implement a successful campaign plan
7. Have long conversations with interesting people
8. Some very, very specific stuff that's not printable! ;-P

8 things I say a lot:
1. "So what do you think about ...?"
2. "Dude."
3. "Hey, what's up?"
4. "There is/was a bill in the state legislature/Congress/city/county council that..."
5. "Hola."
6. "Yo."
7. "What beers do you have on tap?"
8. "Yeah, but just to play devil's advocate..."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Root, root, root for the ... (scream it!)

The unspoken rule of Fight Club is "Never buy any other team's gear." But unfortunately I will break that rule sometime next week, when I have to buy a Red Sox cap for the bro-in-law, whose birthday is coming up soon. (La Otra Hermana's husband has quite the collection of baseball caps, and wants a Red Sox one. I figure when his only Christmas request was for me to start going to church with them, this gift request is actually feasible.)

I have only ever bought Mariners gear. EVER!!! Starting when I was 8, and bought little bat-shaped Mariners pens with my allowance money.

Last semester, the spouse of someone in the cohort above me told me that he went to a baseball game while in Seattle on a business trip, and his impression of Mariners fans were that they were all happy, smiling little plastic cheerleaders who politely yelled "Yay team! Vanquish the foe!" instead of screaming curses and throwing sacrificial animals onto the field, which I guess as a Boston sports fan he thought was more appropriate behavior. I couldn't exactly disagree with his description of the fan base, though.... which personally I don't think is a bad thing. Ahem.

Perhaps the unwritten rule needs to be amended in committee to read " ... except when requested as gifts." And the transaction isn't at all like coming face to face with a Dementor. Maybe Azkaban's not that bad. It kindasorta doesn't count, really. (Note to self: repeat into mirror in the morning.)

It will, however, take several attempts for me to go through with it...

When your friends smack you down

For an Econ presentation, a bunch of us LPS (Law, Policy, and Society) students banded together and decided to do the oh-so-controversial topic of military contracting and outsourcing in Iraq, from an economic efficiency standpoint, and taking into account "externalities" like human rights and international law. We present in two weeks. It'll be fun.

Tonight, my group met over burgers and beer to go over the structure of our presentation. During one of our discussion tangents, we somehow got onto the topic of lactose intolerance. I asked one colleague (who is Asian, which is relevant) whether he'd ever heard that Asians or half-Asians are disproportionately likely to be lactose intolerant. (He had.)

But our other group member, who is white (which is relevant) and also one of the only other Master's students so we're taking all the same classes and sit next to each other (which is irrelevant), turned to me and suddenly said, "Actually, it's that white people are disproportionately likely to be lactose tolerant."

Which, of course, rendered me speechless and as I realized the dynamic of the way I phrased my statement. I love it when my friends make me think.

Have I mentioned I know really cool people?

Oh wait. Yes, I have...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Un poco achispada...

I believe I'm typing this in Arial. It's relevant because this afternoon I watched Helvetica, a documentary about yes, Helvetica the font. I liked it. The film, which was pretty short, interviewed a bunch of graphic designers who either loved it, hated it, or were around when in was invented in Switzerland in 1957. Most of the documentary was comprised of scenes of business logos or storefronts that use Helvetica. (I had no idea it was so really is everywhere!)

According to the documentary, apparently Helvetica is loved because it is so simple and modernist and easy on the eyes, and hated because it is too plain and corporate and boring. It depends on your outlook on life and the world, and graphics designers have very strong feelings about Helvetica. In one of the most hilarious interviews, an American graphics designer equates use of Helvetica with endorsement of the Vietnam War. Then there were the artistes who lovedlovedloved Helvetica because it invited polysemic experiences, and waxed philosophic about the role of typeface in the postmodern world.

It was a very insightful documentary, with some great interviews of people who don't normally get interviewed or asked their opinion.

Shortly after watching it, I met up with Lady Grace, and her housemate suggested this Mexican restaurant nearby in East Boston (closest west coast association: East LA or not, haha). Turns out it was a very authentic place where only like two waitstaff spoke English. And there was a troubador who went from table to table making guests sing along with him. (Again, my main problem being confidence, I was able to perfectly understand what he was saying -- and he was asking if we'd been there before, if we'd sing with him, and what songs we knew. I just didn't trust that I'd conjugate my responses properly, so I answered in English and got the usual "You clearly understand me, you snob, why won't you speak Spanish?" look.)

Suffice to say, we lived in fear that he'd make us sing Mexican ballads like he made every other guest. But he didn't. He just told announced into the microphone that everyone should say hello and wave to the senoritas in the corner. (Yes, we waved back to the other patrons... or at least I did.) I loved the place and the vibe, though -- it was awesome. (Though I think I was the only one in our party who really enjoyed the atmosphere, as opposed to just the food... but oh well.)

Lady Grace was driving and made me finish her half of the sangria carafe. So we stayed and watched the place switch to a dance club at 10pm, and of course we had to people watch and comment on how we were the most underdressed, and I'm blogging this while slightly tipsy after finishing almost an entire carafe on my own.

On the drive back to my place, I noticed all the road signs and store signs that used Helvetica... there were a lot!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Lessons learned the hard way no.s 1743 & 1744

#1743: Good neighbors will call the cops on you if they think you're a burglar.

As I stumbled to La Madre's house this morning, after the usual Monday night revelry, I thought I'd do a load of laundry before heading down to the DMV to renew my driver's license.

It being a warm, sunny day, I left the front door open. After tossing clothes into the washer and losing a few games of Prolific online, I left to put myself at the mercy of the DMV. As I walked down the porch steps, the neighbor across the street suddenly threw her front door open and rushed towards me. I had my headphones on, but it was obvious she was saying something important.

The first words I heard were "I just called the police!" and thought somehow I missed some serious drama in the 'hood. But through a lot of frantic speech, I discerned that she saw our front door open, noticed La Madre's car wasn't out front, and then saw "a person" run through the hallway (that was me rushing to the computer from the laundry room so I wouldn't miss the start of one of the Prolific games). So she called the police, and they told her they'd stop by. She'd been peeking through her curtains for ten minutes before I came out the front door.

As I thanked her for her concern and continued on my way to the DMV, she rushed inside to call the police to tell them it was just her neighbor's nightowl grad student daughter home on spring break.

La Madre was not amused when I called to give her the lowdown.

#1744: Never renew your driver's license after Monday night revelries.

The DMV will steadfastly refuse to let you retake the picture.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Do U Wanna?

After Jodhaa Akbar, I got home to find Partner in the mailbox. (Woot, Netflix.) So I convinced La Madre that she wanted to see it.

Partner is the Bollywood version of Hitch, and if possible, is more ridiculous and infinitely cheesier. The majority of the story is the same, but there are a few unique aspects (like the single mother, the kid, the criminal mastermind, and the song and dance routines, obviously). The entire film was, to put it very mildly, kind of like a hip-hop music video.

One of La Madre's comments was that, like Filipino and Latino shows and stars, the majority of people onscreen were fairly lightskinned. (And skin-lightening beauty products are huge industries elsewhere in the world. Just type in "skin lighten ad" on YouTube, and even Shah Rukh Khan is doing them.) Then she fell asleep after about 20 minutes.

The melanin politics aside, however (that'd be a looooong tangent), I was shocked to hear swearing (in English, though); and in some of the scenes, there's almost kissing! The honeymoon-scene ending is fairly risque, even by some American standards. For the most part Indian movies manage to just hint at sex. This one didn't really dance around it -- and Salman Khan's love interest being a single mother sort of hammered that home.

I really enjoyed Salman Khan ...I mean the film... It was over-the-top screwball funny, perfect if you have few expectations of quality.

But maybe not something to watch with your mother!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Court intrigues

Jodhaa Akbar rocked. It's almost 4 hours, and I have no idea which parts are historically inaccurate or not, but it's really, really good. The title character is the Hindu wife of Akbar the Great, the 16th century Mughal Emperor.

Half the movie was about the political/religious/regional unification of India under the Mughals, so a lot of the subplots addressed Hindu-Muslim friction and fragile political alliances. The other half was the love story between the Emperor and his wife. Hrithik Roshan, in his role as Jalalladin Akbar, was hilarious as a smitten young man --he totally mastered the glazed-eye look. (He also looked really good in the green shirt he wore for half the movie. And there's a blatantly gratuitous and excellent scene where he's practicing swordfighting alone in a courtyard, sans green shirt.) Aishwarya Rai, for her part, has been frequently hailed as the most beautiful woman in the world. And she even gets her own kick-ass swordfighting scene. Women who kick ass, well, kick ass, and doing so with swords is always better. (Of course, there were also the scenes to show that in addition to being an expert swordswoman, she could also cook! And sing! And be religious! And stay true to her own traditions! Like all women "should"!)

The battle scenes in particular were really good. It's surprisingly nonviolent, though, for an epic about an empire's expansion. The sheer numbers of extras for the armies and the panoramic shots are amazing -- there's an awesome scene at the beginning where the camera backs away from the armies right as each soldier meets an opponent.

I haven't studied the Mughal Empire since freshman year in high school, so I don't know how much of the movie was drawn from historical accounts or legends, or how much was a nationalistic swell. But The Scot, who last summer visited a lot of the places shown in the movie, seems to think it got the overall story right (though it was banned in Rajasthan, where most of it takes place). Even if it didn't, the movie itself is still great.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Not the Boleyn Girls

A friend lent me Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper after a brunch conversation briefly touched on child leukemia patients. The book is about a girl whose parents had her so that she could be a donor match for her older sister. The girl decides to hire a lawyer to file for medical emancipation so her parents won't force her to keep donating for her sister. Though the book jacket and several reviews billed it as a tale of sisterhood and parenthood, it's also a story about ethics and legal consent.

The story is told from half a dozen different viewpoints, from the younger sister to the parents to the lawyer. Not only is every other chapter a different narrator -- but every narrator gets their own font! A lot of the book consists of flashbacks, and overall it was a really quick read.

The ending was a little predictable (though the exact details weren't), but still really sad, and I ended up sniffling and tearing up a bit.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Wherefore art thou...

Mi Hermana pointed out a helpful page in the Lonely Planet South Pacific Phrasebook, which helped to explain the differences in Samoan "T-style"/formal and "K-style"/informal speech, in terms non-linguistics nerds can actually understand.

Yes, we've both apparently been obsessing separately about our nephew's name. Nuestra Otra Hermana didn't grow up with a name her peers couldn't pronounce. We did, and understand how current mainstream American values will perceive Tanielu/Tani/Kangi/Kangielu/Kanielu/Tsanielu/Tsangielu.

Wouldn't have it any other way.

On another note...

Maybe I'm taking this too personally, because I've always immediately corrected people who mispronounce my name. I'll even interrupt them to do it. (So will Mi Hermana, with her own name, which is pronounced with the long vowel, but is fairly common with the short vowel. And an old friend of mine named Maria would always correct people's vowels and the R in her name...)

We'd been pronouncing the "I" in Nuestra Otra Hermana's husband's name as an "EE" sound. However, come to think of it, during their wedding when his family flew in, they pronounced it with a short "I" should (as in "if"), so that it rhymed with "Philly."

Perhaps I just need to shake off the mental shackles of rigidity (which are perhaps equally as imposed as foreign alphabets) and embrace cultural fluidity, Island-style.

So I guess I can call the new nephew about six different things, all of them correct.

I'll never complain about my own name again...

Mi Hermana the Linguist studied Samoan in New Zealand, long before Nuestra Otra Hermana even met her future spouse. Yesterday, La Otra Hermana showed me a video of little Tanielu being taken to their predominantly Samoan church, and I noticed that the older ladies who are more fluent in Samoan were pronouncing his name in a zillion different ways. La OH convinced me I was crazy. So I called Mi Hermana the Linguistics Grad Student en Michigan to separate the voices in my head from the voices on the video.

Apparently a lot depends the gender, age, or regional dialect of the speaker. When European and American missionaries arrived in the Islands, they changed and standardized the sounds that were more familiar to western European languages, and the Samoan language had to acquire new sounds (as well as a written language) to adjust to colonization. There's no hard G, for instance -- so the neffy's middle name, which is the Samoan for Genesis, starts with a K.
  • The T is apparently both "Tz/Ts" and the "T" from English -- Mi Hermana believes the "Tz" sound is gendered, and females use it, whereas males won't. (Nuestra OH keeps changing the pronunciation of her own child's name on us, from a T to a Tz/Ts, but I noticed the old ladies in the video, some with limited English, all used Tz/Ts.)

  • The N can be either "N" or "NG" (as in "long"). La OH's third bridesmaid's name ends with NI but is pronounced as if there's a G in there. I picked up on that a while ago...

  • T and K can be interchangeable. I'm glad this was finally explained to me, since a high school acquaintance of mine, who attended La OH's church, has a T in his name. But everyone at their church pronounced it as a K. I assumed it was a nickname, but apparently not.
Just a few of the issues that arise when imposing one language's alphabet on the vowel and consonant sounds of another...

Apparently there is little academic literature on any of this. Polynesia isn't part of the canon, after all.

But they told me I could call him TK.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Mixing and remixing

Before I left Beantown for the warmer climes of the Pacific Northwest, a friend convinced me to eat at the worst restaurant in the world. I used to like the place, when I was in my early 20s and accustomed to dining hall food and ramen. Against my better judgment, I actually ate there again last week, and honestly am still really pissed that let myself be talked into eating crappy, bland, overpriced food.

So while packing (and because watching the Oscars reminded me that I still had the DVD), I watched Ratatouille, the animated film about a rat in Paris who has an uncanny sense of flavor. He becomes the chef version of Cyrano de Bergerac for his clumsy but loveable human friend, who has no cooking abilities whatsoever.

It was really cute.
And made me really hungry for good food...

Speaking of hungry...

The Scot hosted another Bollywood night, this time screening Om Shanti Om, a film starring Shah Rukh Khan's abs, I mean, Shah Rukh Khan...

He plays an actor in the 1970s trying to make it big, pining after a gorgeous movie star. He's brutally murdered and is reincarnated to become a huge film hero 30 years later, and then reconciles and avenges his past life. It alternated from cheeseball comedy to parody to drama to scary thriller scenes. And there was, of course, the usual tradition-wins-out undertone ("Who believes in reincarnation these days anyway?") as well as the destiny-is-inevitable, spiritual shout-out ("The universe makes it happen.") In the end, though SRK tries to determine his own fate, he doesn't.

SRK is his usual adorably bubbly self. The film also pokes fun at the movie industry and the superstars in it. It also had cameos from a ton of Indian stars; though I didn't recognize most of them, it was still fairly obvious that they were all big cheeses in real life. Also, a few of the early scenes indicated that SRK's character was Forrest Gump-like in the sense that he was made responsible for some famous movie lines, actors' names, and plots; again, though I couldn't get all the inside jokes, it was fairly obvious that most of them were significant pop cultural references.

The most relevant scene in the film, however, was a dance sequence to a catchy tune called "Pain of Disco" (now on my Dance Partay and Gym Inspiration playlists).

Hot. Effing. Damn.

Suffice it to say that SRK was very buff, perfectly dressed for the occasion, and sizzled on the dance floor...