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Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday Morning Videos Rod Stewart Extravaganza: "Da' Ya' Think I'm Sexy?" and "Young Turks"

In years past, this has been the moment when I expose you to Rod Stewart's awesomely bad dancing. But now, as 2010 tumbles to its conclusion, let's reflect upon a little more of the atrociously creepy cheese, beyond his dance moves, which Mr. Stewart blessed the video era with. For example, just in time for drunken New Year's Eve party gropings, we have this...

...and then when you'll want to escape the consequences of the night previous tomorrow morning, we have this:

I think that last one was going for some sort of West Side Story thing. Or maybe Fame. Whatever. Have good New Year's Eve tonight, everybody. Melissa and I will be watching Zombieland. A good way to finish out the year, I think.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Kodachrome Era Ends, Right Here in Kansas

[Cross-posted to Front Porch Republic]

Today, Dwayne's Photo, a family-owned and operated film-processing business that has operated in the small town of Parsons, Kansas, for over 50 years, will stop handling Kodachrome film. After they close shop today for the holiday, there will be no other place on earth still handling what was for many years the absolute standard when it came to color film. According to the NYT article:

Last year, Kodak stopped producing the chemicals needed to develop the film, providing the business with enough to continue processing through the end of 2010. And last week, right on schedule, the lab opened up the last canister of blue dye....

The status of lone survivor is a point of pride for Dwayne Steinle, who remembers being warned more than once by a Kodak representative after he opened the business more than a half-century ago that the area was too sparsely populated for the studio to succeed. It has survived in part because Mr. Steinle and his son Grant focused on lower-volume specialties--like black-and-white and print-to-print developing, and, in the early ’90s, the processing of Kodachrome.

Still, the toll of the widespread switch to digital photography has been painful for Dwayne’s, much as it has for Kodak. In the last decade, the number of employees has been cut to about 60 from 200 and digital sales now account for nearly half of revenue. Most of the staff and even the owners acknowledge that they primarily use digital cameras. “That’s what we see as the future of the business,” said Grant Steinle, who runs the business now.

Time marches on, and technology changes. Sometimes for better, often for worse, usually for a little bit of both. My wife, who learned photography while working in a newsroom back when you did your developing in a darkroom rather than on a computer, may shed a small tear (though only a small one, to be frank). Oh well. At least the era left us with something to remember it by, right?

Today, I Am the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

And yes, I am giving away the information for free.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas from the Foxes!

And many thanks to my lovely wife Melissa, for still remembering how to use the automatic timer on our camera after all these years.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday Morning Videos: "Put a Little Love in Your Heart"

It's Christmas Eve, and you're watching videos on my blog?!? Give me a break. At least, I presume, you have watched your preferred version of A Christmas Carol by this time, correct? No? Well, thank goodness Bill Murray is here to help you out.

Merry Christmas everybody! Get Scrooged, indeed.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

So...No Tiny Tim?

I take second place to no one in my admiration for The Christmas Carol, but even I think this may have taken things too far.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Memories of a Year, Up in Flames

[Cross-posted to By Common Consent]

Last night the historic Provo Tabernacle, the most beautiful building in Provo, Utah, caught fire. The fire burned through the night, with firefighters working both within the building and without to contain it, without avail. Word is, the building is a total loss, and will have to be demolished. (More links and words about the tragedy at Ardis Parshall's blog and Juvenile Instructor.)

I finished up my MA at BYU's David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies (which is also no more) in 1994; Melissa graduated with her BA that same year. For the next year, 1994-1995, we stayed put. We were waiting to see where (and if) I would go to graduate school; we were, as it appears now in retrospect, working out, as a couple who'd been married just over a year, what it would mean to be married without also being college students. Melissa worked as a receptionist and a telemarketer; I worked as a dishwasher and a newspaper reporter; we were completely broke (an omen for the future, perhaps), and we were always looking for cheap and/or free things to do. Fortunately, we lived in an old house on 200 West Provo, just a five minute walk from the old Tabernacle. We went there constantly: it was the go-to venue for every community arts event throughout Utah Valley. We heard gospel groups performing there, barbershop quartets, the BYU's Men's Chorus, a cappella groups--all for almost no cost, and in a beautiful, classy, acoustically near-perfect environment. The Utah Valley Symphony performed there. It was the center-point for arts festivals and community gatherings of every sort, and its Christmas lights displays were understated yet gorgeous (I preferred visiting there to the much more extensive, and frankly a little overdone, displays at Temple Square in Salt Lake City). We must have walked there at least once a week for an entire year, it seemed like. To my mind, it grounded the whole city, at least as much if not more than BYU itself did.

And now it's gone.

I know friends whose seminary, high school, and college graduations were held there; who met (or proposed to) their spouses there; who listened to religious leaders and general authorities speak from its pulpit. None of my memories of the spot are particularly religious; mostly civic and cultural. But then, there is something beautiful about that: about spots where the best efforts of the everyday meet with the operations of the sacred. If you were part of this building's beauty, please share.

Friday Morning Videos: "All I Need is a Miracle"

It's that time of year, a season of charity and wonder, a time when wonderful, amazing, miraculous things can happen. Hence, this video.

So what game are the Chinese gamblers playing here? I don't think it's mahjong.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery, I Guess

Hey, they're stealing our bit!

I think it would have worked better if the fat guy had said "no, thanks," and his proselytizing buddy had knifed him, though. (Hat tip: Michael Austin.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Again, Movies Without Melissa (Hong Kong, Part 2)

Why Part 2? Because what do you think I did for those combined 32 hours I spent in an airplane seat? Made use of the wonders of digital technology, of course. So herewith, once again, a list of films I saw on my own without any input from my better half:

Armored: I put this one on close to the end of the flight to Hong Kong, I think; I needed to say awake, couldn't read, and so tried to find some mildly entertaining action flick to eat up and hour and a half. Which it did, just fine. All I really remember though is 1) I found myself wondering how Jean Reno feels about having built a career off being the go-to guy for whenever American action thrillers want some random multicultural presence to fill out their cast; and 2) it occurred to me that the movie was really just an inverted version of the old trope, Die Hard on an X: this time, the lone good guy is trapped inside something--an armored car--and he's trying to keep all the bad guys out (clever!).

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans: A perfectly foul, amoral, and insane story...which I think just goes to show that there is only so much you can do with insanity as a subject; you really need to get crazy with the film itself. Nicholas Cage plays the corrupt cop Terrence McDonagh with positively hypnotic intensity, but his mania struck me as limited, even sad after a while. The best bits of the film were when Herzog let the world around Cage operate according to his crazy, drug-addled perspective, like when all of sudden the scene would shift, and we'd be looking at what Cage saw through the eyes of a crocodile or a possibly illusionary iguana. In fact, if I'd made this movie, I think I would have given Cage's McDonagh a pet gecko lizard or something, and shot the whole thing through that lens. Maybe uncomfortable to watch, but it would have fit the film's lurid story.

Crazy Heart: A fine movie, and I liked the fact that you never see Jeff Bridges's play Bad Blake's alcoholism and pride as anything besides pathetic and self-destructive, however understandable they may be. And the supporting cast really nails their respective roles, with great supporting dialogue to flesh their characters out (I found myself totally buying Colin Ferrell as the straight-out-of-central-casting-and-he-knows-it country music star Tommy Sweet). But ultimately, the movie didn't do much for me. As a film in which country music becomes part and parcel of a story of crisis and change, something essential was missing: God, I think. At least, that's what lay quietly at the heart of Tender Mercies, a film that you can't help but compare this one to, and a movie which outclasses Crazy Heart by a mile.

The Ghost Writer: A by-the-books political thriller, complete with the mysterious disappearances, hidden past, and lonely (read: sexually deprived) wife which practically all these films contain, but smartly directed enough that I didn't even see the big surprise coming until it was nearly upon me at the end of the film. And I liked how the story embraced the full logic of its own paranoid worldview: why wouldn't the CIA place sleeper agents in charge of other countries if they could, after all? Tony Blair's smile always did look a little synthetic to be real...

Gran Torino: The movie is handsome to look at, well made and wonderfully shot--but that's to be expected from Clint Eastwood and Tom Stern: they know how to make a film look and move well on the screen, and have a lot of talent for grabbing little moments, or capturing short lines of dialogue or small gestures that communicate a lot. As a story, though, let's face it--the movie is melodramatic, hackneyed, predictable, and almost ridiculously vulgar. And I loved it. Why? Because through that hackneyed vulgarity, Eastwood inhabits, fulfills, even transcends, every single taciturn, puritantical, foul-mouthed, angry, racist, fascist stereotype that the American view public has ever foisted upon him. I found myself watching the movie in wonderment: just how completely will Eastwood stack the deck? Let's have my character refer to black gang members as "spooks"! Let's have the brave but useless Catholic priest be chubby, with red hair! Let's nick-name the love interest of the Hmong teen-ager that Eastwood's Walt Kowalski reluctantly befriends "Yum-yum"! I swear, the movie didn't miss a trick. And as such, I found myself carried along with its myth of manhood, of the Angry White Male, in fact, and was even moved by the doom you knew he was heading for all along. My paternal grandfather was Mormon who didn't swear and didn't drink; he was financially better off than Eastwood's character, and had a better relationship with his kids. But for all that, he's mythologized in our family memory, in the same way Eastwood mythologizes himself here: as a tall, tough, no-nonsense, strict, prejudiced but ultimately decent old patriarch. I wish I could have seen the film with him.

Inception: I liked the movie's characters, and I liked the story it told; I just wish it had told more of it. So that's not really a criticism, just a bit of dissatisfaction. You have characters entering people's dreams, and then you posit the possibility of engendering dream states within dreams, then you have dreams withing those as well--surely, something like this ought to require an utterly fantastic, if not completely phantasmagorical, setting and imagery, yes? But no--while there are some thrilling sequences, and a few scenes that really did seem to capture the surreal logic at work in the film (Joseph Gordon-Levitt's free-fall fight in the hotel room, especially), in the end the movie just really seemed like a straightforward heist or caper film--get in, break open the safe, and get out. If you're going to want us to believe that the movie is taking seriously the strange world of dreams, you've got to do something strange. An this movie, for all its workman-like story-telling and special effects, didn't.

A Serious Man: I never know what to make of Coen brothers movies, whether I love them or find them infuriating. This one I felt to be quite similar in tone to The Man Who Wasn't There: the story of an ordinary man caught up in "ordinary" entanglements and suspicions that become so disconcerting and strange that eventually he can't help but think--and we viewers can't but think the Coens want us to think--that something grand and cosmic and terrible is occurring...maybe. Or maybe not. Is the tornado at the end of the film the Almighty, at last, finally speaking out of the whirlwind to Larry Gopnik? (Or at least to his "ordinary," basically decent though pot-smoking son?) Who knows? And is that, itself, the point? Could be! Or maybe not.

Where the Wild Things Are: A failure. Yes, with Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers, the screenplay and direction have hipster cred up the wazoo. And the Jim Henson Workshop creations were stupendous. But seriously, all this film did was give us a half-hearted thirty-something dream of what kids having a "Where the Wild Things Are"-type fantasy might be themselves be dreaming, not anything remotely believable as an expression of that kind of fantasy itself. Who is this little boy anyway? The script says he's eight years old, but he's obviously ten or eleven (you can't quite fake that with special effects, assuming you even tried), and meanwhile he's doing things and acting in ways that fit with a five or six-year-old at best, so what the hell? Is this a just a straight-up fantasy movie? But if so, why does time move like it's a dream? But if this is a dream of a child, why are the characters getting depressed and hurt by dirt clods and all the rest? Sorry, Mr. Jonze, but as a visionary, I think you may want to stick with music videos.

My Trip to Hong Kong

I left Wichita at 5:45am on Saturday, December 4; I arrived in Hong Kong at 10:10pm Sunday evening, after having spent 6.5 hours in Detroit, and 17.5 hours in flight. Weirdly (or perhaps thanks to an early nap on the plane, and some selective use of melatonin) I suffered no jet lag whatsoever. In fact, I was up at about 6am the next morning, despite a long and frankly delirious bus journey through downtown Hong Kong on the way from the airport which deposited me at the hotel after midnight the previous evening, and I felt fine. I went walking around out in front of the hotel, and was struck by the sight of the harbor, and the smells of the city--fish, oil, and more.

This was my first morning in Asia in more than 20 years. It was amazing. I felt like parts of my brain--deeply buried, almost reptilian parts, sensitive to the sounds and odors surrounding me--that I hadn't used in decades were creaking to life. Some of that was a bit of conscious wish-fulfillment I'm sure...but not all of it.

The conference was "Confucian and Liberal Perspectives on Family, State, and Civil Society," sponsored by the Chiand Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange at City University of Hong Kong. My presence there was fundamentally a matter of random luck. Back when I was a missionary in South Korea, I'd developed an interest in Chinese philosophy and Asian political thought; while making that my area of academic specialization never worked out, I nonetheless managed to keep one foot (or maybe just a toe) in those conversations as the years went by, and as a result I managed to meet different scholars for whom it was a specialization from time to time. Being the sort of inveterate community-builder that I am, I tended to network amongst these folks, putting together panels at conferences, and publishing a couple of things here and there. Then one day, it turns out that Kim Sungmoon, a brilliant up-and-coming political theorist I'd gotten to know, had been hired by City University, and together with Philip Ivanhoe, one of the pillars in the field of East Asian and comparative political philosophy, had the money to put together an international conference of scholars; was I interested in coming to Hong Kong? Me, with my lack of expert historical knowledge and language skill; me, with meager publishing record; me, presenting a paper alongside such influential and serious scholars as Joseph Chan, Leigh Jenco, and Li Chenyang? Being the meek and humble person I am, I of course told them that wild horses couldn't keep me away.

My paper was on civic education and the Confucian tradition; it was the last paper presented over the two-day conference, and it definitely didn't close the conference on a high note. Let's just say that my argument that the Confucian vision of moral education, because of its particular conception of the state of nature, cannot be made wholly compatible with social contract thinking, therefore cannot provide the sort of explicitly civic virtues (as opposed to "civil" virtues) that many neo-Tocquevillians claim to be necessary for democracies to survive, needs a lot of work before it sees the light of day. But that's what these occasions are for, right? To receive criticism and feedback--which I did, from Leigh, Sungmoon, Philip and others. Having my paper hammered was, in a sense, a side-benefit of the real purpose of the trip: to see a part of Asia I'd never seen before up close, despite having almost no free time to wander around like a proper tourist. The second night I was there, we did get back to the hotel from the university (which did feed us very well; see more below) early enough for me to take off. I walked down along Hong Kong's Tsim Sha Tsui shopping area, all the way to Victoria Harbour and the old Kowloon-Canton Railway Clock Tower, snapping pictures all the way at the amazing Hong Kong skyline. I just wish I'd had a better camera.

The second day of the conference was the day my laptop died (a power surge killed it when hooking it up to the 220 volt adapter, I think), and I ran all over City U's campus (and had some helpful graduate students do even more running on my behalf) to attempt to get the laptop fixed, without success. So, operating off a borrowed computer (which, as it turned out, probably saved me $60 or so in additional internet fees; nothing is for free in Hong Kong, one of the capitalist paradises of the world), I pulled up my paper and gave it my best shot. That was a bit of a low point for the day; fortunately, there were three high ones. First was a break I took from conference at lunchtime, to walk about a mile off campus to visit the Hong Kong LDS temple. I couldn't have called myself a faithful member of my tribe if I didn't at least make an appearance there.

The next highlight was dinner--while involved a journey up the coast to Sai Kung to the Chuen Kee Seafood Restaurant, where we had our pick of fresh from the harbor (or from the tank) mussels, lobster (with vermicelli noodles and sauce), crawfish (just steamed, and delicious--I probably ate ten), mantis shrimp (cooked very spicy), sea bass and more. They even had old skool Coca-Cola from the bottle to help me wash it all down.

Then there was the final evening at the hotel. Several participants at the conference were staying on in Hong Kong for a day or so, but unfortunately, in order to make the conference fit into my work schedule, with the semester ending and finals coming on, I'd had to find the smallest travel window I could, and that meant leaving early Wednesday morning. So that evening I set out again, this time with some friends, to play tourist and buy some toys for my girls. Justin Tiwald and Ranjoo Herr, a couple of great scholars that I was able to re-acquaint myself with on this trip, came with me as we priced out dolls and rice bowls, and ended up quite satisfied.

I left Hong Kong at 10:35am Wednesday, December 8, spent only 14.5 hours in the air (traveling east as opposed to west across the Pacific is apparently always easier, due to winds and such), and arrive in Detroit before noon on the same day. After an hour or more unloading and walking through two immigration checkpoints, and opting out of the line where the evil scanners had been installed--the whole process of which took about twice as much time as did arriving in Hong Kong--I settled in for the rest of my 8 hour lay-over...at which point jet lag really did hit me. I was so wasted that I actually found myself blankly watching Fox News on the airport monitor after a while (Glen Beck is almost hypnotic at times). Finally, by 9:15pm or so, I was back in Wichita, where my wonderful wife was waiting for me at the airport. I was ferried home, where gifts were delivered, and sleep was embraced.

It was a great trip. It left me exhausted, excited, and encouraged. Here's hoping that it isn't another twenty years before I'm able to visit Asia again!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Morning Videos: "Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)"

This one is for Melissa, since I didn't choose to share Glass Tiger's biggest hit last year.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

An Almost-But-Not-Quite-Late Hanukkah Gift for my Jewish Geek Friends

Actually, to be fair, Jacob Levy is probably the only one I can think of who will truly appreciate this, but I didn't want sundown to pass on the eighth day without getting it out there (more here):

Oh, yes, I'm back from Hong Kong. Got back last night, and Coke is doing wonders for my jet lag, sort of. I should probably say something about my trip, but later. First, let me finish with these study guides.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Friday Morning Videos: "One Night In Bangkok"

A year ago, something colorful, crazy, and cheerful. This year, something moodier--as well as something to wish me well, as I leave early tomorrow morning on my first visit to Asia in over 20 years, for a conference in Hong Kong. Not quite the right location, of course, but I'd say the spirit of the song comes close enough, don't you think?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A Christmas Together: The Greatest Christmas Special of All Time

No jokes this time: this really is the schmaltziest, and therefore finest, Christmas special ever seen on American television. Just in time for the beginning of the Christmas season. Admit it: you've been looking for a copy for years, haven't you? Well, here it is.