Thursday, May 24, 2007

What Would You Say

Of interest to the editor:

As of late I've described myself as a disbeliever in love. Scratch that; disbelief isn't the right word. I just have trouble comprehending that two people could possibly love each other equally and, excluding some unavoidable trials, happily spend the majority of their lives together. Still, there are a few friends close to me who are surviving in what could be considered "loving unions." One member of the most successful of which I talked to the other day. This friend, Scott, has been married since his early days of college. He didn't speak in generalities but instead described what worked for him and his wife. First, Scott said that college was really busy so it wasn't like they were spending a ridiculous amount of time together. Second, he said that he and his wife had pretty unusual conversations. Honestly, to a degree, both points were new to me, especially the second one. I definitely can understand the necessity for a reasonable level of independence but unusual conversations never struck me as a point worth listing early -no wonder I'm single! Sure you can have a good conversation where both halves of the couple agree on something but I think what Scott meant was that he and his wife (Laura) exposed new ideas and perspectives to each other. This is very important to a relationship, without it even the most tranquil ones will fade away. This sounded both crucial and very appealing to me. In one of his best roles, Jack Nicholson said "You make me want to be a better man." I think this wonderful complement falls along the same lines as Scott's second crucial point. Part of "love" -if it exists- is finding someone who not only supports you but also inspires. I think that this is possible but not by desire alone and the same goes for true love. It's rather elusive. Two people can want to love each other but still not have the compatibility sturdy enough to withstand even the toughest obstacles. If love exists it's a special fondness for each other and the ability to have unusual conversations. That is, if it exists.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Calm Like A Bomb

The zombies in 28 Weeks Later, directed Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, really represent the movie compared to other zombie horror flicks. In your average scare movie, the zombies move slowly, they basically limp. There's no dawdling in the 28 franchise. The mindless flesh eating monsters move as fast -nay, faster than their victims. Their speed sums up 28 Weeks Later's intensity compared to other horror flicks. Not only is it a rush, it's like an Olympic runner's rush.
The movie takes place roughly twenty-eight weeks after the first installment, 28 Days Later. The shock from the destructive Rage Virus (a disease spread by any kind of human fluid such as saliva or blood that turns the infected into an overly rabid zombie) is over. Britain has been overrun by the Rage Virus and quarantined. An American led NATO force comes to the U.K. to "civilize" the country. What could possibly go wrong? Well, beyond the Iraqi tested "saviors", as luck would have it, a genetic abnormality is discovered that makes some people immune to the Virus. Unfortunately the family possessing this trait seem to have been born without common sense. Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) and Tam (Imogen Poots), the youngest of this family, decide to leave the safe Green Zone (another subtle reference) and venture back to their house in wasteland London. Through a series of events -some of which always brings the audience to exasperated sighs from watching sheer stupidity- the Virus spreads. The U.S. military can't control the situation (possibly the most believable part of the movie) and chaos ensues.
28 Weeks' story depends on the surprising outcome of the character's choices. What seems like a pure action can have disastrous results, and the reverse is true. Character depth or development tends to be an optional attribute of any horror movie and there's not much here. But there isn't much opportunity for anything other than fear and a panicked desperation to survive.
The main characters are likable for their values, which motivates them to go against orders. Jeremy Renner plays Sergeant Doyle, a Delta Force sniper who decides to save people rather than kill them. Rose Byrne plays Scarlett, an Army major and the occupation force's chief medical officer. Scarlett sees the value in Tam and Andy as a possible cure to the virus. Doyle and Scarlett both leave their posts and eventually meet up with Tam and Andy. These rogue officers make a valiant effort to keep the children -possibly the future of human civilization- safe.
The movie's problem lies neither with its scariness nor its lack of imagination. 28 Weeks Later misses in the basic logic department. A main character turned Infected seems to have more intelligence than the rest of his kind and the movie's ending provokes a "how could that have happened?" response concerning the intelligence of the Infected and the choices some characters make. Also, the movie is kind of a downer. At the end of 28 Days Later, the hippies win and the solution to Rage (viral or otherwise) is pacifism. 28 Weeks Later is not so clear cut. The peaceful die, the intelligent die, the ignorant die, the angry die -and kill as undead. Not every movie comes with a lesson though and that seems to be the case with 28 Weeks. It's a speculation movie about what would happen in a world with a Rage Virus. The answer: chaos, death, and more chaos. The movie also does demonstrate that chaos and emergency brings out the worst in people and the best. People can't control the results of their actions but that doesn't make an endearing choice worthless. Regardless, 28 Weeks is definitely scary and for those who like horror, action, and don't mind a few holes of logic, 28 Weeks delivers on all counts.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

In Defense of Chocolate

We Americans have had a long standing love affair with food and though lately the emphasis has been on the negative aspects of this (i.e. the rampant obesity that is rapidly becoming the leading public health concern in our country, which I maintain has more to do with our sedentary lifestyle than food... but I digress) our love of food has engendered some truly wonderful things. I should start by pointing out that the spark which gave life to the fiery U.S. was in fact food: tea (yes, I know its technically a drink, but its still relevant). More recently, American foodie-ness has given rise to the great bar-b-que traditions of the south and southwest, "fusion" restaurants and cuisine and broader dissemination of the many cultures that have come to be a part of our melting pot (its hard to maintain quite so steadfast an ignorance of another's culture when you're trying to figure out how they cook such good food). But most important of all, we brought chocolate to the masses.
Chocolate (from cacao bean, of the tree theoborma cacao which literally means "food of the gods") was originally cultivated by the Mayans and Aztecs as a rather bitter, spicy drink. It was brought to Europe by Cortez where it was mixed with sugar and vanilla to become our more familiar sweet treat. Chocolate as we know it (in solid form) first appeared in Bristol England in 1847, however, it remained an exclusive indulgence of the wealthy until the industrial revolution allowed for mass production, a miracle that was mainly achieved right here on our home soil. These days Americans consume about half of the world's chocolate.
The sanctity of this most awesome of foods is now under siege. recently some coalitions of chocolate manufacturers have proposed that the FDA lift the restriction that requires that anything called chocolate only be made with cocoa butter and milk products as the only sources of fat. This means that the manufacturers could make something with vegetable oil, and "milk substitutes" (I don't even know what that is) and call it chocolate. In addition to negative health impacts (cocoa butter contains no trans fat, and is high in some chemicals thought to reduce cholesterol) this would have a terrible impact on the texture and quality of chocolate as we know it. All fats are not equal, nobody in their right mind would attempt to mix skim milk with vegetable oil to make ice cream (or god forbid, milk substitutes and vegetable oil). However, vegetable oil is quite a bit cheaper than cocoa butter meaning that virtually all chocolate manufacturers would have to switch over in order to remain competitive if this change is allowed. The FDA is currently having a public comment (that will continue until june 25) period in which you can let them know just how stupid an idea this is. Guittard (a chocolate manufacturer here in the bay area) is among those trying to stop this grave travesty, please visit their website and follow the simple instructions to post your concerns. The entire process takes ~1 minute.
I firmly believe that this is one the most important issues of our time.
At first glance that might seem like an extreme statement given the mess in Iraq, growing concerns over global warming, racial and sexual inequality, intolerance in all its varied forms and natural disasters hitting with frightening regularity and power. I have two responses to that completely legitimate point. The first is that while many of the problems that confront our society seem largely insurmountable or at least outside our realm of influence this is something we can directly and simply address. The second is that, given that so many of the aforementioned problems center around human suffering what the world really needs right now is chocolate. Consider this: who would go and blow themselves up if they were surrounded by chocolate. You give me a billion dollars to spend on chocolate, and I will mend the sunni shia rift in Iraq, or the pakistani-indian conflict. Heck, with enough chocolate I could probably get Kim Jong-Il to open up his borders. In conclusion, protect chocolate. If not for our own sakes, do it for the sake of future generations who might face a world without chocolate, a reality I simply don't want to contemplate...
Vive Le Chocolate!

Missed the Boat

Thomson Corp. and Rupert Murdoch came, they saw, but will they conquer?
This last week saw both Thomson Corporation, an information company, and Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corporation, bid for ownership of the Reuters PLC which owns the Reuters newswire service and Dow Jones Co. which would include its financial newswire service Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Both are sizable bids, Thomson's is over $16 billion and Murdoch's bid is $5 billion. Neither bid is entirely good news as it means two more major publicly traded news companies would come under control of a few people (Thomson Corp is run and owned by the wealthy Canadian Thomson family) or even one person (Rupert Murdoch, the Darth Vader of the news industry), increasing the commonality for partisan news and a media mainly interested in entertainment and profit. Both The Wall Street Journal and Reuters carry a long history of strong, ethical reporting with as few blemishes as possible. Reuters is one of the oldest newswires in the world (the oldest being the French Agence France-Presse) and the Journal is one of the oldest financial newspapers in the world. Both are major players in their field, the Journal being the most widely circulated newspaper in the U.S. and Reuters having been the largest financial newswire in the world until recently -Bloomberg LP currently holds the number one spot.
Under the circumstances though, the situation couldn't be better. While the majority shareholders of Dow Jones, the Bancroft family, along with former publisher Jim Ottoway jr., and the Journal newsroom all passionately oppose the governance of a media overlord infamous for implementing his opinion in a field ideally devoid of opinion, Reuters officials are in peaceful negotiations with Thomson about combining. This is unsurprising, Murdoch is the leader of an empire of misinformation news and Thomson Co. is an information company with a history of owning the premiere method of getting news. At one time it owned a number of newspapers and broadcast news channels, but now, under Kenneth Thompson -the son of Thomson Co.'s founder- the information conglomerate has shifted to financial services among other things. The appeal of Reuters to Thomson Co. seems obvious. Murdoch's lust for Dow Jones is similar, he seeks to gain its financial news service which completes the triad of major competitors in the financial news industry alongside Reuters and Bloomberg. But Murdoch has also eyed the Journal longingly for some time now.
It's hard to say whether the Thomson Reuters union is for the best. Reuters recently survived a disastrous period of poor investments and decline that helped open up the market for Bloomberg. Joining forces with Thomson might prove beneficial. Thomson Co.'s field is not far off from Reuters, its clients are different though. Thomson's data is usually used by institutional investors buying securities while Reuter's information is bought by brokers and sellers.
Still, many financial professionals and Wall Street employees prefer to hear from multiple news services and less competition means less sides to voice an opinion. But accuracy in financial news is probably far more financially valuable than other news fields so that may not prove problematic.
Murdoch's bid is an entirely different story. The reason there is so much opposition of acquisition by Murdoch on Dow Jones' part is because Murdoch is widely regarded as a partisan fop fumbling his ownerships and ruining world wide news (News Corp owns Fox and all its affiliates). Why should The Wall Street Journal, praised by both liberals and conservatives for being a highly objective newspaper, want to taint that record in a day and age where objectivity is such a rare sight?
Murdoch's timing demonstrates his incompetency. His bid comes not long after real estate mogul Sam Zell, who is completely inexperienced in newspaper ownership, bought Tribune Company which owns major newspapers like the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times and plans to increase its revenue by firing a portion of the Tribune newsroom. So when the Journal newsroom sees an probably damaging owner enter the game and then see the same thing coming their way, it's no surprise that they would resist.
In the past, newspapers and news sources were commonly owned by publishers or editors-in-chief. Today it's whoever feels like adding a newspaper to his or her collection of businesses. Hopefully Dow Jones will successfully stave off Murdoch. As for Reuters, may the best outcome occur.