gambitch - now available in blue
Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

For some totally none-too-rational reason, I am suddenly interested in Harry Belafonte music.

If you don't know Belafonte well, he's what HMV classifies as an evergreen singer. That means he sang some very lovely old songs. He's no Justin Timberlake, then. But there's a certain charm about old songs that new pieces don't have, like sharp brassy trumpets and some exotically tropical drums. And I'm a sucker for that.

Some years ago I watched on television a David Copperfield magic show, and there was this trick where he borrowed a necktie from a man in the audience, and managed to make it stand up like a snake. The tie even sang and drank water! That was where I came into contact with Belafonte music, although I was not to know it all the way back then. The song in question? Angelina.

Angelina Angelina
Please bring down your concertina
And play a welcome for me
'Cause I'll be coming home from sea

Yeah, that one.

Rather funnily enough, I learnt that Belafonte is also the voice behind a number of famous songs like Jamaica Farewell and Scarborough Fair. No doubt I will be wanting to listen to some evergreen music when I can lay my hands on a couple of Belafonte CDs!

gambitch [ 5:50 AM]

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Race is back! And for many seasoned watchers like those over at Television Without Pity, it's more like "my Race is back". Not that I actually think it was too severely broken last season, although I will grant that Freddy and Kendra winning was much more disgusting than Flo and Zach in Season 3, and Reichen and Chip in Season 4. I don't have a problem with Chip and Kim winning in Season 5, seeing as we did that that was a crowd favourite team, but I still thought favourably of Colin and Christie's chase for the million. Freddy and Kendra? It just felt wrong.

But that's last season. This season there is much to look forward to, and the range in opinion of liked and disliked teams is again at a very healthy level. The inclusion of Rob and Amber polarized opinions quite a bit, but perhaps not incredibly much more than any other team in this Race cast. Although there was general sadness all around over the fact that Ryan and Chuck have been eliminated in the first leg, much like how we lost Avi and Joe last season at the start, there is actually much to look forward to.

So here, then, somewhat belatedly, is my view on the other teams still in this race...

Ron and Kelly. Pre-Race, the talk was all about the fact that this guy was a POW in Operation Iraqi Freedom and his face appeared on an Arab news network. A man like this would normally attract lots of attention on this Race, but for the fact that Rob and Amber are also on it. However, it seems that any initial love for him among the American audience may have evaporated quickly after he unwisely started talking about that experience with one or two fellow competitors. Depending on your personality makeup, you could either respect his desire to donate any winnings he gets to the American veterans, or totally write it off as famewhoring. Words on his partner Kelly are less kind, because she was a former beauty queen. Either way, they ran a horrid first leg and almost went out, although it is likely they will bounce back quickly to mix in the middle. How far will they go? It's quite unlikely they will succeed in pushing for a Final Three position from what we can see here. Much depends on how cleverly they distribute the Roadblocks under the new rules. Maybe about five to seven legs and a Middle East exit.

Megan and Heidi. The bland blonde pair who could all too easily be mistaken for twins, they surprised Brian and Greg when they said they weren't siblings. They ran a highly unimpressive first leg as well, and were seconds away from outright elimination had they not caught the ride to Pisac by seconds. As it was, they were too lucky to survive the first leg relatively unscathed. Megan claims to have a fear of flying, but we've had three flights now (counting the connection on the American east coast), and that fear hasn't shown yet. A bluff, maybe? How far will they go? On the assumption that Megan's phobia is fake, we have to see whether this team will struggle with stick shift the way two all-girl teams have done in the past (Meredith and Maria just last season, and Heather and Eve back in Season 3). That might kill them quickly, but only if they make it across the Atlantic. Out in the third leg, probably.

Uchenna and Joyce. You have to pity these two. Sacked by Enron and WorldCom, and luckless with two attempts at IVF. In fact, they're running this Race so that they can raise money for a third shot. While I like teams that have a purpose and focus, it is a little questionable whether they will release the Chip and Kim vibes of Season 5. And perhaps more importantly, whether they will be as powerful a team as Chip and Kim. Somehow I doubt it, but make no mistake, they will be having bags of fun as the trip unfolds. How far will they go? With Chip and Kim, this writer predicted heartbreak in Asia in the last elimination. I'll go out on a limb and guess the same with this team, and hope this time I won't be wrong.

Ray and Deana. After the nightmare that was Jonathan Baker last season, many viewers fear that Ray will be very much a repeat performance of the obnoxious asshat. Even though the early signs at the Detour may lend some credence to that claim, I don't think Ray is that bad, because he actually did have a point, and it would appear he actually tried to help but acknowledged he couldn't. That was very unlike Jonathan, to say the least. Certainly Ray is competitive and that gets on Deana's nerves from time to time, and that could either cause their combustion as a team or carry them through long enough to see the latter legs. How far will they go? This is a tough one, but they are not that likely to be the next team to go because they just look too good for that. But there will probably be enough bickering among to make sure they are the second last team to be eliminated, at best. And I think that is just where they will end up.

Meredith and Gretchen. Every time we are led to believe the oldies will fade out fast. Every time they prove us wrong long enough to see out four legs. With the notable exception of Teri and Ian, who actually came in second, however, it is always a matter of time before the old legs wobble and the fatigue gives trouble. But with this team, we may actually have a point. They couldn't run five blocks without some serious panting, even if we are talking about Peru, which is a country of some elevation. And this was only the first leg. Not a good sign. How far will they go? They aren't my bet for improving on the oldies' "fourth out" record, and if anything I don't even think they will match it. Barring a calamity from another team, they could well go off next week - and for a change the fans may not actually mind too much.

Lynn and Alex. Ah, the gay boys. Derogatory? Discriminatory? Well, you cannot blame me if they seem to be wanting to live up to all the stereotypes. Team Guido from Season 1 ran a good race and earned plenty of grudging respect from people who hated the fact they were alive all the way to the final leg. Reichen and Chip from Season 4 were childish at times with their antics, but none of those antics had anything to do with homosexual stereotypes - it was just alpha-male personality. But Lynn and Alex just do not look like they have it in them to run the race properly. Which is, therefore, to say that they will get found out rather quickly and get dumped to the tail end. How far will they go? Don't expect them to survive past the halfway mark, and even if they do, a push for the Final Three is unlikely given the other contenders.

Brian and Greg. If you find Brian familiar, that's because he did a beer ad starring Jennifer Aniston. That's right, he was the dweeby and ill-scrubbed other guy. And he still looks ill-scrubbed here, though much less dweeby in the first leg. Then again, the Race is long. There is a certain amount of feel-good factor surrounding this team, that makes them look relaxed and comfortable, not unlike Ryan and Chuck. Alpha-males? They haven't turned it on yet. But give them a couple more legs, and they definitely will. How far will they go? The last two all-male teams to give this feel-good vibe were brothers Ken and Gerard, and buddies David and Jeff. Given both those teams finished in third place, a Final Three jostle looks within this team's reach, and they may just well do better than third.

Rob and Amber. Opinions on this team are fairly polarized, with only a small slice of people left in neutral territory. Largely it has to do with the fact that both these people were on Survivor, and nearly everyone else who's a reality television sucker actually watched Survivor. This writer hasn't watched because Survivor is, plainly, uninteresting unlike The Amazing Race, so the opinions are a little different. As some others have reflected, though, this is probably the best possible reality TV crossover team - it could have been Trista and Ryan instead and that would be so much worse. They're likely to pick up all sorts of help from locals and travelling backpackers, but they're in a couple of teams' crosshairs already. They'll add to the plot, that much is certain. How far will they go? Odds-on to grab the loot considering the other teams' deficiencies, their celebrity status might add to the impediments caused by doing too well too often at the start, which is likely to happen. Just look at Colin and Christie in Season 5 for an explanation. However, they are another good bet to make the Final Three, and if they get that far, then the million could well be nothing more than a formality once they hit home soil.

Susan and Patrick. The fans love him for his snarkiness, but this sonny boy obviously has issues with Rob's homophobia. That is not going to do him enough favours in terms of keeping his focus, unless he learns how to manage that. More disturbing is perhaps the fact that his mum freaked out and cried over finishing second in a cab race. All I can say is "chill out". This is only the first leg and already people have issues with finishing second? That needs to be purged out the system. How far will they go? To my memory, parent-child teams have never crossed the halfway mark in The Amazing Race. This team may just change that, but only just, unless mother Susan begins to seriously pull her weight and Pat forgets about outdoing Rob. Otherwise it's pretty much sixth or seventh spot.

Debbie and Bianca. Anyone who says that we finally have an alpha-female team capable of breaking into the Final Three forgets the achievements of Tian and Jaree in Season Four, and then Linda and Karen in Season Five. The mishap that happened with Lena and Kristy in Season Six was a gross aberration, through no fault of their own - otherwise the trend might well have continued. Which isn't to say that Debbie and Bianca won't pick up the slack from here. If anything, they could well make a solid challenge from start to finish. Already they are drawing divided opinion for what some claim to be skullduggery in the sands. I'd say it is very much par for the course, but they have to stop smooching like lesbians already! How far will they go? Strong candidates to challenge for a Final Three spot on the strength of their first leg performance. Although other teams have dramatically collapsed from a similarly good start, and there's no reason why this team will certainly avoid a repeat, there is at least good reason to believe they'll hold out for quite a long time - as long as they survive the infamous Indian train.

gambitch [ 12:47 AM]

Thursday, March 03, 2005

RIP Rinus Michels.

gambitch [ 9:02 PM]

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Amazing Race 7 goes on air tonight! At time of writing, I should think the show has not aired yet over in America, but because I don't know how the website people over at CBS work, I am not going to take any risks of spoiling myself. Instead, I will write my assessment of all teams based on first leg impressions.

I should state, at this point, however, that based on what I hear over at TWoP's forums, the early prognosis for the show overall is average to good, better than the nightmare we got out of Jonathan and Victoria, not to mention Freddy and Kendra. Given time, I think people will learn to forgive Adam and Rebecca their dysfunctionality, and Hayden especially for her frenzied intensity. (It was later diagnosed she suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder and is now on medication, though that came too late for the show.)

No matter. We can all enjoy our ounce of television later.

In other news, I was at the local bookstore and saw this new - well, maybe not that new - book by Joseph Stiglitz. For those who don't know who Joe is, he was the former Chief Economist of the World Bank, until he suggested that the World Bank and the IMF looked into their practices in aiding ailing countries. Practices, I might add, that critics have said to be more of a fire sale among a rich First World business cabal. For his conscience (if you're a bit on the left-leaning, open side of the political spectrum like I am), he was fired.

But more about Joe's book. It's entitled Globalization and its Discontents, and it makes for some good reading - whether you're in "the profession" or not - because of the good insights an insider like he can offer. And funnily enough, I reckon it will sell well, placed as it was one shelf below Adam Smith's classic Wealth of Nations, or what appears to be a rewrite or critique of it.

So what was I doing checking out economics books in my local bookshop? Well, actually, I was killing about twenty minutes while waiting for a movie to start. The movie in question? Hotel Rwanda. I'm pretty late on the bandwagon, I know, but I never really had the time to catch this movie, and if ever I was going to catch it, I had to do it before it finishes its run, Logically, I reckoned that meant "real soon". So I went off and watched the movie, alone, as usual, which suited me fine, again as usual.

My impressions of the movie? Well, I could write a proper Inkpot-type movie review, but that would take lots of time and proper organization of some detailed notes on the movie. It would also require taking those notes in the first place, which I evidently enough did not do. So instead here are some random striking things that come to mind. As usual, standard spoiler alerts apply.

One, there was something very strange about the fact that Wyclef Jean's Million Voices was originally recorded in major, but then was used in the movie in minor. Of course, we will not recognize the children's chant-like tune midway through the movie to be Wyclef Jean's song on first hearing. The connection would only be made very late on (actually, in the course of the final scene). I personally found it very disconcerting that the chant, in minor, then gets transposed to major as the credits roll up the screen. Anyone who has done a little bit of music will know the very different moods evoked by tunes in major and minor keys. Minors are depressing and sombre, while majors are lighter and cheerful. From that standpoint, there is a hint of a slightly perverse message at the end of the movie with the change in key. But more on that later.

Two, maybe I'm just not well-informed enough about music, but it felt strange and, in its own way, interesting, to learn that this piece of music was a Wyclef Jean work. Then again I could easily attribute that to the fact that I am so ignorant my only other knowledge about Wyclef Jean is that he worked with Carlos Santana in producing the song Maria Maria, which of course had a hand in brightening the limelight that shone on Santana. Wyclef was less acclaimed - or at least I think he was less again. Reading this interview, which looks about a year out of date, I evidently have to think again.

Three, for the duration of the movie I was half-expecting something to happen to the quietly loyal Tutsi employee Dube, the guy who drove the Mille Collines van in the opening scene. You know, him getting hurt or singled out for abuse. It never happened, which was not at all disappointing actually, but you know how sometimes it is so easy to guess that something will happen to a side character, and then it doesn't turn out like that at all. I might be giving the scriptwriters too much credit here, but kudos to them for not falling to the temptation of a cheap scripting gimmick like that. Which brings us nicely to...

Four, as it happens we end up getting totally another subplot involving the Hutu employee Gregoire. That character is disgusting, moving into the presidential suite at the first sniff of refugees trickling in. This, too, when the white tourists had not even been evacuated yet! Just what happens to Gregoire in the end we do not know, but perhaps it was just as well this was left unresolved. Although my personal hatred of him compounds when he tries to get the Hutu vigilante militia to catch and beat up Paul. His own boss! And ethnically, a fellow Hutu, too!

Five, and this gets really interesting, somewhere in the earlier third of the movie, a cameraman (presumably meant to be from the BBC, given the British accent) asks regarding the difference between Tutsis and Hutus in terms of socio-cultural origins. The answer is unnerving - essentially the difference was the work of the Belgians, who tried to classify the two according to physical distinctions, right down to the width of the nosebridge! Don't laugh - the consequences of that first act of separation by the Belgians come back to haunt Rwanda more than a century after the act itself. It's a case of the old colonial management policy of "divide and rule", just as it happened with the colonization of the East Indies. Only, with the East Indies we are talking about three truly distinct races - the Malay natives, and migrants from China and India. With Rwanda it was totally arbitrary, an act of separation that had perhaps no anthropological basis. The implication was that, if this scene is anywhere near reliable, what we saw in Rwanda was not a case of ethnic genocide, but ethnic suicide.

Six, the visual beauty of African dress, with its rich designs based only on five colours - black, yellow, red, blue and green - end up being totally perverted as the Hutu militia turn these beautiful prints into their uniform, as it were. Maybe they actually thought that it was all cool and everything, wearing these bright shirts and donning purple wigs, as they went about their killing. Personally, though, I thought it an utter disgrace to these shirts, and maybe Africans from other parts of the continent, if they have had much of an education, might say the same. (Not that I'm biased, but I don't know what the less educated Africans would make of it, given they have more relevant concerns.)

Seven, is it just me, or did Africans have a thing with alcohols even during times of civil strife? Even in the most difficult of times, the Rusesabaginas still have time for a good bit of wine. And alongside such vital supplies as rice and milk powder, Paul actually also asked for a few crates of beers and whiskys. In the end, he did get some beer - and a crate of soft drinks "for the children". I understand the army men's love for Heinekens and such - having seen army men hang around beer bottles at close quarters - but what I didn't understand was how it could be such a big part of the civilian refugees' lives under the circumstances.

Eight, I briefly suspended my disbelief when I saw all the stranded Africans try to make phone calls to their friends in the First World. Friends who apparently were sufficiently influential to pressure their governments into sending out some form of help. At the time I didn't think much of it, but apart from Paul - who after all was the local with the highest appointment at the hotel, and his rank was pretty high - how did everyone else in Africa develop ties with powerful businessmen, lobby groups, social workers or politicians? Was it really this easy? Although, I will grant, Paul worked his own source well. As an aside, his boss over at Sebina headquarters in Belgium was played by the excellent Jean Reno, who apparently was willing to work in this movie without being properly credited.

Nine, the UN was made out to be utterly wimpy in this movie, as it all too often turns out to be in real life. Four hundred peacekeepers stretched the length and breadth of Rwanda? Only four persons guarding the whole of the Mille Collines? And under explicit orders not to shoot? What kind of deployment is that? It even got the Canadian Colonel Oliver (played by Nick Nolte) into a personal state of frustration at his own First World's inability - no, unwillingness to act with any level of real conviction. If you thought the Third World was disappointed, then Oliver's own fury - he even threw down his beret in disgust - told the story of that section in the First World that felt the Africans' pain in their heart of hearts, yet could do nothing because of the cowardice of governments.

Ten, and finally, going back to the dissonance generated by the Wyclef Jean song played at the end of the movie. As I exited the cinema, I caught myself thinking, "Thank goodness that was in the past, and the story has ended." But has it, really? Is the story really over now that the Rwanda army chief has been tried at the Hague? How far has Rwanda actually moved in its rebuilding process? Have the wounds dividing the two ethnic groups healed, or is it waiting to erupt once more now that the Hutus have all been chased off to the Congo? For the likes of lucky Paul Rusesabagina who escaped to Belgium, will the day of returning to their land of birth ever come? And what of the sad baggage of colonial history and all the things the colonists had done, which in hindsight would cause a legacy of problems that could trigger a repeat of this truly bloody mess? Wyclef Jean's Million Voices, in major key, suggests a tone of optimism about the future and a hope that we will all have learnt our lessons. But will everything truly heal, or will the European masters who have abandoned their slaves and subjects decide to continue leaving Africa alone? And will we hear Million Voices in minor key all over again? These are the thoughts and questions that the film does not attempt to answer, and rightly so. Yet, who should step up to the plate? And will they?

These are of course just some of my thoughts following the movie. Your insights may vary. But a good movie, it was. And thought-provoking, too, if you would let your thoughts be provoked. Not that it would make me sign up for a volunteer role at the United Nations, but hey, that doesn't have to be the necessary outcome!

gambitch [ 12:19 AM]

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

In today's gaming history segment, I bring you some literature related to one of the more popular computer games in the early 90s, before Windows 95 existed and operating systems ate up incredible amounts of hardware resources.

Star Control 2: The Ur-Quan Masters

A very fun game, and this isn't just my opinion. The backstory's pretty interesting too!

Elsewhere, Norman Hubbard's assessment of Jose Mourinho is interesting. I love the fresh air he brings in, although I still love Sir Alex more. But young Jose's entry into the English fray is very intriguing indeed!

gambitch [ 12:35 AM]

Monday, February 28, 2005

Quick short news: Chelsea beats Liverpool 3-2 after extra time to win the Carling Cup.

So Jose Mourinho manages to get a trophy in his first season on English soil. Funnily enough, however, he was sent off from the bench after celebrating Chelsea's equalizer in regulation time, so that gives him something to be miffed about, again. From the match commentary, it would appear that Chelsea worked very hard to get this one, with Liverpool playing pretty well themselves, so I suppose it would only be fair to give the Blues their due credit. No hisses, therefore - and it's not like me to hiss when I am told that the work was good.

In side news, Arjen Robben is being rushed back to fitness with the hope of playing against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge. We'll see how this works out.

gambitch [ 2:03 AM]

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Life's been busy for everyone, but there's always time for a bit of sporting updates. Here, then, are quick bites on what has been happening over the weekend.

Firstly, United's chase for top spot continues following a Rooney double against Portsmouth. Fans of my blog may remember that I was a little skeptical of Rooney when the initial hype came along. I'm not exactly a convert now, but if he scores winners I'm happy to let him continue! More importantly, though, I think it will be interesting to see whether this momentum we're building will keep pushing on and finally make Chelsea blink. We've been there before, and they haven't. Now's the time to see what stuff the Blues are made of.

A quick survey elsewhere shows that Arsenal's title hopes are fading with a draw at Southampton. Some of the papers attribute the result to a Lehmann error, but I wouldn't know, as I didn't watch the match on television. Be that as it may, all that matters is that the result is a good one for us, as even second spot is good enough to help us avoid needing to play a qualifying game for next year's Champions League season. Although, of course, if United won the trophy that game would be unnecessary anyway.

Everton registered a most useful win at Villa Park to keep them ahead in the Champions League chase, although of course Liverpool are busying themselves with the Carling Cup final today. It'll be interesting to see Everton back in Europe, although I wouldn't really mind either Merseyside club taking the fourth spot. It doesn't make a difference as long as there's good football on offer, because to the true fan, that's all that matters.

Wins to Palace and Spurs also get an honorable mention here. Hey, I ought to be fair to them if I mentioned everyone else!

Yesterday was mostly delightful, catching up with old friends and going back to doing the old job. While not everyone I saw was in world-class form, I think what I saw was nice and encouraging. From time to time, I think it is healthy that I go back and stay in touch with developments at the other end of the scale, to keep myself sharp and not lose my fundamentals. That way, I can ensure that I have what is needed to perform, well, decently, when I need or want to.

And it is indeed delightful, too, to see so many other new people joining the fray at this level. It would appear to suggest that the word is spreading, and that more are giving the voice a listen. It's not about hard conversion, not now anyway, but it is merely about letting people know and have a taste of the alternative, and hopefully liking it enough to be willing to accept its legitimacy. If more people decide to follow and subscribe to it, well and good, but if that does not happen, then at least I can now say it is a matter of conscious, reasoned choice, having at least had the experience to know what it is like. That, for now at least, is the important thing.

Will Chelsea have something in its trophy cabinet this season? Or is it going to be Liverpool who will collect the spoils? Let us see tonight.

gambitch [ 3:51 PM]


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