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

Saturday, April 02, 2005

It would appear that the lad who I used to call Surfer now has a very different blog. He doesn't surf anymore. Anyway, you can spot the new link on the left.

A couple of interesting op-ed items. I don't know Rall that well, but the individual pieces make good sense and decent reading.

The Kyrgyz Tragedy and the US Democracy Bluff

US Fan Club - Smaller Than We Think

gambitch [ 3:18 AM]

I've shot as far as this bow would let me. Now it's about crafting a new one.

I decided that I'd cast my physical health aside once again and go for some kind of roadside Indian supper. Prata I think the guy calls it. It wasn't too bad - tasted better than antacid tabs.

Things didn't quite go according to plan. The folks tried, but they just couldn't make the cut. But at the end of the evening I could have no complaint. Because, really, could I have done anything differently that would have changed the outcome? History doesn't have room for asking "what if". But more importantly, even if history had room for asking "what if", there really wasn't much that could have changed.

Ultimately it's not about things that sit quietly on the surface. The problems that are faced, and the limitations that I was stuck with, were not superficial things that I could wave a little wand and chase away. No, they're chronic, endemic, systemic problems that require long-term overhaul. These folks have good brains; they have the adaptability and they have the potential to take it all in. But there's plenty more that needs to be done.

And now that the fire before us has been fought and doused, we've got the breathing room we need to do something for the long term.

We need people who care. We need people who sound like they feel for and believe in what they're saying, even if they have to fake it. We need to look and sound like we have ideals and principles and conviction. And that means playing with our voices and giving them energy. That means being a little more generous with our body language and moving with confidence. That means looking people straight in the eye and personally addressing them like they mean something to you. Descriptions that can be captured in three sentences, yet sometimes we take a lifetime to find our own way to get there.

It doesn't do that much good at all if you yammer on like it's a chore to you, or like you could care less. (Yes, I'm looking at you.) It doesn't do that much good if you're going to stand there with one hand tied to your hip and the other holding up something, and then not do so much as shuffle an inch or sway your body ever so slightly. I don't give a damn if you're usually a passive personality - I could like you in private for your passive personality - but when the lights are on and the show is running, stand up and be a character whose image is burned into everyone's minds. The one thing that is worse than being bad is being forgettable.

Maybe I give the folks too little credit. Maybe it's nerves. But there's something I don't like about the fact that I never feel reassured enough that things will go fine when we hit a little speed bump, that the speed bump will be negotiated with consummate ease and confidence. It's the principles and the belief systems, at the end of it. There's a disconcerting tendency that the big ideas get forgotten when all people see are the little obstacles. Of course the obstacles should be dealt with, but who says we can't do both? At the end of the day, where is it we are trying to go? What's our ultimate destination? Sometimes people don't remember. Sometimes people don't know.

There's a need for some sort of internalization and ownership. Once the ideas are 'yours', nobody can take them away. But when they're not, they drift off that much more easily. Again it's the conviction and the belief. If you don't believe in what you're saying, it hurts you less when your idea gets hit. You don't feel the pain, because it's not your baby. And when it's not your baby, you don't defend it with nearly the same level of will and passion. I'm passionate about things because I feel ownership. Also because I feel the irrepressible desire to win. And even if I know my cause is lost, I'd chase it or die trying, and make sure I burn a few asses along the way.

This bow has shot as far as it could. It was good, it tried, and it fought the good fight. But the good fight didn't play out good enough. Maybe it could have done better if it was made better, or if it got a few modifications. But it was too late for that. Maybe no one realized it, but it sat too long on the wall when it should've been worked on in the workshop. Could I have done anything about that? No. I wish I could, but I've wished for a thousand other things before. Above all, though, at the time it sat on the wall, I didn't know about it, much less the fact it was sitting on the wall.

The only thing that can be done now is to produce a newer and stronger bow. It's going to be hard work for all involved, but that's something that nobody can run away from. Hard work is hard work - there aren't all that many substitutes for it. The materials are there. The potential is good. Now it's a question of whether people want something badly enough for them to brave the fires. If they are, success will be theirs. If they are not, at least I could tell myself I tried.

Whether you want to avenge yourself is a matter of how much you were hurt the first time around.

I want my revenge. Do you?

gambitch [ 1:10 AM]

Friday, April 01, 2005

I have to admit, the fact that I get a little bit of time to myself is nice, and then when I use it up thinking about things but not getting to talk to people much about it, it somewhat kills me. Having said that, the fact that the things I think about just sometimes seem so wild and oddball kind of kills me too. You see, the thing is, I have a tendency to talk about things that do not interest people within the first 0.04 seconds of them hearing it, and because of that, they take forever to warm up to the subjects of my exposition, and that's if they try at all.

Thing is, sometimes all this thinking can be absolutely contributive. To what, I do not know. But it can contribute.

The problem of having schoolkids in "the profession" is that they are schoolkids. This isn't a problem everywhere, but in some parts of the world, kids get their lives squeezed close to dehydration thanks to school. They don't get much time to play or do the pictures, because somehow educators decide that it is in the best interests of the child to fill him or her to the brim, and then some, with schoolwork of varying degrees of challenge, all of them high. I talk to schoolkids who have homework every single day of the week, right up to midnight. They get their six hours, often less, of sleep, and then the next day they turn out at school. Saturday and Sunday are designated as "no school" days, but not necessarily "no homework" days. In fact, "no school" is often the reason for "more homework".

I'm not saying the kids need their weekends off so that they can have a life. I haven't had much of a life myself as a matter of choice, so I'm not complaining too much personally, but a kid's got to have sufficiently generous amounts of time to himself or herself! If they want to use that time to do whatever they want, go ahead by all means. They want to use it to catch up on Shakespeare? Then let them catch up on Shakespeare. They want to go out and swim ten laps? Then let them go out and swim ten laps. They don't feel like doing the downtown malls? That's fine - you don't have to drag them there.

My problem with kids living their lives such that everything revolves around textbooks and tutorial sheets is simple. They don't get a chance to block out everything and just freely think. And for schoolkids in "the profession" that can get rather problematic.

So it's two o'clock, and I don't really know what I'm blabbering about. I was having a bit of a chat with someone, and suddenly I found myself lapsing into thoughts about politics and government, and about what it really means to have legislation and add new laws. Maybe I'm a bit conservative when it comes to the practice of setting rules, and maybe I'm a fan of Occam's Razor. I believe that designing rules is not an act that should be trivialized, especially when they are rules about just how a country should be run. It's not a matter of life and death, most of the time, but there are times when it can come really close. That's why I think you really shouldn't just add a new rule because it's the fashionable thing to do.

Legislation is a powerful tool. Legislation more than anything else can have a direct impact on changing the complexion of society. Break a law, and you can be hauled up to court and punished. Break the right law, and you could even die or be rendered penniless. That's the power of legislation. Yet precisely because legislation can be so powerful, it becomes even more crucial that you legislate with the utmost care and caution, rather than act on whims and fancies. Put in the rules that are absolutely necessary for the state to function, but deliberate with care when it comes to everything else.

There's something many people forget. In countries where the ballot box exists as a mechanism to choose the nation's leaders, it's not an everyday occurrence that the same set of leaders stays in power for longer than 20 years. Definitely, where there are term limits, consistent turnover spread across a moderate period of time is the near-inevitable result. And we don't just vote for our presidents. We also vote for our local representatives in Parliament or Congress, which, by the way, is the legislative branch in the tripartite - that old phrase about "separation of powers".

We vote for lawmakers, and we hope that they make laws that we like. But the lawmakers have a duty to make laws that are good for us and that take good care of us. Sometimes that's different from just what it is we like. Of course lawmakers have ideological leanings of their own, so sometimes they may want to make laws that they like. But laws can't just be made on the basis of how many people showed up at the time the parliamentary vote happened. It's a little more complicated than that. Laws are intended to bear a permanence that will at least outlast the terms of office of those who made them. You can't make a law that you like now under the knowledge that, if the said law becomes popular twelve years later, the lawmakers who will be around twelve years later will just remove it, but in the meantime you'll enjoy the twelve years where your law stood. That's trivializing the process!

I can ramble about this now, but the only reason I had something to ramble about is that I took time to think about something that's not in the textbook. I've thought this through a little and I've been able to come to a conclusion based on things I knew or cared about. I talk about this to a total stranger on the subject, and it will quickly become evident that my interlocutor has much to catch up on if the conversation is going to remain either fruitful or enjoyable. And that's the problem - the kids don't have time right now to form their own principles or learn about others. And when they don't have that, it's just tough to talk pretending that they actually do. Some things you can't fake.

What does it mean to be a democracy? What's the meaning of the word 'rights'? We hear the soundbites and we know the buzzwords, but do we understand them or are we just parroting them? The pros have the principles in their corner - they know and understand just what they're talking about. The kids can't rise to a higher level if all they have are scripts they will utterly forget when the job is done and the scripts are shredded. They've got to get the principles in their corner too, and construct whole belief systems that will be burned into their minds.

But that's if they want to rise and go far.

We play the full nine innings here, lads. We shouldn't be happy doing three or four.

gambitch [ 1:48 AM]

Just thought it worth mentioning that Ian McG's old blog has been passed over to Ian's nemesis - his conservative cousin Jacob. Access to his archives have been shut off, unfortunately.

Fortunately, Ian is still with us in spirit, in the form of his thoughtfully written columns which were on a separate blog. You don't have to agree with him, but you must admit, this guy bothers to think.

Shout-out to Ian (not that he might hear me now he's lost his bloglinks) - go roast your cousin for bringing in the wrecking ball!

gambitch [ 12:52 AM]

Thursday, March 31, 2005

We're in the big league now, buddies. This isn't a game in high school English. It's a game in brains.

gambitch [ 1:22 PM]

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

This here is interesting.

Church disinterested in abortion debate

Some advice: Don't talk back to your pastor...

gambitch [ 3:55 AM]

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Fans of my blog (is there such a thing?) will probably realize that I haven't written more than one post per day for quite some time. I'm breaking mould now because I'm trying out some lines. Feedback, please.

"So maybe they'd like to say that we should trust consumers to make sensible choices when it comes to watching movies or playing computer games, because they're rational people. That's a very nice dream they're having, except that's not the reality. We can't expect all movie-goers to be rational; in fact the opposite is true for a huge percentage of the group if the box-office is anything to go by. The movie that ranked No. 1 worldwide for the highest amount grossed in the box office, at US$1.8b, was Titanic; some people even watched the movie eight or nine times, and that's before the DVDs were released. Now try and convince us that movie-goers are rational."

More to come...

gambitch [ 12:44 AM]

Right now I'm trying to string the following things together:

- the Church's position on artificial insemination
- James Bond movies and Dr. No
- pre-WW2 Berlin
- Manhattan
- the Space Race
- caviar
- fruits and doctors
- Star Wars
- Dr. Strangelove and the Bikini Atoll

Just so I don't forget.

gambitch [ 12:07 AM]

Monday, March 28, 2005

Call us prophetic, or call us a bunch of mad drunkards. Either way, it is strange how we in "the profession" sometimes manage to sit down and talk about things long before other people actually talk about them in real life. Take for example this infamous tale of what happened one fine afternoon three or four years ago. My friend Raj and his buddies were suggesting that perhaps it would make good sense for Oceania and Asia to merge as a single qualifying zone for the World Cup. Fast forward to 2005 and we're coming pretty close, with Australia and New Zealand wanting to switch over and give up their cheap thrills of thrashing Western Samoa and the Solomon Islands.

Raj must be laughing out loud somewhere, reading that piece of news. He meant it to be a little bit more than a well-cracked joke when he talked about it; no one at that time took the idea seriously, given the circumstances. We even had a laugh about it when the story of his half-ridiculous proposal hit the Internet. Yet it's happening now. Credit to him, eh?

And now, on to something else.

Wit and humour ranks right up there among the most unteachable things in the business. Strangely enough, it's also up there among the most important things that need to be taught. I once said that we're producing an abundance of mouths. That's not the same as saying we're producing an abundance of cute, sharp tongues. Because we're not. I'm reminded of this when I see the pros and the masters perform, when they say funny things without batting an eyelid or skipping a beat. And really, this isn't some skill that only people in "the profession" have. Wit and humour is something for everyone.

As an example, I draw the following lines from The West Wing.

From The White House Pro-Am:

TV host: Mrs. Bartlet, does the company know its subcontractors are using child labour?
Abbey: Melissa, if they don't then they're criminally negligent. If they do then they're simply criminal.

Nice and crisp response. I might also note this scene took place on a live recording for a morning show.

Oh, and this came in the middle of a meeting at the White House. Toby and Josh are meeting some congressmen on some labour and trade bill.

Toby: You're concerned about American labour and manufacturing?
Congressman: Yeah.
Toby: What kind of car do you drive?
Congressman: Toyota.
Toby: Then shut up.

Now that was quick. Yeah, that's rude, typical Toby, but that was quick.

Actually, that's the way witty lines work. They tend to be quick little products of momentary inspiration. There are so many examples littered all around that I don't need to reproduce them here. Just go watch The West Wing, particularly the earlier seasons. Things somehow feel different under John Wells.

gambitch [ 12:24 AM]

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Some time ago - in fact about six months ago - I wrote about the existence of comic rental stores that stocked stuff that had graphic and textual sexual content. Anyone who wants to find that text can just click here. Blogger's wonderful with its easy access to archives. Six months since, there have been a couple of developments.

What actually happened is rather simple. Apparently it had something to do with parents finding out that their daughters - yes, daughters - were buying or renting comics that had graphic depictions of sex. Not just gratuitous, meaningless nudity, but full-blown sex. To clarify, the comics in question were probably targeted at a female audience.

This is where I pause and bring readers unfamiliar with the various classifications of manga, that is, Japanese comics, up to speed quickly on said subject. Now basically, as Western comic-readers will realize, comics can be drawn for a very wide range of audiences. In Japan this range can be further broken down into several major classifications. Firstly there is the generic, safe-for-all-ages type represented by such classics as Doraemon and Astro Boy. Then there is the group of manga meant for adult consumption, usually male, because the storyline involves situations familiar to working salarymen (or sarariman as is phonetically translated in Japanese). This is not to be confused with comics that are labelled "18 and above" because of graphic sex and violence; rather, there is a special market in Japan for such working-life comics and stories, for which there is no corresponding group of comics in the West, particularly America, where comics from Constantine to Witchblade to the X-Men deal with extraordinary themes. Anyway, the point is that such a class of manga directed specifically at working men exists.

Sandwiched between these two groups in terms of age, of course, is the teen-oriented manga that, while sufficiently consumable by people outside the 10-24 age bracket, is primarily intended for teenagers and young adults. Within this there is plenty of range, but the specific types that have always caused problems for society are the ones that include graphic nudity and gore. You know, prime targets for censorship. Strangely enough, or perhaps not, Japan does not have a policy of censoring out stuff in manga, preferring instead to rely on a policy of classification, which is simply divided into two groups: general consumption and 18-and-above only. This primarily applies only to volumes and not serials.

To briefly sidetrack, manga in Japan is often serialized and put into collection magazines, although 'magazine' is perhaps not the correct word. The reason I made that last remark is that a single magazine usually contains serials for 8 or more different manga titles, sometimes as many as 15. Each serial episode can be easily 10 pages long, if not more. This means that a single copy of magazine can run up to a hundred or two hundred pages with little difficulty. Add to that the fact that the quality of paper used in these magazines is usually cheap and thick. End result? One issue of any of the popular manga weekly or monthly magazines can come up to be as thick as one volume from the Encyclopaedia Britannica (a set of which, I am proud to say, I have at home).

Now, a significant percentage (I would say the vast majority, but for the fact I haven't gone through that much manga in truth) of manga starts out in the form of serials. Some serials have short lives and get canned pretty quickly, while some others just keep going on the back of good fan support over a long time. If they're lucky and they go far enough, the artists and editors may decide to collate the episodes and produce volumes - which is the end product most of us outside of Japan are familiar with.

Manga magazines can be of different types, catering to different audiences. So there are shounen manga magazines, meant for the young male audience, and shoujo manga magazines, meant for the young female audience, for instance. Divisions can be so fine that there are magazines meant specifically for those aged 9-10. Of course, magazines meant specifically for working adults also exist. After these classifications, however, it's a pretty free market. Censorship by classification.

The upshot of all this information is that there exists a specific classification of manga intended for the female audience (or readership; nitpick if you want); something which doesn't have a strong parallel in Western comics. And within this class of manga, a huge percentage of titles deal with that airy-fairy candyfloss theme known as romance. Now here's where things start clicking. There is "pure, clean romance" where physical intimacy stops at hugs and kisses, with the characters fully-clothed throughout. Soft starry lighting giving an optical sense of dreamy overexposure (in the photographic lighting sense) completes the effects. And then on the other hand there is romance where things get a little more overt - the odd grope and fondle while kissing, for a mild example. You know those "romance novels" they have where the authors write in detail the physical description of the heroine's breasts, for instance? Yeah, you get my drift.

It goes beyond this. Romance manga doesn't just cover BGR primarily from a "female perspective", so to speak. It also ventures into female-female romantic or pseudo-romantic relationships that may and sometimes does include sex (the technical terms for this are 'shoujo-ai' and 'yuri'). Further, because Japanese comics are uniquely famous for the concept of the bishonen long before the West coined the term 'metrosexual', and because the Japanese can be such a social anomaly, male-male relationships can also be depicted in stories and manga (we call this 'shounen-ai' or 'yaoi'). These are all dressed up in the cotton candyfloss of romance, with its soft lighting and dreamy eyes and all. These manga titles are different creatures from those other titles that are usually targeted at a male audience - although, it has to be said, sometimes they're not that different.

The fact that it took a parent who discovered that her daughter was reading "romance comics" that had graphic nudity and images of sex for society to learn that such comics existed in the first place tells us a few things. First of all, it highlights the myth that young guys are horny and young girls are not. Not necessarily true, that one, and the fact that there are female manga artists who have made a name for themselves drawing shoujo manga containing nudity and sex scenes - and I'm talking about more than one title here - shows that there is actually a market for such works, not all of whom are pubescent teenage boys who just want naughty pictures. Teenage girls can, and sometimes do, consume images related to sex and female nudity - which may be less uncomfortable to them than we may think, in light of the simple fact that they see their own bodies every day when they have a shower.

The second observation, tied to that first myth, is that parents here may be less inclined to check what their girls are reading than they would be if their children were male instead. Actually, I don't know if parents check their children's choice of reading all that much, but partly because of the myth mentioned above, parents usually think it most remotely unlikely their girls will go out there and get illicit copies of Playboy, never mind stuff them under their beds. The logical result that follows from this observation is that, when such discoveries are indeed made, parents fuss up much more and make much more noise than if it happened to their boys. It's like roosters laying eggs.

So this incident happened. What's the outcome? Like I said the last time I wrote about this, the existence of comics that had graphic depictions of nudity and sex made comic rental stores that stocked them (and there were plenty of these at the time of writing back then) made a mockery of the supposedly strict censorship laws we have out here. But then, it's a bit like rice paper - don't soak it much and you won't poke a hole through it. There are people out there doing all sorts of things that, under the law, they shouldn't be doing, but somehow they manage to do it anyway as long as the rice paper stays dry. The motto isn't "don't do it"; it's usually "don't get caught".

But now the rice paper is wet thanks to the parents, and suddenly the police and media authorities are saying the comics in question aren't supposed to be here in the first place. Obviously media coverage of the story will lead to a crackdown in the coming months until the cops get bored. But then that begs the rather obvious question - where was the vigilance prior to the parental complaints? Sure, this isn't the job of anti-vice officers - their focus is on roving prostitutes and street solicitation - but surely somebody was supposed to monitor this, and act on breaches as and when they were discovered? Or are they trying to tell me that they don't usually assign people to check out comic rental shops? Which of course begs the further question, that is, will the situation be fixed thereafter?

And will the incident emphatically shatter myths and stereotypes about the kind of comics girls read? Frankly, I doubt it. There is a kind of superficiality about the way our society operates and responds to news. The factual information that triggered the news in the first place - "teenage girls were found to have been reading shoujo manga containing depictions of nudity and sex" - was sufficiently watered down to the soundbite "teenagers were found to have been reading comics with sexual depictions". That description may sound neutral, but the average man on the street may easily read that to mean "little boys got caught reading pencilled versions of Playboy", because that is the seemingly most logical and natural interpretation. The likely result is a clean-up of comics aimed at the male audience (which is fine in itself, actually) while girl-oriented works may just escape people's attention because "hey, it's for girls, and it's romance stories, and that's incredibly sweet and dreamy, so it's probably safe".

And certainly people won't appreciate much the more subtle differences between the various types of comics.

We're back where we started, then. Now isn't that swell?

gambitch [ 12:06 AM]


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