Saturday, April 30, 2011

MMA in Toronto: a Lamentation

If I could care any less about mixed martial arts then I would have to write a book about it. Not a book about mixed martial arts but a book about not caring. I would have to write this book because when people figure out new and more effective ways of doing things, they usually honor the rest of us with the pleasure of being able to peer into their world by writing a large volume on the subject. The person is then considered an expert in the field. Awards follow them. Praise is showered down. Some very important people send expensive gifts to there house. Touring the globe giving readings. Moralists would debate the benefits of knowing about not caring to such an extreme degree. Yet publishers would flock for a chance to be a part of the sequel and all of the guaranteed success that will go a long with it.

That MMA is seriously considered to be along side such treasured sports as hockey, football, and baseball would be funny if it wasn't so sad. If I could be sadder about it then I would make a documentary about my sadness. I would call it "Peering into the eyes of sadness: Just how deep is the darkness?". If I could get a crew together and capture this on film in just the right light, perhaps delve into alcohol to truly capture my emotion, then it would be sure to sweep the awards. I would need to buy a tuxedo. There would be a car that would drive me to and from my hotel. I would give speeches.

The government might insist on taking me into their laboratories for study. I would get prodded. It would be uncomfortable if I wasn't so sad. There would be people standing outside of the window with protest signs. In between treatments I would roll my wheelchair to the window and glance out into the nothingness that is my reality. The people would see it and they would mourn. Oh, how they would mourn! But not as sad as I. No, not like this. That year, I might pass away and I might not. But make no mistake, there would be a photo of my face on the cover of Time magazine when all is said and done.

The sad truth is that after a few years, my memory would be all but forgotten. Sure, people would hold vigils for a while. I might undeservedly by knighted, but all of this would be after the fact that sadness had a new name. Scientists would do their best to put the puzzle pieces together. Along with the Saints they would do their best to lock up this discovery and make sure it never showed it's face again.

Hockey players fight. I'm not a big fan of it and in fact it is slowly being taken out of the game. Concussions have a lot to do with it. Fighting for the sake of fighting is something that should be left on the fringes. If you like that kind of thing go ahead and watch it. But don't put it on the front page and call it "Sport". Don't compare your minions with Wayne Gretzky. This is a slap in the face that hurts more than any man could bear. To bear it would be like lifting the earth with human hands and tossing it into a sea of stars and supernovas. To burden this load would be like lifting the sun in one's mortal breath and blowing on it until it turned to ice. Please, please. No more. Mercy. Go back to where you came from. Please MMA popularity, listen to Bieber or Gaga. Rethink this. Have a nap.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Compassion for a Monster

On October 9th, 2002, Aileen Wuornos declined her last meal and instead settled for a cup of coffee. Her last words were,

"Yes, I would just like to say I'm sailing with the rock, and I'll be back, like Independence Day with Jesus. June 6, like the movie. Big mother ship and all, I'll be back, I'll be back."

Shortly after, she became the 2nd woman in the state of Florida to die of lethal injection.

Google the details, if you'd like.

The main points are that she lived a very horrible life. Abuse of all kinds, abandonment, prostitution since she was a teenager. You can easily begin to feel sympathy for this woman. Then, you read about what she turned into. Horrific.

So, when I watched the movie Monster a few days ago, I was half expecting to turn it off half way through; which is something I actually did when Jonas woke up early from his nap.

The movie stars Charlize Theron and I heard that her performance was memorable in it, so I figured that I'd take a look. It turns out that the rumors were true, at times I forget that it is even her. I could imagine someone watching the whole movie and then finding out that it was Charlize Theron in it. "Wait a minute. The girl from Arrested Development was in that? Which one was she?"

After the movie I was quite disturbed. I was confused. I have a hard time dealing with these kinds of stories these days. This woman lived a miserable life and it turned her into a desperate monster in the end. I'm not saying that she was an innocent victim, there was definitely good reasons to punish her for her crimes. She said herself that if they don't kill her then she would go out and kill again.

But at the same time, Writer/Director Patty Jenkins and Charlize Theron herself saw that there was more to this woman's life. On the special features of the DVD there is a featurette that follows the filmmakers into Wuornos world, asking questions, doing research and the like. Through it I started to see why these women wanted to tell a more sympathetic side of the story, with all due respect to the victims.

An example of what the filmmakers saw was the photo of Aileen appearing to be choking herself.  The media played it out as some crazy killer trying to choke herself with her handcuffs. When the truth was that she was just finding a way to brush back her hair.

This woman obviously had a lot of problems. Acting out in court and for the cameras probably caused a lot more laughs and cringes than sympathy. But the one thing that the makers of Monster wanted to do was tell the "greater truth". For that reason, I have to hand it to these ladies. This film has some crazy content in it, but the fact that they were able to give this lonely, crazy, and confused woman a small amount of dignity after death is something that I truly admire.

The thing that I love the most about those little featurettes found in the special features of DVDs is all of the set up and behind the scenes stuff they show while they are making the movie. It gives me a better idea of how a movie is made, and a greater appreciation for the filmmakers and actors as well. A scene from this featurette had such a profound effect on me that I am sure that those few moments stabbed at my heart more so than the entire movie. It doesn't do justice for me to tell it to you, you need to see it, but since the movie is so disturbing I don't want to recommend it. So, I can just try to tell you about it.

First of all, Aileen was at the stage of the movie when her killing spree was in full force. She would hitchhike, then offer the driver sex for money, as she was trying to save up money to run away with her girlfriend. Well, she would get the victim to drive deep into the woods and then she would kill them and take the car and money. In this one particular instance, a man picked her up and offered to help her out. She was very drunk at the time and the elderly man offered her to stay with him and his wife. He was being very nice to her, which bothered her because with all of her other victims she as able to justify her actions because they were perverts. Anyways, she tells him to pull the car over and gets out. He sees the gun drop out of her bag and she, not wanting a witness, gets back in the car and tells him to drive.

They make in into the woods and she tells him to get out. He pleads with her. She tells him to get on his knees. He tells her that his daughter is having a baby. She begins to weep and wail. Internal torment. She is convinced that she cannot let him go and suddenly Bang! End scene.

In the featurette, we have a look at this scene from the side. After the scene ends, Charlize Theron falls to the ground, weeping uncontrollably. Later, she is sitting in a chair away from the camera, bent over with cigarette smoke rising from her hand. The director is kneeling next to her, rubbing her back, consoling her.

This is where I lost it. I want to be on a film set someday soon and it is for performances such as this. Something in this moment made me think of love. Aileen died alone in 2002, in 2003 Charlize Theron is bringing her to life again. Telling the story. The unbelievable moment when an innocent good Samaritan is shot down in the coldest of blood.

I see mercy in there, somewhere, for Aileen. And the barer of it is Charlize Theron herself. She chose to play this character, to carry the burden of Aileen and her story. Whether or not she knew that it would affect her like this is anyone's guess. I have to believe that she knew the cost and decided to do it anyways. If this story hadn't been told on such a grand scale, the world would never have seen this "greater truth". There is something really beautiful there. I'm not sure if I am getting it across to you, but I needed to put it down somewhere so that I could at least look at it and remember it later.

Do I think that a favor given to a dead person has an affect on their soul? No, and that's not the point I am trying to make. The point of calling it mercy is that it is just that. This woman deserved nothing more than to be forgotten. Now, there is room to remember her not only as a murderer, but also as a victim in a place where it is impossible to grant justice.

Regarding the craft of acting, the behind the scenes look at an amazing actress dress herself in her character is something so mysterious and wonderful it makes me want to go back and watch it again and again.

Finally, one of Aileen's wishes was to have Natalie Merchant's song "Carnival" playing at her funeral. The song was later added to the credits of a documentary about Aileen's life. When asked about this peculiar connection, Merchant said:

"When director Nick Broomfield sent a working edit of the film, I was so disturbed by the subject matter that I couldn't even watch it. Aileen Wuornos led a tortured, torturing life that is beyond my worst nightmares. It wasn't until I was told that Aileen spent many hours listening to my album Tigerlily while on death row and requested "Carnival" be played at her funeral that I gave permission for the use of the song. It's very odd to think of the places my music can go once it leaves my hands. If it gave her some solace, I have to be grateful."

To hear the song click here

I remember when that song came out. I liked it too.

What to make of it all? An unwarranted favor for a dead woman? An Academy Award? I don't know. I cannot get away from the attraction of mercy and grace. The bigger the better. How does it tie in with justice? How can you be merciful and just to someone at the same time? When someone is completely guilty of the most incredible crime, I find it quite breathtaking to see a Hollywood actress come out and defend that woman's legacy, to carry the burden to it's completion. Once again, to tell the "greater truth".

Saturday, April 23, 2011

This week in the News

A few things recently:

1. I am having a terrible time dealing with cars that run the red light in front of our school. It is a pedestrian crossing with University and High School students crossing all the time.

Often times, the light will turn red and a car will zoom right through. I am fine with that. I mean, it's not a perfect world. But take today for example, Barbara the boys and I are crossing the street. I look both ways and all the cars are stopped in a 4 lane two-way street. The line of cars goes pretty far back as it is a busy road. As we are near the middle of the road I look right again. In the distance, I see a car doom out of the lineup into the wrong lane, bypassing all of the cars and then swerving around to get by us. Mind you, the light is still red. Well, I move in the way and he slows down and tries to go around me. At the time I was holding a cup of milk tea. As he swerved to go around I slammed my tea on his hood, splashing it a bit, and perhaps scuffing his car. He rolled the window down and yelled at me. I yelled back, pointing out the red light, every other car stopped, and the fact that I was with my kids. He drove off.

My theory? If someone has an expensive car, then they think that they are above the law. Most of the cars that drive through the light are nice, expensive cars. This particular car was an Audi. In the past, I have kicked cars as they drive through. In their guilt, none of them have ever stopped on confront me about it. I've even kicked police cars that drive through. The last time I kicked a car I sprained my toe, so I really want to stop kicking them.

Anyways, the issue is that, in the morning I cross to go to school and often times a car will drive through. I once saw a girl dive out of the way. I go into class pretty angry. Then, I leave class, happy after a good lesson, and then cross the street. If I see another red light runner then I end up going home to my family angry again. I know I should be able to deal with my emotions; the way I feel isn't always someone else's fault, but it sure would be nice if these few cars that think that their grandpa owns the road would start to think about other people for a change.

2. On a lighter note, today on the street I saw a Muslim woman wearing a full burka talking on a Motorola flip phone. Though their are a lot of Muslims in our city, the kind that wear this dress is rare. Even so, it was funny that, as she was talking, a Hui Muslim man and his granddaughter were walking by. The girl, in her teens, saw the woman and a look of surprise came to her face. She nudged her grandpa, he looked, and both of them smiled in curiosity and disbelief. It seemed funny to me.

3. Finally, I keep up on the Canadian news out here in China. I regrettably read a little piece on the allegations that the NDP party is secretly in cahoots with the Bloc. Now, I'm not making a statement about my political beliefs, I am making a statement on how crazy politics are. Here is the issue:

1 political party is defacing another with allegations of the other secretly dealing with the federal party that only represents 1 of Canada's provinces.

The party leader is encouraging the population of Quebec to go out and vote so that they will have a big impact on the Conservatives not getting a majority government. What that means is:

That tiny little party that only a small amount of Canadians can vote for is encouraging that small amount to vote so that they can change the way things turn out for everyone else. And, by the way, like America, we are talking about only half of the entire country (at the most) being happy with who ends up winning.

What a mess! If there is anything that needs reforming, its the process. Every couple of years the same old guys spend a few months talking about how stupid everyone else is. Then they go on TV and in English and French, spend more time yelling at each other. Then, in the end, we all vote for none of them, but the local person who represents their party.

These kinds of things are embarrassing. When at times North America thinks that it is head and shoulders above the rest of the world, I think of stuff like this. Other examples I think of?:

1. A kid breaks his arm in a playground and the playground gets taken away.

2. With all due respect, people from all over the world come to Canada for freedom, and then demand that Canada change it's definition of freedom, it's traditions, and it's culture, so that these people can feel more comfortable and "at home". I don't say that out of intolerance. I just think that Canada is a country and should have it's own identity, and the right to make it's police officers wear standard uniforms, etc. Blend in a little. Be Canadian!

3. Canada lists Lacrosse as it's national sport.

4. Tiny little Canada and it's aspirations to be some sort of Global power. Do we really want that responsibility? Don't we have big brother to help us out? Can't we just help them when they need it?

5. Equip every Western Canadian town with a Wal-mart, Starbucks, Home Depot, Mc Donalds, Old Navy outlet near the highway and no one will ever know where they are. Slowly but surely, every Canadian town and city is eventually going to look exactly the same. Am I in Saskatoon or Red Deer?

I could say more, or I shouldn't say more, whichever it is. But these are just off of the top of my head.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I wonder what things would be like if...

Instead of last week, Bob Dylan played Beijing for the first time in 1967?

Smoking cigarettes in the elevator made you smarter.

The Coen brothers directed The Matrix.

Women in politics didn't wear suits, but nice dresses instead.

Your need to obey traffic laws was inversely proportionate to how expensive your car was when you bought it.

Pixar/Disney outlawed the use of the Scottish accent in their movies for the next 500 years.

Instead of a social network, Facebook was actually a nice pair of socks. You could still sign up for free, and every once in a while you would have to stitch an advertisement in the ankle of the left one.

Instead of rock bands, teenagers were into forming small orchestras in their garages.

Capitalism wasn't so enticing.

Old, fundamental, traditional church goers loved to dance and play rock and roll.

Lost wasn't a TV show but a situation.

As the internet got better, video players would be quicker and clearer to use, regardless of how fast your connection was.

Instead of jogging, people just had a 20 minute cry, with their energy drink and their iPod strapped to their pants.

Not one single person had a long term memory.

Writing did not exist.

Instead of 2 brothers I grew up with 2 sisters.

Instead of drinking 8 cups of water, we had to run 8 piles of dirt through our fingers every day.

Instead of hugs, we gave people little packets of ketchup. We'd all need purses to carry all of that ketchup. Though some people wouldn't need to carry any at all.

Left handed people were considered equals.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, had a secret handshake.

All elderly people liked to be tickled under their chins.

Babies grew beards.

Instead of a ball, football players kicked around an actual foot.

Instead of depression, constant rain made people extremely happy.

Instead of saying 'thank you', it would be considered appropriate to scream an octave higher than you would normally feel comfortable doing.

Grey was the most colorful color.

Picking your nose was a pick up move at your local bar.

Falling came before the pride.

Your rich uncle was my rich uncle.

You searched through the baby name book and you've settled on 'Mildew', and it works for either a boy or a girl.

Humming skills were equal with cooking skills.

If a protest was an actual test that you took. If you passed, you would be a 'pro'.

Instead of people protesting at a gay person's funeral, they were actually just selling hot dogs to the people across the street who were walking around completely unconnected to the protesters and the funeral itself. It was just a nice day.

Instead of recruiting people to go fight in the Middle East, the Government recruited people for a nation wide bake off!

Fred Savage and Keanu Reaves' careers traded places.

Euthanasia was actually youth in Asia. People would wonder what the controversy was all about.

My house had a fridge in every room, and in those fridges were different kinds of ice cream to eat and friends to hang out with.

Instead of riding horses, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood rode around on Alligators.

Instead of thinking outside the box, we'd strive to get outside of it and then run around warning others about the box.

Instead of giving a man on the street a dollar, we instead gave the man on the street a minute of our time.

Instead of just in football games, 'butt pats' were a completely heterosexual way of greeting your friends.

The coolest trend amongst kids between the ages of 10 and 15 years old was Snakes and Ladders. In fact, this summer, they would make a 3D movie of it. It would be called "Snakes and Ladders: the journey to the top 3D"


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Beithings I learned while in Beijing.

This past week we went to Beijing. My mom and dad came over for a visit so we decided to pick them up in the Capital and give them a little looksy at the sights and sounds. In all, we spent about 4 days in Beijing. As always with life, I learned a few things. Or, did I learnt them? If I find out the correct spelling of that word then it will just be one more interesting thing that I learnt this week.

1. When a 20 hour train ride turns into an 18 hour train ride, it is still a long haul and tough to do with 2 little boys. Plus, if they are going to ban smoking in this country, then the little waiting areas by the bathrooms on the train are "ground zero". Bring in the tear gas!

2. Just because there are short urinals for kids in some places does not mean that you should encourage your kid to use them. If you are in the habit of bending down to help your kid pull his pants down to pee, then you must remember to stand up before he starts peeing. I learned the hard way when I had to wash "splash back" out of my eye.

3. If you go to Beijing on a budget, then get used to eating McDonald's and walking everywhere.

4. The inside of the Forbidden City is pretty cool, but not really "40 RMB cool".

5. Normal looking citizens can still try to steal things from you. I was standing in line at Ikea and a normal, self-respect-looking dude tried to swipe my ipod from my camera bag. I noticed the sudden shift in the strap movement and put a stop to that nonsense.

6. Do not expect any taxis to want to take you anywhere. In fact, avoid taxis any way you can. Ride the Subway. It is great.

7. In China, no one tips. In Beijing, everyone expects you to tip them. So, since there is no foundational rule, yet there are thousands of ignorant over-tippers filing through the city every week, I think that the best thing to do is not tip. Of course, this causes great outcry. We were at TGI Friday's and the waiter waited for my dad to tip him. My dad, not sure of the custom, did nothing. The waiter walked away, and I caught a glimpse of him as he looked back in disgust.

"What? You want a tip? Well, maybe if you knew that the custom for tipping is to put the tip on the table you wouldn't have gotten so angry when we didn't hand you a tip. You're not a bellboy. You are a waiter. Google "how to give and receive a tip" and learn something. Then, when I ask you what the custom is, don't say "If I do a good job give me a good tip" because millions of your fellow Chinese in all different parts of the country never expect a tip, so your definition of 'tip', though correct and relevant in other countries, mainly means nothing to 99% of the population and people in your country. Also, refill our waters a little more often, will yeah?!"

8. Then, we settle on a 40 RMB per person price for a rickshaw ride. The kids ride free. At the end, I give the boss 160 RMB and he says that that is the "boss's fee" and that I still need to pay the drivers. Well, you can pay the drivers out of the fee we agreed on. Or, next time, drive the friggin' rickshaw yourself and I'll pay the driver!

To summarize, don't ruin a perfectly nice situation by demanding all kinds of money that you have no right to demand. Do a good job and ask a reasonable price and you will have a happy career. Heck, I might even take your phone number and recommend you to my friends. My friends might even grossly over tip you. There, everyone is happy.

9. If you have 2 kids, bring a stroller.

10. Hai Nan airline is much, much nicer than any other Chinese airline I have flown with.

Seriously, Beijing is cool and I feel like if I had a ton of money I could get a small sliver of a glimpse of what some of the cool stuff is like. In Xining, we pay a couple bucks at the most to take a taxi somewhere. In Beijing, you wait for 45 minutes, get a pissed off driver, and pay 6 or 7 dollars. Living in the city I live now, I cannot justify spending so much money and time on just getting somewhere where things cost more than I can afford to spend.

The best deals in Beijing, I have found, are the subway and the McDonald's cheeseburger. Sure, you could probably eat some cool/cheap local food, but you'll need to get into a taxi to find it.

Want affordable food, friendly people, culture, beauty, hilarity? Ladies and gentlemen... Xining.