Monday, May 24, 2010

Paradise City

One of the biggest thrills in my otherwise mundane life is the short walk from my car to my apartment building. I often get home late, so that adds to the excitement of being offered crack by a dealer who could probably get away with robbing me if he really wanted to. Obviously, this is an unsafe risk, but it's risks that makes my heart pound and my fists clench.

Everything else in my life – aside from that short walk – is safe, comfortable and familiar. Those feelings aren’t something I particularly enjoy. I want things to be unexpected, occasionally outside of my comfort zone, with just a hint of actual danger. I’m too young to be getting soft and travel might help me fight this feeling. There are so many places in the world I absolutely have to see, and not going to these countries is unfathomable. The only thing holding me back is time and money. Fortunately, I’m fairly clever. I can make it happen. Maybe. 
Bagan, Myanmaar: Two mind-boggling numbers stand out for this archeological park: 26 square miles and 2,200 temples and pagodas. Nestled within this historic place are massive temples, which are fine to me, but it’s the thousands of obscure ones that appeal to me. Renting a bike or a motorcycle and doing some Tomb Raider-like exploration would be a dream. Maybe seeing all the temples will jog my memory with what I learned from taking a course in Southeast Asian arts.

New Zealand: Almost everything I know about New Zealand comes from Flight of the Conchords and Peter Jackson’s earlier films, so I can’t really name any particular locations or attractions that appeal to me. In the case of New Zealand, I think it’s just the total package. Unspoiled wilderness in the middle of nowhere, friendly people that speak English and the fairly affordable living expenses all sweeten the deal.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Last Temptation of Doctor Who

He's like fire and ice and rage. He's like the night, and the storm in the heart of the sun. He's ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time and he can see the turn of the universe and... he's wonderful.

Doctor Who is an unflappable optimist who often becomes giddy when he encounters new alien technology, an undiscovered species or a genuinely dangerous situation. He always has a clever quip or two when trying to save the world, his companions, random strangers or himself. At times, he bounces around almost like a caffeinated cartoon. All of this helps keep the demons away.

He’s a lonely man, and why shouldn’t he be? As the sole survivor of his home planet and the last of the Time Lords, he’s been haunted by loss and the fact that the pain will never go away due to his immortality. He regularly seeks out companions to travel through space and time on his ship, knowing full well that he will outlive them. He has fun, saves the day, but in the end, he’s all alone. All those comical adventures and entertaining partners are just a Band-Aid to his deep emotional wounds, and the more he travels, the more death he sees. Still, he keeps on moving forward despite the suffering. Somebody has to right all the wrongs throughout time, and it’s the Doctor that carries that burden. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The top five 80s songs about foreign places

We live in a list-crazy society. Long, drawn-out lists are pretty much the only thing that airs on VH1. At the end of the year, newspapers became almost unreadable because of all the lists about top stories of the year filling those gaping news holes. The good news (pun?) is that the papers will be dead in a few years so that won’t be a problem any more (I kid, I kid. I love newspapers and think they’ll be around for at least 20 more years). If someone comes up with a thought-provoking well-reasoned article, nobody will read it. If all those nuggets of information are picked apart and put in list format, everyone will. It's just the way things are.

Here’s my contribution to the ADD generation with a list that hasn’t been done before, at least according to a quick Google search. Not just the best songs from the 1980s. Not just the best songs about foreign places, either. Rather, this is the best of both worlds: the top 80s songs about foreign places.

Honorable mentions
Istanbul by They Might Be Giants: It’s technically a cover, and conflicting information says that the song came out in either 1989 or 1991. Still, it’s a great song and was immortalized in an episode of Tiny Toons.

Jerusalem by Alphaville: The lyrics are a bit incomprehensible, like many of the German band’s songs, but still pretty powerful. I’m not Jewish and I’ve never been to Israel, but for some reason this song fills me with nationalistic pride for the country.

Paradise City by Guns N’ Roses: This song doesn’t exactly fit the criteria of the list, although I suppose it can be argued that it does. All I know is that I've never been where both the grass is green and the girls are pretty.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Poland Has Not Yet Succumbed

When I think of the Katyn Forest massacre, I find it hard to imagine a time time when something so catastrophic could happen.

Quick history lesson: When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Russia did the same. Theeir goal was to slice up the country, with bits going to the German invaders and other parts going to their communist allies. Everyone knows about the horrific crimes committed by Poland’s western neighbors, but few seem to know about what the nation on the east did.

In Poland, able-bodied people are required to serve in military. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professor, a lawyer, an artist or a factory worker. The most educated people – the leaders of society – are typically the officers. When World War II broke out, the fighting Polish soldiers came from all walks of life since they weren’t volunteers.

In 1940, 22,000 Polish prisoners of war were executed by Russian authorities. I’m not saying one of these events is worse than the other, but here are some other massive tragedies for comparison. On 9/11/01, 2,752 people were killed in the World Trace Center. In Pearl Harbor, 2,350 people died. In the Battle of Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. history, 6,821 American troops were killed. About 18,000 Japanese also perished.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Slaying the Dragon Called Sometimes-Snooty NY Times Writers

I’m one of the biggest supporters New York Times out there and I truly believe that the product they deliver is a true service to humanity. Unlike most people, I might even pay for it once the Web site is no longer free later this year. I’ll have to forsake some groceries to do so, but who needs tortilla chips when you can find nourishment in some of the best news articles out there? That being said, the way they over-analyze some of my favorite things in life can be quite amusing at best and utterly pompous at worst.

Recently, I read an article focusing why New York City has always been such a central focus of comic books. Fascinating bits of history and background were woven into an entertaining story about a medium I love, but the real reason for the popularity of New York in Batman, Spider-Man, Watchmen and other comics without “man” or “men” at the end of the title was somewhat buried in the story. Obviously, most publishers were/are based in the city that populates all these panels, yet this was practically a footnote in the article. That’s like wondering why Dostoyevsky’s works always seem to feature Russia in one way or another. For that matter, what's the deal with Herman Melville often writing about sailing?

Another over analysis appeared on March 8, when Muse’s performance at Madison Square Garden was reviewed in an article titled “Slaying the Dragon Called Subtlety with Large-Scale Heroics.” The writer laments that Muse is over the top, while offering slight praise such as “When taken too seriously, Muse is as kitschy as it is impressive. It’s better to just let each showstopper build to its inevitable, satisfying wallop” while later in the article, saying Muse would not exist without Queen (another favorite band of mine, but an unfair and ignorant statement nonetheless).

I’m a proud superfan of Muse, and if they had a card for such a title, I would indeed carry it. Accompanied by my compatriot Matt Wadleigh (who has a blog he never updates here), I had a different take on the show. The special effects, from lasers to inflatable floating eyeballs to several digital screens in the form of towers, were unlike anything I had seen at any other concert (including the 2007 Muse concert I attended Gdynia, Poland). In this sense, I somewhat agree when the article that states:

Even the ballads went boom when Muse performed at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.

The second part of the lead paragraph takes back what might be construed as praise.

Muse, a three-man English band formed in the early 1990s, never misses a chance for melodrama.

Wadleigh and I, both writers, usually don’t have any problems expressing our thoughts on a variety of subjects, and this concert was no exception. As another song completed, Wadleigh told me “I just want to punch something.” Indeed, by the end of the show I had similar adrenaline-fueled feelings. As we walked towards the stairs to go leave the arena, I confided in Wadleigh that “I could probably headbutt a wall right now.”

A young girl, probably around 15, looked at me like I was something bizarre and to be pitied. Like the writer of the Times’ article, she was too square to understand. Just let the music take control and lose yourself. If you have the chance and the music is awesome enough, go absolutely fucking crazy. It’s human nature, unlike writing such sentences as “the science fiction continues in the lyrics, which present the singer as a romantic holdout — a revolutionary and a lover — in a dystopia of lies and mind control” about a rock band.