A bit of a late return

27 01 2010

I’ve already fallen behind in my attempts to keep this blog chronologically consistent, but I’ll try and make up for it today.

Ethiopian Land Grab

The Guardian reports on Ethiopa’s selling off of huge tracts of unused land to foreign and local companies who will use it to grow various crops and flowers. Time will tell if this will become a system that allows  a foreign body to exploit a locality and then export the goods produced leaving the indigenous population in the same poverty or worse, a la the Irish famine. First indications seem quite good with higher pay for workers and a promise to sell produce locally, which is more an economic decision made on the basis that transport costs in Africa are too high, but time will tell. Article here

I Served the King of England

I finally finished I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal having received it as part of a swap. It really is a very enjoyable book. The narration takes a folklorish style and the narrator himself has the right mix of roguish and insightful qualities to keep your interest and prick your mind with childlike questions about what we expect from life. The timeline brings us through times of wealth and stability to those of poverty and oppression during WWII, followed by the era of Communism in Czechoslovakia. Though these times make for an interesting backdrop, it is the narrator’s own experiences and what he learns from them that make for the most intriguing element of the book. In some ways he personifies capitalism and its trials over the last century ending until finally realising the system, and all the alternatives, has failed and what matters most is how people interact with each other.

“Cuteness” as a Social Disease

Vanity Fair (December 2009) had an intersting insight into the rise of “cuteness” in modern culture, more so the last few yearas. Obviously written from an American perspective it makes some observations regarding the growth of cute in the US after Obama took the reigns. The article sees it as an attempt to discard the harder, almost less human, image of America ciculated during the Bush era. It’s worth a quick read anyway, though I would like to point out that he makes a fleeting reference to the influences of Studio Ghibli on Pixar, which he can’t expand on so doesn’t and completely misses the point of Astro Boy. His understnading of animated film is clearly limited as this quote shows:

There has also been a sharp rise in cute movies. For the past decade, the annual list of the 50 highest-grossing films has included between 7 and 13 productions with adorable cartoon heroes (among them Up, Wall-E, Kung Fu Panda, Ratatouille) or lovable animals (Marley & Me, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Hotel for Dogs). There have always been movies for kids, but in the 1990s, by contrast, there were four or five cute movies per year among those cracking the top 50. And when critics review films like Up or Wall-E, their tone suggests they’re dealing with something like The Seventh Seal rather than movies designed to exploit our caretaking instinct.

A nice combination of cultural snobbery (mentioning The Seventh Seal as a reference to high art is always suspiciously pretencious) and basic ignorance of the animated media/genre (since when is a fucking rat cute?. Walt Disney probably originally had the idea for Randolph Rat). The rest of the article is interesting, but I’m really not aware of cuteness being as major an issue as the author suggests.

Shorts

Interesting LA Times article on the later years of Philip K Dick and his life in Orange County here.

Garry Kasparov on intelligence in the New York Review of Books here.

Just so I don’t forget to show something mechanical, here’s a video of the 1929 Fordson Snow Machine Concept:

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