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My Volunteer World (Pt. III): Machete Mania August 27, 2006

Posted by earthlingconcerned in Volunteer.
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As a part of the workshop my partner and myself were preparing, my partner Linda and myself were walking around the community to local shops in an attempt to start up some sort of supply chain of recyclable paper. We did this because we were attempting to promote recycling and a wee bit of income generation for the yet to be determined workshop participants by introducing the idea of “spiced paper”. This was simply new paper we blended up from a mix of used paper, followed by the addition of some food coloring and aroma heavy spices. The idea was to make greetings cards (or whatever else) and sold to the tourists as a local item. This is the background to the story, this is why we were walking. This was before we saw some baby goats tied to a post on a hill.

As should be expected by two city dwellers from a faraway land who aren’t accustomed to livestock walking around freely in the community, we stopped for a while and played with the animals. After a few minutes of this, two older men began to emerge at the top of the hill and made their way towards us. We stood up and slowly began walking in their direction (not knowing who’s goats they were) until one of the men stopped and began talking to us as the second of the two continued down the hill. The man who stopped was named Joseph. His eyes were fogged over with cataracts, yet my gaze into them seemed to go on forever. Espionage of the human soul. He was also in possession of a machete that he swung around as if it were a fly swatter. Regardless, we introduced ourselves as volunteers from Canada and briefly described why we were there. His initial excitement to see us was outright suspicious as he proclaimed a love for all white people. Linda, who is of Chinese decent, didn’t fit the Caucasian profile he spoke of but neither of us were about to bring up this minor detail. We were polite and tried to carry on a conversation, which was hard because of his thick Caribbean accent.

He began speaking of George W. Bush as the devil. I was disturbed by the topic right away because it brought him into a highly emotional state which I was weary to deal with but there was nothing we could do (while keeping our calm at least). He spoke of the M-16s. He said when we returned home, we should go to the white house and take out the president. I’m not sure he understood Canada was a completely different country. He spoke of military jets flying over head. The details were lost in translation. We attempted to end the conversation several times but that wasn’t an option. His machete was flailing about. Were we to become a series of epitaphs? Then, without warning, he grabbed my partners wrist and held onto it. I remember when she whispered my name. Not knowing what to do, I reached out my hand hoping he would release her and shake my hand. He simply looked at me in response. Finally, the words during these moments long since forgotten, I fruitlessly attempted to peel his life-hardened hands from her wrists. Suddenly, with the blur of moment in full swing, the second man appeared and told him to leave her alone. She was freed and they both walked away as quickly as they appeared. We continued up the hill away from them.

It was all truly bizarre. Machetes are indeed a common tool on the island. But his actions suggested to me that he knew the power it had over us during the chance encounter. I had gotten to know a local in the community who lost his hand in a machete attack the previous year. They were indeed multi-functional. His hatred for the United States could have been based on recent events, but his age and words suggested otherwise. The liberation of Grenada in 1983 by the American saviors could have had a lot to do with his sentiments. I will never know exactly who this man was or what he was capable of. Who knows what would have happened if the man he was with didn’t return when he did. But he did, and we continued walking along the road when we encountered something just as bizarre.

A large, angry looking dog came barking towards us as we approached a private Christian school we didn’t know existed. In the bushes behind the school was a teacher who was looking after several children on their break. They were all pale white with bleach blond hair dressed in formal school attire. A cult like ambiance overwhelmed me. They looked upon us suspiciously yet didn’t utter a word. This reaction was the complete opposite of the open, outgoing, and exceptionally friendly attitude exhibited by the public school children of the community where we lived. As we reached the school, we said hello to the other staff member and talked about who we were and what we were doing. She spoke in an accent that was completely foreign to me. The shelves were full of books and they had a working computer for the children to use. Both of which would be hard to come across publicly within the town. Eventually we turned back to the direction we came. We came across Joseph one more time, he was passed out sitting near one of the local shops we had previously entered in an attempt to aquire paper. We didn’t say a word as we passed and eventually made it back to our home away from home.

The day was one to remember. We were confronted by a man who obviously wasn’t too happy with our presence (regardless of his opening statements), followed by an encounter by a paranoid group of white children with funny accents. Maybe they were withdrawn because years of isolation, the fear not belonging. A world within a world within a world. And there we were in our own gated property, trying to save the world, just like everyone else.


Snakes on a Plane and Late Night Television August 23, 2006

Posted by earthlingconcerned in Snakes On A Plane, The Colbert Report, Web 2.0.

Samuel L. Jackson was interviewed on the Daily Show last week and made another appearance on the show during a Samantha Bee interview on Monday. This makes perfect sense considering the movie was going to be the next big thing. Thanks to the blog-o-sphere and amateur videos on Youtube, Snakes On A Plane was to show the world that internet readers and contributors are a force to be reckoned with. Web 2.0 and its users are here to stay! The Colbert Report, along with the rest of the late night shows have also made several references to the film, adding to the hysteria. So if this was going to be such a big release, why did it barely take the #1 spot with a meager $13,806,311 over its opening weekend? It could have to do with the fact that the internet hype market is still just a niche market and wide spread acceptance or knowledge of the hype was never achieved. Or that a good plot is really more important than good hype. Or maybe the money it made isn’t meager at all, that if it wasn’t for the hype, it would have gone straight to video and marked the beginning of the end for Mr. Jackson in Hollywood. Who knows, even Jebus wouldn’t have the answers to those questions.

The primary reason for this post is to point out something else I’ve noticed about the hype. It all begins with the internet. The only reason so much time and effort has been given to Snakes on a Plan by shows like the Daily Show and the Colbert Report is because they get most of their information from the same places the average web user does. While the writers of the show browse through the news for something interesting or funny for the afternoon taping, they stumble upon the same blips of randomness that the rest of us do. They’re not the ones making the news, or for the most part, even sending people out to find the news (like one would hope traditional reporters do). Because of their research methods, the writers begin to notice something big is happening with Snakes On A Plane. All the Blogs and message boards are talking about it. Fan made videos are all over the place. Call it the reverse Colbert Effect (I’m losing myself in an ongoing loop of confusion here but won’t attempt to resolve it) if you want, but the internet does indeed deliver the stories to the show. Only recently has it gone the other way (ie. Colbert Bridge, Wikiality, etc.) I guess this transparency of information exchange from one medium to another rely on each another quite nicely.

Writing about this doesn’t really say much either way. If not for the internet, other news sources would have been used I’m sure. These are comedy shows I’m speaking about after all. But funny is good. Funny is popular (the most popular article I’ve written so far is on the Colbert Effect). I suppose all I’m saying is that the film debuted with lower than expected numbers because everything has to be taken into perspective. It may appear that Web2.0 users and Colbert Report/Daily Show viewers speak for the masses (if you yourself are lost in the hype), but apparently they only speak for $13,806,311 of movie receipts worth. It’s similar to when George W. Bush was re-elected. Half of the country would never have imagined a re-election, but there it was. Everything in perspective. Everyone is always part of something bigger than an election, or a fan base, or a website. Sometimes, it’s just easy to get lost in your own reality and, um, Snakes on a mutha fuckin’ Plane!

Nintendo and Nostalgia form a Powerful Alliance August 23, 2006

Posted by earthlingconcerned in nintendo, Nostalgia.
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Prior to the release of the Nintendo DS, few would have bet on Nintendo to continue dominating the handheld market the way they have. PSP was more powerful, had a larger screen, could play movies, and had similar games as were offered on the Playstation series of gaming consoles. A casualty of these extra features was the more expensive price tag (currently $199 (USD) for the PSP Vs. $129 for the DS). But does low price always predict high sales? Sony had long since dethroned Nintendo on the console market with their more expensive Playstation2 (outselling its competitor 5:1). It was beginning to appear that Nintendo was destined to follow the same path as SEGA when they walked away from the console market after a string of failures. But something happened, Nintendo DS is outselling PSP by a large margin and with more and more game developers are switching sides as a result. In this new era of Nintendo, they often claim that their success is a direct result of the emphasis they put on having fun instead of just looking good.

There is more to it than simply focusing on fun games. Making a fun game doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sacrifice on graphics. If so, then Gamecube would have outsold Playstation and the Atari 2600 would continue to dominate the market today. It just doesn’t make much sense to me. There is also the idea of being innovative. This to me has more potential as being the a culprit to Nintendo’s most recent success. With a touch screen and free wireless gaming, gamers could interact with their systems in ways that they couldn’t before. I’ve spent several hours playing DS and can attest that these features aren’t just simple gimmicks to create a niche market. But whack-a-mole has been available on palm pilots for years. I think what Nintendo is doing with DS and what it hopes to achieve with Wii is genius. What is becoming the awakening of a sleeping giant could have easily been the last grasp for life. All they did was wait for their first crop of fans (think 1985, NES) to become adults, make a little bit of money for themselves, and have thoughts of “the good ol’ days” flow through them for the first time.

Nostalgia is marketable if given enough time to develop. If you look at the DS catalogue, you’ll find a range of side scrolling adventure games (Kirby, Castlevania, Mario and even Sonic, to name a few) that dominated the markets until the mid-1990s when 3D became the next big thing. You’ll find mid-1990s fads (Tamagotchi) in Nintendogs. You’ll find the past, rebranded for the present. When your DS owning friend approaches and promotes the system to you for the first time, it’s tough to deny the genuine nature of the prevailing excitement. You too begin to remember the consoles of days long since etched into memory. You begin to question whether or not the side-scroller ever reached its peak or if it was instead bullied aside by first-person shooters, by 3D fighting games, and by advancing graphics technology in general. This is what I’ve been missing all these years, you think to yourself. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with growing up, accepting change or moving on. Being infected with nostalgia doesn’t allow for these ideas to permeate through your consciousness. The era of pushing the technological envelope, you suddenly begin to realize, was a mistake. The wrong road was chosen, but the error has been discovered and corrected. Thank you for showing us the light Nintendo.

Wii, the next generation console by Nintendo is no different. The buzz is centered around the innovative motion directed controller, the fun over technology factor, the price, and once again nostalgia. Titles like Duck Hunt, Wii Sports Pack (think Pilot Wings), Ping Pong, and even Super Mario Galaxy (Mario 64 anyone?) and services like the virtual console demand for nostalgic fervor. When you look at the game-play images, that’s really the only approach Nintendo could have possibly taken. Without the highest number of possible horses under the hood, the games already look out of date. Price always comes into consideration, but history has shown that expensive systems can succeed. Nintendo is playing down technology because it has to. Their worth had, prior to the beginning of their alliance with nostalgia, plummeted since the glory days of Super Nintendo. It would be foolish to think that they were even capable of financing the technology Microsoft and Sony are coming out with. The recent surge of success and potential for Nintendo has allowed their stock value to double in the last 12 months, but they’re still light years behind the type of capital their competitors have available to them. So Nintendo came out with a pen and a fancy controller to garner attention. But they rely on nostalgia to keep people talking.

There is no reason to believe that graphics and having fun are correlated in any significant way. The game developers either make a fun game, or a crappy game, it’s as simple as that. Those developing for Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo are all aware of this. If Nintendo had the capital to do so, don’t think for a second that they would rely almost exclusively on their claim to innovation and fun. But that’s the road they’ve gone down and it appears to be a winning strategy. It’s for the same reason that music compilations celebrating the decade before, or 20th anniversary editions of, whatever, continue to be released. I would vaguely argue that all of this is neither a good thing, or a bad thing, but simply a thing. The nostalgia market in video games is a new one because the video game market itself is really only about 25 years old. If Nintendo wins the console wars this generation, it is for these reasons. They filled a void. Sony is no need to worry in the long run. They may lose lots of money with their current investment but remember, nostalgia is generation dependant, you can’t forget the dominance Sony had in the late 90’s and the first few years of this century. If they learn from what Nintendo has discovered about nostalgia, they themselves are a sleeping giant in waiting.


Something About the G-Rated War (By Kids) August 21, 2006

Posted by earthlingconcerned in Uncategorized.
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CBC Newsworld rebroadcast the documentary entitled Enemy Image last night and I was fortunate enough to catch it in its entirety. It is an account of U.S. military censorship laid down onto the media during times of war since Vietnam, with a brief discussion on what one might expect in the future. As many of you already know, the print and television journalists were allowed to present their unfiltered war stories and images to the general public with little government intervention. The horrors of war on display brought out large scale protests that helped end the quagmire that was Vietnam. The US government promised this degree of freedom will never again be granted to the media at large. Government sponsored media during the invasion of Grenada in 1983 displayed as peachy of a picture that they could and all was well until video was released by the only western journalist still on the island capturing the scenes the way they were actually unfolding. Still, the R-Rated images of Vietnam were prevented this time around and given a G-Rating by the government. As someone who was still a baby during this time, my interpretation is entirely based on historical writings and images I witnessed during my stay on the island earlier this year. Less than a decade later, the Gulf War arrived, and the censorship continued.

During this war, the mistakes of Grenada were adjusted in an attempt to keep the free world happy. The press was allowed into the country, but only in a severely restricted way. Press Pools were set up so that only a few correspondents were allowed in and had to share their stories and images. Those in the pools were required to follow the following rules:

  1. No reporters could visit any U.S. military unit or travel outside of Dhahran or Riyadh except in a press pool.
  2. No pool was permitted in the field without an escort, usually a U.S. military public-affairs officer (PAO).
  3. No interviews of U.S. military personnel were permitted without an escort present.
  4. All pool dispatches must first pass through the “military security review system.” (PAOs at ach pool location reviewed all dispatches and could delete or change any “military sensitive information.” Reporters could appeal any censorship to the military pool coordinating office in Dhahran and then to the Pentagon.)
  5. Violations of the above rules could result in arrest, detention, revocation of press credentials, and expulsion from the combat zone.

Since everyone had to share a limited amount of information, the idea of an exclusive story was thrown out the window. Truthiness ran rampant as the major US Networks tried to fill their news hour with stories of a war that was allowed to deliver so few. But unlike during the Grenada Invasion, I have memories of the first Gulf War. Memories from a far, but memories nonetheless.

Because of television, I remember night vision. There were coalition troops scurrying around at night with fancy, state of the art night vision goggles on. Thankfully the camera shooting the action was also equipped with such a marvel of technology so I, the viewer, could see the green glow of darkness. This was war to me. Little did I know that what I was seeing was just as staged and prepared as the episode of Tiny Toons I was surely waiting to watch that day. I didn’t see what a child growing up during Vietnam would have seen. I remember buying packs of Desert Storm trading cards and learning about the war (and which colors didn’t run) through them. Now I too knew what a Scud missile was and why they had to be stopped. MAD magazine made me realize why Saddam was really, “So-damn Insane”. What I saw was a filtered version of a war I couldn’t expect to understand in the form of flashing images and children’s propaganda. In retrospect, maybe it’s good that I saw the G-rated version of war. I was only 11 after all.

But the press pools weren’t set up to protect children from seeing too much too soon. They were in place to prevent the rest of the adult population from causing a commotion yet again. If the military felt that the means (fancy weapons) justified the ends (victory), then that’s all they need to show right. The dripping red of the dead and dying, the demoralized troops, and the true images of war were replaced; A target, a flag, and a number represented the new casualties of war. The car replaced the human driver and a weapons storage facility replaced its human population and as a result, war was G-rated not only to the children, but too all. I would be lying if I said that my memories of the Gulf War impacted my life as a whole. Theoretically, the false images and ideas became platforms to developing thoughts as I aged and therefore hindered my understanding of the way things actually are. But I would never dwell on this suggestion. But I am older now, and there is a new Gulf-War in progress. This time around the G-ratings do indeed frustrate me.

Further media limiting adjustments and rules have been established during this war to keep the public from seeing too much. The media is allowed to report what they see, providing the information is derived from military sources. The U.S. Department of Defense gives the following reasons, “We need to tell the factual story—good or bad—before others seed the media with disinformation and distortions, as they most certainly will continue to do. Our people in the field need to tell our story—only commanders can ensure the media get to the story alongside the troops.” So now we have stories of the heroism of Private Lynch. Who years after her capture and subsequent rescue said in an interview with Diane Sawyer, “They used me to symbolize all this stuff. It’s wrong. I don’t know why they filmed [my rescue] or why they say these things” and “I did not shoot, not a round, nothing. I went down praying to my knees. And that’s the last I remember.” But that’s not the story people will remember. Her story has already been embedded into the psyche of a nation as one of sheer heroism. But the horrors of the new war do trickle out every so often. The world is too small and information spreads too quickly for it to be any other way. As long as the there remains the guise of freedom within the parties involved. It appears that the majority of us who aren’t subject to war in our backyards can now see things in a PG mindset. Away with the G rating and into the world of PG. It’s amazing how far we’ve really come.