The thorough Americanization of vampires

The vampire-genre used borrowed heavily from Slavic folklores and rules, or at least tried to claim some kind of European bloodline.  Remember the mythical creatures named Vlad out of Transylvania, vampires of Byron, Bram Stoker, Bronte, and later Anne Rice, and even the ones out of Blade?

Not so much anymore.

In recent years, with shows like Buffy, Twilight, True Blood, the vampire theme has morphed from a sub-genre of horror, to an entire class itself.  In recent years, its depth has risen from merely terrorizing humans and dueling with other creatures of the night, to expounding on hot-bed issues like abstinence, racial and social issues, ideas or morality and mortality.

Vampire baseball, can you dig it? If the old SCTV gang had thought that one up, they’d have knocked off early for the day to celebrate. But sometimes ninnies express truths that smart alecks couldn’t think up at gunpoint. Thanks not least to its eerie echo of Camelot’s touch-football games, the image of Lugosi’s star-spangled descendants shagging flies in ball caps had the one popcult virtue that can’t be faked: accidental profundity.

And vampire characters have progressed from two-dimensional blood-sucking monsters, to those with American suave, exposing bigotry and hypocrisy, and championing unjust causes.

True Blood‘s anti-Bush glee makes subtext as archaic as laser discs. Before Anne Rice ruined everything for her fans by going Christer on them, she won a vast gay following by creating sympathetic vampires whose non-mainstream tastes made them mournful but special. Now Alan Ball has junked the mournfulness—about time, too—while reworking the parallel to send up homophobia.

Better yet, he’s discovered that turning vampires into an interest group is a great way to crack wise about all the other smack-downs that keep God’s favorite country so lively. Smug subcultures versus heartland straight arrows, ostracism versus tolerance, assimilation versus exclusivity—yep, the whole bazaar. Subtle he isn’t, but you can’t say it’s not a joke we’re all in on.

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Why do Jews disdain Sarah Palin more than other groups?

The Jewish magazine, Commentary, explains the “anti-Palin fever gripping American Jews”:

[It] can best be understood as the result of her alignment with a series of issues and cultural markers that antagonize a large segment of the American Jewish community. If one were to invent a political leader designed to drive liberal, largely secular, urban, highly educated Jews to distraction, one would be hard pressed to come up with a more effective figure than Palin.

David Frum sums it up in four basic points:

1. Jews value formal credentials, and Palin’s got none.

2. Jews under-weight folksy American pastimes, i.e. hunting, fishing, taming the frontier, military.  All of which Palin claims to enjoy and readily flaunts.

3. Jews distain working class occupations.  Palin’s family laboured through them, and uses them to “connect” with blue-collar Americans.

4. Jews don’t like large families, and are largely pro-choice.  Palin’s got a large family, is pro-life, and gave birth to a disabled son.

Furthermore, concerns over her (lack of) intellectual capacity to perform the job is just the start of the problems.

Frum says this, and I think it’s the one thing that disquiets all intellectuals, urbanites, members of minority groups, and anyone with an appreciation of history.

I think the real and most fundamental problem Jews have with Palin is not her gleeful ignorance, but her willful divisiveness. More than any politician in memory, Palin seems to divide her fellow-Americans into first class and second class citizens, real Americans and not-so-real Americans. To do her justice, she has never said anything to suggest that Jews as Jews fall into the second, less-real, class. But Jews do tend to have an intuition that when this sort of line-drawing is done, we are likely to find ourselves on the wrong side.

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France is on a roll to regulate everything under the sun

Is there anything the French does not try to plan? Its oppressive education system aside, and in a clear showing that French politicians need some real crisis to lose sleep over, here’s what’s on the French agenda this week.

The French elite is united in their desire to ban the burka, citing its divine mandate and unique French imperative to free those women from the “prison” those items of clothing create.  What’s more ironic than throwing legal tricks around to render a previously harmless act illegal?  That less than 0.06% of French’s Muslim population dons the cursed thing!

Women wearing the head-to-toe covering, which leaves just a narrow opening for the eyes, are a rare sight in France. The French domestic intelligence agency said late last year it has even counted them, and found precisely 367 niqab-wearers in a country with a Muslim population estimated at close to six million.

Next, the connoisseur and patron of under-aged sex tourism, French Cultural Minister Frederic Mitterrand, wants to tax Google (perhaps because taxing the Internet is just a tad too, ambitious) for “the development of legal outlets for buying books, movies and especially music on the Internet”.  Because the French Internet is particularly averse to file-sharing that’s destroying the great institution known as French innovation.


I have a better idea[:] how about we tax the French Telecom companies for allowing access to the data, then we can tax the PC manufacturers that sell products in France for providing the equipment to users to pirate music. After that we can tax the French electric company for providing power to run those piracy machines.

Finally we can tax the French Government being complete idiots.

Moving right along, the French government is back-pedaling from its 2005 name ruling.  It would see obvious now that having your last name hyphenated with two hyphens look ghastly.  But I’m sure it made perfect sense to a French bureaucrat at the time!

According to the old ruling, a child with parents with last name, say, Gagnon and Sicard, would end up with a hyphenated last name with double hyphens – Gagnon–Sicard, in an attempt to distinguish it from someone with one parent’s already hyphenated name, Gagnon-Sicard.

As for the 175,000 French children born after the ruling in 2005?

Double-dashed offspring will then have the option of striking off a hyphen from their surname, or remaining grammatically incorrect for the rest of their lives.

Last but not least, and in another blatant hand gesture to the rest of the world that economic recovery is clearly not on the top of its domestic agenda, and there’s a surplus of police personnel waiting to be made useful, the French government wants you to be civil!  More specifically, to be civil to your spouse, in your own house.

Chinese blogosphere reacts to tragic real estate parable in Avatar

Avatar (2009 film)

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The WSJ translation of this Chinese blogger’s review [Chinese] of “Avatar” really doesn’t do it justice.

It’s pretty dry, originally interpretive, and hilariously sincere in embracing a movie previously thought by critics to be about our recurring fantasies around pantheism and racial guilt, into an Avatar with Chinese sentiments.

And the focus is on a subject close and dear to the Chinese heart – real estate.

Temporarily forgetting its own creeping neo-colonialism in certain parts of the world, the Chinese turns domestic, and sees the struggle on Pandora an analogy to Chinese government’s strong hand in evicting residents from their homes to make way for new developments.  In the past decades of economic development, this kind of forced eviction benefited mainly real estate developers and local governments officials – many in bed with real estate developers, have left a pretty permanent mark on the Chinese psyche.

Chinese netizens react. Hilarity ensues.

Here are some comments:

Strongly condemn the Western director for using Avatar to allude to China’s current situation!!

Avatar is the story of violent eviction and demolition [of people’s homes] in China.

The humans actually failed to successfully evict and demolish [the aliens]? Truly embarrassing. Why didn’t they send China’s chengguan there earlier?

This film is too reactionary, encouraging China’s ordinary common people to use violence to resist demolition!!! [It is an] attempt to subvert the great China!!

“Avatar” shows the director’s deep understanding and concern for the (forceful) eviction and demolition [of people’s homes] in China!!

“Avatar”, Chinese name “A Chengguan’s Vindication/Confessions”;
“District 9“, Chinese name “Director of Demolitions”;
“The Matrix”, Chinese name “State Apparatus”

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The recession as experienced by the Irish

Antique engraving of 'Emigrants leaving Ireland'

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Like other pockets of Europe, Ireland experienced phenomenal growth in the 2000s.

Like Iceland for example, both relatively poor before major economic changes took place, soared to unimaginable heights during the boom, and now shot down to earth and licking their wounds.

But are the Irish more mentally equipped to deal with the recession, given their not-so-distant memories of poverty and hardship?

We have a long and proud history of poverty, I don’t know if that helps. When I was growing up, you never asked another Irish person what they did for a living, and you never turned a beggar from the door. These are lyrical and dangerous clichés, of course (though incidentally true): Ireland was by no means a classless society. Even so, I do see differences from other countries in the play of rage, entitlement and delight around money: who has it, who deserves it, who gets cross.

An insightful narrative of the recession months, as seen by the Irish.

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In Russia, 2010 clears out cheap vodka bottles to make paths for procreation

en: Vodka museum in Mandrogi, Leningrad Oblast...

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Russia is trying to curb the excessive drunkenness that’s sent many of her young and able-bodied men to their early graves, leaving the country with rapid population decline, its women desperate for spouses, and a general sense of, shall we say, despair.

As of the new year, Russian government has effectively doubled the price of its cheapest drink.  Now the cheapest half litre of vodka will set you back 89 roubles (about $3).

The drive to reverse the trend of declining population is so strong that the government is effectively bribing its people to have more children.

So giving a Russian $9,200 in cash is like giving an American $36,112. Would that be enough to convince lots of Americans to assume the financial responsibilities associated with an additional child?

But that is the Russian carrot to Portugal’s stick when it comes to population management.  As part of its 2006 pension reforms, pension contribution rates are tied to the number of children one has.

Contributions would stay unchanged for people with two children, decrease if they had more than two and increase if they had fewer.

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Half of a man is better than none at all! Russians, Malaysians, and South Africans agree

Big Love

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And a half-warm bed is better than an altogether cold one!

I’m stealing the headline from this Guardian article, that due to a clear shortage of available men in rural areas, the good women of Siberia (and some part of Mongolia) are now advocating polygamy on their men’s behalf.  Say what you may, but when the day comes, no principles or gender progressiveness can stand in the way of, demography!

The Russian population is falling by 3% a year – and there are 9 million fewer men than women. Nationalists, such as the eccentric leader of the Liberal Democratic party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, claim that introducing polygamy will provide husbands for “10 million lonely women” and fill Mother Russia’s cradles.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Humphrey’s investigations have uncovered women who believe that “half a good man is better than none at all”. “There are still some men around – they might be running things, with a job as an official, for example, or they might be doing an ordinary labouring job, but either way, there aren’t very many of them,” she says. “Women say that the legalisation of polygamy would be a godsend: it would give them rights to a man’s financial and physical support, legitimacy for their children, and rights to state benefits.”

And it’s not just the rural demographics forcing women into polygamy.

In Malaysia, well-educated and urban women are proudly continuing this prehistoric practice.  And unlike Big Love, the man in the centre of all this doesn’t have to hide it, nor be straitjacketed by the ideas of progressiveness or modernity.  And the women are resigned to the fact, and very practical.

“Men are by nature polygamous,” said Dr. Rohaya, Mr. Ikram’s third wife, flanked by the other three women and Mr. Ikram for an interview on a recent morning. The women were dressed in ankle-length skirts, their hair covered by tudungs, the Malaysian term for headscarf. “We hear of many men having the ‘other woman,’ affairs and prostitution because for men, one woman is not enough. Polygamy is a way to overcome social ills such as this.”

As for the households, it sounds just like some kind of sisterhood of travelling pants social club, complete with baby-sitting co-op and soup kitchen!

The wives usually meet Mr. Ikram at the family house but they say there is no strict arrangement, and Mr. Ikram sometimes comes to their individual homes during the week.

On weekends, at the family house, the women take turns doing the cooking.

“We share clothes,” Dr. Rohaya said. “We’re like sisters, really.”

Last but not least, rounding off an excellent week in the world of polygamy, South African President Jacob Zuma has married for the fifth time.  He has one ex-wife, and another has committed suicide, making the latest bride the country’s third first lady.

There’s also another fiancée in waiting, and more rumoured betrothals.

From passive-aggressive notes to violence: a perfect Swedish saga

Laundry room
Image by Photochiel via Flickr
What happens to a highly individualistic population with homogenous expectations, hates confrontation, but nevertheless trapped with tedious aspects of communal living?  You get passive aggressive notes! It’s just like college, but worse.

In the egalitarian heaven that is Sweden, many rental units have common laundry rooms, which is pretty normal.  But they come with a plethora of booking, cleaning, and maintenance rules.

Communal laundries were introduced in the 1930s as part of a project to raise living standards. By the 1950s, more than 80 percent of apartment blocks in Sweden had shared washing machines and dryers, as well as a strict set of rules on booking times and cleaning duties. It was perhaps inevitable that laundry rooms became battle zones.

In Stockholm in 2008, more than 70 cases of laundry-related threats and beatings were reported to police. Much more common are the angry, threatening, and insulting notes some people leave about timekeeping, tidiness, and other infractions.

As someone who’s gone through various versions of laundromats during both dorm life and in shared housing, it is hard to imagine this level of agitation and mental exertion on a matter this minute.

[The victim] cleaned the fluff from the filter on the tumble dryer and wiped all of the washing machines she had used.  But the 60-year-old woman, expecting an altogether more thorough job, got in front of the door and blocked her neighbour’s exit. The time was 1pm.
“You have to clean up. I’m not going to leave you. We’ll keep going until 7 o’clock,” the self-styled guardian of the laundry room is alleged to have said.

While the laundry phenomenon might be distinctly Swedish, but the slavish adherence to rules – both explicit and implicit, is not at all uncommon in the North.  Add some everyday pettiness to the mix, and we have ourselves some distinctly pedestrian Nordic drama.

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The battle over how the world should feel about the past

Image by Wolfgang Staudt via Flickr

Time’s tough, so it’s no surprise that everyone’s a bit nostalgic.

Old(er) and poor(er) Russians miss a time when the word “oligarch” had yet to invade their vocabulary, and things could be bought with kopeks (cents).

Many say they also miss being citizens of a huge, sprawling multiethnic superpower that seemed to command respect in the world.

“I used to travel all over the USSR, and was welcomed everywhere,” says Inna Lepneva, a retired TV sound engineer. “Now the country is split up, no one likes Russians anymore, and good relationships are ruined. Nothing has changed for the better.

Nowadays, postmodern nostalgia is worn on trendy T-shirts by a new crop of ironic or uber-patriotic young hipsters. Verdict of the past is battled out at length on TV and in bookstores.

Since 1991 Russians have been bombarded with articles, books and television programmes denouncing Bolshevik crimes: the Red Terror under Lenin and Trotsky; the Great Terror under Stalin; the famine of 1932-33; the gulag; the deportation of individuals punished for, or suspected of, collaborating with Nazi Germany; and the repression of the Brezhnev era. The battle for memory combined with the promotion of democratic commercial values has been keenly fought by the media, journalists and historians, backed by a vast Western, chiefly US, network of institutions, universities and foundations.

In former East Germany, Ostalgie is pervasive.  In Berlin, a whole souvenirs’ industry around former-East German products such as Ampelmaennchen has sprung, getting your passport stamped with fake border crossing visa, and posting with former Communist street guards have become tourist attractions.  Part of Berlin’s charm was its run-downness, and the bourgersie version of poverty-porn.

Clunky Trabants belching car exhaust along Karl-Marx-Allee. Red-and-yellow East German flags fluttering from storefronts. Retro-chic bars that resemble cold-war bomb shelters. The Berlin Wall may have fallen 20 years ago next month, but in certain pockets of this pulsating German capital, it seems to be going back up – at least for those too young to recall what life was like in the German Democratic Republic. From stylish hotels that resemble 1970s Soviet housing to boutiques that elevate kitschy East German goods to high design, Berlin is still divided – on whether the Iron Curtain was cool.

Populist broadcasters in the US are also cashing on people’s nostalgia.  But before people dive straight over the edge of sentimentality, it’s a good thing Jon Stewart goes for the jocular.

Not feeling so nostalgic anymore, are we?

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
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True authenticity test of Scandinavian food? It lasts longer than you do

The cafeteria of the Ikea store in Red Hook, B...
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Seeing there’s few eating establishments outside of the region dedicated to spread of Scandinavian food, an Atlantic food writer attempts to translate this raw and frozen food culture to us.  Through the market at Ikea.

When food writers write about Scandinavian food, they tend to wax (and wane) about the freshness and naturalness of the cuisine and describe it as close to nature. That’s true–fish from the ocean and all that–but it is not quite the real picture. My two main entrée ingredients were frozen meatballs and frozen potato flakes, and there was something properly Scandinavian about that. In fact nothing I bought was fresh. Everything was preserved food. That is perhaps the true essence of Scandinavian eating: food that can last longer than you do. There are stories of farmers with storehouses containing edibles that go back more than one generation.

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It’s Christmas for Armenians, almost Christmas to many more in the East

The Inside of an Eastern Orthodox church

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That’s right.  Tomorrow, most of the world’s Orthodox (that is, if you are of Russian, Macedonian, Serbian, Ukrainian, or Greek ancestry) and Coptic (Egyptian) Christians will celebrate a belated (or as some way, very early) Christmas.

But today, to our Armenian friends, it’s Shenorhavor Dzenount to you!

So why the date discrepancy?

The celebration, known to some as Theophany or simply Armenian Christmas, follows the original Julian calendar as opposed to the standard Western or Gregorian calendar. When Christians began to celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25 as dictated by the Romans, Armenians held to the original Jan. 6 date.

And what is special and specific to Armenian Christmas?  It’s the same obsession with oil.

It is believed that Armenian patriarchs somehow obtained some of the oil used to baptize Jesus.

Since then, patriarchs in Armenia have continually combined a portion of that oil with oils drawn from more than 40 plants.

The oil is then bottled and distributed from Armenia to Armenian churches around the world.

And tonight might look something like this if you’re Orthodox.  Merry Christmas!(?)

That is, if you don’t all end up going the way of the communists, and end up exchanging gifts on New Year’s Eve around a (joyless and) secular fir tree.

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So much for Jim Roger’s rally to learn Chinese: there’s no jobs for you anyway!

京剧《探谷·破敌》 {{fr|Opéra de Pékin "Gu pénétre...
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Jim Rogers moved to Singapore, so his daughters can learn Chinese!  Never mind the fact that Singaporeans speak debatable Chinese, as well as an amusing form of staccato English.

But now, it turns out that mastering this insanely difficult language will not guarantee you riches or any semblance of a respectable career!  Just listen to this ex-expat.

Everybody comes to China with a plan to strike it rich. Rather than a fortune and a new career, most expats seem to return home with little more than a thicker waistline, a prodigious collection of DVD’s, and possibly a new spouse.


The simple fact is however, mastery of Chinese, no matter how good you are, is NOT a golden ticket to employment in the United States.

Although Chinese may in fact be in high demand, what’s equally important is to factor in is the supply of Chinese speakers. According to the US census, in 2006 there were 2.5 million people in the United States who speak Chinese at home. That’s more than any language other than English and Spanish.

Bottom line: simply mastering Chinese is not the golden meal ticket, and will not guarantee you a career, anywhere, in any way.

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Resigned, Japanese finance minister resigns

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Japan is screwed.

The post of finance minister is yet again vacant.

Last year, the finance minister Shoichi Nakagawa was alcoholic and sleepy before he did himself in.

And then, Japan changed guards.

Now, the new 77-year-old septuagenarian finance minister has decided not to go kamikaze over the country’s hopeless financial future, and quit while he’s still, alive.

The wrangling seems to be over political pressures in inflating the almost ballooning budget, and public debt, with more stimulus.

Not wasting ANY time, a new minister has been named.

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Hot Ukrainian PM fancies herself Eva Peron, will get to top by any braids necessary

Yulia Tymoshenko

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Sarah Palin’s not the only soccer mom/president wannabe/pitbull with lipstick out there.  The Ukrainian version, a.k.a. hottest head of state in the world, is dubbed the “Kiev chameleon” by TNR.  She’s been called Lady Macbeth with an authoritarian streak, and the female version of Vladimir Putin!

Tymoshenko also believes she’s the reincarnation of Eva Perón.

God help the Ukrainians.

“She was told she is the reincarnation of Eva Perón,” says Dmitry Vydrin, who was Tymoshenko’s close adviser for nearly a decade. “And she believes it. She admits it in closed circles. She copies her consciously and subconsciously.” There’s the elaborate, kaleidoscopic wardrobe; the bleached up-do; the theatrical mannerisms; the way the public rustles whenever she appears. “It’s that way of flirting with the public, of addressing them as ‘my loved ones,’” Vydrin says.

Ever since the rather unremarkable brunette turned herself into a blonde “goddess” with her signature braid and French couture, her popularity has soared.  So such so that the current Prime Minister is likely to win the presidential election in the coming weeks.

But the creator of the “Yulia” hair is not without critics.

“Image is very important in Ukraine,” says Mr Wilson. “It’s a very TV-based society, and television was the primary medium of the campaign.”

Detractors have scathingly described her metamorphosis as pretentious: a near biblical transformation, her hair wrapped on top of her head like a halo, complemented by flowing white angelic dresses.

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Here’s to seeing a different side of China

There’s the glossy and shiny China, and there’s the more subtle, nuanced, and realistic China as depicted by those beautiful pictures. ChinaSmack has assembled those pictures, along with stories of their subjects.  Worth a read.

And then there are art projects like this that speak louder, and sting harder than any petition or protests.  Grim social changes have their costs, as our protagonist demonstrates in silent defiance.

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