July 29, 2003

Tolerance, the least popular ideal

I often wonder if there is some deeper reality behind the one we face every day of our lives. Religious Tolerance hosts hundreds of files containing religious and spiritual works from a dizzying array of cultural backgrounds. Every major religion proclaims that behind the world we see is a hidden world that can only be realized through faith, dreams, visions, and hallucinations. Thousands, maybe millions of people have had non-physical encounters with this alternate reality. They in turn tell their stories in fiction, poetry, spiritual tracts, or on the couches of counselors and psychologists as they struggle to draw some connection between this invisible world and the one around them. I envy those who have the capacity to clearly distinguish between reality and unreality. Many of us cannot.

The X-files enjoyed huge popularity by connecting this spiritual reality with aliens. One of my favorite online comics, Eversummer Eve, links the invisible world with the legendary land of the elves. Psychologists tell us there is no invisible world. For mental health professionals things such as aliens, elves, magic, or even god, are forms of shared delusions. There is one aspect to faith in the invisible that rapidly becomes annoying: intolerance.

Once upon a time we were children and our parents frequently reminded us that without differences, the world would be a very boring place. Sometimes they would smile cryptically and also mention that variety is the spice of life. Nonetheless, looking into the world around me reveals that individualism has become such a catch phrase that every individual believes they alone understand the "truth". Fundamental Christians bomb abortion clinics, fundamental Hindus bomb historic mosques, fundamental Muslims bomb discos. Why are so many people so intent are forcing the rest of us to accept their vision of reality? Or, perhaps, the real question is somewhat different. Perhaps the real question is why are we so deaf that the only way they can be heard is to blow something up?

July 26, 2003

Big, Green, Ugly and Charismatic

I have seen Hulk. It was an incredible comic, and now it has become an incredible movie. Naturally, the critics lambasted it mercilessly. One critic proclaimed it the worst summer movie since Jaws created the idea of "summer blockbuster". As usual, the critics missed the point.

Hulk has a complex, multilayered storyline featuring classic conflicts, romance, and keen human insight. It tells a story of greed, ambition, idealism, and realism all in conflict with one another.

As mentioned everywhere, the story opens with a genetic researcher desperately trying to perfect regeneration in humans and rapidly running out of funding. He makes the same mistake of every fictional researcher (and many real ones), he experiments on himself. In this case, there is an unexpected side effect, the results of his research are genetically passed on to his son. There is a moment of confusion, and next we see the grown son become researcher working on nanomeds designed to act as regeneration agents. In a lab accident his genetically modified body absorbs the nanomeds he is developing and he is exposed to a massive amount of gamma rays. The net result is the transformation into a big green man rampaging through the countryside, but not immediately. He still appears himself, but when angered swells up and develops superhuman physical abilities.

If the entire concept of the movie ended right there, then the critics would be right. Hulk would be another worthless Hollywood extravaganza. Fortunately, it doesn't. Sub-plots involving a former girlfriend, a money-hungry capital venturist, and the return of the Hulk's half-crazy father whirl around each other in a maelstrom of tension and intrigue that would do a winter thriller justice. Bruce, the son of the original researcher, struggles to find his past, reconcile himself with his present, and learn to understand himself better as a human being. In the end, a titanic struggle between god-like father and son is brought to an explosive conclusion when the two are hit with a nuclear weapon of some kind. The father disappears, the son survives but vanishes.

Later, the son surfaces dispensing medications in an unnamed Latin American jungle where there is a hint that he is using his brawny green side to defend the people from revolutionaries. We're left with him ominously warning a revolutionary leader, "you won't like me when I'm angry."

Throughout the movie ran themes of repressed memory, the definition of humanity, morality, survival, and of course, what it means to be a hero. Critics didn't like Hulk because underneath the usual flash and bang was something they couldn't recognize, literature!

July 24, 2003

Movie Madness

I saw Chicago last month. It stank. I've got better things to do with my time than sit around and let Hollywood laugh at my unswerving loyalty to the silver screen. Besides, the lead actresses were far too skinny for my taste.

I also saw Matrix Reloaded. It was better than Chicago, but I'll never develop homoerotic fantasies for Keanu Reeves, and the chick that played Trinity has gotten even skinnier than she was in the first one!

Will Hollywood ever rediscover "pleasantly plump"? Good grief but I hope so!

On the other hand, Angelina Jolie is back for another whirl as Lara Croft. Now there's a woman I could happily spend two hours watching strut her stuff. Her acting skill and dynamic characterizations are a pleasant bonus. Oh, that reminds me, I also saw Charlie's Angels Full Throttle. When did Demi lose all that weight? If she gets any skinnier she'll have to go back to playing roles intended for teenagers!

Anyway, sad to say, the best movie I have seen in the past year or so was the Japanese movie, "Azumi". It's a live-action free-for-all based on a popular comic with a drop-dead gorgeous lead actress, entertaining and engaging support characters, and get this, a real storyline! My oh my! A movie with a story! Imagine that! Maybe one of these days Hollywood will take a page out of Casablanca go back to telling us a good story. All that flash and dazzle is nice, but a movie needs a story to tie it all together.

I've heard rumors "Pirates of the Carribbean" actually has a storyline. I am waiting with bated breath.

July 09, 2003

Thoughtless Relativity

I suppose, somewhere, somehow, there is rhyme and reason to the chaos that surrounds us. After all, chaos is only undefined as long as there are too many variables to accurately predict the outcome. Once the variables are defined, it is no longer chaos. Instead, it is merely complexity. For example, I logged on today to find a box for adding titles. The chaotic aspect is that I had no intention of logging on today, because it feels like I have nothing interesting to say. When I grew bored of cruising the chaos of cyberspace, I dropped in here anyway. Clear chaos. Was the title bar there earlier and I just didn't see it, or is it in truth, something new?

Oh well, as long as I'm here I suppose I should post something wise, witty, or poetic, but alas, as noted above, I have nothing to say today. Nothing important anyway. How about a story? Shall I tell you a story?

Once upon a time there was a wise old Brahmin living somewhere in the Ganghes River Valley. This old man owned nothing except for one priceless porcelein vase given to him by a long-forgotten king in exchange for a year spent advising him on ways to spread happiness through his kingdom. Despite being a Brahmin and basically unattached to material things, the old man was quite fond of the memories the vase brought to mind and he carried it with him for many, many years. As always, eventually the king died and was replaced by someone less wise, less kind, and far more ruthless. Thus the old Brahmin had come to live in a tiny one-room shack just above the flood plain.

In the village near where the old Brahmin lived there was a certain thief who heard about the vase. The thief was not particularly smart, nor especially well-tutored in the ways of the world, but he was a pretty good thief nonetheless and had never been caught in the course of pursuing his trade. When he heard about the priceless vase and the old Brahmin, he figured this would the one heist that set him up for life so he could finally give up his high-risk career and move on to something more substantial, like kingship!

Late one night while the old man slept the thief crept silently into the tiny hut. As fate would have it, the moment his hands touched the vase the old man opened his eyes and rose from bed. After all, he was no longer young and there were many nights when his body forced him awake and sent him trotting for his chamber pot.

This night he looked up and saw the thief with his hands on the vase. The thief in turn, looked straight into the old man's eyes and struggled valiantly to think up a lie convincing enough to fool someone as wise and learned as an old Brahmin. However, when he opened his mouth to speak, the old man raised a hand to silence him.

"Don't bother, young man. I have always wondered when the day would come that someone would need the vase more than I. Obviously that day is today. Please take the vase. Goodness knows you can probably sell it for enough to buy a small kingdom. With wit and cleverness, a determined king can transform a small land into a large one. Take it and may the gods shine upon your venture."

Relieved and frightened at the same time, the thief walked off with the vase. Once he had availed himself of his chamber pot, the old man crawled back into bed and dreamed pleasant dreams of days when he was young.

Oh, and by the way, don't be peeking between the lines looking for a moral. In this case, there isn't one.

July 04, 2003

Anything worth doing is worth doing right

Today's thought: Anything worth doing is worth doing right

Our modern world has become complacent. Partly because we are too busy to bother with details, but also in part because no one considers the details important. This baffles me. I have been told I am hopelessly neurotic. It might be true, but then again, when I set my mind to accomplishing something I always cross the t's and dot the i's. Most people don't seem to bother.

For example. I have lived in Japan for 18 years. I have been to dozens of Denny's restaurants all over the country, but the only place in Japan where the waitress has offered to fill my coffee cup before it runs dry is in this tiny little farming town where I am now staying. The day after tomorrow I am returning to Tokyo and the thing I will miss most is not the clean air, beautiful scenery or rich history. The thing I will miss most is the world-class service I have received at the local Denny's. I have received friendlier, more attentive service over the past three months than I have ever received at any Denny's anywhere in the world. This puzzles me to no end.

Don't misunderstand me. I have loved the fresh country air! For three months I have woken up every morning without needing to clear out clogged sinus passages. The air in Tokyo is so bad that every single morning I wake up virtually unable to breathe. Between molds, mildews, pollen and pollution, it is a wonder I have survived eighteen years without dying of some kind of rare and unusual sinus infection or lung disease. I have also fallen madly in love with the green hills, flowering fields and endless tracts of rice and truck vegetables. I could easily spend the next twenty years wandering among Nihonmatsu's hundreds of monuments, graveyards, memorials, rustic temples and ancient shrines. But despite all that, the one thing I will really miss is one of my two favorite waitresses asking me if I'm ready for my chocolate parfait yet or offering to top up my half-full coffee cup.

Now tell me, why doesn't every Denny's in the world have service this good? Why don't the waitresses in Tokyo drop by my table every so often and see how I'm doing? The waitresses in Waikiki don't even offer this kind of service any more! Why not? Why is it that the wider the so-called "service" economy expands, the worse the service becomes?

Anything worth doing is worth doing right. If it's not worth doing, why bother? If it is worth doing, then why are we more concerned with covering our mistakes than improving our weaknesses?

Improving the world begins with improving ourselves. Why have we forgotten that?