Wednesday, July 28, 2004

A firm proponent of paradigm-breaking

I know that "The Best Job in Town," Katherine Boo's article on Indian outsourcing in the July 5 New Yorker is, like, so four weeks ago. But I'm going to post an entry on it anyway.

Did reading this...

[A]fter Joe and Randy hired a former Coast Guard petty officer named Lonnie Sapp—a veteran of semi-pro football, a graduate of Connecticut’s Trinity College, and almost certainly Chennai’s only six-foot-four-inch African-American—to manage the workforce a smoothness settled over the operation[.]
...make anyone else think of this?

via Milk and Cookies

Break was over fifteen minutes ago, bitch!

You know you need a cover sheet on your TPS Reports, Richard Rajeev! That ain't new, baby!


Now THIS is an anti-capitalist message I can get behind

Amelia Gentleman, "Hello indolence, goodbye job?", The Guardian, July 28, 2004.

Those who dedicate their professional lives to idleness should do so with discretion if they hope to keep their jobs.

This is one useful message in Hello Laziness - The Art and the Importance of Doing the Least Possible at the Workplace, an anarchic anti-business bible published in France.

It is advice the author, Corinne Maier, a senior economist at Electricité de France, failed to follow. She faces a disciplinary hearing next month, accused of attempting to "rot the system from within".

The book, Bonjour Paresse (a nod to Françoise Sagan's 50s novel, Bonjour Tristesse or Hello Sadness), pledges to explain why it is in your interest to do the least work possible and will tell you how to damage the system from within "without appearing to do so".

An antidote to the recent rash of US-import, career-enhancing self-help books by business management gurus, it rails against corporate culture and preaches a philosophy of active disengagement.

It is an elegantly written call to arms to the "neo-slaves" of middle management and the "damned of the service industry", condemned to dress up as clowns all week and waste their lives in pointless meetings.

Maier cites the recent wave of financial scandals in French business, and argues that since careers are at risk and pensions under threat, employees should shake off their shackles of loyalty and start "footling around" during office hours.
I particularly enjoy how the opening sentence demonstrates Ms. Gentleman's grasp of the obvious. But hasn't this particular ground been trod before, and better, by the peerless Office Space?


Two words, Neil: Natalie. Portman.

New Line to Adapt Gaiman's Death
Variety has announced that New Line Cinema has picked up feature rights to Neil Gaiman's graphic novel "Death: The High Cost of Living". Gaiman is in talks to make his directorial debut on the film.
via Superhero Hype!


Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Tang clan ain't nuttin' to f*ck wit'*

Japanese students of the Chinese martial arts who chose to study in Taiwan may also have been influenced in their decision by linguistic as well as colonial affinities between Taiwan and Japan. (Well-informed readers will note that Liu Yun-Chiao was wai sheng ren, that is, one of the mainlanders who fled to Taiwan c. 1948. However, Taiwanese students and, as this post will suggest, possibly even mainland Fujianese speakers could have acted as interpreters.)

Japanese, as well as Korean, borrowed a great deal of vocabulary from Middle Chinese. Most dialects of Chinese (such as Cantonese, Hakka, Teochew and the Fujianese spoken by most native Taiwanese) are found in China's south, brought there over the centuries by refugees from the north fleeing invasions and conquests. In fact, some maintain that the various Chinese dialects are the result of multiple migrations at different points in time, such as the introduction of the Fujianese and Hakka dialects to southern China by those fleeing the overthrow of the Tang and Han dynasties, respectively, thus preserving characteristics of spoken Chinese from those periods. Thus far, however, historians have in spite of their efforts been unable to conclusively link any Chinese dialect to a particular flight from the north.

Take, for example, the word "fist", pronounced "chüan" in Mandarin, "kun" in Fujianese, "ken" in Japanese (Japanese often has multiple pronunciations for a single Chinese character, or kanji; one for the indigenous Japanese word, and another pronunciation taken from the Chinese) and "kwon" in Korean (as in "Tae Kwon Do").

Ironically, even as modern Japanese and Korean preserve pronunciations from ancient Chinese, modern Mandarin Chinese has been largely influenced by conquerors who spoke Mongolian and Manchurian (the Yuan and Qing dynasties respectively), Altaic sister languages to Japanese and Korean. Southerners have preserved ancient vernaculars due largely in part to bloody-mindedness; they'll be damned before they adopt linguistic corruptions introduced by barbarian invaders. The adoption of Mandarin Chinese as the national language of China was quite a hard sell to the numerous southerners among the early Chinese Republicans. I was initially inclined to discount the contribution of, well, stubbornness to linguistic preservation until I recognized my own distaste for the simplified Chinese writing introduced by the communist regime in Beijing, regarding it as ersatz and inauthentic (as any properly brought-up overseas Chinese boy would), which made it easier to imagine my ancestors responding to the linguistic influence of the Huns, Mongols and Manchurians in the same way. (Of course, the isolation provided by the mountains and rivers of southern China probably helped too.) Imagine a modern-day population in England that refused to use post-Norman linguistic changes in its speech.

That said, I am forced to give due praise to the mainland's Pinyin Romanization which, beyond its efficacy, just plain looks cooler in print than any other system of transliterating Chinese into the Roman alphabet.

* It was either this or "What's orange and sounds like a bell?"


Saturday, July 17, 2004

Big in Japan

It always piques my curiosity when something from one culture becomes relatively more popular in another. As a New Yorker, the first examples that come to mind are bagels and especially pizza. Were it not for emigrants to the United States, pizza would in all likelihood have remained a regional delicacy; perhaps tourists returning from Italy would be telling their friends, "If you're in ever in Naples you have to try this flatbread thing they have topped with tomato sauce, cheese and basil!"

Another example is the Thaipusam, the South Indian festival of self-flagellation, which is so prominent in Singapore and Malaysia that my copy of the Singapore-Malaysia Lonely Planet states that the festival cannot be found on the subcontinent at all, an assertion which a Malayali friend insists is false.

In this entry, however, I want to discuss the disproportionate popularity of the Chinese martial art Bajiquan in Japan. As a child of the digital age, I had assumed that the disproportionate prominence of Bajiquan in Japan was because it was the style employed by the character Akira in the Virtua Fighter series of games. According to my martial arts instructor, I got it the wrong way around; I neglected to consider why the designers of Virtua Fighter would pluck that particular style out of its supposed obscurity.

Interest in Chinese martial arts in the last few decades can in large part be safely credited to Bruce Lee. However, China was still closed to foreigners in the 1970s so the closest that interested non-Chinese could get was Hong Kong or Taiwan (which was for the best, considering that many great masters left the mainland when the Communists took over and what few were left were hounded into hiding or even death by the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. To describe the "Contemporary Wushu" promoted by Beijing as "bowdlerized" would be generous.)

Prospective Japanese students preferred Taiwan for a number of reasons. As a former Japanese colony, Taiwan had a familiarity that Hong Kong lacked. The inevitable colonial resentments aside, Japan still held a certain prestige in the eyes of native Taiwanese (as opposed to post-Revolution immigrants from the mainland); as late as the 70s, Taiwanese regarded a degree from a Japanese university more highly than one from a Western university.

For whatever reason, the martial arts instruction of Liu Yun-Chiao, one of whose specialties was Bajiquan, at the Teachers' College became popular among prospective Japanese students; hence the prominence of Bajiquan in Japan.


I'm a wedge of anticipation!

Josh Wolk, "The A Team," Entertainment Weekly, 23 July 2004.

The six-hour Adult Swim block [is] fast rivaling Leno's and Letterman's ratings in the critical young-male demo, prompting [Cartoon Network] to fund a development slate....that includes a Jonny Quest-like adventure called The Venture Brothers from the creators of The Tick; a zombies-on-Staten-Island romp by Evan Dorkin, the gleefully violent artist behind the comic Milk & Cheese; and, assembled by some Crank Yankers producers, Minoriteam, a cadre of minority superheroes whose powers are derived from their most obvious stereotypes (Quickstop, "the man who can't be shot," is an Arab convenience-store owner; Doctor Wang is the Asian "human calculator"; and the Mexican El Jeffe fights crime with a leaf blower).


I have returned...really

Sorry about the sudden three week absence. I'm now in Manhattan pretty much full time and it's turn out to be much busier than I expected. That and my laptop broke down. (Also, the dog ate my homework.)