Sunday, September 30, 2007

Burma Updates

I check up on Ko Ktike's blog every so often and I am more and more shocked by each new image. Gun shot wounds to the thighs, a dead protester with blood dripping from the sides of his mouth, the mass of brain in the drains outside.

While disturbing pictures, it proves that this is actually happening, that people are actually getting hurt, that people are actually being killed by their own government. I have to commend everyone who has the courage to both send these images despite the consequences and those who are spreading the actual news.

And what did they do to deserve such a harsh and cruel punishment from the very people who are supposed to protest them? They marched through Burma. Although the monks did take some government officials hostage, they were released within five hours. The violent responses didn't occur until several days after. Other than that, they simply walked, peacefully.

At first, they were against fuel price hikes, but their deeper drive was their discontent with government. No, sorry, it's not a government—it's a junta that took over the country, it's a military regime that forced itself onto the country. They even went so far as to rename the country to Myanmar. While the United Nations understandable acknowledges this name change, the U.S. and U.K don't. Seth Mydans wrote an excellent news analysis piece in the New York Times regarding the junta and how the world perceives it.

But really, it would be too easy to just simply to talk to the demonstrators, wouldn't it? Discussions never get anywhere, right? Compromise and all that? Eh, who needs it when you have pure force, right? Right. With force comes power and there isn't much you can do when someone is waving a gun in your face, especially when you're as passionate as the protesters. Many already have experienced that, sadly. They walked to show they were against the regime and everything they stood for, and the junta couldn't handle that. And so they did what they do best. They knew how to take over the country, they sure as hell know how to deal with pesky protesters who wouldn't stay still.

The protesters are admirable and brave because despite all of this, despite everything that could happen to the, civilians and monks still march on. They believe there is something better for themselves, for Burma. They really believe it.

While this is happening, the world denounces the junta, yet, nothing is being done, despite enforcing sanctions and making statements. It's as though Burma will have to deal with this by themselves, as they did before, yet, this feels wrong. There should be something done. And soon, before even more people are hurt, arrested and murdered. Though, it does bode well that the UN sent a special envoy to Burma, but I doubt anything will come of it.

Things are pretty much the same in Burma as of now: the streets are blocked, protesters are being arrested and people are still being killed. Where will this go next?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Chaos in Burma

After the 8888 Uprising (called so for the date: August 8, 1988) in Burma, where students and monks peacefully protested against General Ne Win's dictatorship, they were greeted by force and bullets. Then the military regime State Peace and Development Council took over and renamed the country Myanmar and its largest city Yangon (formerly Rangoon). The junta claimed that only eleven people died, whereas the Burmese said that thousands did.

And now, in this country nestled between South and Southeast Asia, one year short of a two decades later, history is repeating itself.

Because of fuel price increases in August 2007, Burmese people took to the streets and protested against the military junta. After several arrests and one instance of military intervention on September 15, the protesters were soon joined by the monks, who even took government officials hostage for several hours in protest of the increases. This was seen as a big step because they are held in high regard in Burma, a mostly-Buddhist nation. Soon, the intentions behind the protests evolved into a desire to overthrow the military junta, headed by Senior General Than Schwe, through, of course, peaceful rallies throughout Burma. One march led them to the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, a pro-democracy leader who rose during the 8888 Uprising, who was put under house arrest on and off since then.

Because of presence of the monks, the junta attempted to placidly negotiate an end to the protests. Then, on Wednesday, they had enough and chaos unleashed throughout Burma. The junta raided Buddhist temples so to fish out any suspecting monks, shooting tear gas over the streets and sidewalks, sealing monks in temples and shooting into crowds. Officially so far, 9 people have been killed, including a Japanese photographer (see video provided by Reuters). But that's only officially.

With such a tight hand on the country, the junta rarely allows foreign journalists into the country. Because of these events, this is even more so now. Despite cell phone signal internet blockages and cut-down telephone lines, the Burmese and foreigners in the country are doing their best to let the world know and see what is truly happening.

Among those include Ho Htike. London-based, Hitke receives cell phone pictures and videos and any other information from various people throughout the country, acknowledging the great risks they are taking. Then he updates his blog, letting everyone see the bullet shots, cuts, bruises and blood on the streets.

Coincidentally enough, I recently finished reading Richard Lloyd Parry's In the Time of Madness: Indonesia on the Edge of Chao, where he experienced the tumultuous and violent end beginning of Indonesia. The fall of and fights for independence from then-General and President Suharto and the Indonesian government and military sound quite familiar today and I remembered the book as I checked the news constantly.

In the late 1990s, Parry witnessed the protests and rallies, the power and force of the Indonesian police and how organized yet chaotic they enforced their ways onto the people of Indonesia by frightening those who opposed them, and if that failed, then killing them. This was done all in the name of holding power over Indonesia, whether they liked it or not.

And before Suharto took over, there was his predecessor, Sukarno, who himself took over Indonesia very slyly in the 1960s. Because of the need to industrialize and get Indonesia on the same page as those other world powers, any means were taken, even if that meant ignoring and abusing Indonesia's very people.

After the Indonesian riots, Suharto resigned in 1998, leaving the country to slowly fix itself and implement a national government.

As of now, Burma is still in turmoil and the protesters refuse to give up. Following the excellent and constantly updated coverage from the New York Time's Seth Mydans, their Southeast Asia correspondent, it is difficult to determine what exactly will happen. Will the violence continue until the junta gives up? Or will it continue until one side is defeated? Either way, there will be disastrous results, but hopefully, hopefully, the junta will be toppled and Burma will not suffer as severely as Indonesia did. But then, we don't know what really is going on there.

Video of protestors
provided by Reuters (only the first portion concerns Burma)

[It's interesting to note that the New York Times, Washington Post and BBC (my main news sources) refer to the country as Myanmar while the Associated Press uses Burma.]

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Responses to Ahmadinejad

Photos by Nashid Chaudhury.

First came the now infamous vicious introduction by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger where he called guest speaker Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "a petty and cruel dictator," talked about homosexual and underage persecution and called for complete release of Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh.

Ahmadinejad then took the stage, quoted passages from the Koran that weren't translated, commented on the show of disrespect from Bollinger and proceeded to
speak about nuclear power, the absolute lack of homosexuals in Iran, the need to research to confirm facts about the Holocaust, terrorism and many other things.

The New York Sun, obviously, loved Bollinger's introduction, calling the invitation to Ahmadinejad a "blunder" and focusing on the Jewish reaction to that "tragedy" as they state in the editorial. They even ran portions of Bollinger's introduction in the Opinion section under the headline "Cease This Outrage." To their credit, they do feature another opinion piece and another article about Bollinger's disrespectful prologue.

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post took more reasonable stances.

Dana Milbank got it right when he said, "Without listening to Ahmadinejad, how can the world appreciate how truly nutty he is?" Maureen Dowd also put it perfectly when she wrote, "[regarding Bollinger] Once you’ve made the decision to invite a tyrannical leader, you can’t undo it by belittling him in public. Universities are supposed to be places where you can debate and hear dissenting voices; it would have been far better just to hand the mike to the students and let it rip."

By extending an invitation to someone, a foreign head of government nevertheless, calls for diplomacy and politeness. Common sense, no? By attacking him before Ahmadinejad even speaks is just plain wrong.

The Sun's editorial calledfor Bollinger to, essentially, pick a side: Israel or Palestine, and that it is duty as Columbia's president to do so, instead of being a "more neutral–we would say 'morally equivalent'—educator," as they write. That, I think, is ridiculous. As the president of Columbia, is duty is not to publicize and promote his views, but instead to bring the university together. And the Sun (I've recently become fascinated and more-than-slightly repulsed by this newspaper, hence my constant references to it, especially after reading several of these columns, but that's another story) has a little advice for Bollinger with dealing with his upset Middle East professors. Very subtle, Sun, very subtle.

Clever protest signs at Columbia.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Closer Look Because of Ahmadinejad?

And this is just fucking ridiculous.

Protesting Ahmadinejad

Posters in Barnard's campus.

Reading through the New York Sun last Thursday, I found out that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was speaking at the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University. Excited about this event, I asked my sister (Barnard '11) if she could try to get me into the event. Alas, being that he is the president of Iran, one of the most-discussed countries in international affairs and journalism today, the event was filled up long before school started.

Freedom of speech thrives at Columbia and New York Cityit's the home of the infamous 1968 strikes against the expansion of Columbia University into Morningside Heights (which is still a dilemma today) and the Vietnam War, students reacting against professors imposing their anti-Zionist views in the classrooms, even Ahmadinejad himself was supposed to speak at Columbia last year, but his invitation was revoked the professor incidences.

Coming from New School University where everything is something to protest against or rally for (Bob Kerrey is a war criminal; opposing the campus master plan and new GF/signature building; etc.), I've become used to this. Hell, the New School was formed out of dissent from Columbia University.

The New York Sun, the New York Daily News and Columbia/Barnard students are completely scandalized that Columbia would even extend an invitation to Ahmadinejad. Protests are planned for throughout the campus for today. This, though, is the wrong approach. While I understand everything the paranoid and extremely religious Iranian President has done and stands for, I still want to hear what he has to say. Isn't that what diplomacy is all about? If you denied someone the right to speak just because you didn't agree with their beliefs, then the world would be pretty boring. This is one of the flaws of Eugene Langeveryone tends to share the same viewpoints, so debates aren't very common. The New School went through similar experiences with John McCain at the 2006 graduation and Newt Gingrinch at New School's Milano School, where McCain was booed and someone pulled a fire alarm during Gingrich's speech. What's the point of causing a ruckus? It's just disrespectful and paints you as immature. Don't protest, just listen, ask questions and have an actual conversation. Most people and media outlets blame Columbia University President Lee Bollinger for inviting Ahmadinejad, but it was a smart move on Bollinger's part. Ahmadinejad is speaking at the World Leader's Forum, and he is world leader, isn't he?

Hopefully, as the Columbia Spectator reports, the protests won't be as turbulent as predicted, and hopefully, students will understand the importance of hearing all voices, despite what their views and pasts might hold.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

In Patagonia

"We talked late into the night, arguing whether or not we, too, have journeys mapped out in our central nervous systems; it seemed the only way to account for our insane restlessness."
Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia

Friday, September 14, 2007

I Now Walk Into the Wild

Emile Hirsch as McCandless hitching a ride. Photo courtesy of River Road Entertainment.

Into the Wild is an amazing piece of journalism, both the article and the novel. Krakauer knows how to investigate and report in a thrilling, spellbinding way.

Granted, the story is set up perfectly for him: a
young newly graduated 22 year old man cut off all ties with his family and with anything else that could potentially tie him down to the kind of humdrum life that he was utterly afraid of (my opinion) and set off to traverse across America, making money only when neccessary to further his travels by way of purchasing equipment and this all led to his ultimate goal: Alaska, going to and truly being in and with Alaska, where he was later found dead.

Krakauer has an eye for interesting stories.

Now, it appears Sean Penn has the same kind of eye Krakauer does. After finding and reading about McCandless' life, Penn decided to
write and direct a film based on Krakauer's novel, coming out September 21st.

Now, I was iffy about the movie because of Penn. While being an amazing actor (as seen in I Am Sam and Mystic River), he struck me as sort of crazy, but this might be due to my obsession with celebrity gossip. Nevertheless, I was
worried as to what he would do with the film. After watching it, I am still mixed.

On the whole, I really liked (I can't bring myself t
o say I loved it) the moviethe cinematography was simply splendid—the expanse of the Californian and Nevadan deserts or the range of mountains flanking McCandless' walks in Alaska or the gushing Colorado River where McCandless' illegally kayaked (I have a thing for that). These scenes were set up beautifully.

Kayaking down the Colorado River. Photo courtesy of River Road Entertainment.

Emile Hirsch (who I've only seen in The Girl Next Door, so yeah...) became the embodiment of McCandless fully, with his desire to connect to the natural world and get away from everything materialistic, his naively reckless nature (i.e. parking in a flash flood zone) and just his heart. And, at the same time, Hirsch exhibited McCandless' unknowingly cold-heartedness, as seen in the scene with Ron (Hal Holbrook) who asked McCandless if he could adopt him as his grandchild. McCandless pauses and simply replies, "Ron, can we talk about this when I get back?" That really says it all.

Through seeing Hirsch as McCandless in h
is element, trolloping through the wild with his crazy hair and beard sticking up everywhere and making do with whatever he has available to himself, i.e. creating a showering can in Alaska, we as the viewers could feel his pure joy and you could almost feel free ourselves. It is inspiring.

At the end, Hirsch becomes that desperate, change
d man who wants so much more than just dying in that Fairbank bus by himself because of a stupid mistake.

So, that's mostly the praise.

Now, at first, I enjoyed the opening creditsMcCandless' words by way of letters are superimposed over glimplses of his life in Alaska (without really seeing McCandless' visage at first, which is a nice touch) accompanied simply with music and no narration at all. It gives us the setup in an absorable manner.

What gets annoying is when Penn employs the yellow handwritten lettering throughout the movie. There is no r
eason to do so and it detracts from its first usage.

And, this is sort of a minor thing to complain about, but being the girl who notices fonts and styles and all that, I think Penn cou
ld have done a better job with fonts throughout the movie. That fat, serif font with black borders doesn't fit in with the vibe of the movie. What would've been better in the thin, sans serif font used on the book jacket.

Then, there is the narration. We hear
McCandless' voice, both in the present of his experiences and through his letters and words. There are nice moments where there are simply no sounds and all we have in front of us is McCandless himself. Penn, however, decides that there should be more voices to this story of a lone wanderer and uses McCandless' sister, Carine (Jena Malone) to depict a wholly other side of McCandless' story. While the sentiment is commendable (wanting to portray a more three-dimensional perspective as to who McCandless' was), Carine's voice was too dramatic. It would have been better if we were simply given McCandless story though the man himself and it was through his interactions with secondary characters that we see what it was Rainy, Jan, Ron and everyone else saw in him.

That would have been more subtle.

It is through Carine's narration that we learn about McCandless' home life. Although it's been a year since I've read the book, I honestly don't believe that we truly knew how much his parents' relationship shaped who McCandless was. The movie depicted a much more volatile situation than really was known. Too much screen time was wasted on this.

Urban camping in California. Photo courtesy of River Road Entertainment.

Directors get to play with the medium of film, but I think Penn tried too hard to utilize what he thought were interesting camera angles and film effects/techniques. Seeing McCandless walk through the snowy tundra in slow-motion as the soft sunlight casts his figure out of focus is impressive once, but seeing him embrace his shower against the sun is unnecessary.

And that one shot of the truck passing by over the camera that you know is lying on its side on the road? Yeah.

During his time alone, we are given McCandless in the whole. There were times where he'd sing or talk to himself (i.e. to the apple "of his eye") which were great. Talking to yourself when you're by yourself makes complete sense and sort of humanizes the entire endeavor a bit more. What got irritating was when McCandless looked directly into the camera, as if he had a secret to share with you.

Then, there is the death scene
I think it it could have been done more simply in a way that was more fitting to McCandless instead of quick flashes of the blinding white sunlight, McCandless' sunken, pale face and the random, deep scream. Penn, however, did an excellent job shooting the sickly McCandless staggering through his trailer with the camera unfocused on his barely-there body.

Chris McCandless, the 23 year old man, in a way, inspired the creation of what I like to think of as the new Nadia. I wrote about the book in an essay for my senior work about my first solo venture across the continent. Though my trip was hardly comparable to McCandless' amazing treks, it was sort of done in the same vein. And it because of this, I am disappointed because the film didn't amaze me as much as it could have potentially.

Writing by the beach. Photo courtesy of River Road Entertainment.

Language Observation #1

Buenos Aires literally means good air.