Elsewhere, January 14, 2011

Tony Jaa
Tony Jaa

Twitch’s Todd Brown chronicles the rise and fall of martial arts superstar Tony Jaa:

After months of speculation as to his next project word began to circulate that Jaa’s relationship with Ong Bak director Prachya Pinkaew had broken down over Jaa’s insistence that he didn’t need Pinkaew anymore and that he wanted to direct himself. Pinkaew disagreed but the studio Jaa was signed with sided with their most bankable star and gave Pinkaew the task of launching female fight star Jeeja Yanin in Chocolate while handing Jaa what was far and away his biggest budget to date to make his directorial debut with prequel film Ong Bak 2.

To say this was a disastrous move is a gross understatement.

As already reported in detail Jaa had a complete meltdown on set and simply disappeared for two months. The film enormously behind schedule and wildly over budget when he was found and returned to work the director’s role was taken away from Jaa and handed to his mentor Panna Rittikrai while the studio, desperate for any chance to recover their massive cost over runs, made the decision to enforce some last minute rewrites and split the film in two — thereby spreading the costs out over a pair of pictures and giving themselves a better chance of recouping.

Ong Bak is arguably one of the greatest martial arts films in the last 10 years. Ong Bak 2 was a trainwreck that was more fight reel than film. The only reason I want to (sort of) watch Ong Bak 3 is morbid curiosity.

Could Twitter be encouraging us to think more carefully and critically?

We’re often told that the Internet has destroyed people’s patience for long, well-thought-out arguments. After all, the ascendant discussions of our day are text messages, tweets, and status updates. The popularity of this endless fire hose of teensy utterances means we’ve lost our appetite for consuming — and creating — slower, reasoned contemplation. Right?

I’m not so sure. In fact, I think something much more complex and interesting is happening: The torrent of short-form thinking is actually a catalyst for more long-form meditation.

Adam Carrington hopes that the recent shooting in Tucson will bring more awareness to the issue of mental illness:

We should not use this tragedy for crass ideological gain. The attempts to score cheap political points have been as predictable as they have been pathetic. Loughner does not appear to represent ideology and rhetoric gone over the line. His YouTube rants about mind control through grammar, his love for works such as The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf, and a friend’s description of his political views as left-leaning all point not to a coherent political view coldly carried out but a derangement that knows no party. Though we should use this moment to reiterate our common humanity and to plead for civility in our disagreements, we should not raise this killer to even the low-level of ideological hack.

Instead, I hope this tragedy will begin to focus on one more issue of which I’ve heard too little thus far: mental illness. Our world is one of tattered relationships. These broken bonds include those of family, friendships, and with the natural world. Yet often the antagonism lay within the self. Too many of us fight melancholy, paranoia, and other emotions that sometimes seem beyond our control. Whether these be caused by our own sinful deeds, chemical imbalances, or a combination of both, such feelings can become the impetus to tempt us toward actions destructive to ourselves and those around us. We become isolated from loved ones and from the world in general. Loneliness then only feeds our growing hatred of self. Such hatred and hopelessness whispers the most terrible things in our ear, giving the most deplorable solutions, solutions spoken from the depths of Hell.

Speaking of Tucson, Scot McKnight looks at the rhetoric that has unfortunately come to surround the tragedy:

The problem, my friends, is not the rhetoric of the columnists, or the politicians, or the bloggers. Well, yes, it is. There is too much nonsense and inflammatory rhetoric. I am committed to working even harder at civil discourse. But heated political rhetoric is not new — it’s the nature of the game and one can see it even in Thomas Paine’s classic Common Sense? Political rhetoric is not what caused the tragedy.

The problem is that human beings are cracked. What happened in broad daylight, in broad premeditated daylight, in Tucson was sickening to the stomach and destructive of the human spirit. But that didn’t happen because he was a right winger or left winger — and a case has been made for both. And it didn’t happen because the Left or the Right had gotten inside that young man’s head and spoiled it.

[…]

The problem is right where Solzhenitsyn said it was: the line between good and evil runs through the heart of each of us. In each of us lies the capacity to become Cain.

Michael Chabon takes issue with the mention of heaven in President Obama’s recent speech about the Tucson shootings:

Having struggled all the way through to make my own sense of sorrow and confusion congruent with what I saw happening in Tucson, having found that point of tangency at the rueful and admonitory heart, the father’s heart, of the speech, I fell all the way out again, right at the end. ​“If there are rain puddles in heaven,” the president said, evoking the words of an unnamed contributor to an album of photos of babies born on 9/11, ​“Christina is jumping in them today.”

I tried to imagine how I would feel if, having, God forbid, lost my precious daughter, born three months and ten days before Christina Taylor-Green, somebody offered this charming, tidy, corny vignette to me by way of consolation. I mean, come on! There is no heaven, man. The brunt, the ache and the truth of a child’s death is that he or she will never jump in rain puddles again. That joy was taken from her, and along with it ours in the pleasure of all that splashing. Heaven is pure wishfulness, an imaginary solution to the insoluble problem of the contingency and injustice of life.

It seems like one of Chabon’s primary issues with Obama’s mention of heaven, aside from the whole non-existence thing, is that the idea of heaven somehow downplays and diminishes the pain and anguish of loss, that it diminishes the tragedy and horror. At least, that’s how I read the second paragraph in the above quote.

If that’s accurate, then I disagree. I believe that heaven is an answer to the pain and suffering of this broken world. But knowing there’s an answer need not mean that you diminish or downplay the pain, suffering, and tragedy. Rather, it puts them in a different context where such things, as horrible as they are, don’t have the final word: they’re not the final, ​“insoluble” condition.

Dan Haseltine (of Jars of Clay) wonders if offensive art can be ​“Christian”:

Perhaps we should rethink the boundaries we have established for artistic expressions of Gospel truth. We need to recognize the majority of artists do not create simply to offend. Whether we like it or not, Jesus has made room for Insane Clown Posse. If an artist illuminates truth, it is God’s truth whether the conduit artist is a born-again Christian or not. Jesus has made room for art containing sexuality to reflect God’s glory. He has made room for artistic expressions containing abrasive language to reflect God’s glory.

The Gospel I know was not written wholly for children and I cannot, for a second, think it is not God’s truth because some expressions of it are not appropriate for my 7-year-old. Are we willing to step beyond fear and engage culture where it exists, recognizing art is born out of stories happening around us? They are stories that will end in redemption because God said they would. They may show up in our view at the very beginning of the redemptive process, and they may be messy and unrefined, but they are honest. The only thing that should offend us is art that lies.

Speaking of Insane Clown Posse, here’s something I wrote about their ​“covert” evangelism last year.

Andy Whitman and the great CD sale of 2010:

My favorite moment occurred when a twelve year-old kid named Charlie asked me to help him pick out some Classic Rock. Charlie listened to the radio, and he had picked up on a few well-known names through cultural osmosis, but he didn’t really know much about the history of rock music. And so he asked me to play some of my favorite classic rock for him so he could determine whether he wanted to purchase it. ​“Like U2,” he told me. ​“My dad likes that band.”

So we left Kurt and Chris to their ongoing grim warfare and retreated upstairs with a stack of CDs. I put on The Joshua Tree, and Charlie sat back to take it all in.

[…]

There were a dozen responses that ran through my head. U2 isn’t really classic rock, anyway. Bono can sing rings around Chris Martin. It’s a disgrace to compare U2 to Coldplay. But I didn’t say any of those things. I was thankful for a kid who loved what he heard, who would grow up to be one of those bearded, pasty-faced guys who had very definite opinions about anything and everything to do with popular music.

There is no place for just shitting all over other people’s work:

This kind of drive-by critique is sadly common. Missing are constructive commentary and suggestions for how the designer can make their app better. All the poster can muster is a knee-jerk reaction to the superficial aesthetics and a couple of f-bombs. Done! It adds nothing to the conversation and dimishes the value of design. How can we expect our clients or users to respect the care we put into design if we don’t respect it ourselves? Instead of considering what went into the design, we point at laugh at someone’s ​“terrible design”, retweet and reblog then go on with our superior existence.

David Sloan Wilson wonders if affluence is actually a form of poverty:

These scientific results sprang to life when I started to work with the mayor’s office and other community partners to actually improve the neighborhoods of Binghamton. In one project called ​“Design Your Own Park”, neighborhood groups compete to turn vacant lots and other neglected spaces into beautiful parks of their own design. I work closely with each group that enters the competition, giving me firsthand experience in how they work with each other to achieve a common goal. Some of the people in low-income neighborhoods are the most amazing networkers that I have ever seen. Working with other people to get by is part of the fabric of their lives that has become second nature to them.

In contrast, some of the so-called ​“nicer” neighborhoods are sadly inert. Each family keeps a tidy home and lawn and doesn’t make trouble for the others, but positive social connections are almost non-existent. When neighbors meet to discuss the prospect of designing a neighborhood park, they are often meeting for the first time. Some actively campaign against the idea, as if it’s an imposition to interact with one’s neighbor.

The Brainy Gamer on treating a toddler’s sleeplessness as video game design:

Last week our 3-year-old daughter Zoe moved from her crib to a ​“big girl bed.” Some kids make this transition smoothly, but not Zoe. After discovering she could climb out of bed any time she liked, Zoe decided to fully exploit her newfound freedom. And so for six consecutive nights, Zoe exercized that freedom at all hours, and we became sleep-deprived zombies. Through sheer desperation, we also became game designers.

We attempted to gamify the transition from crib to bed, but we proved to be inept designers. We saw the transition from crib to bed as an end-goal — a victory in itself. But it was our victory, not hers. Zoe needed a stickier, more tangible outcome, and imparting simple praise (“We’re proud of you!”) wasn’t enough to keep her dialed in. Zoe needed a progression system that made sense to her, with meaningful feedback and a win condition. We lost a lot of sleep before we figured that out.

[…]

Somewhere around the 15th time Zoe came out of her room that night, it struck me that we had identified the wrong challenge. We thought the bedtime game was about convincing Zoe to embrace change and accept her new bed. We were wrong. Introducing the bed was an easy test. The challenge was keeping her in it. We had no game plan for this.

The timing of this article is quite fitting, seeing as how we’re in the process of trying to transition our youngest into his own room.

Elsewhere is a collection of interesting links and articles that I’ve come across in the last week or so. Follow me on Twitter for more of the same.