The Wire, Season 3

Season 1 (review here) and 2 (review here) of The Wire were pretty good. Season 3 is right on top of things as well, and a good step up from Season 2.

One of the things that The Wire does very well is to involve the about a dozen different story lines and move them in parallel to show a complete picture of the police department, the drug organizations, and the politics. Imagine how much work went into that! On that note, I'll split the review on the three:
  • Police: well, the premise is simple... the police finally tried the "move the drugs to the worse neighborhood and turn a blind eye" tactic. By the numbers, this of course works. It's like moving all the bad guys to an off shore island and letting them do their thing there. Unfortunately, this presents a slippery slope for the good people in govt, media, and the general public who are not affected, i.e. those who live in already nice neighborhoods. Sadly, that's how I would think about it too. I can get all moral on it if it's not my neighborhood. But hell, if they get drugs off my front door, I'm all for it. Can't blame any of us, huh? It's just human nature.
  • Drug orgs: the fall of Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell teaches us a few lessons. One, once in a gang, always in a gang. Two, you feud, you lose. Remember, the whole world is out to get you. Three, be the middle man. Why Butch and Prop Joe are still alive is beyond me. Four, trying to leave a gang is inviting death. And five, don't join gangs. Duh.
  • Politics: it's clear from the show that they condemn the higher-up system (police, drugs, whatever) more than the individuals at any level. And a season where they finally put politicians in the lime light, The Wire really put the heat on. Decisions were made/coerced because the higher-ups say so, and for all sorts of different reasons. Politicians do have a conscious... it's just that politics overrule it.
  • One more for Mr. Cutty, the ex-con who tries to help kids on the brink... I love this character. He just snapped out of the gangs and decides he will help however he can. We need more people like this.
Highly highly recommended. Makes you think if any system is ever going to work perfectly (I know, it's a how and all... but it's so realistic!) to move society forward.

By the way, blog is way down because I've been organizing all my photographs from the beginning of time. Do you know how many pictures I've taken since 2003 when I got my first SLR? 24,000. That's right. And I'm organizing all of them. I'll try to blog some about food (NYC Restaurant week!) soon.


Photography class

Some of you already know that I'm taking photography classes in New York at the wonderful ICP. One week of intensive classes was very helpful to me. Here are two photos and the story:

Instructor: wow, what did you say to this girl? She has a really open smile.
Josekin: um... that's my girlfriend...
Instructor: ah, that makes sense (back hand compliment?)... since we're talking about portraits, what did you tell her to do before you snapped the picture?
Josekin: uh... she said "take a picture of me"....

Ah, but the lesson as usual, you can always tell some of the relationships between the photographer and his/ her subject from the face. It's that easy.

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Classmate: wow, that's a nice picture. Who is that? He looks so majestic... is he a CEO or something?
Josekin: (smiling at his own photo-cropping skills) yeah, he is a CEO!

Later in the day...
Instructor: now this is a nice picture that conveys confidence and power. How did you ask the subject to pose?
Josekin: That's Warren Buffet... I don't think I asked him to pose... I just knelt down and took a picture.
Instructor: Class, some people, actors for example, are so comfortable and trained in appearing in public (back hand compliment 2? I can't decide)


Revised movie review

At PVF's request, I want to change my recommendation for the following movies (previous review):
  • Team America: recommended if you are going to see if with a bunch of guy friends and babies aren't involved
  • Bruno: recommended if you want to laugh at something stupid and then feel dumber afterwards - man, Borat was just much better!


Ghetto AJ Maxwell

It was a nice coincidence that college buddy CA visited NYC while Restaurant Week (slowly becoming Restaurant Month due to current downturn...) was on. We wanted to pick something near Time Square so AJ Maxwell fit the billing.

$35 for a choice of appetizer (soup or salad), choice of entree (strip steak, filet mignon, rib steak (?), or lobster), choice of dessert (bread pudding, cheesecake, or sorbet) sounded like a pretty good deal. On to the actual meal:
  • Ceasar salad was okay...
  • The filet mignon was juicy and flavorful; the AJ Maxwell steak sauce (on the side, thankfully) is a bit too sweet for my taste and would have ruined the steak. Nice steak. And the mash potatoes were creamy and very good
  • The bread pudding was god-awful - it was dry and tasted like a sponge cake with no flavor whatsoever. The cheesecake, however, really blew our mind.
I guess they had to think of all sorts of ways to justify the $35 price tag and the value given. Here're the two cheesecakse: one for myself and one for CA.

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That's right... they gave me the top of the cheesecake and CA the bottom crust! That's one slice serving two customers! Savings, cha ching! GHETTO!!!!!

Plus, the service wasn't attentive at all and they forced a 20% service fee to the restaurant week menu. Look, AJ, if you are trying to attract future customers with RW, at least be genuine and give us a good time. Now, I will never come back... unlesss PNGF finds the $50 coupon she has.


Disgusting movies

I think it's fair to say that the most disgusting movie I've seen is Borat (see review from 2006). Unfortunately, that's been topped, TWICE, in the last two weeks.

Team America - well, I confess, it wasn't that stupid. Apparently, political irony mixed with cartoons is a decent combo and lands some hilarious blows. For example, I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. made me laugh real hard real long. However, I didn't know it was going to be disgusting... as in doll sex disgusting. There was a baby in the audience and we had to cover her eyes even though she doesn't understand any of it. I also had to cover PNGF's eyes. Disgusting! Um... I also admit that "America, Fuck Yeah!" song is stuck in my head. Not recommended.

Bruno - Before the movie, I told PNGF that the over-under is 20 for boobs and 3 for penis. I was way wrong about one of them. AAARRRGGGGGGGGGGGGG. I feel very bad for Ron Paul and his publicist should be fired for not spotting Borat. Otherwise, I doubt any of the other characters were real - it fact, they all seem too staged as opposed to Borat. Awful movie. And my new #1 disgusting movie. (Even though, you know, I laughed real hard during the movie...) Not recommended.

Zhao ziyang's memior - Chinese version way better!

I'm reading Zhao Ziyang's memoir in Chinese (改革歷程, by 趙紫陽). When I read the prologue and the first chapter, I immediately knew this was going to be a far better read than the English version (with a horribly name Prisoner of the State, see my review before). The most significant reason is that the Chinese version are the exact words of Zhao. Every paragraph fills with wisdom of the dying man. It's not that the English version fails, but it just doesn't read like somebody's words, let alone that of a former Chinese Premier.

(Note: quick diversion... I bought this book at a upstair store 樓上舖 for $105... then promptly saw it for $168 at street level... Zhao and all the former Chinese leaders would have been proud of the capitalist way)

(Note 2: elders is 老人, not 長老 as I originally translated... see? So much is lost in translation!)

By the way, it suddenly struck me about the irony of me reading the book in Vancouver. For those of you who don't know, after the June 4th Incident, there was a massive immigration wave from Hong Kong to Vancouver (and, subsequently, Toronto) as HKers felt that the Chinese government could not be trusted. The same even probably also triggered the urgency to hastily put together democracy in HK (via elections for the Legislative branch). But sticking to the topic of Vancouver, it probably wouldn't have a chance to develop into what it is now had it not been the massive influx of capital from rich HK families - back then, families had to fork over a certain amount of cash in order to qualify for immigration. Ah, how little things in history alters the course of a city (or country, some may believe!).

For reasons detailed above, it is much easier to read the Chinese version and understand what is going on. Couple of points that I got out of the Chinese version and liked:
  • How to accomodate socialism and capitalism? Zhao just gave "socialism" a new definition so it wouldn't conflict with on-going economic reform
  • Economic reform: the Chinese leaders literally envisioned reform and that was it - an ad-hoc experiment that had a general vision but not much details besides looking at what others did. How the Chinese economy developed under those circumstances are both a great achievement as well as a great testiment to the workings of capitalism.
  • Leadership change: the ad-hoc-ness of leaderships and how they come about was striking. Basically, Deng Xiaoping would design a committee that best fit his needs; likewise, conservatives tried to do the same
  • Democracy: the damning assessment of democracy, where Deng basically says balance of power is not efficient and hinders the true growth that China can achieve
Highly recommended, much better than the English version.


Dragon Ball

I grew up watching Dragon Ball and then reading it via comic books. I still remember crying over not recording the episode where Goku defeats King Piccolo. Anyway, the movie version is trash and the only good thing I can think of is that I didn't pay for the movie. (On the plane... where I also watched Finding Nemo on a baby girls personal DVD machine. Mother and daughter and I all watched it together until her nap time.)

And Chow Yun Fat is done.

Highly not recommended. (Finding Nemo, on the other hand, is highly recommended)


Basketball book

At the recommendation of The Pretender, I read ":07 seconds or Less" by Jack McCallum. Pretty good book following the magical season of the Steve Nash-led Phoenix Suns in 2006. It closely follows the playoff run (Come from behind win against the Lakers, beating the Clippers, and finally falling to the Mavericks.) and cuts back in and out of the regular season to give personalities to all parties involved.

There were several things I leanred:
  • #1 reason for winning: personalities and egos (doesn't surprise me... you can call this chemistry)
  • #2 reason: talent matters too... but if the egos go the wrong way, nothing will work (not surprising either)
  • What does surprise me, however, is how much coaches matter. Not the Xs and Ox of the coaching though. What matters is how they manage personalities and massage egos to make the team work
  • #3 reason: actually, that's it. Personalities, egoes, and talent.
Verdict: Highly recommended if you like basketball.