This is the website of perhaps the best webcomics artist I have come across to date. The stories on the site are slice-of-life/drama stories and are both well told and well drawn. I highly recommend checking a few of them out, especially “Same Difference”.
This article ties in with other reports I’ve been reading recently. Simply put, not only is oil demand growing at a huge rate thanks to China and India industrializing, but we’re going to hit the halfway point in our oil supplies in the next few years. Once that happens, the amount of oil the industry produces will begin to slowly drop while the demand will continue to rise. This means skyrocketing oil prices and crippling effects on everything related to oil, which is also just about everything in the modern world. (Remember, this incudes Plastic. How much plastic is around you now?) Of course, we’ll also eventually run out of oil in 40-60 years as well, maybe as few as 30 or so. Time to buy into those hydrogen cell companies, which I’ve also read the Japanese are making great advances with.
This is how I picture it…
In 1998, the Taiwanese financial markets are starting to take a hit because of businesses sending their production lines to mainland China. Taiwan is filled with dozens of Banks, born during the booming economy days of the 1980’s and early 1990’s and at one such bank, Cosmos Bank, a worried board of directors sits around wondering how they’re going to weather the currently looming crisis. They need cash, they need investors and a source of income, but all the traditional sources (business loans, home loans, credit cards) are all tapped out or not doing too well in the current economy. What to do? What to do?
Then I picture a young up and coming exec (which would put him in his 40’s around here)looking out the boardroom window and seeing the signs for one of the big computer companies or perhaps it was for a cosmetics line. In any case, an idea suddenly strikes him: big loans aren’t working…why don’t we try…micro loans! Credit cards at the time have (by North American standards) low maximums and charge a large amount of interest (around 20% per month) on money taken out for cash advances. So, our young exec decides, why not make a new type of card which fills in the gap between major loans and credit cards. By making the interest a little lower (say 18% per month), making the card really easy to get (both credit cards and loans require two co-signers and a lot of paperwork to get) and making the money easy to access (use a bank machine to draw money anytime you want from your loan account) people, and especially young goods-hungry consumers will be able to get the goods they want, when they want them, without any of that legal hassle that puts them off.
So, our bright young executive whips his chair around and quickly raises his hand.
“Yes?” Says the chairman.
Without pausing to take a breath, the young exec boldly outlines his new idea while the other members of the board listen quietly, nodding to themselves. Slowly, their eyes start to light up as they see the possibilties, even the chairman is smiling to himself. But, there’s that one doubter down at the end, the one who never liked our young exec to begin with, and he raises his hand to comment.
“Nice idea, but how do we get them to buy into it?”
The young exec’s eyes go wide as he hits a question he didn’t think of yet, quickly he searches his thoughts, and then his look of fear turns to confidence again.
“We don’t sell it to them as a loan from a bank. Kids borrow money from friends and family all the time, and we’ll sell it to them as a loan from some friends. They’re not getting money from us, they’re getting money from their buddies next door…We’ll call them…George and Mary.”
Is this how it happened? Who knows?
But, the reality is that shortly after this two young hipsters were everywhere to be seen in Taiwan by the names of George and Mary. Sporting the latest fashions and electronic goods, these advertising darlings and their catchy theme song became an everpresent aspect of Taiwanese culture. Young people flocked to Cosmos bank to get money from their new friends “George and Mary”, and other banks quickly followed suit with their clones as the cash started to roll in. Sure, it was about lending money out to people, but of course young people are notorious for not paying their bills on time, and 18% interest racks up some hefty bills pretty quickly. People who weren’t willing to take out killer cash advances seemed not as bothered by these “temporary loans” which had to be taken as cash, not credit. After all, most probably figured, they could pay it off in a paycheck or two. (You still needed to have a job before George and Mary would lend money to you, but little other requirements.)
A few weeks ago, Taiwan lawmakers banned banks and lending institutions from advertising these cards in anything but the print media. The reason? Taiwanese currently owe NT$350 Million (about 14 million Canadian dollars) to banks on these cash cards, and some banks have even gone under due to people defaulting on their payments. Parents are the ones often being stuck with the bills, and families have collapsed financially as well because the temporary loans they took from “George and Mary” turned into mounting debt. In a country where there is little social security, and the financial situation is getting worse and worse due to political and economic problems, George and Mary are gleefully throwing gas on the fire, and the lawmakers are trying their best to slow it down, even if they can’t stop it.
I wish them luck, they’re fighting against the shortsightedness of human nature.
In the meantime, I’m sure our formerly young executive sits in his office at the top smiling to himself each day as he works, thinking about how “he” singlehandedly saved the bank while a radio plays in the background…
“If-you-need-cash, and-need-it-now, call Geeeeeeeorge and Maaaaaaary!…”
So, I’m going to talk about movies again. (And spoil the first one, and a little bit of the second, so be warned…)
Last night, I saw a movie (to be fair, I saw half of it due to switching locations) called Swordfish, starring Hugh Jackman, Holly Berry and John Travolta as the bad guy. To sum the movie up, Travolta and Berry play members of a secret US organization which actively hunts down and kills threats to the United States. For whatever reason, they’re going to lose their funding, so Travolta comes up with a big scheme to steal a few hundred million dollars by means of a bank heist crossed with a computer hacking job. To do this, they need the best hacker available, so enter Hugh Jackman, the best hacker available and just out of prison. He’s trying to get his daughter back from her mother, who’s married to a porn king (and one of his main stars) but the courts prefer her to an ex-con. So, to get the money to win in court against his ex-wife, Jackman signs on with Travolta and Berry, not realizing what he’s getting into. Jackman basically spends the movie finding out what’s really going on and freaking out as Travolta kills various people, being those who get in the way of his holy quest to save America. He endangers and kills innocents as well as the people who try to stop him, and is a bad bad man, which makes Jackman turn against him in the end.
In fact, Jackman kills Travolta and his buddies by blowing up their helicopter with a rocket launcher because he wants him dead, dead, dead because he’s really and evil man. So, the FBI agent who was also hunting Travolta takes Jackman to ID the body…and Jackman looks down and sees the body in the morgue isn’t Travolta. At which point Jackman puts together a bunch of “clues” during the movie and realizes how Travolta escaped and how much of what he thought he saw during the movie was lies. The villain is still out there, and he’s the only one who might know it and be able to help the FBI nail him, much less the question of Travolta coming back to kill him and his daughter. So, he immediately tells the FBI agent the truth, right?
He mumbles “yeah”, and leaves to go of with his (now recovered) daughter on a camping trip. Meanwhile we see Berry’s character clean out the foreign bank account, and then get news reports of terrorist leaders all over the world being killed.
End of movie.
What the heck? So, let me get this staight, the bad guy completely won in every way possible…and we’re to feel good about this because he’s killing other “bad guys”? Or, because the bad guy was John Travolta somehow it makes it okay? And, Jackman, who was ready to kill the villain is suddenly happy to let him go? Who wrote this crap?
In other news…today I saw Sahara with Connie and her mother, which overall is a pretty average adventure film with a few clever ideas but generally forgettable cardboard characters who walk through the movie doing what their characters are supposed to do. (ie Action Hero does what action heroes do, sidekick does what sidekicks do, villians do…etc) But, since it’s an action movie, all is to be expected and most of it can be forgiven in the name of entertainment.
What can’t be forgiven, however, is the ending.
Oh, it has the normal action movie ending (sort of, the bad guy doesn’t die during the film but theoretically will eventually die…sort of…) but the problem lies in that the movie hinges on the central mystery of how a US Civil War Ironclad filled with gold coins ended up in the Sahara desert. The movie opens with the ship leaving, and the ship is referenced countless times, it’s a major plot point and in fact the ship does turn up by the end of the movie (surprise!) in time to play a pivotal role in the story. They even explain how the ship could have gotten up the Niger river to the desert, and it’s a good and logical explanation, no problems there.
The problem comes in that since the movie producers are so busy trying to make their little action movie about how dumping toxic waste in the middle of the desert will destroy the world (You’d have to see it, and I don’t buy it, but I guess the movie wouldn’t be interesting if the hero’s didn’t somehow save the world in the process…) they kind’ve-sort’ve never bother to tell us how or why the ship ended up there (sitting there cargo intact next to a desert fortress for 150 years without anyone noticing) in the first place. I’m not kidding, they literally forget to tell us the answer to the mystery that we’ve been waiting two hours to find out. I guess they figure the audience forgot about that little old detail while we were watching the endless bullets and car chases. My only hope is, that since this was based on a novel there actually is a reason out there, and it either a) was lost on the cutting room floor during editing by accident, or b) lost during the endless re-writes that resulted from the 3 different sets of screenwriters listed in the opening credits taking a pass at it.
Then again, maybe I’m the only one who noticed or cared. (And, I did check with Connie and her Mom, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and I didn’t…there were no answers given.) It’s just I feel a little ripped off, like reading a Sherlock Holmes story where they never reveal the killer or a movie where the bad guy wins for no good reason…
I can’t explain it, you just have to see it. I can only promise that it’s cool to watch, if somewhat surreal. In case you’re wondering, it’s the beginning and end of Star Wars Episode 4, sort of, you’ll just have to watch.
I have to say that for it’s size, Taipei is probably one of the safest cities on Earth, right up there with Tokyo. I wander around this city at night with no sense of being in danger at all, and when I ask my female students if they feel threatened traveling home alone at night, the answer I get is “not at all”. Yes, there are crimes just like any other major city, but for the most part they’re “victimless” crimes such as robbery and theft. But, even then I wonder sometimes why there are bars on almost every window in Taiwan. Are they a relic of the older, less safe days? If you ask people why they are there, they’ll say “because of thieves”, but there never seems to be any mention of thieves in the paper and I haven’t heard of anyone whose house got robbed. Maybe that’s because the bars work? I don’t know.
That said, there is one aspect of crime and lawlessness that does seem to plague Taiwan, and that’s in the form of organized crime. While the streets aren’t very dangerous, gangs and gangsters have a lot of power here as they do anywhere in Asia. A few weeks ago a rich businessman got kidnapped and his family had to pay millions to contacts in China for his release. Often the local gangsters co-operate with ones on the Mainland because they know because of the problems between Taiwan and China, they’re safe. It’s kind’ve like “running for the Mexican border” used to be in the Old West.
So far, I’ve managed to avoid running into them. I hope to keep it that way.
Originally from mainland China, Bo Yang came to live in Taiwan and suffered under the rule of the KMT during Taiwan’s dictatorial period. He is considered one of the greatest writers of Taiwan, and wrote a great deal, but what he is most famous for is his book “The Ugly Chinaman” which deals with his perceptions about the flaws in Chinese culture. (And patterned after a similar book called “The Ugly American” which came out some years previously by an American author.)
Thanks to Connie needing to read a condensed version of that book for one of her classes, I recently had the chance to read this essay about Chinese culture. While I think that the essay (which was written some 20 years ago) doesn’t entirely apply to the modern culture of Taipei around me, I can still see a lot of the truth in it. Reading it made me rethink many of my perceptions of these people around me, and I am still considering his words.
For your reading pleasure, the essay can be found here:
Rob’s free online game find of the week is Dragonfist II a FLASH fighting game filled with creativity and old kung-fu movie sound clips. The characters are simple, but the action isn’t. Try it out!
When I was a kid, one of my favorite movie was called War of the Worlds, about an alien invasion of Earth and people trying to survive. Of course, in the original the people trying to survive were the usual scientists that you saw in every old science fiction movie. Now there’s a new version of this story with Tom Cruise, and while I was initially skeptical about it I just saw a new trailer for it today that gave me chills. In the new version it’s just about a dock worker and his two kids trying to survive as the invasion comes, and it looks like it could be a wonderful commentary on humanity and the human spirit. Of course I will remain a little skeptical until I see it, but I have to say I am impressed by what I’ve seen so far.
Here’s the link to the new Japanese version of the trailer (Japanese subtitles and a Japanese voiceover) which is longer and I think is the best version of the trailer. Interestingly enough, in Japanese it’s called “Uchu Senso” or “Space War”, which I guess fits it well enough.