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Wednesday, Feb 13, 2008

Media for the visually impaired.

Photo by Adam Graham

Photo by Adam Graham


The Genius of Louis Braille


Louis Braille’s genius was in realising that reading is something that’s done in the brain, the mind and the heart, that the eyes see or fingers feel the letters but the mind brings them to life. He also understood, as Gutenberg did before him, that his technology allowed people to have a private, contemplative relationship with the written word. In some ways technology is no friend to the visually impaired person. It may be convenient to turn printed words into sound, and books may be simpler to produce and make more titles available, but something crucial is lost if we can’t turn our ingenuity towards keeping braille alive, and even advancing it. A simple, refreshable book reader for sighted people has been difficult enough to produce, but more valuable than that, and infinitely more useful to society, would be a smart, ecologically sound refreshable braille device.


Colours. Issue #72.  Dedicated to the Blind and Visually Impaired.


Colors magazine has devoted an entire issue to blind and visually impaired people. They profile a blind rapper from Texas.


I’m the only blind rapper I know, but I still come and go, flip, screw, get down and get around just like I could see. Bein’ blind is just an inconvenience and I carry myself like I can see. People been telling me, “Man, you got killer flows” and it’s my turn next. I’m getting ready for a 40-city tour and I’m lookin’ for a Grammy. You know my kids need some good food to chew on.


I don’t rap about bein’ blind. Not that I’m ashamed or anything but I don’t want no sympathy claps and I don’t want to use my blindness as a stepping stone. I want my music to represent me. I want people to walk away from my
show wondering to themselves, ‘Was dat cat blind?’


And eighteen year old Ricardo Steimetz, who said: “I had no interest in birds. Then I went blind.”


My favourite birds are the ones that sing the most. I guess that makes sense, because I build my relationship with them through sound. The birds that don’t sing are graceless. At the moment my favourite birds are the blue ones. Some don’t sing when their feathers are molting, or when they get sick with fever or something. They become silent. Spring is the best time of the year for birds, it’s when they sing the most. In winter only a few of them sing, but it’s ok, it’s a cycle.


The blog Search and Destroy has several photographs of pages from the blindness issue of Colors.


Braille Without Borders


Braille Without Borders began as a project in Tibet in 1998. The website Climbing Blind has a story about the origins of Braille Without Borders.


Run by Sabriye Tenberken and her Dutch partner, Paul Kronenberg, instruct about 30 Tibetan students who are blind. They teach them to navigate independently with their canes through the chaos of Lhasa, to weave along narrow streets through moving cars and mopeds, around construction sites never protected, and over random holes in the streets, several meters deep, filled with dirty water and excrement. They’re also taught Tibetan Braille and how to use computers with voice synthesizers.  Most importantly, she instills in her students a sense of self-respect and hope. Sabriye funds her center on a shoestring budget, only recently having the funds to buy the school building with an advance from her newly released book, My Path Leads to Tibet It is a small international development organisation which aims to create training programs and Braille book printing houses for blind and visual impaired people. Braille is used as the basic tool to impart literacy to blind people. “Without Borders” on one hand means BWB can work anywhere in the world, but more important BWB doesn’t want to set any borders for blind people.


There is also now a project in Kerala in India.
.


 


Tagged as: media braille
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Tuesday, Feb 12, 2008



Ventura highway
in the sunshine
Where the days are longer
The nights are stronger
than moonshine
You’re gonna go I know


America, Ventura Highway


At some point every Californian takes a trip up the coast. In my lifetime, growing up a So-Cal kid, I’d estimate that—between family vacations when I was a lad, student politics during my college years, law school up in Sacramento, and a girlfriend from San Jose—well, I’ve probably gone up and back 37 times. It’s one of those treks that, done right, you can never really tire of. Especially, if you are doing it with loved ones for the first time. A new lover, a spouse, children. The cruise up 101 and then Highway 1 never gets old.


It’s sort of like a rite that one has to experience before they can gain state citizenship. Why? Because one can’t truly understand the rhythms, the prospects, and the capabilities of this great Golden State until they have sampled the spectacular views along the craggy coastline; the lush hues of the ocean, kissed by the ever-changeable, vibrant sky; and the quirky folk and idle pace that define the seaside lifestyle. Taken together, these aspects of the coastal trek—and particularly from Southern California up to the San Francisco Bay Area—form one of the United States’ essential experiences; a national treasure, decaring uniqueness, demanding encounter.


 


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Tuesday, Feb 12, 2008


You want proof that there’s no God. Want incontrovertible evidence that 99.9% of Hollywood executives have their heads so far up their rectums that they could read Variety through their urethra? Word has just come down that William Gibson’s classic cyberpunk novel Neuromancer is being made into a movie. No, that’s not the incriminating facet. It seems a certain talent free actor has been tapped to play the iconic role of Henry Dorsett Case. It’s a performer so pathetic he makes Keanu Reeves’ turns in the downright rip off Johnny Mnemonic look like the work of Sir Laurence Olivier. That’s right, everyone’s least favorite waste of Star Wars space, Hayden “One Broken Note” Christensen is rumored to be the front runner for the part. Apparently, it all depends on how his upcoming sci-fi spectacle does at the box office. Oh if only it were that easy.


In the realm of ridiculous action stardom, where for every Bruce Willis we have a dozen Nicolas Cages, sulking Skywaker is the absolute worst choice no matter the role. He’s dead eyed and uninvolving, like a trip to the zoo the day after the animals committed suicide. Since Tinsel Town usually thinks with its wallet first, crotch second, and aesthetics dead last, it’s no surprise that this Canadian klutz keeps getting hired. George Lucas’ lamentable prequels made a mint, and the last time anyone checked, Christensen is still riding that rail all the way to the next casting call. Who cares if he was laughably bad as a kind-of Bob Dylan in Factory Girl? It doesn’t matter that Awaken took a dirt nap at the turnstiles. With only a few warm notices for his work in Shattered Glass, he’s a hack of happenstance, someone with more luck than the entire Hilton clan put together.


So he’s perfect to fill the steroid stretched shoes of past punch and jurists. There is definitely a more brain addled Schwarzenegger element to his work, a thinking as his second language aspect that makes him incredibly blah onscreen. Even better, Christensen loves to accent that plainness by tossing out random drawls. Sometimes, he’s from Texas. At other moments, he’s a native New Yorker. And then there are times when his stilted speaking style suggests a medieval knight dropped on his head one too many times. Placing him in a period piece - and what else is the Wars universe except one big backlot recreation of reality where the digital replaces dysentery - allows the so called actor to prove his patheticness. He indeed suffers from one of those telling talent atrophies - the “m’lady” syndrome.


By its very nature, Old English is supposed to suggest history. Contemporize any of this dialogue and you destroy the illusion almost instantly. Certain known names have struggled with m’lady’s speechifying malady - Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel…basically any Method icon of the last 30 years. But no one is as uncomfortable as Christensen. All throughout the prequels, whenever called upon to address his paramour Padme, his painful approach to titles of recognition made him sound like a stroke victim relearning words all over again. It was even worse in Factory Girl, when his faux Zimmerman poet was seemingly reduced to a junior high nerd phonetically stumbling over multi-syllable vocabulary words.


But all occupational therapy aside, Christensen’s biggest flaw is his abject lack of magnetism. Actually, he does own some performance polarization. The minute the lens hits him, the lack of ability automatically repels the camera. This is crystal clear from his work in Doug Liman’s lamentable Jumper. With a premise that promises more than its horribly hackneyed cast can provide, this sloppy sci-fi stinker weeps at the throne of previous speculative spectacles. It’s not just that the Bourne Identity/Mr. and Mrs. Smith director decimates a concept with a great deal of potential, but somehow, he let Christensen on the set to add insult to stupidity.


Jumper is by far the worst work in the actor’s already dismal canon. We are supposed to believe that a shy, geeky like dork who pines for a girl he’ll never impress discovers his secret ability to teleport, leaves his abusive home, robs a bank, and becomes a jet setting playboy who eventually gets said gal. Right. The internal logic links that fail along the way from plot point A to B are enough to undermine the entire structural integrity of cinema. Even worse, Christensen’s character is fashioned into a pouty anti-hero, the kind of smug, “do anything” dude who can threaten the lives of hundreds, commit all manner of thought and actual crime, and yet feel absolutely ambivalent about the risk and/or ethics. 


The rest of the narrative is a knotty combination of unexplained context (as a ‘jumper’, Christensen’s David Rice is born with an inherent enemy, the fierce fundamentalist ‘paladins’ led by Samuel L. “Mail Me That Script” Jackson) and misfired stunt sequences. It’s clear from the work behind the scenes that Liman is a little light in the white knuckle, edge of the seat kinetic loafers. A chase through various locations around the globe - including several vertical and horizontal shifts - should be more exciting .Instead, it often plays like a gerbil having a seizure on the editing button. Besides, Liman approved Christensen (as well as his biological alter ego, the OC awful Rachel Bilson) for his lead. Clearly, the man has limited intellectual or aesthetic capacity.


The main facet of the film’s premise is something called a bi-location scar. It’s like a black hole in temporal space that sucks in the ‘jumper’, instantly transporting him or her to a designated place in their mind. Christensen’s deficient daring-do functions in the same way. The minute he appears in a scene, entertainment and all sense of believability are leeched out of the material, replaced by a void of uninspired dullness. You can literally see the CGI skipping pixels and dying a digital death. From his Terminator as turd crewcut to the dark circles around his Satanically slack eyeballs, Christensen commands a certain surreal kind of respect. It’s not based on what he does as a celebrity. Instead, we marvel at how completely insidious and vile true evil can really be.


Now some may believe that this is too much hating on a half-shaped hunk who really didn’t ask to be George Lucas’ whelp of a whipping boy. They will point out decent things he’d done (look for the list to be about one item long) and suggest that more time in front of the Panaflex is needed. Eventually, they say, he will produce some interesting work. Frankly, that’s a lot like the whole monkey and typewriter analogy, except that the chimps have more of a chance at channeling Shakespeare than Christensen does. This is why his hiring (make that ‘proposed’ hiring) to play Case seems so senseless. It’s a reach far beyond his already proven paltriness. Besides, it dooms Neuromancer before it even begins, leading those already familiar with Gibson’s pioneering novel to fear the worst (the ‘who’s who’ for Molly Millions is enough to give purists nightmares now).


And that’s because Christensen, for all the snark, has yet to prove himself anything other than an incredibly lucky bastard. Had an irradiated lemur been cast as Anakin Skywalker, the prosimian would have his choice of starring roles. Money and cultural meaning can do that to any actor. Sadly, it’s the audiences who will have to suffer with such cinematic strategizing. Jumper will not add to the actors’ legitimacy, except when it comes to putting pesos in the suits’ pockets. Few will recognize it’s the premise doing the profiteering. Instead, Christensen will get all the decidedly incorrect credit. And our long national acting night terror will continue.


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Monday, Feb 11, 2008


If we are to believe the whispered scuttlebutt (since confirmed by major media outlets), the four month old strike by the Writers Guild of America against motion picture producers and studios is about to be settled. No major fanfare. No glorious announcements of victory or statements of solidarity. As public interest waned (actually, it peaked about two days after the walkout was announced) and individual sweetheart deals were brokered, the erosion of purpose finally signaled a surrender. It was never a question of who blinked first. Instead, it became a battle of wits between two entities undeniably bereft of same. The corporate conglomerates wanted to sit on their never-ending pile of profits. The writers wanted to up their residual ante, if only a skoosh. In the end, it looks like both sides got what they wanted - sort of. Since there is more than enough money to go around, who cares about a few percentage points, right?


There were some indirect repercussions, however, reflections and indicators that exposed the transparency of motives on both sides. All deadlocks between management and underlings usually revolve around dollar signs - either in amounts paid out or paid toward other benefits. Squabbles over working conditions and the like are usually reserved for the manufacturing sector, or overly ambitious novels by historically hewed authors. Only sports figures finagle over agency, allegiance, and aftercare. The WGA demands - and the recent Director’s Guild deal and upcoming Screen Actors action - were all about revenue streams: where they are, how much there could be, and the potential payout once the ephemeral wildcatting had begun. Yet after all the accounting, after audits and attributions are made, there are some leftover lessons to be learned. While not inclusive of everything the Writer’s strike showed us, they may be the most lasting impacts.


Nobody Cares About the Golden Globes Anymore
When the completely out of touch Grammys usurp you as a primary, palpitating concern amongst overprivileged superstars, it’s perhaps time to hang up your self-congratulatory backslapping once and for all. The fake front Hollywood Foreign Press Association saw the WGA give them the picket line kibosh, and the resulting press conference crudeness proved how totally irrelevant the award now is. With neither Best Picture winner geared toward an Oscar duplication (Sweeney Todd wasn’t even NOMINATED by the Academy, mind you), it was the pointlessness of the entire concept that caught everyone’s eye. Without the fancy dress dinner and star powered ambience, without the awkward banter between presenters and equally uncomfortable speeches, without its typical place as the premiere indicator of future trophy triumphs, the Globes looked decidedly low rent. No wonder the other shows cancelled or caved at the bargaining table. The last thing these other Emperors need is another example of their underwhelming and irrefutable nakedness. 


The Art of Negotiation is in Fact Fingerpainting
Back in the days when management hired plank carrying goons to break the spirit (and the heads) of striking workers, backdoor deals in the dead of night were how compromise was accomplished. But in the months since the writers took up the placard, most of the wheeling and dealing has been done in very open, very inappropriate forums. From newspaper columnists with “exclusive” rights and insight into the process to YouTube videos and other viral elements meant to explain positions, very little actual talking took place. Anyone who wonders why the strike lasted so long can view this peculiar parley’s scattered approach and realize this ain’t no Pirates of the Caribbean. Captain Jack Sparrow and his buccaneer brood aren’t arriving anytime soon to smile and wink their way through the bargaining. Serious negotiations call for serious attitudes and approaches. Apparently, the new business model is to whine and walk away. Then you can do both in public, over and over again.


The Digital Age = The Death of Unions?
Harlan Ellison used to warn that, once a writer started undervaluing his or her efforts, there was no stopping the exploitation of the work by publishers and producers. This has been the cornerstone of the WGA’s position - the new online entertainment domain, with its multiple permutations for delivering content, has the potential to rob the creative element of their rightful ownership, copyright, and residuals. But there’s a catch many don’t realize, a blowback that offers little comfort - the medium they are marching over is inundated with unpaid “professionals”. From bloggers to recently ‘retired’ print critics, the Internet survives on, and for the most part thrives on, the use of genuine ‘free’-lancers. So how do highly paid scribes, already sitting on ever-fattening paychecks for their initial efforts, convince a compromised audience that their point is valid? In essence, they don’t. As long as their coffers are covered, few outside the fold care. It’s like the ritzy Lexus owner pulling into Wal-Mart. They’re happy to support the cheap and easy access to what they need. But they’ll be damned if they’ll take up the cause of the underpaid employee delivering it.


TV Will Still Love It Some Reality
Even as many “popular” shows close shop, waiting for the day they can bring back their double digit script squads and pay them outrageous fees to come up with feeble sitcom fodder, couch potatoes are proving that they prefer the tangy taint of non-fiction foolishness. Shows like The Moment of Truth and Bad Girls Club have been far more buzz worthy in recent weeks, while the return of a surefire stalwart like Lost felt like an anticlimactic afterthought. When push comes to weekly drama shove, audiences will turn over to see whores (both male and female) acting inappropriate time and time again. This month alone offers another Survivor, more American Idol, a pre-summer return of Big Brother, another Flavor of Love (a show now intentionally mocking itself), more balding Brett Michaels, and enough variations of all the above to keep your typical TV addicted Nielsen family in faux reality hog heaven for the next few weeks. By then, the writers will be back doing what they do best - not that anyone will notice.


Film Writing Will Still Suck
Let’s face it - none of this is about quality. Writers are not worried about delivering coherent characterization or inventive narrative concepts to your next Cineplex jaunt. Instead, we’re back to square one in the aesthetic battle - money - and the last time anyone checked, the size of the payout had very little to do with the quality of the script. Studios don’t buy screenplays based on how wonderful they are artistically. Nor are they purchasing product they feel will appeal to a limited segment of the often marginalized movie-going population. Filmmaking is a gamble, and only high rollers get the massive box office returns. So studios love to hurl large quantities of cash at the most mediocre of ideas (or worse, journeymen who’ve managed to luck into a leftfield hit or soft market moneymaker) and nothing the WGA is doing will change that. Instead, this is just about that cold hard cash coming out of your wallets - which by the way is the only say we have in this upper crust pissing match.


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Monday, Feb 11, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

Son Lux
Break [MP3] (from At War with Walls and Mazes releasing 28 February)
     


Son Lux - Break


Cheb i Sabbah
Qalanderi [MP3]
     


Buy at iTunes Music Store


Panther
Puerto Rican Jukebox [MP3] (from 14kt God releasing 22 February)
     


Basia Bulat
In the Night [MP3]
     


Evangelicals
Skeleton Man [MP3]
     



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