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The Restless
The Restless
DVD ~ Jung Woo-Sung
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4.0 out of 5 stars A mediocre movie with a great one straining to get out, March 12, 2016
This review is from: The Restless (DVD)
This movie is an odd bird--a really mediocre movie, with an excellent movie straining to get out of it, but not succeeding.

The overall story line is great. The relationships between the characters are really interesting. The hero, wandering demon hunter Yi Gawk, is transported to Midheaven, a realm where the dead wait to be reincarnated, while still alive. He was apparently called by the celestial powers to put down a demonic uprising, because only a living person can use his special demon-killing blade. In Midheaven, he finds his dead lover So-hwa/ Yon-hwa (whose death he blames himself for), now elevated to a celestial power-in-in-training--with all memories of her mortal life erased. And the villains are Yi Gawk's former demon hunter comrades-in-arms (unjustly executed by the aristocracy), who have staged an uprising in Midheaven to invade the world of the living and make it a more just place. The villains aren't card board cut-outs, but people with realistic motivations, even sympathetic if misguided ones. The film attempts to explore some interesting philosophical points about the role of suffering and memory in what it means to be human and whether the desire for revenge can make the world a better place, or if only love can do it. The special effects are generally quite good, with some remarkable fight scenes and great visuals of Midheaven.

But the movie is dragged down by the simply awful acting. Many of the characters are portrayed in a quite hammy way. Others seem to have only one or two expressions they are capable of. Apparently, the actors are some of the most respected in South Korea, but they bombed on this film. Maybe something gets lost in the subtitles, but the film doesn't quite live up to its philosophical potential--I felt like more thought needed to be given to it. It would have helped if Yi Gawk seemed more genuinely torn between his dead lover and his former comrades. And the female lead, So-hwa/ Yon-hwa, despite supposedly being a powerful celestial spirit, spent most of her time being a passive damsel-in-distress in need of rescuing by her lover Yi Gawk.

This could have been a great movie, but it falls short on so many levels.


No Title Available

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars itchy and scratchy, December 22, 2008
Unfortunately, I did not find these shirts to be terribly comfortable. Even after a washing, they were itchy and scratchy against my skin.


Master Tang Hoi: First Zen Teacher in Vietnam and China
Master Tang Hoi: First Zen Teacher in Vietnam and China
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Edition: Hardcover
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars mostly of historical interest, May 7, 2007
I've read a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh's books and this is one of his weaker ones. It is of some historical interest, because it talks about the introduction of Buddhism to Vietnam. As a practitioner in TNH's tradition, I felt like it would be good to know some of this history. Based on the life of Master Tang Hoi, TNH argues that Buddhism was not introduced to China from India and then China to Vietnam, as is generally supposed. Rather, Buddhism was introduced to Vietnam from India and then from Vietnam to China--though at the time, Vietnam was a province in the Chinese Empire. Master Tang Hoi was a pivotal figure in this transmission, though he is now largely forgotten.

This book tries to be two things at once--a history of the introduction of Buddhism to Vietnam and China; and a lesson in the dharma, specifically meditation practice. It doesn't really succeed as either. TNH tells us what is known of Master Tang Hoi's biography, provides us with some of Master Tang Hoi's writings on meditation, and then his own commentary on Master Tang Hoi's writings. This history is too brief to be really satisfying and doesn't tie the development of Buddhism into the larger social and historical context around it; and most of what TNH says about meditation practice he has said more clearly elsewhere. I'd say TNH feels a strong affinity with Master Tang Hoi, since Tang Hoi was an early Mahayana teacher, but one who also emphasized the importance of the sutras on meditation practice from the Pali canon--just as TNH blends the traditions of Mahayana (specifically Zen) and Theravada (which is based on the Pali canon).

In the end, this book is mainly interest to those who want to learn a little more about the history of Buddhism in Vietnam--and it left me feeling like I hadn't learned as much as I might like.


Eater
Eater
by Gregory Benford
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars from sense of wonder to sense of horror, March 12, 2007
This review is from: Eater (Mass Market Paperback)
The core idea of this story is fascinating--an intelligent black hole. And Benford manages to make this seemingly implausible idea sound plausible. The intelligence actually exists in the magnetic fields that surround the black hole--and there's all sorts of scientific hand-waving to make it work in terms of the story. Unfortunately, Benford falls down on the job in executing this idea.

The first major problem is that the book reads like it needed another revision. The characterization is a bit shallow--and, what's worse, not entirely consistent. Two of the main characters, Benjamin and Kingsley, start off the book as long-time professional and personal rivals--not bitter enemies, but not on the best of terms. Somewhere along the way they become old friends. It could be that, under the crisis, their relationship evolves into friendship--but I don't see this evolution happening. It could be that their original relationship was more mixed, a combination of rivalry and friendship, but that's not what I read. Benford needed to spend more time working this out. There were other problems that should simply have been caught be a decent editor--like scenes that start out with the main characters meeting privately in an office and then move without transition to being set in a large auditorium with many people chipping in; or conversations where characters reply to themselves.

The other big problem with the novel is the way the original sense of wonder, so essential to good science fiction, swiftly becomes a rather tedious sense of horror. The early parts of the novel where the main characters (all astronomers) realize that this bizarre anomaly entering the solar system is a black hole--and *it wants to talk to them*--are fascinating. The black hole, which they dub Eater, says things which are criptic but intriguing. This sense of wonder quickly fades as the Eater turns its trajectory towards Earth, demanding that the human population upload their minds into magnetic forms that it can store in its magnetic field, as part of a sort of zoo--something it has apparently done with many other sapient races it has encountered. Here we get one of the most reactionary cliches of bad SF--the alien, the Other as incomprehensible and (in human terms) implacably evil. If it's different, we can't possibly truly communicate or reason with it and we must kill it. Inded, no attempt is made by any human government to reason or empathize with the Eater--some comply with its demands, sending it the minds of political prisoners, while others (the supposed good guys) try to figure out if they can use nuclear warheads or some other means to disrupt its magnetic fields and essentially kill it. And the Eater quickly becomes painted as not so much alien as insane. I wonder if Benford (or any other writer who produces this sort of shallow, fear-mongering story line) realizes that they are projecting onto aliens exactly the sort of ideas we project onto humans who are different to us and whom we want some excuse to go to war with, oppress or otherwise be brutal and cruel to.

It's really too bad because if he'd handled the core idea better, this could have been a really good novel.


Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements
Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements
by Francesca Polletta
Edition: Paperback
Price: $28.80
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent overview of participatory democracy in social movements, March 6, 2007
This is simply one of my favorite books, all around, even including works of fiction. It's well written, well researched, insightful and relevant for activists in the trenches. The well written and relevant parts are, sadly, often not true of academic work on social movements. As for the well researched part, Polletta did an astounding amount of archival research and interviews with activists to write this book. What emerges is a fascinating history of how twentieth-century US progressive social movements have tried to implement participatory democracy in their own organizations. It is a chronicle of failed experiments, gradually historical learning and increasing success.

By reading this book, we get to see what has worked and what has failed. Polletta makes two main contributions in this book. First, she rebutts those who argue that participatory democracy is a nice ideal, but impractical--that top-down leadership is a more efficient form of organization. On the contrary, says Polletta, participatory democracy promotes 1) solidarity in groups, because everyone feels included in the decision-making process and thus more committed to any plan of action; 2) innovation, as more people take part in the back and forth as new ideas are developed; and 3) personal development, as active participation in decision-making lets more people develop new skills, including leadership skills.

The other major point Polletta makes is that it has been difficult for movement organizations to successfully implement participatory democracy because we have so few models of such interaction in mainstream society. Therefore, we often fall back on patterns of interaction we are familiar with--religious fellowship, friendship and the teacher-student relationship. In certain circumstances, these can work for a while, but historically they have always lead to trouble. We need to develop new models for relating to each other to make participatory democracy work. On the practical level, Polletta says that the contemporary community organizing and global justice movements have both developed good practices that seem to have solved many past historical problems--though in very different ways. (This is also not to say that they have solved all problems--new challenges certainly lie ahead.) On a more abstract level, Polletta points to the Latin-American ideal of the compañero/a, a relationship that is close, but based on the common bonds of political struggle, not modeled on friendship or kinship or some other familiar form.

All in all, this is an excellent, though-provoking, inspiring book.


Globalization and Its Discontents
Globalization and Its Discontents
by Saskia Sassen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $20.95
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars brilliant ideas, mediocre writing, November 7, 2005
This is probably as good an introduction to Sassen's work as any, as she covers most of her major ideas with relative brevity. The title is rather misleading (as is the case of Stiglitz's (later published) work of the same name)--she focuses on the dynamics and effects of globalization and does not discuss organized resistance by social movements to it. Sassen sees three macro-level phenomena at work--the hypermobility of capital, the "unbundling" of state sovereignty, and the rise of global cities. It is the last of these ideas for which she is probably best known. She does not really get into an analysis of the hypermobility of capital here, but many other authors have covered that matter. Her analyses of the unbundling of state sovereignty and the rise of global cities are far more original. Against the background of these macro-phenomena, Sassen also analyzes the rise of the service economy, immigration patterns, and the changing roles of women.

I'm not sure how to fairly summarize Sassen's ideas in a brief review. To hit the high points, she argues that as systems of international law grow, the traditional sovereignty of the state is transformed, with its pieces of it being unbundles and some elements being transferred to international organizations, such as the UN and WTO. There are actually two distinct international law regimes--the human rights regime and the more powerful neoliberal regime, enforced by the likes of the WTO and IMF. This neoliberal regime has enabled the rise of the global economy.

Contrary to all the hype about globalization, the internet, and a "dematerialized" economy though, Sassen argues that the politics of place remain as important ever. This brings her to her analysis of global cities. If we are to have the high speed communications created by the internet, we need a physical infrastructure for it, fiber-optic cables and all that--a seemingly obvious point, but one often overlooked. This infrastructure is not evenly distributed either internationally or nationally. It is in fact concentrated in global cities, most of which are, not coincidentally, in the first world. The three chief global cities are, in fact, New York, London, and Tokyo. These global cities are at the heart of the new service sector that is so important to the global economy. As corporations' operations are more globally decentralized, power--control of these operations--has become more centralized in the global cities, which have the telecommunications infrastructure to do all the necessary coordinating of information.

Much of this coordination is in fact outsourced to specialized corporations providing services to the other corporations, in such fields as accounting, insurance and--the truly dominant force in gloablization--finances. These corporations are staffed by a new professional class, which has moved to the city, abondonning the suburbs, demanding upscale services. The downside of this is the shrinking of the traditional middle-class and the old economy based on mass production, mass consumption, and mass prosprity. Instead what is growing is a poor working class of workers providing personal (as opposed to corporate) services (such as house-cleaning, child care, janitorial services, or retail), often to the professionals who work doing corporate services. Thus there is a growing economic divide in the global cities. A disproportionate number of the people working in the poorly paid personal service sector are women and immigrants.

Sassen notes that, not only is globalization responsible for the rise of the poorly paid service sector, but immigration as well. Contrary to popular myths that the best way to stop immigration is to encourage foreign investment in immigrant-sending countries and create jobs there, Sassen actually argues that this creates more immigration, not less. Current patterns of foreign investment tend to exacerbate poverty, not cure it. And by working for foreign companies, workers gain some familiarity with the cultures of the US, Europe and increasingly Japan. This familiarity makes it easier for them to then immigrate to the first world in search of work. And there are a lot of other ideas I'm leaving out.

So, if I think this book is so brilliant, why am I only giving it four stars? Poor writing. As a previous reviewer noted, all the essays in this book were previously published elsewhere. I don't think this makes this book worthless (and therefore worthy of only one star)--it is convenient to have them gathered all in one place--but it does make the book somewhat disjointed and repetitive. But original works by Sassen, such as /Global City/, have the same problem. The fact is, despite her intellectual brilliance, she is a poor writer. Mind you, she is not like some writers, such as Hegel or Baudrillard, who seem to revel in their own incomprehensibility. She can be understood, but her writing is often something of a slog. She needs a good editor or some writing lessons.

Despite that, this book is definitely worth reading if you want to explore in-depth some important, unorthodox ideas about globalization.


Hard Work: Remaking the American Labor Movement
Hard Work: Remaking the American Labor Movement
by Rick Fantasia
Edition: Paperback
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a great introduction to the American labor movement, July 14, 2005
In this book, Fantasia and Voss--two long-time, respected labor scholars--provide a great overview of and introduction to the American labor movement. The book was actually originally written for a French audience, so they assume you know very little about the American labor movement, explaining things like the National Labor Relations Board and the Taft-Hartley Act, instead of assuming you know about them. They also at times contrast the American labor movement with those in Eruope, which is also frequently illuminating.

Building upon Voss' previous work, they address the question of the supposed exceptionalism of the American working class--the fact that, unlike European working classes, they never developed a militant labor movement that fought for the interests of all workers and embraced socialist or social-democratic politics; instead, the labor movement has fought primarily for benefits for its members and embraced mainstream politics. But, Fantasia and Viss argue, the American labor movement was not always like this--in the mid- to late nineteenth century, the American labor movement was as militant, broad-minded and radical as its European counterparts, if not more so. What was exceptional was not the American working class, but the American capitalist class, which was far more hostile to labor than their European counterparts. This hostile social environment, in which any major labor organziation that showed signs of a broad vision of social justice was brutally crushed, lead to the thoroughly domesticated politics of the AFL-CIO, in which they agreed to act as business' junior partner, gaining increased wages and benefits for their members, in return for abandonning any broader vision and supporting the Cold War agenda.

Even at its height, this bargain excluded most workers outside the core manufacturing industries. When the US and global economy began to undergo major changes in the 1970s (changes Fantasia and Voss don't explain well--this is one of the few weaknesses of the book), US business decided this bargain no longer suited its needs, rolling back the gains workers had made, a process that accelerated once the Reagan administration came to power. Traditional labor leaders were totally unprepared for this assult and it looked like organized American labor might go down the tubes.

Fortunately, the decentralized structure of some unions, while allowing for local corruption, had also allowed for progressives to survive in some localities. They have responded to the crisis of American labor with innovative new tactics and a new vision that embraces the interests of all workers, not just union members. They have begun working with other community groups and organizing groups unions had traditionally ignored--people of color, women and immigrants. (This is the other big weakness of the book--Fantasia and Voss don't pay enough attention to how deeply entrenched racism, sexism and nativism were entrenched in mainstream unions. They treat these matters casually instead of as central to understanding the crisis of American labor). With the election of Sweeney and the New Voices slate to the leadership of the AFL-CIO, these efforts began to get some official support. It is in this new, social movement unionism Fantasia and Voss see hope. However, it faces huge obstacles, both in the form of the entrenched leaders of many labor unions, leaders who are often conservative, corrupt or both; and the continuing hostility of American business and government to organized labor.

Despite the weaknesses I have mentioned, overall Fantasia and Voss do a great job of summarizing the history of the American labor movement, how it got into the mess it is today, and possible avenues out of the mess. The book is hopeful without being naive.


The New Social Face of Buddhism: A Call to Action
The New Social Face of Buddhism: A Call to Action
by Ken Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.81
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a Buddhist social theory, July 8, 2005
As Jones notes, traditional Buddhist teachings tend to lack much in the way of social teachings other than basic injunctions to kings on how to rule justly. This has much to do with the social and historical context in which Buddhism originated, where there wasn't really any traditional of social theory (though Buddhism did develop highly complex psychological theories). In this day and age of major social crises, Jones argues we can no longer afford to pay attention to the ethical implications of our actions only for that group of people we meet face-to-face--we must consider the ethical implications of our actions for the whole world. He discusses some of the history of socially engaged Buddhism in Asia and the West, then sets out to develop his own Buddhist social theory.

He notes that engaged Buddhism comes in many varieties, from emphasizing bringing meditation practice into daily life, to social service work, to political activism. It tends to be this last that gets the least emphasis among socially engaged Buddhists, especially in the West, and it is an activist Buddhism that Jones focuses on. He does not try to argue for it from traditional texts, as some have done, but to take the basic Buddhist existential teachings--the four noble truths, the noble eightfold path, no-self, etc.--and use them to understand our current social situation in what he calls a socioexistential approach. He is critical of thos Buddhist social theories that simply try to take Buddhist psychological theories and somehow turn them into social theories, such as calling capitalism institutionalized greed. Social structure can not be understood using just psychological theories. Instead, Jones synthesizes traditional Buddhist psychology with phenomonological sociology. (If this sounds intimidating, don't worry--Jones presents it in a way that is quite clear.) He describes how we have inherited past social forms, which we recreate every generation as we continue to accept them. These social forms take on a life of their own and shape the psychology of their members--which means some societies, such as capitalist and totalitarian ones, tend to cultivate more mental defilements in their members than others. Because society is ultimately something we create and recreate though, we can change it.

I agree with Jones up to here. It's after this that I start to disagree with some of his points. He is critical of what he calls the social fallacy that you can find in much modern social theory, such as some forms of Marxism, which sets up society over the individual and argues that individual consciousness is entirely shaped by social structures. While I agree with this critique, Jones falls into the opposite trap of asserting the primacy of the psychological over the social, instead of seeing them as equally important and interacting dialectically. From here, this leads him to argue that, while political activism (in the Gandhian tradition of militant but loving nonviolence) is important, ultimately spiritual transformation is more important. We need to work on creating a culture of awakening that will cultivate the mental conditions for everyone to awaken. Creating such a culture is important, but I would lay equal stress on transforming social structures. Finally, I think it's a bit naive to expect everyone to be interested in spiritual transformation. While everyone has the capacity for it, there will always be many people who will have no interest in it, at least in this lifetime--which makes Jones' program for stopping social injustice through a culture in which everyone is awakened unrealistic. Certainly we can work for a just society which encourages people to engage in spiritual practice, but it must be one that rests on the frailties of ordinary human beings, not the virtues of awakened bodhissatvas.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 26, 2012 1:10 PM PST


Transnational Protest and Global Activism (People, Passions, and Power: Social Movements, Interest Organizations, and the P)
Transnational Protest and Global Activism (People, Passions, and Power: Social Movements, Interest Organizations, and the P)
by Donatella della Porta
Edition: Paperback
Price: $49.00
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars overview of academic theory on the global justice movement, June 11, 2005
This book is probably the best overview of academic--particularly sociological--theory on the global justice movement. Indeed, to my knowledge, there is only one other book--Bandy and Smith's /Coalitions Across Borders/, and it focuses mainly on transnational coalition building in the global justice movement; this book, on the other hand, tries to take in all the issues that might be of concern to academic theorists. Like most such collections, it's a mixed bag, with individual chapters varying in quality from three to five stars. There is only one really bad one, Johnson and McCarthy's piece, which uses organziational ecology or organizational population theory, an approach I find to be shallow. The really oustanding chapters are Sikkink's on how nation-states and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs, like the EU and IMF) interact to create complex, multi-level opportunity structures; della Porta's on how global justice activists are forging a new type of activist identity, one that is inclusive, tolerant, and flexible, rather than being narrowly defined; and Bennett's on the two generations of transnational activism, the first organized around professional advocacy groups, the second around voluntary direct action groups, and the tensions between them. Della Porta and Tarrow do a nice job in the final chapter of bringing the strands from the various chapters together to create an overall theoretical picture of this second generation transnational activism. They elaborate on Sikkink's ideas, describing what they call a complex internationalism, that includes the interactions of nation-states, IGOs, and "non-state actors"; they discuss the highly networked, participatory-democratic organization of the global justice and peace movements, and reaffirm della Porta's ideas about flexible identities; and they note that, rather than a global civil society emerging, what we are seeing is the emergence of rooted cosmopolitans--most activism remains locally rooted, but activists are concerned with the state of the world and so join transnational networks. The biggest weakness of this volume is its almost total focus (except in Sikkink's chapter) on the movement in the first world, a long standing problem with social movement theory in sociology. Given the importance of third world movement in the new transnational activism, this is really something prominent scholars like the ones in this volume should do something to address.


Coalitions across Borders: Transnational Protest and the Neoliberal Order (People, Passions, and Power: Social Movements, Interest Organizations, and the P)
Coalitions across Borders: Transnational Protest and the Neoliberal Order (People, Passions, and Power: Social Movements, Interest Organizations, and the P)
by Joe Bandy
Edition: Paperback
Price: $46.00
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good overview of transnational coalition-building, June 8, 2005
This is an academic book with a relatively specialized focus--the challenges of building transnational coalitions to fight neoliberalism (aka corporate globalization). Like most such anthologies, it's a mixed bag, with individual chapters ranging from 3 to 5 stars in quality, though thankfully there are no trully bad ones. The authors represent a variety of perspective, though must are working out of the resource mobilization/political process school of social movement theory. Some of the more noteworthy essays are Laura MacDonald's challenging the lack of incorporation of gender issues, both into academic theory about the global justice movement and in the global justice movement's own analyses; Lesley Wood's on the challenges People's Global Action has faced in trying to bridge the global divides and create an international alliance where first and third world groups are trully equal; Ethel Brooks' on how campaigns that don't include the voice of their supposed beneficiaries in their planning process may actually turn out to be quite damaging and offensive; and Gay Seidman's on the limitations of corporate codes of conduct. Also useful is Bandy and Smith's conclusion, in which they pull together the information from the various chapters, listing the most common challenges activists trying to create transnational coalitions face and the most important steps they can take to deal with these challenges.

This is definitely a book by and for academics. However, these are academics who are deeply concerned with the success of the global justice movement and it shows in much of the writing. Thus I imagine an activist could get something out of this collection too (I'm both an academic and an activist, so it may be a little hard for me to judge). Some of the authors' concerns will probably seem irrelevant to activists and much of the writing dense (though I don't think any of it is impenetrable, as academic writing somesimes is), but they are also likely to find useful information here. Ideally, of course, these findings would also be written up in a more accessible form, but the academic publish or perish rat race discourages academics from doing that. In the meantime, there may be something here for activists as well as scholars.


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