Tsunami Relief Posturing

I heard on the CBC News today of those criticizing the Canadian government for not acting quickly and decisively enough to provide relief to Tsunami victims. (Here's a helpful map giving a rundown of the damage) The devastation is truly staggering. On Day 5, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan cited estimates of the human toll of the tsunami: "At least 115,000 are dead in the region, half a million injured, one million displaced, and at least five million in need of immediate assistance."

The Organization for Economic Development points out that no nation has donated 1% of their "gross national income." Naturally, this is a completely arbitrary yardstick for appropriate aid levels. According to the CBC, "many opposition politicians and humanitarian aid experts have criticized the Canadian government" for failing to dispatch DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team) immediately to the region, instead sending a reconnaissance team first.

Initially, $4m was pledged. The following day, $40m was pledged. The criticisms were levelled at the government despite clear challenges in assessing the extent of the damage, assessing the aid needed, and developing means to deliver assistance. The fact that the tsunami made landfall on a Sunday during the holiday season while several of the relevant Cabinet members were abroad, including the PM himself, further confounded a comprehensive and timely response. Nevertheless, here is how Paul Martin describes Canada's response on Day 3, December 29:

"I have [...] directed Minister of Defence Bill Graham and Minister of Health Ujjal Dosanjh to coordinate the federal government’s response, Ministers Pettigrew and Carroll are returning to Canada immediately. Foreign Affairs Canada, Canadian International Development Agency, Citizenship and Immigration as well as Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada are among the federal organizations providing support. In addition, the following additional measures will be taken by the federal government:

--In total, $40 million has been set aside for immediate emergency relief efforts: $4 million already announced, $20 million to be detailed later this week by Ministers Pettigrew and Carroll, with the balance of the available investment and possible additional funding to follow the relief assessment on the ground;
--A second National Defence plane of emergency supplies will be deployed to the region, carrying water purification supplies to Indonesia;
--A multi-disciplinary team is being sent to the region to assess the situation on the ground and make recommendations on additional Canadian assistance, including the possible deployment of the DART;
--Additional consular staff and resources have been assigned to the region to assist Canadians who may be affected;
--In response to needs identified by international humanitarian agencies, the Government will explore the possibility of public-private partnerships"

The criticisms appear to be more political posturing than valid cause for concern. I think it's disgusting that opposition party members would use this tragedy as the backdrop for their reflexive, decerebrate contrariness. The immediate response to the tsunami must come from within the nations affected and their neighbours. Their militaries must be mobilized in the effort, and their citizens must be relocated out of harm's way to avoid compounding the problem with disease and further burdens to a devastated infrastructure. To think that by pouring money indiscriminately onto these inundated shores will achieve any good is naive. It may fool some by giving the illusion of action. But I like to think that Canada's government suffers fools reluctantly rather than pandering to them. So far so good Mr Martin. We've only just begun to help, but we're off to a good start from where I sit.


Sequels Sell...Big

It occurred to me, amid the detritus of Christmas morning at my household, that I had purchased for my kids four sequels on DVD: Spider-Man 2 (Sometimes, Web Fluid Isn't Just Web Fluid), Shrek 2, LoTRIII: The Return of the King, and Harry Potter III: The Prisoner of Azkaban. Sequels sell, and sell big. These four films led the 2004 box office take, with The Day After Tomorrow the only non-sequel to crack the top-five.

I must confess a certain weakness for a good blockbuster, though I suffer through a KFC Effect after I watch them. You know how sometimes you walk past a KFC, you smell that fried chicken, and you start crave it? You might not satisfy the craving right then, but you start looking for a chance to. You down half a bucket at one sitting, picking the bones clean and licking your fingertips. Then you get that guilty, sinking feeling after the deed is done: 'How could I have enjoyed that? I just consumed over 2000 calories and a quarter pound of fat.' (KFC Nutritional Guide) You never want to see another bucket again, do you? Until you forget how disgusting and guilty you felt the last time.

That's the way it is with blockbusters. Star Wars has easily tapped me for about $500: The original trilogy released in theaters. The original trilogy remastered in THX on VHS. The special edition theatrical release. The prequel theatrical releases. The prequels on DVD. The original trilogy on DVD. Action figures and posters, ostensibly for my kids. I don't even like George Lucas. I respect his business acumen, but don't have much respect for him as a film-maker. I think the budgets and special effects of his prequels obscure and undermine his story, and that his stilted scripts make for better viewing of his films with the French soundtrack on and English subtitles. The words are too unnatural to be spoken. Yet I keep jamming money into the greedy prick's pockets. Make it stop.

Arguably the weakest of the sequels I purchased this Christmas, Shrek 2, earned $436m in US box office and a truly frightening $881m worldwide. This for a movie that was made for an estimated $75m. A movie that made use of the fiercely comic device of a farting half-submerged ogre during the title credits, just as in the original. Why not make a sequel for that kind of coin? Return of the King took in $1,129m worldwide, bested only by Titanic on the all-time chart with a, uh, titanic take of $1,835m.

If you look at the top-rated movies at IMDB--those rated highest by IMDB users--you will find three movies on which sequels were based and three sequels in the top ten.

Familiarity apparently breeds not contempt, but box office receipts and DVD sales. Judging from the tone of this post, perhaps familiarity breeds all three. One thing is certain: I will see the next Bond / Star Wars / Spider-Man and Potter films. I am part of the problem. I know. I can't help myself.

Good films I've seen recently with zero sequelization potential: Shattered Glass, Dogville, The Big Lebowski, City of God, House of Sand and Fog, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Haven't seen a truly great film in a while.


Beautiful Pseudo-Democratic Packages Tied Up With String

Mr Putin attacked American foreign policy this weekend:
Mr. Putin, who -- partly in reaction to events in Ukraine -- lashed out at the United States yesterday, accusing it of seeking a "dictatorship of international affairs," with policies packaged "in beautiful pseudo-democratic phraseology."

--appearing in the Washington Post

Kudos to Putin, a G8 leader, for calling a spade a spade, for criticizing the US on its interventionist strategies based on hegemony, not democracy.