Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Pillars of the Earth

Mild spoilers ahead.

After finding out that one song on the recent album of my favourite band Schandmaul was based on Ken Follett's 'The Pillars of the Earth', and after having been told repeatedly by one of my professors that it's the most widely read book in Germany (followed up by Lord of the Rings and some other book ... maybe the Bible?) I decided to give those 1000 pages a try. I never throught that a story that evolved mainly around the building of a medieval cathedral could interest me, but it did. There were a lot of repetitions, especially when characters had a closer look at each other, so the book would have probably profited from some more editing, but the vivid descriptions made up for that.
You believe Ken Follett when he tells his story. It's dark, it's cruel and it's realistic - not a fairytale. Similar to George R. R. Martin's 'The Song of Ice and Fire' there is no guarantee that your beloved characters will survive or come out of the trouble unharmed (which, again, is realistic, considering that the story spans over several decades). This is what's partly appealing about the book, even though the endless suffering is maybe a little too overdone, with too many tries to corrupt the building of the cathedral. Ken Follett also isn't very kind at all to his characters (which is good) - peasants get killed gruesomely and their wife's get raped, and the main couple of the whole story almost splits up because she can't bear anymore to not be able to live with her lover. But in the end, it's a book and the cause of this inability gets killed. So maybe it is a little bit of a fairytale after all.

I guess sometimes you just want books to tell you the truth. You want them to give you answers and solutions. Instead, you get miracles. And those are no good.
Of course, most of the time you want them to lie to you. You want them to tell you that everything is alright, and you want them to show you all those miracles and magicks.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Circling around the target

First of all, plugging a demo that was done by some of the students in Salzburg this week. In Salzburg we have to pay the highest price in all of Austria for a semester ticket for the bus. When I started uni it used to be 64€, after I returned from Oxford it was 96€, this semester it's 99€. So a handful of students reacted and said "Since the semester ticket costs so much we can't afford a flat. Therefore we will live in the bus." And they did. On Monday they "lived" in one of the buses from 9-6, got into the media and repeated the process on Tuesday. It's looking good that the ticket might be cheaper for next semester. At least there'll be a hearing next Monday.
The website (German) with photos: Wohnen im Bus


Onto my sweatshop issue:
Did a couple of hours of online research again today. My approach is pretty chaotic, but it shows first results, which is encouraging. I found a list of Fair Trade shops in the UK, unfortunately not one for Austria. I'm obviously living in the wrong country. Instead, I found a blog by a likeminded person, which lists several sweatfree companies and brands, plus links to further information: Weißliste (German again). It's late and I only had a glance without taking notes. Tomorrow I'll have a closer look and check which of the shops are interesting for me (meaning they have stores in Austria or ship to Europe).
Some of the companies seem to be very good, having not just the simple shirts without print. As expected, they're more expensive than what you get in shops here, but - in the end - that's alright.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

An Experiment

In the last weeks I've been looking for more ways to win my not-so-eternal struggle against sweatshops. I figured drawing a picture about it is pretty much useless right now, since I'm simply not good enough to make enough people look at the picture to make a difference (which is why I'm holding back some ideas for painting for later, when I'm - hopefully - good enough to get them out into the world).
So, instead, I did a little experiment. I went to city centre (in Salzburg) and went into every single shop and had a closer look at the clothes that were being sold, and their labels. Every single shop includes the small shops that are always empty because they are so posh that average people don't dare to walk in. A pleasant surprise was that despite my obvious student-y look I was treated better in those shops than I was in the obvious sweatshop stores like Orsay or Schöps.
The result of the experiment was discouraging. As Naomi Klein, author of "No Logo", says on her website, when shopping for clothes we don't look at where the clothes were made, only at the price and (sometimes) the quality. So I pretty much only looked for the origin and partly the quality, and only had a sideglance at the price. In the end there were three shops in all of Salzburg's city centre that don't sell sweatshop clothes for sure. Instead, they sell designer clothes from Italy and France (and are priced accordingly). Interestingly enough, the quality of these designer clothes didn't really convince me. Sure, some items were well made, but for some reason the current fashion is this kind of ragged look that implies bad quality.
About half of the labels didn't mention where the clothes were made, and the other half mentioned Turkey, Greece, Hong Kong, Morocco and China - typical sweatshop countries.

I created an Excel file with all the stores, mentioning the origin of the clothes, the quality and the price, plus some additional comments for myself. I'm also adding the law violations that are mentioned on for some of the shops (unfortunately, the website seems to target mostly American shops and brands). That should give me a nice list to compare the ethics of various shops/brands.

Next step is to repeat the procedure for the shops in Linz, and to do some more research on the shops/brands that don't mention the origin of the clothes. I'm guessing it means that they're also from sweatshops, since I can't imagine why else you'd withold the origin.

In the end, I don't have much faith in finding a shop that sells non-sweat clothes (apart from dedicated no-sweat online stores). I'd imagine a shop that considers non-sweatshop labour important would advertise the fact, and I haven't come across that yet in Austria. In Britain, there is the Ethical Trading Initiative, but looking at their list of members I'm doubtful if they can really hold up to their proclamed ultimate goal on closer inspection. I'll believe it when I see it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

This blog needs more art

So I present to you a stereotypical naked demonlady.

Unfinished picture I did today just to sketch a bit. Got bored when rendering the body, so I just added some jewellery and then gave up.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I changed my mind. Girls are allowed to do that.

I believe I talked about Dreamfall before, how I'm absolutely gonna love that game and will so buy it.

I take it back.

Not all of that, of course. I bought the game. Not loving it. Actually, not starting it. Not finding the DVD (the PC, that is). Computer not finding the DVD means no installation.
Thank you, copy protection, thank you! Without you I wouldn't spend 40€ on a game that I can't play. And that I can't return, because nowadays you can't return opened games.

The games industry really sucks at present.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Lady in the Water

After a big disappointment on seeing "Click" on Monday (Oh. My. God. No more American Comedies anymore, no more Romantic Comedies, no more pure Romances, no more Horror or Drama. It's all just too bad.) I was heavily reconsidering if I should go and see a film again today. Negative cinema experiences always make me very reluctant to see another film anytime soon.
I'm glad I did go and see 'Lady in the Water' today, though.

I understand that most people are disappointed by the film. I also understand that this is mostly due to the fact that they expected something else - a horror film. Yes, if you're misinformed and want a horror film instead of a fantasy/fairytale then you won't be very happy (on the other hand, if I had judged the film solely by the trailer I'd have expected more horror as well, and wouldn't have watched it at all because of that). It's a shame that the trailer didn't highlight the strength of the film, namely the beautiful, bedtime-story quality which reminded me of Peter S. Beagle's "The Innkeeper's Song". I'm undecided of whether I like the book or not, and the film stands in a similar position. The pacing is slow, especially in the first half of the film before more action settles in. If you expect Fantasy special effects you're in the wrong film. It's all realistic - which I like. I was delighted to see healing/resurrection without blue sparkles and blinding light. That was wonderful.
You can also see that obvious CG was only used when it was absolutely necessary, i.e. for the fantasy animals (the hyena/wolf type creature, the apes and the giant eagle). The advantage being that these creatures were well done and did not have the typical CG look.
The story is slightly predictable (as fairytales typically are), but in a nice way. You expect something to happen, but are not 100% sure, so when it happens you get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. In the end, the film comes down to the character and their actions, and what they are willing to do and sacrifice. The film begins with one lonely person and ends with many people working together. Seeing this is the ultimate joy of the film.

It's a beautiful film. Probably not one that I would watch twice or buy on DVD, but one that made me happy and urged me to keep sitting until the credits were over and I was forced to leave. A film that has atmosphere and conveys feeling for more than 110 minutes, if you let it.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hold fast to your hair

Twice a year we have a small festival in Linz which is basically a small-scale version of Disneyland. Rollercoasters and wild stuff like that, sometimes even glass labyrinths. I haven't really tried any of it in a long time, because they're somewhat expensive and being shaken around for five minutes doesn't equal my definition of fun. I fail to get any kicks out of it.
But, thanks to peer pressure and friends shouting 'That's sooo cool. We have to do that again later.' I decided to give it a try again and have some fun. It wasn't a rollercoaster, rather a semi-open ball that spins around its own axis so you end up with your head closer to the ground than your feet a couple of times. Shortly before the ride started, a staff member came up to me and said 'Could you do me a favour? Can you hold your hair during the whole ride? It's too long. You don't have to hold onto the security handles in front of you, it's safe enough.'
Right. Imagine having to hold your hair all the while during a rollercoaster ride. Instead of having nice, firm handles that you can grip to keep you from being shaken too much, you grip your hair. That's fun.

So, I paid 3€ for holding my hair for 5 minutes and wondering why I actually do this.