Friday, November 18, 2005

Brussels' Best Bars

The Bulletin, the local expat mag, asked me to contribute to their extensive listing of "Brussels' Best Bars". So I did. Here are my five contributions to their list. These aren't my personal favorite bars; they're just ones I thought should be included....

77 Elisestraat/Rue Elise 77

This cozy brown bar can be hard to find, tucked away on a side street in Ixelles’ ULB quarter. But it’s worth the effort. Dominating the candle-lit back room is a wall menu boasting more than 200 Belgian beers, from the lowly Maes to the elusive Fantôme. The selection is categorized helpfully into different styles (sweet blondes, bitter ambers, etc.) that might also describe the student clientele. Thankfully, the place’s charm seems to have survived a modernization effort undertaken a couple of years ago (they still spin vinyl on a turntable).

Cafe Belga
18 Flageyplein/Place Flagey 18
02/640-2569 (but I’d be shocked if anyone bothered to answer)

Fred Nicolay owns the coolest bars in town, and they all share certain traits: poor-to-indifferent service, uncomfortable chairs, unbearably hip clientele. Café Belga is his crowning achievement. What makes this Flagey landmark so great is that everyone loves it even though almost everything about it – the too-cool-to-serve-you bartenders (yes, they are handsome, but must they spend five minutes handcrafting each thé à la menthe?), the horrible view (its terrace overlooks an open sewer), the chi-chi patrons (“I’m saving this seat for my cigarette smoke…”) – is unpleasant. It’s packed all day and all night.

Fat Boys
5 Luxemburgplein/Place du Luxembourg 5

This, sad to say, is the only real sports bar in town (Conway’s, with its craven red, white and blue signage, tries to fool American tourists trapped in the Toison d’Or-bit, but it’s really just a pick-up joint for suburban Belgians). A sports bar is place with more than one television and the courage to tune them simultaneously to different events. Fat Boys usually fits this definition. What’s more, it has something rare for a Brussels tavern: a long bar at which one may sit and drink.

7 Kartuizerstraat/rue des Chartreux

Refreshingly for an establishment in the St. Géry hipster quarter, no trance techno beat pulses through the stereo. In fact, no music at all disturbs the quiet, well-lit Greenwich, where you can read, chat, or even hear yourself think. In fact, you can even hear the chess players at the next table thinking. But don’t let the sound of brains contemplating queen sacrifices and hands slapping chess timers and fingers ruffling ponderously through goatees scare you off. Order an ale and enjoy the silence.

28 Rijke Klarenstraat/rue des Riches Claires 28

It’s late, very late. You’re drunk and in need of a nightcap – or, more precisely, early-morning-cap. You’re still in enough control of your faculties to avoid Celtica, with its desperate lager-louts hoping for one last chance to pull. So you head to this gem hidden behind the Halles St. Géry, where the music is good, the service friendly, and the cocktails delivered in frosty shakers. Speaking of shaking, so is your booty, most likely atop the bar. The place seems sequestered, mischievously off-grid. Don’t go before 3. In fact, don’t go at all, you’ll just spoil it.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Out of Ethiopia

My wife, Karen Hoehn, has just this morning returned from Addis Ababa, where she was helping run an NGO training conference for the Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (German Foundation for World Population). She is safe and sound, but many people she left behind in Ethiopia are not.

Here's what she experienced when leaving the country yesterday:

I came home from Addis Ababa last night, two days earlier than planned. It's a very sad situation there. The government has been pulling people (e.g., university professors, an NGO [ActionAid] program officer) out of their homes and imprisoning them or shooting them dead because they have different political views (e.g., want freedom of the press, elections without fraud, etc.). One woman was shot dead because she cried out "why are you taking him?!" when the military took her husband away from their home. Kids have been shot in the back when trying to run away from the danger.

I'm totally fine, but yesterday was scary. Driving back from the idyllic DSW training center 45 km outside Addis, we were waved off the road by men with automatic rifles. Men with guns were running up and down the road and jam-packed into military trucks -- handling the guns casually, like bling. Gunfire crackled at regular intervals nearby. The government was shooting men in the prison on the other side of the wall from where we were, picking them off like fish in a barrel. Undoubtedly, many were the university professors, etc., who had been arrested the day before. As we waited, sweating and hearts racing, I watched our young driver trying to choke back his tears.

After a while, the gunfire died down and our driver raced full throttle down the gunman-lined road, with us ducking down, holding backpacks and laptops up against the windows to protect against any stray (or intentional) gunfire. Back in Addis, we packed our things and headed for the airport.

It's very sad to think of my friends and colleagues at risk back there -- but in world news, it's not a big thing, so of course no one cares.

If you see any articles about this, you can be sure that the death tolls are much higher than is being reported, and that many of the people being shot are thoughtful, gentle (and unarmed) people.

Please say a prayer for the good people of Ethiopia and ask God to stay the hand of oppressive governments and people with guns.

Schoolhouse Rock

Hello, back again after not posting for a while...and only to pass along a review I did of a recent concert by Sufjan Stevens here in Brussels. I wrote it for The Bulletin, a local expat magazine, but I'm posting my original version, which includes a few lines they cut for space. The nerve...

Sufjan Stevens
Ancienne Belgique
25 October

My “isn’t this precious” alarm goes off early, just as indie darling Sufjan Stevens and his band, the Illinoisemakers, appear on stage wearing matching University of Illinois cheerleader outfits and brandishing pompons.

Yes, Stevens has titled his most recent CD “Come on Feel the Illinoise”, a tone-poem tribute to the Land of Lincoln, and promises it is the second in a series of paeans to all 50 US states (his previous album saluted his home state of Michigan). As if to address questions about whether he’s seriously going to produce 48 more albums to complete this project, he starts the show with a geographic tour of the US. “It’s part of the act, the 50 states, pack up your bags, it’s never too late,” he sings, managing to mention each of the states in an introductory jingle.

In between songs, the Illinoisemakers stand at parade rest, arms folded behind backs, and listen reverently as Stevens, affecting a village-idiot-savant persona, shyly explains how his next tune is about a wasp that scared him in the Palisades State Park and this reminded him of something existential. Then they give the cheerleader exhortation, “Ready? OK!” and away they go.

Their matching costumes, irritating musical-chairs multi-instrumentalism (is it really necessary for all seven band members to take turns demonstrating they can play the piano?) and pitch-perfect enthusiasm are more suited to a college production of “Godspell” than a rock club date. But this is Irony, so perhaps that, not Illinois, is what the ‘I’ on their sweaters stands for. The Flemish hipster audience eats it all up.

As for Stevens himself, there’s no denying he’s an intriguing fellow with a talent for intricate composition and sly self-promotion. He too plays an awful lot of instruments, including the banjo, which is one we should hear more of in popular music. And it’s a fine ambition to want to chronicle the American Midwest by investigating its history, its landscape, and its people in popular song (even if Springsteen sort of did it already with “Nebraska”).

At their best, Stevens’s state sketches evoke Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology” in their ability to make the mundane seem hauntingly complex. But mostly they try too hard to be Folk Art. The song titles reek of cleverness. Example: “The Black Hawk War, Or, How To Demolish An Entire Civilization And Still Feel Good About Yourself In The Morning, Or, We Apologize For The Inconvenience But You’re Gonna Have To Leave Now, Or…[it keeps going, actually].”

It is when he stops being so clever that Stevens manages to shine. The refreshingly simple “Jacksonville”, for instance, is a standout, even though (or perhaps because) it rhymes “colored preacher” with “nice to meet you.”

It’s always promising when someone’s music cannot be described in three words or less or by comparing it to someone else. I’m still not sure what kind of music Stevens -- with his campus theatrics, his Charlie Brown-theme piano, and his faux naïf sing-song whisper – is making. But I suppose it’s good someone’s making it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Balkan Reading List

I have been reading a lot about the Balkan wars lately, perhaps because of the tenth annivesary of the Srebrenica massacre.

Just finished a phenomenal little book written by Zlatko Dizdarevic, a journalist who lived through the siege of Sarejevo. You can pick up a hardbound copy of Sarajevo: A War Journal on Amazon for a couple of dollars. Do it. It will put whatever little worries you might have into chilling perspective.

And I've just started Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo, by the excellent reporter and columnist Roger Cohen. I'm only 20 pages in and already riveted.

Next up is Balkan Ghosts, by Robert D. Kaplan.

To liven things up, I'm trying to knock off a chapter or two per night of Don Quixote, the superb new translation by Edith Grossman...

With Enemies Like These...

I don't have too many heroes, but Christopher Hitchens is one of them. I don't always agree with him, just mostly. And I admire his writing more than it would be appropriate to say here.

So I'll just quote him. Writing last week in Slate, Hitchens takes aim at those who blame the US for inspiring terrorism and who fret that US allies will be targeted. He says the issue is not who are the US’ allies, but who are its enemies.

Why did Saddam Hussein, that great lion of the Arab and Muslim world, denounce the American bombing of the Muslim-killing Milosevic? Why did Qaddafi do the same? For the very same reason that Christian fascists in Serbia now denounce the intervention in Iraq: They know that the main foe is the United States and that this fact transcends all the others.

There has been a great deal of nonsense published in the last week to the effect that an alliance with the United States can put other countries like Britain in the position of being ‘targeted.’ Why deny this? I reflect on what was not done at Srebrenica, and on what ought to have been done in Rwanda, and on what was put off too long with the Taliban and the Baathists, and I think what an honor it is to have such enemies. Co-existence with them is not possible, which is good, because it is not desirable or tolerable, either. The Srebrenica memorial stands as enduring testimony to that inescapable conclusion.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Quote of the Day

Today's International Herald Tribune has a fun article about the mythical Polish plumber, of whom the French are so petrified. The piece focuses on the newfound fame enjoyed by Piotr Adamski, a model who is pictured as a studly plumber inviting the French to come join him for a fun time in Poland.

Included in the story is a quote from Nobel Prize-winner Lech Walesa:

Adamski has become such an overnight sensation that even Poland's former president, Lech Walesa, the founder of the Solidarity labor movement, offered him advice for his Paris trip.

"I suggest that he ask the French why the heck for so many years they encouraged Poles to build capitalism when as it turns out they are Communists themselves," Walesa, an electrician by trade, said in an interview published Friday in the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Conference Fatigue

So I'm taking part in something called a Blogger's Alley, here in Brussels at a conference on innovation and patents. Yes, for one day, I'm acting like a real blogger, but don't worry, I'm not totally geeking out.

And before I get started, perhaps I could call for some kind of moratorium on conferences in Brussels? Jeez there are about 10 of them a day on one issue or another. A man can only drink so much orange juice from a wine glass.

Anyway, the current speaker is named Paul Harvey, he designs MRI systems. He is very smart. He has more than 20 patents to his name, for advances that have saved lives and generated wealth not only for him but for lots of other people. Not surprisingly, he isn't too keen on just giving away his knowledge for free.

He's impressive. But unfortunately he isn't this Paul Harvey...

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Stroll Down Memory Lane

Roll Call newspaper, where I worked from 1989 to 2000, has just published a special issue commemorating its 50th anniversary. As the former Heard on the Hill columnist for the paper, I was asked to write a little article on my experiences there. In case you're interested, here it is:

The 1990s were a time of dramatic upheaval in the institution of Congress and, as Roll Call’s Heard on the Hill columnist for most of that decade, I like to think I played at least some small role on the Capitol stage. So, after all these years and from my new home on a different continent, I feel I can finally say this: Sorry!

I’m kidding, mostly, but not about the transition part. When I started writing HOH, in April 1990, Congress was still populated with plenty of endearingly crusty characters from the Mesozoic era of American politics, when — if we’re to believe the quaint legend — Democrats and Republicans got along. In our current era of vituperation and character assassination, this was what is now referred to nostalgically as the Good Old Days.

Members from both sides of the aisle would, after a long day of political bobbing and weaving, gather in some allegedly larger-than-life committee chairman’s office for bipartisan bourbon-and-branches and back-slapping — and we were all supposed to feel good about it. Who cared whether their deal-making was helping or hurting the public weal? Hell, who even knew? By the end of the decade we’d already had the “Contract with America,” the government shutdown, a slew of ethics scandals and the impeachment of a president. We saw the earliest sprouting of the Congressional Pod People who now seem to dominate the legislative branch.

I wrote HOH in a more innocent time, a time when one could make a name as a gossip columnist without frequent and cleverly worded references to sodomy or reliance on unsubstantiated rumor and innuendo — although it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying.

Going through back issues of Roll Call to write this article has reminded me of what it was like to grow up, professionally speaking, on Capitol Hill. I was there from the age of 21 to 35, and I’ve probably never had more fun in a job or had better colleagues than when I worked at Roll Call.

Where else could we churn out such headlines as “Staffer Fired, Then Murdered” or “Furnishings Chief Quits Abruptly” or, in our version of Dewey Defeats Truman, from the 1991 leadership battle between Reps. David Bonior and Steny Hoyer, “Whip Contest Too Close to Call” (Bonior won by 51 votes)? We used to joke that the ultimate Roll Call headline would be, “Capitol Destroyed by Bomb; Massive Subcommittee Shuffle Ahead.” As I say, it was a more innocent time.

Reading the old papers also brings back memories of a lot of nice folks I dealt with, sources who I’m sure wouldn’t mind being identified at this late date. Indulge my giving a shout out to a few of them: Dan Nichols, the unflappable and unfailingly helpful spokesman for the Capitol Police during the entire time I wrote HOH — if he had ever told me half of what he knows I would have a Pulitzer; Ari Fleischer, who long before he became a poker-faced White House press secretary was a plugged-in staffer for Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and fount of good HOH items (he once called to tell me his boss had flicked a cigarette butt into the wastebasket and nearly burned down the Senate, but I wasn’t allowed to name the boss or the way the fire started); John Edgell, who specialized in working for kooky Members like Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and then-Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and now sells Arnold Schwarzenegger dolls, and who is going to freak that I’ve outed him as a source; Donald Ritchie, of the Senate Historian’s Office, who was always happy to provide some background context or archaic anecdote; and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who always returned phone calls, even if he spoke so fast it was hard to get his quotes right.

There are dozens more, of course, and if I’ve left you out, I apologize (or, more likely, you’re welcome).

Then there were the less-than-helpful folks, the Pete Starks and Adam Clymers of the world, who despite their best efforts provided some juicy copy over the years. Their mean spirit and lack of any discernible sense of humor only prodded me to go after them more.

I sense from reading current issues of Roll Call that things have gotten ugly on Capitol Hill. Some lament this. But I’m not one to pine for the good ol’ boy days of the late Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Texas) or then-House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.). I don’t necessarily confuse bipartisan political tradition with effective legislating or healthy democracy.

In those days, when the fix was in, there was nothing to be done about it. At least now some blogger can raise a stink, generate a million fake e-mails, get Rush Limbaugh on the case and end up renaming an airport or something. Er, maybe I’ll take that bourbon-and-branch, after all.

Seriously, be thankful for what you’ve got: a semi-vigorous political discourse. I have been living for the last five years in Brussels, which is similar to Washington, D.C., in many ways except more people in Belgium speak English.

I’ve had some experience writing political gossip for a Brussels audience, in Entre Nous, European Voice newspaper’s version of HOH, and it just doesn’t compare. People here are too damned serious about advancing The European Project to bother with senses of humour (sorry, humor). Another problem: Nothing much happens in the EU. Nearly every news story starts with “plans are being put forward” or “a Green Paper is being drafted on the proposed Directive.” How it makes me long for former Rep. Bob Dornan (R-Calif.).

Still, there are flashes of hope. One recent item in Entre Nous (which I no longer write) was headlined: “Catering Strike Lingers as Mystery Budgie is Found.”

Brussels may finally be catching Potomac Fever.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Rough Trade

European Voice has just published the profile I wrote of the new US trade representative, Rob Portman. I wrote it several weeks ago, before the Airbus-Boeing fight escalated...

Bush’s international actor

Rob Portman

Sometimes it seems like nothing much ever changes in transatlantic trade policy. The issues come and go and apparent victories are soon undone by endless appeals and counter-measures. Often, the wins and losses cancel each other out, creating a zero-sum game. The negotiations feed on themselves. The billable hours accumulate.

There’s the Boeing-Airbus fight, which feels like it has been going on since the days of the Wright Brothers and shows no signs of coming in for a landing. The battle over genetically modified foods appears to have no sell-by date. Even the banana war, which tripped up EU-US trade relations through most of the 1990s, is making an unwelcome comeback.

Everyone looks for something that will change the balance of power. In the world of trade negotiations, it can often be a personality that makes the difference. So there is sure to be close scrutiny in Europe of Washington’s new chief trade negotiator, Rob Portman.

A change of personality, apparently, is what is needed at the EU-US negotiating table. EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson did not appear to share his predecessor Pascal Lamy’s affection for the previous USTR, Robert Zoellick. Over the last several years Lamy and Zoellick, who became jogging buddies in their days as G-7 sherpas, were two of a kind: workaholic technocrats who spoke the international language of policy wonkery. But Mandelson is a political animal and born spin-control artist. One of his conversations with the prickly Zoellick ended infamously in a phone receiver being slammed down.

The animosity between Mandelson and Zoellick may have been “blown out of proportion”, in the words of one Brussels lobbyist who argues that “trade policy is driven more by issues than by personalities”. But it certainly won’t hurt that Portman, as a fellow politico, is likely be a better counterpart to Mandy. Portman is by no means slick, but his resume includes a number of critical tools for the job: experience with international trade law, election to political office, a penchant for spin, and close relations with the White House.

More important than his personality or political background may be geography. Until his confirmation as US trade representative at the end of April, Portman was a congressman from Ohio – yes, the state that brought you the second term of George W. Bush. More specifically, he is a native of and represented Cincinnati, a city that is home to Chiquita, the major complainant in the banana case against the EU, as well as to consumer-products multinational Procter & Gamble. Throw in the fact that a factory in his district also produces General Electric aircraft engines, and you’ve got a man who has been more or less at the nexus of transatlantic trade relations over the last 15 years.

Still, don’t expect him to be a wind-up defender of local interests. Portman comes from the traditional pro-business, pro-free-trade wing of the Republican party, and has long argued against protectionist policies. But as a politician he will be acutely aware of the constituent-based, protectionist sentiments of his former colleagues in Congress. Like many European politicians, they worry about outsourcing of jobs and cheap importing of goods and services. They will continue to make life hard for transatlantic trade negotiators.

Reviews from this side of the Atlantic have been good, but it is still early days. Most promising was an appearance with Mandelson at an OECD meeting in Paris in mid-May, at which the two were all smiles. They also pledged to work together to breathe new life into stalled WTO negotiations. “He’s a good choice - an impressive guy and very close to Bush,” says an executive with one of the biggest European industrial companies. “He is a serious appointment and will be good for trade - especially in the Congress, in my opinion.” His nomination as USTR was also widely hailed in the US. where colleagues in Congress from both parties saluted his negotiating skills.

Portman had a stellar early career, working just after earning his law degree for the blue-chip Washington, D.C. firm of Patton, Boggs and Blow, where he specialized in international trade. At the age of just 34, he went to work as a White House counsel in the first Bush administration. He eventually served in the key post of director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, making him the president’s chief lobbyist on Capitol Hill.

After Bush père lost his bid for a second term, Portman returned home to Ohio. He won his Congressional seat in a special election in 1993, his victory an early tremor before the Republican landslide in 1994. In that election, held halfway through Bill Clinton’s storm-tossed first term, Americans rebelled against the White House and sent a record number of conservative Republicans to Washington.

These new members of Congress owed their success in large part to the House Republican leader at the time, Newt Gingrich. A kind of GOP messiah, Gingrich crafted a national strategy behind which Republican candidates could march in lockstep: the ‘Contract With America’, which promised lower taxes and an end to ‘big government’. That huge influx of new GOP legislators included a disturbing number of hillbilly drones, retired sports stars, blow-dried Jesus freaks and other assorted pod-people – many of whom continue to serve in the institution (and are, in fact, now in key leadership positions).

But Portman quickly distinguished himself as bright light in a class full of dim bulbs, and his talents were rewarded. He won a coveted seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, where all US tax legislation originates and where most key trade policies are set. (He also served on the panel’s trade subcommittee, a post that brought him to Europe on occasion, so he’s far from unknown in Brussels.)

Portman was briefly the subject of rumours that he would be chosen to replace Vice-President Dick Cheney as Bush’s running mate in the 2004 campaign. But this no doubt was mainly due to the fact that the Congressman had already carved out a successful career playing a vice-president in mock debates. In 2000, Portman helped Bush prepare for his debate performances by portraying Al Gore; the then-congressman also stood in for Democratic vice-presidential candidates Joe Lieberman in 2000 and John Edwards in 2004 Republican debate practice sessions.

More importantly, he provided key help in the campaigns themselves, and last year ran Bush’s crucial Ohio effort. This is the kind of service which does not go unrewarded. It’s safe to assume that Portman will have the president’s ear on trade policy and just about anything else.

Portman, who is married and has three children, is also a published author, but his first and only book does not deal with the worlds of politics and policy – or even what it was like to be Al Gore. Last year he co-wrote a book on the Shakers, an obscure 19th-century religious sect that made its home in Ohio. The Shakers were known for advocating religious tolerance, crafting simple yet beautiful wooden furniture, and shunning procreation. Not surprisingly, they didn’t last long (the furniture they made, however, is still highly prized). “I’ve been fascinated by the Shakers since I was a boy,” Portman said after writing the book, which is entitled Wisdom’s Paradise: The Forgotten Shakers of Union Village. “It’s a story I thought needed to be told.”

Will much change under Portman, other than personality at the negotiating table? It isn’t likely to. “If you look at the people Portman had with him in Paris last week, it was the same people who were there with Zoellick,” says one Brussels trade-policy expert. “The people they’re dealing with in DG Trade are the same. The issues stay the same.”

So maybe it will be business as usual. Perhaps when things really get boring Portman can start imitating Bob Zoellick.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Home From Iraq

My high school buddy Grant Doty has returned home to the US after a year's deployment with the US Army in Baghdad. Please read the final entry of his superb My Catch-22 Blog for some thoughtful (and, needless to say, informed) commentary on the situation in Iraq.

Thanks, Grant; glad you're back home safely.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Empire Strikes Back

Well, I didn't think my article on the political messages in the new Star Wars movie would be taken so seriously, but I guess I should have known better than to treat such an important subject so lightly. And I probably also should have mentioned in my piece that the current US administration is guilty of injecting some Jedi rhetoric into its policies, so it's a two-way street.

Anyway, the Purple Section of USA Today saw fit to quote me on the subject...

Finally, I post the review of the movie (minus political analysis) that I wrote for The Bulletin magazine here in Brussels. Enjoy.

Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith
Opens May 18

You know the drill. You know where the story begins, how it ends and – having visited the website and read the bootleg previews and kept up with or been mowed over by the juggernaut that is this movie and the series it brings to a close – you have a pretty good idea of what will happen in between.

Still, when the house lights go down, and as the 20th Century Fox fanfare strikes up, you feel a tingle of excitement. Maybe it’s because in Belgium you are getting to see Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith a day earlier than anybody else in the galaxy (except for some lucky theatergoers in France, Switzerland and Uruguay – oh, yes and a few even luckier journalists, publicists, and assorted movie-industry pukes).

Or maybe it’s because, regardless of whether the movie is good or not, it will end an era in your own personal cinematic history.

You agree with most of your friends on the other five chapters. Like them, you saw the first movie ten times in the theater; you can make a solid case for why the second one was even better; and you were getting a bit too post-adolescent cool for the corny third one. Like them, you hated the first prequel, which surfaced long after your filmic tastes had switched in favor of small, depressing, character-driven, independent films; but you are willing to defend the second prequel as an improvement, with breathtaking fight scenes and unparalleled production design.
So, your expectations are once again high for this, the last-ever Star Wars movie.

The screen goes black and you take a deep breath. There is a sudden, familiar, eardrum-splitting burst of trumpets and timpani. Words scroll back into nothingness, like some black-hole screensaver. You don’t care what they say, and it doesn’t really matter. You didn’t come to a Star Wars movie to read backstory.

You came to be blown away, and you soon are. Yes, you expect the special effects to be incredible. After nearly 30 years of the Star Wars franchise, technology has finally caught up to George Lucas’ imagination. You cannot help but marvel at his ability to create new worlds, each one stranger, more richly detailed, and more visually stupefying than the last.

But what really amazes you is the improvement in the writing, and the genuine emotional content of some of the scenes. You figure it must be true that Tom Stoppard was brought in as a dialogue doctor for the Lucas script.

Even more crucially, Lucas has pared away the plot-muddling hoo-hah that bogged down the first two prequels. Episode One: The Phantom Menace had more talk of interplanetary trade pacts and galactic confederations than a Coreper II meeting. This film’s story is driven by basic emotional themes: love, anger, jealousy, betrayal, lust for power. It won’t win any acting awards, but a few scenes between Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker and Natalie Portman’s Padme actually manage to move you. When could you ever say that about a Star Wars movie?

You read the advance word about how much darker this installment is than its predecessors (or, for that matter, previously made successors), and that it may be too grim for small children. It is indeed dark. But you realize it isn’t anywhere near as violent as the video games every toddler seems to be playing these days.

Plus, you appreciate all the light touches of humor that punctuate Anakin’s downward spiral into Darth Vaderdom: killer droids who say “Ow!” when struck by a light saber, or a hulking and coughing General Grievous who limps around like a robot in need of an oil change, until a fight starts and he transforms himself into a buzz-saw version of one of those BMW bubble-scooters. You giggle at all the deft references to other movies, from Tarzan and Apocalypse Now to Nosferatu and Frankenstein (Lucas has always been a master of homage; the first Star Wars was practically a remake of Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress).

But what really clinch it for you are the storytelling, the overwhelming visual style and the unrelenting pace – this is Lucas at his fantastical finest. Nothing in any of the other five Star Wars movies matches the dramatic impact of the last 15 minutes of this installment. It is a combined triumph of seamless editing, skillful directing and, yes, believable acting that almost makes you forget Harrison Ford’s ‘I’m-phoning-this-performance-in’ smirk from all those years ago.

This may not be a movie for kids, but who cares? You were a kid when the first Star Wars movie came out and that one was made for you. You’re grown up now, and this one is also made for you. As Yoda would say: Love it, you will.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Please Let These Star Wars.....Stayyyy

I was lucky enough to see a press preview of the new Star Wars flick, Episode III Yadda Yadda Yadda (or maybe Yoda Yoda Yoda). Loved it. I'll have a very positive review coming out in The Bulletin and will post as soon as it is published. In the meantime, read a short article I wrote today for TechCentralStation about some bizarre political messages in the movie. Until next time, may the Schwartz be with you...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Theft of Intellectual Property

Forget about whether I had any illegally downloaded music on my iPod, or how exceptionally cool it may have been. Somebody actually stole my whole damn iPod! That is true theft of my intellectual property.

Memo to whomever is rifling through unattended clothing in the British School of Brussels football locker room while we're out playing soccer on Thursday nights: Eat My Shorts.

And, uh, I hope you like my tunes.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Pod Person

Wondering why I haven't been posting too much of late? I just got an iPod Shuffle, so all other normal life functions have shut down... Sorry.

Please drop by again later, or send me some music.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

In Blog We Trust

A tip of the fedora to Roland Lloyd Parry at The Bulletin, Brussels' expat weekly magazine, for mentioning this site in his feature article on blogging in Belgium. He quotes me accurately and thusly on the rise of blogging (a subject on which I am quite obviously no expert):

"It's 90 percent nutters, but that still leaves plenty of room for serious ones... A lot of people dismiss it as wankery -- but compare it to the mainstream media. There are a lot of wankers who own newspapers. It's spreading information around in a new and frightening kind of way."
The story also quotes Aidan White of the International Federation of Journalists, who says he is not concerned that the rise of blogging may be a threat to traditional journalism. As White puts it:

"A blogger's view of the world is as interesting as the view from a stranger at the bar or on the bus. It's interesting, but it isn't journalism. Journalism should, at least in theory, be accurate, reliable, useful and ethical. A blogger has none of these constraints, which is why the world of blogging is so fascinating and quirky... Most people, even on the internet, prefer to get their information from traditional sources. Blogging is the art of rumour and speculation. Good fun, but not threatening to journalism."
He clearly hasn't been reading the papers.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Let the Music Do the Talking

To celebrate a recent milestone, my 1,000th visitor (still a long way to go before I catch up to this guy), I post a small collection of music articles I've written recently. They were originally published in The Bulletin, the expat weekly here in Brussels -- although these are the unedited versions.

A confession about my site-counter: I only just figured out how to make it ignore my own visits.

And a confession about these articles: I'm new to the rock-critic game, so excuse the occasional over-egging-of-the-custard or lazy comparison.

The Saints/The Silos
Le Botanique, 9 March

“Ageing punk band” is an oxymoron on a par with “jumbo shrimp” or “corporate social responsibility”. So it should not have been too surprising that before The Saints began their set a roadie carefully placed two gin-and-tonics and a bottle of Bordeaux by the mic stand. What, no hors d’oeuvres?

Born in the bars of Brisbane, the Saints had a chart hit in 1976 with “I’m Stranded” and were quickly positioned as Australia’s answer to The Sex Pistols. They have soldiered on (and off) ever since, emerging every few years with a different line-up, ever-bloozier new riffs, and occasionally a clever harmony.

Singer-guitarist Chris Bailey is all that remains of the original group, and even though he’s getting on in years (he looks like Paul McCartney on a bad hair day, complete with Macca’s unfortunate mid-90s mullet), his sly grin suits him better than the youthful sneer of yesteryear.

True punk attitude is a tough sell in Brussels, where audiences generally shun moshing in favour of pensive posing, sometimes even allowing a head bob or two. But it’s not worth wasting too much time contemplating such lyrics as “A madman wrecked my happy home/and now I live in a twilight zone”. ‘Tis better to take another sip of claret and get on with thy power chords.

Opening act The Silos, out of New York City, proved the far more rewarding half of the bill. Their refreshing twist on the power-trio format – drums, bass, and three-quarter-size acoustic guitar played through an overdriven amplifier – suited such tight compositions as “The First Move” and “Four on the Floor”. Like the emotional gearbox of the latter tune, the Silos shifted effortlessly between rock urgency and pop jangle, tension and release.

Lap-steel guitar added a plaintive touch to the title track of the band’s new album, When the Telephone Rings – one of the set’s highlights, in which singer Walter Salas-Humara offers what must be the best post-9/11 lyric yet: “Even in New York/How I long for New York”.

Wilco Preview
Elysee Montmartre, Paris, 16 March
Except for a short set on a Werchter side stage last summer, America’s best rock band hasn’t been in Belgium for a while and isn’t coming anytime soon. To catch Wilco in a club setting requires a quick, midweek overnight to Paris -- but isn’t that why we have the Thalys?

Since forming the band after the breakup of pioneers Uncle Tupelo in 1995, frontman Jeff Tweedy has charted an intriguing and challenging musical course. Gone are the steel guitars and dobros in favor of tape loops and Radiohead-esque knob-twiddling.

But Tweedy’s lyrical brilliance and the band’s top-flight musicianship have been a constants and each of Wilco’s five albums has proven more satisfying than the one before it. Radio airplay has been more elusive than critical acclaim, but album sales are slowly building via savvy internet marketing – and incendiary live shows. The band just won two Grammys for its latest release, A Ghost Is Born.

It’s hip to pine for Uncle Tupelo, but despite the mythologizing of that great combo, Wilco is the better band. Grab a toothbrush and get on the train.

The Neville Brothers
Ancienne Belgique, 26 February

When Aaron Neville takes centre stage he just about fills it, and not without a certain amount of swampy menace -- his heavy-lidded eyes peering suspiciously from under a Stetson brim, his enormous arms bursting out of a T-shirt emblazoned with an American Indian whose face is half panther. Add in the impressive prison ink covering Neville’s biceps, and the dagger (or is it a crucifix?) tattooed on his left cheek, and for a minute you might feel intimidated. Then he opens his mouth to sing and choirs of angels descend.

Nearly 40 years after hitting it big on the pop charts with “Tell It Like It Is,” and known more in recent years for his syrupy duets with Linda Ronstadt, Neville is back together with his brothers, whose eponymous band pioneered the funk-and-soul sound of their native New Orleans.

Brothers Aaron, percussionist Cyril and saxophonist Charles (along with eldest sibling Art, who is recovering from back surgery and missed this tour), could each headline a show in his own right. Their infrequent family reunions are not to be missed – if only because they get Aaron off the movie-soundtrack-ballad circuit and back in the groove.

Now the Brothers have added a generation to the act, which features Aaron’s son Ivan (an alumnus of Keith Richards’ legendary X-Pensive Winos) on keyboards and Art’s son Ian on guitar. The elders seem happy to let Ivan anchor the show with his soulful vocals and virtuoso playing. But sonny can’t overshadow his dad and uncles and doesn’t try to.

With their insistent opening groove, “Can’t Stop the Funk”, from Walkin’ in the Shadow of Life, their first new album in five years, the Brothers restate their soul street credentials. “We been around since bebop,” they remind, “we been around since doo-wop, now we around for the hip-hop.”

The Nevilles have always stirred Motown soul, reggae prophecy, Southern Gospel, African nationalism and even folkie activism into their potent voodoo brew. When they cover the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” early in the show, you understand their frustration at “what the world is today”.

Later, when Aaron channels Sam Cooke through the ethereal “A Change Is Gonna Come”, you think maybe there’s hope. After “One Love/People Get Ready”, you even start to feel alright. And, at the end of the show, when Aaron sings “Amazing Grace”, accompanied only by Ivan on the church organ, you fight back a tear and believe for a minute maybe there is a God.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Doonesbury's Court Martial

Grant Doty reports from Baghdad on a debate among his fellow soldiers on the merits of the "Doonesbury" comic strip, which has come under fire in Stars and Stripes for being a "left-wing-subcutaneous-slandering piece-of-crap". Turns out a lot of Lt. Col Doty's comrades-in-arms don't feel that way.

Here's the original letter (Grant redacted the author's name, even though it was published in Stars and Stripes):

As a Marine colonel based in Iraq, I am offended that the supposed "newspaper" of the services would choose to include Doonesbury, that left-wing-subcutaneous slandering-piece-of-crap comic by Gary Trudeau. Can't Stripes find anything better on which to spend its money?
And here is Grant's reply, which the military paper has not yet published (although it has published several other letters defending the comic strip):

After reading the recent rant against the marvelously insightful, frequently irreverent, and always entertaining comic Doonesbury (i.e., "left-wing subcutaneous-slandering-piece-of-crap"), I am reminded of a quote from a small Vermont newspaper editor. While not intending to impugn the author of the rant, that Vermont editor wrote, "One of the values of the letters to the editor section of a newspaper is that it can open the mouths of fools." Keep Doonesbury and your letter to the editor section -- both provide a great service in support of freedom of speech and the press for which we are all fighting.
I'll give a big civilian salute to that.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Opera Cops

Turkish police may be cracking down on womens' heads, but French cops are busy cracking down on...opera musicians! As Brian Carney writes today in the Wall Street Journal Europe, the authorities are concerned that traveling opera productions are using musicians brought in from Eastern Europe. This upsets their union-card-carrying counterparts. Carney continues:

Of all the unsavory aspects of French police going about the country busting orchestras and locking up their conductors or managers, the worst canard is that it's being done to protect innocent violin-playing lambs from Sofia. In common with price-fixing cartels the world 'round, high-priced French and German musicians have only one interest in this affair, and that is keeping low-priced competition off the market. That this means smallish French towns get no opera, or get it only when heavy public subsidies are made available, concerns them not at all.

Friday, February 25, 2005

This Is a Test

A local (er, I mean, massively global) communications firm has asked to me to give a presentation today on blogging. I'm not an expert, but I'll give it a shot. I'll tell them about some famous blogs, such as The Drudge Report, wonkette, instapundit. I'll mention some European bloggers and where they can be found. And I will eat a sandwich or two.

Monday, February 21, 2005

L'Afrique, C'est Chic

Here's an article I wrote last week for The Wall Street Journal Europe, on interesting changes being made at Belgium's Royal Museum for Central Africa.

Haunted by King Leopold's Ghost --- Belgium's Africa Museum Confronts Colonial Deeds; Tour of a Work in Progress

By Craig Winneker
Special to The Wall Street Journal
18 February 2005
The Wall Street Journal Europe
(Copyright (c) 2005, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)

Tervuren, Belgium -- THE LAST TIME Louise Lion made the 50-kilometer trip from her home in Charleroi, Belgium, to the outskirts of Brussels to visit the Royal Museum for Central Africa was as a student in 1953. She recently returned for a second look -- and the changes she found came as something of a shock. "This is very surprising," she said, pausing on a bench. "I am learning a lot of things they did not teach us in school."

No one would be more pleased with her reaction than Guido Gryseels, who became the museum's director in 2001 and two years ago embarked on a redesign of the state-owned institution -- the first since it was founded in 1897. Two exhibitions that consume more than half of the museum's vast floor space offer a midstream glimpse of this renovation, which won't be completed for another five years.

The exhibits, which will run most of this year, aren't just giving a much-needed makeover to one of the world's most important collections of Africana. They also are spurring a long-dormant debate about Belgium's role as a colonial power. The small country came late to the colonialism game, stayed in it longer than most of its European neighbors, and played it by some of the harshest rules imaginable. It has been slow to reconsider this portion of its history.

There may be no more interesting time to see the museum than now, when it still has one foot in the past and one in the future. Antiquated attitudes still confront the visitor immediately inside the enormous front doors. In the entry hall, gilded statues depict Belgium's supposed influence in Central Africa. "Belgium brings civilization to the Congo," reads an inscription on one showing a priest ministering to an adoring Pygmy tribesman.

But soon the new temporary exhibitions take over, and a more modern sensibility prevails as visitors are led on a journey from before the colonial period to independence and beyond. Return visitors to the museum -- even those who saw it as recently as a year ago -- will be surprised by the drastic overhaul. What once was a dusty collection of glass cases and obscure agricultural charts has become a lively exploration of colonialism.

Perhaps most importantly, the museum now addresses the question of whether Belgium is responsible for genocide -- the deaths of millions of Congolese killed through forced labor, starvation and disease from 1885 to 1910, when the rubber and ivory trades were at their frenzied peak. The Congo was Belgian property from 1885 until 1960, first as the personal fief of the country's then-king, Leopold II, and then as a colony controlled by the government. The king started the museum in 1897 as an advertisement for the colony, and many exhibits touted its economic benefits to Belgium. The present museum opened in 1910 and was little changed for decades.

The 1998 book "King Leopold's Ghost" by American writer Adam Hochschild was a turning point in how Belgium's colonial role has been viewed. The book alleges that as many as 10 million natives died during Leopold's stewardship of the Congo, calling it one of the worst genocides in history.

Mr. Gryseels says the controversy surrounding "King Leopold's Ghost" spurred the decision to reshape the museum. But the documentation he has produced conspicuously avoids discussion of the book, and so do the new exhibits. In places, the museum tackles the question of genocide and brutality head-on, but at the same time challenges the accuracy of some of the numbers, seeking a delicate historical balance.

The bigger of the two exhibitions, "Memory of Congo: the Colonial Era," attempts to come to grips with this history, and to put it in the larger context of European imperialism -- highlighting its positive as well as negative implications. "For us," Mr. Gryseels says, "this is the first step in the renovation -- to look back on our colonial past in a critical way, not only to the eyes of the Belgians but also to the eyes of the Congolese."

Especially interesting are videos showing Belgians and Congolese -- administrators, soldiers, farmers, workers -- recounting personal experiences. (Visitors can listen in French, Dutch or English.)

The last section of the exhibition, "Independence," is lit in bright red, adorned with huge pictures of Kinshasans celebrating their freedom in 1960, and punctuated by African music piped in. Off to one side is a replica of a period Belgian living room. An old console TV shows footage of Belgium's then-sovereign, the young Baudouin, relinquishing control of the colony to the Congolese. It is as close as you can get to reliving history.

The second exhibition, "Congo: Nature & Culture," offers another sneak preview of the Africa Museum of the future, with an emphasis on environment and biodiversity and "the links between people and nature." Its exhibits are showcased in deep, rain-forest green with authentic-looking wooden poles that practically scream "sustainable development."

The museum's permanent collection also has undergone changes. The Gallery of Remembrance, its most controversial room, still honors the Belgian pioneers who died in the Congo and includes an imposing bronze statue of Leopold II, unmistakable with his squared-off beard and perpetual glower. But now there is acknowledgment of the many Africans who died during the colonial period. A recently added plaque reminds visitors the gallery was built in a different era and reflected its outlook, thus "there was no mention of the Congolese victims."

The room's layout has been changed so that what was a somber shrine, closed off at the end of a hallway, is open for visitors to pass through on the way to the new exhibitions. Leopold -- whom Mr. Gryseels was thinking of consigning to the attic two years ago -- glowers in a corner.

Eventually, the exhibits at the entrance will be removed or shown with explanations to put them in context, the museum says. More changes are coming, and the debate over their implications is just beginning. An entry in the exhibition's guest book, written by Bernard de Gerlache, head of the Belgo-African Chamber of Commerce, neatly captures the challenge facing the museum as it walks a fine historical line. "A leopard," the inscription reads, quoting a Congolese proverb, "cannot change its spots."

Memory of Congo: the Colonial Era
Congo: Nature & Culture
Until Oct. 9.
Leuvensesteenweg 13, Tervuren, Belgium
(Tram 44 from central Brussels)

Friday, January 28, 2005

It's Like Lisbon...or Something

This is from today’s Wall Street Journal Europe, but it loses something without the Beavis and Butthead illustration they used in the paper. They also teased it on the front page with a small graphic of B&B and the headline “Lisbon, um, stinks”. They won’t print the word “sucks”, apparently. Anyway, I can retire now.

January 28, 2005




BRUSSELS -- You've got to admire the moxie, the determination, the utter indefatigability of the European Union when it comes to the economic stimulus strategy it calls the Lisbon Agenda. Like an emergency-room doctor pounding on a code-blue patient's chest, screaming, "Breathe, dammit, breathe!" EU leaders endlessly try to resuscitate what has long been diagnosed as a hopeless case.

Even the words agreed upon at the Lisbon summit in 2000 (which explains the otherwise inexplicable name) have become a joke: That by 2010 Europe will transform itself into "the world's most competitive and most dynamic knowledge-based economy, capable of sustainable economic growth accompanied by a quantitative and qualitative improvement in employment and greater social cohesion."

Not exactly "It's the economy, stupid."

Nevertheless, every six months or so, the EU coughs up another new initiative aimed at restoring life to the strategy -- while reassuring doubters that sweeping economic reform will not come at the cost of Europe's supposedly cherished social values.

Initiatives and publications abound. Remember the Sapir Report? Chances are you do not. Issued in 2003 by a group of so-called "wise men" -- one of whom apparently was named Sapir -- it excoriated EU governments for failing to meet their Lisbon targets. "Growth must become Europe's No. 1 economic priority," it pleaded. No one -- least of all the politicians to whom it was addressed -- listened. Last year brought the Kok Report, which may have attracted a little attention if only for its Beavis and Butthead-inspired title. It said basically the same thing.

Sapir, Kok, Lisbon. Bureaucrats in Brussels actually expect this mnemonic nonsense to motivate people. Instead, to insiders, the term Lisbon Agenda has come to mean something that cannot be achieved; to the average European, it means nothing. (Lisbon, by the way, is a beautiful and vibrant city. It does not deserve to become a synonym for failure.)

At a recent EU summit, European Parliament President Josep Borrell showed a surprising grasp of reality when he suggested a name-change might be in order. "The first thing which we need to do with regard to the Lisbon Strategy is to stop calling it that," Mr. Borrell told EU leaders last November. "Nobody knows what we are talking about."

Unfortunately, his suggested replacement doesn't exactly fit on a T-shirt, either: the "strategy for competitiveness, social cohesion and the environment."

With the 10-year clock ticking, frustrated and desperate to salvage their economic agenda, and unmoved by Mr. Borrell's brainstorm, EU leaders tried another approach. Late last year, they appointed a commission president who is actually from Lisbon. José Manuel Barroso talks a good game about making economic growth the No. 1 priority of his five-year mandate. But no matter how hard he tries -- or how many reports he produces -- he will still have to get past member-state governments reluctant to act.

He is undaunted. Next week the European Commission will unveil yet another effort. Yes, five years into the 10-year plan, Lisbon is getting a "relaunch." Like a desperate restaurateur hoping a new menu concept will bring in customers, the EU is repackaging the same old ingredients, and continuing to serve up the same promises it will ultimately fail to keep.

Conveniently dropping the talk of overtaking the U.S. as the world's economic leader in 10 years, the relaunch focuses on 10 points. Exactly, it's a 10-point plan for growth, aimed at creating "more and better jobs in an innovative and attractive Europe." These include "attracting more people in employment," "more and better research and development," "promoting innovation and sustainability," "completing the internal market," "creating the conditions for a strong European industrial base," etc.

Do we detect a pulse in the patient? It's very faint. So get ready. The commission is grabbing its defibrillator paddles for one more try. Clear!

Mr. Winneker is editor of TechCentralStation Europe.

Copyright 2005 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Je Blog, Donc Je Suis

Here's a version of my column this week in European Voice newspaper on how blogging is catching on in Europe. I didn't mention it in the column, but I would add here that Marc Johnson's European Weblog Review offers an excellent look at what's out there.

BLOGGING is a genuine media phenomenon in the US – it played a prominent role in the last presidential election, proving in a few cases to be more reliable and incisive than the ‘mainstream’ press – but it is only just catching on in Europe.

However, if the trend continues, the on-line weblog or ‘blog’ may become a significant media force in an age when major European newspapers are busy losing circulation and sometimes credibility.

True, plenty of inhabitants of the ‘blogosphere’ are certifiable nutters – operating on the lunatic political fringe or somewhere beyond it. But others publish web sites that are well-written and informative – and come equipped with advertisements, useful links and even the occasional scoop.

Naturally, politicians are getting into the act, including the one charged with communicating the EU to its citizens. European Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström has just launched her own blog. Yes, some of her entries are a bit mundane. Take this one from 19 January: “It is six o’clock in the morning. It is also dark, wet and cold. The only living creatures we can see are a fox, two cats and the newspaperman. Me and my husband are out for a regular 45-minutes walk or slow jog.”

But her 13 January instalment – the blog’s inaugural entry – is genuinely moving in places (her concern for friends in Sri Lanka), funny in others (her assessment of 2004 – it “sucked”), and overall an interesting read.

Other Brussels types, including MEPs, have also started blogging. Netherlands deputy Jules Maaten is one of the more active online diarists. In his most recent posting he plugs a speech he gave last week at European Voice’s conference on health care.

New blogs – some serious, some otherwise – launch every week. A Fistful of Euros has a fairly comprehensive list of other EU blogs and even includes a ballot for readers to vote on the best European blog. Nominees include: The Yorkshire Ranter, Viewropa, and the perfectly named, Paris-based website Je Blog.

Then there’s the intriguing and well-written Europhobia, which bills itself thusly: “The musings of a non-partisan one-time Eurosceptic turned pro-European and his far better-informed friends.” Its most recent posting excerpts a lengthy treatise on EU-US relations from the New York Review of Books.

And how could anyone resist the transatlantic musings of the French expatriate whose blog is called Au Texas, Tout le Monde est Fou Sauf Moi?

Political partisans abound in the blogosphere. UKIPwatch devotes itself to skewering the Eurosceptic British party. Socialist Group president Poul Nyrup Rasmussen started a Euroblog during the 2004 parliamentary campaign to “combat voter apathy”. And Publius, in French, is devoted to coverage of the EU Constitution. Its most recent entry links to an op-ed written by Pierre Moscovici in Le Figaro.

Which paddles us back to the media mainstream. Even Le Monde, Europe’s most sophisticated newspaper, has started a blog section, with correspondents filing diary entries on a range of subjects.

Latest example: the paper’s editor-in-chief, Eric Le Boucher, is blogging from Davos during the World Economic Forum. He describes the celebrity panels being held, including one discussion on whether artists can still change the world featuring French model Carole Bouquet. Confides Le Boucher, “J’hesite pas.”

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Update on Mr. Bang

Well, I've helped to make Bang even more famous than he already is. The Bankgok Post has reprinted the article I wrote from Koh Mook. You can read it here if you haven't already seen it via TechCentralStation, and even if you have read it before you can at least see a picture of Bang. The other guy in the photos is not me.