When you can't live without bananas

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Saturday, December 21, 2002

I think Empire Earth would be a much better game if it weren't so intensely scissors-paper-stone-ish (some units can be killed in 2 blows by their counters), and if it didn't have its plethora of units for the sake of having them, resulting in a jumbled mess, but instead had a place with each of them.


Get Out of Hell Free -- Why Are Our Products So Popular?

Another "symptom" of this impatience was revealed December 3, 2002, by George Barna. Barna is a California-based pollster who specializes in religious beliefs -- the Barna Group is the Gallup Poll of the Christian world. They just did a survey at the request of the American Family Association, and the results are quite telling: the poll asked Americans who don't consider themselves Christian to express their "impression" of 11 groups of people: positive, negative, or in-between? Evangelical Christians rated 10th -- just above prostitutes, and significantly below Republicans, Democrats, lesbians and Movie and TV performers. Even lawyers came in at #7! (Ministers, though, should take comfort: you came in at #2 -- but it was a distant #2 behind military officers, who came in first by far).

Why would these Americans think so little of Evangelical Christians? Look at how they often play out in the media: at the funeral of a man who was beaten to death, some of these "loving Christians" were protesting the services with signs reading "God Hates Queers". (Hint: "hate" is not an example of Christian love.) Were these same people protesting the trial of the murderer? Then there are Christian fundamentalist "leaders" like Jerry Falwell, who raced onto TV two days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to pin the blame for the atrocities not on the terrorists, but rather, as he so lovingly put it, "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen'."

Barna himself draws this conclusion: "Our studies show that many of the people who have negative impressions of evangelicals do not know what or who an evangelical is," he said in a press release about the survey. "Too often, we develop mental images of others without knowing those people. ...We find that when people examine the foundation of their impressions and then talk to a few people from the groups of which they have a low opinion, they discover that those people are not so bad after all." Funny, but the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them -- that's exactly what they want Evangelical Christians to know too.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Unfortunately I've to do cover for the run tomorrow, being an unfortunate victim of circumstance, so I've to go back to camp tonight. Consequently, my responses to The Associate's dissertations, with some judicious additions of my own from meditation and mulling through the week, will not be ready just yet.


Why do books or other publications always promote themselves as being "the latest" on the back? Then since they all claim to be "the latest", you never know which is *really* the latest edition.

Pfizer keeps sponsoring an advertisement in the magazine I customarily read, an essay by a Michael Mosbacher on the merits of Globalisation. I find it rather ironic, because the people who are likely to read it are probably all convinced about Globalisation's merits. Pfizer should save its money and take the ads out in The Independent or something.

Malaysia is banning the latest Toyota advertisement starring Brad Pitt. Supposedly, this is so an inferiority complex does not develop. In reality, this irrational behavior reveals that *they* have an inferiority complex - Yet another incident revealing that Malaysians are very insecure! I just can't wait for the next "Malaysia Boleh" stunt someone will pull off. You already have the guy who can walk backwards for extended periods of time and the woman who lived with snakes in a glass cage for many cages. What's next? The sky's the limit!

Someone pointed out something deliciously ironic to me - Mohammad Sultan Road [Emphasis added] probably has the highest density of pubs, clubs, bars and discos in Singapore! ;)


[On Kairen's "At Ease!" comic strip in Pioneer] So many Malays... Is he a Malay?

Who here is from Armour? [Me: We're all from Armour] HQ Armour... I'm also from Armour

[On booking out] Gabriel, do you need any food? Or would you prefer us to call later? [Me: That would be sweet of you.] [Someone: How can you say "sweet"? He's a guy... Tor-fu] (?)

In my SMM platoon, 6 out of 8 of the Malays walked aound in bunk naked. [Someone: How naked?] Totally naked. [Someone: That is so ironic. To think their woman counterparts...]

[On my polar bear] This is a polar bear?... Serious? It looks like a cross between a pig and a polar bear.

[On the orange tube the Registry of Marriages gives to newlyweds to keep their marriage certificates] The colour of the tube is a symbl of failure... For most marriages.

[On the food at the cookhouse] Why you all say 'Malay food'? I said 'barely edible' then all of you said 'Malay food'. You're not the first one (said)

[On my soft toys] You should buy more... You should buy one that looks like me.

Anyway now CO is playing Counterstrike with all the PCs. In Orchard Road.

Who will start the bowl rolling? (ball)

[To me] You should write a book. You have great literary talent.
Word of the day: "blue"

Oh dear.

A fine light blue line has appeared on my LCD screen.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

More global pop-culture absurdity meeting brutal economic pragmatism:

"Just before the film was released the (New Zealand) Labour-Alliance government proclaimed one of its senior cabinet ministers as �Minister for Lord of the Rings�, with special responsibility for milking every conceivable economic benefit from it."

Since I'm coming off a pop-culture high, here are some choice quotes from a review of Star Trek: Nemesis

"I've also had it with the force shield that protects the Enterprise. The power on this damn thing is always going down. In movie after movie after movie I have to sit through sequences during which the captain is tersely informed that the front shield is down to 60 percent, or the back shield is down to 10 percent, or the side shield is leaking energy, and the captain tersely orders that power be shifted from the back to the sides or all put in the front, or whatever, and I'm thinking, life is too short to sit through 10 movies in which the power is shifted around on these shields."

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Word of the day: "caesura"

And there it goes. You were right, as always.

I think about you. I think about you so much that, despite appearances, I neglect thinking about myself.

Here's a fascinating article on Lord of the Rings' influence in modern cultural history. As a card-carrying ur-geek myself, I can say that it is totally true; most of the modern day technologies, cultural narratives, and obsessions that constitute what is popularly called "geek" culture can trace their origins back to the book.

What that amounts to in the greater pop cultural scheme of things, of course, is harder to say than it used to be. Back in the days when Tolkien was still alive and in the habit of referring to his shaggy, puff-sleeved fans as "my deplorable cultus" (he was a straitlaced, archconservative Catholic himself), they were easily mistaken for flower children, or at least fellow travelers on the road to a global transformation of consciousness through drugs, electrified music, and other forms of postindustrial enchantment. But now that the world-historical context has simmered down and a somewhat tamer generation has filled out the hobbit-loving ranks, everyone can see they're just geeks.

Or something even geekier, arguably: ur-geeks. Keepers of the geek flame. For if The Lord of the Rings is not the sine qua non of geek culture, it's hard to think what is. After all, the vast genre of fantasy fiction is, along with sci-fi, one of the two great narrative flows feeding the Nerd Nation's imaginative life, and nobody doubts that Tolkien single-handedly invented it. And that's not even counting the immense subcultural continent that is Dungeons & Dragons and every role-playing game descended from it�from the complex, online time-suck EverQuest to the Japanimated children's saga DragonBallZ�all of which testify to the formative influence of the Tolkien mythos. Throw in Star Wars (as Tolkienesque a space opera as ever there was) and the argument is pretty much a lock: Without the lucidly imagined geography of Middle Earth and the archetypal characters Tolkien stocked it with�the grave wizards, stout dwarves, evil orcs, and above all, plucky, permanently adolescent hobbits�geekdom as we know it would simply not exist.

If you feel that's no particularly meaningful achievement, I understand. But maybe you could indulge me and imagine, just for a moment, that the fact that we live in a world increasingly made by geeks actually makes their collective imagination worth understanding. Think about computers, their evolution shaped by a hacker culture that insisted some of the earliest dot-matrix printers be programmed to produce the elvish F�anorian script. Think about the Internet, whose founding architects included the D&D fanatic who created the Adventure, the very first, very Tolkienized online role-playing game. Think, for a moment, about these profoundly transformative technologies. And then consider the possibility that the structures of feeling we inherit from them might just have some intimate connection to the dream life of the people who designed them. Consider, in other words, the possibility that The Lord of the Rings, geek culture's defining literary creation, might just be one of the defining literary creations of our age.

Cool simile of the day: "Being stomped like a Dance Dance Revolution platform in a Samoan arcade."

Is it a bad thing when you realise that you sub-consciously try to work late in order to go home late and hence minimise your contact with your own family? It just dawned on me that, at some level, I'd rather spend 30RM on a pricey dinner near my place than go home for free dinner and experience the paterfamilial blather. That, and that it's less lonely to sit in the office chattering with colleagues after work. Vis-a-vis going home, and listening to the hum of a PC fan....

Had to endure maternal ranting because mother had difficulty comprehending the difference between Microsoft Word and Excel, how a print spooler works, how to load paper, the concept of minimizing and maximizing windows, print preview buttons, and a variety of other intellectual pitfalls involved in printing out attachments from Hotmail. Feel my pain. However, in her rage and fury at the new printer which I had placed on the floor to avoid vibration damage and mis-alignment(computer desk is VERY flimsy; placing the printer on one of the raised shelves causes the whole desk to epileptically convulse when printing), she threatened to scrap it and get a new HP laser printer. It's times like this when parental stupidity "is like nuclear power - it can be used for good or for evil. As long as you don't spill any on yourself."

Watching The Two Towers tonight! Woohoo! Shall drive straight to cinema from work. Ironically, Tolkien certainly wouldn't have appreciated the rendering of his literary project into motion picture form, even calling the legions of American meatspace fans in the 60s and 70s his "deplorable cultus". Of course, as an Oxford don undertaking an academic experiment in linguistics, I don't think he ever expected "Gandalf for President" hippie buttons.

Still, even if you strip away the academic appendices and linguistic subtleties, or the counter-cultural hijacking of Lord of the Rings' themes, it remains a crackling good fantasy saga on its own merits as a narrative, and after all these years it is still the most 'epic' work of modern fantasy fiction.

In other thoughts, I need to cut down on those listless, all-night online conversations on ICQ; they serve to exacerbate a lot of frustration. Hunger. Desperation. Not that I don't enjoy them; I do - intensely. But I wonder if such unbridled masochism is really healthy for me.

Nose back to the grindstone.

[Ed: LOTR is over rated.

And I thought you tortured and preyed on people during those late night tete a tetes - not the reverse.]

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Some seriously funny shit on Malaysian aristocracy.(the kind you buy, not the kind you inherit)

Here's an article that I felt merited re-typing from The Edge. This is one of the reasons why I'm a political anarchist.

The Datukship: Lifestyle of the Titled by Amir Muhammad

I was worried I would be late for my interview with The Datukship, who is, after all, one of the most respected institutions in this country. But my wheezing Proton did manage to make the journey in time. I was greeted by his snooty personal assistant, who asked me what I wanted. I told him The Datukship's first name, but was greeted with "No such person here." Then I mentioned the same name but with a "Datuk" in front of it, and I got a "Yes, he's in. But be quick. The Datuk has an urgent golf appointment in an hour."

The Datukship's room is lined with many portraits of him with similarly titled individuals. The Datukship himself did not get up from his seat as he was bogged down by what seemed like a small tropical jungle pinned to the lapel of his bush jacket. His laugh seems inspired by some of James Bond's most colorful nemeses.

Amir: Good morning, Datukship!
Good morning. What do you want, contracts, projects, tenders?

No, I'm here for an interview. I called you yesterday.
Yes, of course, I er.. forgot. Have a seat. These seats are damn comfortable. You never want to get up from them! Mwahahaha! Now, what is this interview about?

I wanted to ask about your accomplishments.
What accomplishments?

Precisely. I didn't recognise your name but I assumed that since you are a titled individual, you must have made a prominent contribution to society. I want to find out more about these contributions.
"Contributions"? Erm.. what do you mean?

I was talking about the services rendered to the community that enabled you to get such a title.
Oh, THOSE! Well, there are many! I have been of service to many important people. The precise nature of those sercices, no need lah to disclose here. It's all very discreet. I didn't do them for the recognition. I just did them to become a Datuk. No other recognition necessary.

Recently, there were reports of people who'd had their Datukships revoked due to complaints that they were abusing their titles. But the newspapers were very coy about what these abuses were. Do you care to elaborate?
Well, membership of the Datuk club had gotten way out of hand! Too many to handle. So there need to be, you know, controls.

But these controls are not spelt out. So when you get it, it's mysterious, and when you lose it, it's a mystery too?
You catch on quick for a commoner! Bagus, bagus, mwahahaha!

How did your life change when you got the title?
Suddenly I had many friends. I had to get a bigger house and, more importantly, bigger furniture for the house. With those classy Greek columns in front. (Note: These monstrosities are all over the fucking place in the nouveau riche areas in and around KL. While older rich areas like Damansara Heights and Pantai Hill are tastefully and largely free of them, places like Tropicana, parts of Subang Jaya, etc are crawling with these hideous Corinthian pillars fronting massive edifices with pitifully small 20m driveways.) Otherwise, not standard, you know? And I got used to having my name addressed right near the front of every speech! Previously, I had to wait until the end, when I am lumped together with the dan hadirin sekelian but now I am pushed forward. So it's a bit like flying First Class.

But when you fly First Class, even though you pay a lot more, it still takes you the same amount of time to reach where you're going. And you have to go through the same turbulence. You get real plates, but you still have plastic knives.
Excuse me. Why are we talking about flying? I thought you wanted to do a personality piece on me.

Yes, that's right. Do you think that having a title has improved your life?
Of course! Look at Datuk Michelle Yeoh. Hollywood didn't pay any attention to her before, but now they have to! She's a Datuk what! Don't play-play!

Don't you think, though, that titles such as yours are remnants of a feudal era?
That's because you don't have one, mwahahaha!

You're probably right. But don't you also find it odd that in quite a few instances, the person who received a Datukship from a particular state not only wasn't born there, but can't prove any connection to it? Also, why is it that some people who've committed criminal offences get to keep their titles while other's don't? Where's the logic?
Who needs logic when you can have such a big bouquet of flowers pined to your lapel each time you go somewhere to cut a ribbon? What's so logical about ribbons, now that we've come to that?(Note: This again is painfully yet hilariously true. At the interminable functions I've been to, the titled ALWAYS have a massive corsage of assorted flora pinned to their batik shirt pockets)

What impact has the title had on your family?
Teachers and shopkeepers treat my children and wife a lot nicer now, thank you. And it's certainly not true, despite the rumours, that I look down on my relatives who don't have titles. Although my mother needs to make an appointment to speak to me, her applications are always processed speedily.

Is it your dream to continue to contribute to the Malaysian public?
Oh yes, my contributions are still continuing. And if they reach a certain level, you might even be talking to a future Tan Sri, mwahahaha!

Amir Muhammad is everybody's crony

When I shared this article with my parents, my father read through it curiously before pausing, and saying, "This is a joke, right? It's not a real interview lah! Cheh!"

... Right. More proof that irony is not genetically inherited.

One friend of mine said, "I wouldn't be surprised if this is from a real interview. There are some absolute morons out there with titles. I even know this tong chee yook guy (Cantonese: "cut pig meat" - ie. butcher) who has a Datukship."

I know a loanshark with a Datukship.

My father remarked later that a friend of his who got a Datuk had to spend 12,000RM for the investiture alone; 6,000RM for the formal dress uniform with all the weird trimmings for the actual ceremony, and another 6,000RM for another kind of evening informal wear uniform used at the reception afterwards. And that he's never worn them since.
To you, and you know who you are:

I refuse to paint myself in less than the most pathetic of hues, because that's the only shade that rings *true*.

Abrogating to myself any higher motivation or nobler characteristic is just a lie, and I do enough of that all the time.
Word of the day: "efffluvial"

Which is exactly what I'm capturing here, out of whimsy

a) Listening to old Red Hot Chilli Pepper tracks with the volume turned to max while driving home is a remarkable way of keeping distracted and depression at bay. (Ooh! A near-perfect zeugma! *sigh of nerdy linguistic satisfaction*)

b) Jars of Clay has a remarkably nice cover of Little Drummer Boy. Christian rock meets Christmas carol - well, it's a natural fit.

c) Caramel frappucinos are addictive.

d) I have a sliding door in the shower stall of my bathroom at home now. I find myself oddly distressed, even though it's a lot less messier than the old curtain arrangement. I fear change.

e) Idiot colleague snuck up behind me while I threaded my way through the dark wasteland of the unpaved, open air parking lot where my car was, and poked a finger in my ribs. I am proud to say that I did not squeal like a pig, making instead a manly utterance of belligerence and norepinephrine-inspired "fight or flight" response.

f) "In courtship, one pretends to be something else until your partner loves you for who you truly are."

g) America's recent hang-up on segregation and the chance comments of a Senator greatly amuses me

h) Quasi-commercial papers (ie, low-rate bonds with a put option to sell convertibles back to the issuer at original market price) are fascinating!

i) Looking forward immensely to watching The Two Towers tomorrow. Refreshed my Tolkien spirit by idly surfing the web for long and involved debates on what Ents should look like. Threading through the fan discussion on the issue is a morass as deadly as the issue of whether a Balrog can fly.

j) One of my PC's RAM modules has given up the ghost. Am back down to 256MB of RAM now. While I could afford another stick of SD-RAM, given that a proper upgrade to a DDR RAM platform is inevitable (once I clear off my mounting credit card bills), I can't make myself fork out the money for a temporary solution. But it feels unnatural to be downgrading in capacity.
Just noticed your disclaimer. Can't resist from adding that, in all honesty, empirical evidence shows that the power of morality is largely overwhelmed by the power of punitive coercion.:)

As the old saying goes: "God fights on the side with heaviest artillery."
Some frenetic surfing on the web. Am amused by the opportunistic whoring that cam culture represents. A lot of it isn't even seriously sexual, but just a lot of winking and nodding; pretty girls with pictures and elaborate, java-script saturated layouts, the requisite artistic blog and gallery, and even wishlists of kinky items and books which they hope deprived guys seeking attention and affection will purchase for them.

Of course some are just narcissistic by nature, while others are probably whoring themselves for hits (I'm not sure, but I *think* they get paid for click-throughs). Some of course are doing for the same reasons of artistic and emotional expression which us blog writers do. Some of them maybe just get a thrill of being parts of networks and cliques and watching their hit rate climb. *sardonic laugh* But who am I to judge? I don't blog for the most wholesome of motives myself, as I realise in my rare moments of genuine self-introspection, despite my hypocritical assertion that it serves mainly as a verbal exercise and a way to organize my thoughts.

It's vaguely pornographic, of course, with a definite sensual veneer to the whole thing. But at least explicit pornography has a certain direct honesty to it. This feeds into .. something a lot less wholesome, I feel. Degenerate, lonely people desperate for a glimpse of other's lives on the net? Repressed longing being transmuted into a desire to "be friends"? Believe me, I know all about being that.

It strikes me that Net addiction shares a few similiarities with Skill-addiction in nature. (A ref that only makes sense to Robin Hobb affocionados). The possibility of losing your identity in a flow of sheer knowledge and other, corporate identities.

In any case, I can't describe it, other than maintain my sense of appalled awe at just how much hunger and desperation there is on the Net, and just how many predators there are out there willing to feed on that in even the most trivial of ways.

Go and see:)

And go check out how even our inhibited, culturally backward Third World nations are represented here and here!
Word of the day: "badinage"

Traffic last night was horrible. From the windows of our office, we could see a river of steel traffic leading as far as the eye can see, choking every tributary of asphalt. In frustration, myself and several colleagues continued our descent into alcoholism by buying a couple of beers and heading over to a nearby deli for a drink. Ah, the joys of male bonding over Baron's Strong Brew.

Caught up with more happy nerd friends late at night for a few happy rounds of Warcraft III and Counter-Strike until midnight.

This morning, for some reason, fatigue overwhelmed me so completely that I actually took a half-day off. It may seem a bit of a waste to take the morning hours off, since you still have to come to work at 1pm and leave at the same horrible late time anyway, but the extra 3 hours of sleep really made a difference to my productivity this whole afternoon.

Idle comment a friend made today: "You know why gaming stocks have been doing so well these few weeks? Because of all the accidents on Hari Raya. All those cheenakia superstitious bastards buying 4D numbers of car license plates that kena accidents.....There's also a correlation between car sales and lottery sales. For instance, when I first got my car, ALL my relatives - aunties, uncles, cousins - spent at least a few hundred dollars in total buying up the various permutations of my car licence plate number."

Kairen spoke to me for a while, and he's also worried about you, Gabriel. At least, worried in a certain, detached manner.

I don't think your posts are factually inaccurate - at least most of them aren't - but you definitely have a decided bias; showing up all manner of irrationalities in Islam as a religion, while failing to paint the broader picture that ALL religions share these inherent absurdities to a certain extent. AND some of your research is based on the more sensationalistic type of news article used to paint fanatics as idiots (which they are). Put it this way; why pick on Islam alone?

And as for censorship, "sic hunt leones." I have no issues with government censorship; other than extreme irritation at the way movies tend to skip sex scenes or bits of dialogue. But frankly, freedom of speech is a luxury not everyone can afford; and besides, I believe that any intelligent human being should be able to obtain access to information one way or another. And besides again, there is no society on this planet that has a completely unimpeded free flow of information. It's a utopian dream to say that all information should be freely available to all the masses.

Back to your criticism of my motives; well, patent paranoia and an enjoyment of riding on any delusionary sense of mystique (which no one falls for, really:) are indeed pretty strong motivating factors. But it is to avoid situations like yours that I take care with my words and my identity; and even then, I'm not very discreet. It's perfectly possible to reconstruct a lot of things about me and my opinions and situations from my narratives on this blog. I certainly don't refrain from revealing my true name and details to anyone on the Net who asks politely. My only issue is with an unrestricted public broadcast of information; I'm quite comfortable with one-on-one tete-a-tetes in which information flows freely both ways. A virtuous mean between discretion and blabbering.

And seriously, you should take a stronger stand defending your right to write damn well what you please on this blog, but then again, that' s me arguing from the ideological point of view:) The cruel reality is that, the prospect of court-martial and having the army vindictively crack down on you for saying publicly what everyone feels is simply not worth anything as ephemeral as truth or justice. *shrugs* Face facts, once again. Of course, I'm perfectly safe in denouncing the sheer absurdity of the institution which has now pronounced judgement on you. I'd do exactly the same cowardly thing as you if the local Special Branch came a-knocking on my door.

Don't be a sucker for a lost cause such as "freedom of expression."
Word of the day: "serrate"

Shards of pain dragging through inside of sinus and throat today. I don't think it's another bout of flu; just the usual morning congestion of the nasal and bronchial passages that I've been cursed with since birth, only a lot worse than usual this morning.

Out of disaster; opportunity. Had to fetch my sister down to the bus interchange on the way to work today, which irritatingly necessitated getting up earlier than usual, but for once I held my acerbic peace, because she was going down for a funeral. A funeral for a friend; an experience most people our age, which, if they're lucky, have never been through yet. It seems I've had more than a few - three at last count - but they've always been, mostly, nodding acquaintances, people I knew, but did not truly know. Is that something to consider fortunate? I don't know what it'd be like if a truly close friend shuffled off this mortal coil; particularly this early in life. And I hope I don't find out.

As is customary, I invoke my favourite phrase on death and dying: "They say death teaches you the meaning of life, and I suppose it does. As long as it happens to someone else."

The opportunity part kicks in because, this Wednesday, my father had scored several Village Gold Class tickets for the preview screening of The Two Towers. Now, thanks to my sister's sudden absence, it means I can call a couple of friends along. As per expectation, there was a surfeit of willing candidates; had to painfully screen them down to a couple of my happy nerd coterie back from Melbourne who weren't otherwise engaged that week. Morbid opportunism.

Fetched my sister to the interchange in complete silence. There wasn't really anything I could say, and my own brand of wisdom would not have been welcome, particularly given that any sense of sibling kinship between us was purely at the genetic level. And so, there we were, brother and sister, stranger and stranger.

"She is dead. But you are alive. So live."

Last Saturday was a reasonably good outing; by a twist of fate, several of my friends in Melbourne were my cousin's high school classmates. So, I rounded up my half of the posse, and he rounded up his half of the posse, and we all met up at Chill in Phileo Damansara. Interestingly enough, the half that he rounded up tended to be what the man on the street would have called "the cool crowd", while the half I rounded up were all bespectacled, hair dishevelled, wearing polo shirts, office slacks, and incessantly chattering about computer games and fantasy books. The reader can guess the .. weirdness of the situation. Although most of them were from the same class, it was clear that evolution had branched out in two different paths, and it will be obvious which schism I had the most affinity for. (Hint: it's the one whose adherents don't use hair gel)

I had borrowed my sister's Nikon digicam, and it was incredibly fun playing with one for the first time. Consumer electronics turn me on:)

In the end, my fellow geeks and I headed off to the 24-hour A&W near State, and one of them remarked wryly, "We should have gone straight to a mamak stall."

As always though, it felt good to catch up, and I realised just how poignantly I've missed weekend spent crashing at friend's houses, going out for movies with uni-mates, sitting around scarfing down pizza, playing network games. And talking, of course. Not typing frantically on an ICQ message box.. but pure, unadulterated, talking. Conversation. Being with friends who are on the same wavelength, who appreicate the things you do, where one isn't a piquant freak, but, rather, part of ongoing social interaction. To have friends who are genuinely happy to see you after a long time. Despite my normal hunger for solitude, I guess I've tasted just a little too much of that over the last 9 months of "work, go home, stone on PC, work, go home, stone on PC."

The afternoon before that, I had gone to watch Infernal Affairs starring Andy Lau and Tony Leung. Despite the characteristically hao lian cinematography so endemic to HK film these days (jump cuts, vertigo shots, slo-mo/zoom framing, gratuitous pan-arounds), it had a surprisingly interesting storyline, and Tony Leung's always managed to portray resigned dissoluteness (ref In The Mood For Love - okay, I know a lot of people found it boring as hell, but...) in a fashion that I like. Andy Lau, as always, seems to be the HK equivalent of Michael J Fox - ie. unaging.

I have to confess that the name and opening credit sequence made me think it was some kind of horror show, but it turned out to be a pure cop/action flick after all.

Had gone to watch with the my only close friend who had graduated from Melbourne and returned to Malaysia; he'd been working for two years before I came out. This year, we'd only met once - such is one's social life when working I guess. When everyone's just too... stoned to meet up on the weekends, seeking only rest.

The conversation, as usual, was kept lightly banal, with acerbic condemnations of working life, and the usual bitching that I go for in a big way:)

Sunday was spent frantically trying to get the digicam pictures into my PC. Now, I didn't have the Nikon software; my sister didn't bring back the CD-ROM, and for some reason the installer wouldn't download properly from nikon.com. Finally, I extracted them all into my sister's laptop, and tried using a serial cable to transfer the files over. When I saw that the file transfer time was approximately 32 hours, I despaired and disconnected. In the end, had to use the rather roundabout solution of plugging the laptop modem into the phone, logging on, emailing the files to myself, and then re-connecting to the web via the PC to retrieve. Damn it, I realise I've taken having an Ethernet card for granted, but I was just too lazy to reinstall it on the PC and go buy some coax cable....

Other than that minor technical exercise, (also managed to figure out how to extract embedded images in Word documents. yay!), my other achievements for the day included finishing up Fool's Errand. It's a good follow up to the Farseer trilogy, which ranks among the more depressing fantasy series in history - the hero ends up a hermit with his wolf, presumed dead, body damaged by repeated beatings, and in constant depressive fits and addiction withdrawal symptoms. The narrative is also largely a first-person description of a boy growing ostracized, repeatedly tortured, angstily suffering in the rain, learning to be an assassin, being repeatedly betrayed and still remaining brutally, iron-clad loyal, in a twisted way.

Fool's Errand is a strangely evolved follow up, even if the first 200 pages or so of the story was spent playing "what has gone before". There's also some a just-short-of-blatant tie in to the events of the Liveship Traders books; Robin Hobb really has this thing for consciousness transfer in her stories:). But what I appreciated most was the way the tone of the main protagonist has evolved; it's a grown man's angst now, with a grown man's concerns (children, in an oblique way) and a maturity of perception. And there's a nicely circular resonanc with Fiz being re-cast a teacher and a man now, compared to being a callous youth straggling his way.

But above all, the books are about loyalty. That I can relate to.

"For grief has always seemed, to me, not a time to heal, but a time to get accustomed to suffering."

The book left me quite happily anticipating the sequel, Golden Fool. Unfortunately, as always, hardcover is out first, and so it'll be another.. nine months waiting I guess. Ah well. I have time. If nothing else, I have that.

Onto usual commentary and scattered thoughts

a) My new office cubicle is really cramped. Can't stretch out all the way. No water-dispenser (dehydration time!). No photocopier. No fax. A few plus points though, I can stack up a few empty boxes in a stair-case pattern to form shelves, and I've a new chair with significantly better posture control and a little more sproing to its spring.

b) Just thought of another Die Another Day nitpick. If the bad guy was laundering African conflict diamonds while pretending they came from a mine in Iceland, how is it that Bond was able to ascertain it almost straightaway, while armies of geologists, purchasers, and the like haven't noticed a single thing for over a year? I mean, even I know that diamonds have significant chemical and structural characteristics depeending on their point of origin which are quite easily detectable with the right equipment...

c) I thought that site you sent me was just another erotica story (which surprised me, because you never struck me as the sort to licientously scroll through porno literature), but suddenly the words Angel Grove, Kimberly and the like kicked in, and it was like a horror unfolding. Chthulu! Chthulu!

d) Have fun in London

e) There's a serious gambling mentality at work. One of our colleagues, who's a senior exec, claims that he had euchred for himself into a proper periphery office with our uber-boss. However, as uber-boss is in New Zealand until Christmas, no one else has had any verbal confirmation. So he'd happily settled himself into his new workspace, and now the entire department is taking bets as to whether he stays... Little entertainments.

f) On Islam -

I'm not going to waste my time and yours trawling through every single sreligious criptural text on the planet looking for absurdities. In particular, I found immensely laughable your assertion, considering that you haven't even *read* the Bible cover to cover, that Christian scripture contains less contradiction and is more inherently functional than Islam. Let alone the Vedas, the Tripitaka, the Torah, the Talmud, the Bhagavad-Gita....

But above all, the point is this - there is nothing in Islam that makes it any more or less absurd than any other idiot religion. Every religion has its share of kooks and schismatics who insist on following some scriptural metaphor to a literal extreme - witness the whole creation-evolution debate that is still raging in American schools within the Bible belt. Also note that primarily Christian-motivated inhibition against abortion and euthanasia and stem cell research is what inhibits our evolution as a rational, scientific culture.

My point is, as I have repated to you before, not that Islam is not absurd, but that Christianity is no less absurd. Or Judaism.

To take from the donkey's hind-end: "Fanatic Christian arguments against stem cell research or some Jainist teachings advocating against hurting plants is much MUCH rarer than the teachings of deluded Islamic radicals. The scary thing is, many Muslims follow the teachings of Mr Abu Bakar Bashir and his ilk. Not many Christians believe in faith healing."

Fanatic Christian arguments against stem cell research are NOT rare. They are the ethical anachronism that is holding back any rational, bio-ethical debate about cloning or such research in America and Europe. Dare you deny that all the ethical discomfort felt by the Westerners towards this topic is largely due to an ethical world-view which has its roots in Christian orthodoxy?

I don't know how you justify "much MUCH rarer", when you consider that fanatic preaching of other religions are LEGION in many parts of the world. What about crazy Judaist preachers and rabbis in Israel? (In pure numerical terms, there are less fanatic rabbis. But as a relative percentage of the adherents?). Or nutty preachers on televanglistic shows in America with their own cable networks? People like Pat Robertson and Jerry Graham who even the US President have acknowledged as ideological supporters?

I *will* agree that mainstream Islam as we commonly recognise it, (using a hermaneutic definition of main-stream; ie. the generally practiced form of moderate Sunni), as comapred to mainstream Christianity, (moderates of all denominations; let's not get too sectarian) tends towards a more backward, fundamentalist slant. But, as I have argued before and repeated, that is no more than an accident of history and a result of economic and social and political pressures. I've already explained my theory about each being easily substitutable for one another; if history went a different way.

But even if you don't want to take "virtual history", remember that at a point in time, in the 12th century, *Islam* was the enlightened, forward-thinking religion which encouraged experimentation into the sciences and fostered a libertine society, as compared to the West of the Crusaders where technology was focused either on developing better siege engines while the Inquisition scoured Europe for heresy. The reason why this position reversed was, again, due to factors in which religious evolution and attitudes were, to my mind, more a result of other historical events than a moving cause. Of course, it's impossible to narrow down just what caused what with scientific precision. But, in my opinion, there is nothing *inherent* about Islam as a religion that can't be reinterpreted and liberalised and even slackly ignored, as mainstream Christianity is today. A Christian of the 10th century would be hideously offended by the behaviour of his descendants a millennium hence.

Put it this way, Christianity was the religion of a society in the ascendant, for, again, technological and economic factors, and Islam remained the religion of the backward largely because that acscendant Christian society built its prosperity and success on the colonial back of that Islamic bloc. It could have gone the other way around, as I said. In fact, I could even say that it was morally easier to suppress people of a different faith; they're just infidels, aren't they?

You say "some aspects of Islam resulted in its current state." A lot of aspects of Christianity result in our current moral dilemmas and inhibitions as well. The only reason Christianity is able to evolve further, morally speaking, is because of the technological and economic gap its culture bridged and bootstrapped on the backs of the culture and economies of Islam's adherents (And others, of course).

There *are* fanatic fringes who follow the Old Testament to the letter. There are a lot of Muslims who do take Islamic law with a slightly more pinch of salt, even if *generally* speaking most Muslims tend to stict to a more fundamentalist interpretation compared to Christianity. Again, the latter is explained by backwardness, the absence of education, a feeling of being economically and culturally oppressed - of course if that's the case you take as hardline a religious stance as possible. Look at the ultra-Orthodox Greater Israel fanatics. Look at the Mormons in the early 19th century fleeing persecution to Utah. That's why people prefer the more "ascetic and puritan" interpretation;' they haven't got the luxury of venality and MTV to distract them otherwise:)

Note - I've always nurtured a grudging respect for fundamentalists, despite my abhorrence of the lifestyle they would inflict on me. This is because, to my mind, they have the courage to stick to their convictions, comapred to the moral backsliding and namby-pamby compromises most modern so-called 'religious' make. All the great religions (except Buddhism, and I say that with only partial qualification) are fundamentally strict, doctrinaire, brutally rigid theocracies. But in my opinion; you either believe all the way, and stand by your convictions... or at least have the courage to say, "Fuck it, this religion is total bullshit." I lose all respect for those who simply waffle because they want it both ways; creature comforts and modern hedonism while still hiding behind the pathetic security blanket of a warped and sullied religious framework, and justifying it with catch-phrases like "It's a living religion" and "Times change". People always want their cake and eat it. Face facts. Religions prohibit sodomy; they oppress women, they impose restrictions on food, economic activity, lifestyle, and general happiness. It's only that mainstream Christians make a lot more excuses because of their growing prosperity and technological opportunity relative to the rest of the world, and hence they appear more 'liberal'.

And as per your point on fasting. Catholics are (theoretically) supposed to fast on Lent, and not eat meat on Fridays (except fish). Fasting and denial's an essnetial part of almost every religious framework; Buddhist priests and others regularly go into fasting periods during holy days as a sign of denial and contemplation of the ephemeral.

In the final, final analysis, I've made all the crude racist and Mat jokes; I've laughed at the pork-eating japes, and I'm just as bigotted and prejudiced as you are. The only difference is not that I hold Islam in some higher respect than you; it's that I don't think any of the monotheistic religions is inherently better on purely theological/doctrinaire grounds.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Sometimes I get the feeling that my life is stuck in a rut. Inertia is not going to carry me along as it used to, so maybe it's time to climb out of it. Easier said than done.

I was moaning in Kairen's cubicle just now after an, ah, interview, but I seem to have recovered my equanimity now. Talking with my favourite Pioneer, whether in person or or through a medium, is always an interesting and enriching experience :)

Some people think I am anti-Islam. It is very easy to accuse me of being such, but I think an unprejudiced study of my posts will show that I am merely being open minded and holding rational discussions and disserting calmly. Real Muslim haters would be coming up with the rubbish that people use against Jews - improbably Zionist conspiracy theories, racial/religious inferiority and the like. That won't stop the Men In Black if they choose to come, but that is my defence.

I think censorship and muffling of people is very wrong. What can there possibly be that, when uttered, causes such grievous harm to someone that the utterer has to be muffled? If you don't like what you hear, just walk away or ignore the person. You certainly wouldn't want to be silenced for no good reason. The material that people desired censored may be offensive to some or many, but offence is in the mind of the beholder. Material that offends racial, religious or other groups may be banned wholesale because it is xenophobic or breeds hatred, but if it can be shown to be wrong, ludicrous and totally not based on fact, its case will collapse of its own accord. By banning something, you just show that you are afraid of it, and have no way to show that it is wrong. Perhaps that is because it, dare I say, has a grain of truth in it?

Freedom of speech is supposed to be had here, but of course there�s the clause about public health, order and morality. This qualifier can do wonders, for public interest is very broadly defined. It is noteworthy too that in the Soviet Union, freedom of speech was available � subject to the same restrictions.

I can see many advantages to He Who Shall Be Named's insistence on privacy (though some of them stem from patent paranoia and a desire to be Mr Mysterious), but I don't think I, with my latent (or otherwise) exhibitionist and attention-seeking tendencies will be able to pull it off.

Chinx pointed out to me that, "Has it ever occured to you that your weblog gets you into trouble whereever you go?". I have meditated upon that issue somewhat. I *could* remove all potentially controversial, offensive or aggravatory material from here, but then all that would be left would be fluff and angst. Bah. Hell, even 8 year old girl was disliked by some people despite (or maybe because of) the fact that she was too nice.


I'm very glad I didn't go to Chinese High

[On YC's Gah + Crap Place's banner] I'm very proud of my picture

[On my manning the safety signal set] Then next time not enough medics, get the signaller to do (if there are not, be one)

It's an RGS apology... qualified apology. They expect something in return.

I don't like RJ guys. I only like RJ girls... RJ girls rock.

HCJC - a lot of dark corners. I saw before... [Someone: Making out? Or...] Passionate kissing. [Me: Ah. *disparagingly]

Hua Chong [JC] is only happening when a lot of RGS girls go there

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Do I really diss people a lot? I think sometimes without meaning to, I do ; the disadvantages of being critical.

I remember reading, once about Mother Theresa making a speech. By the end of it, she had insulted everyone in the room, whether because of their positions on abortion, contraception or other issues, but she didn't care. Of course, I'm not Mother Theresa.

Drifting is rather sad. Inevitable I guess, but still regrettable. Perhaps it's the temperaments, or the attitudes to life, or just personality. Oh well, the only constant is change. And of the three, two are still left. [Ed: Ain't making cryptic statements wonderful? The joy of keeping private journals is that I can talk rubbish on the public ones and still know what I was talking about.]
Bah I'm getting pissed off.

Me: aiyah. someone was about to hear my disserations on islam, but went to watch tv

He Who Must Not Be Named: well, do you want to discuss the topic with me? considering that i'm a far greater authority on islam than you are.
*helpfully* i'd love to picj (sic) apart your misbegotten, bigoted views.

While doing some research to supplement the skeletal points I have, I realise that all the sites on Islam say different things.

There seem to be many contradictions in the Koran, but when contradictions arise, people prefer to follow the more ascetic and puritan interpretation.

Maybe it's the same as flagellation - they worse they feel (physically), the better they feel (spiritually).

But even assuming that I follow the most liberal interpretations available, I still have some points which remain unrebutted :)

Anyhow my eyes ache from even a casual perusal of two mega-sites - one liberal Muslim site and one veiled as a "A Christian-Muslim Dialog and Apologetic" that seems to be trying to get Muslims to be apostates and become Christians. The latter seems rather biased (and this is coming from me), and towards the end, many articles become rambly and irrelevant.

This is priceless:

The extent to which Islam (Submission) has been corrupted is illustrated in the following table:

Islamic Practice Today:
Ridiculing Islam by accepting statements by the scholars that the earth is built on top of a giant whale!! (79:30; Ibn Kathir, 1200 AD & Ben Baz, 1975 AD)

Violated Quranic Principles:
Not in the Quran

Islamic Practice Today:
inventing an indefensible story about his ascension to the heavens on a horse, at the speed of light, and talking God out of 50 Salat prayers. At the speed of light, he would still be traveling within the Milky Way Galaxy.

Violated Quranic Principles:
17:1; 53:1-18.

Islamic Practice Today:
Insulting Muhammad by depicting him as a vicious man: they claim he gouged out people's eyes claiming he possessed sexual power of 30 men.

Violated Quranic Principles:
3:159; 68:4. 18:110; 25:20.

And this is interesting:

The "meat" of the pig is prohibited, not the "fat." Anything that is not specifically prohibited in the Quran must be considered lawful. See 6:145-146.

So pork is haram but lard is okay :)

"He only prohibits for you the eating of animals that die of themselves (without human interference), blood, the
meat of pigs, and animals dedicated to other than GOD. If
one is forced (to eat these), without being malicious or
deliberate, he incurs no sin. GOD is Forgiver, Most
" [2:173]

"Halal Meat" as we know it these days, is a term used more often for commercial profits than religious observance. Those who call their meat Halal, are in some way insinuating that any other meat is not Halal, or specifically the meat in the general grocery stores is not Halal. They make more money on their products by selling it more expensive while deceiving the naive public Moslems into believing that their meat is the only Halal meat for the Muslims.

"You shall eat from that upon which God's name has been pronounced, if you truly believe in His revelation." 6:118

God in these verses puts the responsibility, as usual, on the individual. It is you , I and everyone's responsibility to mention God's name on everything we eat. Notice here that God says "EAT" and not "SLAUGHTER" when it comes to mentioning His name. God knows that one day these slaughter houses will be run by machines and computers. He assigned the responsibility to every true Muslim to mention His name on his /her food. We can have machines say Azan and read Basmallah and mention God's name on everything, but this would not take away the responsibility of every individual to remember God and mention His name when it is time to eat. Individuals who work in the slaughter house can be idol-worshipers or aetheist while claiming to be Muslims, Jews or Christians . That is why it is your responsibility to mention God's name before eating. In brief, the slaughter house does not make the meat halal or haram but YOU do.

Well. Just look at Tuck Lee Ice Work's "Halal" Ice.

So Muslims are supposed to say "grace" over their food instead of praying before slaughtering the animals that you and I (eventually) will eat.

Truth is indeed a multi-faceted being.
Yeh. About 1 and a half weeks before I go to London.

Can't really decide on what to do. I've romped through the city proper before last year, so maybe this year I'll visit other places like Canterbury, Stonehenge, Hastings, the white cliffs of Dover and the like.


Too bad there's no public transport on Christmas or New Year's - the days I'm arriving and departing. And I'll be damned if I pay 45 pounds for the taxi.
Someone on Family Wedding 1

*suddenly the horror descends*
it's not just erotica.. but POWER RANGERS EROTICA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

*runs to claw bleeding eyes out*

And he wondered how I found it or why I sent it to him in the first place.
Thoth: Writing will make people wiser and improve their memories.

Thamus: O most ingenious Thoth, the inventor is not always the best judge of his creation's worth. And in this instance what you say isn't true. Your invention will cause forgetfulness in learners because they will no longer cultivate their memories; they will rely on writing rather than remember themselves. Your discovery fosters reminiscence, not memory. Your disciples will hear many things and learn nothing; they will seem omniscient, but know nothing; with a mere semblance of wisdom they will make tiresome company. And answers will be the same always, without any concern for circumstance or audience.

--- Plato's Phaedrus

So Thoth, Ibis-headed God of writing, was rebuked.

Interestingly, I did not scribble this evening when, after too long, I saw Andrew, Huijun and Huimei again. Perhaps I'm trying to cultivate my memory once more :)

Holland Village is full of barricades now. Horrible.

Andrew, in his shirt with many buttons unbuttoned, waltzed right past me at the beginning.

So much has changed, yet the more things change, the more things stay the same. That is exactly the kind of statement that sounds profound but can be uttered vacuously, with little thought :) But it's true anyhow.

Since I was the only NS guy there, (thankfully) very little servitude-related stuff was discussed.

At the end, we took a slow walk to Andrew's house. So slow, in fact that by the time we got there, it was almost time to go.
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