Thursday, 25 June 2009


Billie Jean remains my favourite Michael Jackson track of all and it never fails to get my feet tapping wherever and whenever I come across it.

I remember the live 1983 Motown performance of Billie Jean and I have watched this slice of magic so many, many times on video tape it’s embedded in my memory. It was a seminal performance on so many levels that I would rate it the best live performance of the entire ‘80s. In fact this virtuoso number blew away a certain someone who knew a little about dancing - the legendary Fred Astaire.

This was MJ at his peak. You simply have not lived if you have not seen this bit of pop history.


Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Israel is a state formed and maintained by war

A wounded Palestinian policeman gestures while lying on the ground outside Hamas police headquarters following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

It's been almost a year since I last made an entry to this much has happened. It is precisely my absence an indication of how much has been happening in real life that the blog had subsumed to matters more important (and fun...) yet I ironically had so much more to say and share during my period of absence than in any other time.

Yet it is my anger at the recent Israeli assault on Gaza that has prompted me to write a few words. In fact I can write and write and write on the topic but I came across an article by an Iraqi Jew and British historian Avi Shlaim in the Guardian today that summarises my thoughts succinctly.

I urge everyone to read it

One of my favourite wartime reportage books is by an Israeli journalist Amira Hass who chose to live amongst the Palestinians in Gaza and report eloquently on a society the average Israeli (or the rest of the world) have no clue whatsoever about. This is a first hand account from an Israeli who has voluntarily been there, lived there and the only one to do so where others have merely tried.

It's incomprehensible that Israel, a nuclear power and the world's 4th largest arms supplier, is complaining bitterly of being a victim and seeking peace when it acts as an aggressor by subjugating and bullying an entire community of people for decades and right now slaughtering civilians without care. Once again I will be protesting this weekend against the Israeli assault on Gaza.

Friday, 22 February 2008

All Cartoons Are Created Equal, But Some Cartoons Are More Equal Than Others

The Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) cartoon controversy raised interesting valid points of discussion and the range of opinions expressed was often very revealing regarding what innervated individuals and groups.

I thought the re-publication of one of the more insulting cartoons recently was a bad call by the Danish press. Along with the fact it did not help to promote civil harmony, it came across as petulant, churlish, immature and pathetic as it’s a clear symptom of an unfocused and unhealthy way of expressing chronic underlying problems.

Those who were motivated to riot, destroy property and incite death *and* those who were motivated to defend the “Right of Freedom of Speech” have been both emotionally manipulated unthinkingly by trouble-makers.

And here are my reasons:


The cartoons were first published on 30th September 2005, in a country dominated by right-wing parties in parliament, by the right wing paper Jyllands-Posten claiming it was an attempt to highlight issues of self-censorship and difficulties in criticisms of Islam – issues that were certainly worthy of discussion. Public fury by Muslims did not occur, in fact some Danish Muslims supported the paper and some Danes criticised the paper.

An open polite letter to the Danish Prime Minister by Muslim leaders from at least 11 countries to refrain from abusing the rights of democracy and freedom of expression in a growing political climate of a smearing campaign against Islam was sent as well as a call for a meeting – which was rejected. Subsequent Danish court hearings ruled in favour of Jyllands-Posten.

So the cartoons were re-published in February 2006. And in numerous other European papers – which was exactly the textbook way of playing right into the hands of radicals.

By that stage the flames of discontent had been spread deliberately and unwittingly by individuals to the wider Muslim world of even more highly offensive images and cartoons that were not originally published in Denmark. Thus misunderstandings on both sides allowed the proverbial manure to collide with the air-conditioning. Various local political climates resulted in some highly publicised rioting, embassy destruction and death of individuals by a minority of agitators with political agendas riding opportunistically on the coat tails of the controversy. For example, chants of ‘Death to America’ in the Pakistani riots were common – uhm, what exactly did America have anything to do with the cartoons?

There are actually depictions of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) in Islamic art (those not showing his face and those showing his face). God is certainly not allowed to be depicted in Islamic art and that attitude usually extends to the Prophet to prevent the growth of idolatry. The Prophet is held in high respect but not worshipped. Despite the calls of respect from Muslims, the initial repeated printings of the cartoons in 2006 did two things that offended Muslims – first, depicting him in the first place was a minor but significant point but secondly and more importantly, mocking him as a terrorist, truly showed the attitude of some of the Western media to a person whom the Muslims hold in high esteem (and one who had been voted as the most influential person in history)

The Prophet himself was insulted and slandered during his lifetime but he never called for death or rioting on that charge alone. So how can the wanton destruction of property and inciting of death remotely be Islamic behaviour for a Muslim? Muslims should certainly voice their displeasure by other more civilised means and in fact they had but this tended to get ignored by the mainstream press.

There were thousands who protested peacefully in London, Toronto and Montreal, Paris, Strasbourg, Berlin, Oslo, Brussels and other European cities; in Bosnia and in Indonesia, Rabat, Morroco, tens of thousands in Istanbul, Turkey and half a million in Beirut, Lebanon.

An Austrian court had found the right-wing British historian David Irving guilty of denying the Holocaust and sentenced him to three years in prison in February 2006. Irving insisted he never dismissed the Holocaust and that it was only ever a small part of his research.

Censorship exists

The claim by Jyllands-Posten to defend the freedom of speech was patently false as it refused to print a cartoon of the resurrection of Jesus in 2003. The paper feared that publication of the cartoon would provoke anger among Christians.

And in 1984 it campaigned against the artist Jens Jørgen Thorsen, who was commissioned by a local art club to paint the wall of a railway station. The work showed a naked Jesus with an erect penis. But the same paper certainly showed no such sensitivity towards Muslims.

Insult to religion, although not explicitly mentioned in European secular laws, is considered an “ethical crime” in many European countries. These legal arrangements, primarily designed around Christianity, do not see people breaking such rules, and as such are not implemented most of the time. Many European countries ban acts which seriously insult religion and instigate religious hatred – so long as it is Christianity and Judaism, it’s a-okay.

In Denmark where the cartoons were originally published, there are articles in the Danish criminal code for punishing “whoever explicitly insults or humiliates any religions officially recognized” in the country.

This is the law § 140. Den, der offentligt driver spot med eller forhåner noget her i landet lovligt bestående religionssamfunds troslærdomme eller gudsdyrkelse, straffes med bøde eller fængsel indtil 4 måneder...

Translated: "He who in public redicule any, in this country, legal recognised religions, are punished with fine or prison up to 4 months."

Where is the much vaunted freedom of expression again?

And Holocaust denial laws do exist in Europe.

Where is the much vaunted freedom of expression again?

Trouble-makers giving themselves free licence to insult whilst cowering cowardly behind a claimed Right, a Right enshrined by the lives of many past brave souls, not only dishonour themselves and reflect badly on others by inciting animosity, but unwittingly risk curtailing or even losing the very Rights they claim to insincerely fight for when they abuse it.

I support the right of freedom of speech and expression but I also believe in exercising rights with responsibilities. Yes, people had the RIGHT to publish such cartoons but it was IRRESPONSIBLE to do so, especially knowing it would be deemed supremely insulting to the beliefs of the followers of an entire religion, regardless if the original intention was to insult or not. People seem to forget that where a Right “exists” it can also mean having the freedom to tactfully not exercise the Right where appropriate.

The point had been proven in the past so I see nothing to be gained by re-publication of an insulting cartoon – it just comes across as childish and promotes an unhelpful “Us vs Them” attitude. After all there are more elegant and less inflammatory ways to address valid issues.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Sharia shenanigans

It is hardly an understatement to say Islamic jurisprudence is a huge specialty area yet I am hardly surprised at the knee jerk hysteria of some obtuse people when the word “Sharia” is mentioned. It is a word loaded with negative baggage thanks to sensationalist, ill-informed, irresponsible and ignorant reporting in the media and by the behaviour of certain Muslims themselves.

Besides stating the obvious difference with regards to criminal and civil law, whatever the opinions of individuals regarding the merits of legal pluralism, it has existed and does currently exist under English law. To rail with indignation at what the Archbishop of Canterbury said is unwittingly disregarding and fighting against what English law itself allows.

This is because under English law people may devise their own way to settle a civil dispute before an agreed third party – provided the outcome is reasonable and both parties voluntarily agree to the process. Especially if its quicker, cheaper, fairer and more effective.

Britain had done it before – for example when it ruled India. There was a separate legal code for Muslims, organised and regulated by British experts of law.

Jews in Britain have their own religious civil courts – the Beth Din - and have done so for centuries. Yet where are the cries of fears of stoning to death that will overturn the English way of life?…after all, did anyone not bother to read about Mosaic Law at Sunday school? Does not English law itself have a strong foundation on Biblical teachings? I find it a shame that the majority of British people have voluntarily abandoned their Anglican faith and teachings and have thus lost an essential part of their culture. In fact Catholics, due largely to immigration, now outnumber Anglicans in the UK.

Religious beliefs influencing English law also exist in other areas – for example, medical professionals can legally opt out of performing abortions.

Misinformed people fail to appreciate that such religious civil courts do not replace the state’s civil courts. In addition, state laws must also be complied, such as in a divorce, where both parties must fulfil the religious and civil divorce for it to be legally binding.

If one does not like English law then they should go out and protest at the politicians to amend the laws, rather than rail against what the Archbishop of Canterbury said, who is actually applying English law to be practised which English people seem to quickly and blindly lionise about without any knowledge about what it says or how it came about in the first place. It is clear that it is not a love of England but more a hatred of others that propel much of the knee-jerk completely off topic reactions.

I also want to clear up the term “fatwa” whilst I’m at it since it confuses a lot of people as I still notice erroneous terms like “formal legal ruling…”

A fatwa is not legally binding - it is an opinion at best on matters of Islamic law. The degree to which any Muslim wants to follow any particular fatwa depends on many factors, such as who issued it, the degree of authority ascribed to the author or body of legal scholars, the culture, nationality and faith of the individual. It is only binding on the author.

Just like if any priest stated an opinion regarding any topic, it is not automatically legally binding on all Christians on the planet. Or if the President of the USA stated an opinion, it is not automatically legally binding on all Americans on the planet. Yet it never ceases to amaze me to find how supposedly intelligent people fail at elementary logic and basic common sense where Islam is concerned, …especially seeing non-Muslims and Muslims insist that often contradictory, non-contextual and extreme fatawa issued by uneducated individuals with the most tenuous grip on reality as authentic, binding and the only representative interpretation (!). In fact it is plain to all but them that such an embarrassing insistence is more a reflection of their own prejudices, hatred and ignorance.

With regards to Islam, I have no doubt that extremists exists (like extremists in any belief system – secular or religious) who would want to overturn the status quo to their version of how things ought to be run.

Yet in Islam, if a Muslim lives in a non-Islamic state, it is the Muslim’s duty to obey the laws of the land. And under Shaira, as has been done in the past, non-Muslims in an Islamic state can choose a different legal system to address their civil concerns too. If English law forbids the option of the use of Sharia legal system concerning civil matters, whilst allowing a Jewish one to operate, and that the Sharia legal system itself allows for other legal systems to operate, what kind of message does that send?

That the Sharia legal system is in fact more tolerant and liberal than English law?

Workable Sharia legal pluralism exists in other countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, India and Egypt where there is a separation of criminal and civil law. And like English law, there is no monolithic codified unalterable law with regards to many civil matters – the subtleties of law with new circumstances can change based on agreed precepts.

Legal pluralism also exists in other “western” countries, such as First Nation laws in Canada, which has worked well (there are different types of First Nations, just as there are different types of Muslims all over the world under the rubric of “Islam”) Yet where are the arrogant cries that “European Law” (try to spot the misnomer) would be overturned or that First Nation peoples do not know what the principles of honour, sharing, tolerance, civility and generosity are and that their individualism should be denied? Or that “Europeans” should submit to the laws of the host country? How much have Europeans truly integrated?…or is it, *shock* *horror*…it is they who have unilaterally insisted on their way of life as the best and only way to be imposed on others all over the world?

All criminal matters are reserved for the UK's state courts, and there is no appetite for change in the majority of people of the UK and it rightly should stay that way.

After all, disciples of liberal democracy zealously insist that this is the way people should unquestioningly and unilaterally submit to as the way things should be run in this world.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

I Used To Write With A Pen

…Skulptur…you know I love the embarrassed Bavarian way you pronounce it…

Bloody Hell! The days have whizzed by so fast yet so slow…I have pretty much been working almost everyday for the past month and have so much to say and write yet never seemingly having the time to sit down and uncork my brain. I owe e-mails to so many people everyone must think I don’t give a shit!!!!

I’m pretty sure I will have to move as soon as I have the time to look for a new place in Edinburgh and leave my rather spacious pad I’ve grown fond of. After scouting out my new work place this weekend I bumped into Victoria and her bf at the ice cream (my current and recurrent vice) stand at the local cinemaplex…I was there to see Cloverfield and I must admit it was better than I expected (I do not subscribe to internet hype…let alone hype…for it will always lessen the enjoyment so I went in rather blind). It’s a cross between Godzilla and the Blair Witch Project except it works a thousand times to the power of π better than either of those two utter pants films. If you ignore the giddy camerawork and punctuated mushy contrived moments, the story was succinct, the tension palpable and the H.P. Lovecraftian nightmarish vision and the M.R. Jamesiysh utter lack of a resolution or explanation was what made it delicious for me.

I am also very happy to have re-connected with my long lost German pal Petia. I loathe chain letters but back in the day when I was 14 I got one of these odious snail mail spam. I decided for once (and only time) in my life to forward it (picking on 5 hapless unknown girls from the local Sunday paper…muahahahahaha) and to add my name on the list and send a postcard to the name on the bottom of the list after scoring it out. In theory one should get numerous postcards from all over the world after several weeks…and I DID!!! Postcards from USA, Germany, Indonesia etc came pouring in through my mail-box. And the bizarre thing was they were all girls!?!?!! I wrote back to several who unwittingly gave me their addresses AND told me to write to them…but out of all of them, it was 16 year old artist Petia from Germany with whom I managed to cerebrally connect with the best. All our exchanges were witty (heh), informative (I learnt about the German X’ams tree tradition from her), artistic (we both drew and painted) and above all, amazingly good fun.

After some years we finally got around to actually exchanging photos and I must admit I was pleasantly blown away by her blonde winsomeness and her in turn of my unusual Eurasian background. We’ve since met several times (Germany and UK) and got along great with fantastic memories (and some I have totally forgotten…the Frankfurt Wine festivals was a definite blur as she carried me back to her car but I do remember the inebriated buzz of the München Hofbräuhaus…the meals we made together for a party at her place…the stunning medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber at sunset…and the late night showing of the Wizard of Oz at St Andrews, Scotland - I couldn’t believe she had never seen the 1939 classic and dragged her to a showing and she fell in love with it!!!)

I still have the “Radio Obernburg” mixed cassette tape with all our songs and in-jokes she made for me to this day. We lost touch (my fault really as I got caught up in hectic professional postgraduate exams and kept moving around) We have both wondered how each of us have been since but thanks to the internet (uhmm…all it took was the rather mundane act of googling her name and violà!).

On top of haunting tunes from REM’s “Automatic For The People” (my prime candidate for it being in the Top Ten albums of all time), I do remember us dancing energetically to this awesome track by the Spin Doctors…

The summer of 1993 was a significant turning point in my life from a worldly, academic and spiritual POV. But Our Song has undoubtedly got to be this one by the 4 Non Blondes…for some strange undefined reason it spoke to both of us at our stage in our lives I guess…and where unbeknownst to each other initially we adored this song to death…and then both cheered it together as we witnessed it became a Number 1 hit in Germany.

To my peculiar Petia…:)

Sunday, 20 January 2008

SAS At This Moment


After the stress of applying for jobs this August pivoted over the past two weeks, just getting the green light from my supervisor chillaxing in her home turf of Melbourne and then a well deserved break in Dundee over tea, muffins and cakes with Reem, I’ve been hanging out with the SAS in my spare time to gain a deeper appreciation of the vital community work done by these extra-ordinary people day in and day out that many just take for granted. I interact with them constantly but truth be told I still know little of the travails that face them in the front line of pre-hospital medical care so I figured…why not? I had previously hung out with SMUR and SAMU in Lille in the 90s and enjoyed the experience even though they were French (heh).

In the space of a shift, we had covered the run of the mill overdoses, domestic disputes, assaults and stab injuries, unconsciousness, fits, difficulty in breathing, falls with fractures, transfers, bleeding, rushed food and toilet breaks, police, drunk teenagers…it makes you wonder how some people live, if you can call it that.

The down to earth chaps were great to hang out with, the bum numbing bumpy rides in the dark and screaming flashing blue lights may get the pulse racing, but the most extracted from this experience was seeing patients in their own microcosms of existences that put their concerns and illnesses in perspective, the difficulties of caring and extracting confused, scared and sometimes violent people and seeing how we are all interconnected as team members to keep the veneer of civilisation from breaking down.

One notable patient I came across had Parkinson’s disease whose condition contributed to her fall resulting in a closed spiral peri-prosthetic fracture of the femur. It reminded me of the high profile publicity the condition got from the amazing Michael J Fox and this led me through a trip down memory lane when I was randomly surfing the Net…I couldn’t believe I found a particularly memorable episode of Family Ties ("hip parents, square kids"), one of the quintessential 80s sitcoms I grew up with, after something like 20 years. I remember having a crush on Justine Bateman and thinking Michael J Fox was oh-so-cool. Shit, can you imagine TV these days having such a cheese mush fest of an opening song? Isn’t it bloody brilliant?!?

I still recall this particular mushy yet poignant episode of “The Real Thing” as if it was literally yesterday and how massive the song “At This Moment” (by Billy Vera & The Beaters) was back in 1987…a song that I had slowed dance to *sigh*. Wow…I haven’t heard this song until like, uhm...just now…and all the synesthesia and emotional feelings it brought back was….*puppy dog noises*. It was one of the more memorable episodes in which the conservative Republican money-minded Alex .P Keaton met the sensitive insightful artist Ellen Reed, both actors (Fox and Pollan) later marrying in real life and are still together after all these years…which I guess is something akin to forever in Hollywood.

Still, the best two-part episode of Family Ties was and still is the Emmy winning “My name is Alex”…but I can’t seem to locate the whole damn thing yet. Surely the series must be on DVD by now??

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Fluttering Kites and Shuddering Creeps

What a surprising joy to have seen this heart tugging film simply because it was better than I had expected despite the controversies, cultural inaccuracies, and cuts and alterations from the book, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The entertainment value came principally from the commendable acting and chemistry from a pair of unknowns (especially the superb Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada playing the guileless and loyal young Hassan), beautiful score, panoramic scenery and a well-told story at a measured pace that pitched the mush factor at just the right level of lachrymosity.

It still has all the concentrated contrivances, convenient coincidences and correct clean lines that plague a neatly constructed novel but what the hell…I can see the film’s positive magic touching a lot of people and winning shit-loads of awards (I might cynically add, precisely the kind of stuff the Western world laps up in ladles and loves assembled, pre-packaged and gift wrapped with a neat bow tie about a culture and world still largely unknown to outsiders...and I may add even more cynically, the political climate is ripe for this).

I am also ploughing through my Heroes episodes and enjoying every bit of it even though word has it that the second season is not as good as the first. I can only shudder knowingly when I see Isaac Mendez painting the future when he has precognitive visions beyond his control.

Apparently precognitive dreams are fairly common and I honestly don’t know what to make of them as I have them from time to time (it’s always very vivid as opposed to run-of-the-mill dreams). Most of them are random shit I have no control over. Some related to me, and some seemingly never related to me. But I still remember the morning when my Dad rushed into my bedroom and told me the space shuttle Challenger had exploded – months after I had painted a picture of a space shuttle explosion (the painting was published in my school year book). Or the time my sister phoned me to tell me the Concorde had crashed…weeks after I told her of my hyper-realistic dream of seeing a Concorde (a plane until then that had never crashed) ploughing into a field right after take off near to a motorway and a row of houses. And then I see this in the news:

Most are probably coincidences and selective bias but these two still creeps me out to this day.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Happy Winterval

The German origin of the modern Christmas tree. The Germans had quite a religious feeling for their Weihnachtsbaum, which in turn stemmed from the pagan ancestral worship of the trees of the wood.

"Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

For the customs of the people [are] vain: for [one] cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

They [are] upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also [is it] in them to do good."

^Yet another reminder against idolatry in Jeremiah 10:2-5 in the King James Version of the Bible. It was also the third Commandment if I remember correctly. But I believe it shouldn’t matter if you are a heathen.

It was a random quirk of my rota that I had a long period off over the Christmas season this year. So we had great moments simply spending time with loved ones and that was what mattered most. I was also most impressed to see the use of the Dyson airblade hand dryer at Gatwick airport and various London train station public toilets as I have been a long-term fan of the Dyson vacuum cleaner because it actually sucks.

But back on topic.

I have spent most of my life celebrating Christmas and I have many fond memories of them too. However I have stopped ritualising this hybrid pagan-Christian holiday years ago the moment I found out about its origins. I could not stand myself being a phoney so I stopped. It was really as simple as that and it’s no big deal. In fact I am more than happy to work over Christmas usually in shift swaps with colleagues as I know how much it means to many people.

I don’t mind at all if others celebrate it and I am not remotely offended so all this PC BS to ban religious symbols is nonsensical. It is often the Jews and Muslims who ask where have all the Christmas cheer gone? After all, you might be a pagan or a Christian (although a Christian should not celebrate Christmas and I know many Christians who don’t. Don’t kid yourselves about how much fun it is for it goes against many teachings of the Bible from the Old to the New Testaments). I find in fact that it is atheists, agnostics and those who are most uncomfortable with religion (and these include nominal Christians) that worship and celebrate the customs of Christmas with the most fervent zeal. When I kindly ask what exactly are they celebrating, it never ceases to amaze me how tongue-tied they become when such a blasphemous thought is introduced.

One has to be profoundly ignorant to be unaware of the numerous pagan customs shoe-horned into the supposed celebration of the ethnically Jewish Jesus’ (PBUH) birthday (why exactly do we give each other gifts if it is his birthday? Yes, it’s another pagan custom…go find out for yourself) or the mass crass commercialisation that has increasingly crept into it year on year. Okay, even if we accept it as a secular commercial holiday, it is still a deadweight loss under orthodox (ahem) microeconomic theory due to the massive surge in gift giving. And for the greenies out there, please consider the environmental impact of the clutter of waste, the millions of trees destroyed for the production of billions of cards and the purely pagan custom of setting up of a “Christmas tree”, the amount of electricity consumed by decorations bright enough to be seen from space or the carbon footprint from transportation of goods, people and junk. What I am saying is that there are greener ways to celebrate Christmas if you must.

Also, being fiscally responsible when you worship and sacrifice your moolah at the altar of the First High Church of Retail Therapy is a must. After all, you won’t be able to afford 72 virgins when you find yourself on the other side of existence called “spiralling debt”.

But surely when this does not amazingly happen (Christmas Day alone accounted for £84 million in online sales in the UK) is it appropriate and fair to place this under “Life & Style” sub-section “Women”? How sexist of the Times! Tsk. Tsk.

Other than that Christmas was great for me this year and I hope everyone else had a Merry Christmas and will have a happy and healthy 2008.


Sunday, 16 December 2007

Izzy Boo

I spent the weekend with my 2 year-old niece who is getting to be quite the chatterbox. Amazing sentences like “I’ve got a wedgie!” or announcing proudly in a full train carriage, “I’ve done a big poo!” were run of the mill.

We took her to the Shark Capital of Scotland at Deep Sea World at North Queensferry where she was fascinated by the piranhas, frogs and “ho, ho, ho”. It must have been the fourth Santa she had seen in two days and it’s not clear what she makes of him. She would stare at him timidly for minutes and then declare unanimously, “I want to go home!” Hmmmmmmmmmm. But it was the toys and stickers at the gift shop which would fascinate her more whilst I larked about with a hand held toy shark with movable jaws that bit her bottom making her laugh.

She absolutely loves playing hide-and-seek and we spent many fine minutes hiding in all the rooms, closets, curtains and cupboards at my place. She would loosely count to twenty and declare, “Ready or not, here I come!” accompanied by a devilishly cheeky face with narrowed eyes bent on mischief. She is so utterly adorable.

She thinks she is hidden. ROFL.

And wow, it snowed for the first time as soon as they got here!

She can negotiate. Eyeing and then grabbing a bag of Haribos, she would make her demands pretty clear, “Mommy, Daddy I want sweets!” Tantrums would be Plan B. Never fails. But then she is caring and readily shares the sweets with me freely without any prompting.

She loves to dance and every time a musical interlude she recognises is heard we would hold hands, do a little twirl and shake da booty.

She is very sharp and picks things up quickly after hearing or seeing things only once. She can sing some Christmas Carols in a semi-literate shy way with a huge smile on her face. And she LOVES reading books…or at least she pretends to since the only books at my place have words and no pictures. She would grab a whole pile off the shelves from my towering bookcases and ad lib stories to me in a delightful sing-song fashion.

At the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, she would literally drag me by the hand to take me see the world that is full of delights and try the various hands on exhibits in the science section. And this is the age where everything is questioned with a plaintive “Why?”

She makes the ordinary extraordinary.

Children are essentially a blank cheque for hope. That’s what they are.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

A Jew, Muslim, Christian, Atheist And A Vampyre…

…walked into a bar. Okay, okay…actually they are characters from the last few books I read. Well, along with tempting offers to the mind-numbing paradise that is digital satellite TV, I got yet another Official Warning in the post today from the TV Licensing Board threatening me that if I do not pay my annual TV Licence I could be slapped on the wrist, incarcerated with soap-dropping spotters or horror-of-horrors…forced to watch re-runs of TV reality shows ad nauseum.


It’s been over 5 years 5 months since I’ve binned the dead metal. I refuse in principle to pay good money for being a passive consumer of commercial shit. Plus I don’t really have the time to watch shit (far more profitable to waste my time in front of the computer, of course). I’d rather see what I want, when I want (the internet and DVDs serve that purpose well enough for me). But I’ve also ended up reading more books, devouring at least one a week. Anyway…the last random few were…

Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian” (2005)

This book left me anaemic with horror. Horrified at how interminably boring it was.

First off, it’s pretty damn obvious that this is a labour of love for an author who adores history, genealogy, librarians and the legend of Dracula. I mean, that in theory should be a winning combination for me…especially when a character utters thus:

"It's my belief that the study of history should be our preparation for understanding the present, rather than escape from it." (p335)

Yup, pretty much the standard aphorism I do in fact utter but that was all the enjoyment I got I’m afraid because several things annoyed the hell out of me. The novel started off promisingly in a gothic way but vapidly descended in the most protracted way possible into a sappy love story between the standard atheistic dashing academic chap (why of course) and a beautiful atheistic intelligent jaded woman (you don’t say!) using a hybrid attempt of crosses and a touch of Islam to fight off the undead. C’MON! Maybe it's because I am a cynical bastard but there were a lot of suspiciously fortuitous happenstance and serendipity used to drive the narrative from point A to point B plus gratuitous doses of rose tinted idealism between the interactions of human characters that I found utterly unbelievable. They were also convenient walking-talking-encyclopaedias of history, furniture and what-have-you, to the point they all conversed in the same bland way…even Vlad Dracula himself, who just seemed so emasculated and wooden when we finally meet him (who incidentally is the titular “Historian”…to the in-joke of him actually having a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in his own library…*winces*). Seriously, a trimming of the fat here and there and a stake through its heart would have made a more taut novel. Bite me.

(For the record, my favourite Vampyre novel of all time, besides Bram Stoker’s "Dracula" (1897), is the much under-rated Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s "Carmilla" (1872). The 19th century Irish seriously knew how to wield the gothic pen.

For the study of Vampyre lore in literature, Christopher Frayling’s “Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula” (1992) comes highly recommended by moi.)

Sam Bourne’s “The Last Testament” (2007)

Another Da Vinci Code wannabe that actually has a good McGuffin looted from the Iraqi National Museum during the war in 2003 that may change the Middle East conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. It’s the same formulaic religious history thriller in bite sized chapters ending with useless non-suspenseful mini-cliff-hangers, a hot intelligent ballsy lapsed-Catholic babe© and a handsome macho yet sensitive Jewish man© (yes, they do bang each other) in a race against time to locate…well, read it to find out what it is.

But having found out what it is, any Tom, Dick and Ahmed can guess the uncontroversial pedestrian ending. It’s undemanding pulp fiction full of clichéd cardboard characters for people who know jack-shit about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Abrahamic religions. Which means it should sell.

Justin Cartwright’s “The Song Before It Is Sung” (2007)

This is a moving well-crafted piece of work that is elegant, morally and intellectually engaging and poetically elegiac. I would rate Cartwright amongst the best of contemporary British writers and this book was simply a delightful find. By the use of differently named characters, it’s essentially a fictionalised historical story of the relationship between Isaiah Berlin, the Jewish Oxford philosopher, and Adam von Trott, the German aristocrat who had been a Rhodes scholar in Oxford, and a token card carrying Nazi but true German patriot who plotted to assassinate Adolf Hitler at the “Wolf’s Lair” in 1944. The book’s narrator, a dreamy Conrad Senior, having been bequeathed various personal documents, becomes obsessed about finding out the past (and the location of the only surviving film of the German patriot’s eventual execution ironically filmed by a Jewish cameraman still living in present day Berlin) to the detriment of his relationship with an emotionally frigid unsympathetic lover who cheats on him.

The history is essentially iffy but ignoring that one stain, the novel’s delving into the larger questions of fate, friendship, and the contrast between talk and action as exemplified by the two main characters was masterful.

Shimon Ballas’ “Outcast” (English translation from Hebrew 2007)

This is a rare little gem from a contemporary Israeli writer originally from Iraq. Admittedly this review was what got me interested:

" . . . reveals more about modern Iraq than nearly all Americans put together know, and Ballas creates one of the most relevant, most important characters in contemporary fiction." – Booklist, Starred Review

Ouch. That was a bit harsh hyperbole heaped on the Americans (even though it might be true…heh). It’s a fictionalised historical memoir of Haroun Sassoon (based on the real figure of Ahmad Nissim Soussa), an Arab Iraqi Jew who embraced Islam in the 1930s and his personal interactions with family and friends set against the tumultuous background of Iraqi politics. Now talk about a Pandora’s box of issues.

I loved the insights the narrator made on himself, people, religion and politics. The depressing narrative sometimes rambles a bit and goes off into seemingly unpromising tangents but it does tap into issues of identity, loyalty and family dynamics as it does so…a scene where the narrator stands in front of the cross of the grave of his wife with his Jewish son and Muslim daughter pretty much sums up the poignancy of his life. This book could probably benefit with a timeline of Iraqi history for the general reader since even with my paltry knowledge I felt it was hard to follow.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Take Turns

This is the popular right brain vs left brain test

Look at the picture. If you see the dancer turning clockwise, you use more of the right side of your brain. If you see the dancer turning anti-clockwise, you use more of the left side of your brain.

Most of us would see the dancer turning anti-clockwise and if you focus you can also change direction of the dancer.


uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies


uses feeling
"big picture" oriented
imagination rules
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can "get it" (i.e. meaning)
spatial perception
knows object function
fantasy based
presents possibilities
risk taking

What do I see?

I find this is yet more proof my brain is not like 99% of the population.

At first glance, I’m thinking….heyyyyyyyy hot heavenly honey. Okay, seriously. On second glance, I see the nubile nymphet nipples turning clockwise (hmmmmmmm imaginative fantasy based right brain for me then). But I can also make the pretty pirouetting princess pivot anti-clockwise. In fact I can literally make the lithe lap-dancing lassie loop any way I want instantly. I can force the fetching fit filly flip-flop back and forth by fluctuating the graceful glamorous girl clockwise and anti-clockwise alternately at Will without the captivating contoured chick ever circumvolve a full 360 degrees.

That to me is out-right proof that one can alter their perception at Will – but only if one wants to.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Lions For Lambs

The film was more intellectually engaging than say, The Kingdom or Rendition (but that is not saying much) yet still came across as trite…but then again Redford was deft enough to realize not to delve too deeply on the issues regarding what motivates us as individuals and on the “War on Terror”, vast topics that tends to polarise (or…paralyse) people, lest it might just alienate the movie going American public whose Friday night entertainment peaks at the level of Bee Movie…or whose general knowledge seemingly regresses to primary school level as one gets older

The tryptich plot, if you can call it that, does not actually visually intersect but is made to intertwine like a braid by the audience’s mental participation of digesting and assimilating the staccato questions and conundrums thrown out like pretzels to the movie-goers (now…don’t choke on ‘em).

Charming Senator Irving (played by everyone’s favourite alien, Tom Cruise) announces exclusively a “new strategy” on the “War on Terror” to the veteran but seemingly naive reporter Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) as a favour, delivering neo-con sound-bites without offering any evidence and blithely admitting “past mistakes” but then goes on repeating more new ones.

Two model soldiers (played by Michael Peña and Derek Luke) who fought the much tougher war of gettin’ outta the ghetto and into higher education are shown to be lionised examples of American patriotism, honour and conviction by having volunteered to fight the war implemented by baa-aaa-ad lambs but end up just being cannon fodder.

Then you have the privileged slacker but very bright student (Andrew Garfield) being given a one-on-one sanctimonious dressing down by a Californian Professor of Political Science (Redford) in order to motivate him to…translate his apathy into action that…THIS WAR IS A TRAGIC WASTE OF HUMAN LIFE. Oh shit…I just gave away the entire plot and message.

It’s sneakily anti-Bush but plays out fairly balanced no matter what side of the political divide you happen to be in…if your whole idea of politics is from a Western centric POV. All we see are American faces. We (might) care for the American faces. We (maybe) cheer for the American faces. We (I sincerely doubt) cry for the American faces. The Afghans are reduced to mere mutterings in the snow and moving black dots on a screen…to be blown to bits by American military hardware like the hapless dime-a-dozen commie bastard Vietcong in Rambo First Blood Part II. I mean who cares on how the policies of the “War on Terror” impacts on others because as Senator Cruise explicitly states, it is the USA that has been attacked! And oh yeah, this film is hardly going to be a box-office draw in Kabul or Tehran.

‘Liberal’ has somehow become a dirty word in American politics and I doubt Redford’s friends see much capital gain from this lite-film (check out the Celebrity Liberal (or Celiberal) Whine Rack and List!) but to be fair, as director and actor, he has done a reasonable job of avoiding the highly tempting route of providing answers but chooses instead to simply rehash the questions that many are now openly asking and is thus a useful catalyst for stoking the fires of debate and discourse before we all return to our comfortable cloistered existence.