Monday, 30 July 2007

Art Or History Or Science

I made a quick visit to Dunfermline to see some familiar faces (glad to hear everyone is doing well), made some provisional plans for Fringe festival meet ups and to get to grips with the upcoming rota and the following week’s induction course. I am definitely moving away from Aberdeen in the next few weeks but the thought of packing is enough to exhaust me (!). Afterwards I made a beeline for Dunfermline Abbey, its vast refectory and Palace to admire the masonry and moss covered graves. It seems I can never quite let go of my inherent interest in history.

I was amazed to hear that my aunt randomly bumped into my old art teacher in a seaside resort who after retirement now runs the place in San Fernando, La Union in the Philippines. He instantly remembered me as one of his more able students and all my public displays back in my halcyon days in Hong Kong. Oh…I wonder what a different life I would have had if I pursued art instead of science…

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Homer's Odyssey A D'Ohnut!

This is really a film for young ones rather than the more discerning veteran Simpsons fan of intelligent irreverent comedy and black humour we have all come to love since its inception in 1990 (I still remember watching the early Simpsons on the Tracey Ullman show back in 1987!!!!). The movie felt like 4 regular TV episodes stitched together (which wasn’t a totally bad thing considering the consistently high calibre of the show over 18 years but it did sag somewhat in the middle and towards the fag end of the film) with a number of weak side plot lines petering out. I felt the environmental storyline alone was not sustainable for a full 87 minutes…and opportunities to expand other characters’ stories or to give the movie a bigger bang with biting satire was curiously and diffidently left out altogether. Several scenes referred to or revisited previous episodes, so long time fans will appreciate the gags better than those who have not watched the series faithfully. But even though the gag rate was good enough at times to match Airplane! with a few laugh out loud moments, the better TV episodes were more biting in its social satire. Still, the effort was commendable given the impossibly high expectations…and at least it was a relief from watching yet another computer generated penguin dancing in front of our retinas.

If you are interested, wait for the end credits to hear what Maggie utters. Better yet, wait for the DVD when all the deleted scenes (enough to fill at least another two hours) gets compiled by Matt Groening.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Fury - Salman Rushdie

Unfortunately when the name Salman Rushdie is brought up, controversy is not always far behind ever since “that” episode of The Satanic Verses (which was actually hard to digest and frankly, boring). I remembered the riots in Dhaka, Bangladesh when I landed there in 1989…and I almost bumped into the man himself in Cologne, Germany in the summer of 1993, seeing him looking over his shoulder in fear for his life. Being a highly educated and intelligent man from a Muslim household, he certainly knew there would be trouble for his shit-stirring but I guess even he did not expect such a violent paroxysm from parts of the Muslim world. Back then (and still now) I thought all the brouhaha of death threats and book burnings were OTT hate-mongering and showed the behaviour of certain Muslims in a very bad light.

The recent controversy surrounding the knighthood of Salman Rushdie is an exercise in irony deficiency in some quarters of the Muslim world. It’s immature to blame and threaten Salman Rushdie with renewed threats of death – he did not ask for the “honour”. Nor should one blame the Queen or then Prime Minister, Tony Blair – they did not choose him but they are certainly free to agree or disagree on who are suitable candidates. Suitable candidates are actually put forward by a cabinet committee and one can legitimately argue that such awards may have a political element to it. For example, what can be construed as worthy of debate is whether the quality of Rushdie’s literary works merit a knighthood when there are other talented authors out there, like Ian McEwan. So why him now? For those who find his knighthood award an insult, perhaps they should take note the awarding of a knighthood in 2005 to Iqbal Sacranie, who then served as the General Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain. He famously did not retract his statement in interviews conducted as late as 2006 that Salman Rushdie deserved to die, despite the fatwa now being officially retracted. This merely shows that the British establishment can award knighthoods regardless of candidates’ religious or personal persuasions. Nor should critics of the Muslim world fail to forget that the late Dr Zaki Badawi, a well-respected Islamic scholar, publicly offered sanctuary to Salman Rushdie. That plus the fact that most Muslims don’t really give a hoot about Rushdie’s knighthood is hardly newsworthy of course.

Nevertheless, I chose to read Fury from a casual wandering in the library simply due to its short title and slim volume. Based for the large part in the cusp of the Third Millenium New York (a city that “boiled with money”), the story arc concerned Malik Solanka, a 55 year-old academic and passionate doll maker born in Bombay, educated in King’s College, Cambridge and who, despairing the infighting that plagued the academic world and his own insecurities, decided to leave his wife and son in London for a new life in the USA where he ultimately gave birth to a huge show business franchise from a doll called “Little Brain” and getting entangled unwittingly with beautiful women who may yet turn out to be poisoned chalices. As he gets assaulted by despairing phone-calls from his wife and heart rending pleas from his four year old son Asmaan to return, he has to deal with a troublesome simpleton Polish housekeeper and a no-nonsense anti-Semitic plumber amidst an on-going sensationalist serial murders of the privileged daughters of Americana.

It’s a love story. It’s a who-dunnit story. It’s a soul-searching story. It’s also mighty tempting to make out that Malik is Salman’s alter-ego as the reader is taken on a whirlwind furious journey of the protagonist’s thoughts in the body of the narrative where I noticed women in the story were invariably projected as terrifyingly distant beautiful trophies laced with poisonous stings (the allusion to mythological Furies could not be clearer). The tone veers between melancholic tragedy and farcical comedy, between hyperrealism and deft surrealism. The multiple layers of meanings are intellectually stimulating in an accessible way and the dextrous word-play yields surprising delights to the eye and mind.

Salman Rushdie is undeniably a very gifted writer but somehow comes across as a pretentious author with his penchant to name-dropping, allusions to mythologies and pop-cultural and literary references, which he overshoots occasionally (the fact he needed to “explain” a reference to one of my favourite stories by W.W. Jacobs, is to me an overshoot). The ending in a fictional South Pacific Third World country was rather melodramatic and odd, but he makes very excellent insights into human relationships, in particular the questions most people think about but rarely openly ask, particularly concerning marriage and separation.

I think, yes, on the strength of this novella, I would definitely return for further readings of his works.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Transformers The Movie

From the outset I want to make it clear I never grew up with Transformers so it has nil nostalgia points for me.

This overlong toy and car commercial (with self-indulgent nods to Short Circuit, E.T. and Gremlins with Spielberg as producer) was simultaneously stupid and fun, with a healthy injection of hilarious one-liners, questionable stereotyping and misogyny that works well with a kiddy-niave, adolescent-numbed and man-child nostalgic crowd. Yes, I found the film utterly juvenile – the simpleton asinine plot with Grand Canyon sized plot-holes; the gratuitous display of American military hardware as a substitute for machismo penis insecurity; ridiculously hot girls in tiny skirts who happen to have IQs and sass that exceeds any male yet miraculously submits or clings onto them slavishly like dumb blondes; the deliberate pandering to the lowest geek denominator of how one of them can “heroically save the whole world AND universe AND get the hot girl” BS simplicity which I detest. …and just the whole “concept” of transforming cybernetic organisms from outta space that happen to display human foibles YET it’s us humans (uhm naturally Americans) who teaches these advanced cyber-organisms virtue and nobility (the arrogance of it all). But that is PRECISELY what gets the punters into cinemas and it’s a no-brainer that this movie will be ka-chinging throughout the summer and beyond with all the tie-in products.

On the plus side, the CGI action sequences of the robots were simply top notch (the best of which was the slow-mo crashing through a cross-section of an office skyscraper by the feuding and tangled mass of Optimus Prime and Megatron) but even that was too fast for the eye to assimilate at times. John Turturro (one of my favourite actors) was hilarious as a super serious secret government agent and the other major pleasant surprise was Shia LaBoeuf, who displayed a rare combination of great comic talent, geekyness and leading man credentials all rolled into one and successfully carrying all of it with aplomb.

And of course the eye-scorching candy that is Megan Fox (I can’t help it – I have Y-chromosomes okay?) and the only reason I went to see the film. I really didn’t give a shit about the robots back then as well as now it would seem.

Other than that, that was it. Just another requisite-loud-super-sized-popcorn-Hollywood-by-numbers summer blockbuster that we are all entitled to. I am hoping the jaundiced inhabitants of Springfield will be an improvement. Doh!

Friday, 20 July 2007

Potty Trained

Harry Potter mania once again sweeps the world tonight. As people lining up for hours, and sometimes days, get their paws on the last instalment of the series for what I consider as light literature at best, I can only guess that its chief popularity lies in its ability to conjure up childhood regression for adults and pure escapism for children by inventive use of characters and plots that a large cross section of what is essentially a dumbed down population can relate to. After all, most Muggles can connect to the wonderful themes of alienation, awkwardness, teen angst, rebellion against authority and the ideals of loyalty, friendships, “good” vs “evil”, schooldays through rose tinted glasses….and just having the excuse for otherwise sober geeks to dress up in balmy costumes without having to wait for annual Halloweens, infrequent stag dos or Hen nights or come to think of it…just your weekly Friday nights.

Here in Aberdeen at a few minutes past midnight, I was amused to witness hordes of adult and children Muggles, witches, wizards and God-knows-what armed with broomsticks, wands, robes and cool, hip, fashionable eyeglasses cheerfully queuing up in slytherinesque queues outside the two Waterstone’s stores for their copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows whilst Muggles walking or zooming by in cars yelled out charmingly “YOU SAD MUTHERFUCKERS!”

Whilst a wand throw away at WHSmith, despite enticing customers with sweets and by offering the exact same book for only £6.99, receives nary a customer proving that Potter fans are indeed potty. After all, it’s the “whole-queuing-experience” that validates your loyalty and not getting the book itself ASAP that is important.

What about me? I was just walking home. I used to work with people….and I mean full grown professional adults…who obsessed over Harry Potter. They would describe to my mono-raised eyebrow the intricacies of Quidditch as if it was a real sport, decorate their workplace every Halloween with Hogwarts paraphernalia and jellybeans as I rolled my eyes heavenwards, and looking back…one of them treated me like Harry Potter because I might perhaps have a passing resemblance to him (I do have a zig-zag scar but not on my forehead hahaha). As a parting gift I was collectively given the first HP novel to read and I brought the rest and read all four of them in four weeks. It was amusing but I still didn’t “get” the phenomenon. When the fifth book came out I REALLY struggled to complete it and it actually took me four attempts over two years before I finished it. I believe the Order of the Phoenix is the least favourite of the fans. As for the sixth book, I barely got beyond the first 20 pages of the borrowed library book before being bored out of my skull and had it returned. Maybe I’ll finish it one day for the sake of completeness, but in the meantime, I couldn’t really care less.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Perth, Scotland

In one of life’s randomness that tends to afflict me, I ended up in Perth, a former city of aboot 50 thousant fowk, with a rich and turbulent heritage intimately tied with the River Tay, a historical centre for whisky and once the gateway to the Highlands in the age of railways. It’s square shaped layout hinted to a past medieval walled city but the modern streets are clean, colourful and full of art and culture with great shopping and eating choices.

Unfortunately I got there when the whole city was shut.

Smeaton's Bridge, with St. Matthew's Church on the left, looking north from Queen's Bridge.

Incidentally, whilst families with 1.8 children and orthodontically perfect convivial couples strolled or biked around the picturesque parks and riversides, it appears bored roaming teenagers are a common affliction of many UK towns and cities. It’s all so samey with their emblematic “hoodie” look. Ugh.

St. John's Kirk is the center of the town and the oldest building in Perth, dating back to 1159.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Thank You

With NHS morale at an all time low and with recent revelations that even NHS doctors could be terrorists here’s something more light-hearted instead. Patients occasionally freely give small gifts, write appreciative notes and thank you cards for the treatment and care received from the NHS. I’ve had several of these over the years from children and adults alike. One of the most notable and creative concerned a chap who wrote a lovely humorous poem about his encounter with me for a simple plastic surgical procedure I performed on him. But creative artwork from children is even more fascinating. Here’s a gander of how kids view the NHS that I’ve come across recently at Fort William…

“The Nurses and Doctor”

This kid’s got his pecking order hierarchical priorities right with a depiction of three black torsoed figurines in a gravity-defying feat of Wushu martial arts levitation of a centrally placed mad witch-doctor flanked by two flunky super-nurses. The sense of light and shadow is well observed with the collective group shadow on the floor. Or it’s a massive pool of blood.

Note it’s only the doctor who has the requisite digits all splayed out ready to grab the screaming kid with the “trust-me-I’m-a-doctor” clinically calculated smile and what may appear to be a surgically implanted stethoscope protruding out laterally from his ear in a Piccaso-esque cubist style. Or it could be some organic alien-auroscopic probe.

“The Bones”

This precocious kid has a bright future ahead as he already displays as much anatomical knowledge as the average medical student. He or she could one day be a clinical anatomist, orthopaedic surgeon or an animator for Matt Groening. This minimalist bare bones approach illustrating accurately the axial skeleton of the skull (with parietal suture and orbital cavities!) and individual vertebrae appendaged with humerus, femur and tibia cannot be faulted. Maybe the absence of metacarpals, metatarsals and phalanges could be a legitimate criticism but hey, he’s correctly identified that anterior dislocation of the shoulder is the commonest dislocation presenting to the Accident and Emergency Department so let’s give the kid a break okay?

“The X-Ray Lady”

Okay, this is fucking scary. Maybe it’s the clown like appearance with the weird Marm hairdo, OTT eyeliner with evil eyes staring directly at the petrified bairn and the three midline pom-poms but I think it’s the immense Freddy Krueger razor blade fingers and toes that completes the horrifying nightmarish vision. The Ring and The Grudge has nothing on this. Excellent title and poster for a sci-fi horror B-movie.

“The Baby”

A self-portrait of a happy infant with a bountiful bouffant perhaps? The artist may be hinting at something more sinister since the left foot is entirely missing in this pre-operative snapshot of a re-implantation procedure. It’s as if the artist is cleverly inviting the viewer to play a game in a medical version of ‘guess-which-ice-box-contains-my-amputated-foot’? I’m guessing the one on the left since part of a tibia is poking ominously through the lid.

“Lynt_Ox” ??

This appears to be a moribund anorexic supine figure with a ring of hirsutism all round the visage and floppy sausage like boobs (or muscular upper limbs?) with some black coloured mass expectorated from the open gob. Haemoptysis? Haematemesis? Whatever the hell is going on, this young artist is INTENSE in choosing a critically ill moment for artistic expression.

“Untitled I”

Wow…some of these kids are so perceptive. We have an in-utero foetus within it’s amniotic sac and a glimpse of the umbilical cord. And three small fishes swimming around in the uterus.

“Untitled II”

We have what appears to be a surprised pregnant lady with massive tits standing next to a giant pod. Juxtaposing a seed like vessel for flowering plants with an astonished pregnant mammalian is so damn understated it’s beyond genius. Or maybe it’s just a Sheila with a surfboard.

“The Hospital Bag”

How can you not ignore those aggressive pen strokes swishing from side to side? The subject matter chosen by the young artist is certainly unusual. This looks like an expression of a traumatic incident for what could possibly be in the big black body bag? A giant pod?

“The Baby”

This. Is. Like. Totally. Surreal. A view of the vaginal canal as the baby pops out? Or a metaphorical depiction of how your life spirals out of control once a baby arrives on the scene? I mean, where exactly is the bloody baby?

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Crash And Burn

Image courtesy BBC News

What exactly is the logic of a fanatic militant using a seat belt and activated air bag when on a suicide mission?

And why exactly does it take two people to drive a car acting as an incendiary bomb when one "martyr" will do? Does the "side kick" get to share "half" the "reward" in heaven? Or does "coolness by association" also work here?

And why drive erratically your home-made incendiary vehicle to such an extent that would result in knocking over a dustbin before running away NOT gain ANY attention whatsoever?

Or better yet parking illegally your home made vehicle bomb will make it oh-so-inconspicuous?

And construct an incendiary device so expertly that it fails to detonate despite repeated cell phone calls and the sheer quantity of gasoline leaking out from the car appeared to be like smoke and thus draw NO concerned spotlight of notice?

Or Mensa-style tell the whole world days before via an internet chat room what was about to happen to NOT alert authorities?


Despite the stated suspicion that these fanatic militants have possible links to al-Qa'ida (yay! more effective free advertisement for a weak organisation), these aspirant and incompetent "Carry-on" theatrics point to one of two main possibilities: -

1) These are amateurs without the requisite skilled training, patience, competence and experience linked strongly to hardened trans-national terrorist group(s) but acting autonomously or semi-autonomously through inspiration or loose affiliations to emulate the "bigger boys" with the "bigger toys".

2) The trans-national terrorist groups are now so weakened and incapacitated at a tactical level through counter-terrorism measures that effective implementation of their tactics is now reduced to the level of using incompetent foot soldiers, either as pawns for actual strikes effective only at a psychological level (if the "targets" allow it to be), or as a "test run" for more spectacular and professionally managed attacks later.

It's probably a bit of both.

The timing of the carefully planned London attacks was likely political to coincide with the handover of the British leadership, and the second Glasgow attack with an improvised incendiary device was likely a hastily engineered event as the militants realised the net was closing in on them.

I'm glad that the newly installed Prime Minister Gordon Brown, community leaders and the public in the UK have acted calmly, and/or collectively called for a condemnation of such acts by fanatic militants as incompatible with any religion, as Muslims and/or "Asians" and "Middle Easterners" inevitably will feel even more scrutinised and viewed with suspicion. Tarring everyone in a community with the same brush due to the actions of a few is only going to make matters worse. And once again Muslims as a community themselves also need to stop being in denial by simply blaming everyone else but themselves and recognize that radicalization of disaffected individuals do occur and prevent extremist ideas from proliferating amongst themselves and unwittingly succour such fanatics.

These recent events in the UK by fanatic militants provide learning opportunities for counter-terrorism authorities, industries and the public...and the militants themselves. No doubt the latter will strike again.

It is indeed not a conventional military warfare but one of an ideological war that exists only in the minds of those who feel strongly enough about real and perceived injustices, and where "sides" are usually painted in black and white when the reality exist in many gradations of shades. It is right that authorities should hunt down these criminals but wiser analyses need also consider the motivations that drive (uhm pun intended) these people to do what they do rather than just label them as nutjobs. Only fools continually propound the ignorant ideas that are the lifeblood and allowance for this "war" to continue. And this cuts many ways.

The attempted use of incendiary vehicle devices is so emblamatic of what these fanatic militants were trying to achieve: to "get even" and ignite enmity between individuals, families, communities and nations and "unite" other similar minded people. But the failure to successfully ignite the incendiary devices is also emblematic of what is going on - it failed.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Oh, this simply stunning shot of the Blue Mosque by Timothy Neesam has to be shared. With memories of the adhan hypnotically echoing through the rambunctious traffic and chaos of Istanbul’s labyrinthine streets I think the last time I prayed in there must have been just over ten years ago.

ALS in Inverness

Ventricular fibrillation on lead II or the munros of the Scottish Highlands?

June has been a busy month of re-certifying. Last week I moseyed over to Inverness for my Advanced Life Support Course (ALS) for a refresher since the last time I did it I remembered 3 distinct treatment algorithms for cardiac arrest situations (now it’s 2)…but times have moved swiftly on. Management have been pared down to essentials…chest compressions have assumed a more prominent role in relation to rescue breaths…amiodarone is now a more active drug…and there is a greater emphasis on teaching management of peri-arrest situations (I remembered in my more junior days thinking ironically that managing a cadiac arrest patient was sooooo much more easier than the complicated lingering moribund patient with a peri-arrest arrhythmia).

The rest remained pretty much the same – 2 long days of last minute cram reading of the deceptively thin but information dense manual, the quickie power-point lectures, the straight forward skill stations since it’s clinical stuff I engage in on a regular basis, CASTeach scenarios (ooooh what adrenaline rushing fun!)…and the enthusiastic and friendly instructors galore. It was held at the Marriott where in our own groups of about 6, we were shepherded throughout the day in between various function rooms where we got the chance to sharpen our skills and embarrass ourselves in private with mannequins (uhmm, somehow that came out wrong).

My abiding memory though was the evening out – starting first at the civilised Waterside Restaurant by the River Ness where bland menu descriptions turned out to be surprisingly anything but. Like the unimaginatively titled “Turnip soup”. Yes, just “turnip soup” but that turned out to be a highly praised appetiser by many of those who were brave enough to order it (moi!). There was a zucchini/cheese combo that sounded hideous on paper but was simply mouth-watering heaven and extremely rich. That gut bursting main meal however did not dampen the ice-cream/mud cake/fruit dessert. It was all served very slowly and we got to gradually know each other. Most disappeared later back to their rooms for some last minute swotting before the examination the next day.

The instructors and I (the only candidate out for more fun???) went on to the local rustic watering hole, Johnny Foxes, for what turned out to be a surprisingly great night out exchanging stories, hearing and dancing to great music by the live band, drinking and some things that I swore should never, ever, ever be revealed. Ahem: inflatable sheep. I think it was somewhere north of 2:00am before we staggered back for a bright and early bleary-eyed long day that began in just a few hours. I figured the night out was more fun and that I would erm “wing it” on the assessment the next day….and glad I did! Waiting in the wings for your turn in the assessment brought back pleasant memories of coffee-filled bladder instability and sympathetic overdrive of hand sweat glands in professional exams but I got a reasonable 96% on the MCQ and a middle aged man in the coronary care unit with complete heart block and ventricular fibrillation in my simulation scenario (help! airway! atropine! help! airway! CPR! shock! adrenaline! shock! CPR! shock! adrenaline! shock! amiodarone! he lives! now my sinus tachycardia can slow down!).

I really enjoyed the well-organised course and was glad of all the lovely nurses, wonderful doctors and engaging instructors I met and bantered with. Confidence does not necessarily equate to competence and it’s only through practice and critiquing that one can improve. European Paediatric Life Support (EPLS) next!