Thursday, 20 September 2007

Alcohol Anonymous

Yet another case of alcohol abuse

Alcohol is the single most destructive drug in the world – not so much an opinion as plain simple fact, causing more morbidity and mortality than any other substance used by humans - COMBINED. Tobacco does not even come close. It does not register with most people because of the simple matter of perception, stubbornness and the need to satiate our pleasures regardless – alcohol is “legal” and “socially acceptable” in most places of the world and hey presto! It must ergo be okay. Alcohol is a toxin and has to be broken down by the body in order for it to be excreted. Without even beginning to touch on the long list of diseases it directly causes and contributes, alcohol reaches in indirect ways on societies and individuals that tobacco can barely begin to match – such as direct and indirect causes of accidents, family and relationship conflicts in subtle and overt ways, days lost from work and other employment issues, compounding and causes of psychiatric issues, legal issues and crime, effects on children…abuse – sexual, emotional, spiritual, physical, psychological….reproductive…

There are benefits to drinking alcohol too. It’s use as a social lubricant (it’s entertaining!), delivers great taste (in some cases), a multi-billion ££$$ industry, impetus for great art and some medicinal benefits had been touted. Uhm. That’s it. On the great balance sheet of life, the negatives of alcohol outweigh the positives by a long shot. That is the objective stance using any criteria one cares to choose. I mean, without alcohol, how WOULD we possibly entertain ourselves? How would we ever get great TASTE again? How would the economy SURVIVE? How could we ever harness our creative juices to BEGET great art? I mean, how would we attain great HEALTH? Surely the mind boggles. But we humans are subjective illogical stuborn sensual creatures and cannot deny ourselves pleasure. So we pay the price even if it is incredibly steep. Except the fact we can’t afford it doesn’t factor into our ways of thinking.

Seeing the umpteenth head injury, road traffic accident, broken limb, psychiatric breakdown, acopia, rape, and death usually dulls your senses but things can get a little colourful and entertaining like when a guy last week volcanically exploded into an ^($&*% argument with the floor and went nuclear on the A+E staff necessitating security, police, cuffs and sedation. Just another ho hum Saturday night. Yes, I am pissed off, NOT pissed! Huge difference! Oh yes, if it wasn’t for alcohol, I wouldn’t be gainfully employed too! How the hell can I forget that??


"They ask you about intoxicants and gambling: say, 'In them there is a gross sin, and some benefits for the people. But their sinfulness far outweighs their benefit.'" Qur'an 2:219

Monday, 10 September 2007


Getting my internet access set up at my new place apparently can vary anywhere from 48hours to a month...and then it may take a week...but no, it might actually be 15 working days now...according to my helpful broadband helpline that is only available between 7am and 11pm even though it said it was a 24 hour helpline on the start up package...and then, oooops! "Sorry...for some reason we haven't even started to alter the details on our database" even after I have informed them of my change of address and telephone number days ago. Twats (!) Anyway, finding other things to do I made my way towards St Andrews this weekend but fate instead directed me towards Edinburgh.

Whislt there, I made a beeline for just one film I was looking forward to in the past few weeks. The one thing I appreciate about the UGC site at Edinburgh is that although it is a multiplex, each screen is as commodious as the good 'ol fashioned large single screen cinemas of old. Ahhhhh, how I miss them.

The first word that escaped from my lips after imbibing Director Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice in 2005 was "Bravo!", a project I felt was always in danger of being eclipsed by the superb BBC adaptation in 1995. But in Ian McEwan's Atonement, Wright has achieved the impossible again but also exceeding beyond expectations. Let me categorically state that this is the best British film of 2007. Nay, it is the best film of 2007.

Ian McEwan is a writer who is infatuated with words like "clarity" and "precision" and isn't shy in using such words and employing its meanings. When reading his books, I feel a conscious awareness on his part that every sentence has been carefully constructed to create a whole larger than the sum of its parts, much like a painter has an expert command of a brush. And here is it's visual equivalent to compliment a masterful work.

The film opens in an idyllic Merchant Ivory-esque England of 1935, where Robbie Turner (played by everybody's current favourite Scottish actor James McAvoy), from the wrong side of the social tracks to his posh totty amour of Cecillia Tallis (Keira Knightley in superb form) becomes falsely accused of rape due to a potent mixture of an unfortunate set of circumstances and the embroidered imaginations of the naive and cosetted adolescent younger sister of Cecilia, Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan in a towering performance that exceeds her petite frame, and the elder Romola Garai, in an understated and more difficult role). The rest of the film examines the rippling effect of the curtailment of life long happiness from that one fateful devastating day on the lives of its protagonists from multiple perspectives stretching from WWII to the present day.

It's one of those rare films where everything falls beautifully into place. Joe Wright clearly understands the vocabulary of film. The direction is measured and well-paced, the cinematography aesthetically seducing, the actors well cast and the acting masterly.

Three things in addition stand out. First, that arresting green dress worn by Keira Knightley is a character in itself. Secondly, the astonishing jaw-dropping continuous tracking shot of the retreating British Expeditionary Forces on the beaches of Dunkirk is simply the scene of the year. I just couldn't help scrutinising the background trying to spot someome or something making a major boo-boo as the shot went on for something like 5 continuous minutes.

And finally, the score. In particular the clickety-clack of the typewriter merging imperceptibly with the piano work, where the tinkling of the ivories imbued the film with a sense of inevitable dread, even though it was a bit overdone at times. Although cliched, the poignant use of Debussy's Clair de Lune at the one juncture or La Boheme's "O soave fanciulla, o dolce viso", where the interchanging male and female voices voiced the thoughts of Robbie and Cecillia, was just oh-so-perfect.

The longing glances, the unspoken passions, the wells of hurt and the depths of shame you would expect from such a book are all there to be savoured like fine wine on film. Atonement manages to balance the difficult task of a happy and sad ending which suits my temperament fine.

If this film does not get a nomination for best picture at the Oscars, then Hollywood can go forth and multiply.

10 out of 10.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

STD (Synesthesia, Time And Depression)

There is something few people know about me. I am a synesthete. Sometimes my involuntary prodigious memory freaks people out only because I manage to spatially or temporally associate things via my other senses. I am a very visual person – I need to see things (part of my voracious appetite in travelling is that I must see the places I visit so that I can build a mental map of the world in my mind’s eye). I have a limited degree of a photographic memory, can “see” music and “see” taste (really) but my forte comes with history where I can literally spatially orientate time in a visual sense. For example, a “year” is a three dimensional map in my mind’s eye.

When I hear Mozart, Beethoven, Guns N’Roses or KT Tunstall,…I don’t just “hear” the music, I can “see” the music. For example, Mozart’s first movement of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is “alive” with broiling reds. And the colour and form changes as the music changes. The recall is further aided by me having some form of audio memory too. When I want to recall a piece of music I “see” it first and then the “audio” memory instantly comes back. This is perhaps one reason why I am more a “movie” person than a “book” person. But even with my own imagined worlds, my creativity in my mind’s eye far exceeds any film I have seen.

Alternatively I can sometimes taste sight. When I say someone looks sweet, there are moments where it’s not just a literary expression. If you are a non-synesthete you won’t get what the hell I am talking about.

It’s like having a natural perfect pitch.

I have known about this “condition” for a long time but I don’t talk about it much….I feel almost like one of those X-men entities. It’s prevalence can be anywhere from 1 in 23 to 1 in 20,000. Apparently it runs strongly in families and I was surprised through my genealogy research that my 5th cousins (who incidentally are artists and musicians) in Australia also have this ability to see music. And we are separated by over 250 years of history.

With the subject of history, for me it is far from a “boring” subject of mere names and dates. If that were the case, then HELL YES, it would be as dull as ditchwater. But no. History, for which the analyses of events is not only in itself incredibly fascinating, to me is not just based in linear time since Time to me is not just linear. Since from my earliest childhood, I had been fascinated with the concept of Time. Hell, my favouritist bestest story back then from the age of five and still now is H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. In my teens I grasped Einstein’s concept of time slowing relatively for the traveller when speeds approaching that of light is encountered…or the possibility of time going backwards at speeds beyond that of light (which I understand is impossible with objects containing mass….that is why “it” will…disappear…from this world where such things can not exist…and “re-appear” once the “speed” reaches sub-light levels). Paradoxes in Time Travel will happen if Time is viewed simply as linear. As to why we do in fact seem to travel in time in a linear forward fashion I am not entirely sure – perhaps it is the path of least resistance from a mechanistic point of view in an existence with mass and space. I don’t profess to know the nitty gritty physics – however I can juggle concepts easily.

I have also inherently understood that “death” is but a moment…everyone is alive (some “where” or “when” for lack of a better phrase but this is totally separate from a belief in the afterlife). And the study of history to me is most indeed relevant to the “now” as well as the “future” in terms of lessons that could be learned and applied. Plus I believe everything is “pre-determined” (the concept is understood if Time is not viewed as just simply linear from a human perspective) BUT at the same time I am not “fatalistic” for within the human perspective, one has the power to “change” relative to oneself, even though that “change” was already…uhm, “pre-determined” from a more macroscopic God like perspective. Time is relative (and that is an absolute statement…ba dum dum ching).

As a synesthete I view Time in a grand panoramic scale altered spatially in a visual sense. Actual Time is infinite possibilities (“backwards”, “sideways”, “forwards”). Which path we “choose” is up to “us” even though it is “pre-determined” (I am just going to side-step the whole discussion about “Free Will” here but essentially neither is totally wrong). I don’t adhere to the doomed variety of “there-is-no-point-to-it” fatalism and obviously I can’t view the “future” (uhm…actually that is not entirely true too but long story). This weird combination means I inherently have a dislike for fatalistic people or overly optimistic people. Although they are at opposite ends of the same spectrum, both groups are really in massive denial. There are understandable reasons for such individuals to adopt such coping mechanisms, even if such coping mechanisms are inhibiting or even harming them. It is their very denial that allows them to function in their own self-constructed world that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anyone who has dealt with manic-depressed people will have an inkling of their own logic they function in. They are not entirely “wrong” in their reality construct but I eventually leave them alone if they don’t want to venture outside their own bubble for they have a very limited capacity for growth. Fear and ignorance essentially shackles them to familiarly for change frightens them. Simply put, they are happy being depressed.

The flip side with this though is that whether something happened “20 years ago” or “20 seconds” ago can be totally irrelevant to me – they are both fresh to me since Time is not just linear. Hence I never, ever forget the “colour” of the memory. Hence because of this, I prefer to focus on the positives and not the negatives since I am acutely aware of both.

Makes one think what “Reality” or “Truth” really is.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

September Surprise

"What’s the difference between Iraq and Vietnam? Hmmm....Bush knew how to get out of Vietnam"

Errr….when even the Daily Torygraph…uhm…I mean the conservative Daily Telegraph, with the majority of it’s readers being Tory supporters, run a front page news story on the top British military brass US ally launching a vitriolic attack against the US administration’s policy on the handling of the Iraq debacle, the candle is clearly burnt at both ends. Of course he can afford to do it in exclusive serials from his memoirs…it’s only near retiring or retiring folk who can afford to let loose the cannons of the depth of feelings….especially when you have an upcoming book to promote and sell. General Sir Mike, who believed in the “legality” of the war and still erroneously believes that even more troops would have done the job good and proper no doubt can sleep soundly at night knowing that in convenient hindsight it wasn’t any of his fault.

Lets pause and take a wild guess now that it’s the first of September as to what Bush is going to do next after his so called glorious “surge” earlier this year. Will he stubbornly ignore everyone yet again with more excuses and press on with this military foray or is he going to stubbornly ignore everyone yet again with more excuses and press on with this military foray?